Bleacher Report's Way-Too-Early College Football Playoff Predictions
Lo and behold, sports fans, the College Football Playoff era is finally here.
For as long as we can remember, the media, analysts and fans alike have been pushing for a playoff system in college football. Starting with the 2014 season, those wishes will come true.
Still, it’s hard to contain the excitement and intrigue that the inaugural CFP will deliver.
Will this system really give more underdogs a fair shot at reaching the big game? Can the CFP make the BCS nothing more than a distant memory? Or, God forbid, could it have us begging for the BCS’ return?
These are just some of the questions that are burning through the minds of college football fans across the nation.
But why wait until next January for all the answers?
Join B/R as we take a closer look at the inaugural CFP and take a guess as to how it might all play out.
Close, but No Cigar
Whether it’s two or four teams that play for college football’s national title, there will always be those schools that just missed the cut.
These are those schools.
Ohio State (11-1)
The Buckeyes will again tease an undefeated season, racing out to a 9-0 start. However, head coach Urban Meyer and his squad will once again see their national-title hopes dashed by Michigan State on the road.
Although both teams will finish the regular season with just one loss, the head-to-head will favor the Spartans, sending them to play for the Big Ten title and leaving Ohio State out in the cold.
Behind returning starting quarterback Bryce Petty, the Bears will once again boast one of the nation’s top offenses. It will be enough to lead the team to another 8-0 start.
However, a trip to Norman against Oklahoma will prove to be too much for Baylor, costing the team the Big 12 title and a berth into the CFP.
Even with the loss of quarterback Aaron Murray, the Bulldogs offense will be in fine hands with 2014 Heisman Trophy contender Todd Gurley in the backfield. Not to mention, the defense should return to form with the addition of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
After dropping a road game to South Carolina in Week 4, Georgia will go the rest of the way unscathed—including victories at Missouri and against Auburn—before ultimately falling to Alabama in the SEC title game.
Oregon (11-2; Pac-12 Champion)
The Ducks will lose two games—against Michigan State and at UCLA—early on. However, the team will rebound to win its final seven games, including wins over Stanford and a rematch against the Bruins in the Pac-12 title game.
Oregon will end the season as one of college football’s hottest teams, but the early losses will be its undoing.
The CFP Seedings
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.
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.
Semifinal: No 2. Florida State vs. No 3. Michigan State
The Matchup: No. 2 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Michigan State (12-1), Jan. 1
How It Will Go Down
This will certainly be a matchup to watch.
On one hand, the Seminoles boast one of college football’s highest-powered offensive units. On the other hand, the Spartans counter with a stifling defense that would pose problems for any opponent.
Something’s got to give.
With all eyes on the battle between Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s defense, the real matchup to watch is how the Spartans offense handles the Seminoles defense. That could ultimately determine the outcome of the game.
As Josh Slagter of mLive.com wrote, the Spartans want Shilique Calhoun to anchor that defense.
Bigger and stronger.
That's what the Michigan State coaching staff has in mind for Shilique Calhoun, and the Rose Bowl tape should be fitting offseason motivation the defensive end who still maintains he isn't leaving early for the NFL.
Although Florida State lost six starters from 2013, expect the defense to once again be among the nation’s best. With running back Jeremy Langford all but stopped, quarterback Connor Cook will have to step up to the plate.
Unfortunately, Cook will fall short while Winston does enough to toss aside Michigan State’s pesky defense.
Prediction: Florida State 27, Michigan State 17
Semifinal: No 1. Alabama vs. No 4. Oklahoma
The Matchup: No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1), Jan. 1
How It Will Go Down
This one is all about revenge.
Leading up to this game, you can bet head coach Nick Saban will have highlights of the 2014 Sugar Bowl on repeat inside the athletic facilities. So much so that the anger will be evident from the Crimson Tide from opening kickoff.
With a new starting quarterback, Alabama will turn to a run-heavy offense, and given that the Sooners struggled in that area—17 rushing touchdowns conceded on 4.09 yards per carry—the Tide should have success.
With nine returning defenders, however, Oklahoma may bend, but it won’t break.
On the other hand, quarterback Trevor Knight will have difficulty finding time in the pocket. The losses of All-American center Gabe Ikard and offensive guard Bronson Irwin will be a big reason for that.
Throw in the inexperience of running backs Keith Ford and 2014 signee Joe Mixon, and the Sooners will struggle to put points on the board.
Unlike the last time these two met, this game will be a low-scoring affair, and games like that tend to favor Alabama.
Prediction: Alabama 16, Oklahoma 9
National Title Game: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida State
The Matchup: No. 1 Alabama (14-0) vs. No. 2 Florida State (14-0), Jan. 12
How It Will Go Down
This is the matchup the majority of college football fans clamored for in 2013.
Although the teams will be slightly different from a year ago, don’t expect that to lessen the allure of this clash.
As defending champions and winners of 30 straight games, the Seminoles will be the odds-on favorites heading into this contest. Still, given head coach Nick Saban’s success in national title games—a 4-0 record in four appearances—the Crimson Tide won’t be counted out.
Alabama will strike first and have fans in Tuscaloosa envisioning a return to glory. However, that’s about as much as the team will accomplish all night.
With championship experience under his belt, and having just kicked Michigan State’s vaunted defense to the curb, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will thrive. He will toss four touchdowns and top 300 passing yards in a performance that will show exactly why he became the first player since Archie Griffin to win back-to-back Heisman Trophies.
Contrarily, the inexperience at quarterback will finally catch up to the Tide. Furthermore, with the Seminoles loading the box against the run, the rushing attack will be a moot point.
That will all lead to a Florida State romp and the dawning of a new dynasty in college football.
Prediction: Florida State 35, Alabama 13
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.