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College Football Preview

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College Football Preview

Even when college football is predictable, it’s unpredictable. Last season, with the featuring of the inaugural College Football Playoff, all four of the teams that made the playoffs began the season in the top five of the AP Poll. However, as usual, the way the season played out was unforeseeable. The Ohio State Buckeyes, the 2014 National Champions, relied on their second and third string quarterbacks to lead them to the promised land. Florida State, the 2013 National Champion, seemed to narrowly escape defeat every week, relying on fourth quarter drives from James Winston; however, the Seminoles’ luck turned as they were blown out in the playoffs. Hopefully the fun, the unexpectedness, the chaos will continue in the 2015 season.

Although weeks one and two of the season carry some predictive value, the eager fans of college football tend to put too much stock in the small sample size of a team’s first couple of games. After week one of last season, Kenny Hill was a Heisman front runner, Alabama’s new offense under Lane Kiffin struggled, and Ohio State did not look the same without Braxton Miller. Needless to say, as the season progressed, all of those speculations were proven wrong.

Playoffs

 

Last year in my preseason college football preview, I correctly predicted three of the four playoff teams. Let’s see if I can repeat that kind of accuracy. Below are the four teams  that I think will make the second annual College Football Playoffs.

  1. Ohio State- How could I not choose Ohio State? The Buckeyes won last year’s National Championship and return two heisman candidates at quarterback, a heisman candidate at running back, and a potential first round draft pick in the NFL at defensive end. That’s unfair. Cardale Jones leads an offense that is as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife, featuring weapons at every position. Although I said not to put too much stock in a team’s play in week one, what Ohio State accomplished should not be ignored. Despite suspending four key players before the first game of the season, Ohio State dominated Virginia Tech, putting up 42 points on one of the best defenses in the country. Also in Ohio State’s favor this season is the schedule. The Buckeyes only face one currently AP-ranked team the rest of the season, the Michigan State Spartans, and they fortunately have home-field advantage. Do not be surprised if the Buckeyes repeat as National Champions.
  2. Baylor- The Bears have done little to impress this season: carrying two slim leads into halftime against SMU and Lamar. But the offense still looks explosive, racking up 56 and 66 points respectively. Although last year’s quarterback, Bryce Petty, moved on to the NFL, Seth Russell fits into the offensive scheme nicely and has demonstrated his ability with an almost 60% completion percentage but an even better eleven yards per attempt in his first two games. Baylor’s wide receivers will certainly help Russell, though; the Bears return Corey Coleman, KD Cannon, and Jay Lee, not to mention running back Shock Linwood. The Bears will be tested late in the season as they have to play Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU in a four week span. If they can pick up just three wins in that stretch, they could be looking at their first ever playoff appearance.
  3. Georgia- Georgia has to replace quarterback Aaron Murray and star running back Todd Gurley, so why do I expect them to make the playoffs? Despite missing the best running back in the country, Georgia features three running backs, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Keith Marshall, that might constitute the best backfield in college football. This takes the pressure off quarterback Greyson Lambert and the fresh faces at the wide receiver position. Additionally, Georgia returns most of the members of a stellar secondary. However, what separates Georgia from any other SEC team is the schedule. Yeah, Alabama, Ole Miss, and maybe even LSU might be better but they all play in the brutal SEC West. It’s almost a given that the Bulldogs will win the SEC East; their playoff hopes, however, will depend on their play against the opponents outside their division/conference: Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia Tech.
  4. UCLA- Few players have had less hype surrounding them than Josh Rosen; just look at his nickname: “The Rosen One.” In two games so far, he has almost lived up to the hype, completing 65% of his passes, throwing only one interception. While a new quarterback leads the offense, the rest of the offense is almost the same as last year’s. Running back Paul Perkins returns, along with seven of the top eight receiving leaders from last year. Finally, only one offensive lineman must be replaced. On the other side of the ball, beast defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes is back as is dual threat linebacker and running back Myles Jack. Local five star running back Soso Jamabo leads a scintillating recruiting class that can add depth. The Bruins will be tested against BYU, Utah, and USC, but they avoid Oregon. If Rosen can accomplish half of what is expected, the Bruins could represent the PAC 12 in the College Football Playoffs.

Other Playoff Candidates

Besides the other favorites, here are a few more surprise teams I could see making the playoffs:

Georgia Tech- With the growing popularity of the air raid offense, Paul Johnson and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets stick true to their triple option offense and somehow have great success with it. Although they will miss some of last year’s running backs, signal caller Justin Thomas returns and leads a unique but exciting offense that has the potential to carry them to the playoffs.

Texas A&M- The Aggies surprised everyone in their 38-17 domination of Arizona State. Kyle Allen, Speedy Noil, and the offense received much of the credit, but many people forgot the impact of Myles Garrett and the defense. If the defense can play up to that level consistently, the Aggies could shock the nation.

Oklahoma- Similar to Texas A&M’s defense, Oklahoma’s defense is very underrated. While Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine, and Sterling Shepard receive much of the attention, Zack Sanchez, Charles Tapper, and Eric Striker have contributed just as much. The Sooners already escaped the Vols; we’ll see if they can run the table for the rest of the season.

Sleepers

Kansas State- Two years ago, Kansas State’s recruiting class ranked 49th, while Kansas’ ranked 51st. Kansas State won nine games last year. Kansas won three. While the Wildcats lose receiver Tyler Lockett and quarterback Jake Waters, one thing remains constant: Bill Snyder. Under his reign, anything is possible. Additionally, the defense has looked strong enough in its first two contests to buy some time for a struggling offense. However, redshirt freshman Justin Silmon has had flashes of greatness at running back, averaging over seven yards per carry.

Miami (FL)- The Hurricanes started off last season 6-3 and almost picked up their seventh win of the season against #1 ranked Florida Sate. After a deflating loss, Miami dropped its next three games, and now coach Al Golden is on the hot seat. Deep threat QB Brad Kaaya returns this year and seeks to improve his completion rate, which is already above 60% thus far. In addition, running back Joseph Yearby has done a decent job at filling in the shoes of Duke Johnson. If the defense can find a way to replace linebacker Denzel Perryman, the ‘Canes could surprise people this year.

Stanford- No team underperformed more in Week One than Stanford. Putting up a measly six points against Northwestern, the Cardinal offense failed to impress. The offense shows promise, led by veteran QB Kevin Hogan, an efficient running back tandem in Christian McCaffery and Barry Sanders, and a solid wide receiver, Devon Cajuste. Despite the offense’s stuggles, the defense has continued its dominance. If the Cardinals can rebound from an ugly start, the team could potentially shake up the standings in the PAC 12.

Busts

Arizona- It’s tempting to look at an offense’s points per game and declare that more points per game equals a better offense. However, these offenses are usually designed to maximize the amount of plays on the field by neglecting to huddle and increasing the tempo. While this usually generates more points, it is usually at the expense of the defense, which becomes fatigued and, in turn, allows more points. Arizona ran the most plays in college football last year, so ignore anyone who flaunts the Wildcats’ fifteenth place ranking in points scored. On a per play basis, the offense struggled; Anu Solomon was just alright, completing only 58% of his passes, not earning the heisman talk that he garnered early on in the season. The Wildcats have done little to improve this season, barely escaping UTSA in a 42-32 point victory and maintaining only a touchdown lead at halftime against Nevada. In short, do not buy the hype surrounding Arizona this year.

Temple- Largely underrated before the season began, the Temple Owls began the season with two upper-tier teams on the schedule, Penn State and Cincinnati, and defeated both of them. While the Penn State victory was impressive, the Cincinnati victory might have been less impressive than the score indicates as Cincinnati out gained Temple by nearly 300 yards. Do not get me wrong; the Owls should be good this season. But some reporters have jumped the gun, including Ivan Maisel who ranked them 14th in ESPN’s week two power rankings. As stated previously, do not overreact to week one.

Washington- The media fell in love with Washington’s hiring of Chris Peterson two years ago. Ignoring his success at Boise State, his Washington Huskies were simply mediocre last year. Although they won eight games, they were granted an extra game to offset the travel expenses of playing at Hawaii, so their record was actually 8-6. Also, none of those wins were against teams that finished with winning records. Finally, the Huskies have to replace quarterback Cyler Miles, almost the entire offensive and defensive line, and multifaceted defensive stud Shaq Thompson. All these factors combine to form a Washington team that should underperform this season.

Heisman Contenders- Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio State), Trevone Boykin (QB, TCU), Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson), Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia), Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama), Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)

Games to Watch- Ole Miss at Alabama (September 19th), Alabama at Georgia (October 3rd), USC at Notre Dame (October 17th), Oklahoma at Baylor (November 14th), Michigan State at Ohio State (November 21st), UCLA at USC (November 28th)

Although the season has already begun, the fun is just getting started. Enjoy the chaos.