More than seven months until the 2016 college football season begins! Alabama fans already have put the most recent title in the rearview mirror and are looking ahead. Let's check the future odds.
To no surprise, the Crimson Tide are favored to win yet another national championship next season. The semifinals this year will be at the Peach Bowl outside Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl outside Phoenix, both on New Year's Eve. The national championship game is Jan. 9, 2017, at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. So you can all but write in Alabama for the Peach Bowl should the Tide make the playoff for the third straight year. Of course the SEC Championship Game also is held in Atlanta, which Alabama won this past season easily over Florida. Tide coach Nick Saban got great news when several key players decided not to declare for the NFL draft, led by defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (led the Crimson Tide with 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss), linebacker Tim Williams (10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss), safety Eddie Jackson (six interceptions) and tight end O.J. Howard (national championship game offensive MVP). Yes, the Tide have to replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, but they have plenty of five-star running backs waiting their turn. A quarterback to replace Jake Coker also will be a priority. The schedule is predictably tough playing in the SEC West, including trips to Ole Miss and LSU. There's also a trip to likely East Division favorite Tennessee. And Alabama opens the season on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas, against USC.
The Tigers were the only team to make it through the regular season without a loss and they came up just short of their first national title since 1981 in the 45-40 loss to Alabama in the national championship game. Believe it or not, next year's Tigers could be better. They bring back eight starters on offense, led by Heisman Trophy finalist and quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is the early betting favorite to win the 2016 award. He was magnificent in the title game loss to Alabama. Top running back Wayne Gallman returns, and Watson will also get back projected No. 1 receiver Mike Williams, who played in only the 2015 opener after injuring his neck. The defense loses two of the best players in the nation at their position in end Shaq Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander, but coordinator Brent Venables has proven he can build a dominant unit year after year. It could be tough for Clemson to even repeat as ACC champion, however. That's because the Tigers have to visit Florida State, which also will be a preseason Top-10 team and is set to return every offensive starter. But Clemson should be favored in every other regular-season game.
The Sooners were Big 12 champions but were soundly thrashed in the second half of their College Football Playoff semifinal by Clemson. Oklahoma should again by dynamic on offense despite losing top receiver Sterling Shepard. That's because quarterback Baker Mayfield, another early Heisman Trophy favorite, and tailbacks Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are coming back. The schedule is a monster, however. The Sooners open the season at Houston on Sept. 3, and the Cougars, who beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, are likely a preseason Top-10 team. On Sept. 17, Oklahoma welcomes Ohio State in one of the top non-conference games of the year. In Big 12 play, OU has to visit TCU and West Virginia while getting Texas as usual in Dallas. The conference title likely will be decided Nov. 12 in Norman when Baylor visits.
Must Read: Early Longshots for 2016 Season
Michigan State (+2000)
Coach Mark Dantonio has worked wonders for the Spartans, but it might be a rebuilding year in East Lansing for the defending Big Ten champions. In fact, MSU right now is projected to finish no better than third in the Big Ten East Division behind Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans, who were trashed in the College Football Playoff semifinal by Alabama, lose quarterback Connor Cook, top receiver Aaron Burbridge, three excellent offensive linemen, top pass rusher Shilique Calhoun and No. 1 linebacker Darien Harris, among others. Only nine total starters are due back. Sparty has a tough non-conference game Sept. 17 at Notre Dame, a likely loss, but does get Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State in Big Ten play at home. Still, it's tough to see another double-digit winning season, although Dantonio and Co. are used to getting no respect.