The much-maligned BCS era is finally over, and this year we'll have our first playoff in College Football history. Throughout this season, we'll be giving you weekly updates on who we think will make the cut for the four-team playoff...and who'll be left out.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
The Gamecocks were the media's pick to win the SEC East, although Georgia seems to be who all of the "experts" like. South Carolina has almost all of their big games at home (with the major exception of facing Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 25), and they usually take care of business there - they own the nation's longest active home winning streak at 18 games. Steve Spurrier's squad can afford a loss or two, but they'll have to pull an upset in the conference championship game and win the SEC to make the playoff.
9) Ohio State
People were quick to jump off of the Ohio State bandwagon after Braxton Miller's injury, which will sideline him for the entire 2014 season. Still, the bottom line is that the Buckeyes are ranked 5th in the country and have to lose before they effectively get knocked out of contention.
Even without Miller, they'll still be favorites to win every game they play in - with the exception of their visit to East Lansing on November 8 - and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who's taking over for Miller, will have had eight games to get ready for that. If they can avoid a major upset, the Buckeyes just have to win that one game to be viewed as serious contenders again.
8 ) Baylor
Baylor returns starting quarterback Bryce Petty from last year's record setting offense, but he lost a lot of his offensive weapons, most notably running back Lache Seashrunk. The Big XII race will likely come down to Oklahoma and the Bears, and they face each other on November 8 in Norman. OU will be favored even though Baylor smacked them 41-12 last year, and that game will probably decide who has the best chance to emerge from that conference and into the playoff.
7) Michigan State
The Spartans are the team that benefits the most from Braxton Miller's injury. They're now the odds-on favorite to repeat as Big Ten champs, and have a favorable schedule that could lead to an undefeated season. Michigan State will have to finish the season undefeated, however, if they want to get in the playoff - the Big Ten is weak enough that any loss would be hard to overcome in the eyes of the selection committee.
The Bruins are America's favorite underdog pick to knock off Oregon and win the Pac-12, and they have the talent to make it happen. UCLA is in the same boat as Oregon - they can lose one game in this stacked conference, but they'll have to emerge as the conference champion to make the playoff. A win over those Ducks at home on October 11 will go a long way toward helping UCLA's resume.
The Tigers had perhaps the most miraculous season in college football history a year ago, and used that to win the SEC championship and land a berth in the final BCS title game. Quarterback Nick Marshall returns to lead a high-powered rushing attack, but many doubt Auburn will be able to duplicate last years success due to their amazingly tough schedule. Only having one loss would almost guarantee the Tigers a spot, and they could possibly get in with two...but that all depends on what happens with the rest if the country's top teams.
Sooner Nation is riding high after their win over Alabama in last year's Sugar Bowl, and they should be. They return 17 starters from last years team and are expected to take the Big XII title away from Baylor, but Oklahoma has a knack for falling short of expectations. Without having to play a conference championship game, the Sooners have little room for error. They can afford one close loss to either Baylor or Texas, but anything else would torpedo their chances of landing a bid.
The Ducks come in as the favorite in a loaded Pac-12, largely due to the return of Marcus Mariota. They look like the best team in the West on paper, but Oregon's proven in past years that games, unfortunately, aren't won on paper. Given the difficulty of their conference slate this year, the Ducks can afford one slip-up, but they'll still have to win the conference to earn a berth in the playoff.
Alabama lost AJ McCarron, but they return both TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry in a loaded backfield that should help either Blake Sims or Jake Coker ease in to the starting QB role. The Tide are still perhaps the most talented team in the country, and enter as the preseason favorites to win the SEC. If they can do that, they'll be a major threat to FSU at the top of the standings.
1) Florida State
The Seminoles are the defending champs, and have an easy schedule that should let them navigate right back to another undefeated regular season. If that's the case, FSU is a virtual lock to get the top seed - but one loss will probably end their postseason dreams due to their lack of quality opponents.
Who do you think will make the College Football Playoff? Who are some dark horse teams? Leave a response in the comments!