As confetti fell from the rafters and littered University of Phoenix Stadium, the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrated a fourth national title in seven years under head coach Nick Saban. Except the 64-year-old, five-time national champion coach Saban held up his typically stoic nature and was already preparing for the 2016-2017 season. According to USA Today High School Sports, Saban was on the phone calling recruits from the Class of 2016 less than 18 hours after the Tide claimed their 20th overall crown.
It’s that kind of almost-manic dedication, coupled with Saban’s outstanding track record along the recruiting trail, that has Alabama favored to repeat as 2017’s College Football Playoff champions. According to futures odds via Bovada.lv, the Tide are +700 favorites to win next year and once again face the Clemson Tigers at +750.
And the Tide and Tigers stand well above the rest of the nation’s top programs. Bolstered by traditionally strong recruiting classes and a number of returning studs, the Ohio State Buckeyes, Baylor Bears, and Michigan Wolverines lead the next tier of contenders at +1200, but none may be able to keep up with Alabama and Clemson.
Saban and the Tide face similar hurdles as they did last season, especially heavy turnover on offense, but reloading hasn’t been an issue for Alabama since Saban’s taken over the program. Seven members of last year’s CFP contending squad, including star receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon, all went off to the NFL.
But Saban already had eventual Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to man the rushing attack, and receiver Calvin Ridley posted a record-setting freshman season. Henry, a junior, is expected to declare early for the NFL Draft, and senior Kenyan Drake will leave Tuscaloosa for the NFL, but 2015 five-star recruit and freshman Damien Harris should slide right into the backfield.
At quarterback, Jake Coker will move on, but his replacement is already on deck. Lane Kiffin's offense may have another competition under center this spring between now-freshmen David Cornwell and Blake Barnett, who was a four-star recruit coming of Corona, California.
The Tide's coming voids on the defensive line, by far their strongest unit through this year’s title run, stick out as Saban’s biggest challenge. According to the Montgomery Adviser, major contributors and seniors Jarran Reed, Darren Lake, and D.J. Pettway, as well as juniors A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, will all be missed, and Saban will ask sophomore Da’Ron Payne and junior Da’Shawn Hand to step up.
The Tigers, however, won’t experience nearly as much turnover on either side of the ball. Head coach Dabo Swinney’s crew is expected to bring back 17 starters on offense and defense from this season’s CFP finalist, with sensational sophomore and duel-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson automatically making Clemson an early title favorite. All-ACC first-team running back Wayne Gallman will also return.
That isn’t too say Swinney and Clemson don't have some holes to fill. All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson, who led the country in tackles for a loss, as well as cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Kevin Dodd, and safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse all declared for the NFL Draft on Wednesday.
Swinney, though, has already secured letters of intent from five-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and linebacker Rahshaun Smith, along with four-star defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney out of nearby Seabrook, South Carolina, as part of the country’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class, according to Rivals.
But the Tide and Tigers won't breeze back into CFP contention, especially if Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines' No. 3-ranked recruiting class have any say. Entering his second season after putting Michigan in late contention for the CFP, Harbaugh locked down 12 four-star recruits, including quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Kareem Walker. The Wolverines are expected to lose all of their top linebackers, but their defensive line remains intact for the nation’s No. 11-ranked defense.
Odds To Win 2017 CFP Title
Ohio State +1200
Notre Dame +1400
Florida State +2000
Michigan State +3300
The full list of futures odds can be viewed at Bovada.lv.