Early College Football Playoff outlook: Which teams have the best chance?

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

With just over three months to go until the start of college football season, it’s time to look at and try to dissect which teams have the best chance at slotting into one of the four College Football Playoff spots for the 2017 season.

The records shown are the records each team had last season. Teams are not listed in any particular order. Here are a few things to note first. In the three seasons of the CFP’s existence, no conference has had more than one team make it in a given season. Also, no team with more than one loss has ever gotten into the CFP. Now, let’s get started with an early outlook of the teams with the best chance to get into the CFP this season.

Alabama Crimson Tide (14-1), SEC

Alabama is a college football juggernaut. They are the lone team that has been in the CFP in each of its three seasons of existence, and they have won four of the last eight NCAA football championships. There doesn’t appear to be any team to give them trouble in the SEC, so even with one loss, they will likely find themselves in a record fourth CFP.

USC Trojans (10-3), Pac-12

With Heisman Trophy award favorite Sam Darnold at quarterback, the Trojans should pick up where they left off last season with their 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. With their schedule, expect them to be favored in every game. The Pac-12 championship game could be a CFP play-in game if USC takes on Washington.

Washington Huskies (12-2), Pac-12

Coming off of an unlikely CFP appearance in the 2016 season, Washington could very well do it again. Superstar quarterback Jake Browning is still under center and their schedule appears favorable. Washington vs. USC appears to be the likely Pac-12 championship game, and if that happens, the winner could very well get to the CFP.

Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2), Big Ten

Ohio State will be highly praised in the preseason as usual, but they are still going to have to perform well to make it into the CFP. The two games against Penn State and Michigan stand out. With Michigan losing a lot of talent from this past season, this essentially makes the Penn State game a play-in game for the Big Ten championship game, which could in turn be a CFP play-in game.

Penn State Nittany Lions (11-3), Big Ten

Penn State looks to be just as good if not better than Ohio State. They, too, will still have to perform better than expected to get into the CFP. The two games against Ohio State and Michigan stand out, but again, Michigan doesn’t look like they’ll be as strong this season as last. The Ohio State game could essentially be a play-in game for the Big Ten championship game, which, as mentioned above, could be a CFP play-in game.

Wisconsin Badgers (11-3), Big Ten

Wisconsin only really has one game on the regular season schedule that stands out difficulty-wise, and that is their home matchup with Michigan. Even if they lose that game, they will still get into the Big Ten championship game with one less, where a win over Ohio State or Penn State would almost undoubtedly put the Badgers into their first CFP.

Florida State Seminoles (10-3), ACC

The opening game against Alabama is going to be huge for Florida State. If they can survive that, they’re probably the national championship favorites. If not, they’ll need wins over both Clemson and Louisville to secure a spot in the ACC championship game, where a win could send them to the CFP.

Clemson Tigers (14-1), ACC

Clemson is losing a lot from the magic carpet ride that was the 2016 season, but don’t underestimate a Dabo Swinney-coached team. If they can hold off Florida State and Louisville to get into the ACC championship game, no team on the other side of the conference will stand in their way of a third straight CFP appearance.

Louisville Cardinals (9-4), ACC

With Heisman Trophy award winner Lamar Jackson running the show, anything is possible. Louisville looked like the most unstoppable team in the country last season before a late rough patch, so don’t let their four losses in 2016 fool you. If they can secure a spot in the ACC title game by beating both Florida State and Clemson, they’ll be headed to the CFP as ACC champions.

Oklahoma Sooners (11-2), Big 12

With the Big 12 finally bringing back the championship game, whichever team wins that will have the benefit of adding another quality win. Oklahoma, the Big 12 favorite seemingly every season, should still be competing on a high level with Baker Mayfield at quarterback like they have been for the past few seasons.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-3), Big 12

The Cowboys appear to have the best chance to square off with Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. They, too, have an established quarterback in Mason Rudolph slinging the ball around. A Big 12 championship game win would add something to their resume that no Big 12 team has ever had in the CFP era.

Closing Thoughts

In a perfect world, five of these teams will be contenders by the end of the season. Alabama either will or won’t be, while either USC or Washington will be the Pac-12’s best, Ohio State, Penn State or Wisconsin will be the Big Ten’s best, Florida State, Clemson or Louisville will be the ACC’s best, and Oklahoma or Oklahoma State will be the Big 12’s best.

If I had to make a way-too-early prediction, I would say that Alabama will get into their fourth CFP because there are rarely four teams better than them, and that will be the case yet again this season. I would also predict that USC will roll through their schedule and obliterate Washington in the Pac-12 championship game with Darnold at the helm. In terms of the other two teams, I believe the Big Ten champion and ACC champion will get in with the Big 12 champion being left out. Big 12 football doesn’t feature much defense, and defense wins championships.

In terms of who the Big Ten champion will be, I think Penn State will hold off Ohio State on the road in the regular season before taking down Wisconsin once more in the Big Ten championship game. In the ACC, which I think is the toughest conference to predict as of now, I believe Clemson will shock the world and return to the CFP even without Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

Remember, you heard it all here first.

 

-Asher Fair

 

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