Way too early College Football Power Rankings for 2016: Lots of SEC

The new year looks a lot like the old year.

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship participants are more than poised to make a return to the playoff next season.

So says the way-too-early first Power Rankings for 2016. As long as Clemson has Deshaun Watson, the Tigers have a chance. Nick Saban has the system wired as much as any coach in … history?

Elsewhere, Oklahoma has to be the early favorite to win the Big 12 (again). The top four is rounded out with LSU. That means for the first time in CFP history, a conference would have two teams in the playoff. It’s happened before with Alabama and LSU in the 2011 BCS Championship Game.

It also means the Pac-12 and Big Ten would be left out of the playoff. It means Houston will start the season ranked in the top 10 and contend for its second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl.

It means Notre Dame will struggle to get in the top four despite lots of talent coming off a 10-win season.

The breakdown: The SEC leads everyone with six teams in. The ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 each have four. The remaining three spots go to the American (Houston), Mountain West (Boise) and Notre Dame.

1 Clemson Tigers : Deshaun Watson is back as are seven other projected starters on an offense that set a school record for points. Depending on how many underclassmen declare for the NFL Draft, the Tigers should be salty on defense again, too. It will help -- as it did in 2015 -- to play an ACC schedule without much push back.
2 Alabama Crimson Tide : Early draft entries could gouge the lineup. Does it matter? The Tide will merely reload and make another championship run. This season's scout teamer Blake Barnett has a good chance to take over for Jake Coker.
3 Oklahoma Sooners : Bob Stoops gets the guts of his offense back and should be favored to win a 10th Big 12 title. New targets will have to be developed for Baker Mayfield. In offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's second season, the Sooners should be an offensive powerhouse. That's usually enough to win the league. Another playoff berth should follow.
4 LSU Tigers : Les Miles is back with overwhelming talent and leverage. The administration better not mess with him. Leonard Fournette returns for what has to be his final season. There are enough defenders lined up on the depth chart to make Dave Aranda a smart man in his first season as defensive coordinator.
5 Ohio State Buckeyes : Urban Meyer has lost four games in four years in Columbus. A rebuilt secondary and offensive line will make it tough to get back to the top of the Big Ten. There are games at Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan State. That's a big ask. But if anybody can do it, it's Meyer.
6 Michigan Wolverines : How hard can this Big Ten/national championship thing be? Jim Harbaugh won 10 in a transition year. Never mind that he did some of it with Super Glue and twisty ties, Harbaugh has just about turned around this aircraft career. Houston transfer John O'Korn gives Michigan an immediate upgrade at quarterback.
7 Baylor Bears : Art Briles may be on to something. Missing his top two quarterbacks in the bowl game, he went to a wild-eyed Wildcat featuring at least five players back there calling signals. Briles is nothing if not adaptable. The defense will take some hits but the nation's No. 1 offense should keep purring.
8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish : Brian Kelly finished his eighth 10-win season as a coach despite massive injury issues. He gets back quarterback Malik Zaire to go along with a surprisingly efficient DeShone Kizer. The toughest ACC games are Texas, Michigan State, Miami and USC. The Irish should continue to be a playoff contender.
9 Michigan State Spartans : Don't be surprised if the Spartans win the Big Ten again. The biggest loss is at quarterback where Connor Cook is moving on. There are three returners on the offensive line. Mark Dantonio has plenty of options at tailback and will use them all. Notre Dame and BYU jump on the schedule. Ohio State comes to East Lansing.
10 Houston Cougars : Tom Herman is in the process of wrapping up what has been called the best recruiting class ever by a Group of Five coach. The existing roster isn't too bad either. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. returns to run at offense that averaged 40 points. Given their nonconference schedule (Ohio State, Louisville), the Cougars at least have the opportunity to be a playoff team.
11 Tennessee Volunteers : Butch Jones' turnaround is official. The Vols won nine games in his third season and should have won a couple of more (Oklahoma, Florida). Tennessee will be favored to win the SEC East with a dynamic offense and improving defense. As many as 18 starters return.
12 Florida State Seminoles : It's about to get interesting in the ACC Atlantic. FSU returns all 11 offensive starters. That means the game against Clemson could be one of the biggest contests of the season. More than a year removed from legal troubles, will the immensely talented Dalvin Cook be considered for the Heisman?
13 Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes : Mark Richt was the best hire of the silly season -- Cane legacy, accomplished coach, recruiting chops. Richt inherits a quarterback (Brad Kaaya) who should light it up in his third season. Even better, Richt gets the core of the offensive line back.
14 Stanford Cardinal : The Cardinal are going to intimidate with a monstrous offensive line. Christian McCaffrey returns to run behind it. The golden age of Stanford football continues as the Cardinal go for their fourth Pac-12 title in five years.
15 Iowa Hawkeyes : The Hawkeyes were somewhat of a function of their schedule. Michigan jumps on in 2016, making things a bit more difficult. The Hawks should look much the same way as they did in '15 -- creative C.J. Beathard at quarterback, multiple tailback options. It doesn't hurt to have back Eddie Robinson coach of the year Kirk Ferentz and All-America corner Desmond King.
16 Oklahoma State Cowboys : Mason Rudolph-to-James Washington will be one of the best pass-catch combos in the country. The loss of Emmanuel Ogbah on defense will hurt but the entire offensive line returns.
17 Ole Miss Rebels : Hugh Freeze is armed with a new contract and some of the same weapons. Chad Kelly won't have Laquon Treadwell, but he will have plenty of depth on offense.
18 Oregon Ducks : You don't know FCS grad transfer Dakota Prukop, but you will. The Ducks' new quarterback will have some of the nation's best skill players around him. They just have to prove they can hold a 31-point halftime lead.
19 Arkansas Razorbacks : Brandon Allen and Alex Collins are gone. The game's largest offensive line is largely departed. Still, Bret Bielema is leading us to believe the Hogs have finally turned the corner under him.
20 TCU Horned Frogs : Massive injuries finally caught up to the Frogs, which started 2015 in the top five. Forest Sawyer and Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill will decide who will replace Trevone Boykin. Only one full-time starter returns on offense.
21 Southern California Trojans : Clay Helton starts his first full season as head coach. There's enough talent -- as there always is in Troy -- to make a championship run. The question is activating that talent. New quarterback Max Browne will have JuJu Smith-Schuster to throw to. The season starts in Arlington, Texas, against Alabama so -- you know -- watch out.
22 Georgia Bulldogs : There are worse ways to go into your first season as a coach. Kirby Smart gets tailback Nick Chubb back. That alone could make the Dawgs a contender in the SEC East. Quarterback continues to be a concern.
23 Louisville Cardinals : The Cards slid back in Bobby Petrino's second season (8-5), but there's plenty to be hopeful about. Up to 10 starters return on defense, including quarterback Lamar Jackson (who has some Deshaun Watson in him).
24 Boise State Broncos : Fourteen straight senior classes have won at least 40 games in Boise. It will be difficult making it 15 in a row. (The last three seasons have totaled 29 wins.) Entering his third season, Bryan Harsin gets back 1,300-yard rusher Jeremy McNichols and budding quarterback Brett Rypien.
25 Washington State Cougars : Mike Leach won nine in his third season at Wazzu. He has what a lot of teams in the Pac-12 North don't -- an accomplished returning quarterback. Luke Falk lead the country in passing yards per game. Eight starters return on offense that doubled its rushing output in 2015. The Cougars will be dark horse to get to the Pac-12 title game.

Tennessee should finally reach its potential in 2016. (USATSI)
Tennessee should finally reach its potential in 2016. (USATSI)
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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