It's a rare gift to have this much talent returning to college football from last season. Five of the top seven in the Heisman Trophy voting are back as are several players outside of the skill positions who could easily go No. 1 overall in next year's NFL draft. In short, there's an abundance of talent that should make the 2016 season a treat for college football fans.
Of course, that also makes the task of selecting the best of the best especially arduous. With two quarterbacks who finished in the top four of last year's Heisman voting returning along with three running backs who could reasonably claim to be the top player in country, not to mention a bevy of proven playmakers at linebacker, Sports Illustrated's staff of college football experts faced some difficult choices to settle on the honorees for the 2016 Preseason All-America Team.
Only three players earned unanimous selection: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers. Alabama led the field with five players selected to the first team, while Florida State and Michigan both earned three nods. Including the first and second teams, the Crimson Tide put a whopping eight players on the list followed by last year's runner-up Clemson with four.
Overall, the Big Ten and SEC tied for the most selections to the first team by conference with eight each. The SEC dominated the overall list with 18 players on the first or second teams, eight more than the Big Ten and nine more than the ACC and Pac-12. The Big 12 failed to get a single player on the first team but earned two spots on the second team. Three Group of Five programs placed players onto the second team.
Find the complete first and second teams below, and for more coverage to get you ready for the 2016 season, check out Andy Staples's pivot-point games of the season, the five biggest wild-card teams and SI.com's ranking of the top 100 players.
*Indicates a unanimous selection
. QB - Deshaun Watson*
After coming up just short of a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in 2015, Watson is back to claim both this fall.
. RB - Leonard Fournette
Fournette was sensational last season as he rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 TDs, but he'll need to succeed vs. Alabama to vie for the Heisman.
. RB - Dalvin Cook
Florida State, Junior
Cook flew under the radar as the 'Noles fell from contention last year, but the agile RB topped Fournette and Christian McCaffrey in yards per carry.
. WR - JuJu Smith-Schuster
The 6'2", 220-pound wideout knows how to use his size to his advantage and led all Power 5 receivers last year with 1,454 yards.
. WR - Calvin Ridley
Ridley shined when it counted last season, racking up 240 yards in Alabama's victories in the SEC title game and the Cotton Bowl.
. te - Jake Butt
It's no secret Jim Harbaugh loves to use his tight ends, so expect whoever wins Michigan's starting QB job to turn to the reliable Butt often.
. T - Roderick Johnson
Florida State, Junior
Johnson won the ACC's award for the top blocker last year and is a consistent pass protector in addition to creating holes for Cook.
. G - Dan Feeney
Entering his fourth year as a starter, Feeney holds the remarkable distinction of having allowed just one sack in 2,719 career snaps.
. C - Pat Elflein
Ohio State, Senior
A member of last year's preseason All-America Team at guard, Elflein's shift to center in no way reduces his prowess.
. G - Quenton Nelson
Notre Dame, Sophomore
After redshirting in 2014, Nelson quickly established himself as one of the premier guards in the country last season.
. T - Cam Robinson
The nation's top O-lineman this season, Robinson was a first-team All-SEC pick last year and could easily go No. 1 in next spring's NFL draft.
. DL - Myles Garrett*
Texas A&M, Junior
Garrett had 22.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons. He’s a prime contender to be the first overall pick in next year’s NFL draft.
. dl - Malik McDowell
Michigan State, Junior
McDowell should surge as a junior after an impressive sophomore campaign in which he had 54 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
. DL - Jonathan Allen
Allen may be the most dominant player on the Tide's loaded D. He has 25.5 TFLs over the past two seasons and finished last season with 12 sacks.
. LB - Jabrill Peppers*
Technically a linebacker in new coordinator Don Brown's defense, Peppers's role shouldn't change much. Regardless, expect dominance.
. lb - Devonte Fields
The Cardinals LB and TCU transfer had a monstrous return to FBS football in 2015, posting 22 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
. LB - Raekwon McMillan
Ohio State, Junior
McMillan finished 2015 with 119 stops. As one of three returning starters on the Buckeyes' D, he'll be expected to lead the unit this fall.
. lb - Reuben Foster
One of Alabama’s most physical players who thrives in coverage, Foster had seven pass breakups last season while recording 73 tackles.
. CB - Desmond King
Maybe the biggest surprise to return to school, King won the Jim Thorpe Award last year and finished his junior season with eight interceptions.
. S - Derwin James
Florida State, Sophomore
James was the most unstoppable freshman in the nation last year, recording 91 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
. S - Budda Baker
A speedy, rangy safety who thrives in pass coverage, Baker is the best player on a staunch Huskies defense.
. cb - Jourdan Lewis
Arguably the premiere shutdown corner in college football, Lewis had an astonishing 20 passes defended in his junior season.
. K - Andy Phillips
Nicknamed “Automatic,” Phillips finished the 2015 season 23 for 27 on field goals and missed only one kick after Oct. 10.
. P - JK Scott
An especially large man for a punter (he’s 6’6”), Scott averaged 45.8 yards per punt and was a consensus first-team All-SEC selection last season.
. r - Evan Berry
A first-team All-America selection last season, Berry led the NCAA in kickoff return yardage (38.3) and brought back three kicks for scores.
. AP - Christian McCaffrey
A true all-purpose player (he set the record for all-purpose yards in a season last year), McCaffrey received votes at three positions for this list.
QB:Baker Mayfield, Jr., Oklahoma
RB:Christian McCaffrey, Jr., Stanford
RB:Royce Freeman, Jr., Oregon
WR:Christian Kirk, Soph., Texas A&M
WR:Mike Williams, Jr., Clemson
TE:O.J. Howard, Sr., Alabama
T:Zach Banner, Sr., USC
G:Dorian Johnson, Sr., Pittsburgh
C:Ethan Pocic, Sr., LSU
G:Braden Smith, Jr., Auburn
T:Conor McDermott, Sr., UCLA
DE:Charles Harris, Jr., Missouri
DT:Carlos Watkins, Sr., Clemson
DE:Carl Lawson, Jr., Auburn
LB:Tim Williams, Sr., Alabama
LB:Ben Boulware, Sr., Clemson
LB:Anthony Walker, Jr., Northwestern
LB:Malik Jefferson, Soph., Texas
CB:Jalen Tabor, Jr., Florida
S:Eddie Jackson, Dr., Alabama
S:Jamal Adams, Jr., LSU
CB:Damontae Kazee, Sr., San Diego State