As Labor Day weekend approaches, sports fans get to enjoy a vast array of events to wet our pallet. The U.S. Open kicks off this week; major league baseball enters the final month of the regular season; and football is so close we can touch it. While we have to wait until after Labor Day for the start of the NFL season, college football’s opening weekend will almost be complete when we fire up the grill on Monday.
And while January bowl games seem forever away, it’s never too early to start thinking about who might be standing at the end. Here’s a look at each of the Power Five’s top contenders for this year’s College Football Playoff and predictions for the National Semifinals and Championship:
It’s not hard to recruit in Florida, and it’s really not tough if you’ve got the resume that Jimbo Fisher has built. FSU is chalk full of talent — Deondre Francois at quarterback while preseason All-Americans Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James lead the defense in Tallahassee. Add five-star freshman running back Cam Akers and it’s hard to find holes in this team. A brutal schedule, including games against Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Miami, and Louisville, may be tough to overcome, but the talent is there to do it. If they pass these tests, no team will be more proven when January rolls around.
If Malik Rosier proves to be top quarterback in the conference, then we might be talking about the Hurricanes in December, having a shot at cracking the top 4. The defense is, without question, very good, and running back Mark Walton has All-ACC written all over him. A great ground game with that defense makes Miami very formidable. Again, a lot rests on the arm and decision-making of Rosier.
You never want to count out a champion, and the Tigers are just that. Even so, the 2017 edition of Clemson football will look a lot different than years past. And it starts with not having DeShaun Watson.
There’s little doubt that the Buckeyes are (and should be) the favorites to win another Big Ten title and advance on to the playoff. They return a slew of starters on defense as well as J.T. Barrett at QB. The game at the Big House in Ann Arbor in November could punch OSU’s ticket to Indy, and ultimately, to National Semifinals.
Two keys to keep in mind with the Badgers in 2017: (1) they lost 3 one-score games last year and (2) they are the beneficiaries of a very favorable schedule this year. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is back with a stout offensive line, and the defense is well-built and returns a host of veterans, who are hungry to avenge last year’s conference championship game loss to Penn State.
A lot of questions exist about Michigan: is Wilton Speight the guy at quarterback, can they replace all the seniors who left, can the defense return to it’s same dominating form in 2016, who will make the plays on offense? Jim Harbaugh gets paid the big money to answer those questions. But is it realistic to think the Maize and Blue are legit conference contenders right now or is 2018 their year?
No team was hotter than PSU at the end of 2016. Everyone expects the Nittany Lions to pick up where they left off. Expectations are a funny thing, though.
The Sooners will enter the 2017 season without legendary head coach Bob Stoops. As strange as it will be to not see Stoops on the sidelines for OU, new head man Lincoln Riley takes over a team capable of winning immediately. The return of quarterback Baker Mayfield and his trusted offensive line might give the Sooners the edge over rival Oklahoma State for conference supremacy. But the addition of a Big-12 title game this year adds to the intrigue.
To win in the Big 12, a team needs offense — and the more, the better. Arguably, no team has more explosiveness on that side of the ball than the Cowboys. The three-headed monster of future NFL quarterback Mason Rudolph, stud wideout James Washington, and running back Justice Hill should be entertaining for fans of OSU and frightening for opposing defenses. If all goes according to plan, the Cowboys Battle in Bedlam with rival OU and then the conference title game should tell the tale of which Big 12 team has bragging rights and, more importantly, the best case for a playoff berth.
Before we proclaim that Southern California is back to stake claim to the top spot in college football, let’s remember that this team got drubbed by Alabama in last season’s opener and, although they cruised most of the rest of the way, they never really looked like a playoff team. Sam Darnold is the talk of the town in SoCal and will make an NFL team very happy next May — as well as USC fans this fall; but the Trojans still have some work to do with their offensive line, if they want in the playoff conversation this year.
Chris Petersen’s team is back to prove their 2016 National Semifinal berth was not a flash in the pan. The Huskies bring back one of the nation’s best passers in Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin might be the best that the conference has to offer at the position. Don’t be at all surprised to see UW in the Pac-12 title game with another shot to make the playoff.
Not sure anyone can test the Tide in the conference. Nick Saban’s team may drop a game along the way — heck, maybe two if they lose the opener to the Seminoles, but even a 2-loss Alabama squad is likely getting in the playoff. Too big, too fast, too good — at every position.
College Football Playoff Predictions
1. Washington (13-0)
2. Florida State (12-1)
3. Wisconsin (12-1)
4. Alabama (12-1)
5. Oklahoma State (12-1)
Alabama defeats Washington
Florida State defeats Wisconsin
Florida State defeats Alabama