aNewDomain – Last season was the start of something big in major college football. For the first time in its history, what used to be known as Division I football held a playoff to determine its national champion.
No more “mythical” college titles. No more bickering about the Bowl Championship Series and its many flaws. When Ohio State routed Oregon 42-20 last January in Arlington, Texas, the Buckeyes became the first true national champion among college football’s elite programs. There was no question Ohio State was the best.
Which naturally raises the question: Who will be the second champion?
The answer to that question begins unfolding when the season gets under way Sept. 3. But there’s no need in waiting that long to start speculating. We already have a pretty good idea which four teams will advance to the postseason with a shot at winning it all Jan. 11 in Glendale, Arizona.
The Buckeyes ran the table after an early season home loss to Virginia Tech and enter the 2015 campaign on a 13-game winning streak, including unlikely victories over Alabama and Oregon in the playoffs. Ohio State isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this season. With two excellent quarterbacks, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, battling it out to start and an excellent defense led by junior end Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes are loaded again. The Big 10, which these days has 14 members, won’t throw too many stumbling blocks in Ohio State’s direction. The Buckeyes’ schedule, in fact, is heavily backloaded with season-ending games against Michigan State and Michigan serving as the only potential roadblocks to another spot in the postseason. Urban Meyer is shooting for a fourth national title as head coach. He won two as the Florida Gators’ coach.
Three to watch: Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech; Nov. 21 vs. Michigan State; Nov. 28 at Michigan
TCU’s season essentially comes down to one game: a Thanksgiving weekend matchup with Baylor. Both teams lost only one game apiece last season yet neither received an invitation to the playoff party. That seems unlikely this season.
The winner should still be playing in January and we think that will be the Horned Frogs. Quarterback Trevone Boykin, as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm, has an exciting corps of receivers paced by seniors Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee.
TCU has a lot of holes to fill from its Big 12-leading defense last season, but this conference has been much more about offense the past few seasons. The Horned Frogs scored 40 or more points in nine of their 13 games last year, including a video game-esque 61-58 loss at Baylor. Consider this season’s rematch a shot at revenge and another football game turned track meet.
Three to watch: Nov. 7 at Oklahoma State; Nov. 21 at Oklahoma; Nov. 27 vs. Baylor
The Crimson Tide’s title hopes will be revealed during a season-opening game against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. A victory with a new quarterback could mean the start of another run. While a loss wouldn’t be devastating, it would put Alabama in the rare position of starting 0-1. The Crimson Tide hasn’t lost a season opener since 2001. Jake Coker, a transfer from Florida State, and David Cornwell are competing for the quarterback job. Coach Nick Saban, per usual, has excellent options at running back in junior Derrick Henry and senior Kenyan Drake.
Alabama’s defense was remarkable last season, allowing just 3.2 yards per rush. The Tide’s front seven is better than any other in the country. That’s why Ohio State relied so heavily on its passing game in beating Alabama 42-35 in last season’s national semifinals. Those teams could be on a collision course again in January.
Three to watch: Sept. 5 vs. Wisconsin; Oct. 3 at Georgia; Nov. 28 at Auburn.
Fighting Irish haters – and there are many of them – are going to have a tough season ahead.
Notre Dame has 18 returning starters on the roster and a schedule that’s challenging enough to warrant a spot in the playoffs even with a loss or even two. The school’s agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference creates games at Virginia, Clemson and Pittsburgh and home meetings with Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College.
The veteran Irish line will be counted on to open holes for an up and down running game and keep defenders off the back of quarterback Malik Zaire, who has thrown just 35 passes at Notre Dame.
Getting cornerback KeiVarae Russell (suspension) and linebacker Jarrett Grace (broken fibula) back on the field will help shore up a defense that struggled at times last season. Big losses at Arizona State (55-31) and USC (49-14) derailed what could have been a good year. The Irish started the season 6-0 before a tough loss at Florida State.
Three to watch: Oct. 3 at Clemson; Oct. 17 vs. USC; Nov. 28 at Stanford.
Other teams that could crash the party include Baylor, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan State, Oregon and USC.
Our scenario sets up Ohio State-Notre Dame in one semifinal and Alabama-TCU in the other. We’ll call it Ohio State and TCU in the title game and another title for the Buckeyes.
Let’s stop the speculation and get things started. College football fans have been waiting almost eight months to get their fix.
Image credits: Ohio State football photo one: Bloomberg.com, All Rights Reserved. Ohio State football photo two: courtesy . All rights reserved; Nick Saban photo: courtesy RammaJammaYellaHamma. All rights reserved.