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College Football Rankings: Early Look at 2016 Preseason Top 25

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson takes the field before the start of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Clemson won 37-32. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Richard Shiro/Associated Press
Ryan McCrystalFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

The Alabama Crimson Tide are still celebrating their national championship, but it's never too early to look ahead. 

While Alabama fans will continue to bask in the glory of this title for at least a few more days, every other school has already started the countdown to September. 

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is still a week away (Jan. 18), so 2016 projections could change up until that point. But based on the players we know are leaving and those who have indicated their early decisions, here's a very early look at how the preseason rankings could look in August. 

 

Projected Preseason Top 25
RankSchool2015 Final Rank
1Clemson1
2Oklahoma4
3Baylor17
4Alabama2
5Stanford6
6LSU20
7Tennessee23
8Ohio State7
9Michigan14
10Ole Miss12
11Michigan State3
12Oregon15
13Houston18
14Florida State9
15LouisvilleNR
16Iowa5
17Notre Dame8
18Oklahoma State16
19North Carolina10
20USC25
21WisconsinNR
22ArkansasNR
23TCU11
24Northwestern13
25UCLANR
2015 Ranks based on Final CFP Rankings

Notable Teams

1. Clemson Tigers

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: Wayne Gallman #9 of the Clemson Tigers runs with the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners during the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Clemson defeated Oklahoma 3
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Clemson returns arguably the most valuable player in the nation, quarterback Deshaun Watson, who will be an early Heisman favorite in 2016. 

Redshirt sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is also likely to return, as is true sophomore receiver Artavis Scott. 

But Clemson isn't just returning the overwhelming majority of its offense, it's also adding to it. 

Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed almost the entire season after suffering a neck injury in Clemson's season opener, is expected to return. Williams led the Tigers with 1,030 receiving yards as a sophomore in 2014 and will add another dangerous weapon to the Clemson offense. 

Clemson will have the opportunity to start 2016 with a statement, as it travels to Auburn to open the season on Sept. 3.

 

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after defeating the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, A
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The full extent of Alabama's mass exodus to the NFL isn't yet known, but it will be substantial. 

Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland, Jake Coker and Jonathan Allen are just a few key players who are graduating or expected to leave early for the pros. 

But we've seen this happen time and time again at Alabama, and head coach Nick Saban always reloads. 

Cooper Bateman will likely take over at quarterback for Alabama, with sophomore running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris battling it out for the carries at running back. 

Unfortunately for Alabama, there will be no time to ease in the new starters. The Tide kicks off the season with a showdown against USC in Arlington, Texas, and then travels to Ole Miss in Week 3.

 

7. Tennessee Volunteers

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers against the Northwestern Wildcats during the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Perhaps no 8-4 team has ever been closer to contending for a championship than Tennessee was in 2015. 

The Vols held fourth-quarter leads in three of their four losses, including crushing defeats against Oklahoma and Alabama. 

While those losses were devastating for Tennessee and its fans, the Vols may be better off in 2016 having learned from those experiences. 

The stars of the offense, quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, return for the Vols and should both be considered early Heisman dark horses. 

Tennessee also made a significant coaching move, hiring defensive coordinator Bob Shoop away from Penn State. 

 

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes scrambles with the football against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizon
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As Tim Shoemaker of ElevenWarriors.com points out, Ohio State has a lot of holes to fill in 2016:

Sixteen starters will need replaced for Ohio State next season. Number drops to 14 if you pencil in Curtis Samuel & Sam Hubbard as starters.

— Tim Shoemaker (@TimShoemaker) January 6, 2016

One of the few returning starters, quarterback J.T. Barrett is arguably their most valuable player on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to make the Buckeyes Big Ten contenders once again. 

Linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley will be the leaders of a defense seeking eight new starters. 

One of those new starters on defense will be Sam Hubbard, who primarily took the field as a situational pass-rusher in 2015. According to CFB Film Room, Hubbard generated 14 quarterback pressures during the regular season. 

 

13. Houston Cougars

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Head coach Tom Herman of the Houston Cougars reacts in the first quarter against the Florida State Seminoles during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Grant Halve
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Through the first two years of the College Football Playoff, the Group of Five teams have failed to make a serious push to crash the party. That could change in 2016. 

Houston enters the season with a wave of momentum, having handled Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

The Cougars will have the opportunity to make an even greater statement on opening weekend as they take on Oklahoma in NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. 

With a victory over Oklahoma, Tom Herman's squad would have the signature victory necessary to make a serious push for the playoffs. 

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