All eyes are now focused on the upcoming 2016 college football season.
As programs all over the country begin to wrap up spring football, we find ourselves one step closer to that September kickoff - or the August 26 meeting between Hawaii and Cal in Australia that nobody will see due to a 1 a.m. E.T. kick. But whomever it is you root for, that first game is paramount, where it all begins as the direction of your program hangs in the balance.
Every team enters the season with goals in mind, but not all of them hit their mark when it's all said and done and that can impact a program in a number of ways. Whether it's a change in the coaching staff or a shift in conference power, programs have to fight for each and every breath in today's college football landscape. Nothing comes easy and nothing lasts forever, but that's what makes it our favorite - the possibility of chaos.
With the opening weekend of college football now less than five months away, it's officially time to dissect each program's needs, goals and expectations. Which programs have the most to fight for and which ones have the most to lose?
Here are the 10 college football programs with the most to lose in 2016.
Start With No. 10 ??? >>>
Auburn fans don't need to be reminded of the 2015 college football season, one in which the Tigers lost six regular season games. But the issues extend beyond 2015. Yes, the Tigers reached the national championship game during Gus Malzahn's first season as head coach, coming up just short of a title against Florida State. But a .500 record against ranked opponents just won't cut it at Auburn and something has to change.
The Tigers have an interesting season ahead. They may be starting JUCO transfer John Franklin III, who can run the type of pace on offense that got them to the title game in 2013. But if the Tigers don't figure something out in 2016, Malzahn's seat may be scorching by the time the season is over.
While the ACC has been decided between Florida State and Clemson for some time now, it's the Seminoles who have had a firm grip on the conference. Winning the national title in 2013 and three of the last four conference titles, head coach Jimbo Fisher and his 'Noles have been living it up in Tallahassee. But the tide is turning and the Clemson Tigers have steadily been gaining ground.
Head coach Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff Final last season, losing to Alabama in the title game. But the momentum is real and Clemson returns the best quarterback in college football - Deshaun Watson - in 2016, looking to make another run at a title. While they've yet to mimic FSU's recruiting pedigree, Clemson has worked wonders in recent years hauling in some of the nation's top talent. If the Seminoles aren't careful and continue to let the Tigers gain ground, we may see a power shift in the ACC.
With Michigan seemingly on the rise in the Big Ten, Michigan State needs to prove it deserves a seat at the table in 2016. Yes, the Spartans have won two of the last three conference titles. But they just lost their quarterback and several other pieces. Can they reload like Ohio State? Can they maintain? These are questions they look to answer in 2016.
">March 22, 2016
Michigan State had its chance in the College Football Playoff this past season and came up short. The last thing the Spartans need is to watch Michigan surge while they fade away. 2016 will be a fight to protect their spot at the table.No. 7 ??? >>>LSUThe Tigers almost lost their head coach last year after a disappointing season in which they followed a 7-0 start with three straight losses, blowing any chances of a playoff birth. It was easily the biggest in-season crash-and-burn scenario of 2015. But Les Miles kept his job - for now - and will have a chance at redemption this time around.
">April 2, 2016
The 2016 season is all about preserving what has been LSU football since 2005. It's about protecting Miles and what he's done since stepping in as head coach in Baton Rouge, La. He has a national title and two SEC titles under his belt, and has recruited as well as anybody in the country over the last 10 years, but patience seems to be running thin in Baton Rouge. If the Tigers don't make it work in 2016, Miles may once again be fighting for his job.
Much like Florida State, Ohio State is fighting to keep a stranglehold on the Big Ten. What has been the premier program in the conference over the last 10 years is beginning to see a possible shift in the current. Michigan State has captured two of the last three conference titles. Michigan, under head coach Jim Harbaugh, has gained significant ground on the recruiting trail. If these trends continue, the Buckeyes may lose their grip.
— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics)
— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) April 5, 2016
">April 5, 2016
After losing a plethora of talent to the NFL Draft, the Buckeyes face some uncertainty heading into the 2016 college football season. J.T. Barrett returns, which is a massive plus, but there will be a lot of first-year starters on the field during opening weekend. If Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes want to stunt Michigan's growth, 2016 will be the time to do so.
Clemson was easily the most exciting story of 2015, riding an undefeated season all the way to the College Football Playoff Final against Alabama. But they came up just short of the title. And while the Tigers return the nation's top quarterback in Deshaun Watson in 2016, this is likely his last season in Clemson orange. The Tigers need to strike while the iron's hot.
">April 9, 2016
The Tigers have undoubtedly gained some ground on Florida State, but coming up empty with as much talent as the they've had over the last five years would be a loss. The Seminoles aren't far behind either, and could very well recapture the ACC title if Clemson isn't careful. For the Tigers, 2016 is all about taking advantage of the perfect opportunity. There will be a drop off following Watson's departure. No. 4 ??? >>>FloridaThe Gators captured the SEC East under first-year head coach Jim McElwain. It was a successful year despite some obvious issues on the offensive side of the ball. And while it appears the Gators have answers for those issues, they're not the only team making strides in their division. Tennessee appears to be the favorite, Georgia seems ready to burst onto the scene under first-year head coach Kirby Smart and South Carolina saw a changing of the guard when it hired Will Muschamp.
">April 9, 2016
Even if Florida fixes its issues at the quarterback position, the battle for the East will be much more difficult than it was in 2016. This time around, the Gators have to fight to keep control. A stubborn defense will help guide the way, but the Gators will have to outscore teams like Tennessee if they want another shot at the SEC crown.
Oklahoma is yet another team that had a terrific 2015 season, earning one of four spots in the College Football Playoff. But the Sooners also came up short of the ultimate goal, and the window appears to be closing. The 2015 season seemed to be the perfect opportunity for Bob Stoops' team, with Texas still on the fritz, Baylor beat up and TCU falling apart, but the tides may be turning. Texas head coach Charlie Strong just reeled in his best recruiting class since taking over in Austin and Baylor will see the return of both its starting and backup quarterbacks.
">April 9, 2016
With Baker Mayfield returning, after working miracles for the Sooners last season, 2016 may be the last shot in the near future for Stoops and his Sooners to capture a title as the true favorite.
Jim Harbaugh and his staff have done a terrific job on the recruiting trail since taking over in Ann Arbor and the momentum appears to be swinging in their direction. But the Wolverines need to translate that success to the football field and they need to do so against major conference opponents. A bowl win against Florida can only get them so far - they need wins against Ohio State and Michigan State if they want the tides to turn in the Big Ten.
Just like Clemson, the Wolverines need to strike while the iron's hot. What better time to take advantage of the situation than now? Ohio State lost a plethora of starters to the NFL Draft and will look to reload in 2016. Michigan State lost three-year starting quarterback Connor Cook and several others. For Michigan, this fall is about taking the momentum and breaking down the the door.
The Longhorns reeled in an impressive 2016 recruiting class just a couple months back, but time may still be running out for head coach Charlie Strong in Austin. Texas boosters have an idea of what the Longhorns are supposed to look like on the football field and haven't seen what they want to see. Glimpses of hope won't be enough to save Strong's job - the Longhorns will need to figure things out quick.
Strong, partially in attempt to raise morale, feels strongly about the direction the Longhorns are headed and has expressed that to those who are concerned. Consistency will be key for Texas in 2016. Beating a team like Oklahoma was a great moment for the team in 2015, but it didn't save a disappointing season. Boosters and fans want to see a team that can come out and compete each and every Saturday. If the Longhorns can't do that, Strong may be out of a job.