The strongest position group for each top 25 team

USA TODAY Sports, Icon Sportswire

Mark Schlabach's 2016 Way-Too-Early Top 25 has Alabama and Florida State in the top two spots, but each face big questions to answer this spring.

Using those rankings, here is the strongest position group for each of our top 25 teams.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Wide receiver: Let's start with Calvin Ridley. As a true freshman, Ridley emerged as Alabama's go-to target and led the SEC with 89 receptions. Regardless of who's at quarterback, he'll easily be one of the best in the conference again this season. ArDarius Stewart, the team's second-leading receiver, is also back for his senior year. Former ESPN 300 stars Robert Foster and Cam Sims should be healthy and ready to contribute. And the Tide added Gehrig Dieter, a graduate transfer from Bowling Green who had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season. -- Greg Ostendorf

2. Florida State Seminoles

Defensive line: The Seminoles return every starter on offense, but the best returning position group is the defensive line. You could make the case for running back because Dalvin Cook returns, but depth still has to be developed behind him. Along the defensive line, four starters return -- including underrated end DeMarcus Walker, who led the way with 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss a year ago. We saw glimpses of what Josh Sweat could do at rush end, showing his future superstar potential less than a year removed from ACL surgery. Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi are 300-pounders capable of anchoring the interior of the line. Rick Leonard, Keith Bryant and Chris Casher are back, along with Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh. This is shaping up to be Florida State's deepest, and perhaps best, defensive line under coordinator Charles Kelly. -- Andrea Adelson

3. Michigan Wolverines

Secondary: Jourdan Lewis has a good chance to be the top cover corner in college football next season and he's not the first name that comes to most minds when thinking about the Wolverines' defensive backfield. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jabrill Peppers is the team's most dynamic playmaker. He may help out a depleted linebacker corps in 2016, but is still a safety at heart. Lewis and Peppers are joined by a capable, experienced and deep crew of role players to fill out the rest of the unit that lost only one major contributor after leading the nation in pass efficiency defense last fall. -- Dan Murphy

4. Baylor Bears

Running back: Baylor's backup running back set an all-time bowl rushing record in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That's how loaded the Bears were in a backfield that returns everyone. Shock Linwood has rushed for 3,462 yards in the past three seasons, while Johnny Jefferson is coming off that 299-yard effort in the bowl victory against North Carolina. Short-yardage specialist Devin Chafin and Terence Williams round out one of the deepest running back stables in the country. -- Jake Trotter

5. Clemson Tigers

Offensive line: Any talk about the Tigers' returning offense for 2016 begins with QB Deshaun Watson and trickles down to his wealth of options at the skill positions. This is all true. Clemson is loaded. But the foundation for what should be one of the nation's most explosive units is the offensive line, and the Tigers are in excellent shape there, too. Three starters return from 2015, including All-America candidate Mitch Hyatt at left tackle, but the real strength lies in Clemson's depth. Maverick Morris, Jake Fruhmorgen and Taylor Hearn all saw regular snaps throughout last season and will be ready for bigger roles in 2016. Sophomore Justin Falcinelli will be in the mix, too. And while all of those players have experience under their belts, the line should be a strength for years to come. Clemson has inked five ESPN 300 offensive linemen in just the past two years. -- David M. Hale

6. LSU Tigers

Secondary: Les Miles' Tigers are blessed with star power in the secondary -- starting with senior cornerback Tre'Davious White and safety Jamal Adams -- as well as depth. They also added two of the nation's top cornerback prospects in 2016: Kristian Fulton and early enrollee Saivion Smith, who has a good chance to find a role on defense as a freshman. Although DBU had a down season in 2015, count on the Tigers' secondary to bounce back quickly. -- David Ching

7. Oklahoma Sooners

Running back: The Sooners have a bevy of talented running backs, led by Samaje Perine. Oklahoma's run to a College Football Playoff berth coincided with Perine's increased production (four 100-yard games in OU's final six contests), while Joe Mixon was an exceptional No. 2 running back. Behind that duo, Oklahoma has Alex Ross, Daniel Brooks and Rodney Anderson, who is set to return after a season-ending injury. Oklahoma has the ideal combination of depth, talent, speed and strength in its running back corps. -- Brandon Chatmon

8. Stanford Cardinal

Running back: As the Cardinal break in a new quarterback to replace four-year starter Kevin Hogan, it's likely the running backs will be more important than ever. Fortunately for them, they have the Heisman runner-up coming back. Christian McCaffrey is coming off one of the best individual seasons in college football history. He'll get the bulk of the work. Bryce Love offers a nice change-of-pace and Cameron Scarlett will also fight for carries. -- Kevin Gemmell

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Quarterback: This may be the first time in the seven-year Brian Kelly era that the most important position is the most proven one, but that appears to be the case after a 2015 development at QB that no one saw coming. DeShone Kizer was calm, cool and collected throughout the season after being thrown into the fire as a redshirt freshman in Week 2. But can Malik Zaire regain the form that helped him become the clear-cut starter before his ankle injury? How much Zaire is physically able to do this spring remains to be seen, as the Irish don't start spring ball for another two weeks. Regardless, this battle figures to go well into fall camp. -- Matt Fortuna

10. Ohio State Buckeyes

Linebacker: The Buckeyes lose a lot all over, including linebackers Joshua Perry and Darron Lee. But Raekwon McMillan is back to anchor the defense from its most important position in the heart of the unit. Chris Worley and Dante Booker bring good size and athleticism and look poised to start on the outside, and youngsters Justin Hilliard, Nick Conner and Jerome Baker provide depth. -- Mitch Sherman

11. Houston Cougars

Quarterback: Not only does Houston have Greg Ward Jr., one of the more exciting players in college football, it also has depth. Backup Kyle Postma relieved Ward on multiple occasions last season and even led the Cougars to a critical win against Memphis. The staff added two more quarterbacks in the 2016 class, and Houston also has former Texas A&M signal caller Kyle Allen, though he'll have to sit out a season after transferring. But the star of the group is still Ward. -- Ostendorf

12. Tennessee Volunteers

Running back: The Volunteers' secondary should be good, but their running backs could be truly special in 2016. Jalen Hurd and the versatile Alvin Kamara formed one of the SEC's better 1-2 backfield punches last season, and it seems perfectly reasonable to expect more of the same this fall. On top of that, Butch Jones' staff added ESPN 300 running back Carlin Fils-Aime in the 2016 recruiting class, adding another talented presence to the backfield. -- Ching

13. Ole Miss Rebels

Quarterback: Quarterback might not feel like a "position group" since it's only one player, but Chad Kelly is not just your average player. The junior college transfer led the SEC with more than 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns this past season, and he's easily the league's top returning QB in 2016. The only knock on Kelly was his high number of interceptions, but he only threw one in the team's final four games. The future is bright, too, with the recent addition of top recruit Shea Patterson. -- Ostendorf

14. Michigan State Spartans

Defensive tackle: The Spartans were hit hard by graduation on the defensive line, but that was also their deepest, most talented position. The interior in particular should be the anchor of the defense in 2016, powered by junior Malik McDowell, a budding superstar who should be a preseason All-American. Returning starter Damon Knox is expected to receive an extra year of eligibility, while 318-pounder Craig Evans should become a bigger presence as a sophomore. -- Brian Bennett

15. TCU Horned Frogs

Defensive end: The Horned Frogs are looking strong at defensive end and might have the best duo in the Big 12. Josh Carraway racked up a team-high nine sacks in 2015 and fellow senior James McFarland is back from a season-ending foot injury. Throwing newcomers Mat Boesen and Isaiah Chambers in with backups Bryson Henderson and Tipa Galeai should give TCU some quality pass-rushing depth. -- Max Olson

16. USC Trojans

Offensive line: The Trojans may have one of the best, most experienced offensive lines in the country. They return all five starters -- plus multiple backups who gained valuable starting experience last season when others went down because of injuries. Headlining the group are RT Zach Banner, C Toa Lobendahn and LG Damien Mama. The Trojans are also loaded at running back. A well-blocked running game will help take some of the pressure off of USC's new quarterback. -- Gemmell

17. Iowa Hawkeyes

Offensive line: The Hawkeyes opened last season with big questions on the offensive line, but new starters at tackle met the challenge, helping the Hawkeyes rush for 181 yards per game and protect C.J. Beathard. Key figures Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh are gone, but four linemen with starting experience return, and top 2015 signee James Daniels is set to step in at center after playing as a true freshman. -- Sherman

18. North Carolina Tar Heels

Wide receiver: How many teams can lose a player with 205 career catches and 25 career touchdown receptions and still count receiver as its deepest position? That's the trick the Tar Heels have pulled this year. Yes, they're saying goodbye to stalwart Quinshad Davis, but the remaining cast, which includes Ryan Switzer (697 yards, six TDs in 2015), Bug Howard (488, four), Austin Proehl (225, one) and Mack Hollins (745, eight), is as deep as any group in the ACC -- and maybe in the country. Hollins is a downfield burner; Switzer the perfect slot weapon; and Howard, at 6-foot-5, is a massive target for new QB Mitch Trubisky. Add in tight end Brandon Fritts and a loaded backfield and the weapons on offense for the Tar Heels are downright scary. -- Hale

19. Georgia Bulldogs

Running back: Assuming that Nick Chubb gets back to the form that made him one of the nation's top running backs prior to a devastating knee injury last season against Tennessee, the Bulldogs' backfield should be special. Chubb is one of the most talented backs in UGA history, and Sony Michel proved last season in Chubb's absence that he's no slouch himself. Depth is a concern, although ESPN 300 signee Elijah Holyfield will help in that regard. -- Ching

20. Oregon Ducks

Running back: There might not be a deeper running back stable in all of college football than the one that exists in Eugene. Headliner Royce Freeman has been the Ducks' go-to back for the past two seasons, but several other players showed off some chops, too, as Oregon led the Pac-12 in rushing for the 10th consecutive season. Kani Benoit, Taj Griffin and Tony Brooks-James round out the four deep for the Ducks, despite the fact that any of those three could likely show up to most any other Power 5 school and instantly compete as a starter. -- Chantel Jennings

21. UCLA Bruins

Secondary: The Bruins bring back a lot of experience from a secondary that ranked first in the Pac-12 in pass defense last season and third in passing touchdowns allowed (18). Ishmael Adams, Jaleel Wadood, Randall Goforth and Marcus Rios are all back. Plus they expect cornerback Fabian Moreau -- a potential All-American who missed the majority of last season with a foot injury -- to be back healthy. -- Gemmell

22. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Wide receiver: When it comes to tossing the deep ball, few teams do it better than the Cowboys, who led the country last season with five 70-yard completions. One of the main reasons is a prolific receiving corps headlined by James Washington, the only returning 1,000-yard receiver in the Big 12. Marcell Ateman (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is a difficult matchup physically as well. Washington and Ateman are just two of Oklahoma State's many capable pass-catchers. -- Jake Trotter

23. Washington Huskies

Defensive back: The Huskies' defensive backs were the team's Achilles' heel two seasons ago, but now they're the stars of the team. Safety Budda Baker could be the best defensive playmaker in the Pac-12 in 2016 and he's surrounded by talent in now-veterans Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Darren Gardenhire and JoJo McIntosh. No Pac-12 team gave up fewer passing touchdowns in 2015, and considering Washington returns all but one starter in 2016 the Huskies are poised to be even stronger this season. -- Jennings

24. Florida Gators

Secondary: Had everybody returned, Florida might have had the best secondary in college football. But as expected, Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal declared early for the NFL. Still, the Gators get back two starters in Jalen Tabor and Marcus Maye. Tabor, who led the SEC with 18 passes defended, might have been the team's best cornerback last season. Throw in Quincy Wilson, Nick Washington and incoming freshman Chauncey Gardner, and Florida should still be loaded. -- Ostendorf

25. Boise State Broncos

Receiver: The Broncos return four of their top five pass-catchers from a season ago. Wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck led the Mountain West with 1,412 receiving yards and 88 receptions, while wide receiver Chaz Anderson and running back Jeremy McNichols both finished in the top 20 in the conference in receiving yards. Rounding out the group is tight end Jake Roh, giving the Broncos a diverse group of passer catching options and one that could repeat as the best pass offense in the Mountain West again in 2016. -- Jennings