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2016 College Football Preview

1. Clemson Tigers

Last Year: 14-1 (Runners-Up, ACC Champions)

Deshaun Watson

Clemson lost quite a bit of talent from last year’s squad, including two vicious pass rushers and almost their entire starting secondary, but the Tigers still have Deshaun Watson and he is great enough to keep the Tigers as the team to beat this year. Watson more than just burst onto the scene last year; he ended up throwing for 4,104 yards, 35 touchdowns and ran for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns. There aren’t many more explosive players in the country than Watson, especially not at quarterback, and there is reason to believe he can be even better with a full season as a starter under his belt.

Returning with Watson are a pair of dynamic receivers, Hunter Renfrow and Artavis Scott and leading rusher Wayne Gallman, who ran for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. He’ll be running behind a line that returns three started and All-ACC center Jay Guillermo as well.

Defensively there is a lot of change and the losses of Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson will be tough to make up, but All-ACC defenders Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware are two seniors ready to lead the Tigers again.

2. Stanford Cardinal

Last Year: 12-2 (Pac-12 Champions)

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey was the most electrifying player in college football last year with a tremendous ability to break off big plays as a runner, receiver or return man. In 2015 he led the Cardinal with 2,019 rushing yards, 645 receiving yards and 1,070 kick return yards to go with 14 total touchdowns. He alone makes the Cardinal a huge threat to win big games. More will be put on him this year with the graduation of Kevin Hogan. But he should be up for the task because simply, opposing defenses have yet to figure out how to defend McCaffrey.

Senior Ryan Burns was surprisingly names the team’s starting quarterback of redshirt sophomore Keller Chryst, but whoever the starter is will at least have a veteran pair of receivers to throw to in Michael Rector and Francis Owusu along with tight end Dalton Schultz, all three returning starters from last season.

The defense does have to replace some big time players, but also returns eight starters. Linebacker Peter Kalambayi and defensive end Solomon Thomas return as proven pass rushers and cornerback Quenton Meeds was the team’s later in interceptions a year ago.

3. LSU Tigers

Last Year: 9-3

Leonard Fournette

It’s hard to ever think at this point that Alabama won’t be a playoff team no matter how many players they lose, but the LSU Tigers are in prime position to step in and win the SEC Championship in 2016 as they return almost all of their starters from a year ago.

No returning player is more important than All-American running back Leonard Fournette. Last year he proved to be the most dominant and impressive running back in the nation, regardless of gim missing out on the Heisman Trophy. Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns all while opposing teams knowing that he was going to get the ball all the time. Fournette carries the ball more than quarterback Brandon Harris threw it. He’ll be able to take on any challenge this year. The thing LSU needs is better play out of Harris. At times LSU was too one-dimensional, but Harris coming back with his top three receivers from a year ago should only improve his play.

Still, Fournette will be the star of the offense and any football fan knows that a powerful running game combined with a great defense wins championship. LSU will definitely have the running game and with nine returning starters on the defensive side of the ball the Tigers should once again have a dominant defense than can be even better.

It also might help that Alabam and Ole Miss lost a lot and Mississippi State is entering the post Dak Prescott era. LSU has to win the SEC this year or it might be Les Miles’ final year.

4. Oklahoma Sooners

Last Year: 11-2 (Big 12 Champions)

Baker Mayfield

Bob Stoops put together just a devastating schedule for the Sooners with non-conference games against Ohio State and at Houston but if they get through that and win the Big 12 their can be nothing holding them out of the College Football Playoffs. There is plenty of reason to believe they can get through it too. Baker Mayfield returns under center after an All-American season and Samaje Perine have proven himself as one of the most dangerous running backs around. But more than just those two the Sooners return a very talented trio of receivers and three starters on the offensive line.

Mayfield was tremendous last year with 3,700 yards passing, 36 passing touchdowns and another 405 yards and seven scores on the ground. His rise from walk-on to Heisman Trophy contender is truly special and he certainly has the supporting cast to continue his assent to the elite group of players in college football.

Defensively the Sooners will have to replace some very good linebackers but All-Big 12 defensive back duo Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker are both back on a unit that finished ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Considering how many great passing offenses the Big 12 had last year, that was a pretty tremendous feat. Certainly losing linebacker Dominique Alexander at linebacker hurts a lot, but Jordan Evans returns to lead a young group that is loaded with players ready to break out. Up front Ogbinnia Okoronkwo and Charles Walker have to be dominant.

Rose Bowl: Utah Utes vs. Michigan Wolverines

Even with the loss of star running back Devontae Booker and having almost no returning experience at quarterback, the Utes should remain as one of the better teams in the Pac 12 and that would put them in great position to play in the Rose Bowl with the Pac-12 connection still there. The Utes return four startes on their offensive line and a bevvy of experience receivers, which should help both Troy Williams, who was named the team’s starting quarterback, and Joe Williams, who for now is expected to lead a running back by committee. Their defense returns a lot of experience from last year, including All-Pac 12 DT Lowell Lotulelei and free safety Marcus Williams.

Michigan is in tremendous position to win the Big Ten, which would also put them in position to get in the playoffs, but the tough schedule the Big Ten provides could lead to a few losses that bump them down to the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines took an unexpectedly huge step forward under Jim Harbaugh last season and despite losing some very good defensive players they should again prove to be one of the best in the country. Michigan returns six starters, including All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis and All-Big Ten linebacker Jabrill Peppers. And honestly, they don’t need to be as great as they were last year to still be one of the best units in the country. Offensively, the Wolverines return nine starters, including All-American tight end Jake Butt. They will, though, have to replace quarterback Jake Rudock. Harbaugh won’t announce his starting quarterback yet, but no matter who it is will still have plenty to work with. More might be put on running back De’Veon Smith, who rushed for 753 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

The Cowboys most definitely feed off the personality of their coach Mike Gundy and that along sets them up for success, but they also return the most experience group in the Big 12 this season. Mason Rudoph is a very underrated quarterback who passed for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. He should have an even better junior season with a year starting under his belt and as the connection with All-Big 12 wide receiver James Washington continues to grow. Washington was one of the biggest game playmakers in the conference last season as he caught 53 passes for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 20.5 yrds per catch. Rudolph will be working behind an offensive line that returns all five starters and will be handing the ball off to a committee group that returns pretty much all of the key contributors. The Cowboys also return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball, giving plenty of reason to expect another big year.

It really doesn’t matter how many players Alabama loses or how many stars leave early for the NFL, the Crimson Tide are always going to be one of the very best teams in the country. But let’s not just automatically name Alabama favorites to repeat as National Champions or even SEC Champions. They’ll have to prove themselves again. Nick Saban will have Alabama incredible well coaches and he’s been such a tremendous recruiter that every single year he has great players able to step up without losing anything. But there is no way Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry won’t be missed. He was their offense last year. And though quarterback hasn’t really been a strength for the Crimson Tide for quite a while, they’ll also have to find a new guy to run the show. The Crimson Tide also lose a ton of talent on the defensive side, icnluding four second round NFL draft picks, three of which from their front seven.

Orange Bowl: Florida State Seminoles vs. Michigan State Spartans

The ACC is going to be a very, very close race for the top spot between Clemson and Florida State. The Seminoles certainly have plenty of reason to believe they can win the conference and contend for a National Championship with all of the talent they return, but they’ll have their chance throughout the regular season to prove themselves. If they come up short, they will still have a great spot in the Orange Bowl as the ACC representative. The Seminoles return everybody from their offense, led by dynamic All-American running back Dalvin Cook with All-ACC receivers Travis Rudolph and Kermit Whitfield capable of taking over games. The only thing that could hold them back is quarterback Sean Maguire. He has shown flashes in his career but has more proven to be mediocre at the position. If he can be pretty good, then the Seminoles can be great. They certainly have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball too, with only three starters needing to be replaced.

Michigan State has to replace some pretty key players, but they should still be one of the very best teams in the Big Ten to earn a spot in one of the selected Bowl games. As they always do, they’ll rely on their defense to lead them. Almost their entire secondary is back but it is senior linebacker Riley Bullough and nose tackle Malik McDowell that will be leading the unit after All-Big Ten campaigns in 2015 and both have ability to earn All-American honors this year. Offensively, there will be some growing pains, but even despite the graduation of Connor Cook after four-years as the Spartan’s starting quarterback, they won’t be completely fresh at the position. Tyler O’Connor has been on the field in some huge situations before and should step in pretty seamlessly as the leader under center.

Cotton Bowl: Houston Cougars vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

After an absolutely incredible first season as the Houston Cougars coach, Tom Herman was getting interest from plenty of powerhouse programs but he wasn’t interested in leaving a team on the verge of becoming a truly elite “Group of Five” team. Dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is back to lead a dynamic, high-powered offense. Last year he passed for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns but was even more electrifying running the ball, compiling 1,108 yards and 21 scores on the ground. He’ll be working behind an offensive line that returns all three interior blockers and will be throwing to a group that returns three key figures in the passing game. The defensive side will have to replace some key players, but defensive tackle BJ Singleton and outside linebacker Steven Taylor return to lead a unit that frustrated Florida State in the Peach Bowl last season.

Notre Dame made a tremendous case to be included in the playoffs last year but they didn’t seem to have the luck of the Irish on their side. Notre Dame lost two games in the regular season a year ago but a combined four points and both on the road against eventual power conference champions. Injuries really took a toll on them last year and they did see a lot of good players leave early to go to the NFL, but despite losing some big names the injuries actually probably set them up for another successful 2016 season since many players got significant playing time. DeShone Kizer was very good at quarterback and should remain in that spot after an efficient passing season with 10 rushing touchdowns as well as Malik Zaire’s replacement following an injury, but Zaire’s return also makes for a great quarterback competition that should push both guys hard. Josh Adams also had a pretty heavy workload and should easily be able to step in as CJ Prosise’s replacement as the starting running back. And of course, Brian Kelly’s coaching will always make he Irish a big threat to be included in the playoffs every year, but with the way the committee seems to value conference championships, Notre Dame will likely have to settle for a selected bowl game again.

Heisman Watch

Christian McCaffrey 2Christian McCaffrey – RB, Stanford

2015 Stats: 2,019 Rush Yards (6.0 YPC), 8 Rush TDs, 45 Rec, 645 Rec Yards (14.3 YPC), 5 Rec TDs, 37 KR, 1,070 KR Yards, 2 RET TDs

Leonard Fournette – RB, LSU

2015 Stats: 1,953 Rush Yards (6.5 YPC), 22 Rush TDs

Deshaun Watson – QB, Clemson

2015 Stats: 333/491 (67.8%), 4,104 Pass Yards, 35 Pass TDs, 13 INTs, 1,105 Rush Yards (5.3 YPC), 12 Rush TDs

Baker Mayfield – QB, Oklahoma

2015 Stats: 269/395 (68.1%), 3,700 Pass Yards, 36 Pass TDs, 7 INTs, 405 Rush Yards (2.9 YPC), 7 Rush TDs

Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State

2015 State: 1,691 Rush Yards (7.4 YPC), 19 Rush TDs

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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