College football season is BAAAAAACK!!!!! In case you couldn’t tell, this is an exciting time and with the advent of the new college football season it’s time to bring back the weekly Playoff Picture column. For those that aren’t familiar or don’t remember, here’s a brief refresher course. Each week, I will pick the team’s that I would put in the New Year’s Six bowls (given the parameters that the committee uses) based on what I would do if the season ended after that week. These are not my predictions, but what I believe the committee should do based on season-to-date data for each week. I like to think of it as a weekly snapshot for how the playoff race is taking shape. This week, since our season has only a two-game sample size, I’m going to use the preseason rankings and media picks to put together a preseason Playoff Picture. I will include my predictions for each bowl too just for kicks and giggles (and so that you all can look back at me at the end of the year and giggle at my terrible picks too).
Peach Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Clemson vs. Georgia
Clemson is the preseason #1 overall team and the media preseason favorite to repeat as national champions. And after how they ended their season, they deserve to be. The Tigers didn’t just beat Alabama, they Killmongered them. The scary thing (for non-Clemson fans) is that most of the orchestrators of that beatdown are back. Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Justyn Ross all return to lead what should be a dynamic offense, and while an elite defensive line has to be completely replaced three of the four starting members or last year’s secondary return.
For a second year in a row, Georgia showed that it has the talent on both sides of the ball to challenge Alabama’s choke hold on the top spot in the SEC. Also for a second consecutive year, the Bulldogs came up just short after leading for most of the game. Jake Fromm and company will look to get over the proverbial “hump” that is Alabama this season, but plenty of experts seem to think that they don’t necessarily have to in order to get a seat at the playoff table. If they’re right, might Georgia get two cracks at the Tide in a six-week span? Personally, I don’t think that’s as likely as many experts seem to believe, but I can guarantee you that were Alabama to survive another tight one against Georgia that no one in “Bama Nation” (not even Phyllis from Mulga) will want to see them again in a title game.
Sam’s Prediction: Clemson vs. LSU
Fiesta Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Alabama vs. Michigan
Alabama may have taken a beating their last time out, but this is still a team that took a blowtorch to college football for most of last season. AND they return the majority of the pieces that ignited said blowtorch. AND they are bound to be pissed off about what happened at the end of last year. Tua Taigovailoa and Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy comprise arguably the best QB-WR combo in the country.
We’ve been waiting for the day Jim Harbaugh will return his alma mater to a national title stage ever since he arrived back in Ann Arbor. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of dad khakis and heard plenty of fun anecdotes (personal favorite is the cereal and Gatorade story), but he has yet to make a playoff. Or win a conference title. Or beat THE Ohio State University. Many people think this will be the year he accomplishes those three things and I tend to agree. With Shea Patterson running the show and an offensive scheme that tailors to Patterson’s strengths, this should be the most explosive offense the Wolverines have had in Harbaugh’s tenure.
Sam’s Prediction: Alabama vs. Michigan
Rose Bowl- Oregon vs. Ohio State
Justin Herbert surprised most of the football world when he decided to return to Eugene for another season, but Duck Nation (not sure if that’s a thing or not…but it is now) certainly wasn’t upset about it. He returns along with the majority of his offensive line to lead what should be the most potent Oregon offense since Chip Kelly was running the show. That hype has plenty of media members picking the Ducks to win the Pac-12 and get back to the Rose Bowl (or better).
It’s a new “Day” for Ohio State football. (Yeah, yeah I know that was low-hanging fruit but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) Ryan Day will attempt to keep Buckeye football in its place of prominence in the Big Ten, especially its stronghold on the Michigan rivalry. If he really wants to step out from Urban Meyer’s shadow though, he needs to accomplish what Meyer couldn’t in his last two years in Columbus: get back to the playoff.
Sam’s Prediction: Utah vs. Ohio State
Sugar Bowl- LSU vs. Oklahoma
Plenty of people, myself especially, were down on LSU and the Ed Orgeron era heading into the 2018 season, and we all looked pretty damn stupid. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow played above anyone’s expectations last year at quarterback, which was a major contributor to LSU’s success. Burrow is back for more in 2019, as is the best safety in college football, Grant Delpit.
Can Oklahoma make the transfer QB to Heisman trophy winner storyline a reality for a third consecutive year? Jalen Hurts certainly hope so and he has the tools to do it. Hurts already has playoff and championship experience, as you may remember, and spent a year working with Dan Enos as Tua Tagovailoa’s backup last season. He also wasn’t caught unprepared when he was thrust into the SEC Championship game in the wake of a Tua ankle injury. Now Jalen is donning a new crimson uniform and hoping that with a little Lincoln Riley pixie dust he will have similar results to his predecessors: Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Sam’s Prediction: Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Orange Bowl- Syracuse vs. Notre Dame
Syracuse is a program on the rise and nearing heights that it hasn’t reached since Donovan McNabb was torching the Big East and Syracuse went by the “Orangemen.” The Orange have come a long way already under Dino Babers and will look to continue that trend in 2019. One thing that Syracuse does always seem to be able to manage is scaring the devil out of Clemson. The rest of the playoff contenders will certainly be crossing their fingers that Syracuse can manage that yet again in 2019.
The Notre Dame “h8rs” came out in full throat shortly after they got their asses handed to them by Clemson in last year’s Cotton Bowl. The notion that a previously undefeated Notre Dame would have been left out of last year’s playoff is just patently absurd. I’m sorry but you can possibly look at their schedule and say any team finishing that schedule without a blemish shouldn’t be a playoff team. It’s also worth mentioning that as bad as the final score of that game looks, Clemson did most of its damage in a very short window of time when two of Notre Dame’s best defenders were on the sidelines with minor injuries. Notre Dame probably won’t be as good this year and have a few tough road trips to Georgia, Michigan and Stanford, so a return playoff appearance seems unlikely but snagging an Orange Bowl spot is definitely within reach.
Sam’s Prediction: Virginia Tech vs. Wisconsin
Cotton Bowl- UCF vs. Texas
Without McKenzie Milton, I’m skeptical of UCF maintaining its standing as the king of the Group of Five teams. Milton was/is a transcendent college quarterback and played the game in a way that is impossible to replicate. He took Scott Frost’s and Josh Heupel’s offenses and literally made them look like basketball on grass, where he was playing more point guard than quarterback. Darriel Mack filled in admirably after Milton’s injury and Brandon Wimbush had some bright moments at Notre Dame, but no one is going to be able to fill Milton’s shoes.
The video of Bevo attacking Uga pretty much sums up everything that happened in last year’s Sugar Bowl. After that assault, Sam Ehlinger publicly proclaimed that Texas was #back. But can Ehlinger make good on that claim? The media seems to think so, and they’ll get a great early season opportunity to prove it when they take on LSU in week two.
Sam’s Prediction: Boise State vs. Washington