By Mike Craven / @CravenMike
It is never too early to look ahead at the top teams in college football. The College Football Playoff now allows more teams in the mix, meaning a team doesn’t have to enter the season highly ranked to contend for a national title. But the favorites are the favorites for a reason.
Below are my top 10 college football teams entering the 2015 season.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are the defending national champions, so it is tempting to pick another team for the top spot. However, Urban Meyer’s program wasn’t supposed to compete for a national championship until 2015. It shouldn’t be held against Ohio State that it overachieved a year early. The Big 10 isn’t as strong as some other conferences, and that should allow the Buckeyes to claim another conference title and earn a berth into the College Football Playoff. Ezekiel Elliott may be the best running back in the country, and Ohio State has a stable of quarterbacks to choose from.
The Horned Frogs were left out of the College Football Playoff in 2015, mostly because of the way the Big 12 is run. With no conference champion and a loss to Baylor, it was easy for the committee members to choose Ohio State over a smaller private school without the tradition and fan support that the Buckeyes are known for. Gary Patterson’s crew returns 15 starters, including quarterback Trevone Boykin. It may take running the table to reach the playoffs, but TCU has the pieces in place to do just that.
3. Florida State
The biggest question mark entering the offseason for the ‘Noles was how to replace quarterback Jameis Winston. That question was answered when Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson chose Florida State in his “free agency” as a graduate transfer. Jimbo Fisher has built a powerhouse in Tallahassee, and even though Florida State lost a lot of talent, there is a ton waiting in the wings. Playing in the ACC also helps the Seminoles' cause because an undefeated record in a P5 conference bodes well in the selection process.
Alabama is still Alabama. Nick Saban has a lot of holes to fill this offseason, but there is little doubt the talent on campus is there. No one recruits like Alabama, and there are plenty of bodies on the roster that can help return Bama to the College Football Playoff. The defensive line may be the best in college football, and running back Derrick Henry is ready for a breakout season. If Jake Coker can be consistent at quarterback and the wide receivers step up, Alabama is once again the favorite in the SEC.
The Bears may have more offensive weapons than any other program in the country. Replacing Bryce Petty won’t be easy, but head coach Art Briles has shown he can get production out of any quarterback on his roster. It helps when that quarterback, presumably Seth Russell, has targets like Jay Lee, K.D. Cannon and Corey Coleman. The offensive line lacks depth, but the Baylor defense may be better than it ever has been, especially with the return of defensive end Shawn Oakman.
Losing Marcus Mariota is tough, but Oregon never has a problem producing offense. The PAC-12 continues to build more depth, but the Ducks should still enter the season as the favorite to win the conference championship. Oregon’s case to make another run toward a championship was bolstered when quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. arrived on campus. Combined with running back talents like Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, this offense should be lethal once again.
7. Michigan State
The Spartans have become one of the most defensively sound defenses in the country on a yearly basis. That won’t change in 2015, giving Michigan State a chance to compete for a conference title and therefore a spot in the College Football Playoff. Connor Cook returns at quarterback to lead an offense that will have holes to fill at wide receiver and running back.
Much like Baylor, it is hard to imagine Auburn not fielding an explosive offense with Gus Malzahn at the helm. Jeremy Johnson lacks experience, but he is as good as any quarterback Auburn has had since Cam Newton. The defense should improve under Will Muschamp, making Auburn a slight dark-horse candidate to win the SEC and earn a berth into the College Football Playoff.
9. Notre Dame
With the transfer of Everett Golson to Florida State, there are no more questions about who is the man at quarterback for the Fighting Irish. This is Malik Zaire’s team, and that may be a good thing in South Bend. He’ll have a plethora of offensive weapons to spread the ball around to, and the defense is going to be stout.
10. Ole Miss
Ole Miss had a pretty good 2014 season, but a bad showing in the Peach Bowl put a damper on an otherwise solid performance. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell hopefully returns from injury and could possibly be the best wide receiver in the SEC. A new quarterback must step up to lead the offense, but Ole Miss may field the most talented defense in the SEC in 2015.
A former newspaper man, Mike Craven is the publisher of BirdsUp.com of the Rivals.com network. His work can also be found in Dave Campbell's Texas Football Magazine and in the Texas FNF Magazine.