LITTLE ROCK — Hidden in plain sight in a composite of the way-too-early football projections are the Auburn and Clemson of 2016.

LITTLE ROCK — Hidden in plain sight in a composite of the way-too-early football projections are the Auburn and Clemson of 2016.


Last August, Auburn was No. 6 and Clemson was No. 12 in The AP poll. The Tigers from Alabama had to beat Idaho in late November to become bowl eligible while the striped ones from South Carolina won 14 games and were No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings until losing the championship game.


Part of college football’s DNA, teams making giant leaps forward and those disappointing in a major way are guaranteed again this fall. More difficult than handicapping a 20-horse Kentucky Derby is identifying the surprise performances months in advance.


In recent years, many of the shockers involve SEC teams. Part of the explanation is depth of the league. In the West, six of the seven teams were 4-4 or better in conference play. A couple of round-robins involving Arkansas illustrate the unpredictability. The Razorbacks beat Ole Miss which beat Alabama which beat Arkansas and the Razorbacks beat LSU which beat Texas A&M which beat Arkansas.


Some recent fluctuations from preseason through the postseason:


—2014: No. 9 in the preseason, South Carolina was nowhere in the final rankings. No. 6 in the final poll, TCU was unranked in the preseason.


—2013: No. 5 in the preseason, Georgia was unranked in the final poll. No. 2 in the final poll, Auburn was absent in the preseason.


—2012: No. 1 in the preseason, USC was not in the final poll. Preseason No. 3 LSU finished 14th and Ohio State, No. 3 in the final poll, was 18th in the preseason.


—2011: No. 15 in the preseason, Arkansas finished fifth, and No. 25 USC was sixth. No. 1 in the preseason, Oklahoma was 16th at the end.


—2010: No. 22 in the preseason, Auburn won the BCS championship. No. 4 Florida and No. 5 Texas were unranked in the final poll.


Four of the most reputable 2016 projections include Clemson, Alabama, Baylor, Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in their Top 10 and 11 other schools are in the Top 25 of ESPN, SI.Com, CBSSports.com, and USA TODAY. That group includes Florida State, Stanford, Houston, Tennessee, Michigan State, Iowa, Oregon, USC, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, and Louisville.


Handicapping thoroughbreds, step one is to look for a hole in the favorites. Regarding this elite eight, Clemson, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Ohio State have quarterbacks who can carry the day; Notre Dame might have two, and Alabama has the most athletes.


LSU and Michigan are most likely to fall short of expectations, but neither to the depths of Auburn in 2015. For LSU and the Spartans, 9-3 will constitute failure.


With LSU, the refrain is familiar — will the quarterback be a sufficient threat to free up the running backs, including Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette? After two years, Brandon Harris is still unproven. Transfer Danny Etling, who sat out last year, is the latest quarterback to create buzz in Baton Rouge, but his 55.5 percent career completion percentage at Purdue does not inspire confidence.


Enthusiasm for Michigan seems based on the assumption that the Spartans will take another giant step simply because they went from 5-7 to 10-3 in Jim Harbaugh’s first year. Quarterback Jake Ruddock is gone and so is coordinator D.J. Durkin, whose defense carried the load last year. Plus, the Spartans will not sneak up on anybody this year and, for what it’s worth, the Spartans are on the road against Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa.


Houston is the choice to fill Clemson’s role, to a point.


Quarterback Greg Ward has accumulated impressive numbers, coach Tom Herman called the plays when Ohio State won the first CFP, and the Cougars beat Florida State for their 13th W last season. They should dominate the American Athletic Conference again and will have an opportunity to make an impression against Oklahoma in the season opener.