Five best football-basketball programs for 2015-16

Running back Leonard Fournette, left, and freshman recruit Ben Simmons give LSU the nation's best one-two punch among schools playing football and basketball. USA TODAY Sports

So normally the way this thing works is “football schools” and “basketball schools” don’t really mix. While Alabama football racked up three titles the past six seasons, the Crimson Tide basketball team has made the NCAA tournament just once. Conversely, while Duke and Connecticut have won multiple NCAA titles over the past six seasons, their football teams have been absent the national conversation. (Unless you include the mocking that came when UConn stumbled into the 2011 Fiesta Bowl thanks to a weakened Big East Conference.)

Not since Florida won the BCS title for the 2006 football season and followed by cutting down the nets in the 2007 Final Four has a school held both the football and men’s basketball national titles in the same calendar school year.

We get it. It’s hard to field programs in both football and basketball that are nationally relevant in the same academic year, but it’s not impossible.

Here are the five schools with the best football and basketball combinations heading into this season:

1. LSU

There arguably won’t be an individual combination on any campus better than sophomore running back Leonard Fournette and freshman forward Ben Simmons. Fournette lived up to the impossible hype that preceded him to campus by setting a school freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards. Simmons also faces elevated expectations -- he’s being pegged as the possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft -- and if he comes close to that, LSU could return to its first Final Four since 2006.

The Tigers' football team is ranked 14th and ESPN College GameDay analysts Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit both predicted LSU to win the SEC. Corso even picked the Tigers to win the College Football Playoff. The basketball team has a lot of young talent and Simmons is the singular type of player that can elevate an entire program.

2. Villanova

Not too long ago, Villanova contemplated making the move to the highest level of football. If it had, there’s little chance Nova would be on this list while transitioning into recruiting with more scholarships and scheduling tougher opponents.

Instead, the Wildcats are ranked No. 3 in the FCS Coaches Poll. Football coach Andy Talley returned 14 starters (nine on defense, including All-American linebacker Don Cherry) from last year’s team that reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs and lost three games by a combined total of five points.

Nova hoops is still seething from its loss in the round of 32 as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But the Wildcats return with a life-sized chip on their shoulders and enough talent to likely be a top-15 team in the preseason. The heartbreak of early exits the past two seasons could fuel a deep run this season.

3. Oklahoma

During the 2008-09 school year, the Sooners boasted both the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Sam Bradford and the Wooden Award winner in forward Blake Griffin. That’s also the last time they made a serious push for twin titles in football and basketball, but they lost to Florida in the BCS Championship Game and lost in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight to eventual national champions North Carolina.

In a twist for Oklahoma, the basketball unit may be slightly better overall than its football version. According to Phil Steele, it’s only the third time since 2000 that the football Sooners haven’t been a preseason top 10 team. Basketball will certainly be ranked that high partly due to leading scorer Buddy Hield's decision to postpone turning pro to finish out his senior year.

4. Michigan State

It helps to have a Heisman hopeful at quarterback, and Connor Cook, entering his third year as a starter, is a major reason why the Spartans are ranked fifth in the preseason. Playing the likes of Oregon and at Ohio State presents major hurdles for a potential march to the playoff, but could also virtually guarantee a seat among the four with wins.

Basketball coach Tom Izzo led the Spartans to an improbable Final Four run last season, which is why, although his roster isn’t over the top with talent, he can never be dismissed. The addition of West Virginia transfer Eron Harris will make up for the loss of Travis Trice in the backcourt and the Spartans should be a typical Izzo team next season.

5. Baylor

The Bears’ weak nonconference football slate won’t garner them any benefit of doubt come decision time on playoff teams. Unless they go undefeated, they could again be on the outside of the playoffs. Thing is, they are loaded enough to run the table. Baylor has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation that should stay the same despite breaking in a new starter at quarterback in Seth Russell. If the Bears make only a slight improvement defensively, they should have enough to be a national contender.

Forward Rico Gathers looks like he could easily be a linebacker on the gridiron. It’s no surprise that his physical style on the hardwood makes him one of the nation’s best rebounders. Senior forward Taurean Prince will also give the Bears a top frontcourt, but their major question will be replacing guard Kenny Chery in the backcourt. If coach Scott Drew can do that, the Bears will be one of the teams vying for a Big 12 crown.