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College Football 2016-2017 Sneak Peek

Artavis Scott
For the fourth time in seven years under Nick Saban, Alabama reigns as the best team in college football. Sure, their season was not short of adversity and question marks. Yet, behind the powerful running of Derrick Henry, the electric play of Calvin Ridley, the methodical Jake Coker and a top notch defense, the Tide rose to the occasion, winning a thriller over Clemson. That leaves college football fans with nearly eight months before the return of wonderful fall Saturdays. So much is going to happen between now and then but as it stands today here are the top teams and storylines to watch in college football next year:

Top Five

1. Clemson Tigers
Clemson was unable to complete what would be a historical 15-0 season, but fans shouldn't be too worried. The Tigers should enter next year as the national favorite, thanks in large part to junior quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson, coming off a torn ACL and just a true sophomore, threw for over 4,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 more. He could very well enter 2016-2017 as the Heisman favorite. Joining him will be underrated back Wayne Gallman and dangerous receiver Artavis Scott. The defense has severe losses, as defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, along with defensive backs Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse are leaving for the NFL early. Though, Brent Venables has done a wonderful job with the unit and has young talent ready to step up. The ACC will no breeze this upcoming year, but Clemson has enough talent to win it and a national title.

2. Florida State Seminoles
This past season was a weird and awkward transition year in Tallahassee, away from the Jameis Winston era. The Seminoles threw in Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson then flip flopped between him and Sean Maguire and ended up 10-3, with a Peach Bowl loss to Houston. Golson's career is done, leaving the job solely to Maguire, who has shown plenty of ability when given the chance. Though, the real thing that can put FSU over the top is Dalvin Cook. Cook was absolutely dominant as a true sophomore and should only get better next season. He'll be joined by breakout candidate Travis Rudolph at receiver and a youthful defense that has plenty of blue-chippers ready to rise up in a big way.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide
The defending champs will not have an easy road back to the Championship. Not only is Heisman winner Derrick Henry departed, Coker is gone at QB, and the defense suffers numerous losses through their ranks. Though, it is Alabama and the cupboard is far from dry. Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett will compete for the quarterback gig, while there is talent at running back. And, the receiver position should be in very good hands with the return of Ridley for a sophomore campaign, and possibly Playoff star O.J. Howard at tight end. Expect the defense to still be stout, with safety Eddie Jackson back, and breakout candidates including Minkah Fitzpatrick, Rueben Foster and Rashaan Evans.

4. Michigan Wolverines
In just one year, Michigan transformed into a very legit threat under Jim Harbaugh, winning ten games and surviving in the thick of the Big Ten race. Iowa transfer Jake Rudock is going to graduate, but there remains hope Houston transfer John O'Korn could in fact be an improvement, with his huge arm. De'Veon Smith is set to return for his senior season at running back, while vastly underrated Jake Butt is also likely to return at tight end. Plus, the offensive line and entire defense is stocked with experience and leadership, meaning magical things could be in store in Ann Arbor this year.

5. Baylor Bears
Even with injuries essentially ruining their season, the Bears finished off 10-3 and should enter the 2016-2017 campaign as the Big 12 favorite. The quarterback position will be in great hands; Seth Russell should be fully healthy after missing the second half of the year, while Jarrett Stidham gained valuable experience in his absence. Russell will be joined by backs Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson along with plenty of experience at receiver, even with Corey Coleman declaring early. The defense could have some growing pains as the departures of Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman will decimate the front seven. But, linebacker Taylor Young is as good as they come in the conference.

Others in the Mix

LSU Tigers
His Heisman candidacy may have unraveled quickly, but Leonard Fournette was still scary dominant in his true sophomore year. Imagine how good he could be with another offseason to grow stronger and quicker? Junior Brandon Harris showed progress at quarterback a season ago, and the defense should have plenty of serious talent back.

Stanford Cardinal
A wonderful showing in the Rose Bowl only confirmed Christian McCaffrey was the nation's best player in 2015-2016. Now, the back will lead a Stanford team breaking in a new quarterback, junior Keller Chryst, a local product. David Shaw will also be helped by his usual, hungry and aggressive Cardinal defense.

Oklahoma Sooners
Baker Mayfield put on an absolute show in his first year in Norman and will continue to hone his skills under rising OC Lincoln Riley. Mayfield will be joined by a two-headed monster at running back in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, but a new receiver will have to step up with the departure of steady Sterling Shepard.

Houston Cougars
What Tom Herman has done in a short time in Houston has been unbelievable. He has quickly grown the Cougars into a legit player on the national stage, and easily the American Athletic's most complete team. Expect this team to be a dark horse National Championship pick, thanks to the return of senior Greg Ward at quarterback and a vastly underrated defense.

Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are going through a mass exodus of NFL talent. To name just a few: Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall and Darron Lee. Though, there is still loads of talent in Columbus, starting at quarterback, where J.T. Barrett will take over full time. Junior Curtis Samuel could break out at running back, while Raekwon McMillan has the chance to be special at linebacker.

Storylines to Watch
Alabama's Quest for Repeat: While this is pretty obvious. The Tide will lose significant talent from this year's 14-1 team, but will still likely be SEC favorites, at least while Nick Saban is around.
Kirby Smart at Georgia: Speaking of Alabama, their former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart made the long-awaited jump to a major Power Five job this offseason, taking over at Georgia after a decade and a half of Mark Richt. Will Smart be able to get the Bulldogs over the hump? Only time will tell.
Mark Richt at Miami: While Smart took over his job in Athens, Mark Richt went South to take over a Miami program stuck in mediocrity. Richt was a major splash for the program, and his presence is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail. It will be interesting to see how Richt adjusts to the ACC and how well he works with young QB Brad Kaaya.
"Chosen Rosen": While UCLA will lose a lot from their average team this offseason they won't lose their most interesting piece, sophomore QB Josh Rosen. Rosen was wonderful as a true freshman this past year and the former five-star recruit is already drawing rave reviews from NFL scouts. If Rosen can take some big leaps he could grow into one of the nation's best players.
Hot Seats: Even though the 2016 college football season is clearly months away, a number of head coaches at pretty major programs could be already feeling a little bit uncomfortable. James Franklin hasn't been able to beat anybody of note since he took over at Penn State, while Charlie Strong is very much on a hot seat in Austin, Texas. Over at Auburn, the Tigers are desperately looking for answers following a 8-5 mark then a 7-6 mark after rising to the BCS National Championship in Gus Malzahn's first year.

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