Four national championships in seven years. Eight straight seasons finishing in the top-10. Despite losing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and multiple others to the National Football League, defending national champions Alabama will start the year in the same place as the last: at No. 1.
The Amway Coaches’ Poll was released this past Thursday and there was no surprise who was on top. Head coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide are a true testament of reloading, not rebuilding. Totaling 55 of a possible 64 first-place votes, Alabama will look to repeat again, just like they did in 2012. The road won’t be easy as three of their toughest games are on the road at Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU in the vaunted SEC.
Who can stop the Crimson Tide in 2016 and earn their way into the four-team playoff? The coaches think the best opportunity comes from the team who came up five points short in last season’s national championship contest. The Clemson Tigers are second in the Amway poll, garnering nine first-place votes. Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson will try to carry his team back to the title game while head coach Dabo Swinney eyes an October 29th trip to Florida State as their biggest hurdle.
Rounding out the Top-5 in the Amway Coaches’ Poll is No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Florida State and No. 5 Ohio State. Oklahoma, behind QB Baker Mayfield, looks for a repeat appearance in the playoffs while Florida State and Ohio State, winners of the national championship in 2013 and 2014 respectively, are in prime position to get back to the top of college football.
Heisman hopeful running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are the driving forces behind No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Stanford title hopes. Fournette has help as the Tigers return 17 starters in Baton Rogue and a favorable home schedule is headlined by a November 5th conference tilt against heated rival Alabama.
The Michigan Wolverines are ranked No. 8 as expectations have risen dramatically in Ann Arbor under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Notre Dame sits at No. 9 while Tennessee comes in at No. 10. The Volunteers and head coach Butch Jones have been a popular pick as the surprise team of 2016 while the Fighting Irish get thrown right into the fire in the opener in Austin against the Texas Longhorns.
Who can be the playoff busters from outside the Power 5 conferences? The coaches of the Amway Poll give the best shot to No. 13 Houston. The Cougars were 13-1 in 2015, capped with a bowl game victory over Florida State. Head coach Jim Hermann’s team will find out quick if they’re contender or pretender with a season-opening contest vs. No. 3 Oklahoma at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
In addition to three teams in the Amway Coaches’ Poll Top-10, the SEC boasts a total of six in the Top-25 with Ole Miss at No. 12, Georgia at No. 16 and Florida at No. 25. The numbers never lie: the football-rich conference has won eight of the past 10 national championships. The Pac-12 totaled five teams in the top-25 while the Big 10, ACC and the Big 12 each grabbed four spots.
The season kicks off on Thursday, September 1st and the opening weekend is littered with intriguing match-ups. The Amway Coaches’ Poll will keep college football fans up-to-date with weekly rankings and drive discussion throughout the season until a national champion is crowned on January 9th, 2017 in Tampa, FL.