The Way Too Early Power 5 Conference College Football Playoff Contenders

By Ronnie Hampston, Carden Hedelt, and Emily Van Buskirk

It's August and conversations have surfaced about the highly anticipated College Football Playoff.

As it enters its third year, the four-team gauntlet will look to continue its wave of excitement. For fans, it's extra football. For the universities, it's a financial boon. Thus far, the format has proven to be a success. In an era where technology is king, the computer system (BCS) failed college football.

People hated the BCS because it favored Power Five teams. Well, so have the playoffs. With respect to Houston to Notre Dame, here are the teams you need to watch.

ACC

The ACC really comes down to Clemson and Florida State.

Having more five- and four-star recruits than three- and two-star recruits is a good indicator of championship contention. Per SB Nation’s Bud Elliott, it’s a prerequisite to winning the national title over the last decade or so.

In the ACC this year, only Florida State (60%) and Clemson (52%) have more five- and four-star recruits than three- and two-star recruits. The next closest team is Miami, with 38% five- and four-star recruits. And beyond that, it’s a dearth of talent—15% at Virginia Tech, 14% at UNC and so on.

So, for previewing purposes, the ACC comes down to one game: Clemson at Florida State on Oct. 29. Clemson won this game last year at home, 23-13.

But I think Florida State has the upper hand by a slight margin. Clemson lost more talent than Florida State and being on the road puts more pressure on the Tigers. Granted, the Seminoles' quarterback position is shaky with redshirt freshman Deondre Francois taking over for an injured Sean Maguire, but Maguire didn’t exactly light it up against Clemson last year.

Having said that, Florida State represents the ACC if the conference manages to send a contender.- CH

Big Ten

For the first time in years, there is parity in the Big Ten. In 2015, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State all won 10 games or more. Despite the success of the Hawkeyes in the West, the Big Ten title will come down to who wins the East division. Although Iowa is solid, the Hawkeyes don’t have enough to compete with the three-headed monster in the East.

Michigan returns 14 starters, but there are question marks at quarterback. Michigan State returns 12 starters, and the Spartans also face concerns with the loss of Jack Conklin, Connor Cook, and other key contributors. In contrast, Ohio State has stability at quarterback with J.T. Barrett, but the Buckeyes will have to replace 16 players, including 12 that were drafted in the NFL.

OSU, Michigan, and Michigan State will face difficulties as they implement new pieces. To no surprise, scheduling will have a say in what teams perform the best.

Michigan will have to win in Columbus and in East Lansing to make up for a soft schedule, while the Buckeyes and Spartans face early tests against Oklahoma and Notre Dame. In OSU and MSU's favor, losing early won’t wreck their chances to make it to the playoffs.

The quarterback and head coach duo is significant. In Columbus, Barrett and Urban Meyer assemble the best twosome compared to the competition. Their continuity and experience will separate them from the other heavyweights in the conference. Therefore, the Buckeyes are the early favorite to make it to the CFP. -RH

Big 12

Unless Charlie Strong discovers the apparition of Vince Young, the Big 12 championship will go through Norman. Unlike Baylor and TCU of years past, Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule is hard enough to afford them a second consecutive playoff bid.

The Sooners play the Houston Cougars on the road, and they face Ohio State at home two weeks later. With Oklahoma being battle-tested early, the Big 12 should be a cake walk. But as we know, the pandemonium of college football will things it interesting for them.

Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield will look to repeat his performance from 2015, and Bob Stoops will look to avenge last year’s defeat in the CFP.

By the start of October, the biggest competition for the Sooners will be themselves. As seen with highly-touted teams in the past, self-inflicted errors have led to teams failing. If Oklahoma steers clear of their own mishaps, they will have a strong argument to make their second trip to the playoffs- RH

Pac-12

If we are talking College Football Playoff contender from the Pac-12, the conversation has to center around the Stanford Cardinal. After all, the road to a Pac-12 championship leads undoubtedly through the farmlands of Palo Alto. While the Cardinal will have several teams vying for their crown, including a stacked Washington squad and a dark horse Washington State, Stanford's ground-and-pound game makes them the best representative in the CFP against teams like Alabama and Florida State.

The Cardinal return junior running back Christian McCaffrey, who amassed 2,664 yards from scrimmage last year while scoring 13 touchdowns and helping the Cardinal win 12 games, including the Rose Bowl in which he ran for a record 368 all-purpose yards.

Also, Stanford’s 5-0 record versus AP Top 25 opponents last season was the best in college football.

Replacing quarterback Kevin Hogan is a concern, but newly named starter Ryan Burns has a solid recovering corps to work with: Michael Rector, Francis Owusu, and Trenton Irwin all combined to average 9.6 yards per target last year.

The only thing standing between Stanford and a playoff berth is the Cardinal's daunting road schedule. With four road games against projected top-20 teams and three tough games to kick off the season (USC in Week 2, UCLA in Week 3, and Washington in Week 4) Stanford's scheduling could leave the Cardinal out in the cold if they don't find a way to win every single week. The College Football Playoff margin for error is slim but Stanford still stands the best chance of any Pac-12 team, if the Conference of Champions manages to send a contender.- EVB

SEC

I can’t see a scenario where Alabama is going to be challenged to the point where they won’t make the playoffs.

Their schedule is—USC, Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss, Kent State, Kentucky, at Arkansas, at Tennessee, Texas A&M, at LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga, and Auburn.

Can you get to two losses with that schedule, plus a conference championship game with the state of the SEC? I don’t think so. LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Georgia all fall into the aforementioned more five- and four-star recruits than three- and two-star recruits group. And it looks likely that Alabama will play all four of those teams. I don’t think they lose two of those games.

Also, look closely at how the end of their schedule goes. There’s a bye and a non-conference game (nearly a bye) in a month’s time. Alabama does this nearly every year and it's genius. Get some time to get healthy, work out any remaining flaws against a cupcake and maul the most important three games on your schedule: Auburn, SEC Championship, and the Tide's bowl game.- CH

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.