The Report Card : 2016 Preseason Analysis of the Power 5 Conferences
A Weekly Look at the Power 5 Conferences and Independents
On November 1, 2016 the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will present its first rankings of the season based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents, conference championships won and other factors.
Each week, The Rebel Walk’s Jeff Tetrick presents a national report card on the Power 5 conferences and independent schools. The aim is to rank and grade the 5 conferences based on the cumulative results of each league’s teams that weekend.
Jeff will offer a brief weekly summary for each conference, suggest which teams are in playoff contention, and offer a ranking of the best teams in the country. The Independent schools will have a section but not be ranked with the conferences.
Below are some preseason thoughts on each conference and the way Jeff predicts the college football season will play out this autumn.
Champion: Florida State
Best Player: Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
Stars: Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and Derwin James (Florida State)
Surprise Team: Louisville
Team who will disappoint: North Carolina
Playoff Contenders: Florida State,Clemson
The ACC is the weakest Power 5 conference but has two legitimate national championship contenders in Clemson and Florida State. As well, the ACC has two serious Heisman Trophy candidates in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.
I think the Seminoles win the ACC by beating the Tigers in Tallahassee in late October. Yet, Clemson can still play its way into the College Football Playoff if there are multiple conference champions with two losses. North Carolina is getting a lot of hype in the preseason, but I do not believe the Tar Heels have a defense that can lift them to the level of the Seminoles or Tigers. Louisville and Pitt may be teams to watch in the ACC, as both are capable of pulling an upset that could affect the league title race.
Champion: Ohio State
Challengers: Michigan State and Michigan
Best Player: J. T. Barrett (Ohio State)
Stars: Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), Anthony Walker (Northwestern), and Desmond King (Iowa)
Surprise Team: Indiana and Nebraska
Team who will disappoint: Penn State and Wisconsin
Playoff contenders: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State
The Big Ten has a national title contender in Ohio State and playoff contenders in Michigan and Michigan State. Iowa looks like it has the edge over Northwestern and Nebraska in the West Division, but the East champion wins the league crown. Nebraska is a team to watch in the West, while in the East Indiana hopes to reach a bowl in consecutive seasons under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen. If Allen, the former Ole Miss linebackers coach, can improve the Hoosiers defense in year one, then IU could be a surprise story in the Big Ten. With a banner season, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett could be in the running for the Heisman Trophy. With a disappointing season, Penn State’s James Franklin could exit Happy Valley.
Best Player: Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
Stars: Samaje Perine (Oklahoma) and KD Cannon (Baylor)
Surprise Team: Texas Tech
Team who will disappoint: Texas
Playoff Contenders: TCU, Oklahoma
The Big 12 has two premier teams capable of making a run into the College Football Playoff. There appears to be a big gap between Oklahoma and TCU and the rest of the league. While Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor could make some noise in the Big 12, it is hard to imagine anyone other than the Horned Frogs or Sooners winning this conference.
This league is loaded with star quarterbacks, but Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech may be the best of the bunch. Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill of TCU is a quarterback to watch, as he tries to elevate the Horned Frogs into playoff contention. Coach Gary Patterson is one of America’s top coaches, which I why I believe TCU can unseat Oklahoma as Big 12 champions. Meanwhile, the disastrous tenure of Charlie Strong at Texas is likely to end before December, as I see another year of underachievement for the Longhorns.
Challengers: Washington State and Oregon
Best Player: Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
Stars: Josh Rosen (UCLA) and Luke Falk (Washington State)
Surprise Team: Washington State
Teams who will disappoint: Washington, USC, UCLA
Playoff Contenders: Stanford
The PAC-12 looks like a very competitive league, but Stanford seems like the only conference squad with a chance to reach the College Football Playoff. The conference features good programs and loads of talent, but the Cardinal is the only PAC-12 team who looks capable of being an elite squad this year. I believe Washington State and Oregon are the teams most likely to dethrone Stanford. Washington is receiving a lot of hype, while USC and UCLA have blue-chip talent all over their rosters. However, Stanford has the best player in the country in Christian McCaffrey and one of the best coaches in David Shaw.
Despite a daunting schedule, I give the Cardinal the nod in capturing another PAC-12 championship. Washington State has a dynamic duo in quarterback Luke Falk and wideout Gabe Marks that could allow the Cougars to take the next step towards challenging for a league crown. Oregon has a star in tailback Royce Freeman, but the defense needs to improve dramatically for the Ducks to return to elite status.
Champion: Ole Miss
Challengers: Alabama and LSU
Best Player: Chad Kelly (Ole Miss)
Stars: Leonard Fournette (LSU) and Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
Surprise Team: Texas A&M
Teams who will disappoint: Tennessee, Florida
Playoff Contenders: Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU
The SEC is the strongest league from top to bottom, as usual. The SEC West is the toughest division in college football, once again. Yet, unlike most analysts who have Alabama or LSU winning the league, I feel like Ole Miss will take home the crown. The Rebels feature the best quarterback in the conference in senior Chad Kelly, while many other SEC contenders have questions at quarterback.
Ole Miss faces one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Yet, if the Rebels stun Alabama in Oxford in September, I think Ole Miss will find a way to finish and reach Atlanta. Alabama has a dominating defense, but the Crimson Tide has some uncertainty on offense and road games against Ole Miss and LSU. The Tigers have the most favorable schedule, hosting both Alabama and Ole Miss, but LSU continues to have questions about its quarterback. Tennessee is being hyped as a top ten team, but I think Vols fans will be disappointed and Butch Jones will be looking for a new job come December. Georgia is my pick to win the SEC East, as I suspect quarterback play will doom Florida’s chances to win the East.
Notre Dame is worth discussing as a playoff contender this fall. The Fighting Irish lost a load of key players from last season’s squad, but a light schedule gives Notre Dame a realistic path to the College Football Playoff. The Irish have 2 great options at quarterback in DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire. The running backs and offensive line appear to be strengths, so Notre Dame should feature a strong ground game. However, the Irish have only one proven wide receiver returning this year. Notre Dame will have to find some answers on the perimeter to be a playoff contender. Further, Notre Dame’s biggest weakness may be its defense. The Irish struggled against strong running teams a year ago, and they have a young secondary this season.
Notre Dame has a lot of young talent, but concerns about the defense and wide receivers are reason to pause when thinking about their playoff hopes. The schedule, however, shows a path to the playoff. Notre Dame’s toughest opponents, Stanford and Michigan State, have to visit South Bend. The toughest road game for the Irish is the season finale at USC. In my mind, Notre Dame has a good chance to be a playoff team.
The best player in college football is…..
Christian McCaffrey (Stanford).
The player most likely to win the Heisman Trophy is…..
Dalvin Cook (Florida State).
There are 12 teams who can reach the College Football Playoff.
- Notre Dame
- Florida State
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Ole Miss
There are 6 teams who can win the national championship.
- Ole Miss
- Ohio State
- Florida State
The 4 teams most likely to reach the College Football Playoff are…..
- Florida State
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
The team who will win the 2016 national championship is…..
I am picking Stanford, but I think both Ohio State and Florida State have better odds of winning the crown because they have easier paths to reach the playoff. If Stanford does not reach the playoff, then I would favor the young Buckeyes over the experienced Seminoles simply because of an advantage at the quarterback position.
I hope you have fun with my predictions and more fun watching the games each weekend! My picks are somewhat different from the teams and players most college football experts are touting to be the best this season, but at The Rebel Walk, we like to march to the beat of our own drum and to bring our Ole Miss readers fresh, unique content.