College Football Offenses Bringing Back Most Firepower for 2016
In today's increasingly offensive-minded world of college football, returning talent is at a premium.
There's nothing better in the eyes of a high-powered offense—and its fans—to see a huge amount of talent back on the depth chart after a successful season. Keeping those playmakers together can lead to even bigger and better numbers later in the year.
With the NFL draft deadline for underclassmen already passed and projected 2016 depth charts starting to crop up around the country, let's take a look at nine of college football's best offenses that will be returning the most firepower in 2016.
These choices were determined by the percentage of passing, rushing and receiving yards from the previous season projected to come back for the upcoming season. Returning a top quarterback is vital, but bringing back most of the skill talent around him is even better.
Which experienced 2016 offense are you the most excited to see later this year? Sound off in the comments below.
2015 Total Offense: 616.2 yards per game (1st in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 3,764 of 3,764 (100 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 4,134 of 4,247 (97 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 1,502 of 3,764 (40 percent)
The nation's top offense might be losing its most famous name to the NFL draft in 2016, but Art Briles still has a lot of tried-and-true weapons left in his arsenal at Baylor.
Baylor saw three different quarterbacks go down with injury in 2015. At full health, this is one of the deepest position groups in the country. Seth Russell averaged 10.5 yards per attempt and 8.2 yards per carry before his injury—he should be a legitimate Heisman contender when he takes back over in 2016.
The Bears showed in their Russell Athletic Bowl win over North Carolina, which had rebounded quite well on defense, that they can carve anyone up with the ground game. Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson return after their respective 1,000-yard seasons, and Devin Chafin and Terence Williams each cracked the 500-yard mark in 2015.
The loss of Corey Coleman and his 20 receiving touchdowns will be huge for Baylor, but this plug-and-play attack returns No. 2 receiver KD Cannon and a young group of athletes waiting for their turn. The Bears could also add 4-star wideouts Devin Duvernay and Tren'Davian Dickson into the mix this fall.
2015 Total Offense: 501.3 yards per game (15th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 3,976 of 4,029 (99 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 1,831 of 2,488 (74 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 3,383 of 4,029 (84 percent)
Boise State fell short of its lofty expectations in 2015, but the offense was a top-20 unit under coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, who is now off to NC State. Whoever takes over for the Broncos offense in 2016 will inherit a stacked offense that returns nine starters and almost all of its skill talent.
Brett Rypien had his ups and downs as a freshman starter for the Broncos, but he finished the season with a strong 63.6 completion percentage, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. If Rypien can become more consistent—his accuracy plummeted in Boise's three conference losses—he could have a huge 2016.
Jeremy McNichols was a touchdown machine (20) at running back last season, scoring in every game he played in and finding the end zone multiple times in over half of those contests. Boise will have some pieces who can step up behind him after the departure of No. 2 running back Kelsey Young.
At receiver, the Broncos bring back Thomas Sperbeck, who was seventh in the nation in receiving yards per game. Rypien will also be able to rely on No. 2 receiver Chaz Anderson, and McNichols was a valuable receiving weapon out of the backfield.
2015 Total Offense: 514.5 yards per game (11th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 4,373 of 4,373 (100 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 3,045 of 3,345 (91 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 3,513 of 4,373 (80 percent)
Clemson will have to rebuild its defense again in 2016 after an exodus of NFL-ready talent, but the Tigers have been there and done that. What will keep the national runner-up near the top of the preseason polls will be the ridiculous amount of talent returning from the nation's No. 11 offense.
It all starts with Deshaun Watson, the nation's top quarterback and the first player in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in a single season. By the way, Watson did that in just his first full season as a starter and with new offensive coordinators. He's the 2016 Heisman front-runner for a reason.
In addition to Watson's strong rushing abilities, Clemson also brings back the nation's most underappreciated running back in Wayne Gallman. The rising junior won't let defenses just key on Watson, as he rushed for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns all while flying under the national radar.
Over at wide receiver, Charone Peake's departure will take away Watson's No. 2 target from 2015. But the Tigers still have No. 1 wideout Artavis Scott (901 yards), fabulous underclassman Deon Cain (17.12 yards per catch), star tight end Jordan Leggett and national title game star Hunter Renfrow. On top of all that, 2014 leading receiver Mike Williams (1,030 yards) will be back after missing almost all of 2015 with an injury.
2015 Total Offense: 426.4 yards per game (46th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 824 of 824 (100 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 4,689 of 4,719 (99 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 654 of 824 (79 percent)
Georgia Southern wasn't as high up on the total offense charts as many of the other teams on this list, but that's because the Eagles employ an option-running attack. They ranked No. 1 in rushing yards for the second straight season—two-for-two since moving up to the FBS—and return almost all their skill players.
The Sun Belt squad brings back both of the quarterbacks who split time under center in 2015. Kevin Ellison had the better numbers both on the ground and through the air, but Favian Upshaw ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns in Georgia Southern's first-ever bowl victory to end the season.
Whoever takes over as the primary quarterback for the Eagles will be able to hand the ball off to star running back Matt Breida, who ranked 10th nationally in rushing yards per game and fourth in yards per carry at a stunning 7.92. Brieda is quite gifted at torching defenses, along with backs L.A. Ramsby and Wesley Fields, who combined for 20 touchdowns of their own in 2015.
Georgia Southern's modest passing game must replace its No. 2 receiver and one of only four players who caught a touchdown pass in 2015. New coach Tyson Summers will have to sort out the competition out wide as well as along the offensive line.
2015 Total Offense: 437.3 yards per game (39th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 2,158 of 2,158 (100 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 3,089 of 3,089 (100 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 2,021 of 2,158* (94 percent)
*tight end Dillon Gordon (one reception for eight yards) has applied for a medical hardship waiver
After a tumultuous 2015 season, a young LSU team has now flipped to being one of the most loaded in the country in terms of returning talent. For the offense, a lot of that hinges on how quarterback Brandon Harris performs in his junior campaign, as coach Les Miles noted before the Tigers' Texas Bowl victory in December.
"We want to have a great, efficient passing game, more completions, more yards, more," Miles said, per Ross Dellenger of the Advocate. "I think we have a nice start to the game plan and [offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron has us headed in the right direction."
Of course, LSU will continue to run right at teams with the superstar talents of Leonard Fournette, who led the country in rushing yards per game even after a downturn late in the season. Every Tiger who carried the ball last season will be back, giving more weapons around the mobile Harris.
The receiving game is strong, as Billy Gomila of SB Nation notes "seven of the Tigers' top nine players at receiver or tight end were four-star recruits or better—and they'll be adding four more in the class of 2016." Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and Tyron Johnson will be the top names to watch yet again this fall.
2015 Total Offense: 530.2 yards per game (7th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 3,701 of 4,006 (92 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 2,813 of 2,887 (97 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 2,159 of 4,006 (54 percent)
Oklahoma made it back to national title contention in 2015 behind a rejuvenated offense. The combination of quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Samaje Perine, a deep corps of wide receivers and new coordinator Lincoln Riley could have even more success in 2016.
Mayfield was perhaps the biggest snub for the Heisman race, not making the cut for the trip to New York City. He finished the year with 43 all-purpose touchdowns, more than 4,000 yards of total offense and just seven interceptions. The former Texas Tech transfer will play with a bigger chip on his shoulder in 2016, so defenses better watch out.
The three-headed rushing attack of Samaje Perine (1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns), Joe Mixon (753 yards and seven touchdowns) and Alex Ross (172 yards and one touchdown) will be back to complement Mayfield's own rushing ability. Despite the transition to more of an Air Raid attack, Perine showed he is still one of the most effective running backs in the country.
Oklahoma must replace two of its top three receivers in Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal, but the Sooners return more than half of their receiving yards for 2016. Dede Westbrook led the team in yards per catch, and tight end Mark Andrews was a big-time weapon, scoring on more than a third of his 19 receptions.
2015 Total Offense: 480.0 yards per game (22nd in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 3,804 of 4,591 (83 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 1,233 of 1,649 (75 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 3,311 of 4,591 (72 percent)
The offense should be all over the place in the state of Oklahoma again, as the Oklahoma State Cowboys will return most of their own scoring talent in the wild Big 12 race.
Senior package quarterback J.W. Walsh will be the biggest departure in both the running and passing games, but Mason Rudolph was incredibly efficient as the starter in 2015. He had nearly 4,000 yards through the air and completed 62 percent of his passes in the process. He could be a dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2016.
Oklahoma State will need to continue to develop its ground game after another lackluster season in that category. Fortunately, the Cowboys still have top-four running backs Chris Carson, Raymond Taylor, Rennie Childs and Jeff Carr. Oklahoma State should be focused on finding a top playmaker in its running back room.
And in a conference dominated by the exploits of Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson and Jakeem Grant, James Washington had a monster year receiving for the Pokes with 10 scores and more than 20 yards per catch. His vertical threat will be assisted by five different returning receivers who had at least 200 yards in 2015.
2015 Total Offense: 469.6 yards per game (25th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 5,059 of 5,059 (100 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 1,046 of 1,046 (100 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 3,873 of 5,059 (77 percent)
The nation's No. 1 passing attack will return almost completely intact in 2016 as Washington State looks to make even bigger waves in the Pac-12 North.
Luke Falk had absurd passing numbers in 2015, throwing for 4,561 yards, 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions on a completion percentage that nearly hit 70 percent. That's a kind of efficiency you don't normally see out of a pass-heavy attack, and Falk is a perfect fit for coach Mike Leach's system.
Washington State nearly doubled its rushing production in 2015, cracking the 1,000-yard mark as a team with nothing but underclassmen at running back. Gerlad Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington will be back to keep defenses honest for the Cougars.
Wide receiver Gabe Marks smashed records in 2015 and decided to come back to school for one more season. His 104 receptions and 15 touchdowns were both tops in the Pac-12. The Cougars will need to plug in a replacement for fellow 1,000-yard receiver Dom Williams, but River Cracraft and Robert Lewis are great pieces to fill the void.
2015 Total Offense: 491.1 yards per game (17th in FBS)
Returning Passing Yards: 3,736 of 3,736 (100 percent)
Returning Rushing Yards: 2,648 of 2,648 (100 percent)
Returning Receiving Yards: 2,160 of 3,736 (58 percent)
One of the most entertaining offenses in the entire country—led by one of the most entertaining coaches in college football—will return a vast majority of its talent in 2016. Western Michigan could be rowing its offensive boat all the way to the MAC title this fall.
The attack is led by experienced quarterback Zach Terrell, who improved his strong numbers from 2014 by throwing for 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions last season. At one point in the season, Terrell had 19 passing touchdowns and just one interception in seven games.
Jamauri Bogan exploded onto the scene in 2015 with 1,051 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman, taking over for Jarvion Franklin, who had some issues with fumbles but still managed to rush for 735 yards. They combine for a killer running back group with LeVante Bellamy, who averaged more than six yards per touch.
All eyes will be on wide receiver for the Broncos, as Daniel Braverman elected to go pro early. His 108 catches and 13 touchdowns will be missed, but WMU returns the nation's No. 4 receiver in Corey Davis (1,436 yards and 12 scores). If the Broncos can fill in for Braverman and add a third weapon to the passing game, look out.
All statistics courtesy of CFBStats unless otherwise noted.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.