1. LSU

Necessity is the mother of invention. Not only do the Tigers have a rather talented roster and a stable quarterback situation, they add defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He'll have LSU's fleet 'backers attacking from all sides. The schedule, as always, is hard, but LSU welcomes Alabama to Death Valley. You could pick eight teams for this slot and not get it right, but LSU seems like a safe bet.


It's Nick Saban. It's Alabama. Winning is what the Crimson Tide do, and they drew a season opener against USC just when the Trojans are breaking in a new quarterback. The Tide have to break in a new quarterback too, but that's not much of a concern with Lane Kiffin back in the fold.


The Seminoles will be back with a vengeance in 2016 now that Jimbo Fisher is locked in. The coach and the team had a bad (for them) 2015 — few good wins, continuity issues on offense — that'll get worked out this offseason. The offense returns mostly intact, and should have a little more quarterback run attached to it.


Wait, what? Yep. The Huskies will win the Pac-12 North, the Pac-12 overall, and make the College Football Playoff. Chris Petersen has cobbled together a very good roster that took a lot of lumps but finished strong. It was the Pac-12's top defense this year, and that offense will be one year older.


Soft-as-baby's-skin nonconference schedule coupled with healthy returning quarterbacks, a decent defense and Art Briles' mind running the offense. One of these years, the Bears are busting through.


Deshaun Watson is a stud, and he proved it in the national title game. He'll have a big junior year. Will his defense help him? The ACC is still a soft league, so a single loss may knock Clemson out of the playoff hunt.


Have quarterback Baker Mayfield, will travel. OU's biggest games — Ohio State, Baylor and Oklahoma State — come at home.


The Buckeyes lose a ton from the roster, but don't worry about Urban Meyer. He's recruited in a way to deal with that problem. The roster is stacked with talent, quarterback J.T. Barrett is back and Meyer will have a chip on his shoulder when Michigan is deemed the favorite. The schedule is tough.


The schedule is a beauty, the young roster has two years of seasoning and the talent is in place. The Volunteers should be a stiff challenge out of the SEC East.


A strong first year from coach Jim Harbaugh should carry over, and the Wolverines get their first five games at home. But Big Ten teams have a full year's worth of tape to study. It won't be easy.


The top non-Power Five team should be the top non-Power Five team from this most recent season. The Cougars open with Oklahoma. Win there, and it gets interesting for coach Tom Herman. Houston is better than every other team on its slate.


Big jump coming for the Hurricanes thanks to the arrival of coach Mark Richt, who will get a surge from a talented roster and junior quarterback Brad Kaaya.


Charlie Strong awakens the Longhorns. At long last, UT's offense will reflect the spread offense that grips the state, and the defense — legit at the end of 2015 — will be even better in 2016. Texas is back, much to your chagrin.


An ultra-talented roster — even if the best defensive players are declaring for the NFL draft — that needs a true starting quarterback. Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer will compete.


A talented defense and a schedule that sets up nicely with two more FCS teams on the slate. If UNC beats Georgia in the season opener — which it should — another 11-win season could await.

16. USC

Talent matters, and the Trojans have all kinds of it in the program. So even though USC must replace its quarterback and some defensive stars, look for good things to happen. USC repeats as Pac-12 South champs.


Quarterback Mason Rudolph returns, as does the bulk of his offensive line. Coach Mike Gundy reliably turns his most experienced signal-callers into big winners.


Four juniors on defense who could have declared for the NFL draft returned, and sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson looks like a keeper.


Christian McCaffrey is appointment television next year. He'll need to be for the Cardinal, who go on without a four-year starter at quarterback and several key defensive players.


This seems very much like a bridge year for the Spartans, who have to find a new quarterback and restock the offensive line. The schedule — which welcomes BYU, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan to East Lansing — is the primary saving grace.


Six of the first seven games are at home, the team has a quarterback and, by season's end last year, the Tigers looked much more confident on defense. Gus Malzahn bounces back.


Good team, hellish schedule. Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and LSU in the first seven games, followed by Auburn and then Georgia Southern, a team no one likes to play. Four-loss season, maybe five.

23. IOWA

Benefit-of-the-doubt ranking. The Hawkeyes have quarterback C.J. Beathard back in the fold, most of the back seven on defense and a decent shell of an offensive line. Offensive playmakers are a big question.

24. UCLA

This is partially dependent on the head coaching situation, but it does seem as if Jim Mora will stay in Pasadena at least one more year. The Bruins will get a new offensive coordinator — which is OK, it was time — to lead quarterback Josh Rosen. The defense needs help up front.

25. TCU

In Gary Patterson one must trust, even if his offense needs a makeover because of lost talent. An early game against Arkansas is big.

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