The most popular topic of conversation at the annual Johnson family Fourth of July cookout is college football. Before the burgers and hot dogs even make it to the grill, we’re already arguing about which teams should play for it all, and why team X belongs in the title game over team Y.
Last Friday was no exception.
However, the discussion was a little different this year because of the implementation of the College Football Playoff. Instead of picking the two best teams in the nation, I had to pick which four squads deserve a spot in the playoffs. The Fourth of July became all too literal, with the promise of a football-style Final Four giving new dimensions to a season that’s just about on our doorstep.
Believe it or not, that process of picking four teams instead of two was not as easy as it seems. After examining every game on the schedule this season, I could make a case for including as many as 24 teams.
While preseason prognostications are an inexact science, here’s my best guess as to how it shakes out.
No. 1 – FLORIDA STATE
The reigning national champions will remain in the top spot on my ballot until someone steps up and beats them. That won’t be an easy task, as the ‘Noles return 13 starters from last year’s squad, which won by an average 39.5 points per game. As long as everyone remains healthy, FSU is a virtual lock for the College Football Playoff.
No. 2 – ALABAMA
Defense wins championships, which is why I expect Alabama to win the SEC West. Sure, the Crimson Tide will have to replace some NFL-bound talent on that side of the ball, but it’s worth noting that the Bama D has ranked in the top 5 in total defense every year since 2008. That will be enough to carry the Tide to an undefeated season even if – and it’s a big if – the offense should struggle this fall.
No. 3 – OHIO STATE
While the Buckeyes have always had the firepower to outscore their opponents under Urban Meyer, they won’t need to this year. Larry Johnson and Chris Ash are two of the best in the business, and should transform the OSU defense into a championship-caliber unit. This dramatic improvement will lead the Bucks to an unbeaten record and a Big Ten title… the prizes Michigan State took from Ohio State’s hands last December in Indianapolis.
No. 4 – OREGON
Make no mistake about it: The Ducks are loaded on offense once again. Nine starters – including Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota – return from a stellar unit that averaged 45.5 points per game last year. Although they won’t escape Pac-12 undefeated, the Ducks will win the most important games on the schedule, and capture the coveted fourth spot in the bracket.
Also receiving consideration: UCLA, Georgia, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Auburn.