The 2015 College Football Season is roughly seven weeks away, and while preseason rankings usually never pan out the way they are intended, this year the best teams stand well above the rest of the country. Based off their current roster, roster turnover, recruiting class, and coaching changes, here’s our early preseason top 5 rankings for next season.
The three-way quarterback battle between Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller, and T.J. Barrett isn’t a dilemma but a gift, as the Buckeyes stand to be maybe the deepest team in the country all over the field. Head coach Urban Meyer welcomes back running back Ezekiel Elliott, junior receiver Michael Thomas, junior defensive lineman Joey Bosa, all major contributors to last year’s championship squad, and all healthy.
It’s that lack of turnover and the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the country, a class that includes four-star recruits like the pair 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Grant Schmidt and Isaiah Prince and linebacker Jerome Baker, that separates Ohio State from the rest of the country.
Unlike the Buckeyes, Alabama and head coach Nick Saban does have some significant turnover to account for. The Crimson Tide will miss Heisman candidate and receiver Amari Cooper, quarterback Blake Sims, safety Landon Collins, and running back T.J. Yeldon all while battling through the deep SEC.
However, while the offense does leave a few questions begging, the defensive front should still rule the conference with first-team All-SEC titans like defensive tackle Johnathan Allen and linebacker Reginald Ragland both returning.
The Tide also have a quarterback scrum with former Florida State transfer Jake Coker, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, Cooper Bateman, and Blake Bennett all in the hunt. Saban even told CBS Sports that no quarterback has solidified the job just yet, but speculation insists Coker and Cornwell are the leading candidates.
Alabama went through uncertainty at quarterback last year, and Sims blew up, so it’s not like Saban hasn’t been here before. And whoever stands under center has behemoth offensive lineman Cam Robinson and Ryan Kelly to watch his back.
The Tigers' fate might be tied to how well new defensive coordinator and former Florida head coach Will Muschamp institutes his schemes. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn called Muschamp the “best defensive mind in all of football, not just college football” Monday at SEC Media Day interviews, and the Tigers certainly have the personnel to wreak havoc in the conference.
Auburn should get a major boost from returning defensive end Carl Lawson, who sat out last year with an ACL injury and was sorely missed as the Tigers fell to 11th in the conference in total sacks. There’s also incoming freshman defensive end Byron Cowart, a five-star recruit who turned down an invitation from the Tide, as well as last year’s leading tackler Johnathan Ford, linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, and defensive back Jonathan Jones.
But how Malzahn accounts for the loss of quarterback Nick Marshall may decide the Tigers season. Junior Jeremy Johnson’s gained a tremendous amount of buzz during spring and offseason workouts, and how he responds to the starting role could make all the difference for Auburn.
The defending Big-12 champs angle for a shot at the College Football playoff, and boast fourth-place Heisman quarterback Trevone Boykin atop the depth chart. Boykin’s familiarity with the system and lack of a true competitor give head coach Garry Patterson one less thing to worry about.
The Horned Frogs don’t have a star-laden group of prospects joining the squad, but have experience at every position to build on last season’s success. Senior running back Aaron Green returns, as does Boykin’s top receiving weapon Josh Doctson, and six seniors come back to the offensive line including Joey Hunt.
Where TCU could get tripped up is at linebacker and in the secondary. Patterson needs several players to step up for the loss of Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet, and Jonathan Anderson at linebacker, and Chris Hackett, Kevin White, and Sam Carter at defensive back. However, the defensive line could save the day with top ends Josh Carraway and James McFarland still in the fold.
Head coach Art Briles and the Bears have won three of their last four over TCU, including last season’s incredible 61-58 victory that dropped the Horned Frogs out of contention for the national title. And that trend could very well continue, but it hinges on the shoulders of either junior quarterback Seth Russell or sophomore Chris Johnson.
Russell’s older and thus has more experience after spending time behind Bryce Petty, but some view Johnson as a better athlete. There’s also four-star recruit Jarrett Stidham, who could move up the depth chart past Johnson and put pressure on Russell.
Whoever wins the position, with Russell likely in the lead, stands to benefit from last year’s top two receivers coming back even stronger. Corey Coleman and KD Cannon combined for 2,149 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, the first time in school history two receivers put up 1,000-plus yards, with junior Jay Lee also a deep threat.
There’s also a four-deep running back rotation that includes last season’s top rusher Shock Linwood, completing what should once again be one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country.
With returning All-American defensive end Shawn Oakman and nose tackle Andrew Billings leading the defensive front, the Bears will be in the national title conversation throughout the season.