Student writer Andrew Noland gives a comprehensive look into this year’s playoffs.
Another season, another flawed method of picking our college football champion. Rather than delve into a rant on that (give me a couple of weeks), I’ll instead devote these lines to picking the top four teams that will contend for the championship in the same manner as the almighty College Football Playoff Committee: arbitrarily and with intense bias.
You’re probably thinking, “Wow, Andrew, what a surprise. You picked the team that’s been in the playoff every season since its inception.” What can I say? Nick Saban is an evil mastermind, capable of reloading his defense to be even more resolute than the last season. With a relatively weak strength of schedule in the legendarily brutal SEC, Alabama’s only real opponents will probably only be Georgia in the SEC Championship game, the perennially wacky Iron Bowl, and their own indecision over their quarterback position. Do you take the dual-threat but inconsistent Jalen Hurts, or the calm, national championship winning but inexperienced Tua Tagovailoa? If they finish with only one loss, regardless of the outcome of the SEC Championship game, this one is a no-brainer.
Yeah, yeah, I can already hear the sardonic clapping. Although Clemson crushes the weakest of the Power Five conference each season, Clemson chose to bolster their pedigree by facing two SEC teams in South Carolina and Texas A&M, removing the strength of schedule argument. With the most ferocious defensive front in the country led by defensive end Clelin Ferrell, Clemson’s only real threats to entering the postseason undefeated might be Florida State in Tallahassee and their own quarterback controversy. Bold prediction time: Trevor Lawrence will overtake Kelly Bryant’s position and earn himself an invitation to a certain prestigious December ceremony in New York City.
3. Penn State:
The “just out” team that should have been in the playoff two seasons ago, James Franklin’s team will channel a hunger that will take them all the way to the end. In a truly cannibalistic Big Ten East, with four teams in Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and the Nittany Lions all in the top 15 of the preseason AP poll, Heisman contending quarterback Trace McSorley will drag his team into the Big Ten Championship to face Wisconsin. Penn State will likely emerge from the fray with at least one loss, if not two, but, knowing that the Playoff Committee has a special place in their hearts for the “Good Ol’ Boys” in the Rust Belt, Penn State will find themselves playing Clemson in Miami.
The truth is that the PAC-12 always betrays itself as overrated by Week 5 of the season, and with the other three conferences already taken by my other choices, that only leaves the Big 12’s recurrent powerhouse from Norman. Perhaps only second to the ACC in weakness this season, the Sooners have a frankly easy Big 12 to contend against, and Lincoln Riley will likely throw his offensive machinations behind running back Rodney Anderson. Even with a hypothetical loss to Power Five conference opponent UCLA, the Sooners might finish the season lifting the conference title, but even a one-loss Big 12 champion needs to fear the committee’s tendency to favor a one-loss SEC or Big Ten East team.
Honorable Mentions: Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Auburn.