Predictions for the next College Football Playoff following National Signing Day.
The Alabama Crimson Tide claimed the recruiting national championship for the sixth straight year, according to 247Sports. The Alabama machine should pump out several first round draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft with the majority coming from the Crimson Tide defensive front seven. The machine can’t produce talent if it doesn’t bring it in, which is exactly what Alabama head coach Nick Saban and his staff have done year after year. Alabama’s No. 1 2016 recruiting class features three five-star recruits and 14 four-star prospects. Among the five-star players are linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson, both of whom could immediately start on the Tide’s defense with the departure of stud linebacker Reggie Ragland. Alabama isn’t the only team that drastically boosted its College Football Playoff chances with a stellar 2016 recruiting class. Below are predictions for the 2016-17 College Football Playoff after an eventful National Signing Day this week.
4. Michigan Wolverines
In only a year at his alma mater, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has revitalized Michigan football. Harbaugh has not only rejuvenated Michigan on the field, but he’s also invigorated the program on the recruiting trail. In an offseason that featured sleepovers and tree climbing, Harbaugh owned the college football spotlight from the conclusion of bowl season leading up to and during National Signing Day Wednesday. Wednesday, Michigan’s “Signing of the Stars” event featured past Wolverines Tom Brady, Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, as well as former Wolverine Derek Jeter, wrestling legend Rick Flair and the musical group Migos. Harbaugh was so wrapped up in the Signing Day extravaganza, he found out he had landed No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary via ESPN announcer Mike Tirico’s phone while backstage at the event.
A season ago, Michigan struggled to rush the passer and stop the run against the Big Ten’s elite teams. Just ask NFL-bound Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for more than 200 yards in Ohio State’s 42-13 blowout of the Wolverines in November. Gary, a 6-foot-5, 293-pound defensive tackle from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, should immediately start on new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense after defensive tackle Willie Henry declared for the 2016 NFL Draft. In addition to Gary, four-star linebacker Devin Bush Jr. will likely step into a prominent role in year one to help fill the glaring gap the Wolverines have at linebacker.
On the offensive end, transfer John O’Korn will likely start at quarterback. O’Korn transferred from Houston last year and showed flashes of his potential in limited time with the Cougars. The 6-foot-4 quarterback could have a plethora of help at receiver with leading receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh returning for their senior seasons. All-American tight end Jake Butt, who probably could have been a high pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, will also return to Ann Arbor, Mich. for his senior season. The Wolverines should come out of the Big Ten East, considering the large amount of talent departing Michigan State and Ohio State for the NFL. Two possible hiccups on Michigan’s 2016 schedule are road games at Iowa and at Ohio State. If Harbaugh’s quarterback development magic works for O’Korn, Michigan will likely be in the 2016-17 College Football Playoff.
3. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles always seem to fly under the radar on the recruiting trail. However, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher never fails to bring top-tier talent to Tallahassee, Fla. Since former Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston departed for the NFL last year, Florida State had yet to find its next star at the position. The ‘Noles may have found that star when highly touted quarterback Malik Henry committed to Florida State in 2014. Henry could compete for the starting job in 2016 as a true freshman with redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, sophomore J.J. Cosentino and senior incumbent starter Sean Maguire, who is recovering from surgery to repair a broken ankle. Despite losing stud defensive back Jalen Ramsey to the NFL, the Seminoles brought in cornerback Levonta Taylor, a five-star recruit and the No. 1 ranked prospect at his position. With Heisman candidate Dalvin Cook returning at running back and the signing of four-star wide receiver Keith Gavin, Florida State will look to return to the College Football Playoff to atone for a horrific loss to Houston in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl this past season.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
As long as Nick Saban is head coach, the Crimson Tide should never be doubted. Alabama makes defense a priority on the recruiting trail, and it shows throughout the regular season and in postseason appearances. The Tide’s 2016 recruiting class was no exception as Alabama brought in another class filled with beasts on the defensive side of the ball, including four-star defensive tackle, Raekwon Davis, who stands 6-feet-7 inches and weighs 327 pounds.
A solid defense with a prolific rushing attack is the formula Saban has used to consistently win in Tuscaloosa, Ala. If all goes as planned, running back Bo Scarbrough should become the next Derrick Henry. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound tailback is similarly built to Henry and plays with a relentless energy. Saban’s nine-year tenure at Alabama has brought four national titles and a litany of first round draft picks to the university. Although Alabama isn’t known for elite quarterback play, the Tide signed the No. 2 overall quarterback in the 2015 class, Blake Barnett. Barnett could be critical as Saban pursues his sixth national title next season.
1. Clemson Tigers
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney fell just short of landing No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary, but five-star 6-foot-4, 327 pound defensive tackle and No. 2 overall prospect at the position Dexter Lawrence serves as an excellent consolation prize. Clemson has virtually no gaps on the offensive side of the ball with Heisman favorite, quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams, and running back Wayne Gallman all staying in school for at least one more year. The Tigers lost some defensive talent to the NFL, including defensive ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, and shutdown corner Mackensie Alexander. The Tigers hope to fill those gaps with Lawrence and four-star cornerback Trayvon Mullen. Both players should step into critical starting roles in defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ defense. Clemson’s offense will likely lead the Tigers to another College Football Playoff berth. Whether the Tigers’ talented and somewhat inexperienced defense can rise to the occasion remains to be seen.