This season we as a fan base begin a new era together: the playoff. Many of us have been asking for this for years following BCS discrepancies like the 2004 debacle that many Auburn fans remember; it has finally arrived. Will the playoff pose new issues? Oh most definitely, instead of arguing over that third team that didn't make it into the title game, it will now move to the fifth team that is left out of the fun. I for one love the idea of a selection committee; my main problem with the BCS was the computers. The computers were designed to rank teams based on certain criteria while other pieces of information were left out; now we have the human mind at the center of the selections. 13 members that do have their own biases from here and there, but I see those canceling each other out to leave an equal playing field that we can all enjoy together as the fans.
Now before I get to my selections for the Final Four, I will first lay out the teams under consideration and give a few reasons why they are there. Two scenarios have the highest probability in my opinion, and each one relies on Alabama's season. Yes, once again the Crimson Tide are at the center of the world, but I could see their season determining if either two SEC teams or another conference breaks into the playoff. Did I just hear a gasp? Well, for all the people out there that believed the playoff would end the reign of the SEC, you are sadly mistaken; I believe the playoff will eventually bring the power even more into the SEC's sphere because let's face it: they're so good that some years they will get two in. Now let's begin:
Florida State: The Seminoles come into the 2014 season off of a National Championship and an undefeated season while also returning a Heisman-winning QB…not too shabby. Don't bother with the pencil when filling out your bracket, you should just mark this team in pen. Following the decades of success under Bobby Bowden, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher has led the Seminoles back to glory. His team is stacked similarly to last year's with seven returning starters on offense along with six on defense. The offense will be churning as Jameis Winston returns along with his two favorite targets TE Nick O'Leary and WR Rashad Greene; not to mention the offensive line will contain four seniors which equates to loads of experience. On defense, the players like DE Mario Edwards return to chase down opposing quarterbacks. However, the real reason that I am so confident that the Seminoles will reach the playoff is their schedule. They get both rivals, Clemson and Florida, at home, while their only real test is on the road late in the season against Miami. I only really see them having a chance of losing against a strong Virginia Tech or North Carolina in the ACC Championship. And ESPN, by having College Gameday at Arlington, don't try to fool the college football world into thinking Oklahoma State even has a chance of beating Florida State.
UCLA: The Bruins come into the 2014 season with a veteran QB, a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and a favorable schedule; also, they're not feeling the pressure from the media with the recent success out of Eugene and Palo Alto. Heisman dark horse Brett Hundley comes in to lead a talented offense. Each of the Bruins' defense levels comes in as a top 3 in the conference according to college football guru Phil Steele. This team is poised to flat out win. Now we come back to the schedule: location, location, location. At first glance, their schedule looks daunting as they face Oregon, USC, and Stanford; but wait, all three of these games are at home, which is the key. Oregon must travel to UCLA while also getting Stanford and Michigan State at home; Stanford only gets USC at home, while also travelling away to UCLA, Oregon, and Notre Dame. I foresee Oregon and Stanford hitting bumps in the road, but UCLA must just get through those three games in front of home fans. They also have a good looking non-conference game against Texas, a young team that is figuring out a new head coach. If the Pac-12 has a team make it to the playoff, it'll be UCLA.
Georgia: The Bulldawgs were beat up with injuries for most of last season along with a very inexperienced defense. However, this year Georgia comes roaring back with a now experienced defense that took its lumps last year along with yet again another potent and powerful offense. The largest loss for Georgia is four-year starter Aaron Murray to the draft who had both talent and great leadership; however, not all is lost at the position as it is senior Hutson Mason's time to shine. He may be one of the most underestimated quarterbacks coming into the 2014 season; I can see a 3,000 yard passer by the end of the season once again for the dawgs. Along with Mason, the offense contains the best running back duo in the nation, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, and one of the top receiving corps in the SEC. The defense is now stacked with immense talent especially in the linebacker corps including Leonard Floyd, Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson, and Jordan Jenkins who all have a case to be All-SEC first team by the end of the season. The only question marks are at the offensive line and defensive backfield which have found large improvements over the past year. The Bulldawgs have both Clemson and Auburn at home, while they go to Jacksonville to face Florida. Season tests that are surmountable especially in front of the crowds at Sanford Stadium. The games that will determine the season will be at South Carolina and the SEC title game if they get there. I see this squad as one that has the potential to go undefeated to make the first ever playoff.
Now here's where things get interesting…
Alabama: The Crimson Tide are always going to revamp their talent thanks to their recent success and the great recruiting of Nick Saban. However, many analysts see the 2014 SEC West as a wide open race among many talented teams but also many questions: the talented youth of LSU, the proven starters of Ole Miss, the high-powered offense of Auburn, and the Tide. I do see Alabama making it out of their division to the SEC title game, but without a loss? eh…I don't know…maybe. My main reason for uncertainty is that their leader McCarron is gone; essentially, Alabama and Georgia are dealing with the same problem: missing their veteran QB. I forecasted transferee Jacob Coker to take the starting job, but isn't it a little weird that this competition is still going on with Blake Sims? Coker didn't look that great in the spring game and now may not see a decided starter until week 4 (Florida). The unproven ability at quarterback is the real question; the rest of the team is just as talented as ever. It is very easy to slip up once in the SEC and this may be the year that Alabama losses one but still gets to the title game (games include: Florida, at LSU, at Tenn, Auburn). The key is to remember that this team has a thirst for success after losing in the Iron Bowl and then to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl; two straight losses to end the season. Look out for Saban and Alabama this year, but one loss to..eh let's say to Tennessee on the road could change the whole landscape at the end of the year. Stay tuned for that later in the article…
Michigan State: Here's the low-down on the Spartans: unlike last year, they now possess a proven offense led by a proven QB in Connor Cook along with one of the best defenses in the nation. They won a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl last year while defeating Stanford and Ohio State along the way. I can see this same success continuing for Mark Dantonio the Spartans this season especially with the injury to Braxton Miller of Ohio State. With a weaker schedule and a questionable Ohio State, the door is wide open for an undefeated year and a potential playoff berth. Not so fast! There have been plenty of slip ups by Big Ten teams over the years, and we can even take a look at Ohio State last year lost in the championship game. This conference enjoys beating each other up. With Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin, lurking in the other division, I would heed caution. The toughest game on their schedule has most definitely now become away at Oregon in week two, which could break the Spartans early on. I have Michigan State winning this conference….with a record 11-2. But come on Spartans challenge my prediction like you did last year; I know you can do it and maybe you'll knock Alabama out of there.
Here comes scenario lane…pay attention:
Scenario 1: UGA (12-0) vs. ALA (12-0) in SEC Title game, UGA wins or ALA wins = both go to playoff; MSU is out
Scenario 2: UGA (12-0) vs. ALA (11-1) in SEC Title game, UGA wins, MSU in playoff; ALA is out
Yes, I have Georgia winning the SEC and being undefeated (pretty confident about that). In my opinion, Michigan State's postseason depends on Alabama's season. Here's my Final Four…
1. Florida State (13-0)
2. Georgia (13-0)
3. UCLA (12-1)
4. Michigan State (12-1)