** The rankings below are a composite of 41 2016 preseason FBS Top 25s published this summer!
** For a listing of all 41 sources and the weights accorded them, please see Tuesday, August 16’s post “A 2016 FBS Top 25 Composite Coming Soon.”
** “Coforepr’s Ultimate Preseason Top 25 Composite: 2016” is based on the average ranking, with 25 points for first, 24 for second, 23 for third, etc. Alabama’s 24.3 means the Tide wasn’t far from being a unanimous choice, which would be 25.0.
** The number of first place designations is in parentheses.
** The * means the team appeared in all 41 Top 25s. There were only eight (8) such schools. One other team was included in 40 of the 41; a “1” appears with that school. Another team made 39 of the Top 25s, as indicated by a “2”.
Rank Team 2015 Record Coforepr Composite
1 Alabama Crimson Tide (27) 14-1 24.3 *
. The Tide will have a new quarterback and they’ll miss Derrick Henry, who was a workhorse late in the season, but the defense is loaded. Will complacency be a factor after winning it all a year ago? Coach Nick Saban: “I think everybody needs to buy into the things that are going to help them play the absolute best football on a team, to create an identity for this team, because what we’ve done in the past obviously isn’t going to help us.”
Top 25 Opponents: Southern California, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana State
2 Clemson Tigers (4) 14-1 23.0 *
. Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback in the game and most of his offensive weapons are back as well, including running back Wayne Gallman and wide receiver Artavis Scott. The defense will need to be restructured again after losing three All-Americans.
Top 25 Opponents: Louisville, Florida State
3 Oklahoma Sooners (3) 11-2 21.6 *
. The Sooners boast perhaps the best tandem of running backs in the country in Samaje Perine and the explosive Joe Mixon. When neither carries the ball, Oklahoma has Baker Mayfield to throw it. He completed 68% of his passes a year ago with 36 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. The defense is strong in the secondary but green in the trenches and at linebacker.
Top 25 Opponents: Houston, Ohio State, Texas Christian, Baylor, Oklahoma State
4 Louisiana State Tigers (1) 9-3 20.7 *
. New coordinator Dave Armada will help the defense, as will defensive end Arden Key and linebacker Kendell Beckwith. The question mark for the Tigers will be quarterback Brandon Harris, who needs only to do enough to keep foes from locking in on running back Leonard Fournette. Harris’s passing has reportedly improved; will his decision-making follow suit?
Top 25 Opponents: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas
5 Florida State Seminoles (3) 10-3 20.3 *
. The Seminoles have every starter back on offense, including star running back Dalvin Cook. Like L.S.U., the key is quarterback play. Are you listening, Sean Maguire? The senior can be very good or worse than average – sometimes in the same game. Safety Derwin James lead the defense.
Top 25 Opponents: Mississippi, Louisville, North Carolina, Clemson
6 Ohio State Buckeyes (2) 12-1 18.9 *
. Top-notch recruiting classes are the reason for optimism in Columbus after much talent was lost to the NFL (12 NFL draft picks). And J.T. Barrett returning to the quarterback position doesn’t hurt either. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is the best defender, and Joey Bosa’s little brother Nick will make his debut – at defensive end, of course.
Top 25 Opponents: Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan
7 Michigan Wolverines 10-3 18.2 *
. The Michigan defensive line could be the best in the country. Seniors Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and Taco Charlton are joined by much-ballyhooed true freshman Rashan Gary. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jabrill Peppers and All-American corner Jourdan Lewis will play behind them, but so will a new linebacking corps. On offense there will be a new quarterback too, but coach Jim Harbaugh is a quarterback whisperer, right?
Top 25 Opponents: Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State
8 Tennessee Volunteers (1) 9-4 17.4 *
. The Vols finished 2015 on a six-game winning streak. Coach Butch Davis will build on the momentum with a plethora of offensive playmakers his disposal. Tennessee should claim its first SEC East title since 2007. Seventeen starters return, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs. The defense features three guys who could go in the first round of the next NFL draft: defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton.
Top 25 Opponents: Georgia, Alabama
9 Stanford Cardinal 12-2 15.4 2
. Both lines are inexperienced and so is the quarterback. How far can star running back Christian McCaffrey carry this team? As a sophomore a year ago he set an NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards. Senior wide receiver Michael Rector: “We’re tired of just winning the Pac-12. We want to do bigger and better things.” Not likely. The first half of the schedule sees four
Top 25 foes as well as Kansas State and Washington State.
Top 25 Opponents: Southern California, U.C.L.A., Washington, Notre Dame, Oregon
10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 10-3 14.8 1
. With either DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire taking snaps, the Irish will be strong on offense. Early last season Notre Dame was decimated by injuries, losing a quarterback, its top two rushers, a tight end, a nose tackle and two safeties – and still nearly made the CFP. This year the schedule is favorable with only three true road games.
Top 25 Opponents: Michigan State, Stanford, Southern California
11 Mississippi Rebels 10-3 13.1
. Defensive end Marquis Hayes returns to a Land Shark defense missing Robert Nkemdiche, and the offensive line is inexperienced. Quarterback Chad Kelly does have gifted receivers to throw to. The Rebels will need to put up points to be successful, as the defense may remain prone to giving up big plays in the passing game. Coach Hugh Freeze and his talented team are anxious to take the field after an off-season of primary focus on allegations of not less than 13 NCAA violations against the program.
Top 25 Opponents: Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana State
12 Michigan State Spartans 12-2 9.9
. Only two starters return on offense and five on defense. Sixth-year man Ed Davis, playing on the outside, leads a strong linebacking unit. Fifth-year senior Riley Bullough is in the middle. In front of them on the line is nose tackle Malik McDowell, a probable first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler O’Conner filled in admirably for Connor Cook in the huge November ’15 upset of Ohio State.
Top 25 Opponents: Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State
13 Houston Cougars 13-1 9.35
. Dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward is the main reason coach Tom Herman didn’t move on after a stellar season. The defense will have to rise up in 2016 because the offense has some missing parts after averaging more than 40 points a game last year. Some feel Houston was lucky last season. The Cougars won three of four one-possession games and recovered 65% of fumbles.
Only Arkansas had a better rate of recovery (65.5%).
Top 25 Opponents: Oklahoma, Louisville
14 Washington Huskies 7-6 8.7
. Seven starters return to the Pac-12’s top defense in 2015, led by safety Budda Baker. The Huskies were barely over .500 a year ago, but coach Chris Petersen may produce a breakout year. Getting both Stanford and Southern Cal at home in the Pacific Northwest will help.
Top 25 Opponents: Stanford, Oregon, Southern California
15 Georgia Bulldogs 10-3 7.9
. With junior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel carrying the ball, the offense is in good hands. Maybe even great hands, if freshman quarterback Jacob Eason is ready to go this soon. Otherwise it’s Greyson Lambert. The defense has some holes to fill in the front seven, but new coach Kirby Smart built formidable walls as the defensive coordinator at Alabama.
Top 25 Opponents: North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee
16 Texas Christian Horned Frogs 11-2 7.87
. Can this team possibly hope to replace Trevone Boykin at quarterback? Defensively, four starters who were lost to season-ending injuries a year ago return to the fold. Among them are defensive end James McFarland and cornerback Ranthony Texada. Gary Patterson is one of the college game’s unsung great coaches.
Top 25 Opponents: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State
17 Southern California Trojans 8-6 7.85
. The entire offensive line, including huge right tackle Zach Banner, is back. In terms of experience, talent and depth, this could be the best offensive line in the game, and Ju Ju Schuster is perhaps the best wide receiver. He rang up 1,454 yards in 2015. U.S.C. plays the toughest schedule in the country; no other team can match the six Top 25 foes, and five other opponents went bowling last season.
Top 25 Opponents: Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, U.C.L.A., Notre Dame
18 Louisville Cardinals 8-5 7.5
. Bobby Petrino’s crew won six of seven to finish the ’15 campaign ,and dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson tore apart Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. The defense ranked 18th nationally in total defense and welcomes eight starters back.
19 Iowa Hawkeyes 12-2 7.3
. Star power: Senior quarterback C.J. Beathard on offense, senior cornerback Desmond King on defense. The Hawkeyes allowed less than 21 points in 10 games last season. And they’ll be motivated. Beathard: “Number one on my list is to win the Big Ten championship. Number two is to win a bowl game. It’s my fifth year, and I haven’t won a bowl game. It’s eating at all the guys who have been here a while now.” Such end-of-the-year challenges will have to wait; in the regular season Iowa faces only one team in coforepr ‘s preseason Top 25.
Top 25 Opponents: Michigan
20 Oklahoma State Cowboys 10-3 6.8
. Quarterback Mason Rudolph leads a high-powered offense that routinely scores more points than a porous defense allows. The Cowboys return 86% of offensive snaps, so expect no drop-off from 2015 when Mike Gundy’s team averaged 39½ points and 480 yards per game.
Top 25 Opponents: Baylor, Texas Christian, Oklahoma
21 Oregon Ducks 9-4 5.9
. The FCS transfer at the controls this year is Dakota Prukop from Montana State, after Vernon Adams from Eastern Washington last year. Having Royce Freeman with him in the backfield should add to the newcomer’s comfort level. Can new coordinator Brady Hoke turn the defense into a respectable unit in his first year? The Ducks were last in the Pac-12 in total defense, surrendering 485 yards per game. Hoke is switching them from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
Top 25 Opponents: Washington, Southern California, Stanford
22 U.C.L.A. Bruins 8-5 5.0
. The Bruins are incorporating more pro-style stuff in the offense, which could lead to a big year for talented sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. After injuries dogged the “D” a year ago, it should be better. Defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes leads the way. Coach Jim Mora on the competition: “The Pac-12 is a dog-eat-dog conference, and there are no easy games. If you don’t brin your ‘A’ game every week, you’re going to get beat.”
Top 25 Opponents: Stanford, Southern California
23 North Carolina Tar Heels 11-3 4.98
. Junior quarterback Mitch Trubinsky’s time has come, as he takes over for the departed Marquis Williams. He has plenty of weapons around him: wide receivers Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins and Bug Howard, running back Elijah Hood. Only one starter does not return to the offensive line. The question mark remains the defense; in its last two games North Carolina allowed averages of 47 points and 682 yards per contest. Baylor gouged coordinator Gene Chizik’s boys for a bowl-record 645 yards on the ground.
Top 25 Opponents: Georgia, Florida State
24 Baylor Bears 10-3 3.8
. Without doubt the hardest team to get a handle on going into the new season. What effect will the firing of coach Art Briles have on the Bears? Several things remain the same at a program in a state of upheaval: There are offensive playmakers all over the field (quarterback Seth Russell, running back Shock Linwood, wide receiver K.D. Cannon…to name a few) and the defense is a concern. Like Ole Miss, Baylor just wants to play football after a rough summer. Acting coach Jim Grobe: “A key for us is for the kids to start making headlines for touchdowns and tackles, and not all the past stuff.”
Top 25 Opponents: Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Oklahoma
25 Arkansas Razorbacks 8-5 2.5
. Coach Bret Bielema’s last two Arkansas teams have improved dramatically as a season has worn on. To wit: In 2014 the Hogs started 3-4 then won four of six to finish with a winning record after Bielema went 3-9 in his debut season. In 2015 it was a 1-3 start followed by seven wins in the final nine games. A young defense grew up as last season progressed. Now eight starters and a lot of backups who saw significant time are back. The pass defense in particular must improve, as Arkansas finished 116th nationally a season ago. This year it’ll be the offense that’s young. The new quarterback is departed quarterback Brandon Allen’s younger brother Austin. The strength of the unit is the receiving corps, including senior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.
Top 25 Opponents: Texas Christian, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana State
Next Five, in alphabetical order: Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, Washington State, Wisconsin
Alabama, L.S.U. and Mississippi all play seven of the top 30 teams!