Way too early 2016 bowl projections
December and January are fraught with change in college football.
Players declare early for the NFL draft. Quarterbacks shift schools. Coaching staffs solidify after big-time changes. And each team hustles to fine-tune its 2016 recruiting class.
We’re starting to have a good idea about what every SEC program will look like entering spring practice in just a few short months. We’re also one national championship game away from what is nearly a nine-month break from SEC football games.
That’s plenty of time for injuries, suspensions — and before we sound too depressing, newcomers to emerge as serious contributors.
But we’re already starting to delve into 2016 schedules, roster evaluations and predictions.
A lot should change between now and Sept. 3, which on paper is one of the best opening weekends in college football history. For now, we’re projecting 11 SEC teams to make next year’s postseason. That includes seven programs from the SEC West, which would mark a third consecutive year that all seven teams in the division played in a bowl game.
We also foresee a 6-6 record for coach Mark Stoops at Kentucky, finally ending a bowl drought that has existed since the 2010 season.
It was oh-so-tempting to project Tennessee into the College Football Playoff. The hype train already is leaving Vol Station, and we made sure to punch our ticket in advance. While Georgia and Florida will make for strong competition, we see a clear distinction remaining between those three programs and the rest of the SEC East.
The SEC West is more unpredictable. But as coach Les Miles has fallen off the last few years, coach Nick Saban clearly is the class of the division, no matter who Alabama is or is not returning. At this point, we’re wondering if he’s majority robot parts. One of the biggest elements of his legacy will be the length of time he kept the Tide hovering at the top of the sport.
Even with Ole Miss building what looks like a sustainable program, LSU still full of NFL talent, Arkansas consistently feisty and Auburn always seeming to explode every two or three seasons, it is very difficult to pick against the Crimson Tide. So, as of now, we’re penciling in Bama as our SEC representative in next year’s College Football Playoff, which would make a third consecutive season.
Here are our way-too-early bowl projections for 2016:
2016 SEC BOWL PROJECTIONS (11 invites)
- College Football Playoff Semifinal (Peach Bowl): No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama
- College Football Playoff Semifinal (Fiesta Bowl): No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Ohio State
- New Year’s Six Sugar: Tennessee vs. Baylor
- Orange Bowl: LSU vs. Florida State
- Citrus: Georgia vs. Michigan State
- Outback: Ole Miss vs. Nebraska
- Music City: Mississippi State vs. Wisconsin
- Belk: Arkansas vs. North Carolina
- Liberty: Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech
- TaxSlayer: Florida vs. Louisville
- Texas: Auburn vs. Texas
- Birmingham: Kentucky vs. Cincinnati
On the outside looking in: Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt