NCAA Football Playoff Predictions: The Return of UCLA

Before the season kicked off, UCLA was the darling of college football.

They had a Heisman contender at quarterback, 19 returning starters, and a manageable schedule. So many people named them as the "sleeper pick" to make (or win!) the College Football Playoff that they somehow became one of the favorites.

Unfortunately for Bruins fans, their first three games didn't go so well. Sloppy performances against Virginia, Memphis, and Texas dropped the Bruins out of the top 10, even though they hadn't lost a game.

Then, last Thursday night happened. UCLA went on a 56-10 run to close out a 62-27 win over then-No. 15 Arizona State in Sun Devil Stadium, and things look to have gotten back on course for head coach Jim Mora's squad.

They've jumped back into our Top 10, but where do they rank among the rest of the field?


10) Ole Miss

Previously Ranked: 9

Last Week: 24-3 win vs. Memphis

This Week: Sat. vs. Alabama

The Rebels finished their harder-than-average-but-still-pretty-bad early season non-conference schedule (they face Presbyterian on November 8) with an unspectacular win over Memphis, but now their schedule gets tough in a hurry (that tends to happen when you play in the SEC West).  Up first is a home game against Alabama, which will be the Rebels' first chance to prove they're for real.

Sure, they'll have chances in the coming weeks against Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn (how's that for a five-game stretch?), but beating the national power that is Nick Saban's Alabama will instantly change the perception of this program.

Since their game against Memphis was just a tiny bit boring, were going to show you highlights from a fight!

9) Notre Dame

Previously Ranked: 9

Last Week: 31-15 win at Syracuse

This Week: Sat. vs. Stanford

Quarterback Everett Golson did look amazing against Syracuse, but the Irish looked unspectacular as a whole. Now Notre Dame hosts Stanford, their first real test of the season. We still don't really know how good Golson and the Irish are - they keep rising in the rankings because they keep winning and the teams ahead of them don't - so on Saturday we'll finally be able to see if Notre Dame is a real contender or not.


8 ) UCLA

Previously Ranked: NR

Last Week: 62-27 win at Arizona State

This Week: Sat. vs. Utah

UCLA faces a major trap game this weekend with a solid Utah team coming to town. The Bruins need to be careful and not look ahead to facing Oregon in the Rose Bowl next weekend, or the underrated Utes will pull the upset - and the respect UCLA re-earned after beating Arizona State will be lost.

7) Auburn

Previously Ranked: 7

Last Week: 45-17 win vs. Louisiana Tech

This Week: Sat. vs. LSU

Auburn fans better have enjoyed their easy win over Louisiana Tech, because their next six games are against LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia.

Let that sink in for a moment - told ya the SEC West was fun.

The Tigers can afford one, or maybe two close losses during this stretch and still make the playoff (as long as they beat Alabama at the end of the season), but look for their mantra to stay the same - just find a way to win and move on. A win over LSU won't prove anything since we already know last year's SEC champs are good, but it would get them one step closer to finishing this brutal run.

6) Baylor

Previously Ranked: 6

Last Week: 49-28 win at Iowa State

This Week: Sat. at Texas

Wait, Baylor didn't win by 60? Is everything ok???

Yes, everything is fine in Waco. The Bears were up 35-7 at halftime against the Cyclones before sending in the backups and going on cruise control, but they'll face their first halfway decent team this weekend against Texas. I expect this explosive offense (56.8 ppg, 641.1 ypg) to continue to put up gaudy numbers, but now their supposedly improved defense will have to prove themselves.

5) Texas A&M

Previously Ranked: 5

Last Week: 35-28(OT) win vs. Arkansas

This Week: Sat. at Mississippi State

The Aggies pulled off a dramatic 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback win over an improved Arkansas team last weekend, and they get to follow that up by facing their toughest opponent to date (surprise: another SEC West squad). Mississippi State has proven their worth by beating LSU in Death Valley, and they're now looking for another marquee win to springboard themselves to the forefront of the playoff conversation. On the flip side, if A&M manages to pull off another win to add to their resume, they'll crack the top four in our rankings.


4) Florida State

Previously Ranked: 2

Last Week: 56-41 win at NC State

This Week: Sat. vs. Wake Forest

For two straight games now, Florida State just hasn't looked good. Yes, they survived Clemson without Jameis Winston, and yes, they survived after being down 24-7 against NC State, but neither game is anything FSU wants to boast about. They need to get back to playing high-quality football to avoid falling out of the top four.

3) Oklahoma

Previously Ranked: 4

Last Week: Bye

This Week: Sat. at TCU

All of our top three teams are coming off of a bye, and all face tough games this week. Oklahoma hits the road to face a TCU team that just cracked the top 25, and the Sooners looking for a signature win to propel themselves up the ranks. The Horned Frogs are going to give the Sooners everything they have, so Oklahoma needs to respond like they did in their road victory over West Virginia.

2) Alabama

Previously Ranked: 3

Last Week: Bye

This Week: Sat. at Ole Miss

We already talked about what a win in this game would mean for Ole Miss, but for Alabama, a win would simply solidify the Crimson Tide as a team that belongs at the top of college football. The Tide's best wins have come against West Virginia and Florida this year, and while those wins are nothing to scoff at, those teams aren't as good as the Rebels.

1) Oregon

Previously Ranked: 1

Last Week: Bye

This Week: Thurs. vs. Arizona

Oregon is out for revenge after the Wildcats upset them in Tuscon last year, knocking the Ducks out of title contention. Arizona has looked good so far this season, but so has Oregon. Look for this one to get ugly.


Who do you think is this year's dark horse to make the College Football Playoff? What four teams would you put in? Tweet your thoughts to @brauf33 and leave a response in the comments!


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