Seven early top College Football Playoff contenders for 2016


The 2016 college football season is eight months away, and plenty of factors that aren't yet clear will shape the preseason favorites. For now, however, more than a few teams stand out as potential College Football Playoff contenders based on returning talent. College Football 24/7 takes an early look at seven programs best-poised for a run at the CFP's four-team field in 2016:


*Oklahoma:*The Sooners' exciting brand of offense under new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley returns multiple Heisman Trophy candidates in QB Baker Mayfield and RB Samaje Perine. Like Clemson, OU faces significant turnover on the defensive side of the ball, but healthy years for both Mayfield and Perine should keep the Sooners in every game they play. An OU player told College Football 24/7 that Perine's backfield mate, Joe Mixon, has only scratched the surface of his potential.


Alabama: Despite the vast amount of talent from the Alabama defense that's either certain or likely to enter the 2016 NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide's impressive depth will allow for a smoother transition than any other school in the country could expect. Offensively, Alabama will field a first-year starting quarterback for the third consecutive year, but that hasn't prevented the Tide from staying among the nation's elite under Blake Sims in 2014, or Jake Coker in 2015.


Clemson: Will the Tigers take a step backward at some positions on defense, particularly with pending early exits to the NFL draft? Of course they will. But with a Heisman Trophy finalist returning at quarterback in Deshaun Watson and the Tigers' usual complement of offensive weapons, the team figures to be in the hunt again. Among those offensive weapons will be one of the nation's most talented receivers, Mike Williams, who missed the 2015 season with a neck injury. Clemson deserves offseason front-runner status in the ACC.


LSU: With one of the nation's best defensive coordinators coming on board in Dave Aranda from Wisconsin, things look bright for a Tigers defense led by Jamal Adams and Arden Key. On offense, star rusher Leonard Fournette returns for what could be his final college season, and QB Brandon Harris will be back, improved and with a wealth of playing experience to draw on.


Ohio State: Nine underclassmen intend to leave early, and the exiting senior talent includes Braxton Miller, Adolphus Washington, Joshua Perry and Taylor Decker. What will be left? Urban Meyer's recruiting prowess will come of age in the form of talented youngsters, and a defensive leader in LB Raekwon McMillan. And -- oh yeah -- J.T. Barrett will be back to start at quarterback with none of the distractions he faced in 2015 about whether he would be the starter.


Notre Dame: Although the Fighting Irish will be gutted by early draft exits, they'll be fine at the all-important position of quarterback. DeShone Kizer proved to be one of the nation's most gifted quarterbacks as a freshman in 2015, and Malik Zaire will be back to compete for the job Kizer inherited by way of injury. The schedule isn't easy: Michigan State, Stanford, USC and Miami (Fla.) are just four of the bigger challenges.


Stanford: The defending Pac-12 champions will return Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, which will give David Shaw's offense a dynamic starting point in replacing QB Kevin Hogan. But the schedule won't be easy. The Cardinal hosts Kansas State and travels to Notre Dame in non-conference play.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread*.

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