Way Too Early 2016 College Football Top 25

We are just ten days removed from crowning Alabama as the champions of college football, so now seems like the perfect time for a very premature 2016 Top 25 rankings.

1) Alabama Crimson Tide 14-1 (7-1)

Returning starters: six offense, five defense, two special teams.

Yes, the reigning national champions open up number one. Despite losing a lot of talent (and starters) Alabama has finished with the #1 recruiting class for six years in a row. Talent is not in short supply in Tuscaloosa and Nick Saban has won four championships in seven years. The Tide open the season playing USC in Dallas and will look to improve from there. Quarterback play will be the biggest question for the Tide as the race for the starting role is wide open. Again.

2) Clemson Tigers 14-1 (8-0)

Returning starters: eight offense, five defense, two special teams.

Despite heavy losses on defense due to underclassmen declaring for the draft, the Tigers will be ready to go next fall. Eight returning starters on one of the nation's best offenses, including Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, means the Tigers should be even better next season. If Clemson beats Auburn and South Carolina, the winner of the annual showdown with Florida State should end up in next year's playoff. 

3) Oklahoma Sooners 11-2 (8-1)

Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense, two special teams.

Bob Stoops recovered nicely from an early loss to Texas this past season. The Sooners lose some key leaders on both sides of the ball, but the offense should continue evolving and improving under Lincoln Riley. With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon returning, along with Baker Mayfield, the Sooners should be able to put up enough points to compete with anyone. Defensively, the Sooners will need some new leaders to step up at the linebacker position. OU opens up the season against Houston at NRG Stadium and then plays host to Ohio State in week three. If the Sooners make it through non-conference without a loss, watch out!

4) Florida State Seminoles 10-3 (6-2)

Returning starters: 11 offense, six defense, one special teams.

Jimbo Fisher might be one of the most optimistic coaches heading in to the 2016 season with his entire offense coming back. Dalvin Cook will emerge as a Heisman candidate if he can remain healthy, and Sean Maguire will continue improving. The Seminoles have a daunting non-conference schedule this season, featuring Ole MissUSF, and Florida. Luckily, the Seminoles get Florida and Clemson at home, and the Ole Miss game will be played at a neutral site in Orlando. With this season's disappointing finish (relative to the previous two seasons), Jimbo will have plenty of motivation for his 2016 team.

5) LSU Tigers 9-3 (5-3) 

Returning starters: nine offense, nine defense, one special teams. 

Les Miles spent two weeks of this past season in limbo. Rumors flew around the nation about boosters wanting him gone, but LSU made a good decision in keeping their coach. LSU is currently sitting atop the 2016 recruiting class rankings and with this many returning starters the Tigers will compete for the SEC title next season. LSU has a rough schedule next season, featuring a "neutral site" game at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin, but the Tigers do get Alabama and Ole Miss at home. 

6) Michigan Wolverines 10-3 (6-2)

Returning starters: eight offense, six defense, one special teams.

Simply put, Jim Harbaugh is an elite college football coach. 10 wins in his first season at Michigan, a 41-7 bowl win, and currently the #3 recruiting class in the nation has the Wolverines sitting pretty in the Big 10 picture. However, trips to East LansingIowa City, and Columbus make for a rough schedule. Harbaugh has to find a new quarterback, but new defensive coordinator Don Brown will have the Wolverine defense on another level. 

7) Stanford Cardinal 12-2 (8-1)

Returning starters: six offense, five defense, one special teams.

David Shaw has proven that Stanford will compete regardless of losses. He has recruited incredibly well (especially considering Stanford's rigorous academic standards) and has taken the Cardinal to three Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl. Stanford will lose a lot of experience on the offensive line and at quarterback, but with Christian McCaffrey returning, the offense will remain dynamic. 

8) Tennessee Volunteers 9-4 (5-3)

Returning starters: nine offense, eight defense, two special teams.

It feels like we said this last year, but 2016 is the make or break year for Butch Jones. Tennessee has improved under his leadership each year, but fans are growing restless in Knoxville. They believe their team should be competing for championships. If the Volunteers don't compete for the SEC Championship this writer thinks Jones will be on his way out. With 17 returning starters, he has no option but to win.

9) Baylor Bears 10-3 (6-3)

Returning starters: five offense, six defense, two special teams.

Art Briles has turned Baylor into an offensive powerhouse. Despite not having a quarterback, the Bears rushed for 645 yards and beat North Carolina 49-38. The Bears are one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation, and a healthy Seth Russell could mean a Big 12 championship run. Baylor also currently has the #14 recruiting class in the nation.

10) Ohio State Buckeyes 12-1 (7-1)

Returning starters: four offense, four defense, two special teams.

Leaving Ohio State out of the top 10 would be border line blasphemy. Urban Meyer is 50-4 in four years as the Buckeye's head coach. FIFTY AND FOUR! This writer doesn't care how much talent the Buckeyes lost to the draft; Urban Meyer is arguably the best college football coach alive (maybe even best ever by the time he's done). Nick Saban is 64-years-old with a head coaching record of 191-60-1. Urban? A cool 51-years old-with a record of 154-27 (that's an 85% win percentage). Any team led by Meyer is a national championship contender, period. 

11) Houston Cougars 13-1 (7-1)

Returning starters: seven offense, five defense, one special teams. 

Houston pulled out the checkbook to ensure it kept Tom Hermann, which is probably the best decision the university has made in a while (aside from hiring him). The Cougars beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl (as this writer predicted), and will look to improve next season. NavyTemple, and Memphis will all be down next year, so Houston will need to make a statement in week one when they open against Oklahoma. 

12) Oklahoma State Cowboys 10-3 (7-2)

Returning starters: 10 offense, seven defense, two special teams.

This writer believes that 2016 is going to be the Cowboys' year. With this many returning starters and a sub-par recruiting class (as of right now) the Cowboys will need to make some noise in the Big 12 next year. Mike Gundy could use a big season to boost recruiting for his alma mater.

13) Georgia Bulldogs 10-3 (5-3) 

Returning starters: seven offense, six defense, one special teams. 

Kirby Smart walks in to a fantastic situation in AthensMark Richt recruited extremely well, but under performed (in the minds of Bulldog boosters). Georgia will be nasty on defense-Smart is a defensive genius-but the offensive side of the ball will be what Georgia fans are watching. This writer expects Smart to have offensive coordinator Jim Chaney install an offense similar to what Chaney ran when he was at Arkansas

14) Notre Dame Fighting Irish 10-3

Returning starters: five offense, five defense, two special teams. 

The Irish lose quite a bit of talent on both sides of the ball, but they will also get a few key players back from injury. However, they only play three true road games next season. With three neutral site games, which are bound to have more Irish fans at them than opposing fans, Notre Dame could be sitting pretty by feeding off "home" crowds. This writer expects Notre Dame to have a season similar to 2015.

15) USC Trojans 8-6 (6-3)

Returning starters: nine offense, five defense, one special teams.

If USC wasn't in such turmoil in terms of coaching staff they would be higher on this list. Clancy Pendergast is a great hire at defensive coordinator and a promotion for Tee Martin to offensive coordinator could pay dividends. Martin is also known as one of the best recruiters in the nation. Only time will tell how these coaching changes pay off, but USC certainly has the talent to win games. However, the Trojans open their season against Alabama, and if things go south in that game USC may respond poorly. 

16) North Carolina Tar Heels 11-3 (8-0)

Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense, two special teams.

Despite losing offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, the Tar Heels offense will be fine. The biggest win for Larry Fedora is retaining the services of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Let's be honest, Chizik isn't meant to be a head coach, but he is one heck of a defensive coordinator. The Tar Heels defense made great improvements this season, and will only continue to get better. UNC loses quarterback Marquise Williams, but he was so inconsistent it doesn't really matter. Expect the baby blue to compete in the ACC for years to come.

17) Mississippi Rebels 10-3 (6-2)

Returning starters: four offense, four defense, two special teams.

The Rebels were one crazy fourth down conversion from playing for the SEC Championship this past season. Potentially, that would have meant that Alabama would not be in the playoff (maybe?). Hugh Freeze has recruited incredibly well, especially this past season, so the Rebels should have no problem replacing the talent they're losing this year. The biggest loss is wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. However, the Rebels are loaded with talent outside. 

18) Michigan State Spartans 12-2 (7-1)

Returning starters: three offense, six defense, two special teams.

The Spartans are losing a ton of talent after a great 2015 season. However, Mark Dantonio put together top 25 recruiting classes the past two years, and has led Michigan State to 11+ wins in five of the last six seasons. If the Spartans can get things figured out on offense early there's no reason they can't win 10 again. Dantonio is among the nation's elite coaches.

19) Iowa Hawkeyes 12-2 (8-0)

Returning starters: six offense, eight defense, zero special teams.

Despite a bitter end to the school's best season since 2009, the Hawkeyes will be back in 2016. This writer doesn't believe Iowa will repeat their 12-0 season (although for the sake of college football he wishes they would) but they will definitely be in the Big 10 Championship picture. The Hawkeyes received a nice boost when Desmond King announced he would be returning. Iowa will be solid on defense next season, but the offense loses some key components. 

20) Washington Huskies 7-6 (4-5)

Returning starters: eight offense, eight defense, one special teams.

Chris Petersen has lost as many games in the past two seasons as he did in eight years as the head coach at Boise State. Washington has recruited fairly well over the past two seasons, so Petersen has some talent to work with now. The Huskies could definitely throw themselves back in to the Pac-12 title mix this season if Jake Browning can continue improving at quarterback.

21) Louisville Cardinals 8-5 (5-3)

Returning starters: nine offense, eight defense, zero special teams.

With so many returning starters, Louisville is bound to improve upon their 2015 campaign. Bobby Petrino took two seasons to turn around Arkansas, and with this many returning players this writer hopes he can have Louisville compete for an ACC title. The Cardinals return their quarterback and all their skill position players. Defensively, Louisville retains four of its front seven, and all members of the secondary.

22) Oregon Ducks 9-4 (7-2)

Returning starters: six offense, five defense, two special teams. 

Oregon has recruited well enough to stay competitive despite losing half their starters. They'd be higher on this list, but the departure of Scott Frost is definitely going to have an impact. Not only is Frost a great offensive mind, but he's one of the best recruiters in the nation. Replacing Vernon Adams Jr. will also be important, as the Ducks were a different team when Adams was healthy last year.

23) TCU Horned Frogs 11-2 (7-2)

Returning starters: three offense, seven defense, two special teams.

Despite heavy losses on the offensive side of the ball, this writer believes TCU will still be a solid team next season. Retaining the services of co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham was huge for the Frogs. TCU has also made a huge jump on the recruiting front, and they should finish with a top 20 class. Schematically, TCU will have no problem moving the ball on offense. Kenny Hill will likely take over the starting job at quarterback, and he could be fun to watch in this TCU offense.

24) Washington State Cougars 9-4 (6-3)

Returning starters: eight offense, six defense, two special teams.

Mike Leach has continued to improve Wazzu, and with Luke Falk returning the Cougar offense should be solid. Falk threw for 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions this past season while racking up 4,561 yards. At the rate Falk has improved, he'll surely toss for 5,000 yards next year. If the Cougars can figure some things out defensively they just might win 10 games for the first time since 2003.

25) UCLA Bruins 8-5 (5-4) 

Returning starters: five offense, nine defense, zero special teams.

Despite losing a lot of talent on offense, the Bruins may be even better next season. Josh Rosen showed glimpses of greatness at times last year, and Noel Mazzone leaving for Texas A&M might be a blessing in disguise. Jim Mora has recruited tons of talent to UCLA, and they should be great defensively. Their season will rest in the hands of the offense. 

Honorable Mention: Miami, Boise State, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Florida