The start of the 2016 college football season is less than 100 days away and already there is much debate over the too early pre-season top 25 rankings. But for many there are only around a dozen teams with a realistic shot of making the college football playoff. Below are five college football playoff sleepers for the 2016 season.
2016 College Football Playoff Sleepers
After a rough 0-3 start to the 2015 season, the Louisville Cardinals went 8-2 to finish the year, including a strong bowl victory over Texas A&M. Head coach Bobby Petrino has 18 starters from last year returning, including dual threat quarterback Lamar Jackson who improved greatly as a passer over the course of the 2015 season.
The Cardinals schedule is manageable with Florida State visiting Louisville in Week three before visiting Clemson two weeks later. They do have to face a tough non-conference slate though with visits to Marshall and Houston as well as a home game against rival Kentucky. There are certainly no cupcakes on the Cardinals schedule in 2016 which should make them popular with the playoff committee.
The Houston Cougars are a popular pick after they posting a strong 13-1 record in 2015, including a big bowl victory over Florida State, and the decision by head coach Tom Herman to return to Houston in 2016 despite other offers. The Cougars have much in common with Louisville; they also return a number of starters, including quarterback Greg Ward, but they will face a tougher schedule in 2016 than they did in 2015.
The Cougars non-conference slate includes Louisville and Oklahoma at home which will test their playoff credentials, but also give them a lot more credit from the playoff committee than they got last year. Their AAC schedule is tougher too as they have Cincinnati, Navy and Memphis all on the road.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys were a surprise team last year as they stated 10-0 before falling in back-to-back home games to close out the season. With a more experienced roster this year the Cowboys could take the next step and actually win the Big 12 while putting themselves in the playoff mix.
Oklahoma remains Oklahoma State’s biggest threat but with TCU replacing a lot of talent and Baylor having serious off the field issues this could be their year. The main issue is that they face all three of these teams on the road, but if the Cowboys can survive that with two wins and navigate the rest of their schedule undefeated they’ll be hard to ignore come playoff time.
Virginia Tech Hokies
After replacing long standing head coach Frank Beamer, the Virginia Tech Hokies hired Justin Fuente with the hope that he’ll help kick start their struggling offense. The Hokies defense remains a strong unit despite losing some key players to the draft so it wouldn’t take a huge improvement from that offense to make Va. Tech a real threat.
The Hokies caught a break in ACC scheduling as they miss Florida State, Louisville and Clemson from the Atlantic division. Tennessee come to Blacksburg in Week two but the toughest game remains a visit to Notre Dame late in the year. The schedule is good enough to impress the committee, but it isn’t too difficult. With a bit luck, it’s easy to imagine the Hokies getting 11 wins in 2016.
The Utah Utes are similar to Oklahoma State in that they were really impressive early in 2015 but fell away towards the end of the season. Many Utes fans feel things might have been different had they escaped with a win from their double overtime game at the University of Arizona.
For 2016 Utah does have to replace a number of key players, like running back Devontae Booker, but they did catch a break with the PAC-12 scheduling as they avoid both Stanford and Washington and they get Oregon at home. The Utes also have the Holy War game at home against BYU so don’t be surprised if they make another run at the playoff.