To the surprise of not very many, Alabama was crowned the national champion for the fourth time in seven years on Monday night. But this is no time to dwell on the thrilling title game or just-concluded 2015 season, and the perfect time to look forward to 2016, because it has already started.
The recruiting dead period ends on Thursday, meaning coaches from coast-to-coast will be in a talent-procurement frenzy from then until national signing day on Feb. 3. There will be more upheaval ahead for the next season, as several off-the-field decisions will leave profound impact on college football in the years to come.
So here we are, while saying adieu to 2015, taking an early peek at what’s ahead in 2016:
Will Alabama’s dynasty carry on?
After their sensational 45-40 victory over Clemson, it’s obvious that this is the Crimson Tide’s universe and everyone else is just a renter. And Nick Saban’s juggernaut doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Over the past seven seasons, Alabama went 86-10 and won four national titles. Along the way, two Crimson Tide running backs (Mark Ingram in 2009 and Derrick Henry in 2015) picked up the school’s first two Heisman trophies.
The Tide are definitely in conversation for being the most dominant program of all time, or at least in the post-bowl era (beginning in 1998 with the advent of the BCS). Over a same seven-year period between 2002-09, USC went 82-9, won its conference each year, was 6-1 in bowl games and compiled a 34-game winning streak. Alabama, meanwhile, won the SEC four times in the seven years, but lost two bowls and its longest win streak was 19 games.
Alabama, however, has a chance to carry on whereas USC’s dynasty ended abruptly after Pete Carroll’s departure coupled with crippling NCAA sanctions. If Saban sticks around, the Tide might not be done for awhile.
Heisman race is already heating up
While Henry most likely will turn pro and take his Heisman statuette to the NFL, the next three highest vote-getters in 2015 are all returning – Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (who nearly carried the Tigers to an 15-0 record and a title), Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
But the hype machine (otherwise known as ESPN) has tabbed someone else as the 2016 frontrunner – LSU running back Leonard Fournette. He was actually the 2015 frontrunner until getting shut down by Alabama in a game that vaulted Henry to the front of the pack.
There is, of course, the possibility of a dark horse emerging from the shadows. Keep an eye on Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.
Fate of Big 12 and more realignment
The NCAA is holding a convention in San Antonio this week and at the end the membership is expected to vote on competing proposals to amend how conference championship games are structured.
The Big 12 – currently with 10 teams – would like to change the current rules so that it won’t be necessary to have at least 12 teams and two divisions to stage a title game. But the Big Ten has come up with a counter-proposal that would make the regulation more rigid. The SEC is backing the Big Ten while the ACC is in the Big 12’s corner, leaving the Pac-12 and Group of 5 conferences as swing votes.
The outcome of this vote could have an immediate impact on the college sports landscape. If its own proposal fails to pass, the Big 12 might be forced to expand to 12 teams, with Cincinnati, Houston and BYU the likely targets. And the wheels will be in motion very soon.
Big Ten goes for more big bucks
Over the last five years, all but one of the Power 5 conferences signed new mega-million television deals that greatly enriched each member school’s coffers. Now it’s the Big Ten’s turn.
Despite a more volatile marketplace with cord-cutting diminishing revenues for cable network operators, the Big Ten is still expected to get an unprecedented windfall. Its current deal, to expire after the 2016-17 season, is worth $1 billion over 10 years. Its next deal most likely will double that.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will be negotiating from a position of strength. Ohio State’s national championship season in 2014 re-established the conference’s legitimacy; and the re-emergence of Michigan, under the relentlessly driven and entertaining Jim Harbaugh, is only going to help drive up interest in the conference.
The Jim Harbaugh Express
Speaking of Harbaugh, the former Stanford and 49ers coach is easily the biggest newsmaker in all of college football. Not only has he immediately restored the Michigan program to a 10-win season, capped by a slaughter of SEC East champ Florida in the Citrus Bowl, he’s now poised to reel in the top-ranked recruiting class in 2016.
Each of his moves, tweets and ideas is immediately churned up in the social media hype machine. Last year he ruffled SEC feathers by staging satellite camps down south. This year, he’s contemplating holding Michigan’s spring practice in Florida.
Stay tuned. Harbaugh is just getting warmed up.
Way too early top 10
The 2015 season is over, so of course we should have new rankings for the 2016 season:
1. Alabama, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Stanford, 4. Ohio State, 5. Clemson, 6. Baylor, 7. Michigan, 8. Florida State, 9. LSU, 10. Notre Dame.