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The Spread Offensive: 2016 Kicks Off

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The College Football season is upon us, yet many high-profile coaches remain undecided. No, I'm not talking about the choice between Hillary and the Donald. I'm talking about quarterback. There seems to be more uncertainty than ever for several monster programs. All you need to do is look at the rankings. Defending champion and top-ranked Alabama has a three-headed monster of Cooper Bateman, Jalen Hurts and Blake Barnett vying for the job. No. 4 Florida State could be starting redshirt freshman Deondre Francois after an injury to veteran Sean Maguire, though Maguire may be back sooner than expected.

LSU's Brandon Harris hasn't exactly inspired much confidence over his first two seasons in Death Valley, while Jim Harbaugh is still choosing between Wilton Speight, John O'Korn and Shane Morris. The Khakied One stole the offseason with satellite camps and a rap video. While the Wolverines should have a ferocious defense, they still have no quarterback. This must really stick in Harbaugh's craw.

Oregon just named a graduate transfer its starting QB, while Georgia is still trying to figure out a plan between freshman sensation Jacob Eason, last year's starter Greyson Lambert and the inconsistent Brice Ramsey. Former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart should know a thing or two about quarterback controversies, though. This is the third straight year Alabama is undecided at quarterback. It didn't seem to matter much last season, though, as the Tide cruised to yet another national championship under the direction of Nick Saban.

What's the old adage, when you have two quarterbacks you really have none? Many programs will put this mantra to the test to begin the 2016 campaign.

Best Opening Weekend Game:
Oklahoma vs. Houston

Has anyone done a better job than Tom Herman in recent years? Sure, current Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin deserves a lot of credit for getting the Houston program off the ground, but Herman has taken the Cougars to new heights. There's even talk of Houston applying for entry into the Big 12. The Cougs went 13-1 last season and beat four ranked opponents, including a 27-21 win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston lost some talent and leadership from last season, including first-round selection William Jackson, but expectations remain high for the No. 15-ranked Cougars.

Meanwhile, it's national championship or bust for the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners, who return Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield at quarterback. The Sooners made the Final Four last season before being bounced by Clemson in one of the national semifinals. Mayfield loses arguably the most productive wideout in program history in Sterling Shepard, but the defensive side of the ball may be where the Sooners feel the true sting. They lost virtually the entire linebacking corps from last season, including Eric Striker, Devante Bond and Dominique Alexander, along with third-round selection DE Charles Tapper and fifth-round corner Zack Sanchez. The Sooners are perpetually retooling, and Jordan Evans will lead the revamped, athletic linebacking group. However, that type of production may be difficult to replace.

The key to this game will be which offense blinks first. Or which defense stands up and gets an extra stop or two. This game should be high scoring, great theater.

Close Second:
Alabama vs. USC

The defending national champions enter their third-straight season with a quarterback competition. It seems that no matter who lines up under center, though, the Tide have so much talent at other positions that it more than makes up for inconsistent quarterback play. True freshman Jalen Hurts might force coach Nick Saban's hand, but Saban likely will go with the more experienced Cooper Bateman before turning the reins over to the phenom. Look for the Tide to rely on a beefy offensive line and the rushing of new starter Bo Scarbrough. After all, Heisman winner Derrick Henry isn't walking through that door.

On the flip side, USC is looking to regain its form from the glory days of Pete Carroll in the mid-2000s. A win here would certainly make a statement. New quarterback Max Brown will simply try to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, Juju Smith-Schuster, Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. The Trojans must bust some big plays against a ferocious and athletic defense to stand a chance in this contest.

Third:
Ole Miss vs. Florida State

The Rebels have their quarterback in full-time gunslinger, part-time rapper Chad Kelly. Kelly led the SEC in passing yards and touchdowns in 2015. Can the Seminoles get competent quarterback play from Deondre Francois or Sean Maguire, or will they be forced to run Dalvin Cook 30-35 times per game? The latter is still not a bad strategy, but keeping Cook healthy will be paramount for the Seminoles in 2016.

The story of the NFL Draft was a video of former Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil smoking marijuana out of a gas mask, then subsequently implicating the Ole Miss program in asserting that he received impermissible benefits. Will the dark cloud of "Gas Mask Weed Man" continue to hang over the program? Coach Hugh Freeze could end up finding his national championship dreams up in smoke if the Rebels lose the opener to FSU.

Under The Radar:
Georgia vs. UNC

The Bulldogs jettisoned Mark Richt in favor of Kirby Smart, mostly in an effort to eventually beat Alabama. The problem is that virtually nobody in the SEC has been able to beat Alabama in recent years. Smart has running back Nick Chubb in his corner, which certainly helps his cause right out of the gate.

Meanwhile, Larry Fedora will look to improve on what was one of the best seasons in program history. Mitch Trubisky takes over at quarterback for the Heels, who will also rely on the running game with Elijah Hood toting the pigskin.

Top-5 Heisman Watch to Begin Season

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford - Mr. Everything and still rather underappreciated

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson - Likely No. 1 pick in 2017 NFL Draft can dazzle with both his arm as well as his legs

3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU - Highlight reel runs are the norm for Fournette, who has quick feet along with the ability to shrug tacklers off with brute strength

4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State - Agility second-to-none, true game breaker

5. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma - A lot of hype in high-octane offense, but lost top wideout to the NFL

Darkhorse No. 1:
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan - Peppers can impact all three phases of the game; he can play running back, virtually any position on the defensive side of the ball and even return punts for the Wolverines. He's a unique talent who is attempting to follow in the footsteps of Charles Woodson as the first and only primarily defensive player to win the coveted award.

Darkhorse No. 2:
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA - All Rosen did as a true freshman was pass for 3,670 yards, complete 60 percent of his passes and toss 23 touchdowns. And he may just be scratching the surface of his potential. He's brash, he's smart, he's talented. And he's not afraid to let you know it.

Darkhorse No. 3:
Brad Kaaya, QB, MIA - Expect the training wheels to come off for Kaaya, who was held back by the offensive deficiencies of coach Al Golden over his first two seasons. Kaaya will be in a much better position to succeed in 2016 with a coach in Mark Richt who was a QB himself and will call the plays. Kaaya has been talked about as possibly being a better NFL prospect than Deshaun Watson. Yes, you read that correctly.

Fantasy Recommendations of the Week

These recommendations will usually be some less obvious players with favorable matchups, overlooked stars or perhaps even contrarian picks.

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee -
Jalen Hurd might be the best running back you've never heard of, but Kamara brings the boom, and the Alabama transfer should get plenty of work in a lopsided matchup against Appalachian State. Kamara rushed for 318 yards and three touchdowns in three games against non-FBS opponents in 2015.

Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State -
Warren quietly rushed for more than 1,300 yards last season, though found the end zone just five times for the Cyclones. A home tilt against lowly Northern Iowa should get Warren on the scoreboard right off the bat.

Kenny Hill, QB, TCU -
Hill goes from one high-flying offense at A&M to another for the Horned Frogs, having beaten out Foster Sawyer for the starting job. He'll have a plethora of weapons at his disposal in a cupcake matchup with North Dakota State.

Demore'ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss -
Besides having one of the best names in college football, the redshirt junior will have plenty of opportunities due to the departures of Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core. Quarterback Chad Kelly loves the deep ball, and is not afraid to attempt to fit the pigskin into tight areas. Stringfellow could be the top target in a dynamic offense. In addition, Stringfellow won't have to worry about Jalen Ramsey covering him in the Monday night opener.