Every year, the NCAA football season is packed full of drama. The nature of the sport leads to storylines that percolate through the entirety of the season. At the highest level, there’s over 100 schools fighting for a chance to get into the playoff at season’s end, and only four spots to give. As such, the schools must fight week in and week out in order to preserve their position and move up the rankings by season’s end.
Last year, college football fans were introduced to the inaugural 4 team playoff. The selection process was met with criticism, as always, but ultimately the process proved to be effective. The fourth and final team into the playoff, Ohio State, emerged as the national champion. Ohio State would not have been afforded the opportunity under the old BCS system, and so in the first year of the new system, it has been deemed by most to be a success.
Whether the four team playoff’s success will continue into year two is now a question to pay attention to. With only four spots available, the competition will be fierce. Heading into the preseason, however, there is a handful of early favorites to watch. The defending champs, the Ohio State Buckeyes, returned three top QBs. Former Heisman finalist Braxton Miller opted out of transfer opportunities to return to the Buckeyes after he went down last season. J.T. Miller had a wonderful season in Miller’s absence leading the team for most of the season before suffering an injury with the season drawing to a close. Cardale Jones burst on the scene after Miller’s injury and played phenomenally to ultimately secure the national championship for his team. With all three back, there’s questions at QB in Columbus, but they are the best kind of questions to have.
If Ohio State can emerge atop the Big Ten, they will certainly receive a spot in the four team tournament once again. Another spot in the playoff is all but guaranteed to the team which wins the SEC. In recent years, the SEC has been dominated by Alabama, but Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Missouri and LSU all look like they may have a shot to capture the SEC title and the postseason berth. Given the historic strength of the conference, perhaps a darkhorse team emerges in the SEC, such as South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss, or Texas A&M. Whoever ultimately ends up winning the SEC championship game, though, will surely make their way to the postseason tournament.
For the other spots up for grabs, there is a wealth of possibilities. The wide open field is a piece of what makes college football so exciting. A couple places to watch for other postseason contenders include the winner of the Pac-12 and Big 12. The Pac-12 habitually sees a team contending at the end of the season. Last year, it was Oregon, though they came up short, in the national championship game. USC, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford all could emerge as the Pac-12 powerhouse in 2015.
In the Big 12, a conference which once was fairly dominating has fallen on hard times. The Big 12 hasn’t been itself in a few seasons, due to down years from Texas and Oklahoma, as well as the departure of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. However, the Big 12 is still a power conference and could contribute a team to the end of year showdown. Many football pundits are waiting for the sleeping giant, Texas Longhorns to rebound and show their old form. Texas was a posterchild for prolonged success in college football under Mack Brown, but has disappointed in their most recent efforts. Last year’s co-champions, Baylor and TCU open the preseason atop the conference, and will look to better their 2015 campaigns as the two ended up just shy of a berth in the postseason tournament, in favor of eventual national champions, Ohio State.
The ACC, which has seen Florida State lose only one game in two years, will likely see a down season. Following the departure of Jameis Winston and ongoing controversy at Florida State, the entireity of the conference’s football programs will likely be underwhelming. While there are other talented programs in the conference, such as Clemson and Georgia Tech, the ACC lacks the top-end talent to garner respect among experts unless Florida State is a legitimate contender.
Last NCAA football season ,the discussion surrounded the efficacy of a playoff. Now, the playoff is no longer a matter of debate. It works, we all saw it. Now, however, there will likely be continuing scrutiny regarding the selection process, which teams have earned their spots, and whether two teams from the same conference should be able to enter two teams to the playoff. There will be a lot to talk about when the college football season breaks in the first weekend of September.