Bleacher Report's Post Spring Practice College Football Playoff Predictions
Spring practices are in the books—mostly. Miami (Ohio), Oregon and Oregon State will wrap things up in the first weekend of May, but basically, we're entering the long summer months before preseason camp.
That means it's time to update Bleacher Report's way-too-early predictions for the inaugural College Football Playoff. (You may recall a post-signing day prediction of a similar nature.)
While it's true that spring practices (and games) don't provide a complete measuring stick for teams—depth charts are nowhere near complete, and there are injuries to account for—they do etch a picture with some detail. What position battles were solved? Which ones still have room for improvement? What are the causes for hope and concern? Did any early enrollees make an impact? These are the types of questions that hopefully get answered.
The obvious fault with way-too-early predictions is that they're made long before anything substantial can materialize. For all anyone knows, teams that went .500 last year could make up the playoff field. But that's part of the fun.
With that in mind, which four teams made our updated cut for College Football Playoff?
Just Missed the Cut
The reigning SEC East champs barely—and we mean barely—miss the cut. This is the dreaded "fifth team," the one that thinks it has a legitimate beef with not being selected and probably does. As you'll see from the selected field, an argument will undoubtedly arise that the selection committee colluded and refused to select three SEC teams.
First-year starting quarterback Maty Mauk lives up to expectations, and the Tigers get back to double-digit wins. However, a tough road schedule at South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and an improving Tennessee is a little too much to go through unscathed.
Still, Mizzou returns to the SEC Championship Game. Where it loses a heartbreaker. Again. And it's just not enough to be selected.
Michigan State (9-3)
The Spartans' new-look defense is good but not quite good enough to handle a trip to Oregon on Sept. 6. It's one of two losses in the first six games (the other coming to Nebraska) as the team tries to find its mojo. Then, the more inexperienced defense stiffens, and Michigan State goes on to win five of its next six games.
However, its final loss is to eventual Big Ten champions Ohio State on Nov. 8. The 9-3 record isn't enough to make an inaugural playoff appearance. Don't be fooled, though, Sparty got better as the season went on; pity the team that has to play them in a bowl game.
This was supposed to be the year Oklahoma returned to the national title conversation. Instead, the Sooners fall ever-so-short with a 10-2 record. Did the lack of a conference championship game in the Big 12 hinder Oklahoma? That's the subject of great debate around Norman, Okla. as the program wonders what could have been.
Quarterback Trevor Knight makes huge strides in his second year as a starter, but a gut-wrenching loss to Texas and a stunning defeat to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas means no playoff for head coach Bob Stoops' team.
It's a tougher offseason in Norman, Okla. in 2015 than it was a year ago.
Despite the loss of several key offensive players, including De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon's offense continues to play at a high level behind Heisman finalist, quarterback Marcus Mariota. Unfortunately, it's not quite good enough to be selected as one of the four playoff teams.
The Ducks come so close again to realizing their dreams of a national championship. However, they remarkably go 0-2 against UCLA in the regular season (Oct. 11) and in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
That's enough for the selection committee to leave Mark Helfrich's team out of the playoff pool.
The Playoff Seedings
No. 4 Ohio State (12-1)
Despite an odd loss at Penn State, Ohio State squeaks into the playoff field with a 12-1 record that includes wins over Michigan State and Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Quarterback Braxton Miller tops the 3,000-yard mark in total offense yet again, though he misses some playing time because of injury. The Buckeyes' offensive line, which remains a major question mark post-spring, is problematic enough to hinder the offense at times.
That makes a couple of games closer than they should be and contributes to the loss to the Nittany Lions. However, Ohio State's defense, anchored by its defensive line, provides the edge the team needs to keep winning.
No. 3 UCLA (12-1)
Jim Mora's team finally gets over the hump and beats Stanford, which the Bruins haven't done since 2008. UCLA also gets a nice early season victory over Texas in September. The stretch doesn't get easier with games at Arizona State and against Oregon, but Mora's team survives and advances.
Quarterback Brett Hundley is again the focal point of the offense and challenges Marcus Mariota as the best in the Pac-12. Though he doesn't make it to New York for the Heisman ceremony, Hundley gets the better of Mariota on Oct. 11.
The Bruins have veteran receivers and an offensive line. That gives them one of the best offenses in the country.
Sophomore linebacker Myles Jack has an even better season than his freshman campaign and earns consensus All-American status.
No. 2 Alabama (12-1)
As usual, the Tide pave their way to the end of the regular season as one of the best teams in the country. Though the team is breaking in a new quarterback, running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry carry the load for the offense.
Alabama slips up in a Nov. 8 game at LSU, head coach Nick Saban proves Auburn's Gus Malzahn is not his kryptonite—at least not that year. The Tide returns to the SEC Championship Game, where it defeats a motivated Missouri team that gives Saban's group everything it can handle.
Wins over Texas A&M, Auburn and Missouri are enough to give the Tide the No. 2 seed in the playoff.
No. 1 Florida State (13-0)
It's tough to go undefeated. It's even harder to go undefeated two years in a row, no matter the perceived strength of the conference. Yet, the Seminoles reload around Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and get through the 2014-15 season unscathed.
Winston doesn't win the Heisman two years in a row, but he makes it to New York after accounting for 4,000 total yards. The defense is again stocked with talent that makes moving the ball nearly impossible for opponents.
By predicting this, of course, we've officially jinxed the Seminoles. For that, please accept our sincerest apologies.
National Semifinal: No. 1 vs. No. 4
Matchup: (4) Ohio State vs. (1) Florida State
As B/R's Brian Leigh previously noted in this situation, Florida State would enter the national semis on a 29-game winning streak. That would seemingly put all the pressure on the Seminoles, right?
Not so fast, my friend. Remember, it's playoff time. Win or go home. There's pressure for both teams no matter what. Everything that happened before doesn't matter.
Ohio State's defensive line is able to break through and cause Winston headaches all day. The redshirt sophomore is good, but not his usual Heisman self.
However, Florida State's defensive line, which is also good, creates all kinds of havoc for Ohio State's weaker offensive line. Miller is a gifted scrambler, so he's able to evade initial tackles, but he's on the run the whole night, taking away his effectiveness throwing the ball.
It's a defensive battle with a few turnovers that's not pretty to watch, but Florida State survives and advances.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Ohio State 16
National Semifinal: No. 2 vs. No. 3
Matchup: (2) Alabama vs. (3) UCLA
You want more Pac-12 versus SEC action? You got more Pac-12 versus SEC action!
Alabama's punishing run game is initially contained by UCLA's defense, led by Jack. However, as the game, um, "rolls" along, the Tide begin picking up bigger chunks of yards.
Eventually, Yeldon breaks open a huge run for a score that acts as a dagger for the Bruins.
UCLA's offense is able to get a passing game going with Hundley and his receivers. Playing from behind, the passing attack takes up most of play-calling anyway.
The Bruins are able to get over the hump of beating the Pac-12's best, but they don't have enough juice to rumble past Alabama.
Prediction: Alabama 34, UCLA 24
Matchup: (2) Alabama vs. (1) Florida State
Yes, we're going chalk in a way-too-early playoff prediction. Face it, though: Isn't Alabama vs. Florida State what the general public wants to see?
Florida State's big, physical defense matches up nicely with Alabama's run-first offense. Yeldon and Henry top 100 yards combined, but neither are able to individually break the century mark.
Winston has a better game this time around than he did against the Buckeyes, tossing for three touchdowns against Alabama's secondary, a surprise considering the improvements it made that season.
Florida State shows that, for the second year in a row, it has the most complete team in all of college football. And that it didn't need to be in the SEC to have it.
Prediction: Florida State 21, Alabama 20