10 teams most likely to reach the College Football Playoff
The college football season is upon us, and expectations vary per team. Only a select few programs have a realistic shot of reaching the College Football Playoff. For some schools, it will be a disappointing season if they don’t achieve that goal.
There are a dozen or so teams that will really believe they have the team and the favorable climate they need to challenge for the playoff, but only four teams can actually make it in. Here are ten that will have the best chance of doing just that.
With three full offseasons of recruiting under his belt, Jim Harbaugh should finally have the team he needs to contend for the playoffs. Shea Patterson, the newly-minted starting quarterback, looks set to be the final piece of that puzzle. The Wolverines are deep everywhere and boast one of the nation’s best defensive players in Rashan Gary. They do have to face Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State on the road, but if they come through that with one loss and a Big Ten title, they should have the resume to qualify. There is also little doubt that the pressure is on Harbaugh to turn it around.
Auburn certainly could have been in the playoff last year, but they failed to defeat Georgia for a second time and ultimately lost to UCF in the Peach Bowl. A repeat performance may be tougher in 2018, but still doable. Jarrett Stidham is an excellent quarterback, Ryan Davis is a great target for him to throw to, and they should boast one of the country’s better defenses. On paper, they have all the weapons. They might just have to win the Iron Bowl away from home this season, though, which won’t be easy.
8) Penn State
The Nittany Lions will suffer after the loss of Saquon Barkley, because it’s impossible for them not to. On paper, this is not one of the country’s four best teams, but they do have one of the better quarterbacks in Trace McSorley. There is one major factor working in their favor: the schedule. Three of Penn State’s four toughest opponents — Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin — will have to visit Happy Valley, with the Nittany Lions needing to weather a trip to Ann Arbor against Michigan. That favorable schedule could have them firmly in the conversation at season’s end.
Kyler Murray should take up Baker Mayfield’s mantle at quarterback, making the Sooners prohibitive Big 12 favorites. The defense will need to improve and the offense can’t drop off too far, but both of those are very plausible outcomes. Oklahoma is still heavy on talent and the early favorite in a power conference. That’s enough to make you a playoff contender. They’ll have to face TCU and West Virginia on the road, but if they win both, an unbeaten regular season is a real possibility.
The Hurricanes must settle the quarterback situation one way or another, be it Malik Rosier, N’Kosi Perry, or maybe even Jarren Williams. If that happens, the rest of the offense is good enough and the defense stout enough to make them contenders. Their ACC schedule is fairly forgiving, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be favored to make the title game out of the ACC Coastal, likely against Clemson. That could well be a playoff to get into the playoff. An early test against LSU should say a lot about where they are.
The Huskies could have made the playoff last year, but an inexplicable loss to Arizona State hamstrung them before they could really get close. Avoid strange slip-ups like that and the Huskies are a prohibitive Pac-12 favorite. Jake Browning is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, and under Chris Petersen they’ve been pretty strong defensively, which should continue in 2018. They’ll have an early chance to prove their credentials with a home test against Auburn, but the rest of their schedule is certainly beatable given their talent level. If enough SEC teams slip up, they’ll like their chances.
The other favorite out of the SEC, the Bulldogs certainly beat expectations in 2017. Nobody will be overlooking them this year. Jake Fromm has an exceptional group of receivers to throw to, led by senior Terry Godwin. The defense might not be quite as good as it was last year, but still good enough to keep them in any game. If they can beat Auburn at home on Nov. 10 and avoid any other shocks elsewhere, an Alabama-Georgia SEC title game looks inevitable.
3) Ohio State
Off-field turmoil in the program is the wild-card here, but with Urban Meyer looking likely to both keep his job and coach the bulk of the season, rightly or wrongly. Meyer has always recruited well, and this year’s roster is loaded with top players. There will be an adjustment process under new quarterback Dwayne Haskins and a young defense, but the offense is deep and experienced and the roster is loaded with talent. They have to trek to Penn State and Michigan State and play TCU in Dallas, but they’re so good it might not make any difference.
Dabo Swinney has turned this program into a machine, and they look like the class of the ACC once again. There is a real chance that they will have the best defense in the nation, certainly on a defensive line that features three top-tier players in Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, and Clelin Ferrell. Kelly Bryant is not quite as elite of a quarterback as they might like, but highly-touted freshman Trevor Lawrence is waiting if he slips up. If anyone in the ACC Atlantic beats Clemson this year, it will be an upset. A fourth consecutive CFP appearance is well within reach.
This actually won’t be Nick Saban’s best Alabama team ever, but it still has the potential to be plenty good enough to win a national title, such are the standards he’s set. They remain outstanding in the trenches and at the skill positions, though the secondary will be rebuilding on the fly. Tua Tagovailoa looks like the frontrunner to win the quarterback job and will be challenged over a full season, but will have plenty of weapons. They will be tested by Georgia and Auburn in the SEC, but they should still be favored in every game they play, and they’re still coached by Nick Saban. As the Bulldogs found out last year, knocking the Crimson Tide off their perch is a very tall order indeed.