September 25, 2020

Predicting the College Football Playoffs

Now that the Big Ten and Pac-12 have elected to have football this fall, Power 5 conferences will be back on the field in the near future. 

While some of these conferences have yet to play a game this season, we know what to can expect from some of the powerhouse teams in the country. Looking at this year’s early rankings with the newly included Big Ten, there are no real surprises. 

Despite some rumors about expanding the playoffs during this COVID-19 altered season, we will still be seeing a standard four-team playoff format this season. With teams playing predominantly conference-only games, some gain an advantage over others. 

For instance, Clemson, in the ACC, will have a much easier schedule than an Alabama team that competes in the best conference in FBS (SEC). No more cupcake games for Alabama against teams like Citadel and South Alabama. Instead, six of their 10 opponents this season are currently ranked.

So with all things put into consideration, which four teams can we expect to make the College Football Playoff, and which of those four teams has the best chance of winning it all this season?

CFP Qualifiers Prediction

No. 1 Clemson Tigers 

No surprise here. The Tigers are the best team in the country and have arguably the top two offensive players in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne. While their schedule isn’t as tough as Alabama’s, they do play a few mid-to-lower ranked teams in Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Miami. Their biggest challenge will come against Notre Dame in November.

Even if Clemson does fall to Notre Dame, their odds of getting into the CFP with only one loss is still pretty high. The Tigers should still have a very good shot at an undefeated campaign in 2020. It is hard to imagine another team supplanting a healthy Clemson at as the top-rated team. 

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners

When given a choice between Oklahoma and Alabama at No. 2, the edge has to go to the Sooners. And that's because of the two teams' schedules. Oklahoma has one huge matchup against Texas in the Red River Showdown and a clash against an Oklahoma State team that struggled to defeat Tulsa. Outside of those two games, Oklahoma should have a lot of comfortable wins like the one they had against Missouri State in their season opener

Everyone is high on Sooners’ quarterback Spencer Rattler. In the Big 12, where high-scoring games have been a common occurrence in recent memory, the Sooners offense is the most potent. The Oklahoma defense has been an issue in recent years, especially against above-average teams. This year, the defense is expected to improve. 

No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide

In the competitive SEC, Alabama could drop a game and still end up in the CFP. For the Crimson Tide, an undefeated season is certainly possible even with their difficult schedule. However, if they lose to Georgia, LSU, or Auburn, the Tide can still find their way into the CFP better than perhaps Oklahoma or Clemson could with one loss as well.

Mac Jones will be taking over at quarterback for the Crimson Tide after Tua Tagovailoa’s departure. In limited appearances prior to this season, Jones has certainly looked more than capable of leading this Alabama team. With one of the most stacked offenses in the nation, Alabama should have another stellar offense. With one of the top defenses in the country yet again, we should expect to see Alabama once again competing for a title this season.

No. 4 Ohio State 

It is hard to imagine a CFP without a Big Ten team this season. Unless the Big Ten beats each other up and end the season with no undefeated or one-loss teams, then we will most likely see at least one Big Ten team in the CFP. Right now, the best team in the second-best conference in the country, Ohio State, seems like the most likely team to make the CFP out of the Big Ten this season.

Justin Fields is a Heisman favorite entering this season. Look for him to lead this offense to another huge scoring season. While the Ohio State defense has lost some key parts from last season, they are still expected to be one of the best defenses in the country this season.

CFP Championship Prediction

Regardless of what seed Clemson gets this year and no matter who they match up with, at this point, it is hard to bet against the Tigers. They have essentially a full regular schedule of 11 games, compared to eight games for some teams. This gives them plenty of time to iron out any wrinkles this team might have, which will be hard for opponents to find and exploit. Therefore, Clemson is an obvious but highly likely participant in this year’s National Championship Game.

As for their most likely opponent, many would suggest Alabama would be the most likely candidate and they probably are. However, Oklahoma is a team that could find its way into the CFP National Championship. This year’s National Championship game could feature three Heisman finalists in Lawrence, Etienne and Rattler. 

A matchup between these two offenses would be an exciting game. However, with the Clemson defense being perhaps the best that Dabo Swinney has ever had, it is hard to imagine this team against any opponent. Look for Clemson to recapture the National Championship this year in a dominant undefeated season.

CFP Semifinals Predictions

No. 1 Clemson def. No. 4 Ohio State, 38-27

No. 2 Oklahoma def. No. 3 Alabama, 35-31

CFP National Championship Game Prediction

No. 1 Clemson def. No. 2 Oklahoma, 42-31

Photo: Getty Images