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The confetti was still being vacuumed up from the natural turf in the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., last week when the first predictions of the 2016 college football season began to take shape. To the surprise of no one, many could see Alabama, the 45-40 winner of the national championship, and Clemson, the team that finished second, in next year’s top two.
These early predictions – and we found over a dozen of them picking a top 25 down to a top 5 – are really predictions of how the teams will show up in later pre-season predictions. The later ones will have more information than those that were made in the early morning hours of January 12 following Bama’s fourth national championship in seven years, but nevertheless are likely to look very much like these January picks.
Still, the outlook of a team could change today when final decisions are made by underclassmen regarding the National Football League Draft. At Alabama, we know that Heisman Trophy winning tailback Derrick Henry and outstanding defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson are juniors who are going to enter the draft.
Otherwise, there have been rumors, some based on social media reports from Crimson Tide players, some those troubling “sources with knowledge of the situation” or somesuch. The general consensus of these reports sounds good for Alabama, that safety Eddie Jackson (most valuable defensive player in the national championship game), outside linebacker Tim Williams, outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, have decided to return, and that defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, inside linebacker Reuben Foster, and tight end (and most valuable offensive player in the national title game) all intend to return.
And that’s only part of the puzzle for just one team. We know, for instance, that longtime defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has gone to Georgia as head coach and taken short-time safeties coach Mel Tucker with him. And we still don’t know about offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, who is always rumored to be going somewhere, most recently back to the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.
We also don’t know what the spring and summer will bring. There can be injury issues and academic issues and off-the-field issues.
A few weeks from now we’ll also know better about the recruiting additions to the Crimson Tide. Certainly it looks good, as it always does under Coach Nick Saban.
It also helps to remember that when pre-season rankings were being assembled last year, who would not have had Ohio State in the top four? In fact, who would not have had the Buckeyes in the top one?
We looked at a number of these early predictions and decided to settle on those made by four sports journalists we have found to be solid reporters. They are:
Pete Fiutak of College Football News, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, Mark Schlabach of ESPN, and George Schroeder of USA Today.
To get to the bottom line, the consensus – though not unanimous – is that No. 1 will be Clemson and No. 2 will be Alabama, just as it was before kickoff in Glendale last week.
The four predictions had a total of only 32 teams in the top 25s, and only 18 teams were in all four lists.
Clemson was first and Alabama second in the CBS, ESPN, and USA Today rankings, but College Football News had LSU first, Clemson second, and the Crimson Tide was eighth.
What matters at the end is a top four for the College Football Playoff, and this pre-season conclusion of the four is that Baylor will be third and Oklahoma fourth. LSU and Michigan were tied for fifth, followed by Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee, and Notre Dame in the top 10.
The other eight teams mentioned in all four rankings were 11. Michigan State, 12. Houston, 13. Stanford, 14. Oklahoma State, 15. Iowa, 16. Oregon, 17. TCU, and 18. Ole Miss.
Four teams were mentioned on three pre-season ballots, including Bama’s season-opening opponent USC, along with UCLA, Georgia, and Louisville.
On two rankings each were Florida, Arkansas, Miami, Boise State, Washington, and Washington State.
Those getting one spot were Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Auburn.