Well, football fans, it’s finally November. The regular season is starting to draw to a close, and with several quality teams at the top of the rankings, the inaugural College Football playoff promises to be a spectacle of athleticism, grit, and determination. With so many teams deserving of a spot, the task of predicting the unpredictable may seem particularly daunting. I’m willing to take that risk though, so here are my picks for the playoffs this season.
Down and Out
Ole Miss: The Rebels should be proud of the year they had. Coach Hugh Freeze was able to capitalize on the sheer talent of some exceptional recruiting classes this season. Unfortunately, back-to-back losses to LSU and Auburn knocked them to two losses. Even though the SEC West is particularly volatile this season, and Ole Miss could theoretically win the SEC, it’s highly unlikely. There are too many teams ahead of them for the Rebels to win the SEC West and get into a position to make the playoff.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils have been silent assassins from Tempe this season, quietly defeating four ranked teams and showing that they’re as good as any team in the Pac-12 this season. Their most convincing win of the season came in a 55-31 throttling of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last week. The offense was clicking while the defense forced quarterback Everett Golson into turnover after turnover after turnover. However, they were stunned by unranked Oregon State 35-27 on Saturday, almost assuring that they won’t make the playoff. While this is a dangerous team that could theoretically make it with some losses at the top and a Pac-12 Championship win, I don’t see it happening.
On The Outside Looking In
7. Mississippi State: I believed in Dak Prescott. I thought Mississippi State was the best team in football. I was proven wrong on Saturday, as the Bulldogs got dominated by the Alabama Crimson Tide on CBS. Blown assignments, awful passes from Prescott, and a thwarted run game told the story, as Coach Dan Mullen’s guys just couldn’t keep up. Since this is their only blemish this season, the jury is still out on this team. The Egg Bowl (the annual rivalry game between MSU and Ole Miss) will truly determine if Saturday was just an off game or if there’s more to the story. For now, the latter appears to be the case.
6. TCU: Coach Gary Patterson has once again proven himself as one of the elite coaches in college football this season, leading the Horned Frogs out of nowhere to be one of the premier teams in the Big 12. Their lone loss this season came in a 61-58 shootout against Baylor in Waco, but the Bears had to make a 24-point comeback in the last 11 minutes to rob the Frogs of victory. While they are currently ranked ahead of Baylor in the AP poll even with the loss, a close win against an abysmal Kansas team and a weak schedule remaining will probably keep them out.
5. Ohio State: When the Buckeyes defeated Michigan State, I thought it was a fluke. A win over Minnesota isn’t enough for them to win me over, but it’s a step in the right direction. While fumbles clouded the 31-24 win, the playing conditions were horrendous. Snow and wind reigned supreme in Minneapolis, but that didn’t stop OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett (Braxton Miller’s replacement while he heals from a shoulder injury that ended his season before it began) from breaking three school records. Barrett rushed for 189 yards, the most by a quarterback in Buckeyes history. He also broke records for longest run by a quarterback (86 yards) and most touchdowns in a season (38) and established himself as a true Heisman contender. This is definitely a team to watch.
The “In” Crowd
4. Baylor: Art Briles’s squad has proven to be an elite team despite a weak non-conference schedule. While the Playoff Committee (which, if you haven’t heard from the 50 different sports sites that think it’s a huge deal, features former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) has shown they despise the Bears, they cannot deny a 48-14 domination of the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. The win, Baylor’s first on the road against a ranked team since 1991, proved that Baylor is officially among the elite. With a more difficult string of games to close the year than TCU, including games against Oklahoma State (which St. Paul’s Wolves’ Wide Receiver Jalen McCleskey will play for next year) and top-15 Kansas State, I predict that they leapfrog the Frogs right into the playoff.
3. Florida State: This team has been impossible to get a read on this season. They’re currently undefeated, but they have achieved this in an incredibly lackluster fashion. Close wins, massive second-half rallies, and off-the-field issues have blemished the Seminoles’ season. A multiple-turnover game by beleaguered quarterback Jameis Winston paved the way for the Oregon Ducks to jump ahead of them in the rankings, and I believe that if they continue to under-perform and squeak by, the committee will sour on them.
2. Alabama: Prior to Saturday, I had been a vocal critic of the Crimson Tide. They had shown few signs of dominance this season, with their biggest wins coming in a blowout against a then-struggling Texas A&M team and a very close game against LSU that, arguably, should have gone the Tigers’ way. Saban and Co. proved me wrong in a great performance vs. Mississippi State, shellacking the Bulldogs 25-20 in a game much less close than the score indicated. This team is very talented, and Lane Kiffin, gulp, is actually looking like a half-way intelligent coordinator. The Tide may surge to the number one spot, but they have some very difficult games on the horizon against Auburn and, presumably, the SEC East Champion. Those games will be very close, and the lack of demonstrated dominance will hold them back from claiming the top spot.
1. Oregon: The Ducks have eclipsed FSU after back-to-back wins against Stanford and Utah and are looking like the dominant team in the Pac-12. Heisman-candidate and star quarterback Marcus Mariota has been on fire, and “The Zoo” is one of the hardest stadiums to play a game in. The only team that seems to be a threat to this team’s playoff chances is a potential matchup with Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship game. As great as the Sun Devils have been, Oregon is the more talented team. A loss by Mississippi State propelled Alabama to the top spot, but I think, like Florida State, they will eventually be replaced by the Ducks in the rankings.
Playoff Game Predictions
Alabama vs. Florida State: Many projected that this would be the National Championship game in the preseason, so the fact that they are eventually playing each other in January is no surprise. Both teams have underwhelmed this year, and even though Alabama killed a struggling Texas A&M earlier in the year, they have yet to dominate a marquee game (while they were evidently better than Mississippi State, they only won by five points). Meanwhile, Florida State is not looking sharp at all, almost losing to several mediocre-to-bad teams. Alabama is a much better team and will prove the talent differential between the SEC and ACC, winning by at least two touchdowns.
Baylor vs. Oregon: This would be an absolute treat. A sea of green and gold would inhabit either New Orleans or Pasadena (it has yet to be announced which game will be hosted where) as these two offensive powerhouses display the electricity that have made these up-tempo teams so fun to watch. Two Heisman candidates, Mariota of Oregon and quarterback Bryce Petty of Baylor, would have their first matchup against each other. If you like games with low yardage and tough, gritty, SEC-style defense, skip this game. These teams could easily combine for over 100 points if they play each other. This game would depend on which defense is more capable of containing the other. Baylor ranks 19th in points against, and only has two games where they allowed over 30 points. Oregon ranks 52nd in points against, and has allowed at least 30 points in four games. Additionally, Baylor has one less game to play. The Big 12 doesn’t have a conference championship game anymore due to NCAA rules and regulations, which removes an extra opportunity for crucial injuries to the Bears. I’m going with the upset here, picking Baylor to go to the National Championship.
Alabama vs. Baylor: This game is being played in Arlington, Texas, making this essentially a home game for Baylor. However, the Crimson Tide is much more physical than any team Baylor has played this season, and I’m not sure that the Bears are ready for this style of team. The Petty-led offense has shown it can take some time, sometimes too long, to get in a groove against physically-tough teams. This game really is a toss-up between an Alabama team that expects to win the National Championship every year and a hungry Baylor team that has never been to the Big Dance. My heart says Baylor, and my mind says Alabama, so I’ll go with…
Neither. You decide. Vote in the poll and comment with your thoughts.