The Way-Too-Early Top 25

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Photo: Getty Images

First let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Drew Levine and I’ll be a Junior at the prestigious Merrimack College (The U) in the fall. I’ll mainly be writing about college football here at Check Down and before I say anything else let me make one thing very clear; I am a diehard Notre Dame fan and my bias for them will be abundantly clear the more you read. Other than that, please message me or comment on things you liked or think I could work on.

83 days until the college football season kicks off and the field for the 2016 season is wide open. Many of the tops teams in the nation come into the season with an abundance of question marks. That being said, this year is going to be filled with many familiar faces.

With that, let’s kick off the rankings…

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2015 record: 14-1

Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: RB Derrick Henry, QB Jake Coker, C Ryan Kelly, DE A’Shawn Robinson, DE Jarran Reed, LB Reggie Ragland, CB Cyrus Jones

Season outlook: Nick Saban. As long as Saban is at the helm Alabama will be in the fight for a championship. They have big shoes to fill but, as usual at Alabama, they are loaded at every position. The quarterback battle will be a situation to watch going forward but does it really matter? They have enough talent to win with just about anyone under center so whoever eventually steps up will be in good hands.

2. Michigan

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense

Key losses: C Graham Glasgow, QB Jake Rudock, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Joe Bolden, LB James Ross, FS Jarrod Wilson, DE Willie Henry

Season outlook: LONG LIVE SATELLITE CAMPS!! Jim Harbaugh took his team to 5 more wins in his first year at Michigan. He will have questions at quarterback as well as replacing some key defensive players, but this team is well coached and will boast one of the nation’s most versatile players in Jabrill Peppers. If the offense can be effective behind an experienced offensive line, Michigan has a chance to compete for a title. 

3. Clemson

2015 record: 14-1

Returning starters: 8 offense, 3 defense

Key losses: DE Shaq Lawson, CB Mackensie Alexander, DE Kevin Dodd, LB Travis Blanks, LB B.J. Goodson, S T.J. Green, S Jayron Kearse, G Eric Mac Lain, WR Charone Peake

Season outlook: This team brings back the majority of their high-powered national championship game offense. Lead by Heisman front-runner Deshaun Watson, Clemson will be a force to be reckoned with offensively. They have huge shoes to fill with the losses of Shaq Lawson and Mackenzie Alexander, but if the defense can make plays when it needs to the offense should be able to carry this team to an ACC title as well as the College Football Playoff (Presented by AT&T).

4. LSU

2015 record: 9-3

Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense

Key losses: OT Vadal Alexander, LB Lamar Louis, LB Deion Jones, FS Jalen Mills, OT Jerald Hawkins

Season outlook: Whenever your list of key losses is this short, you’re in good shape. Couple that with the fact that they have arguably the best player in college football in Leonard Fournette and this year shapes up to be a good one for The Mad Hatter and LSU.

5. Oklahoma

2015 record: 11-2

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense

Key losses: WR Sterling Shepard, C Ty Darlington, LB/DE Eric Striker, DE Charles Tapper, CB Zack Sanchez, LB Dominique Alexander

Season outlook: Baker Mayfield and the loaded backfield for Oklahoma should make them one of the top offenses in college football. The question is if they can find solid contributions along the defensive front after losing Eric Striker and Charles Tapper. That being said, Mayfield and the Sooner offense is going to be something to watch this season.

6. Florida State

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 11 offense, 6 defense

Key losses: CB Jalen Ramsey, DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, LB Reggie Northrup, LB Terrance Smith, FS Lamarcus Brutus, QB Everett Golson, K Roberto Aguayo

Season outlook: This is the first year in a long stretch for Jimbo Fisher where he did not lose many players via early departure into the draft. They return the entire offense and have a veteran offensive line that should allow Dalvin Cook to run wild on opposing defenses.

7. Notre Dame

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: OT Ronnie Stanley, C Nick Martin, WR Will Fuller, RB C.J. Prosise, WR Amir Carlisle, DL Sheldon Day, LB Joe Schmidt, LB Jaylon Smith, CB KeiVarae Russell

Season outlook: Notre Dame lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft last season which will be hard to replace; yet whoever they ultimately decide to start will have weapons around him. Watch out for Tori Hunter Jr. to have a breakout season in South Bend after developing well last season. Brian Kelly has built a strong foundation at Notre Dame and don’t be surprised to see them around come playoff time. 

8. Stanford

2015 record: 11-2

Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: QB Kevin Hogan, OT Kyle Murphy, G Joshua Garnett, TE Austin Hooper, LB Blake Martinez, DE Aziz Shittu, FS Kodi Whitfield

Season outlook: Christian McCaffery is the most dynamic player in college football and that will give the Cardinal a chance to win every week. If they want to compete for a title they must sure up the quarterback and offensive line positions which to this point hasn’t happened.

9. Ohio State

2015 record: 12-1

Returning starters: 3 offense, 3 defense

Key losses: RB Ezekiel Elliott, OT Taylor Decker, C Jacoby Boren, WR Braxton Miller, DE Joey Bosa, LB Darron Lee, LB Joshua Perry, S Tyvis Powell, WR Michael Thomas, S Vonn Bell

Season outlook: Ohio State no longer has the majority of the 2014 National Championship team as well as last years squad, but they still have J.T. Barrett and Urban Meyer has proven everywhere he goes that he doesn’t rebuild; he reloads.

10. USC

2015 record: 8-6

Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: QB Cody Kessler, C Max Tuerk, OLB Su’a Cravens, LB Anthony Sarao, DT Delvon Simmons, NT Antwaun Woods, DE Greg Townsend Jr.

Season outlook: The overhyping of USC has begun! As usual USC has plenty of talent across the board. The real question is whether Clay Helton can get his team to play as one cohesive unit. Oh and he needs to name a starting quarterback eventually.

11. Georgia

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense

Key losses: LB Jordan Jenkins, LB Jake Ganus, LB Leonard Floyd, DE Sterling Bailey, WR Malcolm Mitchell, G/T Kolton Houston, C Hunter Long, OT John Theus

Season outlook: Will Nick Chubb play? The Bulldogs season is riding on it. Kirby Smart will almost certainly provide a much needed edge to their defense. Jacob Eason (the number one pocket passer in the ESPN 300) looked good in the spring and if he ultimately wins the job he and Nick Chubb could create a deadly one-two punch. 

12. Tennessee

2015 record: 9-4

Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense

Key losses: OT Kyler Kerbyson, WR Von Pearson, DT Owen Williams, SS LaDarrell McNeil, FS Brian Randolph, DE/LB Curt Maggitt

Season outlook: After dismantling Northwestern in the Outback Bowl and bringing back almost all of their starters, many people are picking Tennessee to come out of the SEC East. I’m not totally sold on them, but if quarterback Josh Dobbs shows he can perform in big moments, this team could make some noise.

13. Ole Miss

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 4 offense, 4 defense

Key losses: OT Laremy Tunsil, DT Robert Nkemdiche, WR Laquon Treadwell, WR Cody Core, RB Jaylen Walton, DB Mike Hilton, S Trae Elston

Season outlook: Much of the class that was the proclaimed saviors of Ole Miss football are gone and that leaves some big shoes to fill. Chad Kelly is probably the best QB in the SEC as of now and is a proven playmaker. There are a ton of question marks but Hugh Freeze has done of a great job of recruiting and should have the talent to compete.

14. Oklahoma State

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense

Key losses: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, WR David Glidden, QB J.W. Walsh, CB Kevin Peterson, CB Michael Hunter

Season outlook: Is it just me or have people been sleeping on this team for awhile now? They were a few missed opportunities away from a special season last year and return much of the same group. They will need to find stability at quarterback after the departure of J.W. Walsh but watch out. This team could be a dark horse in the Big 12. 

15. Baylor

2015 record: 10-3

Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: WR Corey Coleman, OT Spencer Drango, DE Shawn Oakman, LB Grant Campbell, DE Jamal Palmer, NT Andrew Billings, CB Xavien Howard

Season outlook: Not much to say about Baylor. Art Briles is gone and I couldn’t be rooting harder against them.

16. Houston

2015 record: 13-1

Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: OT Alex Cooper, OT Carter Wall, WR Demarcus Ayers, RB Kenneth Farrow, LB Elandon Roberts, SS Adrian McDonald, FS Trevon Stewart, CB William Jackson III, CB Lee Hightower

Season outlook: The biggest win for Houston this season was retaining coach Tom Herman. They have many impact players to replace especially in the defensive backfield. Look for another stellar campaign from quarterback Greg Ward Jr. 

17. Michigan State

2015 record: 12-2

Returning starters: 3 offense, 6 defense

Key losses: QB Connor Cook, WR Aaron Burbridge, C Jack Allen, G Donovan Clark, OT Jack Conklin, DE Shilique Calhoun, DT Joel Heath DE Lawrence Thomas, LB Darien Harris

Season outlook: Mark Dantonio has been a model of consistency the past three years at Michigan State, but this year the team will be going through a tough rebuild. After losing Connor Cook and impact players on defense, look for the Spartans to have a down year.

18. North Carolina

2015 record: 11-3

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense

Key losses: QB Marquise Williams, WR Quinshad Davis, G Landon Turner, LB Shakeel Rashad, S Sam Smiley, DT Justin Thomason

Season outlook: Mitch Trubisky looked great under center in the spring and is surrounded by a host a playmakers. Ryan Switzer is one of the nation’s most dangerous return men and with an improving defense the Tar Heels could compete in the ACC.

19. UCLA

2015 record: 8-5

Returning starters: 5 offense, 9 defense

Key losses: RB Paul Perkins, WR Jordan Payton, C Jake Brendel, OT Caleb Benenoch, NT Kenny Clark, LB Aaron Wallace

Season outlook: Football is a quarterback-coach driven sport and UCLA has one hell of a combo. Josh Rosen is the real deal and Jim Mora Jr. has been steadily improving the program. They will need to find players to replace Paul Perkins and Jordan Payton; but with Rosen at the helm, the sky is the limit. 

20. Washington

2015 record: 7-6

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense

Key losses: C Siosifa Tufunga, TE Joshua Perkins, WR Jaydon Mickens, DT Taniela Tupou, DE Travis Feeney, LB Cory Littleton, S Brian Clay, RB Dwayne Washington

Season outlook: Chris Peterson has struggled in his first few seasons at Washington, but with a veteran group of players returning they have a shot to make great strides. The defense will be relied upon heavily after leading the PAC-12 in scoring defense last year.

21. Oregon

2015 record: 9-4

Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense

Key losses: OT Tyler Johnstone, G Matt Pierson, QB Vernon Adams Jr., DE DeForest Buckner, LB Joe Walker, LB Rodney Hardrick, WR Bralon Addison

Season outlook: As a quarterback battle presses on into the fall, the Ducks have more questions than answers. They need to replace three offensive lineman and five defensive lineman and linebackers. Bring back Chip! He’ll definitely be a free-agent coach after one year with the 49ers.

22. Texas A&M

2015 record: 8-5

Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense

Key losses: RB Tra Carson, G Joseph Cheek, C Mike Matthews, , OT Germain Ifedi, NG Julien Obioha, DT Alonzo Williams, CB Brandon Williams, CB De’Vante Harris, P Drew Kaser

Season outlook: Doesn’t it seem like it was yesterday Johnny Football and Kevin Sumlin were the hottest combo in college football? This year Sumlin may be coaching for his job and will be relying heavily on Oklahoma transfer QB Trevor Knight. If Sumlin is going to keep his job he’s going to need to make major improvements across the board.

23. Miami

2015 record: 8-5

Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense

Key losses: WR Rashawn Scott, WR Herb Waters,LB Raphael Kirby DE Ufomba Kamalu, LB Tyriq McCord, NT Calvin Heurtelou, S Dallas Crawford, CB Tracy Howard, S Deon Bush, CB Artie Burns

Season outlook: MAKE MIAMI GREAT AGAIN! Seriously, college football is always better when The U is competing and this year might be it. Mark Richt’s first season will have plenty of promise as long as the Cane’s stay healthy. Look for QB Brad Kaaya to put up huge numbers this year and don’t be surprised if Miami is in the hunt for an ACC title come year’s end.

24. TCU

2015 record: 11-2

Returning starters: 3 offense, 8 defense

Key losses: QB Trevone Boykin, RB Aaron Green, WR Kolby Listenbee, WR Josh Doctson, WR Ja’Juan Story, OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OG Jamelle Naff, C Joey Hunt, DT Davion Pierson, DE Mike Tuaua, CB Corry O’Meally, FS Derrick Kindred

Season outlook: This team has to completely revamp their offense. Luckily for them, one time A&M QB Kenny Hill will take over the reigns. That said, It will be tough for TCU to compete in a loaded Big-12. That’s why this year screams mediocrity for Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs. 

25. Texas

2015 record: 5-7

Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense

Key losses: RB Johnathan Gray, WR Daje Johnson, WR Marcus Johnson, OG Sedrick Flowers, C Taylor Doyle, DE Shiro Davis, DT Desmond Jackson, 

Season outlook: SLEEPER!! Charlie Strong may take his fair share of hate from the Texas faithful, but he is slowly building this team back up. They return most starters on both sides of the ball. The difficult part for them will be seeing how they rebound after a week one THUMPING from Notre Dame.

Posted by Drew

Co-Host of Merrimack's own Manzo and Sons. Notre Dame die-hard. Exceptional post skills.

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