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THE EPILOGUE 2015: THE WAY-TOO-EARLY TOP 25s FOR 2016

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When is it too early to talk about Way-Too-Early Top 25s?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the 2015 football seasons means that it's time for a cherished January tradition: the way-too-early Top 25s for next season.  It's often silly to post these before recruiting is done (although true freshmen have less of an impact in college football than they do in college basketball) and it's really silly to post them when there are still underclassmen deciding whether or not to declare for the NFL Draft, but hey... the beast must be fed.  So who's getting pegged as the top teams in 2016 right now?  Shockingly, it's a lot of the usual suspects.

Clemson returns a Heisman finalist (who racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense on a vicious Alabama defense) as well as several other key cogs on offense and Bama is, well, Bama -- they're always recruiting national champions even when they don't win the real national championship, so while they'll lose a lot from this year's title-winning squad, there's a host of new 4-5* super-talents waiting to hit the field.  Florida State and LSU are perennial recruiting superpowers, too (and LSU returns a lot from this year's team, including super-freak Leonard Fournette), while Christian McCaffrey returns for Stanford; perhaps you've heard of him?  (Sorry, too soon.)

But what of the Big Ten, our fair conference?  Party like it's The Ten-Year War again -- Michigan and Ohio State are back on top.  Michigan has to find a QB (again) and a host of new LBs, but they return starters nearly everywhere else and should be further integrated into Harbaugh's system.  Ohio State returns a stellar QB (J.T. Barrett), but little else (just four starters each on offense and defense), but they've recruited as well as anyone not named Alabama, so the expectation is certainly for more of a reload then a rebuild.  The rich get richer, etc.

Here's a breakdown of all the Big Ten teams in several Way-Too-Early Top 25s.

TEAM ESPN CBS SPORTS FOX SPORTS USA TODAY B. REPORT BIG LEAD C. INSIDERS
Ohio State 12 5 14 6 11 4 6
Michigan 4 6 4 3 6 7 9
Michigan State 14 9 13 13 16 12 12
Iowa 16 15 18 19 19 20
Nebraska 23
Wisconsin 20 13


Again, Ohio State and Michigan are the pretty clear favorites, although which one is favored over the other is in dispute.  Michigan States' recent sustained success earns them a spot as the #3 team in the Big Ten (as well as the #3 team in the Big Ten East).  The Big Ten West checks in after that, led by our own beloved Hawkeyes who are nestled into the low teens in most rankings (although Campus Insiders has them at #20 and The Big Lead's rankings omit them entirely).  Wisconsin gets ranked in two of the early Top 25s, including a stunningly high #13 by Campus Insiders (seriously, has a Paul Chryst-coached team ever done anything to warrant that level of faith?).  Campus Insiders is also apparently a big believer in Tommy Armstrong, plugging the Huskers in at #23 in these rankings. (Someone might want to check and see how much Wisconsin and Nebraska football they've actually watched lately...)

The book on Iowa is fairly consistent among all the previews: they return a lot from 2015's 12-2 squad, most notably QB C.J. Beathard and Thorpe Award-winning CB Desmond King, the defense should be good again, and the schedule is manageable (albeit slightly more difficult with the addition of Michigan), with all the most difficult games at home.  Several of the previews target Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh as the biggest holes to replace for 2016, which is fair; I'm a bit more anxious about replacing Nate Meier and Drew Ott, personally, but Blythe and Walsh will leave big shoes to fill. Although the biggest question mark for Iowa might be how they handle the pressure of higher expectations and being a targeted team; past Ferentz-led teams have struggled in that situation.  In any event, we'll find out in just... eight months?  Oh man, this wait is going to be interminable.