With college football programs around the country kicking off spring practice, it's officially time to begin talking about the upcoming season.
Alabama pulled out all the tricks just over a month ago against Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game, leaving Glendale, Ariz. with the program's 16th national title - Nick Saban's fourth in the last seven years - solidifying the coach's position as one of the sport's all-time best.
While 2015 turned out to be the year of the Crimson Tide, 2016 is anybody's for the taking.
With a plethora of talent returning to the scene this fall, anything can happen, which is why we love the game so much. Before teams can make a run at the title they have to make it through their respective conferences, and that's easier said than done in a number of circumstances.
Here are our predictions for each conference champion during the 2016 college football season.
ACC Champion - Florida State
Clemson ended Florida State's conference title streak this past season, pulling out a hard fought, 23-13 win at home against the Seminoles. As it has for years, the ACC will once again come down to these two teams and their matchup in Tallahassee, Fla. on Oct. 29. This time, though, it will be the Seminoles with home-field advantage. FSU returns all 11 starters on offense, as well as most of an extremely-young and talented defense. While Clemson returns a star in Watson, most of what caused FSU trouble in 2015 - defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd - is off to the NFL. This is shaping up to be FSU's year in the ACC.
">January 21, 2016
If NOT FSU: If the Seminoles fall short of a conference title this season, Clemson is the only other option. A talented group of Tigers will return to the gridiron in 2016, running through the majority of their schedule. As stated above, everything comes down to the game against FSU - and both fan bases know this.Big Ten ??? >>>Big Ten Champion - Ohio StateYes, the Buckeyes are losing 14 starters from last year's team - one that, in the minds of many, disappointed - but that doesn't change the fact that they still have the most talented roster in the conference, and have one of the best coaches in college football in Urban Meyer, too. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but the schedule works out well for the Buckeyes in that regard. Games against Bowling Green and Toledo will give them enough time to gain traction. The Big Ten East Division remains the strength of the conference, so Ohio State will have to take care of business on the road against Michigan State and at home in the season finale against Michigan if it wants to capture the conference title. Michigan State pulled it out last season, but 2016 looks good for OSU in the Big Ten. The return of quarterback J.T. Barrett means everything.
If Not Ohio State: If Ohio State slips up again this year in conference play, it seems like the rival Michigan Wolverines have the next best shot at the conference crown. Head coach Jim Harbaugh surprised some with the way the Wolverines came out of the gate in 2015, and common sense tells us that trend will only continue in Ann Arbor. Big 12 ??? >>>Big 12 Champion - OklahomaOklahoma ran through the Big 12 last season on the way to the College Football Playoff, falling short against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and seems destined to make a another run in 2016. With the return of quarterback Baker Mayfield and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, the Sooners have the appropriate arsenal to do so. Baylor and TCU will attempt to make things difficult and are expected to be much healthier than they were in 2015, but the Sooners won't go without a fight. While they have a couple tough out-of-conference games against Houston and Ohio State, they'll want to focus on the Bears and the Horned Frogs if they want to survive their own conference. As of now, Mayfield gives the Sooners hope to repeat as conference champs in 2016.
">January 14, 2016
If Not Oklahoma: If the Sooners don't repeat as Big 12 Champions, Baylor has the next best chance this season. The Bears return starting quarterback Seth Russell, who suffered a season-ending neck injury after a 7-0 start to the season, giving the offense a major boost behind an experienced arm. Talent and scheme are real in Waco.
Pac-12 Champion - Stanford
Stanford returns one of the most electric players in college football in all-purpose running back Christian McCaffrey, who will undoubtedly be one of the preseason Heisman frontrunners. Yes, the Cardinal lost starting quarterback Kevin Hogan, but if head coach David Shaw has proven anything, it's that he's capable of replacing talent at that position. Stanford plays its own style of football in a conference that, for the most part, lives and dies by the spread, and it continues to work year in and year out. Teams like USC and Oregon are always a threat, and UCLA returns a talented young quarterback in Josh Rosen that could make things interesting, but the Cardinal seem positioned to make another run at the conference title.
If Not Stanford: If the Cardinal fall short of a conference title in 2016, it could very well be the Oregon Ducks that waddle their way into the conversation. An always talented collection of athletes, Oregon has the potential to - literally - run away with any game they play. And if they can figure things out at the quarterback position, don't be surprised if the Ducks make a run.
SEC Champion - Alabama
People are probably tired of hearing this every year, but the Alabama Crimson Tide are again in the perfect position to make another run at the SEC title. Even after losing their starting quarterback Jake Coker and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, along with several other stars, the Crimson Tide still have the most-talented roster in the entire country. It's typically about talent when playing Alabama, but the Tide proved they're willing - when necessary - to pull out the tricks during the national title game. Games on the road against Ole Miss, LSU and Tennessee will be difficult, but it's those teams that are terrified of that date on the calendar, not the Crimson Tide. Truth is - you can never count out this team.
">January 12, 2016
If Not Alabama: If the Tide manage to give somebody else a chance, LSU seems primed to ride running back Leonard Fournette through a tough schedule. The biggest question for the Tigers remains the quarterback position. If they can manage to play smart, consistent ball at that position, the Tigers have everything else in place to make a run at the SEC title, and more.