With signing day in the books, college football has moved firmly into the offseason, which means lot of spare time to get mad at Jim Harbaugh and even more time to endlessly speculate about next season.
Over the next six months, several teams will start to get increasing amounts of hype as sleeper title contenders, while others will be dismissed as sinking ships with coaches on the hot seat. Based on recent trends on the field and in recruiting, here's a look at a team from each Power Five conference, plus the Group of Five as a whole, that is trending upward and trending downward.
Rising: Miami. If Louisville were in the Coastal Division, it would be a strong candidate. While the Cardinals' 2016 recruiting class is nothing special, Bobby Petrino returns a potentially strong team for next fall, led by rising star QB Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately, Louisville shares a division with Clemson and Florida State, two teams that may start the season in the top five. The much easier path to success is in the Coastal, a division that has been wide-open since Virginia Tech hit a wall in the last few years under Frank Beamer.
There are plenty of possible risers in the division thanks to the stellar head coaching hires of December: Virginia Tech knocked its search out of the park by landing Justin Fuente, and Virginia pulled off a surprise by poaching Bronco Mendenhall from BYU. But in a wide-open division, it seems reasonable to cautiously buy into Miami thanks to the hiring of alum Mark Richt as head coach. To be fair, Richt was fired because he struggled to break through a ceiling at Georgia, but a fairly quick turnaround seems plausible. After all, "turnaround" for Miami at this point merely requires winning the division, something it has not done since joining the ACC in 2004. Miami's No. 21 recruiting class was hardly a breakthrough, but it was still the best class in the Coastal. Richt inherits a capable quarterback in junior Brad Kaaya, and Miami has been recruiting at a top-20 level -- better than anyone else in the division.
Falling: Georgia Tech. Perhaps 2014 was merely an aberration. There were questions about whether the Yellow Jackets were getting stale entering that season, and Paul Johnson proceeded to upend expectations by putting together an excellent offense that led the team to an 11-3 season, an Orange Bowl win and a No. 8 final AP ranking. And then the wheels came off. Georgia Tech went just 3-9 last season despite returning QB Justin Thomas, and climbing back could be more difficult with the rest of the division seemingly on the rise. North Carolina broke through in 2015, Duke just signed the No. 33 recruiting class and Virginia Tech, Miami, Pitt and Virginia have all made savvy coaching hires in the last two years. Recruiting is tough at Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets haven't signed a single four- or five-star recruit since 2013. Running the option can help level the playing field, but the Yellow Jackets have at least five losses in five of the last six seasons.
Rising: Baylor. Art Briles built Baylor into a sustainable Big 12 contender, and now the Bears are seeing the benefits on the recruiting trail. Briles signed three straight top-30 classes in 2012-14, and he just landed Baylor's best recruiting class of the 21st century, as the 247Sports composite ratings place Baylor 17th, second in the Big 12. Only Texas recruited the state of Texas better than Baylor, who isn't just attracting top talent on offense, with three four-star defenders in this year's class. Baylor took a step back in 2015 with three losses, but much of the blame can be placed on bad injury luck, with QBs Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham both going down as the Bears hit the heart of their schedule. While the Bears do face concerns along the line of scrimmage next season, they're well-positioned to contend for the Big 12 title and potentially break through for a playoff bid. Texas did prove to be the Big 12's big winner on signing day, but there is still a lot of pressure and uncertainty related to the direction of the offense.
Falling: Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys opened the 2015 season with a 10-0 record, it became clear late that they benefited from a backloaded schedule and plenty of luck in close games. They scored 24 points against Central Michigan and won games against Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia by a total of 12 points. Yes, they beat TCU, but they followed that by barely escaping Iowa State, then getting blown out by three straight quality opponents: Baylor, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. What's concerning for the future is the losses on the recruiting trail. Oklahoma State signed the No. 40 class last February, ranking sixth in the Big 12, and this year it ranked 44th nationally. There is still hope for 2016, with QB Mason Rudolph back, but the Cowboys need to boost a lackluster run game and a mediocre defense that will be missing Emmanuel Ogbah. It doesn't help that road games at Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma await on the fall schedule.
Rising: Michigan. One of the most obvious choices on this list, Michigan has quickly risen from the embarrassing final year of Brady Hoke in 2014 to presumed Big Ten frontrunner in 2016. The Wolverines were blown out by Ohio State to end the regular season, but overall they exceeded Harbaugh's first-year expectations, often playing exceptional defense while showing flashes of the powerful offense that Harbaugh loves. Harbaugh has made constant waves on the recruiting trail, signing a top-five class with national reach, and his resume both at Stanford and with the 49ers shows that he's capable of quickly molding a contender. While Michigan loses transfer QB Jake Rudock, it will have options in 2016, whether it's Houston transfer John O'Korn or a handful of young players that Harbaugh brought in. Michigan football finally has a clear identity and upward trajectory again, and it's easy to see the Wolverines competing for playoff bids soon.
Falling: Minnesota. It's a bit hard to pick a falling team in the Big Ten. Penn State might fit, given the rapidly increasing skepticism surrounding James Franklin, but the Nittany Lions are signing more blue-chip recruits than before and are just now moving away from the effects of sanctions. Michigan State could start to take a step back, but three top-10 finishes in a row don't lie. So, we'll go with Minnesota, which appeared to be gaining traction in a winnable Big Ten West but faces an uphill battle. After the unfortunate retirement of Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys finished the season 2-4, beating Illinois and Western Michigan, and was given only a three-year contract. He shook up the offensive coaching staff, and his future is still hardly guaranteed, with Minnesota's athletic director search still dragging on. The back-to-back 8-5 season in 2013-14 may have been a peak.
Rising: Washington. It was widely assumed that Washington stumbled into a massive upgrade when Steve Sarkisian left for USC and Chris Petersen jumped from Boise State to coach the Huskies. Once a fixture in the top 25, Washington finally has a chance to climb back into that territory. Peterson is only 15-12 in two seasons, but last year was presumed to be a rebuilding season, and Washington still got to the postseason and built a foundation for future success. The defense was underappreciated, and the offense broke in rising young players, with an all-freshman backfield featuring QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin. Peterson has a few holes to fill in the receiving corps and in the defensive front seven, but much of the Huskies' production returns from what was a young team in 2015. And while his recruiting class features only 17 players, seven of those prospects are four-star players.
Falling: California. The Golden Bears aren't helped by the rise of Washington, and Washington State for that matter. Stanford and Oregon still own the Pac-12 North, and the two Washington schools are making a push forward. Cal, meanwhile, is left in a somewhat unstable position. The Golden Bears have improved from 1-11 to 5-7 to 8-5 in Sonny Dykes' three seasons, but 2016 team must replace QB Jared Goff and nearly all of its production in the receiving corps. The defense may have improved, but it still ranked just 102nd in yards per play allowed. To top it all off, Dykes has had a wandering eye, as he was brought up as a candidate for numerous jobs this offseason. He ended up coming to an agreement on a new contract in December, but it seems likely that he'll jump elsewhere at some point. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin already did, with a downward move to Middle Tennessee.
Rising: Tennessee. The Volunteers are on schedule. While they received a decent amount of hype last offseason, they began the season ranked a modest 25th in the AP poll -- their first preseason ranking since 2008. Early-season failures to finish games made it look like the Vols were on the verge of coming up well short of expectations, but they ultimately rebounded against a weaker second-half slate to finish 9-4 and ranked 22nd. According to the polls, at least, Tennessee met expectations, even if it failed to take advantage of a weak SEC East to finally win the division again. The pressure is about to get much greater. Butch Jones has climbed from 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4, and the Vols will have a roster loaded with veterans. They should be the clear SEC East favorite entering the 2016 season. They've signed three straight top-15 classes, and that success on the recruiting trail should pay off for a team that just ended a seven-year run without a top-25 finish.
Falling: Texas A&M. It wasn't too long ago that Texas A&M had become one of the trendiest programs in college football. Johnny Manziel became a superstar and won the Heisman in 2012, and the Aggies appeared ready to make a lot of noise in their new home in the SEC on a consistent basis. Over the last two years, Kevin Sumlin has lost all the momentum he built and now may enter 2016 on the hot seat. The Aggies have gone 8-5 the last two years, cycling through quarterbacks, with Kenny Hill transferring in 2014 and prized recruits Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both decided to transfer in December. Top recruits like Myles Garrett and Christian Kirk quickly became impact players, but the Aggies have regressed along the offensive line, have not improved enough on defense overall and are struggling to find on a post-Manziel quarterback. Making matters worse, Allen torched the Aggies in an interview with CBS Sports, saying that the team had a post-Manziel culture problem ("A lot of people were riding off that, 'I can do whatever the hell I want and win on Saturday,'" Allen said). Auburn's 2015 season might qualify it for the "falling" category as well, but the situation in College Station feels toxic.
Group of Five
Rising: South Florida. Willie Taggart was close to the hot seat, but now suddenly he could become a hot commodity again if the Bulls continue to rise. They've been one of the best recruiting Group of Five teams over the last few years, and they even signed a pair of four-star prospects in the class of 2016. After four straight losing seasons, they finished 8-5 in 2015, and they'll return much of their production, led by QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack. Houston will enter the season as a clear favorite in the AAC, and Temple could still be the frontrunner in the East Division, but don't sleep on the Bulls.
Falling: Northern Illinois. Can a team that has won six straight division titles really be on the decline? There is, perhaps, nowhere to go but down, and the Huskies have already showed signs. They went 8-6 in 2015, ending on a three-game losing streak that included a humiliating 55-7 Poinsettia Bowl loss to Boise State in which they were out-gained 654 to 33. Nobody should ever overreact to one bowl game, but NIU no longer feels invincible in the MAC West. Toledo is still a factor even after the departure of coach Matt Campbell, and Western Michigan could enter 2016 as the MAC favorite, with much of the offense returning and impressive recruiting under P.J. Fleck, who signed a top-70 class. The Huskies' class, meanwhile, ranked 10th in the MAC.