Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Spartans will look to build off 2013's success.
With the 2014 regular season in the books, it’s time for the moment the entire college football world has been waiting for: the inaugural selections for the College Football Playoff.
On Dec. 7, the selection committee will gather for one last time and pick the four teams that will play for a shot at the CFP national title.
Drum roll, please.
4. Oklahoma Sooners (11-1; Big 12 Champ)
The Sooners return nine starters on a defense that ranked No. 22 in scoring (22.1 PPG) and No. 20 in total defense (350.2 YPG). That includes the unit’s entire front seven.
Throw in the return of quarterback Trevor Knight—who torched Alabama’s vaunted secondary in the Sugar Bowl—and wide receiver Sterling Shepard, along with the addition of several key 2014 signees, and Oklahoma is a team to watch.
It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows for the team, though, as the Sooners are likely to drop one early during a four-game stretch away from Norman from Sept. 20 to Oct. 11.
Given a strong finish and another Big 12 title, though, it’ll be hard to pass up Oklahoma for a spot in the CFP.
3. Michigan State (12-1; Big Ten Champ)
Both quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford return to give the Spartans offense a boost in 2014. The duo's late emergence was pivotal in leading the team to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory last season.
Although the defense loses six starters, expect defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to have the unit rebuilt just in time to pick up where it left off last season.
Given the restructuring of the Big Ten divisions, the schedule will be a little tougher this time around. It will include hosting Michigan and Ohio State, along with a trip to Beaver Stadium to wrap up the season against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Spartans will most likely lose one of those games. However, expect an early nonconference road victory over eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon in Week 2 to aid Michigan State in the selection process.
2. Florida State (13-0; ACC Champ)
The defending national champions will be helped by one of the lightest schedules in all of college football. However, you can’t fault the Seminoles for that.
Nonconference matchups against Oklahoma State (Aug. 30) and Notre Dame (Oct. 18) were expected to be competitive games, but given that both teams will be rebuilding at key positions, Florida State should have no problem handling those opponents.
The same could be said about usual conference contenders Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Not to mention, ACC-addition Louisville will be without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and breaking in a new head coach.
All in all, the return of several starters on both sides of the ball, including heralded quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, will be enough to lead the Seminoles to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.
1. Alabama (13-0; SEC Champ)
Expect a loaded backfield to make the burden on the Crimson Tide’s new starting quarterback a heck of a lot easier.
Leading rushers T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake—1,929 yards and 22 touchdowns combined—return for their junior seasons. Throw in Sugar Bowl surprise Derrick Henry, and Alabama will have quite the three-headed monster in the backfield.
The defense loses six starters, but with the nation's current No. 1-ranked Class of 2014 incoming, via 247Sports, head coach Nick Saban will have tons of playmakers with which to mess around.
About 2014, Saban told the Montgomery Advertiser's Tim Gayle:
Sometimes you do inventory and you say we’ve gotten away from that a little bit and maybe we need to get back to it. So maybe people need to be more accountable to it. Maybe they need to be more aware of it, whether it’s coaches, players, myself, whoever is involved.
Maneuvering a tough SEC schedule unscathed, along with late-season victories at LSU, against Auburn and versus Georgia in the SEC title game, will be enough to convince the committee to bump the Tide up to the No. 1 seed.