With the NCAA now introducing a four team playoff system this year in college football, it is more competitive than every for collegiate teams to receive a spot in the grand finale of college football. With only four teams receiving the glory that the BCS Bowls had brought before, it will be much more interesting come the start of the season due to teams’ scheduling and competitiveness trying to make the playoffs. Here are the teams I believe to be the four best teams next season and their predicted records, plus other good teams that may fall just short of playoff glory.
Oregon Ducks (11-1, 8-1 Pac 12)
With star quarterback, Marcus Mariota, returning next season, the Oregon Ducks are one of the favorites to win it all next season. Mariota should be fueled by a failure to finish the season strong last year as the Ducks lost several games to end the season. They also have potentially the best cornerback in the nation returning to school as well in Ife Ekpre-Olomu. They will have to face a fairly difficult schedule, consisting of Michigan State, UCLA, and Stanford, but the Stanford and Michigan State games are both at home for the Ducks, and UCLA comes after a stretch of three easy wins and two bye weeks. Michigan State and Stanford will be the hardest competition of the season, but even with a loss in one of those two games the Ducks could still wind up in the playoffs. Washington also wont be a walk in the park, but the Ducks also have that game at home and should come out on top. Like always, Oregon should be led by a stellar rushing attack and quarterback play on the offensive side. The Oregon secondary should be it’s strong part on defense, led by Ekpre-Olomu whom I mentioned ealier. They have their top two rushers, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, both returning; both players averaged over six yards a carry last season, and combined for 23 rushing touchdowns. The issues for the Ducks next season will be on the defensive line and in the receiving core. Part of the issue at receiver is simply the fact that no one knows who will emerge as the top guy for the Ducks. They have a very young and experienced receiving core, and after the loss of top receiver, Bralon Addison, to an ACL tear, Oregon will be starting a sophomore and freshman at receiver, as well as a freshman at tight end next season. All in all, offense will be the main point of attack for the Ducks once again, but a strong secondary should also help lead Oregon to the playoffs. Although I think they drop a game to Stanford, I believe that the Ducks will finish strong and wind up in the post season.
Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0, 9-0 Big 10)
As Heisman candidate Braxton Miller takes the field in 2014 the question will be if he can stay healthy, if the answer is yes then the Buckeyes should have a spot in the playoff. As we saw last year, the downfall of Ohio State last year in the Orange Bowl against Clemson was Miller’s inability to perform at a high level after taking many big hits throughout the game. After losing four of their starting five on the offensive line, it will be crucial for the young talent this year to step up to replace the pieces OSU lost from last season. Despite a loss at o-line, Braxton Miller is still surrounded by talent in his offense. Ezekiel Elliott, Devin Smith, Rod Smith, and Dontre Wilson will all be key contributors next season to Ohio State’s offense. Ezekiel Elliott may be one of the top rushers in the Big 10 next season, after not receiving many touches in 2013 Elliott could turn heads as a sophomore; Elliott’s 8.7 yards per carry last season led all Buckeyes players that had 25 carries or more. Devin Smith was the team’s second leading receiver last season in yardage, and will be leading the Bucks’ receivers this upcoming year as a senior. As for the defense, the defensive line is possibly the strongest in the nation this upcoming season. Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Joey Bosa, this group of pass rushers had a combined 24.5 sacks last season and led the seventh best pass rush in the nation. They lost star power in Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby to the NFL Draft, but have talent in Raekwon McMillan and Eli Apple coming in to replace the lost pieces. McMillan was the top linebacker in his recruiting class, and should play valuable minutes as a freshman. Apple, a five star recruit in 2013, didn’t see much time last season but should be an important piece as a sophomore. Schedule shouldn’t be a problem for the Bucks, unless that is they drop a game. With the easiest schedule out of the four teams on this list, Ohio State will almost have to go undefeated to claim a spot in the playoffs. The main challenges for this team will be at Michigan State, and in the Big Ten Championship, which could be Michigan State again. Overall, the Buckeyes have a lot of young talent coming in, and the season will depend a lot upon how that youth is able to perform against the Big Ten. I believe another undefeated regular season will be in the books for Ohio State, and a win in the Big 10 Championship against Iowa will help their cause.
Stanford Cardinal (12-1, 9-0 Pac 12)
I know what you are thinking and yes, I do have two Pac 12 teams in front of any SEC team. The reason being, I believe that Stanford is an elite team where as I don’t see any one team from the SEC that is significantly better than any other, creating more losses during conference play among the top teams. Stanford has the majority of their offense returning, including three year starter at quarterback, Kevin Hogan, the most of the best offensive line in the nation, and their top three leading receivers, including super star Ty Montgomery. The 10th best defense in the nation from last season has seven starters returning, highlighted by defensive end, Kevin Anderson. The offensive line as mentioned will be one of the best in the nation yet again; it will be led by the 6-7, 300 lb. monster in Andrus Peat. In years past this has helped Stanford play the smash mouth football they typically play, but this year without a big, strong back that they have had in the past the Cardinal are going to have to look at other options. They will most likely be starting Barry Sanders at tailback (yes, the legend’s son), who plays similar to as his dad did… just not as good. It will be interesting to see how Stanford will adjust to having speedy, receiving type tailbacks instead of a sturdy, bruising back. If they can make this transition then they are golden, if not then they may have some issues. They will also have one of the better passing attacks in the nation, as the Kevin Hogan, Ty Montgomery duo lives on. Montgomery, as well as the other two leading receivers from last season, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector, all return to form what could be the best receiving core in the nation. The three players combined for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season last year. Defense is yet another thing to brag about for the Cardinal, as they return seven starters to a top ten defense from a season ago. Despite losing NCAA sack leader, Trent Murphy, the Cardinal still has a lot to look forward to in Kevin Anderson and AJ Tarpley. Stanford has many veteran players that will step up this season to replace what they lost to the draft, and you can be sure that all of them are already familiar with the deadly Cardinal defense, that will once again be the best in the Pac 12. They play a tough schedule, having to play at Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington, and Notre Dame, and at home against USC. Even though an undefeated season would be nice, a loss to Notre Dame wont matter too much to the playoff bound Cardinal.
Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 9-0 ACC)
Florida State is returning the reigning Heisman Award winner, as well as many other outstanding players, to what should be the best team in football next season. Jameis Winston is looking at yet another undefeated season and National Championship for the Seminoles this year, and despite losing some key pieces from last season’s run to the title game, the Seminoles should be even better in the season ahead. Winston lost one of his favorite targets to the NFL in Kelvin Benjamin, but got to keep the leading receiver from last season in Rashad Greene. Also, the second leading rusher for the Seminoles last year, Karlos Williams, is returning to start at running back, and should have a break out season this year. Tight end Nick O’Leary adds yet another weapon to Winston’s offensive arsenal, and he also could be the top tight end in the nation this upcoming year. The offensive line is yet another thing to brag about for the Noles, as they return Cameron Erving and Tre’ Jackson, both experienced linemen who will be near the top at their positions next year. The defense isn’t too shabby either, as a handful of starters return to the top defense in the nation in terms of points allowed. Although losing several good players to the draft, Florida State still should have the talent to mimic the success that last year’s defense had. Former top recruit, Mario Edwards Jr., will be one of the players to watch as he enters his junior season at defensive end. Edwards Jr. will be the leader on the line this season for the Seminoles, but this team has a lot more to show on defense than just the line. In the secondary PJ Williams returns to lead a group of talented corners; Williams was the defensive MVP of the BCS National Championship last season. Joining Williams in the secondary is the rising sophomore, Ron Darby, together Williams and Darby should help make up for the loss of LaMarcus Joyner to the NFL. I don’t think that there is any doubt about it that Florida State will be the preseason favorites to make a run to the title, as they are the most proven of many of the top teams in the nation going into next season. They will overcome a fairly difficult schedule consisting of Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Florida, to go undefeated once again. I believe this season will have a lot in store for the Seminoles, including another Championship, another undefeated season, and another Heisman for Winston.
Others in Contention
Coming out of the Big 12 unscathed shouldn’t be too difficult for Oklahoma to handle, although some uncertainties on offense could prove to be an Achilles heel for this team. With one of the easiest schedules for a big conference team, a shocking loss to either TCU or Texas will crush the Sooners playoff hopes.
Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans are going to be about just as good as they were last year, unfortunately they will have to win some tough games to have a chance at the playoff. Losses to both Ohio State and Oregon will mean no playoff for Sparty this season.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Loads of talent, but unproven players at quarterback and on defense could be the downfall of the Crimson Tide. A loss at LSU and an early shocker to either Ole Miss or Florida will make it difficult for the Crimson Tide to make the playoffs.
Todd Gurley could be the best running back in the nation next year, but will he be able to lead the Bulldogs to be one of the top 4 teams in the nation next season? Losses at Missouri and against Auburn will ruin the Bulldogs playoff chances.
With the return of Bryce Petty, the Baylor offense should be nothing to worry about; the defense on the other hand might be. With an easy schedule, just one loss at Oklahoma could be the difference maker in getting to the post season.