1. Ohio State
Winning the first ever undisputed College Football National Championship is a big deal. Repeating would be even bigger.
The Buckeyes showed the world that Urban Meyer is a true legend. They also showed that Meyer could coach a cockroach to win a bowl game. It didn’t matter if it was J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones, they were dominant. Ezekiel Elliott was also an unstoppable weapon during the Playoffs, and has a chance to put up legendary numbers throughout the season. The defense is also a force to be reckoned with, returning many great Defensive linemen and Defensive backs. They are primed to be at the top of the rankings for all of next season, no matter who is leading them under center.
The big 12 is a mess.
We saw this first hand, when neither TCU or Baylor managed to make it to the playoff. The committee says that they had a fair shot, but not having a championship game was most definitely a detriment to both programs. This problem will happen again, unless one team goes out and is clearly better.
That means, the for TCU to make the playoff, they will most likely have to go undefeated, including a tough win against the Baylor Bears. Trevone Boykin and his crop of receivers will try their absolute best to accomplish this. They also have a humongous chip on their shoulder, because, in my opinion and many others’, they should’ve made the playoff, over FSU or Ohio State.
Mark your calendars for November 27. Whoever wins should have an open spot in the 2nd College Football Playoff. Baylor was victorious last year, but unfortunately lost to West Virginia the week before. This blemish, along with no conference championship, pushed them out of that top 4.
The reason Baylor has a serious chance to be in the playoff, is because they consistently have a top 5 offense, but currently also tout a pretty good defense as well. Shawn Oakman is enough to put fear into the hearts of most opposing offenses, and Baylor’s defensive backs can cover the best the country has to offer. They return their receiving studs, and almost any QB can thrive in a Briles offense. Seth Russell should be ecstatic to get the keys to the offense. This is a very high quality team, and if they get past TCU, the spot is as good as theirs.
Auburn was completely average this past season. Their 8-5 record could be dissected and critiqued, but I would rather look to next season. They hired the solution to their problems in Will Muschamp. You can say what you want about his head coaching abilities, but his defenses are always top notch. He has coached top ten defenses at LSU, Auburn, Texas, and Florida, and now will be no exception.
Auburn and Gus Malzahn are never lacking in explosiveness and creativity on offense, but the defense has lacked leadership and a dominant identity. Muschamp will coach up all those high level recruits Malzahn has been able to get into the program and come Playoff time, that side of the ball should be nearly caught up with their high powered offense. They also have the advantage of being in the SEC. As long as they win the SEC west, or end their season with one or no losses, their spot is automatic.
4. Arizona State
ASU is my wildcard pick. They have to get through Oregon and Arizona, but I really think this team is special. They have great great coaching and an even better defense. They consistently produce high level pass rushers in the NFL, and have a bunch of great Linebackers and Defensive linemen right now.
The key to them making it this far is if their offense matches their defense. Quarterback Mike Bercovici and running back D.J. Foster are going to lead that unit, and their offense also has some big and athletic weapons to throw the ball to. If they win the PAC 12, they have it in the bag.
Next in Line:
It all depends on their next QB. No one will be Marcus Mariota for a long time, but getting a big name transfer, or a number one recruit could be exactly what they need. Their offensive weapons should continue to be good, and their newfound defensive dominance should continue, but no one can lead and play like Mariota did. Look for them to be back in the race by 2017, just not this season.
Losing your best receiver ever hurts. In truth, Bama would’ve probably had 2 to 4 losses this season, if Amari Cooper didn’t dominate like he did. Alabama will have the same great defense, but another preseason QB battle will be happening. You can say what you want about Blake Sims, but he led the Crimson Tide well, and let his weapons do the work. Derrick Henry will be the man, and I don’t think that will be enough next season, when you have games against Wisconsin, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi st.. Ouch.
Jameis Winston did many things wrong during his time at FSU, but he sure knew how to play QB. Florida State’s mission this season is to find a Quarterback for the future. Dalvin Cook and their many receivers can make any QB look good, but it just won’t be enough to be in the top 4.
For the other three teams, being the next in line is a bad thing, but for Michigan State, they should be very happy. They were around the same level last season, and should hope to continue their success. They return their offensive leader in Connor Cook and their defense leader in Shilique Calhoun. The other pieces will follow the lead of those two high level seniors, and put themselves in position to battle Ohio State for the top spot in the Big 10.