The 2016 college football season is just a month away, with Cal and Hawaii scheduled to kickoff Down Under on Aug. 27 in Sydney. The media days for the various conferences have wrapped up and the practices will start in earnest in about a week.
So, while we're counting down the days, the mind wonders ... can Alabama continue its crimson dynasty, or will we see a third different champion in as many years of the College Football Playoff era? Might there be a legitimate party crasher from out of the Power 5 conferences? Who's going to take home the stiff-armed statuette, maybe not a quarterback?
You have questions. We have answers -- from on the field to off of it -- for the 2016 season:
- Has Alabama lost too much to repeat?
Sure, Nick Saban is just going to reload, no matter how much he's lost in the offseason. But it might not be that simple. The Crimson Tide will debut a fourth starting quarterback in as many seasons and must address attrition throughout both sides of the ball, including Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry.
Add road games at LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee, the task of repeating suddenly looks pretty daunting.
- Is Houston a legitimate playoff contender?
Under first-year coach Tom Herman, the Cougars seemingly came out of nowhere to go 13-1, claimed the Group-of-Five bid for a New Year's Six bowl and blew out Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston then added the most impressive recruiting class among G5 schools.
With nonconference home games against Oklahoma and Louisville, the Cougars may get a shot (though a long one) at a playoff berth if they can go undefeated.
- How soon will Big 12 expand, and which schools will it add?
It's not a matter of if, but when, will the Big 12 add at least two more teams to make its name eponymous again. And that will happen before the end of the year. The top candidates for the conference’s expansion are BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, UConn and maybe UCF and USF.
There's a chance that the conference might not stop at just two (but at four) and it's willing to consider football-only membership as well.
- What kind of TV windfall is the Big Ten getting?
Commissioner Jim Delany is a shrewd negotiator. That is why the Big Ten just landed the most lucrative television deal in the history of college sports. Between Fox, ESPN and CBS, the Big Ten will rake in $2.64 billion over the next six seasons, tripling its previous haul as each member school is now scheduled to make north of $40 million per season. The wealth gap in college sports just got wider.
- Will USC’s schedule torpedo Clay Helton's first season?
Let's see: the Trojans open against Alabama at Jerry World, play road games at Pac-12 champ Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA, and they also get Oregon at home and finish the regular season with Notre Dame. Is that all? This is by far the hardest schedule any team will face this season, if not in recent memory.
Helton, in his first full season as USC's head coach, will have his hands full, even with a very talented squad.
- Will another running back win the Heisman Trophy?
In this century, the Heisman has been dominated by quarterbacks. You have to go back to 1998-99 to find non-QBs winning the statuette in consecutive years. That may happen again this year, as most of the Heisman front-runners are running backs, including last year's runner-up Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, along with LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson may have a different idea, though.
- Is Clemson here to stay as a powerhouse?
Watson, who dazzled in the national championship game and nearly single-handedly took down Alabama, is back with the Tigers. But Florida State, which won the last BCS title in 2013 and also made the inaugural playoff in 2014, will want to reclaim supremacy in the ACC. Their clash on Oct. 29 at Doak Campbell Stadium will settle a lot more than who wins the conference title.
- Might it be SEC's turn to miss the playoff?
Given the current playoff format, each season at least one Power 5 conference will be kept out of the four-team field. And don't laugh, it might be the SEC's turn in 2016. Should Alabama stumble in conference play and no dominant team emerges in its stead -- especially if the still-rebuilding SEC East wins the title game -- the "toughest conference in college football" just might miss out.
- What will Jim Harbaugh do to stay in the news?
Without question, since he returned to college football last year, Harbaugh has been the No. 1 newsmaker in college football. Whether it's his satellite camps, recruiting tactics and clever subtweets, the Michigan coach has had everyone's rapt attention.
But the thing he craves the most is winning, and this year he might have a team to compete not just in the Big Ten but also for a playoff berth. If the Wolverines win the conference for the first time since 2004, Harbaugh-mania will only proliferate.
- Who's going to win it all in 2016?
Last year, only Alabama made it back to the playoff after being in the inaugural field in 2014. This year, Clemson will be the only team among last year's final four to return. Our crystal ball (not the BCS kind) sees ACC champion Tigers joined by Big Ten champ Michigan, Pac-12 winner Stanford and the surprise entrant Houston in the four-team field.
Clemson will win it all this time, defeating Heisman winner McCaffrey and Stanford in the CFP championship game.