The College Football season kicked off last weekend with Colorado State 58-27 rout of Oregon State, but for most teams the season begins this weekend. Here’s our NCAA expert Andy Turner to break down the likely contenders this year…
It is business as usual at Alabama, who despite a loss in the National Championship game last season are ranked number 1 in most pre-season polls. Nick Satan’s (sic) team once again lost a number of 1st round draft picks to the NFL but have more than enough quality to replace those losses and this year for the first time in a while they have a returning starter at QB in Jalen Hurts. It will be a surprise if the Crimson Tide is not in the CFP come seasons end, partially because…
The SEC, the conference everybody likes to slurp due to its supposed strength, is finally being looked at for what it has recently become i.e. Alabama and some other teams. There is no disputing Alabama is a powerhouse but the rest of the SEC seem to provide little opposition to the Crimson Tide over the course of the season, with the SEC championship game little more than a coronation. Over to you LSU, Georgia or Florida.
The ACC is now being touted as the number one conference, with the Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers both having won a National Championship in the last five years, plus the fact that the ACC is actually competitive. Florida State are being touted as national championship hope, Clemson are last season’s national champs, Louisville are providing the Heisman winner from last year and Miami (fla) is finally looking like it is back.
The Big 10 is another conference which seems capable of usurping the SEC hegemony. Jim Harbaugh, as one might expect, makes the most noise at Michigan and he has certainly turned the program around, both in results and in the important recruiting classes. They did however lose a lot of players to the NFL and may not be as good as last season.
Their biggest rivals, the Ohio State Buckeyes, whom Harbaugh has yet to beat, are being touted by many as the Big 10’s best National Title contenders. After a rebuilding year they have a defensive front four as good as any in college, as well as returning offensive talent in JT Barrett at QB and David Webber at RB.
Unlike the SEC there is real competition in the Big 10, with Penn. State (has the sleeping giant finally awoken?) and Wisconsin, while surely Michigan State cannot be as bad as last year. In addition to the Big Two previously mentioned schools then expect at least one Big 10 school in the CFP.
The Pac12 had a school in the play-off last season, although no on guessed it would be Washington. The Huskies were gutted by the NFL draft, which only went to show how much talent they had. They were particularly badly hit by defensive graduations but still have QB Jake Browning and one the top three coaches in the conference.
Stanford and a resurgent Oregon will likely be battling them in the North division. Stanford are superbly coached by David Shaw and continue to recruit top level football players despite the high academic requirements. Oregon’s woes last season were widely reported but new head coach, Willie Taggart, will look to address their woeful defending and how to support the top offensive talent such as RB Royce Freeman.
In the South, USC Trojans seemed to be back by season’s end when they produced a superb Rose Bowl victory against Penn. State. They were led from week 5 by Sam Darnold, a USC golden boy QB and currently this year’s Heisman favourite. This USC does not have the strength in depth of the Pete Carroll era, yet if they get through the Pac12 schedule, the only major out of conference opponent is Texas; meaning they will surely be in the Pac12 championship game and a game away from the CFP.
Their major rival in the South may well be one of college football’s most under-appreciated teams, Utah. The rest of the South have a variety of problems including UCLA who have the Pac 12s previous golden boy QB, Josh Rosen, who has unfortunately been running his mouth off, doubting the educational quality of Alabama graduates. They play Texas A&M on Sep 3rd and Rosen best be ready after an injury plagued 2016 season.
The Big12 need to have big season as the standing of the conference is falling. They have reintroduced a championship game, as they feel the lack of one has damaged their chances of getting teams into the CFP.
It isn’t just that which has damaged the conferences standing though. The Big 12 is rightly seen as a pass happy conference which has only produced one CFP participant, Oklahoma. The fact that one of its traditional powers, Texas Longhorns, has been laughably bad for the last few seasons has done it no favours either.
The Longhorns should be improved under Tom Herman, although it may be another season before they become nationally relevant. Therefore Oklahoma (also with a new coach) once again has the best chance of challenging for a playoff place, although their game at Ohio State – whom they were manhandled by last season – in week 2 pretty mush will dictate their season.
A dark horse for national recognition are Oklahoma State. They have QB Mason Rudolph and a highly talented offensive cast, and the promise of a much improved D all managed by the wonderfully mulleted Mike Gundy.
Expect TCU and Kansas State to be challenging for a place in the championship game, and one of the most interesting seasons will be that of pariah school Baylor coached by Mike Rhule, a first rate coach who will be in charge of getting people talking about football again at Baylor.
Notre Dame was a huge disappointment last season and HC Brian Kelly has taken the option of many under pressure coaches by dismissing both co-ordinators. This season is make or break for Kelly. New QB Brandon Wimbush has been touted as being more talented than either of his former contemporaries at South Bend, Malik Zaire (now at Florida) or Deshone Kizer (now in the NFL with the Browns). There is plenty of talent, but that hasn’t been the issue, wins have.
So the College Football Playoff will in my opinion feature:
1. Alabama – No surprise, no SEC challenger until proven otherwise, week 1 game vs. Florida State could be the defining game for teams, a loss for either does not rule them out of the CFP.
2. Florida State – See above, Clemson haven’t a proven QB so the ACC should be theirs.
3. Ohio State – Talent and Coaching is first rate. They will crush Oklahoma in week 2 to set them on the road to the CFP. I expect them to be a one loss participant.
4. Penn. State Okay I’m buying the hype, they maybe one of three one loss teams in the play-off this year.
The champion and unoriginal choice is Ohio State.