Monday night saw Clemson and Alabama square off in the national championship game. Alabama edged the Tigers, 45-40, but given the depth that both teams have, there’s no reason to think that these teams will not be among those contending for the four College Football Playoff spots. However, there are plenty of teams who will have something to say about their own candidacy for the playoff next year — let’s take a look at the best dozen.
Nick Saban’s legacy grows: • 5 national titles • Unbeaten in national championship games • 100 wins at Alabama pic.twitter.com/NDDRnXOI6O
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2016
# 12 Michigan State (2015 record: 12-2)
It’s true that Connor Cook is graduating, leaving the Spartans to find a new quarterback, and there are other Spartans leaving through graduation and to the NFL. However, Mark Dantonio has turned the Spartans into a perennial contender, which makes them a threat to win the Big Ten once again.
# 11 Houston (2015 record: 13-1)
If it hadn’t been for that loss at UConn, the Cougars would have had a real argument for appearing in the College Football Playoff. Tom Herman returns for a second year, having turned down offers from programs in the power 5 in order to take Houston to a playoff spot. He has enough starters coming back on both sides of the ball to make this a real possibility.
# 10 LSU (2015 record: 9-3)
If LSU can settle on a quality quarterback, he could pair with tailback Leonard Fournette to be the best team in the nation. Without that piece, though, the Tigers won’t win the SEC West.
# 9 Stanford (2015 record: 12-2)
The defense will be better this year. Christian McCaffrey, a rising junior, has had one of the best years from a tailback in recent years. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is leaving, though, which means the Cardinal must replace him to contend in the Pac-12 again.
# 8 Notre Dame (2015 record: 10-3)
Malik Zayre is set to return and lead the Irish offense, but they are stacked from top to bottom with athletes. If Notre Dame can avoid the injury bug, they will be in the title conversation again.
# 7 Oklahoma (2015 record: 11-2)
The Sooner defense will go through a large transformation this off-season, but their offense will be even better. This should mean balance — but can the Sooners run that Big 12 gauntlet again?
# 6 Ohio State (2015 record: 12-1)
Quarterback Cardale Jones is heading to the draft, but J.T. Barrett should still be in the fold. However, this team will see a lot of new contributors on both sides of the ball.
# 5 Florida State (2015 record: 10-3)
Quarterback Sean Maguire’s ankle surgery will likely keep him out of spring drills. The rest of the Seminole offense is loaded, so if Maguire can click, this could be a special team.
# 4 Baylor (2015 record: 10-3)
The Bears will have to add new pieces on both the defensive and offensive lines, but they will still have the most powerful offense in the nation. They are the top of what is a talented heap in the Big 12 right now.
# 3 Alabama (2015 record: 14-1)
The Crimson Tide have to reload on both sides of the ball, but they do have plenty of depth. Jeremy Pruitt will be the new defensive coordinator, replacing Kirby Smart.
# 2 Michigan (2015 record: 10-3)
Jim Harbaugh already brought significant change to this team, so there’s no reason why this team won’t make another jump in the Big Ten next season. He certainly has the talent in place.
# 1 Clemson (2015 record: 14-1)
Several rising senior starters on the Clemson defense may enter the NFL early. However, the Tigers have the talent to win the ACC again — and run the table in the regular season.