As the season creeps ever closer, Hoosier Huddle’s writers take our best guess at who we think will be in the College Football Playoff. Much like our B1G “Sleepers” and “Busts” picks, we will keep track of this throughout the season and update how close (or far off) each of us were.
TJ’s Playoff Teams
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are the defending national champs and return a ton of talent to run at a repeat (they bring back 98.3% of the offensive production and more than 75% of their 2014 tackles). Urban Meyer is excellent at getting the ball into his playmakers hands and moving Braxton Miller to wide receiver could end up giving the Buckeyes one more weapon. The defensive line isn’t dominant but Joey Bosa might be the best defensive player in college football and the linebackers and secondary are both plenty good. If you look at the schedule, it is very difficult to find one loss, let alone two losses (which is probably what’s needed to eliminate them from the picture).
The only questions are QB and road schedule. That being said, I was never all that impressed with Brett Hundley and I think true freshman Josh Rosen will be more than capable of filling that hole. Paul Perkins is a really good running back and every major WR returns. The offensive line is one of the best in the country. The defense returns a lot of talent and adds excellent DC Tom Bradley. The depth chart is loaded with a lot of potential as Jim Mora Jr. has recruited at a top 10 level and UCLA doesn’t have to play Oregon (in the regular season). I think they’ll win the PAC-12 and represent the conference in the playoff.
The Bears will be heavily favored to win their first eight games (until traveling to Norman on November 14). They have to replace Bryce Petty and that won’t be easy but Art Briles is still leading this program and he doesn’t have anything less than explosive offenses. Seth Russell will put up huge numbers because of this system and because nearly all of the offensive weapons and 4 of 5 starters on the O-Line return. The defense is probably going to be improved (and it wasn’t bad last year) as they return the scary Shawn Oakman and 8 other starters. The biggest question is the late season road trip to fellow playoff contender TCU.
I’m fairly certain that an SEC team will be in the College Football Playoff. I feel strongly that the SEC West will cannibalize itself and that could potentially knock each of those very strong contenders out of the playoff chase. In my opinion, the best bet in the SEC East comes from Athens, Georgia and I’ve chosen them as my fourth pick for the 2015 College Football Playoff. The questions? The Dawgs will be playing an inexperienced quarterback (I think Brice Ramsey eventually wins the job) and they were fairly porous against the run last season. They also battle Alabama and have to go to Auburn. The reason for my pick? I think the running game will bludgeon teams into submission. Nick Chubb is an incredible running back that could be a Heisman contender and he’s backed up by one of the more potential-filled players in the country in Sony Michel. They also have Brandon Douglas and oft-injured Keith Marshall plus an offensive line that returns a combined 80 starts. The running game is going to be awesome, the secondary should be very good and the special teams unit should be one of the better ones in the nation. Georgia has recruited at a top 10 level and has often played at a top 10 level, if they can avoid a head-scratching loss and navigate a difficult schedule, I think they can represent the SEC in this year’s playoff.
Nick’s Playoff Teams
1. Ohio State
It’s hard to fault anyone for selecting the Defending National Champions as one their preseason playoff picks. Urban Meyer’s ball club has so much firepower you would think it was a creation of Tony Stark’s. In fact the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist’s hall of armor probably doesn’t possess the type of versatility and ability this Buckeyes’ squad does. It’s almost laughable how much skill and talent they have returning this fall, well, unless you are set to face Ohio State. Also factor in the Buckeyes relatively easy schedule, where they take on their toughest opponent, Michigan State, inside the Horseshoe and travel to likes of Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois, and Michigan in conference, all games they should be favorites by two touchdown or more. Really not much more can be said about a team that appears to have nearly everything going in its favor.
My pick from the SEC is somewhat of a dark horse selection, the Tennessee Volunteers. Really, choosing any team from the East Division to represent the conference is somewhat of a longshot, as the West has won the SEC Championship game the last seven years. However, the Volunteers have nearly everything you would be looking for in a title contender. A quarterback in Josh Dobbs who played really well down the stretch last fall, an improving rushing game that features two talented runners in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, and an abundance of playmakers at wide receiver. Despite some key losses on defense, that side of the ball should also continue to improve. And while their schedule does feature a trip to Tuscaloosa, they do get to face East Division favorite Georgia at home. Also a fun fact, Tennessee switched to Nike during the offseason and all four teams last year in the playoffs wore the swish, so maybe a little more positive mojo for Butch Davis’ squad.
The Big 12 was snubbed during the inaugural college football playoff, but not this year. Somebody out of the conference will make its way in, and I have a feeling that it will be Art Briles and his Baylor Bears. Despite the graduation of the team’s star quarterback Bryce Petty, the Bears offense should continue to hum. Seth Russel, junior quarterback, looked great in limited action last fall (48-85, 804 yds, 8 tds, and 1 int). Making his transition to starting quarterback is made even easier by the return of five starters along the offensive line, including standout left tackle Spencer Drago. Russel will also have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including All-Big 12 back Shock Linwood and a wide receiving corps that would make nearly any signal caller jealous. The defense is also no slouch and is littered with All-Big 12 picks and future NFL draft selections, headlined by defensive end Shawn Oakman. The one thing going against them is that they have to travel to TCU, who has been picked by many to finish second in the conference. Nonetheless, Briles’ Bears look poised to break in to the tournament this fall.
This was easily the toughest selection of the four, do I pick the ACC or Pac 12? Both conferences feature some great teams that will be in contention for a playoff berth all year, many of which who will be forced to replace key playmakers on both sides of the ball, including Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. All that being said, I had to go with the Stanford Cardinal for a couple of reasons. The return of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan and that typical Stanford defense. As long as the team can get their rushing attack back on track and alleviate some of the stress on Hogan, the team’s offensive woes should be a thing of the past. Also, factor in the team’s favorable schedule that includes taking on the Ducks at home and features only one real tough road opponent in USC, there’s plenty of reasons way David Shaw and his veteran ball club will find themselves in the final four in January 2016.
Sammy’s Playoff Picks
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are the defending champs and have the tools and the coach to get back to the playoffs. Outside of Virginia Tech on the road and a tough Michigan State team at home there are not many roadblocks for the Buckeyes. They should be able to go 11-1 at the very least. If they can survive the trip to Blacksburg without the suspended players than the path to 12-0 is set.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
The Big 12 will get a team into the playoff in 2015. It very well might come down to the game against Baylor on November 27th. The winner of that game, barring any crazy upsets, will be in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. It also does not hurt to have Heisman hopeful Trevone Boykin as your quarterback.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
There has been plenty of talk about the SEC West beating themselves up and knocking themselves out of a playoff spot. I just don’t buy into that notion just yet. Alabama lost two games last year, one at Ole Miss and the other was the semi-final game against Ohio State. If 12-2 is a down year for your program, you are pretty darn good. Bama gets LSU and Arkansas at home, but will have to travel to Georgia and Auburn, so the road is not paved with gold. The Tide should be able to navigate the schedule with less than two losses though.
4. Oregon Ducks
Can we say Oregon is a bit of an underdog in 2015 after losing Marcus Mariota? People have all but written off the Ducks to make it through a loaded Pac-12, but they return an enormous amount of talent at the skill positions and Vernon Adams who put up ridiculous numbers at Eastern Washington is good to go as Mariota’s replacement. They may not be as great as last season, but this team is a national contender. The schedule is manageable, although they do have to travel to East Lansing in Week 2, to Tempe to face a strong Arizona State team on a Thursday night (crazy things happen on Thursday Night Football) on Halloween weekend and to Stanford in Week 11.