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Year of the Tiger: 2016 College Football Preview

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A forecast of the 2016 College Football Playoff.  Danah Bialoruski | Layout Editor

A forecast of the 2016 College Football Playoff. Danah Bialoruski | Layout Editor

A forecast of the 2016 College Football Playoff. Danah Bialoruski | Layout Editor

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

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An Aug. 26 matchup between California and Hawaii in Sydney notwithstanding, the 2016 college football season begins in earnest today with a slate of 16 Football Bowl Subdivision games.

The Panthers’ season begins on Saturday and the team figures to be a contender once again in the ACC Coastal Division. With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of how the rest of the college football landscape will play out in 2016.

Atlantic Coast Conference

The ACC Atlantic Division features two of the top four teams in the nation in Clemson and Florida State, while Pitt, Miami and No. 22 North Carolina will battle for first place in the Coastal Division. The Tar Heels are the favorite to repeat as Coastal Division champions, but any team that makes it out of the Coastal will be no match for either the Tigers or the Seminoles in the ACC Championship game.

Clemson is bound to be the best team in the conference with junior quarterback Deshaun Watson, but will have to travel to Tallahassee, Florida, to take on Florida State in a must-see game Oct. 29. The hostile environment and Seminoles star tailback Dalvin Cook might be too much for Watson and the Tigers to overcome.

Championship prediction: Florida State over North Carolina

Big 12 Conference

The Big 12 is the only Power Five conference without a conference championship game, although the conference is bringing the Big 12 Championship Game back starting in 2017. No. 23 Baylor and No. 21 Oklahoma State can’t be counted out, but this should really be a two-team race for the top spot between No. 13 TCU and last year’s conference champion, No. 3 Oklahoma.

Similar to Clemson, Oklahoma has the clear-cut best quarterback in the conference in junior Baker Mayfield –– like Watson, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2016. Mayfield led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff last season, but Watson and the Tigers blew them out, 37-17. Expect Oklahoma to make a return trip to the playoff this year.

Championship prediction: Oklahoma

Big Ten Conference

The three strongest teams in the conference all hail from the Big Ten East Division –– No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan and No. 12 Michigan State. All three teams finished last season ranked inside the top 12, and all three have a good chance to do so again. As close as their matchups were last year, they should be just as tight this season.

In the Big Ten West Division, No. 17 Iowa enters the season as the only ranked team and the odds-on favorite to meet either the Buckeyes, Wolverines or Spartans in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game. Whoever comes out of the East, though, will take home the conference championship and likely a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Championship prediction: Michigan over Wisconsin

Pac-12 Conference

No. 8 Stanford, No. 14 Washington and No. 24 Oregon figure to be the top three teams in the Pac-12 North Division, while a couple of Los Angeles rivals in No. 16 UCLA and No. 20 USC should be the class of the Pac-12 South Division.

Despite having five ranked teams, Stanford is the only true national title contender in this bunch. But to get to the playoff, they may have to get through their regular season slate and the Pac-12 Championship Game unscathed or risk being left out in favor of the other four Power Five champions –– or Notre Dame or Houston.

Championship prediction: Stanford over USC

Southeastern Conference

The SEC has six teams ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, the most out of any conference in the country. Defending national champion Alabama begins the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, although many believe the Crimson Tide aren’t even the best team in the SEC West Division. No. 5 LSU –– featuring junior running back Leonard Fournette –– is a serious threat to dethrone Alabama in 2016.

In the SEC East Division, No. 9 Tennessee enters as the early favorite, but No. 18 Georgia and No. 24 Florida certainly have the opportunity to shake things up. No matter who comes out of this division, the conference championship game is the West Division champion’s game to lose.

Championship prediction: LSU over Georgia

College Football Playoff

Florida State 31, Michigan 24

LSU 41, Oklahoma 20

National Championship Game

LSU 34, Florida State 31

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Year of the Tiger: 2016 College Football Preview