1.Tennessee Volunteers (Bleacher Report rank: NA) It’s easy to forget just how dominant the Volunteers football team used to be under longtime Head Coach Phil Fulmer, where over a 16 year span the Volunteers went 152-52. Since his departure following the 2008 season the Vol’s have gone through four different coaches, but now finally think they have their man in Butch Jones. Jones return one of the most elusive Quarter Back, Running Back tandems in the SEC with both Quarter Back Joshua Dobbs and Running Back Jalen Hurd returning with another off season under their belt. The defensive line will be the strongest single unit on this team, with the team’s top two sack leaders (Derek Barnett, Curt Maggitt) returning and hoping to improve on their 21 total sacks from last year. By far the biggest addition to the team, literally and figuratively, came on the defensive line with 6’4, 340 pound and the #1 rated Defensive Tackle from the class of 2015 Kahlil McKenzie committing to the Vol’s. All of this and with the anticipated down year for most of the teams in the SEC East, the Vol’s have set their eyes on much more than just becoming bowl eligible. Expect to see them playing a meaningful game in early 2016.
2.Alabama Crimson Tide (Bleacher Report rank: 3) How can the Crimson Tide surprise anyone? No one said this was a list of just positive surprises, some teams have to take a step back as well. Let’s be clear, this does not mean the Tide will finish out of a bowl game or even miss out on a well-respected bowl game to most teams. The point here is that after a six year run that saw the Tide bring home three National Championships, eventually something has got to give. Nick Saban will continue his philosophy of next man up, with Senior Jake Coker expected to start following the departure of Blake Sims. Minus the questions surrounding the offense, is the obstacle course of a schedule the Tide must go through this season. With road games at Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn and home games against a rebuilt Tennessee Volunteers team, and a young but talented LSU Tiger football team the Tide will have to run the gauntlet to try and reach even 10 wins.
3.Arizona Wildcats (Bleacher Report rank: 15) Back to some positive outlooks, the Wildcats are a dark horse candidate to steal the Pac-12 crown from the Oregon Ducks. The Wildcats have all the tools to become an offensive juggernaut with two sensational Sophomores in running Back Nick Wilson and Quarter Back Anu Solomon accounting for 44 touchdowns last year. Defensive Captain and 2014 consensus first team All American Line Backer Scooby Wright will anchor a defense that hopes to hold teams in check while the offense does the majority of the work. Oregon and USC watch out, the Wildcats ae on the prowl.
4.Marshall Thundering Herd (Bleacher Report rank: NA) Here comes the Thundering Herd! It’s had to improve on a season where they went 13-1 winning the school's first C-USA Championship and the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl against Northern Illinois 52-23. The Herd could make an even bigger impact in the grand scheme of college football this season. The Herd improved their out of conference schedule with games at home against Ole Miss and Cincinnati if the Herd can continue the hot streak they were on last year they could have a legitimate shot at making the College Football Playoffs. Trying to replace Rakeem Cato will be a challenge, but if they can do it the Herd could shake the college football world come January.
5.Baylor Bears (Bleacher Report rank: 4) Remember what we said about Alabama and high expectations for a team can mean a step in the wrong direction? Baylor has the offense, even minus Bryce Petty taking the snaps, that little we know. The thing with Baylor is their defense, or lack of one, which is the same problem they had last year and was the reason they missed out on the playoffs. Baylor will get its wins, especially early. At the end of the season when they play Oklahoma and travel to Fort Worth to play TCU is when the Bears defense can be exposed. Baylor’s fault is in the expectations that this team will contend for a championship, but without a solid defense those expectations are just out of reach