30. Wisconsin- There were no hiccups in head coach Paul Chrysts first season in Madison, as his team went 10-3 and ended their season in style with a 23-21 upset win against USC in the Holiday Bowl. It was certainly a relief for Chryst to keep the recent winning tradition alive for the Badgers, who have now have gone fourteen years in a row with a winning record and postseason appearance. The strength of last years team was the defense, which ranked first nationally in scoring and second in yards per game, and they return six from that unit including the catalyst for its success, linebacker Vince Biegel who is back for his senior season and is the returning leader in sacks to the Big-10. The offense will need to replace Joel Stave at quarterback and easily their most productive wide receiver in Alex Erickson, but will have great strength up front with four returning starters back for the offensive line along with a strong backfield led by returning-from-injury Corey Clement and Dave Ogunbowale, who led the team with 819 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground last season in Clements absence. The greatest adversity facing the Badgers is undoubtedly their schedule, which not only has them starting the year against 6th ranked LSU, but also has the disastrous disadvantage of drawing the three top teams from the Big-10 East (Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State), all of which they play right in a row starting in late September, followed immediately by consecutive matchups against the top teams from the West division- Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. Wisconsin will undoubtedly find success and keep their bowl streak alive in year two of the Paul Chryst era, but that murders row of a schedule that has them playing five of the top fifteen teams in the country in the first seven weeks of the year means they likely wont be matching last years win total or getting a chance to play for their fourth Big-10 Title in seven years.
29. Utah-The biggest question facing head coach Kyle Whittingham as he enters his twelfth season in Salt Lake City is how the team can replace all the production that was lost on the offensive side of the ball. The Utes lost both quarterbacks, four of their top five in rushing yards (including star back Devontae Booker who is off to NFL) along with their three leaders in receptions, which will put even more pressure on their veteran offensive line returning four starters to help protect and open holes for whoever ends up behind them to begin the year. The defense will also have production to replace with four of their top five in tackles gone from a year ago, but will thankfully still have two 1st Team Pac-12 performers on their side, lineman Lowell Lotulelei and free safety Marcus Williams, the teams returning leader in both tackles and interceptions. Their conference schedule is tough with five road games, and will more than likely be decided by how they handle a dangerous four game span starting in late October that has them playing UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and Oregon. Even with a tough Pac-12 slate the Utes will undoubtedly find themselves playing after the regular season, a spot they have exceeded in throughout their schools history, sporting a 15-4 record in bowl games which gives them the best postseason winning percentage of any FBS team in college football.
28. San Diego State-It was a banner year for the Aztec family, ending their season with a record of 11-3 and a 42-7 dismantling of Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl. Their win total tied the highest in school history (3rd time overall with 11) and they went undefeated in league play with an average victory of 25 points per game before closing out the Mountain West by beating Air Force 27-24 for their second conference title in four seasons. A great deal of that success if due to coach Rocky Long, who has seen his team go to a postseason game in all five years he has coached so far in San Diego, which is all the more impressive when you consider they only went to six in the previous 41 years before Long got there. Aztec financial backers are big fans of their coach as well, as since he arrived their team has gone 27-6 in league play, including 23-9-1 against the spread. This years squad returns seven starters on each side of the ball, with senior standouts on both sides. The offense is headed by running back Darnell Pumphrey, who last year went for 1,653 yards while scoring 20 total touchdowns, and is well on pace toward breaking Marshall Faulks San Diego State school rushing record. The defense is led by the two-headed monster of linebacker Calvin Munson, the teams returning leader in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss, along with cornerback Damonte Kazee, who earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors finishing second in the nation with 8 interceptions. Their schedule lines up well for them, with four winnable games in September before starting their conference calendar that somehow misses both Boise State and Air Force from the MW-Mountain division. With the best coach the school has ever had at the helm, along with a roster full of talent and an easily conquerable schedule, San Diego State has a good chance at surpassing last years win total and becoming the most successful team in Aztec history.
27. Florida-In Jim McElwains first year as Gators head coach he led his team to a 10-4 record and a trip their first to the SEC Championship game since 2006. It could have been even better, as they started the year strong and were 6-0 before quarterback Will Grier (who has since transferred to West Virginia) was suspended for the remainder of the season for a positive PED test. After that they finished the year going 4-4 in their final two months, including losing their last three games by a combined 73 points. With Grier off to Morgantown, Florida will rely on junior quarterback Luke Del Rio, son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, to lead an offense that is in a bit of disarray, with backup quarterback Treon Harris and top wide receiver Antonio Callaway currently suspended from the team for charges brought against them by a Florida student for sexual misconduct. The defense is in much better shape, returning linebacker Jarrad Davis, safety Marcus Maye and cornerback Jalen Tabor, all of whom are future NFL players that rank at or near the top of their position as draft prospects. Along with a pro-laden defense, they also benefit from the 103rd rated schedule, which even with Florida State included their non-conference schedule is near comical with games against UMass, North Texas and Presbyterian. They also benefit from avoiding Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn from the SEC West, but its their midseason five conference game span that includes matchups at Tennessee, LSU, Missouri and Georgia which will be the determining factor in just how good Florida can be in McElwains second season.
26. Oregon-Its a clear sign of a teams success when a 9-4 season is considered a down year, but that is how many in Eugene look at the outcome of 2015. The only nine victories ended a seven year streak of the Ducks achieving double-digit wins in each, but the worst part of the season by far was what took place in Autzen Stadium, with the team lost twice at home, both times in games that they were favored by double-digit points to win, including a 62-20 trouncing by Utah that knocked the Ducks out of the polls for the first time since 2009. Their defense was a thorn in their side all year, finishing 116th in scoring, 126th against the pass and 117th in yards allowed, and now begins 2016 with an inexperience issue as they return only five starters and are also missing their top three in tackles from a season ago. The offense will look to an FCS transfer to lead the team at quarterback for the second straight season, with Dakota Prukop coming over from Montana State to take over for former Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams. Prukop will thankfully have junior running back Royce Freeman behind him to take some of the pressure off, and Freeman is more than capable of doing so after rushing for 1,836 yards and scoring nineteen touchdowns in 2015. They will need all the production they can muster with a schedule that includes a non-conference trip to Nebraska and a Pac-12 lineup featuring five road games, including two tough draws against South division opponents USC and Utah. With a quality coach like Mark Helfrich the Ducks will always have the potential for greatness, but how much their expected talent translates into on the field success will determine whether or not they can restart that double-digit win streak.
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25. Miami-After 15 seasons in Athens, head coach Mark Richt has moved on to coach the Canes, and has the benefit of beginning his time there with junior quarterback Brad Kaaya on the team, a player many expect to be taken number one overall in next years NFL draft. Kaayas is one of nine returning offensive starters from a year ago, and will be hoping for more consistency from his running game, which finished last season 117th overall in the country and dead last in the ACC. They should be markedly improved as they return their top five backs from a year ago, most notably Joseph Yearby, who ran for over 1,000 yards and scored eight touchdowns in 2015. Defensively they return six of their top seven tacklers from a year ago and will be led by a strong front seven that includes defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad and Gerald Willis along with linebacker Trent Harris and Jermaine Grace. Miamis schedule includes non-conference road trips against an underrated Appalachian State squad in September and a last weekend in October trip to South Bend to take on former rival Notre Dame. They will certainly benefit from a conference schedule that avoids Clemson and Louisville from the ACC Atlantic division, while also having the advantage of getting Florida State, North Carolina and Pittsburgh at home, where the Canes have gone 16-4 over the past three seasons. With a coach like Richt and a talent like Kaaya at quarterback Miami has great potential entering 2016, though just winning a postseason game would be a step in the right direction for this team seeing as though they have gone 0-5 in their last five trips to a bowl.
24. Boise State Only twice in the past ten seasons has Boise State not finished a year with double-digit wins, unfortunately for them those two disappointing seasons have happened in the past years. Last season ended with a 9-4 record, and in all four losses they were favored to win, including a 52-26 loss to Utah State as a nine-point favorite and 31-24 loss at home to New Mexico that the Broncos were favored by 31 points to win. This year the team will be highlighted by an offense that returns eight starters, including their biggest skill position players, all of whom put up prolific stats last season and promise to be popular players on daily fantasy sites this season -quarterback Brett Rypien, running back Jeremy McNichols and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck. McNichols had 1337 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground and an additional 51 receptions for 460 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Sperbeck ended the year with 8 touchdowns and a Mountain West leading 1412 yards receiving and 88 catches. The sophomore Rypien will look to continue his success of last season when he threw for 3353 yards and 20 touchdowns, but will need to play better down the stretch after starting the season a lot better than he ended it. This could be an inherited trait from his uncle and former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who began his career with a 33-13 record in his first four seasons as a starter, but ended with a 5-11 record in his last three years.
23. Oklahoma State-The Cowboys started last season with a 10-0 record and were ranked fourth in the AP polls before riding off the rails and losing their last three games in a row by an average of 21 points per. Seventeen starters are back looking for redemption after their collapse from a year ago, including ten on an offense that was ranked fourteenth in scoring and seventh in passing yards per game. The quarterback catalyst for that success, Mason Rudolph, is a back after throwing for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns, and will benefit from not only the return of all five on his offensive lines starters from a year ago, but also by the return of his favorite target from last season in James Washington, who is the returning Big-12 leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches. The defense is looking good as well with their top four in tackles back from last season, all of which had at least 83 on the year. With three not overly difficult games to begin the season the Cowboys should continuing their recent winning ways against non-conference opponents (21-4 last six years) before starting a tough Big-12 slate with games at Baylor and home against Texas while also ending their season with road matchups against TCU and Oklahoma. They will need to fix their recent issues against quality teams that killed their season in 2015 if they want to have any chance of winning just their second solo conference championship since 1948, having gone just 2-10 in their last twelve games against ranked opponents.
22. UCLA After taking over a team that had gone through losing seasons in four of the last five years before his arrival, head coach Jim Mora immediately injected new life and a culture of winning to the Bruins campus in Los Angeles, with the team now having gone 37-16 in his first four seasons, including a record of 23-13 in the Pac-12. His offense has many a hole heading into 2016 with only four returning starters, but thankfully still have sophomore phenom quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw for 3,668 yards and 23 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. As talented as Rosen is, he could find difficulty early on getting used to a new offense that has just two returning starters to their front line along with having to replace four of his top five in receptions from a year ago and star running back Paul Perkins, who is now 3,000 miles away and playing for the New York Giants. The Bruin defense is in much better shape, returning nine starters (all juniors or seniors) along with end Eddie Vanerdoes, who was among the many injured UCLA defenders injured last season, and highly touted freshman linebacker Mique Juarez, who ranked as one of the top three at his position amongst most scouts. Their non-conference schedule will test Rosen and the Bruins early with September road games at Texas A&M and BYU, two teams with strong defensive backfields. Thankfully their Pac-12 schedule lines up much better, with UCLA avoiding Washington and Oregon from the North division while also getting tough opponents Stanford, UCLA and USC at home. With a great coach, a budding superstar at quarterback and a highly beneficial conference schedule, the Bruins have a wide-open shot of winning their first Pac-12 title in seventeen years.
21. North Carolina-After an opening week loss to border-state rival South Carolina to start their 2015 season, the Tar Heels recovered quickly and went on an eleven game winning streak to eventually earn themselves their first ever spot in the ACC Championship Game. Unfortunately from there the defense let up more points in the next two games then they had all season, losing 45-37 to Clemson in the conference title game and then getting run over by Baylor 49-38 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Baylor game was especially troubling as the Bears were without two of their offensive stars with both their quarterback and wide receiver out for the game, which everyone knew meant that they would be forced to heavily rely on their running game, but UNC could still do nothing to stop it as the Baylor ended up rushing for 645 yards and 8 touchdowns against the porous Tar Heel run defense. This year their D returns seven starters including strong safety Donnie Miles, who led the ACC in tackles with 128 in 2015, along with cornerbacks Desmond Lawrence and MJ Stewart, who tied for second in the conference in passes blocked with 14 apiece. The offense also gets seven back, most importantly running back Eljah Hood, who returns for his junior year after rushing for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and who also has the benefit of going behind an offensive line that returns four starters and is rated as one of the best in the country. The Tar Heels regular season schedule somehow avoids Clemson and Louisville from the ACC Atlantic division for the second straight year, which should offset the tougher parts of their itinerary that includes a season opener against Georgia in Atlanta and a three week stretch to start October with games against Florida State along with their major competition for winning the ACC Coastal division- Miami and Virginia Tech. With a veteran team full of juniors and seniors this will be the Tar Heels best chance in years to final get over the conference hump and win their first ACC title since in 36 seasons.
20. Louisville-Barmy Bobby Petrino enters his third year back in his current stint as the Cardinals head coach and seventh year overall. He left Louisville originally back in 2006 for the Atlanta Falcons, where he resigned after thirteen games, informing his players by a note left at their locker and leaving many in the organization angrily labeling him with words such as gutless and coward. From there he went to Arkansas, where he coached for four seasons before being fired after a bizarre motorcycle accident that involved alcohol, repeatedly lying to the university and eventually was discovered to involve a 25 year old student-athlete that he was having an affair with. After that it was off to a one year stint at Western Kentucky before being hired back by Louisville, who apparently had no access to news sources between 2007-2014 and either didnt know or care about his six years of deceit and douchebaggery that followed his original dishonest departure from the team. This year he gets seventeen starters back on what is probably his best squad yet at Louisville, including nine on an offense led by speedy quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal with the team returning their top ten in receptions from a year ago and their top four running backs. The defense, which ranked 14th against the rush and 18th in total defense a year ago, returns eight and will be led up front by seniors Devonte Fields, who had 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss a year ago and linebacker Keith Kelsey, the team leader in tackles with 107 who also chipped in with 3.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. The season opens with difficult games against Florida State and at Clemson in the first five weeks but gets a lot easier after that, with a road trip to Houston on November 17th the only game in their final seven that they have a chance of geing underdogs in. Petrino may lack honesty, integrity and have pretty much no moral fiber whatsoever, but he has a proven track record of success wherever he is coaching at that present time. before eventually bailing and alienating coaches, players and fans alike.
19. Georgia-For the first time since the turn of the century, head coach Mark Richt will not be patrolling the sidelines for the Bulldogs. Richt started his tenure in Athens off well, winning Sec Championships in 2002 and 2005, but his teams never seemed to reach their full potential, usually having a least one loss a year against teams they never should have fallen too. This has sure been the case in the last three years, where eight of their ten regular season losses were against teams they were favored to beat. They made a great hire in getting former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to take over for Richt as head coach. Smart, who many believe was the mastermind behind the dominant Crimson Tide defenses from 2008-2015, inherits not only a defense that finished 1st overall in passing, 8th in scoring and 7th in yards allowed per game, but also one of the best backfields in college football featuring Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb took over for Todd Gurley in 2014 when Gurley went down with injury, and Michel did the same for Chubb last year when Nick was lost for the year due to a gruesome leg injury suffered against Tennessee in week 5. Despite avoiding LSU and Alabama from the SEC West, Georgia still has a tough schedule, with non-conference games against North Carolina and Georgia Tech to start/end the year, but they could find themselves an early championship contender if they can get by an early three game conference stretch with games at Missouri, at Ole Miss and home against Tennessee, a team they have beaten five of the past six years.
18. USC-After many years in the Southern Cal program, Clay Helton begins his first full season as the Trojans head coach. He had previously led the team as the interim coach for their 2013 Las Vegas Bowl victory during a tumultuous season that saw then head coach Lane Kiffin get taken off a bus and fired at the airport on the way home from a 63-28 loss to Arizona State, and again last year he took over for a disgraced coach when stumbling Steve Sarkasian was fired at midseason for continuous, PR-nightmare behavioral issues. Heltons offense will obviously miss departed quarterback Cody Kessler, but returns all of their other ten starters, including an offensive line full of NFL prospects, the teams top eight in receptions from a year including the wide receiver many expect to be taken first amongst his position mates in the 2017 draft, Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster, along with a dual-headed backfield featuring Ronald Jones and Justin Davis, both of which had at least 900 yards rushing and seven touchdowns scored last season. The defense returns half as many starters as the offense with just five, but still features plenty of future pro talent with linebacker Cameron Smith along with cornerbacks Iman Marshall and Adoree Jackson, another player rated at the top of his position by scouts. Their schedule is book-ended by non-conference matchups against Alabama in week one and Notre Dame at the end of November while also featuring a tough Pac-12 lineup with five road matchups, games against three top teams in the North division (Oregon and Stanford/Washington on the road) and a brutal final month set of games including the aforementioned Ducks & Huskies while also having to play at rival UCLA before ending the season by hosting the Irish. No matter what happens for the Trojans, at least they have finally ended their streak of being coached by the personality starved.
17. Baylor- Art Briles was fired in the offseason from the head coaching job at Baylor, and some may initially wonder how that could happen after leading the team to three straight double digit win seasons and a 31-7 record over the past three years. Then after you read about the repeated history of sexual assaults by members of his football team and the complete lack of discipline handed out by Briles staff and you fully understand why they got rid of him and turned to former Wake Forest head coach and strong disciplinarian Jim Groce to get the program back on track toward off the field respectability. Groce inherits an offense that ranked tops in the NCAA in scoring (48.1 ppg) and total offense (616.2 ypg) in 2015, but has some major holes to fill with just one returning starter on the offensive line and having to replace Biletnikoff winner and first wide receiver taken in the draft Corey Coleman. They do return senior quarterback Seth Russell from injury, two running backs who gained at least 1000 yards in Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson, along with junior wide receiver KD Cannon, who should be a great help in attempting to lessen the blow of losing Coleman. Bears fan will be hoping for some quick cohesion amongst the new members of the offensive line to get anywhere close to last years prolific stats. The Baylor defense features major questions up front as well, losing all four defensive end starters from last season, but thankfully they at least get back 5 of their top 6 tacklers back, most notably junior linebackers Travon Blanchard and Taylor Young. The Bears have an easy first six games with only Oklahoma State at home in week 3 as their only challenge, so they will have a chance for their large amount of new starters to get some playing time together before entering a three game gauntlet starting in late October against the top of the conference when they play at Texas, TCU and then at Oklahoma in a fifteen day span that will decide the fate of the Bears Big-12 season.
16. Washington- The future is looking bright for Husky fans with their team entering the year ranked for the first time in two years, and not only built for this year with 15 returning starters, but also for down the road with only two of those fifteen being seniors. A whopping six of the eight back on the offense are sophomores, including quarterback Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin, who earned Freshman All-American honors after rushing for 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns in last season. The defense will be steered by three juniors; linebacker Azeem Victor, the team leader in tackles and tackles for loss, along with two defensive backs that were 1st Team All Pac-12 in 2015, cornerback Sidney Jones and free safety Budda Baker. All will benefit from a 3-0 start thanks to a non-conference schedule that borders on embarrassing (home for three against Idaho, Portland State and Rutgers) before starting a Pac-12 calendar that includes five road games but does avoid UCLA from the North division and gets Stanford, USC and Arizona State at home. This will be head coach Chris Petersens third year in Seattle and his team looks poised for some great success, but first they will need break through the conference mediocrity that has hounded them in recent years, finishing with either 5-4 or 4-5 record in Pac-12 play in each of the past seven years.
15. Iowa Hawkeyes-The Hawkeyes started last year unranked and hadnt even been in the polls since 2010, and then shocked the college football world by going undefeated in the regular season. Their game against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game was essentially a playoff play-in, which they heartbreaking lost 16-13 to the Spartans. They lose three of their top four tacklers on defense but still get eight starters back from last years squad that ranked 19th in scoring and 22nd in total yards allowed per game, including linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Desmond King. Jewell was second in the Big Ten in tackles last season with 126 while King was second in the country with 8 interceptions, which was one of many reasons why he ended up winning the Jim Thorpe Award that goes annually to the nations top defensive back. The offense returns only five starters but still has plenty of reasons for optimism with three returning seniors at skill set positions leading the way, quarterback C.J. Breathard (2,809 yards passing, 17 TD passes, 6 TD runs), wide receiver Matt Vanderberg (the only returning wide receiver with over 15 catches) and tight end George Kittle (led team with six touchdown catches). They may not be able to reach last years win total, but with a cupcake non-conference schedule and Big Ten lineup that avoids Ohio State and Michigan State from the East division and has them playing their most difficult games at home (Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern), the Hawkeyes have a great chance of returning to their conference title game and hopefully redeeming themselves with a postseason win after losing their last four, most recently last years 45-16 pounding by Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
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14. Houston Last season was Tom Hermans first year ever as head coach and things went nearly perfect at Houston in 2015, finishing with a 13-1 record, winning the AAC Conference title for the first time ever and ending the season with a 38-24 upset of Florida State in the Peach Bowl as a double-digit underdog. Herman will have his most important player back from a year ago, quarterback Greg Ward, who rushed for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns to go along with 2,628 yards passing and seventeen touchdowns to only six interceptions, joining Clemsons DeShaun Watson as the only NCAA players to rush for over 1,000 yards and pass for over 2,000. The Cougars on the field leader will have five of his top six pass catchers back from a year ago, but will need his scrambling ability more than ever with only two returning starters back on what will be an inexperienced offensive line that begins the year with three sophomores on their front five. The defense returns only five starters from a year ago, including just one in a defensive backfield that helped Houston lead the NCAA in takeaways both last season (with 35) and the past three seasons (108). They will need senior linebacker Steven Taylor, who led the team with 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss a year again, to hopefully maintain his high production level to offset the new players around him. The Cougars open their season at NRG Stadium in Houston against top five ranked Oklahoma, but from their the schedule gets significantly easier with only five road games and a very manageable conference schedule that includes only one tough games, at Cincinnati on September 15th. If they can get through the first month of the season unscathed, they will assuredly find themselves in contention for one of the coveted four BCS playoff spots.
13. TCU-Last season was yet another great one for head coach Gary Patterson in what was his 15th year with the Horned Frogs, finishing with a record of 11-2, the tenth time Pattersons team has achieved double-digit wins and their eighth in the past eleven seasons. They were as high as 5th in the polls before dropping two of their last four with road losses to two both conference Oklahoma teams, but then ended their year with an incredible comeback victory against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, winning 47-41 in three overtimes despite being down 31-0 at one point in the game. Their offense faces many a question heading into 2016, having to replace prolific, do-everything quarterback Trevone Boykin, his favorite target in wide receiver Josh Doctson, running back Aaron Green (1,272 yards, 12 touchdowns) along with four of the five starters up front on the offensive line. Not an easy situation for Texas A&M transfer quarterback Kenny Hill to walk into, but he has previous winning experience in major conference games and will thankfully get the Aggies typically easy non-conference games in the first month to get used to his new team. The defense has significantly more experience, with eight starters back to a unit that is expected to be one of the Big-12s best, with left end Josh Carraway and linebacker Travin Howard highlighting a roster laden with talent. The schedule benefits TCU as well with only five road games on the docket, a welcome sign for a team has gone undefeated 13-0 over the last two seasons at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Just how they can climb will be determined in November, when they close out their year with three of their last four games against Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State.
12. Michigan State This will be the year ten of the Mark Dantonio era in East Lansing, and it may be one of his more challenging in recent years with just ten returning starters from last years 12-2 squad that won their second conference Championship in three years and earned one of the four spots in the BCS playoffs. Gone to the NFL is three-year starter and last seasons 1st Team Big-10 quarterback Connor Cook. Losing him along with their top two wide receivers from last season will certainly slow things down in the passing game for the Spartans, which they are hoping to balance out with a talented backfield led by sophomore running back L.J. Scott, who last year ran for 899 yards and scored a team high eleven touchdowns. The defense has more experience on their side with six starters back from the 2015 crew that ranked 11th against the rush, 25th in scoring and 26th in total defense, most importantly nose tackle Malik McDowell, linebacker Riley Bullough and safety Demetrius Cox. Michigan States greatest ally in 2016 is undoubtedly their schedule, which includes just five road games (with Notre Dame their only challenge), and has the conference benefit of missing Iowa and Nebraska from the West and getting their most challenging games at home (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State), where they have gone 20-1 in their last 21 games. Dantonio has led them to at least eleven wins in five of the past six seasons, and despite their inexperience its easy to see them reaching double-digit wins yet again.
11. Mississippi-Since Hugh Freeze arrived in Oxford in 2012, the Rebels have seen their win total progressively increase each year, culminating in last years 10-3 season that was closed out with a resounding 48-20 Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma State. The offense returns senior signal caller Chad Kelly, who last season threw for over 4,000 yards with 31 touchdown passes along with rushing for 500 yards and ten touchdowns. Kelly gets NFL tight end prospect Evan Engram back for another year, but not much else, especially on the offensive line which will be missing Laremy Tunsil (13th overall pick in draft) and returns just two starters to an inexperienced front five that will have a sophomore or freshman in four of the five lead spots. There are also holes at the skill positions, with the team missing its top running back and wide receiver from a year ago, most notably NFL first round draft pick Laquan Treadwell, who led the team with 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. The defense is missing some playmakers as well, including the third Rebel player picked in the first round of the draft, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, but will thankfully return his former linemate Marquis Haynes, who tied a school record with ten sacks a year ago. Their schedule includes only four true road games and has the added benefit of avoiding Tennessee, Florida and Missouri from the SEC East. They start the year with a tough neutral site game in Orlando against Florida State along with a September home games against Alabama and Georgia, but from there have just an October 22nd matchup against LSU as the only game where they wont be favored the remainder of the season. They may not be able to continue their progressive win streak, but hopefully for financial friends of the team Freeze can make this five years in a row with a winning record against the spread.
10. Notre Dame-Oh what could have been for the Irish in 2015, going 10-2 in the regular season with their only losses coming by two points in each game, first a 24-22 loss in a near monsoon at Clemson, followed by a 38-36 loss to Stanford on a last second field in the final week of the year. They were able to reach double-digit wins despite a barrage of injuries, including those suffered by their top three running backs along with starting quarterback Malik Zaire. Thankfully for the South Bend faithful, his freshman backup in DeShone Kizer far exceeded expectations by throwing for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns to go along with 10 more scores on the ground. He will need to be careful controlling the ball better in 2016, as Kizer had a knack for committing turnovers at the most inopportune times, one thing that led to the teams unfortunate turnover ratio of -6 which put them at 105th nationally. Kizer and Zaire are both back at quarterback along with running back Josh Adams, but after that the cupboard is bare. Torii Hunter Jr. is the only returning Irish player to finish in the teams top seven in receptions, with four gone by graduation, Corey Robinson retiring from football due to multiple concussions and expected starter at tight end Alize Jones ruled ineligible for the upcoming season a few weeks back. The defense faces similar issues with 6 of the top 8 in tackles needing to be replaced, but now that number has grown with expected starting free safety Max Redfeld dismissed from the team after being arrested on August 19th for possession of an unlicensed handgun along with misdemeanor marijuana charges. With all that lost talent (they had seven players drafted in the first 107 picks of the 2015 NFL Draft) the Irish are quite lucky that their schedule contains only three true road games, but its still one of the nations toughest with matchups against Texas, Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, Navy, Virginia Tech and USC. Coach Brian Kelly had never had less than eight wins in his seven years on the sidelines in South Bend and it would be a surprise if they didnt at least reach that total this season, but just how much gold is at the end of the rainbow will depend on how quickly the team can adapt to all the new faces on the field.
9. Stanford-The Cardinal finished last season with a record of 12-2, the fourth time the team has finished with at least 11 wins in a season since head coach David Shaw arrived five years ago. It also marked the third time in the last four years that Stanford has won the Pac-12 Title and was the third occurrence of them winning their bowl matchup after crushing Iowa 45-16 in the Rose Bowl to end their season in style. The focal point of the team will again be Christian McCaffrey, who last season gained an NCAA record 3,864 all-purpose yards, which included 2,019 yards rushing, 45 catches for 645 receiving yards to along with 15 total touchdowns (8 on the ground, 5 through the air, and 1 each on kickoff and punt returns). McCaffrey ended up finishing in second place for the Heisman, becoming the fourth Stanford player to take home the silver along with John Elway, Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck. The defense looks to have experience issues with three of their top four tacklers gone from last year along with more than half of their starters playing in just their sophomore season. Even with the youth movement the Cardinal will still be strong all over on defense, especially up front with sophomore end Solomon Thomas and junior linebacker Peter Kalambayi setting the tone for those around them. The schedule will is a tough one for Shaw and his Stanford squad to get through, with five conference road trips including games against UCLA, Washington, Arizona and Oregon along with a midseason ride to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Even with the tough slate of games its impossible to count out the Cardinal with the Shaw/McCaffrey combination, and if they can get through a very tough first half of the schedule, they will be set up well for a shot at earning one of the four BCS playoff spots and a chance at possibly winning their first National Championship in 76 years.
8. Michigan-Jim Harbaugh is back for second year as head coach for the Wolverines, and the potential for greatness is brewing in Ann Arbor. His team returns fourteen starters, 12 of which are seniors, from last years squad that went 10-3, the best record theyve had since 2011 in Bumblin Brady Hokes first year as head coach. The defense which last season ranked sixth in scoring, third against the pass and fourth in yards against is without their top three tacklers but is still in great shape with seniors Chris Wormley leading the line up front, cornerback Jordan Lewis the d-backs, and potential-for-stardom sophomore Jabril Peppers heading the linebackers. The offense returns eight starters but will be breaking in a new quarterback, junior John OKorn, a former transfer from the Houston Cougars. He will have two pro prospects to pass to in wide receiver Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt, along with four returning offensive line starters to protect him and open things up for running back DeVon Smith, who has a chance to become the first Michigan running back to gain over 1,000 yards rushing in a decade. They have one of the easiest rated schedules of any Power 5 Conference team and should be 7-0 before facing the brunt of their conference lineup, having to travel to Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State in the final 29 days of their season. Unfortunately for Go Bluers previous/current history is not on their side in any of those matchups, having gone 1-4 vs. Iowa, 1-7 vs. Michigan State and 1-10 vs. Ohio State in their most recent matchups.
7. Ohio State-In the four seasons since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, the Buckeyes have achieved an absurdedly impressive record of 50-4, with at least twelve wins in each year and a dominant conference record of 32-2 to go along with it. Unfortunately for Meyers team one of those Big-10 losses was at home against Michigan State at the tail end of last season and cost them a spot in the BCS playoffs and a chance at winning their second consecutive BCS National Championship. There will be a lot of new faces on the field this season, with just three starters back on each side of the ball, though OSU fans will still have plenty of chances to watch the departed players as many have moved on to the NFL, with five being take amongst the first 20 picks in the 2015 draft, and 12 taken overall in the first four rounds. There will still be plenty of talent to go around, with J.T. Barrett returning to the role of starting quarterback and hoping to mirror his season from 2014 when he ended up placing fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. Despite all those lost on the defense, including five of their top six in tackles amongst the eight starters gone, there is still plenty of immense talent with linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was second amongst returning conference players in tackles per games with 9.2, and defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who is tied for the lead in sacks amongst returning Big-10 players and fourth in tackles for loss with 14. The good news for their schedule is that they have only five road games and avoid Iowa from the Big-10, the bad news is a week three non-conference road matchup at Oklahoma and a last 28 days of the season stretch that sees them play five games including against Northwestern and Nebraska followed by closing the year at Michigan State and home against rival Michigan, a team they have beaten four times in a row and twelve of the last thirteen years. Replacing sixteen starters is never easy, but with a coach like Urban Meyer it would still be a surprise if we didnt see the Buckeyes in contention for the playoffs.
6. Tennessee-From 2008 to 2014 the Volunteers finished at or below the mediocrity line every year, ending the season with either a record of 7-6, 6-7 or 5-7 in each for a combined total of just 40-47. Last season started out similar with a record of 3-4 through the first seven games, but there was still plenty of room for hope as each loss was very close (overtime to Oklahoma, one point against Florida, by four against Arkansas and only five against Alabama as a 15 point underdog). Tennessee then proceeded to win their next six by an average of 22 points per game, and finished their year with plenty of momentum after crushing Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl. They are primed to exceed last years nine wins as they have seventeen returning starters as part of one of the best teams Knoxville has ever seen. The offense will be led by the backfield combination of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, both of which will have the added security blanket of having four starters back on their offensive line. Dobbs is back for his senior year after throwing for 2,291 yards and an efficient 15/5 TD-INT ratio, while also contributing 671 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, and he will have Hurd behind him coming off a season in which Jalen ran for 1,288 yards, scored fourteen touchdowns, and now finds himself just under 900 yards away from breaking the Tennessee all-time rushing record held by Travis Henry of 3,078 yards. The defense has eight starters back including five of its top six in tackles, most notably middle linebacker Jalen Reeve-Maybin, who led the team in tackles and tackles for loss, defensive end Derek Barnett, who had ten sacks on the season to finish fourth in the SEC and not to be out done, guaranteed future NFLer at cornerback, Cameron Sutton. Their schedule is just as beneficial to their success as their stacked roster, as the Vols have just four road games all season and also avoid the three beasts of the SEC West in Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss. This team has more potential than any team in recent memory at Tennessee, including the Peyton Manning squads and the Tee Martin led team that won a national championship in 1998, and should not only finally end their eleven game losing streak to Florida, but also having a legit chance of getting into the playoffs and winning their first national championship in 66 years.
5. LSU-With an 7-0 record and AP ranking of 4th in the polls, the Tigers looked to be on path for one of the four BCS playoff spots going into the final month of last season, but then the wheels came off as Les Miles team lost three of their next four games, all by at least fourteen points, before righting the ship and ending their year with a 56-27 throttling of Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. Expectations are sky high in Baton Rouge going into this season, and rightfully so with seventeen returning starters back including the current favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, running back Leonard Fournette, who last season ran for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. He is certainly not the only weapon on offense with fellow juniors, quarterback Brandon Harris and his top weapon, wide receiver Malachi Dupree, back to try and find balance and taken some of the pressure off Fournette. Defensively they return nine starters and four of them are near guarantees to be future early round picks in the NFL Draft- defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and linebacker Kendall Beckwith up front with cornerback TreDavious White and safety Jamal Adams leading what many believe to be the best defensive backfield in the country. While a neutral site matchup in Green Bay against Wisconsin to start the season is tough, this will amazingly be the Tigers fifth season in a row with only four true road games, and they get the added schedule benefit of avoiding both Tennessee and Georgia from the SEC-East. They will need to get past Alabama in November to have a chance at getting into the BCS Playoffs, something they have had great difficult doing of late, losing their last five games against the Crimson Tide by an average of over ten points per game.
4. Florida State-In the six years since Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles have gone 68-14, but its over the last four years that theyve really hit their stride (or women, repeatedly, outside of bars in the case of their Heisman candidate Dalvin Cook), during which time they had record of 51-5, a 3 year span record of 29 players drafted between 2013-2015, won three ACC Championships and a National Championship during their undefeated yet tainted, Jameis-Winston-should-never-have-been-allowed to play 2014 season. Despite all that recent success, this years team might be his best yet. The defense returns six starters from a unit that ranked 9th nationally in scoring and 19th in yards allowed per game. Despite losing four of their top seven tacklers from a year ago there isnt much concern, as they still have future first round draft picks with senior defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker and sophomore safety Derwin James leading the way. The offense is in even better shape with ten starters back, and whoever starts at quarterback between senior Sean McGuire and redshirt freshman Deondre Francois will have ample offensive weapons at their disposal while being protected by a veteran offensive line. Travis Rudolph is the best of a strong group of wide receivers who have three different players that had at least 50 catches last season, though all the focus will be on Heisman candidate Dalvin Cook, who ran for 1691 yards and scored 20 touchdowns in 2015. Cook has managed to avoid his summer streak of the last two years that involved run-ins with the law, first in 2014 when he was cited for the deplorable act of chaining three puppies together with a heavy chain, in the rain, so they couldnt move, followed by last years arrest for punching a woman repeatedly outside of a bar. But unlike Mario Pender and DeAndre Johnson, recent FSU players who were actually kicked off the team, Cook is a starter, so just like Winston in 2014, there was little to zero chance his suspension from the team would ever stick.
3. Clemson-The last five seasons have been the best run of football in the Tigers history, with an overall record of 56-12, double-digit wins in every season, an overall record of 33-2 at home in Death Valley, two ACC Conference titles and last year were just five points away from their first national crown since 1980, falling 45-40 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. There is little doubt that they can continue that same level of success in 2016, especially with head coach Dabo Sweeney patrolling the sidelines and Heisman hopeful DeShaun Watson leading the team on the field amongst eight starters returning to the offense. Watson is back for his junior (and highly probable final) season at quarterback for Clemson and its easy to see why he is considered one of the favorites to bring home the Heisman after seeing the magnitude of his statistics from last year, throwing for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns while also running for 1,105 yards and 12 additional scores. He is far from the only weapon on offense, as two fellow juniors who also put up great stats in 2015 join him: running back Wayne Glamn (1,527 yards & 14 touchdowns) and wide receiver Artavis Scott (93 catches for 901 yards and 6 touchdowns). The defense isnt in nearly as good of shape, returning only four starters and just one of their top six players in tackles from last years unit that ranked 10th overall in yards allowed per game. Thankfully for Clemson three of those four back are probable first team conference performers in defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, linebacker Ben Boulware and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley. With Watson projected to be one of the first players off the board in the upcoming NFL Draft there is little doubt that this will be his last season playing for the Tigers, and with a talent laden team around him, it would be a surprise to not see Clemson back in the BCS Playoffs, especially if they can get through the defacto ACC-Atlantic championship game in the final weekend of October in Tallahassee against Florida State.
2. Oklahoma- The Sooners enter 2016 with one of their best all-around teams through the seventeen years that Bob Stoops has been coaching in Norman, which says a lot considering in that timeframe they have had twelve season with double-digit wins, won seven Big-12 titles and a BCS National Championship in 2000 by beating Florida State 13-2 in the FedEx Orange Bowl. This years squad returns seven starters to an offense that was fourth in scoring and seventh in yards gained, including the catalyst of their success, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is back after throwing for 3,700 yards, passing for 36 touchdowns compared along with an additional seven scores on the ground. He is certainly not the only star on the offense, with running back Samaje Perine returning for his junior year after posting 1,349 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in 2015, one season after breaking the NCAA single game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas in 2014. They are low on experience at receiver with two of their top three in receptions gone from a year ago, but bring back future star at tight end sophomore Mark Andrews, who led the team with seven touchdowns catches last year. The defense loses four players that were 1st Team All Big-12 performers, but still has plenty of talent at all levels, led by end Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans and cornerback Jordan Thomas. They will be tested early with two tough non-conference games in the first fifteen days of their season, starting with Houston at NRG Stadium to open the year and Ohio State two weeks later in front of their home crowd at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Their Big-12 schedule is tough early on as well with the Sooners traveling to TCU for their first conference game and then the following week face Texas in the Red River Rivalry, a game they have lost twice in the past three years despite being a double-digit favorite in both. They will have time to regroup with a month of very winnable conference games before ending the year with games against Baylor, at West Virginia and then closing things out against interstate rival Oklahoma State. The schedule is tough, but with a team chock full of talent on both sides a second national championship for Stoops is a reasonable expectation for his Sooners.
1. Alabama-Love him or hate him, there is no denying the greatness of Nick Sabans ability to coach in the college ranks. His first year in Tuscaloosa was in 2007 and the Tide went 7-6, but in the eight years since they have put up a record of 98-12 and won four SEC Championships and more importantly four BCS National Championships. They find themselves in great position for another title run, this despite losing seven players to the NFL draft (all of which were drafted in the first 73 picks) and having to start spring practice with an open competition at quarterback for the third straight year. The winner of said battle for QB is expected to be sophomore Cooper Barrett, who will have his three top players in receptions back form 2015, including emerging star sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley who had 89 catches for 1,045 yards and 7 touchdowns to start of his college career along with top rated NFL tight end prospect OJ Howard and an offensive line led by left tackle Cam Robinson, who is expected to be one of the first lineman selected in the 2017 draft. Both Howard and Robinson will be able to share their draft experience with an Alabama defense that despite losing four of their top five in tackles, has at least eight players that are expected to play in the pros someday. That group includes defensive ends Jonathan Allen, DeShawn Hand and Dalvin Thomson, linebackers Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster, along with defensive backs Marion Humphrey and Eddie Jackson. With all that talent along with Saban at the helm as coach, its almost unfair that they also have the benefit of a schedule that has only four road games and also avoids Georgia, Florida and Missouri from the SEC-East division. If they can get through their first three weeks unscathed with games against USC, Western Kentucky and their conference opener against Ole Miss, it will be difficult to stop the rush of the Tide as they barrel toward a probable fourth BCS Championship since 2011. If you plan on beating the books long term, you need to take advantage of every edge you can get your hands on. Outside of knowing how to pick winners, the following article will educate you about the single most important facet of sports betting: Read this and prosper!