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Prognosticating the first playoff season in college football

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Bill and Ian take a few stabs at guessing which teams and players will dominate 2014 and how the inaugural college football playoff will unfold.

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Well Billy, for me having a national championship game that attempts to pit the consensus top two teams against each other is what I've been accustomed to for the entirety of my life as a college football fan (I fell in love with the game during Ricky Williams' 98 Heisman run).

A college football playoff with four teams? I imagine my excitement level is comparable to that of older fans who couldn't wait to see a BCS title game in the late 90's. The next generation will probably scream at the injustice of only selecting four teams and wonder why it took so long to add four more.

In the meantime, let's geek out just a little about the four team playoff and start here:

Which teams do you think will end up as the top squads in the land and which teams do you think will actually get the nod from the committee?

Bill: Honestly, I hate that I have a boring answer for this one, but ... I have a boring answer. Florida State should be great and has a clear enough schedule that they should get to 12-1 relatively easily. Alabama should be great (or close to it) and hosts Auburn; the Tide have the inside track on the SEC title and, therefore, an all-but-automatic playoff bid. While UCLA, USC, and Washington will certainly have something to say about it, the odds are still pretty good that the Stanford-Oregon winner will win the Pac-12, and even if Stanford hits the postseason at 11-2, the Cardinal's schedule strength is absurd and will probably get them in (barring a rash of undefeateds). And the two most likely candidates for the fourth spot are Ohio State and Oklahoma.

As far as less-boring answers ... UCLA will have the schedule strength to make it if it wins the Pac-12. Michigan State gets Ohio State at home, and while I don't think the Spartans will be quite as good as last year, they have a schedule that could be conducive to 12-1 or so. South Carolina has the schedule to go 11-1 or so and could be in decent position even with a loss to Bama (or whoever) in the SECCG. And if Georgia beats either Clemson or South Carolina early on, the Dawgs could get super hot.

Ian: For my part, I'm inclined to agree about the top four. I was pretty confident that Alabama wouldn't be able to recover from losing several pieces from one of the greatest OLs in recent college football history and was also dubious of their DL being as dominant as usual last year. This year Alabama is clearly loaded along both lines.

With so much elite talent back and a weak ACC it's hard to pick against Florida State either. I'll take Oklahoma to finish with only one or perhaps even zero losses thanks to a potentially elite defense and favorable schedule and consequently take spot number three. I expect Auburn will be very good again but can two SEC West teams both make the playoff?

You're probably right about the Pac-12 champion being one of the best four teams but I'm not sure that I have any confidence that the selection committee will choose a two-loss champion over a one-loss SEC non-champion.

Give me a one-loss Big 10 champion Michigan State as a 4th team provided they beat Oregon early, otherwise I'll bet on OU, FSU, Bama, and a 2nd SEC team.

Let's also satiate some of our cynical tastes. Since most everything the power programs do is designed to keep money and attention focused on them, can we assume the committee is a means of throwing a bone to the fans while ensuring that mid major powers like Boise State are forever thrown into the pit where there's gnashing of teeth and a lack of primetime access?

Are there any non-power five programs that you would project to finish with top four resumes in 2014 anyways?

Bill: I assume the committee will take a mid-major seriously if it can put together multiple great years, a la Boise State from about 2008-11. But if Utah State goes 13-0, I can't even imagine how good the Aggies would have to look to make it (barring a lot of two-loss teams at the top).

Ian: As far as mid-majors go, I'm having trouble believing that a one-loss Big 12 champion that isn't Oklahoma or Texas will get a shot at the playoff much less an undefeated AAC or Mountain West champion.

Of course all this speculation is tough to nail down without forecasting which surprise teams will jump up. After all, the last two Heisman winners were redshirt freshman QBs that no one was ready to project as brilliant.
Are there any young QBs out there that could seize the reigns of a team and propel them into the upper tier of 2014?

Bill: Obviously I'm partial to Maty Mauk, but ... well ... he's going to be awesome. Not sure if his receiving corps will get it done this year, but if it does, Mizzou's offense should be fine. It sounds like Deshaun Watson will get every chance in the world to become the guy pretty early at Clemson. And Anu Solomon is taking first-string reps at Arizona; he seems custom-made for a RichRod offense.

Ian: For young QB's I've got my eye on the battle in College Station between former Texas HS champion Kenny Hill and the Aggie's 5-star freshman Kyle Allen. They clearly played well enough in the spring to drive Senior Matt Joeckel to TCU and the weapons around them will be plentiful enough that whoever emerges as starter might put up some good stats with relative ease.

What about team units? Any defenses or units like Missouri's 2013 WR corp or Sparty's 2013 D that could end up being dominant enough to carry a top team?

Bill: My goodness, the Georgia skill position lineup is loaded. If Hutson Mason and the line are just competent, and if the injury bug is nicer, that's a top-10 offense again. And Va Tech's defensive backfield should be incredible again, though the pass rush might not do it any favors.

Ian: Some units that I think will impress in 2014 include;

The OU defensive front. With Striker playing at "nickel" and DE Grissom moved outside to the "Jack" position, while Charles Tapper remains at DE and is rejoined by 6'6" 330 pound nose tackle Jordan Phillips that pass-rush is beginning to look pretty terrifying. Keep an eye on athletic inside linebacker Jordan Evans to emerge as well.

The Alabama skill player group is another one that should cause nightmares. A WR corp of Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, and DeAndrew White is no joke. When you add in their stable of RBs and TE's OJ Howard and Brian Vogler you get the sense that they will be okay regardless of who takes snaps at QB.

While we're on the subject, give me a few teams as nominations for the best run game, best passing attack, best secondary, and best overall defense for 2014.

Bill: Best run game: oh goodness, Auburn.

Best passing game: boring, but Florida State.

Best secondary: boring, but Florida State.

Best defense: boring, but Florida State ... unless Jeremy Pruitt was really that much of a difference-maker. If that's the case, then ... boring, but Alabama.

Ian: For best run game I agree that Auburn is a great answer but how about Oregon? They've accumulated quite a few backs there with Tyner and Marshall and they also have an abundance of quality TEs to play on the edge of that veteran OL. Factor in Mariota's insane speed and that's a pretty dominant group. Plus, you probably don't want your secondary to get their eyes glued to the backfield.

For best passing game I'm not going to dispute with Florida State.

The best secondary award could go to the 'Noles as well but I'm curious whether Stanford ends up with a strong showing here, provided they adequately replace Ed Reynolds. Alabama was weak at cornerback in 2013 and have some serious ground to make up there while FSU replaces absolute stud Lamarcus Joyner.

Speaking of corners, if Aaron Colvin had another year of eligibility I'd take Oklahoma as best defense...but he doesn't. I'll take a surprise pick and say that Stanford manages to have one of the nation's better defenses thanks to a veteran secondary and depth up front.

Outside of your own conference, which teams are you most excited to watch this year? That could either be because of entertainment value or because they might be really good. Or, hey, really bad.
Finally, what's your dream outcome for this season in terms of who makes the playoff and what follows from there and what's your predicted outcome?

Bill: Outside of the obvious dream (Missouri!), I'd love to have serious contrasts of styles involved. Aside from the whole "settling it on the field" thing (which has become a massive cliche at this point), the Playoff gives us an opportunity to answer more what-if questions as it pertains to elite teams. I want to see Alabama and Baylor play ... Florida State and Oregon ... etc. My fantasy outcome is a set of matchups like that. Baylor probably won't make it this year, but there are plenty of exciting, high-octane teams out there, and I'm a big "styles make fights" guy. (That said, I assume Bama and FSU will be playing for the title because I assume they're the two best teams.)

Ian: 2014 has a couple of really interesting storylines for me. As a Michigan resident, I'm really curious to see how Michigan State's defense holds up against Mariota and the Oregon offense while I also want to see how much of an impact Nussmeier has in year one at Michigan. There's a lot of talent in Ann Arbor and excuses will dwindle if there isn't improvement this season.

Down south, who doesn't want to see the continued war between old-school coaches like Bielema and Saban and the proliferating up-tempo spread offenses in the SEC? Auburn has some serious talent on offense if Malzahn can help Marshall progress enough as a passer to unlock it. The development of that QB as well as how Saban adapts to these new threats could very well define the SEC West this year.

I need to catch more Pac-12 games this year as well, I bet there's some fun contests out west this year.

As for the playoffs, my dream is more or less exactly the same. I want to see Oregon get their chance against more big, physical SEC teams and I want more style contrast match-ups in general.

My other big wish would be to see a team like UCF that doesn't have highly regarded talent face off against a power five squad, but I fear that was a fruit of the old system and not the new one. The problem is that the BCS would protect the major programs from match-ups against teams like Boise St, TCU, or UCF with very few exceptions.

I agree, Alabama vs FSU is the most likely match-up, which probably means that it won't happen.

Should be fun, let's get this started.