The college football season kicks off tonight when Northwestern plays Purdue (8 PM ET, ESPN) to start a five-day college football extravaganza that runs all the way through Labor Day Night. To set the tone for the season, here’s a basic outlook on the season looks. This is based on a combination of the AP Top 25 and the Las Vegas betting odds on each team’s chances to make the College Football Playoff, thereby framing how the landscape shapes up.
Comment: All three teams are in the top four for both the writers and oddsmakers and none of them come as a surprise. Any preseason prediction that doesn’t have Alabama in its Playoff has to be dismissed as a pundit just going for shock value. Clemson and Georgia are more interesting cases. The Tigers have an elite defense, but there are question marks at quarterback and their recruiting classes run behind what comes in at ‘Bama. In the case of Georgia, the best players are still on their way up through the program.
FIGHTING FOR THE FOURTH
Comment: All three teams rank in the top 5 for either the writers or oddsmakers, thus separating them from the rest of the field. This spot has to be considered Ohio State’s to lose. Only the summer saga over Urban Meyer’s job status keeps the Buckeyes from the top tier.
NEW YEAR’S SIX FAVORITES
Comment: The top 11 teams will make the six major bowls, to be joined by one qualifier from the ranks of the mid-majors. These five teams are in the top 11 for both the media and the markets. Oklahoma has certainly earned the status as Big 12 favorite until proven otherwise, even with the loss of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield. Penn State has the raw talent to get their third straight major bowl bid, while having enough inexperience to not quite get to a higher level. The Spartans, Tigers and Hurricanes are all interesting cases—true Bubble teams, if I can use a college basketball expression.
MAJOR BOWL CONTENDERS
Comment: The consensus has all four of these teams in the top 16 nationally. It’s frankly not hard to imagine any of them making the leap all the way to the Playoff. Michigan, Notre Dame and USC recruit the necessary talent to be among the elite, while Stanford is one of the best-coached teams in the nation under David Shaw.
THE 12th TEAM
Comment: Dipping into the ranks of the so-called “Little Five” conferences (American, Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC & Sun Belt) two teams stand above the rest. Central Florida, even with the loss of head coach Scott Frost to Nebraska, is a favorite to win this bid for the second straight year. Boise State isn’t far behind.
MID-MAJOR DARK HORSES
Comment: Could Lane Kiffin at FAU or Charlie Strong at USF get some national vindication with a run at a major bowl. The oddsmakers tell us not to rule it out.
DIFFERENCES OF OPINION
Comment: The most notable differences of opinion come with those two teams, who are considerably more valued by oddsmakers than they are by the media. Las Vegas gives Michigan the sixth- best chance in the country of making the Playoff, while they’re ranked #14 in the AP poll. Texas’ Playoff odds are 13th-best in the country, while they barely got on the AP radar at #25.