Predicting the College Football Playoff

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

As we saw last season, attempting to predict the College Football Playoff is normally a futile task. I tried last year, picking Baylor, Ohio State, TCU, and Stanford; none of those teams made college football’s final four. The College Football Playoff is very difficult to predict and I usually don’t get it right. So let’s go ahead and try anyway, shall we?

Here are my projections for the top four teams in college football this season.

1. Florida State

I’m not going to say that picking Florida State as my top team is a no-brainer; in fact, it’s very far from it. The team still has uncertainty at the quarterback position; while Sean McGuire should begin the year as the team’s starter, his performance last season begs some questions about whether or not he can lead the ‘Noles to the promised land. Additionally, McGuire could miss the first few weeks of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. There’s literally no certainty at the quarterback position for Florida State right now. The rest of the roster, though, is not wrought with such insecurity.

For starters, running back Dalvin Cook returns after a season in which he rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns. Also, Cook was able to do all of this in just 229 attempts, so just imagine what he could do if he stays 100% healthy for an entire season. After all, this is the complete list of running backs to rush for over 1,600 yards and rack up 19 touchdowns last season. It’s impressive:

  1. Derrick Henry (Alabama)
  2. Leonard Fournette (LSU)
  3. Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
  4. Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

So it’s not difficult to see why we should be excited about Dalvin Cook this season. He should be a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and will lead a Seminoles’ offense that returns literally every starter from a season ago. A potentially game-of-the-year matchup with Clemson on November 7 might seal Florida State’s fate (for better or worse), but this team is loaded with talent.

And f they can figure out the quarterback position (and I’ll bet that they will), the Seminoles are my national title favorite.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

Let me ask you a question: who will be the starting quarterback for Alabama this season? If you can’t answer it, don’t worry. You’re not alone. And if you can’t name Alabama’s new starting quarterback(s), it probably won’t matter anyway.

Because before the 2011 season, you likely had never heard of A.J. McCarron; he became a two-time national champion. Before 2014, you didn’t know much about Blake Sims; he led Alabama to the first-ever College Football Playoff. And before last season, you had definitely heard of but were still remarkably unimpressed by Florida State transfer Jake Coker; he won a national title a season ago. It’s clear that Alabama’s quarterback position has never really mattered that much, but this year might be a different story.

This season, the prohibitive favorite to start at QB for the Tide is Junior Cooper Bateman. Bateman is the only quarterback on the roster who had game action last season; he started in the team’s loss to Ole Miss and played the first half before giving way to Coker. The Bateman-related moment we all remember from that game, though, was this:

That game was widely regarded as a turning point in Alabama’s championship season. This year, it looks like Bateman will have the reins to the offense, provided he can beat out Freshmen Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts for the job.

Things are different at Alabama this year, however. The team has no established running back (although it figures to be Bo Scarbrough and he could be something special). But the Tide are stacked at wide receiver with ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley both returning after combining for 152 catches a season ago. The defense should be strong again this season and the offensive line only has Cam Robinson to replace.

And if you still don’t know who Cooper Bateman is, that’s just fine. It’s probably not going to matter who starts at quarterback for the Tide, anyway. It hasn’t before, and it shouldn’t now.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Okay, the Buckeyes lost their two best players (Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa) from a season ago and have losses up and down the roster. Theoretically, they shouldn’t be a championship contender. But just hear me out on this one.

Unlike last season, the team will have complete certainty at the quarterback position. J.T. Barrett will take over the starting job (this time, for good) and he has the potential to have a ludicrous season. I’ll even go as far as to pick him to win the Heisman Trophy because the offense is literally all his now. Remember when Barrett started basically a full season in 2014 and threw for 34 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards in just 11 full games? That type of performance (and possibly even better) could be awaiting him in 2016.

Granted, this Ohio State team lost a lot from last season. Their top three receivers, three offensive linemen, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell; you name it, Ohio State lost it. This really is kind of a shot-in-the-dark prediction, but I have a lot of faith in Barrett to lead the Buckeyes into the final four this season. If he has that type of season, the Buckeyes will be going to the Playoff, and potentially, even beyond.

And now for my next trick and something completely different….

4. UCLA Bruins

I know what you’re probably saying, and I think it has something to do with me being insane. Tell me something I don’t know.

UCLA was expected to break out last season with new starting quarterback Josh Rosen. He had a tremendous season, posting 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, the team succumbed to several significant injuries en route to a disappointing 8-5 finish. Like Ohio State, the Bruins lost key players such as Paul Perkins, Thomas Duarte, Jordan Payton, and Myles Jack from last season. But the secondary returns every player from a season ago and has a chance to be something special.

If Rosen and several other key players can stay healthy, UCLA has a chance to have a huge season. A look at their schedule shows that they have USC, Utah, and Stanford all at home. Their slate does contain several land mines (at Texas A&M, at BYU, at Washington State), but UCLA could legitimately be favored in every game this season.

Rosen is also a Heisman candidate if he can stay healthy. While he’s losing his two best receivers from a season ago (Payton and Duarte), he has a chance to become a breakout start in college football this season. Oh, and he also has this going for him:

Last fall, inspired by a friend at Arizona State, he went online and paid $400 for an inflatable Lay‑Z‑Spa hot tub. (“It came down to my roommate and I saying, ‘What are we going to be able to tell our kids we did in college?'”) He installed it in his dorm room, using a 20-foot beer funnel for a hose. His mom even came over to see it. But a picture posted on Instagram by one of Rosen’s friends ended up going viral, drawing coverage from TMZ. The school forced Rosen to remove the tub. He had to write an apology paper to the school, which he struggled to take seriously.

“I’m not a social media guy, I’m not,” Rosen says. “It’s just once every three weeks it’s like, Hey, let’s shake some s‑‑‑ up,” Rosen says. “I like to be a real person and show personality. People appreciate that.”

Nice. Very nice. You may not agree with him, but you have to respect someone who’s willing to erect a hot tub in his dorm room. He’s basically become that guy from the State Farm commercial, which is awesome to see from a Division I quarterback (and a really good one, at that).

They have to stay healthy if they want to run the table, but the UCLA Bruins have a legitimate chance at the College Football Playoff. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say after picking them to go to the Playoff in 2014.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below!