College Football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#26 Arkansas Razorbacks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#26

SEC West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Bret Bielema, 18-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dan Enos | DEF. COORDINATOR: Robb Smith

Arkansas must replace a couple of key players from last year's team, but there's stability in Fayetteville with Bret Bielema at the helm. On offense, the Razorbacks must replace quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola. There is a lot of change in Fayetteville but Arkansas coach Bret Bielema might have a thing or two up his sleeve. The Razorbacks have made steady progress in Bielema’s first three seasons, but will there be a step back or step forward this year?

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Previewing Arkansas’ Offense 
 

Junior Austin Allen, clearly the top performer at the position halfway through spring, was officially named the starting quarterback in mid-April after 10 practices. The brother of three-year starter Brandon Allen, the younger Allen has tended to be more of a risk-taker, which could lead to big plays as well as head-scratching mistakes.

With a new starting quarterback, the Hogs will look to focus more on the running game in Dan Enos’ second season as offensive coordinator. The carries will likely be split among Kody Walker, who suffered a broken foot midway through spring drills, Rawleigh Williams, who is coming off neck surgery, Damon Mitchell, and possibly blue-chip signee Devwah Whaley, as well as others.

The receiving corps showed surprising depth after a foot injury knocked Keon Hatcher out after two games. Hatcher is back, along with fellow seniors Drew Morgan, Dominique Reed and Cody Hollister. Morgan, who blossomed with 10 TD catches, is coming off shoulder surgery. Dominique Reed’s speed and agility add an extra dimension. Jared Cornelius is a quality slot receiver. Jeremy Sprinkle takes over at tight end, with rookies Will Gragg, Austin Cantrell and C.J. O’Grady jostling for time.

Arkansas might cede its spot as the nation’s heaviest offensive line. Dan Skipper and Frank Ragnow, who has moved to center, are back. Converted defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt is targeted to play left guard, while Brian Wallace and Colton Jackson could be the other two starters.

Previewing Arkansas’ Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

With nine starters returning, the Hogs expect to improve their pass rush and coverage and ultimately be closer to the No. 10-ranked defense from 2014 rather than last year’s No. 58-ranked unit. In 2015, Arkansas struggled to slow spread offenses and gave up a bevy of big pass plays.

Deatrich Wise Jr. erupted in the second half of 2015. He and JaMichael Winston are solid at one end, while Tevin Beanum and blue-chip newcomer McTelvin Agim work the rush end spot. Jeremiah Ledbetter moved from end to tackle to provide an agile, explosive interior presence, and Taiwan Johnson is back at nose.

Arkansas is desperate to provide relief at linebacker to Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw, who played virtually all the key snaps last year. Help could be on the way in the form of Randy Ramsey, Khalia Hackett, Dwayne Eugene, Kendrick Jackson and four talented signees.

Several veterans return for DBs coach Paul Rhoads, including cornerbacks Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and Henre’ Toliver, safety Josh Liddell and versatile Kevin Richardson. Santos Ramirez and De’Andre Coley are big hitters at strong safety.

Previewing Arkansas’ Specialists


After having five field goals blocked last season, including a potential game-winner in the final minute against Mississippi State, the Razorbacks revamped their blocking and execution under new line coach Kurt Anderson. Cole Hedlund is getting quicker lift on his kicks after going 9-of-15 on field goals. Toby Baker is primed for a big season after averaging 41.2 yards per punt in his first year as a starter.

Final Analysis


After struggling to win tight games in Bret Bielema’s first two seasons, the Razorbacks pulled out nail-biters vs. Tennessee, Auburn and Ole Miss but lost three close ones, including a 51–50 decision against Mississippi State. More of those high-drama SEC games could be on tap this fall, but Arkansas might not be as well equipped to handle them with a new starter at quarterback. How the revamped offensive line and run game can establish themselves and dictate tempo will go a long way toward determining the Razorbacks’ fate. Arkansas should be bowl bound for a third year in a row, but contending in the rigorous SEC West seems like a stretch.

The Debate

Will Arkansas finish in the top 25 in 2016?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#31 Nebraska Cornhuskers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#31

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 6-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Danny Langsdorf | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker

Mike Riley’s debut at Nebraska resulted in a losing record (6-7), but the Cornhuskers were better than their win total indicated. A minus-12 turnover margin was largely to blame for six losses by eight points or less. If Nebraska eliminates some of the turnovers, improving its win total by a couple of games and contending for the Big Ten West isn’t out of the question. The offense should show improvement behind quarterback Tommy Armstrong and one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. The biggest question mark for Riley is the defensive line, which loses standout tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine.  

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Previewing Nebraska’s Offense
 

Husker fans were encouraged not only by a bowl victory against UCLA but also by the way it was accomplished, with a season-high 326 rushing yards.

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., the bowl’s offensive MVP, was efficient in his passing and decision-making, something that needs to continue. Though he passed for 3,030 yards last season, he also threw 16 interceptions. Touted freshman Patrick O’Brien, a pro-style quarterback suited to Danny Langsdorf’s system, enrolled for second semester and went through spring practice. He could be No. 2 come fall.

The Huskers have a wealth of receivers, led by Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly, the fastest of the group. Westerkamp, who has the best hands, led the Huskers with 65 catches (second-most in Nebraska history) for 918 yards (third-most) and seven touchdowns. Tight end Cethan Carter, a proven receiver, has stepped up as a blocker and appears headed for an NFL future.

Armstrong also has three running backs with whom to share the ball-carrying load: Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon. The plan is to again to use a fullback, and not just as a blocker.

The question mark is up front. Nick Gates and Dylan Utter are the only returning starters and the only linemen with meaningful experience. Gates moves to left tackle from the right side, and Utter moves from left guard to center.

Previewing Nebraska’s Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Assignments were restructured, with former Husker John Parrella replacing Hank Hughes as line coach. In addition, coordinator Mark Banker is working with the safeties, allowing Brian Stewart to focus on the cornerbacks.

Defensive line is a major concern with the departure of four tackles with a season of eligibility remaining, two by way of the NFL Draft, one transfer and another who decided to focus on graduate school. That leaves Kevin Maurice as the only tackle with starting experience: one game. The ends are similarly inexperienced. Ross Dzuris and Freedom Akinmoladun have eight starts between them.

The Huskers are deep in linebackers. Coach Trent Bray has at least six from which to choose, led by seniors Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey and sophomore Dedrick Young, who tied Banderas for fourth on the team in tackles.

The top two tacklers were safety Nate Gerry and cornerback Joshua Kalu. The others in the secondary will be talented but young and inexperienced.

Nebraska ranked No. 122 nationally in passing yards allowed per game. Obviously, that must improve.

Previewing Nebraska’s Specialists 


Sam Foltz led the conference with a 44.2-yard average and earned the Eddleman-Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year Award. He had 16 punts of 50 yards or more, and his career average (42.6) ranks fifth all-time at Nebraska. Drew Brown, second-team All-Big Ten, is on pace to break school career records for field goals and scoring, after setting a Husker sophomore record by kicking 21 field goals.           

Final Analysis 
 

Nebraska lost seven games in Mike Riley’s first season, something that last happened in 2007. But four of the losses were by three or fewer points and the first was a result of a Hail Mary pass. So 6–7 was closer to the consistent nine-win seasons of Riley’s predecessor, Bo Pelini, than it might seem, without the personal meltdowns that became an embarrassment.

Riley’s engaging personality and his aggressive approach to recruiting have bought him time. And despite a schedule with the toughest Big Ten opponents on the road, there’s optimism in Lincoln. Eight wins would seem reasonable. If the breaks were to go Nebraska’s way, and given the weaker division, the Huskers could reach the Big Ten title game.                       




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide

NATIONAL FORECAST

#1

SEC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Nick Saban, 105-18 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeremy Pruitt

Alabama begins 2016 where it ended in January – at the top of college football’s rankings. The Crimson Tide have claimed three out of the last five national championships and are Athlon’s projected No. 1 team and pick to win it all in 2016. As usual, Nick Saban’s team has work to do on both sides of the ball, but a roster loaded with talent isn’t going to have a significant transition period. While a new quarterback must emerge, Alabama can lean on its defense and ground attack to carry the team early in 2016. The schedule does provide its share of challenges. The Crimson Tide has road dates at Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU. 

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Previewing Alabama’s Offense 
 

Unlike last year, all the experience will be with Alabama’s receivers instead of in the backfield. But exactly like the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide will have a new quarterback running the show. For the first time in Nick Saban’s 10 seasons in Tuscaloosa, he’ll have neither his first- nor second-leading rusher back, as Heisman winner Derrick Henry declared for the NFL Draft and Kenyan Drake graduated. Teammates have lauded former top recruit Bo Scarbrough as the next star running back.

The passing game will be dictated by the winner of the third annual quarterback competition. Cooper Bateman’s the only one of the four scholarship passers to appear in a college game. There was spring-practice buzz surrounding David Cornwell, a third-year sophomore who has the 6'5", 234-pound build that’s ideal for a pro-style quarterback. Younger candidates Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts bring more mobility to the offense but had issues with consistency in spring practice.

There’s no doubt where the strength of the offense resides. Leading receiver Calvin Ridley is back along with No. 2 target ArDarius Stewart. Robert Foster appeared to be the big-play threat until going down in Week 3 with a season-ending shoulder injury. He could be the fastest of the group. Also add in Bowling Green graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter’s ability to make circus catches and the potential tight end O.J Howard showed in a monster national championship game, and Alabama’s aerial game is an accurate passer away from something big. Protection is a factor; Alabama must replace three-year starting center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Dominick Jackson. Additionally, the status of standout tackle Cam Robinson is uncertain after an off-field incident in May.

Previewing Alabama’s Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It’s no coincidence Alabama returned to the national championship stage when the defense returned to form. A generational defensive line and NFL-caliber talent among the linebackers and defensive backs led the way to a fourth title in seven years. The core of that line is moving on to the NFL, but high-end talent returns with Da’Shawn Hand, Da’Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jonathan Allen. Depth won’t be the game-changing factor it was a year ago, but talent won’t be lacking up front.

Reuben Foster is next up in the alpha middle linebacker role. Sliding into Reggie Ragland’s spot, the one-time five-star prospect has developed into the leader of the group. Having draft-ready pass rushers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson on the outside will also make a difference. Sacks increased to 52 last year after only 31 in 2014.

The secondary was the most improved unit a year ago. It’ll miss the presence of no-nonsense cornerback Cyrus Jones but has plenty of talent returning. Eddie Jackson, the former cornerback who became an All-America safety, will be a crucial facet as Alabama transitions from Kirby Smart to new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Previewing Alabama’s Specialists 


After missing the first four kicks of the 2015 season, Adam Griffith became a consistent force on special teams. He ultimately went 23-of-32, including two makes from 50-plus. Griffith will be best remembered for the perfect onside kick in the fourth quarter of the national championship game. JK Scott is back after seeing his average dip to 44.2 yards after an incredible 48.0-yard average as a freshman. The real question will be in the return game. Look for Ridley and Xavian Marks to get a look.

Final Analysis 
 

The adversity and motivation that drove last year’s run back to the top disappeared into the sea of confetti and streamers on the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Now all Alabama has to do is the same thing again this fall. Expectations aren’t leaving with the first-round draft picks the Tide will replace this fall. The target will be as big as ever as Saban begins Year 10 in Tuscaloosa.

The Debate

Will Alabama Repeat as the national champion in 2016?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#2 Florida State Seminoles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#2

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 68-14 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

After finishing 10-3 in a rebuilding season, Florida State is loaded for another run at a national championship in 2016. The biggest question mark for coach Jimbo Fisher is at the quarterback position, but the Seminoles aren’t hurting for talent. Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry will push Sean Maguire for the starting job, with Francois expected to start. Helping Francois ease into the starting role is a talented supporting cast, headlined by Heisman Trophy contender Dalvin Cook at running back. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be missed, but Florida State’s defense could be better than the 2015 version that limited opponents to 17.5 points a game. Another huge advantage for Florida State? Clemson has to visit Tallahassee this season.

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Previewing Florida State’s Offense 
 

During a remarkable sophomore campaign, tailback Dalvin Cook established new FSU records for rushing yards (1,691) and all-purpose yards (1,935) in a season. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 140.9 yards per game. What made Cook’s performance even more impressive were the circumstances. Not only did he play through hamstring and ankle injuries that caused him to miss one game and parts of others, but he also was running behind an inconsistent and injury-plagued offensive line. FSU’s inability to establish a vertical passing game also allowed opposing defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage.

The offensive line should be much improved with seven players returning with starting experience, including All-America candidate Roderick Johnson at left tackle, and the wide receiver group is deep and talented. The biggest question mark is at quarterback, where senior Sean Maguire returns but will be pushed by a pair of talented underclassmen — redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry — who were very impressive in spring drills.

Previewing Florida State’s Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

After recording career highs with 58 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks, DeMarcus Walker flirted with a jump to the NFL before returning for his senior year. That decision gives the Seminoles an elite pair of defensive ends, with Walker on one side and sophomore Josh Sweat, a former five-star recruit, on the other.

FSU must replace All-America cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but the Seminoles have recruited so well in the secondary that it shouldn’t be much of a concern. Senior Marquez White returns at one corner, and much-hyped sophomores Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis are battling it out for the other. The rest of the secondary is filled with experienced players, including senior Nate Andrews, junior Trey Marshall and super sophomore Derwin James.

If there is one area of concern on a defense that ranked No. 9 nationally in scoring defense (17.5 ppg) last season, it’s at linebacker, where FSU lost seniors Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith. Projected starters Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins are talented, but Thomas has yet to play a full season of college football. He was suspended for half of the 2014 season and was ineligible for all of 2015.

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists
 

The Seminoles have major holes to fill here as All-America placekicker Roberto Aguayo bolted early for the NFL and four-year starting punter Cason Beatty graduated. Aguayo’s younger brother, Ricky, enrolled in January and should take over field goals and kickoffs. Fellow freshman Logan Tyler is expected to win the punting job.

Final Analysis 
 

To understand just how much talent Jimbo Fisher has ushered into Florida State’s locker room during the first six years of his tenure, one needs only consider this simple fact: The Seminoles are coming off of a rebuilding year that saw them go 10–3 and earn a coveted spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Did we mention that it was a rebuilding year?

Despite losing No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jameis Winston at quarterback and another dozen starters, the Seminoles reached double-digit wins for the fifth time in six years and once again swept rivals Florida and Miami. Now, FSU appears to have the experience to go with that talent. Florida State returns nine starters on offense and six on defense. They even bring back several key reserves who have started games in the past.

The schedule won’t necessarily be easy, but the always-crucial ACC Atlantic Division battle against Clemson will be played in Tallahassee. The winner of that game has advanced to the College Football Playoff in both of its first two years of existence.

The Debate

Is Dalvin Cook the best running back in the nation?

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