It's March. Nobody knows anything about the upcoming college football season, no matter which the year, but especially not in March.
With that said.... it's March. The 2015 season shrinks in the rearview mirror with every ticking second, and the 2016 campaign is still but a spec in the horizon. What better time to look into our crystal ball and make some predictions?
We'll spend the next six months rating and debating the major storylines heading into the 2016 season, but here's a stab at what the major talking points will be on Oct. 1, 2016:
1. Jim Harbaugh will be The Greatest Coach in College Football: Phil Steele ranks Michigan at No. 7 in his way-too-early-but-eerily-accurate preseason 2016 projection. One of the teams ahead of the maize and blue won't survive September unscathed, and one or two more are likely to join them. The Wolverines' opening schedule is one of the softest in the country -- Hawaii, Central Florida, Colorado and Penn State all come to the Big House in the opening month, with Wisconsin and Illinois to follow, sandwiched around a trip to Rutgers. Michigan shredded its early home schedule in 2015, beating Oregon State, UNLV, BYU and Northwestern by a combined 132-14. This year's club is deeper and more attuned to what Harbaugh wants to do. September 2016 will be a khaki-colored avalanche.
2. The Tom Herman Hype Train will either be out of control or parked at the station. Fresh off a gangbusters debut in which he won the American championship, bested Florida State in the Peach Bowl and got a grill, Tom Herman is the hottest coach in college football this side of Ann Arbor. And now he heads into a season tailor-made for a College Football Playoff party-crashing campaign, with a likely top 15 Houston team taking on defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma in a not-so-neutral site game at the Texans' NRG Stadium, with a visit to perennial AAC contender Cincinnati a dozen days later. The Coogs visit both Navy and Memphis, but Keenan Reynolds and Paxton Lynch have both moved on. There is no visit to the UConn Black Hole this season. If Houston doesn't lose to Oklahoma or Cincinnati, it probably won't lose at all. Prepare your talking points accordingly.
3. Ole Miss.... No. 1 team in the country? Ole Miss hasn't earned an AP No. 1 ranking since the 1964 preseason rankings. The 2016 Rebels open with Florida State in Orlando, then host Alabama two weeks later and Georgia a week after that. Win those, and Ole Miss will have its first top ranking in more than half a century. And, sure, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche are gone. But doubt Hugh Freeze and company at your own peril. Ole Miss in its current state resembles Clemson in the early part of the decade -- when the Tigers, with wins over Virginia Tech, Florida State, Auburn, LSU and Georgia, appeared to reach their peak only to reset the bar.
4. Another 'O' team will join Michigan (and perhaps Ole Miss) in everyone's mock CFP brackets. While Oklahoma-Houston is undoubtedly a big game, it's also inarguably a bigger game for the Cougars than the Sooners (for reasons I'll explain below). And while opening weekend offers a platter of match-ups unmatched in college football history, the biggest game of the month is Ohio State's visit to Oklahoma on Sept. 17. The victor will find its spot in the top four secure for as long as it can remain unbeaten from that point forward.
5. Charlie Strong fate will be written for him... one way or the other. Perhaps no coach enters 2016 with a clearer objective: find a quarterback. The 'Horns have five options, and each presents his own particular set of plusses and minuses. As new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert works to install a new system, a daunting September schedule awaits -- Notre Dame in Austin on opening night, then a trip to California two weeks later, with consecutive trips to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in Dallas to open October. As you'll recall, Texas lost to Notre Dame 38-3 to open 2015 and, if we can exclude the trip to quarterback-less Baylor to close the year, lost its four remaining road games by an average of 37-7.
6. The SEC West will be a bloodbath. Kevin Sumlin, Gus Malzahn and Les Miles each have their own reasons for getting there, but the trio of highly-paid, highly-pressurized SEC West coaches finds themselves sharing a predicament. Each needs to find a solution at quarterback, or risk having it figured it out for him.
- Texas A&M, deciding between former walk-on Jake Hubenak or Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, welcomes UCLA and Josh Rosen to Kyle Field on opening day, visits Auburn on Sept. 17 and meets Arkansas at AT&T Stadium.
- LSU, which has ranked in the top 45 in FBS passing efficiency twice in the past eight years, takes on Wisconsin at Lambeau Field to open the year, hosts Mississippi State on Sept. 17 and closes the month at Auburn.
- Auburn, which has dropped from eighth to 10th to 86th nationally in yards per play under Gus Malzahn, welcomes national runner-up Clemson to the plains on opening day and welcomes both of the aforementioned teams to Jordan-Hare over the next three weeks.
7. Everyone will be in search of this year's Ohio State and Alabama. What do Ohio State and Alabama have in common? Two of the best coaches in college football, yes. Budgets larger than many island nations, sure. But both of the champions in the CFP era suffered September setbacks en route to ultimate glory. No less than a dozen teams will leave college football's opening month convinced they will torch a similar path through their respective seasons.
8. We'll all agree to never play a college football game at a racetrack ever again. Ever been to a football game at a stadium with a track encircling the playing field? It's a horrible viewing experience, right? Now multiply that experience by 30 and you'll approximate the dynamic for the Virginia Tech-Tennessee tilt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Like college basketball games on aircraft carriers, we'll come away from the Battle at Bristol in agreement football games at racetracks are spectacles that work better in theory than practice.