The first season of the College Football Playoff era was an overwhelming success, leaving legions shouting “I told you so!” Without the playoff, Ohio State would never have gotten the opportunity to show they were the best. The CFP allowed them to get a chance at #1 Alabama, and they humbled them. Then they defeated Oregon to win the title. They are the choice to repeat as the only unanimous preseason #1 in the history of the AP poll, and #1 by all but two of the 64 coaches who voted.
The Buckeyes started 2014 with Braxton Miller at quarterback. A preseason shoulder injury ended his season. Then J.T. Barrett stepped in and set the Big Ten record for touchdowns, but he was injured in the regular season finale against Michigan. Then Cardale Jones stepped and he was underestimated, and then spectacular in leading the Buckeyes to their eighth national championship. All three return this season. While we are not yet certain who the QB will be, we know it will not be Miller as he was moved to wide receiver, opening amazing possibilities.
The one figured to challenge the Buckeyes is TCU, #2 as they ended 2014. Trevone Boykin lit it up as the Frogs finally had an offense to go with their always-solid defense. The favorites to win the Big XII, they will host Baylor on Thanksgiving Friday. Baylor is also seen as a major contender. Still no championship game in the Big XII as they could not settle on two teams to expand the league back to 12, so TCU and Baylor will have to be that much more impressive.
The unquestioned top conference has been the SEC, and nothing figures to end that anytime soon. But do they have a true national contender? Alabama is voted #3 preseason in each poll based mostly on recent results. I see Auburn or Ole Miss as stronger contenders nationally. Auburn has a spectacular offense now led by Jeremy Johnson. Ole Miss boasts the best defense in America. They meet in Auburn on Halloween.
The Pac-12 sees itself as the challenger to the SEC’s dominance. Oregon has been the measure there and should remain so with Eastern Washington star Vernon Adams likely taking over for the Titans’ Marcus Mariota. Southern California is expecting a renaissance in year two under Steve Sarkisian. Arizona State could also be a threat nationally. They open with Texas A&M. Arizona, UCLA, and old stand-by Stanford will also figure in the Pac-12 race.
After Ohio State, Michigan State is the class of the Big Ten. The Spartans will rival Ole Miss defensively and Connor Cook returns at quarterback. Wisconsin, who opens with Alabama, is a bit in transition but in a positive way with Paul Chyrst the new head coach. Penn State could take the biggest leap forward in year two under James Franklin, if QB Christian Hackenburg can finally live up to his potential. Minnesota, who hosts TCU in the opener, could also be a factor.
Florida State enters life without Jameis Winston, as Everett Golson transfers in from Notre Dame. Speaking of the Irish, they could be a national contender having made the commitment to Malik Zaire. Clemson should be the best in the ACC and ahead of FSU as far as CFP possibles. Outside the power conferences you find old nemesis to big schools, now three-time Fiesta Bowl champion Boise State.
So my choices for the second College Football Playoff are Ohio State, TCU, Auburn and Clemson. The season begins September 3.