On the eve of the (official) start of the college football season, it makes sense to make some way too early predictions. Only four schools will be in the College Football Playoff semifinal games at the end of the year. And with Five power conferences, there is at least one that will be left out again this season. Here are my predictions for the four highest ranked teams at the end of the season.
The Top Four Teams
1. Washington (13-0; Pac-12 champ)
West coast bias? Huskies who? This Washington team, who appeared out of nowhere to anybody east of the Rockies, was surprisingly in the College Football Playoff last season. Chris Peterson has proved that he can coach against any team and with the recruiting power of Washington, he has been making the Huskies the new Pac-12 power. With a returning defensive front-seven and overall talent across the team, Washington’s experience and skill will be a tough challenge in the Pac-12.
Looking at their schedule two major things step out: Washington plays both UCLA and Oregon at home, and the Washington Huskies are not scheduled to play against USC (unless they play in the Pac-12 tournament). While the Pac-12 has drop off in the bottom teams, wins against the powers will give them the strength of schedule, and going undefeated will push the Huskies into the top ranking and a matchup with the 4-seed in the Rose Bowl.
2. Alabama (12-1; SEC champ)
The Tide are the (unsurprisingly) preseason favorite in the SEC. And outside of Saturday’s matchup against Florida State, Alabama has an easy path to another SEC title. Vegas is not high on the SEC this season, and Alabama should be able to roll over the competition all the way until the Iron Bowl at Auburn. Going against an experienced out of conference team in week one will be a major test, and even if they lose it is fair to expect that Alabama will still be in the College Football Playoff, it may not always be by their record but by the Alabama brand.
3. Ohio State (12-1; B1G champ)
Unless the Hoosiers are able to pull out a surprising upset in week one, the Buckeyes should be favored in nearly every game. Their two speed bumps will be on October 28th when OSU hosts Penn State, and at the end of the season with their trip to Ann Arbor. Ohio State would realistically split these games, but even with one loss the Buckeyes should be able to stay high enough in the rankings to play in the Playoff, especially with a victory in the Big Ten championship game.
4. Florida State (12-1; ACC champ)
A victory over Alabama on Saturday should solidify the Seminoles’ chances of making the College Football Playoff IF they can remain constant and not drop one to a trap game later in the season. With Miami and Louisville traveling to Doak Campbell Stadium, their biggest challenge will be in November on a trip to Death Valley to play against Clemson.
The Seminoles did lose Dalvin Cook to the NFL Draft and have had inconsistencies in offensive line play, but Jimbo Fisher has had an entire off season (and a great Orange Bowl) to work with quarterback DeAndre Francois to improve his consistency. And with Derwin James returning from injury last season, he has a chance to be one of the best college football players this season. Leaders on both sides of the ball as well as an experienced and hungry coaching staff will help carry Florida State to their second appearance in the College Football Playoffs.
Best of the Rest:
Any Big 12 Team
Until the Big 12 learns how to play some defense and make consistent stops, the committee cannot seriously look at a Big 12 contender to compete with the likes of Alabama or Ohio State. The only exception would be if a Big 12 team was able to go undefeated and have an entire season of consistent defense, then they would be in the conversation.
One of the betting favorites for the playoffs (especially after their great win in the 2016 Rose Bowl), USC is a young team and playing in a tough Pac-12 they will experience heartbreak at least once during the season. And if they can survive the season relatively unscathed then they still have to go against the experience and skill of Washington in the Pac-12 championship game.
The loser of the 2016 Rose Bowl game, Penn State returns quarterback Trace McSorley and early Heisman frontrunner running back Saquon Barkley so on paper they bring in the skill to compete with the front runners. But with back to back games against Michigan and at Ohio State, the Nittany Lions have an outside shot of making it but they have to mature quickly and win every game. Penn State is a young team but if the cards fall right then they have an outside shot.
The defending champion has a tough chance to be able to repeat as National Champion. Even if they did not lose so many weapons to graduation and the NFL Draft, their schedule is tough too. From weeks 2-5, Clemson plays No. 12 Auburn, No. 16 Louisville and No. 21 Virginia Tech. Three tough ranked opponents could potentially upset the defending champs, and if they don’t there is their November 5th matchup with Florida State. Call me a doubter, but Clemson doesn’t have the schedule or the roster to be able to compete in all of those games.
Everyone loves a hot take!! Already having won one game, the Bulls of South Florida have the chance to be the Houston of last season. Vegas has their win total at 10 wins, and they should be favored in every game they play. Coach Charlie Strong has had success as a dark horse especially when he was at Louisville, and with a favorable schedule look for South Florida to be a BCS buster especially if this season is as crazy as the expert predict.