College Football Playoff 2014: Projecting Final Playoff Contenders

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College Football Playoff 2014: Projecting Final Playoff Contenders
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

With the introduction of the playoff system in 2014, college football will undergo one of the most significant shake-ups in its history, with the goal of instituting a merit-based system that ensures every FBS team has access to the playoff. 

A selection committee comprised of 13 individuals with experience as coaches, student athletes, athletic directors and more will create rankings seven times each year and will ultimately choose four teams for the playoff based on "strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents, championships won and other factors," according to CollegeFootballPlayoff.com.

Let's examine four early contenders for those final seeds and, of course, project which one will come out of Arlington as the national champion. The No. 1 seed will face No. 4 and No. 2 will face No. 3. 

 

No. 4 seed: Ohio State 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Buckeyes get the nod to top Michigan State in 2014 when they weren't able to in 2013, but it will depend on quarterback Braxton Miller's production and the performance of a defense that will be heavy in sacks if it can play to its potential. 

Coach Urban Meyer told reporters after Sunday's practice that Miller's recovery from his offseason shoulder surgery is "right on schedule," per Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch.

Miller has factored into early Heisman consideration for 2014. Despite missing time in 2013 due to injury, Miller threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,068 yards and 12 scores. If he is healthy for the opener against Navy, which Meyer expects he will be, Miller can begin a campaign to top his 2013 season. 

Though Miller can make plays with his legs, he'll need a go-to receiver to be reliable underneath to help him extend plays and escape pressure. Corey Brown was that player for the Buckeyes in 2013 with 771 yards. This season, senior Devin Smith and redshirt junior Corey Smith need to establish enough of an offensive presence to keep defenses honest and help the run game thrive. 

Ohio State's defense is also primed to cause some disruption in the Big Ten. Defensive lineman Noah Spence led the team in sacks in 2013 with eight, which was second in the conference. Fellow defensive lineman Michael Bennett was right behind Spence last season with seven sacks of his own and 42 tackles. 

If the Buckeyes, currently ranked sixth in the nation, can dominate at the quarterback and defensive line positions, Meyer's squad has a great shot at the No. 4 seed. 

 

No. 3 seed: Oregon

Don Ryan/Associated Press

As long as Oregon's young receiving corps can step up and become viable weapons for quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks, currently No. 4 in the nation, could make a push for the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff. 

After Chip Kelly left Oregon prior to the 2013 season for the NFL, many thought it would result in a less productive offense across the board for the Ducks. But new coach Mark Helfrich led the team to an 11-2 finish while stressing the passing game. Mariota had 3,665 passing yards in 2013, compared to 2,677 in 2012 under Kelly.

In 2014, Mariota should continue to thrive in Oregon's high-octane spread offense, so long as his targets develop quickly. The Ducks lost two top targets from last season (Josh Huff to the NFL and Bralon Addison to a torn ACL in spring practice), which has created opportunities for Chance Allen, B.J. Kelley and Dwayne Stanford.

Mariota's knee injury in the game against Stanford had a noticeable impact on the rest of his season. If he can remain healthy this season, expect the Ducks to be serious contenders. 

 

No. 2 seed: Alabama 

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Alabama's future at quarterback post-A.J. McCarron looks bright, with Jacob Coker and Blake Sims competing to replace him, but the position will need to be strong for Alabama to take the No. 2 seed.

Coach Nick Saban offered early praise for Florida State transer Coker in camp. "He's a very athletic guy, he's got the right character, attitude, work ethic," Saban said on Aug. 3, per Michael Casagrande of al.com. "He's really fit in well with the other players in terms of the kind of personality he has and how they can relate to him. All those things have been extremely positive."

Whether Coker or Sims starts for the Crimson Tide in 2014, Alabama's stable of offensive weapons keeps this team competitive at the highest level. The ground game should again be dominant in 2014 behind T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. 

And despite being loaded with pass-catchers, tight end O.J. Howard could be the team's star in 2014. Here he is making a freakish one-handed catch from Coker at practice. 

Led by Saban and stocked up on weapons, this Alabama team has a legitimate shot to trump conference rival Auburn and grab a No. 2 seed.  

 

No. 1 seed: Florida State 

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

It would be hard for anyone to top what Jameis Winston accomplished last season at Florida State, including Winston himself. 

In the best freshman season by a college quarterback on record, Winston set single-season NCAA freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdowns (40). Though he lost receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, top weapon Rashad Greene returns in 2014, while Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield are options on the outside and in the slot.

To earn the top seed, Florida State will have to win its slate of matchups, including games against Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame. But with Winston at the helm, that's completely feasible. 

National rankings courtesy of USA Today Poll.

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