It’s here! College football has finally arrived, and there is never a dull Saturday. While there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns, here are five things to watch heading into the 2016 season:
An Intense Heisman Race
QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson), RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), RB Leonard Fournette (LSU), and QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) all return to form a strong set of early frontrunners. RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State), RB Bo Scarborough (Alabama), QB JT Barrett (Ohio State), and QB Josh Rosen (UCLA) are just some of the stellar performers that make the next tier. While there are sure to be some surprises emerge along the way, the existing resumes make for some truly strong candidacies even entering the season.
The Rise of Transfers
Baker Mayfield’s story has been well chronicled. But 2016 offers even more players who form a growing trend in college football—elite transfers who find greener pastures. QB Trevor Knight (Texas A&M), QB Luke Del Rio (Florida), QB Dakota Prukop (Oregon), QB Davis Webb (Cal), and WR Gehrig Dieter (Alabama) are just some of the transfers set to make significant impacts this season. QB Kenny Hill (TCU), who burst on the season as a Heisman candidate after inheriting the Texas A&M job from Johnny Manziel, could be a sleeper Heisman pick as he fills in for Trevone Boykin. JUCO transfer QB Jerod Evans (Virginia Tech) likely emerges on the national scene very soon as well. Some may find this new trend disturbing, it certainly adds a level of intrigue this season and is poised to continue as the Jarrett Stidham (former Baylor QB) sweepstakes has already begun.
Those Who Inherit Big Shoes
As mentioned earlier, Alabama’s Bo Scarborough should already be on your short list despite taking very few snaps behind Heisman winner Derrick Henry. Kenny Hill also may help the Horned Frogs faithful forget Boykin. Still, pressure will also be heavy on RB Mike Weber (Ohio State), QB Tyler O’Connor (Michigan State), and QB Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) who succeed Ezekiel Elliot, Connor Cook, and Dak Prescott. On the coaching front, Justin Fuents (Virginia Tech), Will Muschamp (South Carolina), and Jim Grobe (Baylor) all take the helm from coaches who brought immense success to their respective schools.
The Rise of the ACC, and the Fall of the PAC 12
Remember the days when the ACC was seen as just a basketball conference? While those days may not be over, the 2016 season may offer a brief hiatus. Florida State and Clemson rank as our #2 and #3 teams, and UNC will learn quickly whether it can make a dark horse run after a season opener against Georgia. Meanwhile, Louisville, Miami, and Virginia Tech could each field a strong team. On the other hand, the PAC 12, while not bad, lacks an elite squad. Stanford returns Christian McCaffrey but exhibits other significant losses. Oregon is down. UCLA lost some standouts. USC is the most talented team in the conference, but it has not been a program you can count on. The conference many have seen as the second best in recent years could very well be on the outside looking in of the Playoff for the second straight season.
Rebirth for Power Programs
Fans of Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, USC, and Miami have seen better days. Each program nevertheless enters 2016 with reason for optimism. Jim Harbaugh led a renaissance for the Wolverines last season and will vie for a Playoff spot in 2016. Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns seem poised to finally put it together. Tennessee enjoys loads of hype in the fight for an SEC East championship. The Trojans boast a talented roster in a weakened PAC 12 and may push for a conference title. Mark Richt, meanwhile, is the best coach Miami has had in a long, long time. While some may falter, the hope of a return to the glory days has fans excited for the new season.