Projecting Point Spreads for the Top 10 Games of 2016 College Football Season
Is it ever too early to look ahead to next year's point spreads?
Maybe—but that shouldn't stop us.
And what better games to look at than the biggest on next year's schedule? By looking at SB Nation's offseason consensus rankings, which tabulate polls from various media sources (Bleacher Report included) to rank next year's projected Top 25, we can reasonably predict next season's best matchups.
From there, we can assess things such as talent, coaching, schedule and projected public money to guess those games' closing lines.
Sound off below and let us know where you disagree!
10: No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels vs. No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (Sep. 5)
Ranking Points: 18
Chad Kelly arrived at college expecting to play big games against Florida State. He thought it would be for Clemson, but still: Here's his chance.
The Noles are loaded everywhere but quarterback, where steady veteran Sean Maguire and redshirt freshman Deondre Francois will battle to start. Whoever wins the job will have a lot to prove against Kelly, who enjoyed a strong first year with the Rebels and returns with high expectations.
The difference under center will keep the line around three on a neutral field, even though Florida State returns better overall talent. Getting points with the better (or at least more proven) quarterback, plus the SEC team, will entice some bettors to back Ole Miss.
Projected Line: Florida State (-3.5)
9: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines at No. 13 Michigan State Spartans (Oct. 29)
Ranking Points: 18
Last year's game became famous in East Lansing and infamous in Ann Arbor. Leading 23-21 in the final seconds, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill bobbled a long snap, muffed it to Michigan State freshman Jalen Watts-Jackson and handed Sparty the game-winning touchdown.
"Football is a crazy, crazy game," Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said afterward, per ESPN.com. "You can't really hardly explain it."
But although the win seemed fluky, Michigan State actually outplayed Michigan all game. It gained 386 yards to the Wolverines' 230. Not bad for a trip to The Big House.
Home field will buy Sparty some extra points next year, but Michigan is ranked higher for a reason. It returns more vital pieces and will likely be 7-0 and rested after an open date two weeks prior and then a home game against Illinois.
Consider this one more of a toss-up.
Projected Line: PK
8: No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels (Sep. 17)
Ranking Points: 16
Ole Miss has won two straight games against Alabama. In their 27 other games since 2014, the Crimson Tide are 26-1.
Fair to say Hugh Freeze has Nick Saban's number?
Not yet, but another win would make that point compelling. It helps to get Alabama in September, when it will be breaking in a new quarterback—either Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell or Blake Barnett—the same way Florida State will enter with QB questions in Week 1.
Chad Kelly will again prove important on the point spread, although the Rebels will again be underdogs. Vaught-Hemingway Stadum, where Ole Miss has been hard to beat, will also keep the number fairly low.
Projected Line: Alabama (-3.5)
7: No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners vs. No. 12 Houston Cougars (Sep. 3)
Ranking Points: 15
Houston returns head coach Tom Herman and quarterback Greg Ward from a team that won 13 games, beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl and likely would have finished undefeated had Ward not missed the UConn game with an ankle injury.
All of that will make it a trendy playoff sleeper and compel the public the pick it—especially on a "neutral" field in Houston—against Oklahoma. The Sooners are obviously better, but it's more fun to take the underdog than the favorite, especially when the underdog has a spunky mobile quarterback and a wide-open offense.
But do you know who else has a spunky mobile quarterback (Baker Mayfield) and a wide-open offense? Oklahoma. And the Sooners return 69 percent of last year's experience, per Football Study Hall's Bill Connelly, while the Cougars return 58 percent. That helps explain why Oklahoma ranks No. 4 in Connelly's projected S&P+ ratings, while Houston ranks No. 53.
If the line ever drops below a touchdown, expect pro bettors to hop on the favorite. That will keep it high through the summer. But Houston will engender enough support to keep the line below double digits.
Projected Line: Oklahoma (-9.5)
6: No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 10 Tennessee Volunteers (Oct. 15)
Ranking Points: 12
Tennessee has played Alabama well the past two seasons—not as well as Ole Miss, but better than maybe any other team.
Last year, for example, it led until the final three minutes and got the ball back after a Derrick Henry touchdown with a chance to win the game. Its offense struggled throughout, but its defense held firm in the hostile confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Next year's game will take place in Knoxville, and Tennessee's offense will be one year older. Alabama has more backup talent than anyone, so replenishing the depth chart is not a worry, but it should be mentioned that the Tide lose more talent on both sides of the ball (55 percent on offense, 34 percent on defense) than the Vols do (16 percent, 22 percent), according to Connelly.
If last year's game was close in Tuscaloosa, how close might this next one be on Rocky Top? That won't be enough to make Tennessee the favorite, but it will lead to some trendy underdog money, especially with Alabama coming off what should be tough game at Arkansas.
Projected Line: Alabama (-3)
5: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines at No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (Nov. 26)
Ranking Points: 12
The only team that truly beat up on Michigan last year was the one team most fans care about: Ohio State.
In his first game against Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer had his team live and ready, providing a bittersweet glimpse at what might have been possible with more motivation and consistency. The Buckeyes failed to get up most weeks last season, but they always get up for "The Game."
This year, however, the tables might be turned. Michigan is projected to rank higher, both by media polls and Connelly's S&P+ ratings, with Ohio State losing more production than any team outside of UMass. Even with this game in The Horseshoe—which will keep the Buckeyes technically favored—the smart bet might actually be the Wolverines.
Who doesn't want the better team plus points?
Projected Line: Ohio State (-2)
4: No. 8 Baylor Bears at No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (Nov. 12)
Ranking Points: 11
After two straight lopsided losses against Baylor, Oklahoma corrected history and ended last year's Bears' perfect season.
Baylor played that game without starting quarterback Seth Russell, who returns next year and should give it a more stable offense. However, the Bears lose numerous future pros along both lines, which could spell trouble against a team that made it look soft in 2015.
Another point working in OU's favor: It hosts Baylor after a long, noncompetitive week. The Sooners play Iowa State the previous Thursday and Kansas the week before that. They will enter this vital game fresh and focused—a luxury Baylor, which enters off a road trip to Texas and a home game with TCU, will not be afforded.
Expect a bigger spread than usual.
Projected Line: Oklahoma (-6.5)
3: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes at No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (Sep. 17)
Ranking Points: 10
Bob Stoops meets Urban Meyer for the first time since Meyer beat him, 24-14, in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
In that game, Florida's defense became the story. Stoops had a record-breaking quarterback (Sam Bradford) and offense (most points in FBS history), but the Gators held them to two scores and then zilch.
But here's the thing about Meyer's teams and defenses: They typically peak late in the season. A team never wants to play them in January, but it has a shot in early to mid-fall. This year's team might be extra susceptible early, considering it returns just six starters.
Even on a neutral field, Oklahoma would be a small favorite.
Or at least that's the case in September.
Projected Line: Oklahoma (-3)
2: No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 6 LSU Tigers (Nov. 5)
Ranking Points: 8
After losing three of fives games against his old school, Nick Saban has rattled off five straight wins in the series. He's done so in convincing fashion, too, having won three of those five by 14 or more points.
Last year's game was especially demoralizing, as Alabama held LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who entered averaging 193 rushing yards per game, to 31 yards on 19 carries. The then-Heisman front-runner never recovered from the big-stage letdown and eventually failed to even reach the Heisman ceremony.
Meanwhile, Alabama running back Derrick Henry used the victory as a launching pad, rushing for 210 yards and three touchdowns to rocket past Fournette and win the award.
Now, however, Henry is gone. LSU is one year older and lured defensive coordinator Dave Aranda—an objective and sizable upgrade from Kevin Steele—down from Wisconsin. It ranks No. 2 to Alabama's No. 1 in Connelly's S&P+ projections.
This will not be another blowout.
And it won't be priced like one, either.
Projected Line: Alabama (-1)
1: No. 1 Clemson Tigers at No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (Oct. 29)
Ranking Points: 5
Florida State or Clemson—whichever team has won their annual meeting—have claimed five straight ACC titles.
Next year shapes up no differently, with the Tigers projected No. 1 and the Noles No. 4 in the offseason media rankings. Both teams return offensive playmakers, especially in the backfield and at receiver, but only Clemson returns Deshaun Watson.
That's what makes this line so hard to project. If it took place in Week 1, the Tigers would probably be favored on the road. If Sean Maguire starts at quarterback for Florida State, that will also remain the case, but if Deondre Francois wins the job and plays well the first two months of the season, this number could trend toward FSU.
Francois is a redshirt freshman with a strong arm and high upside. That sounds a lot like Jameis Winston. It's unfair to expect that good of a season, but it's foolish to completely rule it out. With the potential of a new star quarterback and the fallback of running back Dalvin Cook, the Noles have what it takes to at least force a pick'em at home.
Projected Line: Florida State (-1)