If you are a college football fan, we are right in the midst of a very exciting couple of years. Starting this year, the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision for the first time is going to have a playoff system. The four-team, two-game playoff system was implemented because of the enormous outcry for a playoff system. Previously you would have the two top ranked teams meet in a national championship game, but for those teams who were the elites that could compete with these #1 and #2 ranked teams never got an opportunity to show how well they stack up. There always seems to be a team at the end of the year that never got the chance to play in the National Championship. For example, during the 2012-2013 season Alabama blew out Notre Dame in the Championship Game. This was highly controversial because while ND was undefeated, their schedule was very easy compared to the other top-5 teams. When Alabama absolutely routed them 42-14, and this led to many debates about a playoff system, because the Oregon Ducks put up a very impressive 12-1 campaign and the teams they played were much more competitive than the teams Notre Dame had played. Many believe this playoff system can somewhat make these situations go away.
Enough of history, let’s talk about this season and the teams that are making the biggest push to be in the playoffs. What is making this year interesting is we have a few fresh faces to the mix. At the same time we have both teams that were in the National Championship last year right in the playoff picture as well. This mixture of somewhat upstart teams coming at the teams we constantly see as marquis college football teams is making this race for the title very exciting.
#1: Mississippi State University:
Mississippi State is a team hard not to root for. Starting the season not even in the Top 25 preseason polls and moving all way up to the #1 team in the nation is a feat we don’t see often. Nobody has though of them as a threat for years, they have been in a rebuilding mode for their team for years. Dan Mullen was hired as head coach in 2008, and has not been very successful the entire tenure until now. Their spark comes from their Heisman candidate Quarterback Dak Prescott. With a Cam Newton-like physique he is a dual-treat weapon that can beat any team with his arm or with his legs. Already throwing for over 1,600 yards with 15 throwing touchdowns and running for over 600 yards with 10 rushing touchdowns he is just picking apart opposing teams defenses.
The Achilles Heel for this team however is their defense. They have not shown much consistency this season, for example last weekend they went on the road to an un-ranked Kentucky, and only won 45-31 which is not good for a team trying to make an National Championship push. The game was very close throughout most of it which is scary for a team with a weak defense. If they are going to make this Cinderella story come true, they are going to need to improve the defense otherwise i do not think they will be able to handle the grueling end of their season which includes Alabama and Ole Miss.
#2 Florida State:
Jameis Winston still has yet to lose a game as a college football quarterback. Him and the ‘noles have picked up where they left off last season after winning an National Title. An offensive juggernaut, no team has been able to stop them the past year and a half and they have shown no signs of slowing down. The biggest obstacle this team has is its quarterback’s judgment in his personal life. It is becoming a recurring pattern of Winston getting in trouble off the field, but when he is on the field he is unstoppable. Like Mississippi State, their defense seems to be the lone weakness of the team. But they have to rely heavily on Winston to score astronomical numbers day-in and day-out to set them so ahead of the pack. If a team is going to bring down the reigning champ they will need to just hope they can limit Winston’s scoring ability. If anyone does bring them down, it will have to be a shootout because the only way to take them down will be to just dominate them offensively, because even on a bad day Winston will still put up unbelievable numbers. In my personal opinion, this Florida State team is the strongest team in this tentative playoff bracket, being the reigning champs it is easy to say that, but they have kept the pivotal pieces of their team from last year. They know what they are going to get out of Winston, whereas we do not know how Dak Prescott of Mississippi State can handle the pressure down the stretch.
#3 Auburn Univeristy
Auburn, the NCAA’s runner ups is trying to make a push back to the National Championship game, but this time wants to bring home the trophy. The Tigers come back this year like last year with a more complete team when it comes to every aspect of the ball. Unlike the other two teams, Auburn’s defense is very solid. They rely on them heavily to not put too much of a burden on the offense. Offensively, they are very run-heavy. Their Quarterback situation is very shaky. Last year, the Tigers fought their way to an SEC Championship and a NCAA Championship game berth on the ground. Their Quarterback, Nick Marshall has yet to prove himself as a great passer, something that is necessary to survive in the SEC. He has yet to prove himself so much that head coach Gus Malzahn benched him the first game of this season, and while that did not last long and he was in the game later on that game, it clearly show they do not have much faith in Marshall even though he was their Quarterback last season. They are lucky to have the defense that they have, it somewhat makes up for the lack of passing. They are very run-heavy, but it is hard to break games wide open with the run rather than the pass. They have had a strong start but in my opinion they are the weakest in the playoff picture thus far, just because of the lack of confidence in Marshall it makes them vulnerable.
#4 Ole Miss
Another team out of Mississippi who is having a “re-emergence” season is the Rebels from Ole Miss. Like Mississippi State, it was a surprise just how well Bo Wallace and the Rebels have come out this season. Out of the top four teams right now, Ole Miss has the best defense of all of them, ranked #9 in the nation. The most points they have allowed all season was 20 against Texas A&M in a 35-20 victory in College Station. On the offensive side of the ball, Bo Wallace has been slinging it, already throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 18 Throwing touchdowns. His ability to read defenses is one of the best in the nation. On the ground they have a great combination of Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers who help set up the passing game. Not an overpowering running threat but good enough to scare defenses so they are always preparing for the run which sets up opportunities for Wallace. I hold these guys in high regard, even coming off a 10-7 loss to LSU, that game was a battle and could have gone to anyone. I think they are a very complete team so down the stretch I would keep these guys in mind to sneak up in the playoff bracket. The game I am most looking forward to this season is the “Egg Bowl” which is the rivalry game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State that is both teams final game of the regular season. Even though Mississippi has Prescott, I am intrigued to see what Ole Miss does with their defense to stop him. If they are able to stop Prescott, I think Wallace and this Rebel’s offense could beat the Mississippi State Defense.
Outside Looking In:
This playoff system is sort of a trial run for this type of thing for the FBS, which is why there are only four teams and two games. It has not totally gotten rid of the problem of some teams probably deserving to be in the playoffs but do not get the votes. Like stated before, the Oregon Ducks are ranked #5 in the nation, just missing the cut off for the playoff system, and an argument could be made that Marcus Mariota and the Ducks deserve a shot at a championship. Another team right there is Alabama at #6. Nick Saban puts contenders out on the field year-after-year, and this season is no exception, Amari Cooper is just torching defenses out there, some believe they deserve a shot. So hopefully the playoff format will be a hit and maybe a few years down the line it can be expanded to have more teams. I believe this format will do nothing but make the sport more exciting and that can only help the NCAA. Hopefully the teams will live up to the hype, we could be in for an electrifying couple of weeks.