College football kicks off Thursday with a marquee matchup: Texas A&M at South Carolina. The race is on to secure one of the four college football playoff spots in the new look NCAA.
Here are my notes on teams I think we will see in the top 25 at the end of the year.
All the expectations generated over this offseason for the Oklahoma Sooners stem from a single game, OU’s 45-31 thrashing of Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl. (Yes, thrashing, any time you beat Alabama by two TDs it’s a beat-down)
Oklahoma’s defense is what distinguishes this team. The trouble remains on offense. In recent years when the Sooners have been projected in the top five to begin the season, they have finished outside the top 10. OU will look good against most opponents but will have a couple of slipups over the course of the season.
The Baylor football team doesn’t live up to the polish and shine of the new stadium, as some would have you believe. The Bears have to replace key losses on the line and at tailback, while continuing with a mediocre defense.
J.W. Walsh will lead another productive passing game for Oklahoma State. With games against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma all late in the season, I like OSU to wreak havoc in the Big 12 come November.
Who knows what we’re going to get from the Texas Longhorns? Quarterback David Ash will make or break this team depending on his ability to run coordinator Joe Wickline’s offense. I see Texas anywhere from 7-5 to 10-2.
Before the season-ending injury to Braxton Miller, Ohio State had a playoff spot gift wrapped, with only one ranked opponent on the schedule. But without their dual-threat quarterback, an easy schedule now becomes much harder. Michigan, Michigan State, Cincinnati and even Navy, in the opener, could pose challenges for this Buckeyes team.
Connor Cook and the iron-clad defense of Michigan State are my choice to win the Big 10 and secure one of the four playoff berths.
A tough early season test will be an away game against Oregon. If the Spartans lose, they still may be able to claw their way back into the mix. If they win, pack your bags, Michigan State fans, you’re headed to the playoffs.
Wisconsin has had a big talent drain over the offseason this year. With only 5 returning starters on defense, I doubt the Badgers can hold their own against the likes of Ohio State, MSU, and Michigan.
Oregon returns Marcus Mariota, my Heisman pick for this season, running the up tempo offense that has moved opponents out of their way for several years.
UCLA will put pressure on the Ducks with a Heisman hopeful of its own: Brett Hundley. I also like UCLA’s defense, with 8 of 11 starters back. I still give Oregon the edge, as UCLA can’t quite match the firepower of the Ducks.
Stanford usually plays the Pac-12 spoiler, with strong teams led by David Shaw, who I thought UT should’ve taken a closer look at in the offseason. The problem here is an exodus of talent. The Cardinal won’t come close to touching the top two teams in this conference.
Alabama is dominant as usual. The talent at running back hasn’t been this good since Nick Saban has taken over. The defense will be as tough as ever. The Tide will take the SEC title this season.
South Carolina should make it to the SEC championship game against Alabama.
Despite the losses of Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw, star running back Mike Davis returns along with stud QB Dylan Thompson.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Florida State is everyone’s favorite to make it to this year’s college football playoff. But I’m not so sure. I’m not denying the talent of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Without a doubt he is one of the best players in the sport. I just don’t think his mind is there. I’m counting on Florida State to slip up somewhere this year, and with a weak schedule, the Seminoles won’t break into the playoff.
Like everyone else, I’ve been waiting for years for the NCAA to create a fair playoff. This year’s champion will be deserving and undisputed. Perhaps this was worth the wait.