Written By: Conner Pack
With the 2017 college football season just weeks away, I figured it’s about time to give my thoughts on who I think this years contenders for the College Football Playoff, as well as who is in my final four. Now, when I say contender I believe there’s a handful of teams that are capable of getting into the College Football Playoff, that is however if the chips fall in their favor. I’m not saying those teams could win it, but if they manage to win their conference championship, as well as finish with a great record there’s a realistic chance they could find themselves playing in the Playoff. Outside of my final four I believe there are seven teams capable of getting in. Those teams are: Clemson, Miami, Auburn, Penn State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Washington.
– Clemson: After back-to-back National Championship appearances, losing in 2015 then winning in 2016, the Clemson Tigers have established themselves as one of the elite programs in the country. However, they lost a ton of talent to the NFL this past off-season guys like Mike Williams, Ben Boulware, Wayne Gallman, and of course quarterback Deshaun Watson. Replacing a guy like Watson is very difficult, but Head Coach Dabo Swinney has become one of college footballs great recruiters, so I’m pretty confident they won’t be lacking in the talent department. But figuring out who will start a quarterback is a must if this team wants to make another run at the playoff.
However, it won’t be an easy road, the Tigers have a very tough schedule, in the month of September alone they face three high-caliber teams starting with Auburn in week 2 (Sept. 9), then at Louisville in week 3 (Sept. 16), then at Virginia Tech in week 5 (Sept. 30). And you can’t forget the Florida State game on November 11th. Luckily for them that game will be played in Clemson. But if the Tigers can make it through the ACC knocking off Florida State in the process, the Tigers could potentially be back in the college football playoff for a third consecutive year.
– Miami: Since the early 2000’s the Miami Hurricanes have been a shell of what they used to be. However, it looks like the Hurricanes may have found their next great coach in, Mark Richt. The Hurricanes in Richts first season finished with a 9-4 record, ending the 2016 season ranked 20th overall. Coming into the 2017 season there are high hopes for Miami. Losing quarterback Brad Kaaya to the NFL but luckily for the Hurricanes, they are the beneficiaries of a pretty easy schedule in my opinion. There toughest games are at Florida State September 16th, Virginia Tech November 4th, and potentially Notre Dame November 11th. I say potentially because year in and year out Notre Dame can be a question mark. Other than those three games, the Hurricanes could run the table in the ACC Costal division giving them a chance to possibly win the ACC and sneak into the College Football Playoff.
– Auburn: For a couple of seasons now, what has kept the Tigers from winning big games has been a lack of talent at the quarterback position. After the 2010 season when Cam Newton and Auburn won the BCS national championship, the Tigers have really fallen back into being an average to middle of the pack team. With the exception of 2013 when they had quarterback Nick Marshall and went 12-2 losing the National Championship to Florida State. However, this season Auburn potentially might have the quarterback that can get them over the top once again. He is Baylor Transfer Jarrett Stidham.
Besides possibly having a good quarterback, Auburn may be the only team able to knock off Alabama in the SEC. If Auburn can get through a tough but not overly difficult SEC schedule without any blemishes, and beat Alabama in the iron bowl to end the season. They could just like Miami potentially find themselves College Football Playoff.
– Penn State: I think it’s safe to say that the Nittany Lions are back. Head Coach James Franklin is entering his fourth season at the helm, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. After back-to-back mediocre 7-6 seasons, the Nittany Lions took a major step forward last season, finishing 11-3 and winning the Big Ten championship. Returning highly talented quarterback Trace McSorley and elite running back Saquon Barkley, Penn State should be poised to make another run at the Big Ten championship. They’ll have to be able to knock off Ohio State again if they want to have a chance. If they can do that the Nittany Lions will have a great chance of getting into the playoff.
– Oklahoma/Oklahoma State: In the Big 12, I think theirs really only two teams with any shot of being considered for the College Football Playoff. Now that the Big 12 has added a championship game I think that will bode well for the conference and the playoff committee. However, I still think as a whole the Big 12 is a very weak conference. With “Big Game Bob” retiring from Oklahoma over the summer, I believe that opened the door up for Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State to make a run at getting into the playoff.
I still believe Oklahoma will be solid with Lincoln Riley as head coach, mainly because the Sooners still have quarterback Baker Mayfield. He knows the offense and there’s chemistry between the two. However, anytime a coordinator steps in to a head coaching position there’s always transition period. We’ll see how things play out.
– Washington: The Huskies last season for the most part ran through the Pac 12 with no problems, landing themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff. They gave Alabama a good run in the first half but the Crimson Tide defense was too much for Washington. The Huskies lost a handful of guys to the NFL draft this past spring, but they do however still have quarterback Jake Browning. Browning had a fantastic season in 2016 passing for 3,430 yards 43 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Even though USC is the heavy favorite in the Pac 12 this season, you still can’t count out the Huskies who in my opinion have the better coach.
Now that I’ve given you my contenders, here’s my four teams I believe will be in the College Football Playoff: Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and USC. I know my picks might be cliché, but at the end of last season and into spring ball I felt as though these four teams will be the best four we see all season. Three out of the four have great coaches, all four have solid quarterbacks, and all four have very talented rosters.
– Alabama: Since Nick Saban has been the head coach at Alabama they have played in five National Championship games, winning four of them dating back to the old BCS system. So it’s hard for me and I’m sure the rest of the country to ever count out the Crimson Tide. Add on top of that the fact Alabama has dominated the SEC for years now, nobody prepares the Alabama does. With Jalen Hurts returning at quarterback, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and the duo at running back with Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. I believe the offense will be just as dangerous as their defenses have been for years.
– Florida State: The Seminoles may have one of the most talented rosters in the country starting with defensive back Derwin James. The anchor for the Florida State defense has been quite the talk of the off-season. Week one, football fans will find out if this Seminoles team is for real or not when they take on Alabama in Atlanta. That first game will be a great test for the Seminoles. Red shirt sophmore quarterback Deondre Francois had a very solid first year as a starter. Him and head coach Jimbo Fisher seem to have really clicked and are on the same page. The only negative when it comes to Florida State getting into the playoff is their rather tough schedule. On top of playing Alabama, they also play Louisville, Miami, at Florida, and most notable at Clemson. Now, I do believe Clemson will take a step back, but playing there is always a challenge.
– Ohio State: The Buckeyes last season got humiliated by Clemson in their 31-0 loss in the College Football Playoff. But Urban Meyer just like Nick Saban is another one of those coaches you can’t count out. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is back as a fifth year senior, now his arm has been questionable but he’s proven he’s a leader as well as a winner.
– USC: Could this be the year USC finally gets back over the hump and are National Championship contenders once again? I believe so. Two words, Sam Darnold! Darnold had himself a great freshman year and coming into this season he is the front-runner to win the Heisman. Just by having Darnold gives the Trojans a great chance to win the Pac 12.