The 2016 college football season is almost here, which means the weekends are about to get that much better.
Entering the new year, there are many questions storming the scene: (1) Will the Alabama Crimson Tide repeat? (2) Will an SEC team win the title again? (3) Will a Pac-12 squad make the College Football Playoff? (4) Will the Ohio State Buckeyes or Michigan Wolverines make the playoff? (5) Who will win the Heisman? The questions are taking over, which tends to be the case at the start of every season.
No football has been played, so the media and experts alike can only speculate at this point. Regardless, Alabama enters the season with the No. 1 ranking in the sport, which can be expected since the Crimson Tide won the title last season. The Clemson Tigers, who fell to Nick Saban’s team in an absolute thrilling title game, enters 2016 with the No. 2 ranking in college football.
The season should bring some serious turmoil early and often because upsets tend to happen, and the top 25 is bound to change on a weekly basis. It would not be a surprise if a team or two shocked the country and climbed up the rankings. Just look at the Iowa Hawkeyes last season. They weren’t even ranked entering 2015, yet they almost made the College Football Playoff.
With that said, it’s time to take a look at five teams with the best chances of making the College Football Playoff in 2016. As the college football landscape changes, the College Football Playoff picture will as well.
The Stanford Cardinal are ranked as high as No. 7 entering the year. For all it’s worth, the next highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 is the Washington Huskies, who are ranked as high as No. 14 in the rankings.
The biggest thing Stanford has going for it is the return of do-everything-back Christian McCaffrey. Many people thought McCaffrey deserved the Heisman Trophy last season, and the running back’s stats would likely agree. He posted 2,019 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 645 receiving yards, and five receiving TDs.
With that said, quarterback Kevin Hogan is no longer on the Cardinal, and the Pac-12 is filled with talent. Look no further than the Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans to figure that one out. Although, the UCLA Bruins and Washington could always make a run at the conference title.
The biggest problem lies in the schedule as the Cardinal will have to take on three ranked teams in their first four games.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State Buckeyes were not flooded with a quarterback controversy this offseason, and that is a huge blessing. Just last season, the QB position was a three-man race, and that did not go as well as many people thought it would. Now, J.T. Barrett has the keys to the offense again, but he will no longer have running machine Ezekiel Elliott on his side.
Still, Ohio State enters the year with a top 10 ranking, and it will likely compete for a national title because that’s what head coach Urban Meyer does.
Ohio State will have to play the Oklahoma Sooners right off the bat on September 17. Oklahoma also enters the season with serious College Football Playoff hopes, but more from that squad later.
Luckily, the Buckeyes will get the Michigan Wolverines at home this season, but they will have to travel on the road to take on the Michigan State Spartans. As usual, both teams are expected to compete for the Big Ten title.
Returning for the Clemson Tigers is Deshaun Watson, who is a serious Heisman contender once again. As if that wasn’t enough on the offensive side of the ball, running back Wayne Gallman is also returning.
Clemson might not have the easiest schedule of all time, but it still has a very manageable one. The Tigers will open up the season against the Auburn Tigers. They will also have to travel on the road to take on the Florida State Seminoles on October 29. Looking at their schedule, the contest against Florida State proves to be their biggest test as FSU enters 2016 with a top five ranking.
Nonetheless, when a team has the best quarterback in the nation, which is arguably Deshaun Watson, it tends to rack up the wins.
Speaking of the best quarterback in the nation, Baker Mayfield definitely makes the conversation when having that discussion. As for the Oklahoma Sooners, well, they will enter 2016 by being ranked No. 3 in both major polls.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s schedule has some serious tests on it. For starters, the Sooners will open up the season against the Houston Cougars, which is a team that could sneak into the College Football Playoff picture. Then, Oklahoma will have to take on the Buckeyes. Games against the TCU Horned Frogs, Baylor Bears, Oklahoma State Cowboys, and others will certainly not be cakewalks. And don’t forget, Oklahoma will also take on the Texas Longhorns in the Red River Showdown on October 8.
If the Sooners can make it through their schedule with only one loss, then they will be considered for the College Football Playoff. If that does happen, then don’t be surprised if Mayfield is also in the running for the Heisman.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Alabama Crimson Tide have plenty of question marks entering the season. That tends to be the case when a team loses the Heisman winner in the offseason. Derrick Henry will now be doing work on Sundays, which means Alabama needs a new RB. Keep in mind; the Crimson Tide seem to always have the next great running back on their team.
Alabama is the defending national champ and Nick Saban recruits like a madman. The Crimson Tide is always stacked with talent.
The biggest issue for Alabama isn’t replacing Henry. No, the biggest issue for Alabama is its schedule. The Crimson Tide play in the SEC, which is arguably the best conference in college football on a yearly basis. No. 1 ranking in the country entering the season or not, the Crimson Tide will still have to go up against the USC Trojans in the very first game. They also have battles against the Ole Miss Rebels, Tennessee Volunteers, and LSU Tigers; just to name a few. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Ole Miss, Tennessee, or LSU ends up representing the SEC in the College Football Playoff.
Nonetheless, this should be yet another wild season in college football, and many different teams, including some outside of this list, could end up making the big show, which is the College Football Playoff in this case.
[Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images]