Alabama beat Clemson for the national championship on Monday, and the 2015 college football season is already ancient history.
The next time we see meaningful college football, it will be happening in Australia, when California and Hawaii kick off the 2016 season on Aug. 27. The next week is one of the best opening weeks imaginable: Clemson at Auburn, Georgia vs. North Carolina, Houston vs. Oklahoma, Alabama vs. USC, UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas, LSU at Wisconsin, Arizona vs. BYU, Florida State vs. Ole Miss and much more.
Throw in the very long list of potential Heisman Trophy candidates, and there is a whole lot to look forward to when the 2016 season begins, which means there is a lot to dissect over the next seven and a half football-free months.
So, we might as well get started now with a very, very early ranking of all 128 FBS teams for the 2016 college football season. Keep in mind that these rankings will change significantly by the time August rolls around, after an offseason of news and much closer analysis of teams, situations and conferences. Look at this as merely an early snapshot of teams' prospects for next season.
128. Eastern Michigan. After three straight 2-10 seasons, the Eagles went 1-11. Making progress would be a lot easier if the Eagles weren't in the loaded MAC West Division.
127. Kent State. Paul Haynes is now 9-26 since replacing Darrell Hazell. The Golden Flashes ranked dead last nationally in yards per play in 2015, getting shut out by three divisional opponents.
126. UL Monroe. The Warhawks tumbled to 6-19 over the last two years, resulting in the firing of Todd Berry and the hiring of Matt Viator, who just took McNeese State to a 10-1 mark at the FCS level.
125. Charlotte. The 49ers' quick build to the FBS level resulted in a 2-10 debut, ending with 10 straight losses. A senior-heavy team should make Charlotte more competitive in C-USA play in 2016.
124. Massachusetts. The Minutemen exit the MAC after four seasons, with no new home awaiting them. They'll rebuild the offense around rising star RB Marquis Young with QB Blake Frohnapfel and WR Tajae Sharpe gone.
123. UTSA. The Roadrunners are looking for their second-ever head coach after Larry Coker retired. They went just 3-9 in 2015, but they have been competitive for a young program. Big things will be expected from senior RB Jarveon Williams.
122. North Texas. After a dreadful 1-11 campaign, the Mean Green landed North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell as their new head coach. Instant satisfying results are impossible, but expect an improved offense.
121. Hawaii. With the Norm Chow era finished, the Warriors turn to alumnus and Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich for their rebuild after a 3-10 season. Hawaii went to seven bowls in nine seasons form 2002-10 but hasn't been back since then.
120. Kansas. David Beaty took over a brutal job and promptly went 0-12. The Jayhawks will be better in 2016 and are unlikely to go winless, especially given that they open with Rhode Island, a one-win FCS team. But they play five Big 12 road games and still have far too much ground to make up in the conference.
119. Ball State. Losing your head coach to a Power Five head coaching job isn't ideal, but at least it means you're successful. In Ball State's case, it lost head coach Pete Lembo to go to Maryland to be … assistant head coach and special teams coordinator at Maryland. Saints QB coach Mike Neu will now try to rebuild a team that has gone 8-16 the last two years after a 10-3 record in 2013.
118. Texas State. With Dennis Franchione stepping down after a 3-9 season, the Bobcats will turn to James Madison head coach and former Ohio State defensive coordinator Everett Withers. It's a strong hire that may take a year or two to pay off.
117. Troy. Neal Brown went 4-8 in his first year back at Troy as head coach. QB Brandon Silvers returns, but the Trojans face heavy skill-position attrition.
116. Miami (OH). Chuck Martin inherited a winless team and has gone 5-19 in his two seasons. Of course, the RedHawks' top passer and top five rushers in 2015 were all freshmen, so expect this offense to improve under Martin's leadership.
115. Florida Atlantic. Charlie Partridge has posted back-to-back 3-9 seasons. The Owls did, however, take Florida to overtime, and there is hope for the future in either QB Jason Driskel (brother of Jeff) or Daniel Parr (a three-star recruit).
114. Idaho. Paul Petrino was retained after improving the Vandals from back-to-back one-win seasons to 4-8, and QB Matt Linehan had a solid season that he can build on.
113. New Mexico State. After losing 17 games in a row, Doug Martin's Aggies finally won again, then actually won three in a row before dropping their final two to finish 3-9. That's still progress, and more progress will be easier with RB Larry Rose back after rushing for 1,651 yards.
112. Wyoming. While his former school, North Dakota State, continues to win FCS titles (five in a row now), Craig Bohl will enter his third year trying to resurrect Wyoming football. The Cowboys fell to 2-10 last year, but they'll be on the upswing with a more experienced defense, plus star RB Brian Hill.
111. Army. The Black Knights went 2-10 in Jeff Monken's second season, losing another heartbreaker to Navy. Perhaps 2016 can finally be the season the streak ends. Navy loses much of its excellent team, while Army will be more experienced on both sides of the ball.
110. South Alabama. A step backward was expected in 2015, but Joey Jones has done a nice job building this young program. Watch out for tailback Xavier Johnson, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry as a sophomore.
109. SMU. The Mustangs went only 2-10, but they were clearly an improved team under Chad Morris, who gets QB Matt Davis and just about everyone else back. SMU is trending upward. Baby steps.
108. UL Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns are still eligible for a bowl, but they face scholarship reductions because of NCAA sanctions. That's on top of slipping to 4-8 after four straight 9-4 seasons. The good news? Dynamic tailback Elijah McGuire is returning for his senior year.
107. Fresno State. Tim DeRuyter was forced to overhaul his coaching staff after a 3-9 season. He may be on the hot seat in 2016 as the offense continues to struggle in the post-Derek Carr era.
106. UNLV. Former high school coach Tony Sanchez stepped up to the college level to take on a project, with UNLV having won two games in four of its last five seasons. Sanchez went 3-9 and showed signs of progress. The Rebels aren't contenders, but they should be a tougher out for the Mountain West's top teams.
105. Florida International. The Golden Panthers won five games, but they lost their last two to C-USA heavyweights Marshall and Western Kentucky by a total score of 115-7, which isn't the ideal way to enter an offseason. The return of most of the offense should lead to improvement, though.
104. UCF. Hey, it can't get worse. The Knights went from the Fiesta Bowl to 0-12 in two years, and now Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost will try to orchestrate a turnaround. It won't happen instantly, but it's a lot easier to quickly build here than, say, Kansas.
103. Akron. Terry Bowden led the Zips to an 8-5 season, including their first-ever bowl win in their second-ever bowl appearance. A strong defense will have to rebuild, though, with six of the top seven tacklers gone.
102. Georgia State. The Panthers shockingly made a bowl in 2015 after winning one game in two FBS seasons, and the most shocking thing might have been that they got there by blowing out Georgia Southern. They have to find a new QB, but the defense will be excellent.
101. Buffalo. Lance Leipold went 109-6 in eight seasons at Division-III Wisconsin-Whitewater, so going 5-7 in one season at Buffalo must have felt jarring. Improved line play on both sides of the ball should have the Bulls in the hunt for a bowl game in 2016.
100. Rice. The Owls have trended downward, going from 10-4 to 8-4 to 5-7 the last three seasons. This was a young team in 2015, however, and they key to the offseason is finding a replacement for QB Driphus Jackson.
99. Nevada. The Wolf Pack have posted back-to-back 7-6 seasons, and while the offense has some life behind RB James Butler, an overhauled defensive front may make it difficult to do much better in 2016.
98. San Jose State. The Spartans went 5-7 and won a bowl game anyway, and Ron Caragher's recruiting efforts could start to pay off. The Spartans just need to somehow find a way to replace star RB Tyler Ervin.
97. Arkansas State. The Sun Belt champions actually held onto their coach again -- a rarity in recent successful years -- but Blake Anderson will say goodbye to QB Fredi Knighten and RB Michael Gordon. Progress on defense will be key to contending.
96. Tulane. The Green Wave made one of the year's best coaching hires in landing Willie Fritz from Georgia Southern. It will take some initial patience as Tulane switches to a new offense, which caused starting QB Tanner Lee to transfer.
95. Old Dominion. The Monarchs are a solid 11-13 in two FBS seasons, and getting nearly every starter back in 2016 should result in the program's first bowl appearance.
94. Louisiana Tech. Moving on from QB Jeff Driskel and RB Kenneth Dixon will be tough. They're two of 14 starters lost, so expect a rebuilding year after back-to-back nine-win seasons.
93. UTEP. The Miners lost star RB Aaron Jones for the season in September and struggled at times without him, including blowout losses to FIU and UTSA. Jones will return in 2016 to a much more experienced team that should get back to the postseason.
92. Purdue. The Darrell Hazell era hasn't sparked any excitement in West Lafayette, with a 6-30 record in three seasons. Hazell made a bunch of coaching changes, and the Boilermakers will try to climb out of the Big Ten West basement. It probably won't happen, but at least Purdue somehow avoids Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State despite the move to a nine-game Big Ten schedule.
91. Bowling Green. No more coach Dino Babers. No more QB Matt Johnson. No more WR Roger Lewis. New coach Mike Jinks will have a tough time guiding the Falcons to a fourth straight MAC East title, but then again this is the much easier MAC division.
90. Oregon State. Gary Andersen's first year featured a massive overhaul with a youth movement in many key places, including QB. The Beavers will undoubtedly improve after a messy 2-10 season, but they still need to settle on a quarterback and find a running back. It's all an uphill battle in a tough Pac-12 North.
89. Ohio. Frank Solich has finished at least .500 in seven straight seasons, which is no small feat at a place like Ohio. The Bobcats will be MAC East contenders in 2016, especially with Bowling Green taking a step back.
88. Central Michigan. The Chippewas have lost exactly six games in four straight seasons, going to bowl games in three of those four years. With QB Cooper Rush back, they may finally break that mark.
87. Colorado State. Mike Bobo went 7-6 in his first season as head coach. The Rams lose star WR Rashard Higgins and will have a QB competition between incumbent Nick Stevens and transfer Faton Bauta, who played for Bobo at Georgia.
86. Utah State. The Aggies collapsed after a blowout win over Boise State, finishing a disappointing 6-7. Kent Myers is a solid building block at QB, but the talented defense faces a big rebuild.
85. Northern Illinois. The Huskies have won six straight MAC West titles, but they were just held to 33 total yards by Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. It was a horrifying result, but don't overreact to one bowl game. NIU has enough returning to be a factor in the MAC yet again. It always is.
84. Wake Forest. Dave Clawson knew he was facing a challenge when he took the Wake Forest job, and it's proving to be true. The Demon Deacons 6-18 in two seasons, and in they somehow failed to score a touchdown in their only two ACC wins. This was a young team, though, so there is reason for hope.
83. Syracuse. Quarterback injuries have devastated the Orange the last few years, but now they have an exciting pairing in sophomore Eric Dungey and new head coach Dino Babers. Babers is going to need some time to retool the Orange, but at least his arrival gives Syracuse fans something to be excited about. They may not be good, but they may occasionally be more fun.
82. East Carolina. The Pirates strangely fired Ruffin McNeill after one down season, hiring Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery to replace him. With a more experienced team, they should at least get back to the postseason.
81. Connecticut. Bob Diaco guided the Huskies from 2-10 to 6-7 and a bowl bid, and another bowl bid could be on the horizon with a feisty defense and a young offense that is bound to improve.
80. Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane are on the upswing under coach Philip Montgomery, who will get QB Dane Evans back for his senior season. They still might not be able to stop anybody, but they'll be dangerous and fun to watch.
79. Rutgers. Chris Ash will begin trying to clean up Kyle Flood's mess. On the field, that starts with fixing a defense that finished 121st in yards per play and was particularly bad against the pass. It also means finding some sort of consistency on offense in the passing game, especially with WR Leonte Carroo gone.
78. Boston College. The Eagles replaced their whole offensive line and lost their starting QB and RB to injuries, leading to a 3-9 season in which they went winless in the ACC and averaged 10.6 points per game against FBS opponents. The offense is bound to improve and will try to get a boost from Kentucky transfer QB Patrick Towles, but an excellent defense loses its three best players, plus coordinator Don Brown.
77. Colorado. Mike MacIntyre inherited a mess and is now 10-27 after a 4-9 season. Upward mobility is difficult in a competitive Pac-12 South Division, especially for a team that has to play at Michigan, at Oregon, at USC and at Stanford in its first eight games.
76. New Mexico. The Lobos unfortunately lose RB Jhurell Pressley, but Bob Davie has done a great job building the program. The Lobos made their first bowl since 2007, and they get most of the rest of their potent run game back, plus the bulk of their defense.
75. Maryland. New head coach D.J. Durkin has assembled an impressive head coaching staff around him. Instantly competing in the Big Ten East is another matter. Maryland can't possibly throw 29 interceptions again, and at least QB Perry Hills' running ability was a factor at times.
74. Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers held onto coach Jeff Brohm for another year, but they lose star QB Brandon Doughty and coordinator Tyson Helton. Replacing Doughty is impossible, but the Hilltoppers have the talent to lean on their running game more -- although the future of RB Leon Allen after a knee injury is unclear -- and get star WR Taywan Taylor back.
73. Middle Tennessee. The consistently solid Blue Raiders could become C-USA contenders behind the prolific duo of QB Brent Stockstill and WR Richie James, who put up big numbers as freshmen. The key will be replacing much of the back seven on defense.
72. Indiana. The Hoosiers finally went bowling again but lost in a Pinstripe Bowl heartbreaker to Duke, meaning they still have finished with a winning record only once in 20 years. Kevin Wilson got a new contract, and more patience could be needed with the need to replace QB Nate Sudfeld and RB Jordan Howard.
71. Memphis. Mike Norvell will try to keep the success of Justin Fuente going, although he'll have to do it without star QB Paxton Lynch. Fortunately, much of the rest of the team returns.
70. Illinois. Illinois' messy athletic department enters 2016 with Bill Cubit as the "permanent" head coach, although his two-year contract makes it seems like he's still the interim. Wes Lunt will return to win the award for the quarterback who feels like he has been in college for 20 years, and he'll be aided by the return of star WR Mike Dudek from a knee injury.
69. Toledo. The Rockets wisely opted for continuity in promoting offensive coordinator Jason Candle to replace Matt Campbell. They'll have a dangerous running game with Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson and will be MAC contenders again.
68. Iowa State. The Cyclones had to move on from Paul Rhoads after he won eight games in his last three seasons, and they'll turn to Toledo coach Matt Campbell to try to turn around what is a tough job. Really, Iowa State just wants to get back to a bowl game, and it's not completely out of the question with emerging players like RB Mike Warren, WR Allen Lazard and QB Joel Lanning.
67. Vanderbilt. Some progress was made in Derek Mason's second season, particularly with the defense becoming a formidable unit. Taking another step forward from 4-8 will still be a challenge, even in a mediocre SEC East. The Commodores ranked 120th in yards per play and will hope for a strong offseason from rising sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur.
66. Cincinnati. QB questions linger after Gunner Kiel missed the Hawaii Bowl and Hayden Moore got the start in a dreadful outing for the Bearcats, who lost coordinator Eddie Gran and QBs coach Darin Hinshaw to Kentucky.
65. N.C. State. The Wolfpack had an empty 7-6 record in 2015, beating zero bowl teams, and they fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada and lose QB Jacoby Brissett. A small step back wouldn't be surprising with a new QB and a tougher schedule that features Notre Dame rotating on.
64. Navy. There is no replacing Keenan Reynolds. Still, Ken Niumatalolo decided to stay on as coach, and the Midshipmen have been so consistently successful that they should still be bowl-bound, even though they lose much of the rest of their starting offense too.
63. Marshall. Doc Holliday continues to do a great job in Huntington. The Thundering Herd went 10-3 with a bowl win despite losing Rakeem Cato and regressing on offense, and freshman QB Chase Litton showed promise after being pressed into action.
62. Virginia. The debut prospects of first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall could look much better if he can convince QB Taysom Hill to come with him. Mike London went to one bowl in six seasons, and while the Cavaliers have talent on defense, explosiveness on offense has been hard to find.
61. South Carolina. Can a Will Muschamp staff fix an offense? WR Pharoh Cooper and RB Brandon Wilds are gone, and there's not much production back. The Gamecocks went just 3-9 last season, and they lose many of their key players, although star LB Skai Moore fortunately decided to return.
60. Minnesota. The first full season of the Tracy Claeys era will hopefully feature better injury luck for the Golden Gophers. They're retooling their offense, but it will still be run-heavy centered around QB Mitch Leidner and RBs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Fortunately, the schedule is much easier after they drew TCU, Ohio State and Michigan in 2015.
59. Georgia Southern. Losing coach Willie Fritz is a big blow, but Tyson Summers inherits a team that will still feature RB Matt Breida and QBs Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison. The offense will keep rolling.
58. Kentucky. Questions persist as to whether Kentucky will ever get over the hump. The offense will turn to former touted recruit Drew Barker with Patrick Towles transferring, and Cincinnati coordinator Eddie Gran comes in to call the plays. After two 5-7 seasons, Mark Stoops really needs to take advantage of a weakened SEC East and get the Wildcats back to a bowl game, especially with all of the backs and receivers returning.
57. Temple. Coach Matt Rhule is back to lead the defending AAC East champions. They'll be a factor in the conference race again, but there's reshuffling to do without building blocks LB Tyler Matakevich, DT Matt Ioannidis, DE Nate Smith and C Kyle Friend.
56. Duke. The Blue Devils finally earned their first bowl win since the 1960 season and have been to the postseason four straight years. They face a few key losses (especially DB Jeremy Cash), but look for enough progress from QB Thomas Sirk to get to another bowl under David Cutcliffe.
55. California. The Golden Bears finally got back to a bowl game. Now what do they do without Jared Goff (not to mention top WR Kenny Lawler)? Sonny Dykes has made improvements elsewhere, and at least Cal kept him after he flirted with several jobs in December. After an 8-5 season, the hope should be getting back to the postseason.
54. Missouri. The Tigers promoted Barry Odom to replace Gary Pinkel, and Odom brought in former Oklahoma and Utah State offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to attempt to fix a broken offense. Stability on the O-line is needed, as will some semblance of explosiveness. Odom at least pieces to work with on defense, with rising stars Charles Harris and Walter Brady leading the way up front.
53. Air Force. After a somewhat surprising division title, Air Force will get back QB Nate Romine after he missed most of the season with a knee injury. All of the running backs return, in addition to star DB Weston Steelhammer and much of the defense. The Falcons could be the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy frontrunner.
52. Northwestern. Anthony Walker returns to the defense, but otherwise a great unit will have plenty of rebuilding to do with players like Nick VanHoose and Deon Lowry gone. That means there will be significant pressure on the offense to improve after finishing 122nd in yards per play. QB Clayton Thorson has potential, but expect regression from a season in which the Wildcats won 10 games but got blown out three times and went 5-0 in one-possession games.
51. Penn State. Lots of questions surround James Franklin right now, especially with the departures of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop (Tennessee) and offensive line coach Herb Hand (Auburn) for lateral moves. Franklin will hand the reins of the offense to Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead, who will be tasked with finding a way to fix the massive O-line problem and developing a replacement for QB Christian Hackenberg. Given those issues, along with the losses of three NFL-caliber defensive linemen, it's hard to expect Penn State to make much noise in the Big Ten again this year. There is individual talent, though, starting with standout RB Saquon Barkley and WR Chris Godwin.
50. Texas Tech. Another year to wonder if Texas Tech can stop anybody. In their first season under new coordinator David Gibbs, the Red Raiders ranked 122nd in defensive yards per play. As always, they'll score plenty of points, especially with Patrick Mahomes back at QB, but RB DeAndre Washington and WR Jakeem Grant are both tough losses to handle.
49. Kansas State. Bill Snyder is returning for another season at age 76, and he's often defied expectations. Eight of the top nine tacklers return on defense, and the Wildcats should be healthier at quarterback, meaning it's possible that they can take a step back forward. Finding some explosive playmakers on offense is a must, though.
48. Georgia Tech. Despite returning QB Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets plummeted from the Orange Bowl to 3-9. Ending up somewhere in between feels like a reasonable expectation for 2016 with Thomas back again, along with most of the skill-position contributors.
47. Appalachian State. The Mountaineers went 11-2 and won a bowl game, and they return the backfield combination of QB Taylor Lamb and RB Marcus Cox. This looks like the best team in the Sun Belt.
46. Western Michigan. The Broncos won't hold onto P.J. Fleck much longer. After two eight-win seasons, the Broncos return QB Zach Terrell, WR Corey Davis and RBs Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan. They can survive the early departure of WR Daniel Braverman and compete for the MAC title.
45. BYU. The unexpected departure of Bronco Mendenhall for Virginia means that former Oregon State and Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake steps in. QB Tanner Mangum is back, but the Cougars face another tricky independent schedule, with Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Toledo, Michigan State, Mississippi State and Boise State all before their bye in late October.
44. Southern Miss. After a devastating fall, the Eagles climbed back up under Todd Monken, winning their division. Most of a prolific offense is back, including QB Nick Mullens, meaning a repeat is likely.
43. Pittsburgh. Expect improvement out of the Pitt defense with Pat Narduzzi in his second season. With wideout Tyler Boyd and coordinator Jim Chaney gone, the offense will likely be built around the running game, led by Qadree Ollison, with James Conner hoping to get back on the field after being diagnosed with cancer in November.
42. Virginia Tech. The Justin Fuente hire may have been the best of the offseason, and now we'll see how quickly he can fix a broken offense (which, to be fair, just put up 55 points in the bowl … which, to be fair, was against Tulsa). Fuente will have a QB competition with Michael Brewer gone, with juco transfer Jerod Evans a potential answer.
41. Texas. Perhaps no coach faces more pressure in 2016 than Charlie Strong, who is now 11-14 in two seasons and will have another new play caller in Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert. Gilbert will be charged with finding some sort of reliability at quarterback and on the offensive line. The Longhorns face another tough start to the season with Notre Dame, at Cal, at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the first five games.
40. Arizona State. QB Mike Bercovici and coordinator Mike Norvell are gone after a disappointing 6-7 campaign. Tailbacks Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage return, but there's a lot of work to be done for Todd Graham to fix a leaky defense and find a new quarterback among several inexperienced candidates.
39. Nebraska. By no means should Nebraska fans be encouraged by Mike Riley's debut, with a fall from consistent nine-win seasons to 6-7, but the Cornhuskers weren't quite as bad as their record indicated. The bowl win over UCLA helps aid that thought too. The Huskers desperately need more consistency from QB Tommy Armstrong, and they also need to fix a broken pass defense.
38. San Diego State. The Aztecs won their last 10 games, going unbeaten in the Mountain West and blowing out Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl. With RB Donnel Pumphrey returning, along with much of the defense, they're an easy choice to win the West Division again.
37. Mississippi State. Dan Mullen will be staying at least another season, and now he'll try to win without Dak Prescott and with a new defensive coordinator for the second year in a row. There's hope on defense despite early losses of Beniquez Brown and Chris Jones, but the Bulldogs have more question marks than anyone else in the SEC West.
36. Arkansas. The Razorbacks will need the defense to make a leap back forward to make up for heavy attrition on offense that includes the losses of QB Brandon Allen, RB Alex Collins, RB Jonathan Williams, TE Hunter Henry and three linemen. The new QB will likely be Austin Allen, who is Brandon's brother. The offense will be built around RB Kody Walker and WRs Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed.
35. Utah. Utah may have won the Las Vegas Bowl against BYU, but turnover luck played a big role. The offense was a mess without Devontae Booker, and the defense has some retooling to do without linebackers Gionni Paul and Jared Norris. The fate of the season could rest on the shoulders of transfer QB Troy Williams.
34. Arizona. Rich Rodriguez will overhaul the defense as the Wildcats try to bounce back from a fall from Pac-12 South champions to 7-6. The hope is that further struggles on defense will be balanced out by healthy seasons for QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson, who sparked the division title run as freshmen in 2014.
33. Auburn. There will be no astronomical playoff expectations in 2016. After a highly disappointing season, Gus Malzahn will try to fix the offense, with Jeremy Johnson and Sean White also battling Florida State/juco transfer John Franklin for the QB job. The defense also faces more rebuilding, with Will Muschamp fleeing after one season and the Tigers poaching Kevin Steele from LSU. The good news is that standout end Carl Lawson decided to return.
32. Texas A&M. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, but do they have a QB? Former five-star recruits Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both transferred, and Kevin Sumlin has gone from one of the biggest rising stars in coaching to on the hot seat. The Aggies have collapsed two years in a row, and it appears they'll now turn to Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight to save the QB situation. He will have some supporting talent, led by standout WR Christian Kirk, and the defense should improve in John Chavis' second season as coordinator.
31. Wisconsin. Losing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda hurts, and the Badgers face a schedule that is absolutely brutal. After drawing a favorable 2015 slate, the Badgers face LSU, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State outside their division. All of those games, plus Iowa, are in the first seven games of the season. They need to find a new QB, and they need to fix the running game, with the return of Corey Clement hopefully providing a needed spark.
30. West Virginia. Wendell Smallwood declared for the draft, but the Mountaineers' suddenly run-heavy offense still has some hope with Rushel Shell back at tailback. They do need to get more out of Skyler Howard as a passer overall, but he ended the season on a high note with 532 passing yards against Arizona State the Cactus Bowl. Whether or not any of that success carries over to 2016 could decide Dana Holgorsen's job status.
29. South Florida. Willie Taggart went from the hot seat to a new contract with USF's excellent second half of the season. Getting QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack back, among many other key players, makes the Bulls the early AAC East favorites and a dangerous team.
28. Boise State. Despite returning most of their starting lineup (beyond the QB and RB), Boise State stumbled in 2015, finishing 9-4 and not winning its division. Players like S Darian Thompson and DE Kamalei Correa will be missed, but the talent is in place for the Broncos to rebound behind rising star quarterback Brett Rypien, who was pressed into action as a freshman when Ryan Finley (who will return) was injured. Boise State remains the safest bet in the Mountain West and a contender for a major bowl bid.
27. Miami. The Mark Richt era begins, with expectations high for a program mired in mediocrity since joining the ACC. Richt at least has someone to build around in junior QB Brad Kaaya. They'll be better in the trenches and have solid skill talent, so they could compete for the Coastal Division title.
26. Washington State. The Cougars broke through in 2015 despite an opening loss to Portland State, and they're poised to challenge for a spot in the top 25 again with standout quarterback Luke Falk returning as a junior. Falk is a perfect match for Mike Leach, and he'll have excellent receiver Gabe Marks back at his disposal. The Cougars also made noticeable strides on defense this fall, meaning this will be a dangerous team capable of an upset or two, at least, if not competing for the Pac-12 North title.
25. Washington. Chris Petersen broke in a new QB in freshman Jake Browning and a new RB in freshman Myles Gaskin in 2015, and suddenly the Huskies are poised to be fast risers in 2016. Petersen proved himself over and over at Boise State, and he has rising stars to build around. This was a young team that will be more seasoned next year, and while we shouldn't go overboard with a team that went 7-6, a big step forward is a reasonable expectation.
24. Florida. The Gators unexpectedly won the SEC East title in Jim McElwain's first season, but by the end of the season they looked nothing like a division winner. Will Grier's midseason suspension derailed an already shaky offense -- mediocre running game, lack of playmakers, patchwork offensive line -- with Treon Harris struggling with accuracy much of the season. In their last three games, the Gators scored 24 points against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan, nine of which game on a safety and a punt return. Grier is transferring, and the quarterback spot will fall to Harris again, or transfer Luke Del Rio, freshman Feleipe Franks or freshman Kyle Trask. The offense is likely to improve, but the defense suffers a wave of departures, including Vernon Hargreaves, Antonio Morrison, Jonathan Bullard, Keanu Neal and potentially Marcus Maye.
23. UCLA. Freshman phenom QB Josh Rosen stepped into an otherwise experienced lineup in 2015, and the result was an 8-5 record. He's the centerpiece now, and he'll have to lean a new offense with Noel Mazzone off to Texas A&M … without RB Paul Perkins, WRs Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte and three starting offensive linemen. Rosen gives the Bruins a chance in the Pac-12 South, but six early departures -- also including Myles Jack and Kenny Clark -- will hurt.
22. Georgia. Kirby Smart inherits plenty of questions at his alma mater. While Georgia finished 10-3 this season, it struggled at quarterback and also head to deal with a brutal knee injury to star tailback Nick Chubb. Chubb will attempt to return to join what could be a loaded backfield with Sony Michel, but the questions will circle back to quarterback, where Greyson Lambert will again battle Brice Ramsey, with all the attention on the development of early enrollee true freshman QB Jacob Eason. Led by Trenton Thompson and Lorenzo Carter, the defense will still have plenty to work with despite the losses of Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins.
21. Louisville. We can't overreact to a bowl win against a broken Texas A&M team, but the rise of freshman QB Lamar Jackson was encouraging. Jackson ran for 226 yards in the Music City Bowl, and he gives Bobby Petrino an excellent building block. On a solid defense, the Cardinals got plenty of good news with players like Devonte Fields and Keith Kelsey opting to return to school. This would be the favorite in the ACC Coastal, but unfortunately for the Cardinals, they're stuck in the Atlantic with Clemson and Florida State.
20. Michigan State. The Spartans will surely find ways to play the "nobody believes in us" card all offseason. It's what they always do, but it's especially true after a 38-0 loss to Alabama, the type of game that will actually cause people to stop believing in them. To make things worse following that Cotton Bowl debacle, they'll say goodbye to QB Connor Cook, C Jack Allen, OT Jack Conklin, WR Aaron Burbridge and DE Shilique Calhoun, among other key players. At this point, coach Mark Dantonio has proved that he can sustain success in East Lansing, and there's little reason to expect that the Spartans will plummet out of the rankings, even if they're not a great bet to return to the playoff.
19. TCU. Remember Kenny Hill? The sensation of the beginning of the 2014 season at Texas A&M will try to resurrect his career at TCU as the replacement for Trevone Boykin, under the guidance of co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. This is a terrific coaching staff that squeezed 11 wins out of a team decimated by injuries. In 2016, injuries can't possibly get worse, although the Horned Frogs will have to transition to Hill and move on without standout receiver Josh Doctson. It will be easier if a healthier defense makes strides.
18. Iowa. The Rose Bowl likely confirmed many suspicions that Iowa wasn't quite as good as its perfect 12-0 regular season record, but the Hawkeyes were still efficient on offense and stingy on defense, with much of their top talent returning in 2016. That includes QB C.J. Beathard and, surprisingly, CB Desmond King, who won the Thorpe Award and is returning for his senior season. Regression feels inevitable, but the schedule again sets up well for the Hawkeyes to be a Big Ten contender.
17. Oklahoma State. After a tough finish to the 2015 season, Oklahoma State will welcome back a proven quarterback in junior Mason Rudolph plus big-play receivers in James Washington and Marcell Ateman. To take the next step, though, the Cowboys need to find a more consistent running back and capable replacements for DE Emmanuel Ogbah and CB Kevin Peterson, the stars of the defense.
16. USC. The Trojans' talent continues to be enticing, but the administrative/coaching problems and daunting schedules do them no favors. In 2016 under Clay Helton, USC plays Alabama and Notre Dame in nonconference play and Stanford, Oregon and Washington from the Pac-12 North. It's a brutal road. Still, the Trojans have a chance behind players like WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR/CB Adoree Jackson and RB Ronald Jones, with high hopes for the new QB, whether it's Max Browne or Sam Darnold.
15. North Carolina. An opener against Georgia will provide a national stage for North Carolina to try to prove itself again. While QB Marquise Williams is gone, the Tar Heels will still have plenty of weapons. New QB Mitch Trubisky has some experience, and he'll have a solid receiving corps plus standout RB Elijah Hood. Make some more strides on defense under Gene Chizik, and the Tar Heels could repeat as ACC Coastal champions.
14. Stanford. Late kickoff times on the East Coast won't matter next year. Everyone is well aware of just how dangerous all-purpose weapon Christian McCaffrey is, and he'll be responsible for high expectations for the Cardinal in 2016 as he tries to win the Heisman. He might have to do even more himself with the offensive line hit hard by losses, in addition to departures of QB Kevin Hogan, TE Austin Hooper, LB Blake Martinez and WRs Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste. David Shaw has mostly earned the benefit of the doubt, but despite his incredible talent and production, McCaffrey alone doesn't make Stanford a slam dunk to win the Pac-12.
13. Tennessee. While it felt like Tennessee failed to meet heightened expectations this season, really the Volunteers did about what was expected: They finished 9-4 and ranked No. 22 in the AP poll, after opening at No. 25. Despite the heartbreaking early-season losses, they recovered nicely, and now they'll return a lot of talent to a team that should be the SEC East favorite. It's still a work in progress, but Butch Jones is slowly building the Vols up. They'll benefit from the addition of former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who inherits players like DE Derek Barnett and LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin. On offense, Joshua Dobbs returns at quarterback, flanked by Jalen Hurd and hopefully Alvin Kamara.
12. Houston. Beyond rebuilding the defensive backfield and replacing tailback Kenneth Farrow and top receiver Demarcus Ayers, there isn't much for Houston to worry about. It appears that Tom Herman will be back for at least another season as head coach, and quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (2,828 passing yards; 1,108 rushing yards) will return as well. Houston's only loss this season was a cross-country road trip to UConn with Ward hurt, sandwiched between big games against Memphis and Navy. The Cougars won a tough AAC, and they ended the season by taking down Florida State in the Peach Bowl. They're the obvious Group of Five favorite to return to the New Year's Six bowl lineup.
11. Ole Miss. Chad Kelly's decision to return for his senior season puts Ole Miss in position to be a contender again. The enigmatic Kelly had his long-awaited breakthrough in 2015, propelling the Rebels' offense and ending on a high note in the Sugar Bowl blowout of Oklahoma State. There will be a lot for Hugh Freeze to replace, with 2013 recruiting class studs Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche gone, but it's not as if Freeze hasn't continued to recruit well, at least by Ole Miss standards. There aren't many proven quarterbacks in the SEC, and Ole Miss is fortunate to have one now. Given the way the defense has played the last couple years, the foundation is in place for another successful season.
10. Oregon. The transfer of Vernon Adams from the FCS level to Oregon was a wild success, at least when Adams was actually on the field and 100 percent healthy. The Ducks struggled when he was hurt in the first half of the season, and they suffered one of the biggest collapses in football history in the second half of the Alamo Bowl when he was injured. When on the field, Adams led the nation in passer rating. Now, Oregon will have a new offensive coordinator, receivers coach Matt Lubick, after Scott Frost got the UCF job, and they'll rely on another FCS transfer at QB, with Montana State's dual threat Dakota Prukop. It's impossible to know if this transition will go smoothly, but Prukop will participate in spring practice, unlike Adams, and he'll have plenty of supporting talent, led by Heisman candidate tailback Royce Freeman. The biggest issue may be fixing a problematic defense that loses Pac-12 defensive player of the year DeForest Buckner and is searching for a new coordinator after Don Pellum was demoted.
9. Baylor. It's not that Baylor doesn't always run often, despite its reputation as a wide-open passing attack, but the Bears will be able to re-adjust after Art Briles devised a brilliant run-first game plan against North Carolina because of the never-ending injuries at quarterback. In 2016, Baylor will get both Seth Russell (who led the nation in passer rating at the time of his injury) and Jarrett Stidham back. They won't have Corey Coleman to throw to or Spencer Drango to block for them, but the Russell Athletic Bowl -- and the last several years, for that matter -- have shown just how easy it is to trust Briles with putting together a prolific offense. And while the defense will have to rebuild up front without Andrew Billings, Shawn Oakman, Jamal Palmer and Beau Blackshear, the unit has made enough strides under coordinator Phil Bennett that the Bears should be a Big 12 threat again. Another laughable nonconference schedule at least gives the lines time to rebuild.
8. Notre Dame. Suddenly Notre Dame has another quarterback battle on its hands. It's not quite at the level of 2015 Ohio State, but Brian Kelly has a favorable problem, with Malik Zaire returning from injury to try to re-take his job from DeShone Kizer, who will be a sophomore. Zaire appeared ready for a breakout, but he was lost for the season in Week 2, opening the door for Kizer's solid freshman season. Either way, Notre Dame should be in good shape at quarterback, assuming Kelly manages the situation well. Elsewhere, depth was quite apparent this season with a 10-win season despite a long list of injuries, but it will be tested in 2016. Stars like LB Jaylon Smith, OT Ronnie Stanley, WR Will Fuller, C Nick Martin, RB C.J. Prosise and CB KeiVarae Russell are all gone, leaving plenty of pressing questions. Still, after two injury-plagued seasons, it's hard to imagine the Irish not finally getting better injury luck.
7. Ohio State. Casual fans might not recognize anybody but QB J.T. Barrett next season. Nearly everyone who could reasonably go pro did go pro, joining a list of important seniors that will be gone too. Yes, this will be a rebuilding project. But Urban Meyer has recruited at a high level, with plenty of rising skill and athleticism, and at least this offseason the Buckeyes know that they are building the offense around Barrett. Given the loss of talent, maybe it's hard to imagine Ohio State besting their 2015 performance and getting to the playoff, but this is a team that will get better and better as the season progresses and could become very dangerous if playmakers step up in the receiving corps and secondary.
6. Michigan. Get ready for an offseason with astronomical expectations. It's Jim Harbaugh's season. He surpassed expectations in year one, and he is in a more winnable division with Ohio State and Michigan State facing heavy attrition. While the Wolverines will have a new QB (possibly Houston transfer John O'Korn or a freshman), they should be stout on the offensive line and in the running game. There are a handful of crucial losses on defense, but there is rising talent to build around, plus All-America cornerback Jourdan Lewis announced that he will return. Harbaugh is a great coach, surrounded by a great staff. Some growing pains can still be expected, but the Big Ten may be there for the taking.
5. Oklahoma. The Sooners' season of redemption ended in disappointment with their loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but they'll return enough talent to take another shot at Bob Stoops' second national title. This will be the second year for the offense under Lincoln Riley, with quarterback Baker Mayfield and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon all back. The Sooners should also be solid along the defensive line and in the secondary, and this looks like the most complete team in the Big 12 again.
4. LSU. Les Miles won the power struggle -- for now, at least -- and while he had to find another new defensive coordinator, he actually got an upgrade, stealing Dave Aranda from Wisconsin to replace Kevin Steele. Despite LSU's issues on offense beyond Leonard Fournette, and despite the underwhelming defense in 2015, this team is poised for a breakthrough in 2016. Aranda inherits a ton of talent defensively, led by safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Kendell Beckwith, and Fournette and players like Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural at receiver give the team plenty of playmakers. LSU will be a good team that should have little problem winning nine or 10 games again. Taking a step forward and actually competing with Alabama for the SEC title will require more reliable play at quarterback from Brandon Harris. Beyond that question, this is an experienced team that has recruited better than anyone not named Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State in recent years.
3. Clemson. The Tigers will experience plenty of losses from a team that came within a touchdown of 15-0 perfection and a national title. They'll lose ACC defensive player of the year Shaq Lawson and star cornerback Mackensie Alexander, and they'll lose other key defenders, making this the second year in a row that one of the nation's best defenses will be faced with a rebuilding project -- this one even more so than last year. But Clemson can take comfort in knowing that it has the best building block in the country. We knew that Deshaun Watson was the best quarterback in the country, and even in the loss to Alabama, he proved that he may just be the best all-around player. He'll have plenty of talent returning around him, and this coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for how it has recruited and how it has developed players. This will be a playoff contender again next season, although competition in the ACC may be steeper than it was in 2015.
2. Florida State. The 2015 season was bound to be a rebuilding year, and "rebuilding" resulted in 10 wins and a Peach Bowl appearance. A loss to Houston was disappointing, but life could be worse and one bad bowl performance isn't the end of the world. Now, the Seminoles are poised to bring back a ton of impact players. Nearly the entire offense returns, led by Heisman candidate tailback Dalvin Cook, tackle Roderick Johnson and receiver Travis Rudolph, and while they'll say goodbye to key players like Jalen Ramsey and Terrance Smith on defense, Jimbo Fisher's impressive recruiting efforts are poised to pay off. From safety Derwin James to end Josh Sweat, there is a lot of rising talent ready to become stars. The Noles just need to settle on a QB, whether it's senior Sean Maguire, sophomore J.J. Cosentino, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois or true freshman Malik Henry, who enrolled early.
1. Alabama. Lane Kiffin's third season as offensive coordinator will feature Alabama fourth's quarterback in four years. After the stability of the AJ McCarron era, the Crimson Tide lost in the playoff semifinals with fifth-year senior Blake Sims, then won the national championship with fifth-year senior (and former transfer) Jake Coker. The Tide will likely go younger in 2016, with redshirt freshman Blake Barnett -- a five-star recruit in the class of 2015 -- the early favorite to win the job. He'll be flanked by a new tailback with Derrick Henry off to the NFL, and the historically great defense will also be hit hard by NFL losses, including A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Reggie Ragland. There is, of course, no need to panic. Alabama has signed top recruiting class after top recruiting class, and what helped make this season's defense so great was its depth. It'll be next man up, and Alabama will still be the SEC's safest bet, making it a top playoff contender and, still, the gold standard in college football.