SI’s college football writers cast their ballot to determine the preseason Top 25 rankings, but that doesn’t mean they all agree. Like the AP and coaches polls, SI’s rankings take each writers’ votes and turn them into a point system to determine the final list. Naturally there’s some variation in how the different writers view the teams heading into the season.
So now that we’ve released our preseason rankings, we checked back in with some of the writers on what they believe we got right and wrong this year. Here are their thoughts:
Which team do we have ranked too high?
Staples: No. 5 LSU
We may have the Tigers a bit high, but it's completely understandable because there are about 125 FBS coaches who would trade rosters with Les Miles right now. LSU is stacked at a lot of positions, but the Tigers probably have a larger gap between ceiling and floor than any team in the country. Basically, will the quarterback play be better? LSU players seem confident Brandon Harris has evolved as a passer and as an on-field decision maker. If they're right, this team can win the national title. If the coaches still feel like Leonard Fournette has to carry the offense even against the best opponents on the schedule, this year could look an awful lot like last year.
Hamilton: No. 7 Washington
I love Seattle as much as anyone, and if we had Top Pot Donuts ranked No. 7 in the nation, I might consider it a little low. But effectively predicting a Pac-12 title for Washington might be a little too aggressive. There are reasons for optimism—Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, SI preseason All-America Budda Baker leading a defense that returns seven starters, getting Stanford and USC at home—but it's a massive jump from 7–6 to top 10, and the Huskies may have to take one step in between first.
Schnell: No. 7 Washington
At first I was sold on Washington as a dark horse for 2016 that could surprise the Pac-12 North … but then every other publication picked them, too. Now I’m concerned about the Huskies not living up to the hype. Sigh. So much for being cutting-edge with our pick.
Niesen: No. 10 Tennessee
I know, I know; this team looks really good on paper, and it won nine games a year ago. But we've heard "this is the year for Tennessee to finally put it all together" before. We heard it last year. I'm just a little wary, and it would be fun to see Butch Jones and company prove me wrong and shake things up a bit in the SEC.
Which team do we have ranked too low?
Staples: No. 13 Michigan State
It may be time to start giving the Spartans the benefit of the doubt. Michigan State has consistently reloaded the past few years, and it seems capable of doing that again this year. Yet we still have the team that has won two of the past three Big Ten titles picked to finish third in its division. At least I'm going to get Mark Dantonio's name correct in this paragraph
Hamilton: No. 19 Ole Miss
It's possible the Rebels could be a two-loss team by the end of September but nevertheless be one of the nation's best squads. Ole Miss has Florida State in the opener and hosts Alabama in Week 3, which is equal parts terrifying challenge and immense opportunity. A refurbished offensive line will have to hold up so quarterback Chad Kelly can be the equalizer early. But there's enough material here to come back from early disappointments, too, and make a run at an SEC title game appearance.
Schnell: No. 13 Michigan State
I know the Spartans lost a lot, including their quarterback, but the guy replacing Connor Cook, Tyler O’Conner, IS a veteran (or at least an upperclassman) and haven’t we learned our lesson about doubting and disrespecting Mark Dantonio? Oh well, at least we gave them some bulletin board material. I’m sure they’ll thank us for that later.
Niesen: No. 14 Iowa
Coming off a 12–0 regular season (even if their 0–2 postseason bungling is still is fresh in all of our minds), the Hawkeyes deserve a bit more credit. Plus, they bring back a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, including cornerback Desmond King, who's poised to be one of the best defensive players in the country. And their schedule isn't exactly grueling.
Which team did we get just right?
Staples: No. 15 Louisville
I think we got the Cardinals correct. This is a team on the rise that just happens to be stuck in a division with two absolute juggernauts. I'm excited to see what the offensive staff does with Lamar Jackson now that they've had a full off-season to build around him as the starting quarterback. He was absolutely electric in the Music City Bowl, and now they've had months to dream up plays for him.
Hamilton: No. 13 Michigan State
The Spartans will have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, and possibly the country. It has three tailbacks who each carried more than 100 times a year ago, which will help offset a new starter at quarterback with limited experience. Still, there will be a new starter at quarterback with limited experience, and that can be a difference-maker in an early road game at Notre Dame, not to mention the visits from Michigan and Ohio State and their feral defenses. The Spartans will be good. Just maybe not as good as their fellow Big Ten East powers this year.
Schnell: No. 10 Tennessee
The Volunteerss have been on their way back the last few seasons, and now they have enough experience—with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, Evan Berry at returner and Jalen Reeves-Maybin at linebacker—to warrant those expectations. Top 10 says: “We expect a good showing but understand if you don’t light the college football world on fire just yet.”
Niesen: No. 9 Ohio State
The preseason coaches poll has the Buckeyes ranked No. 5, which I think is entirely too high for a team that lost as much talent as they did from a season ago. That's not to say that Ohio State won't win the Big Ten and finish as a top-five team—it very well could—but with that kind of exodus of talent, I think the tail end of the top-10 is where the Buckeyes belong for now.
Who’s a dark horse outside of our Top 25 that could make a run this season?
The Longhorns have seriously upgraded their roster. The question now is when everything clicks. If that happens this season, Charlie Strong and Texas can compete for the Big 12 title. If it doesn't, then some other person may inherit a loaded roster ready to make a run in 2017.
Potentially not having a home stadium in which to play games for a while—now that's peak dark horse. And it's what Miami faces with the ongoing renovations to what was formerly SunLife Stadium. Mark Richt probably needs some time to build a consistent contender, but the first-year Hurricanes coach has a potential top-five draft pick in Brad Kaaya at quarterback, a good deal of skill position talent around him and a schedule that brings Florida State to wherever home is while avoiding Clemson. Even a late October game at Notre Dame is winnable with Kaaya in the fold. If Richt rejuvenates the roster, there's enough material here to make The U formidable again.
The Cougars have a brutal schedule but one of the best young coaches in the game with Kalani Sitake. If BYU can get to its bye week on Oct. 29 undefeated or with only one loss, I won’t be surprised at anything that happens in the second half of the season—most notably, them making a push for the playoff in a year in which the national champ will likely finish with one or two losses.
After two straight losing seasons under Charlie Strong—and without a 10-win season since 2009—this is a make-or-break year for Texas, especially with a new offensive coordinator and a freshman quarterback who was the top recruit at his position in the Lone Star State. The Longhorns may finally have the pieces to reenter the top 25.
For more preseason coverage of the 2016 college football season, check out the SI preseason All-America Team, the games that will shape the playoff race and more. And check back on SI.com for more upcoming preseason coverage, including previews of each of the Power 5 conferences.