Read about it here.
I'm curious to see where Oregon finishes in the Pac-12 North. Much of it will depend on whether they actually know who their QB is (they probably do, Vernon Washington) because even if they fix up their defense some they'll still have to outscore some people to win games.
I never had Oregon in the playoffs this year, but instead picked the following four teams:
Looking pretty good so far, but they've not been seriously tested yet. That will change Saturday when Alabama comes to town.
The key for them is they have a good defense, dominant running game, solid balance in the passing game, and they're in the SEC East which just isn't that good. As long as they can get to the SEC title game and win that one they're almost surely in.
Their path is looking increasingly difficult. While they've been basically everything I've expected on offense and defense, I'm not sure they have dominant, knock-out athletes that can protect them from dropping a hotly contested game here or there. Their road trip to Columbus always looked tough but the road trip in a couple of weeks to Ann Arbor is starting to look like more of a challenge than it has in recent years.
Ohio State has always been the smartest bet to make it out of the B1G and while the conference is much improved (and still somewhat under the radar) I don't think they get two teams in.
Two big problems here, the first of which is injuries, like losing linebacker Myles Jack for the year. Jack is one of the best athletes in the country, a space-backer on par with Eric Striker and Darron Lee, and an impact performer across their team.
They've also lost DL Eddie Vanderdoes and cornerback Fabian "the island of Dr." Moreau.
UCLA is a team with a ton of NFL-caliber talent these days but there isn't a team in the country that can afford to lose three pro-caliber veterans from a unit and maintain dominance.
The second problem is their schedule, which still includes road trips to Stanford, Oregon State, Utah, and USC. That's a lot of places to trip up for a team that, like Michigan State, may not be dominant enough to knock everyone out and not have to worry about sweating out a tough game. Heck they almost lost at home to BYU, which is no major sin but also not particularly indicative of an elite team either.
I was just a year early, I think. Boise State doesn't have a tough enough schedule to survive losing a single game and they've already done so against those pesky BYU Cougars.
As a big fan of the Boise defense, I figured they'd probably dominate most all of the offenses on their schedule. That meant that a perfect season was most likely a function of whether Bryan Harsin had figured out the QB position in the offseason and I was betting on "yes."
The answer was "no" but they seem to have figured it out when true freshman Brett Rypien beat Virginia's semi-vaunted defense throwing 35 passes for 321 yards, three TDs, and zero picks.
I'm not sure what their defensive personnel looks like for next year but I imagine that with Harsin and Rypien united in potato country it's only a matter of time before they have a perfect season.
New contenders in the eyes of Ian
Notre Dame: I've already written my annual puff piece where I overrate the Irish chances at getting back to the promised land but the TL;DR version is this:
Don't love a team lacking experience at QB? Well guess what, there aren't too many experienced QBs in college football leading complete teams in 2015. Notre Dame has a good chance to have the necessary record and you know the committee would love to pick them.
LSU: Good defense, punishing offense (like always), and with some explosiveness at the skill positions and at QB which gives them a chance to score points in every game and then put it on ice.
Florida State: The defense is playing very well so far, largely with a cast of young athletes that Jimbo has been stockpiling in his recent recruiting run. The offense is also loaded up with young athletes under the headship of Everett Golson...now that I've typed that I feel pretty confident that this team won't be in the playoffs.
They're very good though, maybe they'll be a resume padder for the Irish.
Fatally flawed but still in the hunt
Alabama: The Tide defense is secretly one of the very best in the country right now. They're actually no. 1 in defensive S&P and frankly they have very few vulnerable spots. What they don't seem to have is a smart, over-achieving QB whom can be trusted to manage the Alabama machine.
Their run game, skill weapons, and defense are all so dominant that having someone who can avoid mistakes and man the helm has always been priority one in Tuscaloosa but Jacob Coker is just not that guy. It's already cost them once.
Ole Miss: Still no run game. What would have happened against Alabama if they hadn't recovered every fumble? They would have been beat like a drum, that's what.
TCU: It's only a matter of time before they plummet in the rankings due to a decimated defense.