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Alabama, LSU and Clemson lead the way in 1-128 projected 2016 rankings

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Below, every team in the country, ranked for 2016.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

While my S&P+ college football team ratings include quite a few components, projecting the ratings in the offseason is a simple process. There are three primary ingredients: a team's returning production, its recent history and its two-year recruiting rankings.

This answers three key questions: How well has a team done recently? What talent has it lost from last year? And how good are the players replacing the lost talent?

I've posted each of these factors:

To come up with preliminary projections, I create projected S&P+ ratings based on each factor -- recruiting impact, returning production*, and recent history -- and then blend them together. The projection based on returning production gets the heaviest weight, followed by recruiting, then recent history, which only carries a little bit of weight.

* Note: the Returning Production ranking you see below is based on the impact of returning talent on last year's S&P+. So while LSU is No. 1 in the amount of its returning production per the link above, the Tigers rank third below partly because Clemson and Alabama were that much better last year.

Here are the preliminary projected S&P+ ratings for 2016.

Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj S&P+
1 Alabama SEC 1 2 1 26.8
2 LSU SEC 8 3 2 24.4
3 Clemson ACC 6 1 13 24.2
4 Oklahoma Big 12 16 4 5 22
5 Florida State ACC 3 8 7 19.6
6 Michigan Big Ten 14 5 17 19.3
7 Ole Miss SEC 15 7 20 18.9
8 USC Pac-12 2 14 14 17.3
9 Tennessee SEC 9 9 26 17
10 Washington Pac-12 30 6 39 17
11 Notre Dame Indep. 10 15 9 16.7
12 UCLA Pac-12 11 12 22 16.5
13 Baylor Big 12 27 11 10 16.4
14 Ohio State Big Ten 5 18 3 16.4
15 Georgia SEC 7 16 8 16.2
16 Stanford Pac-12 24 17 6 15.3
17 Arkansas SEC 25 13 21 15.2
18 Oregon Pac-12 19 23 4 15
19 Florida SEC 20 19 18 14.5
20 Louisville ACC 39 10 36 14.4
21 Miss. State SEC 23 20 24 13.6
22 Michigan State Big Ten 18 30 12 13.5
23 Okla. State Big 12 40 21 16 12.6
24 Auburn SEC 4 33 23 12.5
25 Texas A&M SEC 13 40 11 12.5
Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
26 Nebraska Big Ten 29 28 32 11.6
27 North Carolina ACC 26 25 42 11.3
28 Penn State Big Ten 17 39 29 11.3
29 Pittsburgh ACC 35 29 43 10.3
30 Miami ACC 21 46 37 10
31 TCU Big 12 31 49 25 9.7
32 Virginia Tech ACC 32 44 33 9.3
33 West Virginia Big 12 42 31 47 9.2
34 Texas Big 12 12 59 34 9.2
35 BYU Indep. 66 27 35 8.4
36 Boise State MWC 65 38 19 8.3
37 Wisconsin Big Ten 33 60 15 8.3
38 Iowa Big Ten 49 32 48 8.1
39 Utah Pac-12 43 43 44 7.8
40 NC State ACC 45 37 63 7.4
41 South Florida AAC 54 26 79 7.2
42 Minnesota Big Ten 53 34 55 7
43 Texas Tech Big 12 41 50 52 6.5
44 Syracuse ACC 59 42 60 5.7
45 WKU C-USA 92 22 64 5.6
46 Northwestern Big Ten 46 58 61 5.1
47 Missouri SEC 34 77 27 5.1
48 WSU Pac-12 56 47 81 5
49 California Pac-12 38 64 51 4.8
50 Boston College ACC 64 51 58 4.7
Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
51 Duke ACC 37 63 66 4.6
52 GA Southern SBC 95 36 46 4.5
53 Houston AAC 61 56 50 4.4
54 Georgia Tech ACC 48 70 38 4.4
55 SDSU MWC 79 41 62 4
56 Indiana Big Ten 55 57 75 3.9
57 Arizona State Pac-12 22 89 30 3.7
58 Toledo MAC 87 52 40 3.7
59 App State SBC 115 24 80 3.7
60 Bowling Green MAC 103 35 59 3.4
61 Temple AAC 69 53 74 3.2
62 Maryland Big Ten 47 65 77 2.9
63 South Carolina SEC 28 90 28 2.8
64 Arizona Pac-12 44 80 45 2.6
65 WMU MAC 78 45 87 2.5
66 Navy AAC 110 48 54 2.4
67 Kansas State Big 12 63 79 31 2
68 Virginia ACC 62 68 69 1.8
69 Vanderbilt SEC 51 78 67 1.8
70 Cincinnati AAC 70 73 49 1.4
71 Iowa State Big 12 68 67 71 1.3
72 Southern Miss C-USA 88 54 91 0.8
73 Utah State MWC 104 66 41 0.7
74 Wake Forest ACC 58 75 93 0.6
75 Marshall C-USA 75 72 53 0.4
Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
76 Illinois Big Ten 67 76 73 0.4
77 Memphis AAC 74 62 88 0.1
78 East Carolina AAC 73 71 72 -0.1
79 NIU MAC 117 61 56 -0.2
80 Air Force MWC 125 55 92 -0.6
81 Connecticut AAC 83 74 97 -2.1
82 Colorado Pac-12 50 87 101 -2.2
83 Kentucky SEC 36 100 86 -2.4
84 LA Tech C-USA 84 82 65 -2.5
85 CMU MAC 91 69 104 -2.7
86 Oregon State Pac-12 52 102 57 -2.9
87 Rutgers Big Ten 60 93 84 -3.1
88 Purdue Big Ten 71 86 82 -3.1
89 Arkansas State SBC 85 88 68 -3.6
90 MTSU C-USA 93 81 100 -4.2
91 Nevada MWC 96 85 83 -4.3
92 San Jose State MWC 80 92 85 -4.9
93 Tulsa AAC 89 91 76 -5
94 Fresno State MWC 72 95 78 -5
95 Ohio MAC 119 84 90 -5.1
96 Colorado State MWC 76 97 96 -6.3
97 Akron MAC 124 83 112 -6.4
98 SMU AAC 82 98 95 -6.7
99 Central Florida AAC 57 113 70 -7
100 Florida Atlantic C-USA 81 103 106 -7.7
Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
101 Ball State MAC 111 104 89 -8.1
102 New Mexico MWC 106 94 122 -8.3
103 Troy SBC 107 99 103 -8.5
104 Kent State MAC 123 101 98 -8.5
105 Georgia State SBC 121 96 119 -9.2
106 UL-Lafayette SBC 108 111 94 -10.5
107 Miami (Ohio) MAC 90 107 115 -10.8
108 Idaho SBC 128 105 123 -11.2
109 Buffalo MAC 114 110 107 -11.2
110 Wyoming MWC 116 109 111 -11.5
111 Old Dominion C-USA 113 108 121 -11.6
112 Kansas Big 12 77 122 108 -12.4
113 FIU C-USA 105 112 116 -12.6
114 UNLV MWC 86 117 113 -12.6
115 South Alabama SBC 97 118 102 -12.8
116 UTSA C-USA 98 119 109 -13.2
117 NMSU SBC 127 106 127 -13.4
118 Hawaii MWC 102 116 120 -13.4
119 Rice C-USA 112 123 99 -13.5
120 Texas State SBC 109 121 114 -14
121 EMU MAC 120 114 126 -14.6
122 Tulane AAC 94 124 118 -14.6
123 Charlotte C-USA 99 115 128 -14.9
124 Army Indep. 126 120 124 -15.5
125 UL-Monroe SBC 118 127 110 -16.4
126 UTEP C-USA 122 126 117 -16.9
127 UMass MAC 101 125 125 -17.1
128 North Texas C-USA 100 128 105 -17.9

Top 2? Maybe top 3.

Alabama and Clemson were easily the two best teams in college football in 2015, and with what each returns -- Bama brings back much of its absurd defense, and Clemson's offensive trio of sophomores (Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott) is now a trio of juniors -- it's easy to start with these two again in 2016.

I assumed that's who would be projected at the top ... and I was mostly right. LSU butted its way into the party, though.

The Tigers return virtually everybody, recruited well once more, and get an extra boost from the formula's use of five-year history. Granted, that means they're getting a small lift from the 2011 team that has long since departed, but their demise in the years since 2011 has been overstated.

They were an outstanding team for much of last season, barring a three-game funk that knocked them to ninth in S&P+. But they still finished ninth! And they return more than anybody else in the top 10.

Yes, they have questions to answer in the passing game. But here's where I remind you that quarterback Brandon Harris was a true sophomore. Sophomores not named Deshaun Watson tend to play like sophomores.

The ACC's making moves.

The Big Ten finished second behind the SEC in last year's S&P+, but with Ohio State and Michigan State regrouping, the conference is projected to regress. The SEC's offenses, meanwhile, will be far more experienced on average than they were, and of course the SEC gets the requisite recruiting bump. The conference's lead should increase next fall.

But look out for the ACC. Not only did it make a lot of impressive coaching hires, it also returns quite a bit of last year's production.

Projected conference S&P+ averages:

  1. SEC (12.8, up 2.8 from 2015)
  2. ACC (9.2, up 2.5)
  3. Pac-12 (8.3, up 1.4)
  4. Big 12 (7.7, up 2.6)
  5. Big Ten (7.0, down 0.4)
  6. AAC (-1.4, up 0.7)
  7. MWC (-4.5, down 0.3)
  8. MAC (-5.8, down 2.2)
  9. Sun Belt (-8.3, down 0.8)
  10. Conference USA (-8.3, down 0.2)

Clemson and FSU both project as top-five teams, and five teams project between 20th and 32nd. More importantly, only one projects worse than 70th (Wake Forest, a decent 74th!). The ACC's strength has been its depth, and next year it could have especially impressive depth and two national title contenders.

Wait a second ... is that Washington in the top 10?

Yep.

The Huskies won last year's "mediocre record, strangely impressive S&P+ ratings" award*. They finished just 7-6, but they played really well in one particular loss (Oregon), lost two other games (to Boise State and California) by six or fewer points, and played at the 91st percentile or higher in six of seven wins. Very few teams played at an elite level more than that.

UW was also young as hell. That made for an inconsistent product, but it also means the Huskies return almost everything. That's all the numbers need to see.

Too much, too soon? Maybe. But Chris Petersen's rebuilding project appears to be a year ahead of what I anticipated.

Washington's presence in the top 10, by the way, allows me to whistle right on by Tennessee projecting ninth. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

Previous winners were almost guaranteed to see their records improve the next year, often by quite a bit.

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Your 2016 conference races

Here are the top three projected teams in each conference.

  • SEC: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU, No. 6 Ole Miss
  • ACC: No. 3 Clemson, No. 5 FSU, No. 20 Louisville
  • Pac-12: No. 8 USC, No. 10 Washington, No. 12 UCLA
  • Big 12: No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 13 Baylor, No. 23 Oklahoma State
  • Big Ten: No. 6 Michigan, No. 14 Ohio State, No. 22 Michigan State
  • AAC: No. 41 USF, No. 53 Houston, No. 61 Temple
  • MWC: No. 36 Boise State, No. 55 San Diego State, No. 73 Utah State
  • MAC: No. 58 Toledo, No. 60 Bowling Green, No. 65 Western Michigan
  • Sun Belt: No. 52 Georgia Southern, No. 59 Appalachian State, No. 89 Arkansas State
  • Conference USA: No. 45 Western Kentucky, No. 72 Southern Miss, No. 75 Marshall

The 2016 Pac-12 race could be fascinating. Five teams project between eighth and 18th, with just 2.3 points separating them -- two in the South (USC, UCLA) and three in the North (Washington, Stanford, Oregon).