Congratulations, America. You finally made it to the start of the 2014 college football season.
After an offseason of debates over amateurism, stolen crab legs, band scandals, devastating injuries and much more, it’s time for the actual games to begin. We didn’t even have a new version of EA Sports’ NCAA Football franchise to pass the time.
This year, the games are all directed toward the initial College Football Playoff, when a selection committee will choose four teams to battle for the title. While the Associated Press Poll and Coaches Poll will not directly influence that selection committee, they are still worth looking at and arguing over.
Here is a glance at the two preseason polls before we dig into a prediction for the four playoff teams.
Predicted College Football Playoff Teams
Let Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports break down why Florida State will be so difficult to beat this season:
Despite losing a bunch of quality players, the defending national champions are still the most talented team in the country. There are no weak units. And the Seminoles are in a relatively weak conference. They could well stay No. 1 all year in the polls, but may not be able to afford a loss and still make the final four.
While there may not be any weak units, the strongest one is certainly quarterback thanks to the return of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Winston threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns last year and led his team to a national title as a redshirt freshman.
Beyond the offense and Winston, Florida State is loaded with elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. Players such as Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. could all be in the NFL one day and will lead a stout unit this season.
Who wins the national title?
The talent is clear, but what makes the Seminoles an even bigger threat to make the College Football Playoff is the schedule. They destroyed Clemson last year with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Louisville lost Teddy Bridgewater, Notre Dame is caught up in a cheating scandal and Florida finished an abysmal 4-8 last year.
There just aren’t a lot of reasonable losses on the slate for this powerful Florida State team. It is as close to a sure bet as you can get for a postseason team this year.
No team except for the defending champion Seminoles enters the 2014 season with more momentum than Michigan State.
The Spartans ended Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak in the Big Ten title game and controlled the Rose Bowl in a victory over Stanford. What’s more, they won every Big Ten game by double digits, finished with the third-best scoring defense in the country and could have been in the national title game if the officials didn’t get flag-happy in a loss to Notre Dame.
Unfortunately for Michigan State, that momentum will come to a halt when it suffers an early loss this year. The good news is that it will still find a way to reach the College Football Playoff.
The Spartans are breaking in seven new defensive starters and have to travel to Oregon in the season’s second game. That is simply the wrong offense and wrong environment to find yourself in if you are still developing young talent on the defensive side.
However, coordinator Pat Narduzzi will make sure his team recovers from those early growing pains. With a strong defense and an offense that features quarterback Connor Cook and 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford, Michigan State will emerge unscathed from the Big Ten.
Contests against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska are all at home, and the loss of Braxton Miller makes that showdown with the Buckeyes much less daunting. The Spartans’ improvement over the course of the year will impress the selection committee, which will result in a spot in the postseason.
Alabama received another break from the SEC scheduling gods and missed South Carolina and Georgia from the East division. That’s not the main reason the Crimson Tide will reach the playoffs, though.
Nick Saban will have his team completely motivated after losing in heartbreaking and stunning fashion to Auburn and then dropping the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.
Sure, Alabama is unsettled at quarterback, but T.J. Yeldon and company will power this offense to a productive season. Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will keep Yeldon’s legs fresh, while Amari Cooper leads a receiver group that is deep and talented.
Saban also added another loaded recruiting class that was pegged as No. 1 overall by 247Sports’ composite rankings and has a deep and loaded defensive line that features A’Shawn Robinson.
What’s more, Alabama’s contests at Mississippi and at LSU both come after bye weeks, so Saban has additional time to prepare for the two difficult road games on the schedule. Motivation, talent and a manageable schedule is a terrifying combination for the rest of the SEC and the nation.
The Crimson Tide will make the College Football Playoff.
Oregon has consistently finished among the nation’s best, but it hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet to win a title. ESPN Stats & Info provided the details:
9 days till full slate of CFB games; Oregon, Alabama, Nebraska, LSU are only teams that have won at least 9 games in each of past 5 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 19, 2014
That Michigan State win we predicted will loom large when the Spartans run through the Big Ten. Throw in the fact that the Ducks don’t have to play USC or Arizona State and get home games against Washington and Stanford, and they could probably afford a slip-up at UCLA and still make the Pac-12 championship game.
Marcus Mariota is a surefire Heisman candidate and may have led his team to an undefeated record last year if he didn’t tweak his knee. His head coach, Mark Helfrich, discussed the signal-caller, via Adam Jude of the Seattle Times:
He’s 100 percent true. He’s 100 percent dedicated to the team. He’s 100 percent credible. A lot of guys talk a good game. Everything that guy does is gospel. If I’m the backup guard and I see that guy forgo what he could have made...that’s huge. I think it speaks to the type of guy he is.
Mariota and that up-tempo attack will once again wreak havoc on opponents, and newcomers Royce Freeman and Devon Allen will give it even more speed. The rest of the Pac-12 is officially on notice.
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