After a long offseason, football season has finally returned at last. Now in its third year, the College Football Playoff awaits the best teams in the sport, but there's a lot of football -- and a lot of debate -- to be take place before then.
Although the exercise of picking a national champion before Week 1 often proves unsuccessful, it's still fun, which is why we spent the past two weeks breaking down the top teams' CFP chances. Here's who the NCAA.com team thinks will lift the trophy in Tampa on Jan. 9:
|I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback college football has seen since Cam Newton, and Wayne Gallman just might be the most underrated running back in the country. The Tigers have to travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State on Oct. 29, but if they can escape with a victory, they’ll be in the driver’s seat in an improved ACC. Their offense is just too potent to ignore.|
|It was hard to include both teams from last year’s championship game in this year’s group once again. But Alabama and Clemson are, in my eyes, by far the two most talented, least flawed teams entering the season. As for my other two picks, I may be stuck in 2015 picking last year’s preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams. But Oklahoma will falter, opening the door for darkhorse TCU, and you can never count out Urban Meyer – even with an overhauled Buckeyes roster. In the end, I think Deshaun Watson and the Tigers get it done the second time around.|
|Repeats are exceptionally hard to do in college football, though I do think Alabama gets back to the Playoff because if you win the SEC West you’re probably in. However, I think it is Clemson and Oklahoma, the two most complete teams in the nation in my eyes, advancing to the championship. Then the bold one, Washington, which is an underrated team that benefits from playing at home against the top Pac-12 teams. A win over Stanford and the Huskies might never look back.|
|LSU steps into 2016 with more talent on the field that it has had in years. In fact, I would argue that the combination of Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and even Brandon Harris holds more talent than 2003’s national champions Justin Vincent, Michael Clayton, Devery Henderson and Matt Mauck. So if everyone can stay healthy, LSU looks like it is going to win the national title this year. Still, based on previous appearances in championship play, current talent on the teams and general stability of the programs, I think Oklahoma, FSU and Stanford will make a solid run in the CFP, too.|
|Clemson gets redemption in the CFP title game as I hope to do this same with my picks this year. Watson, his WR corp and Wayne Gallman lead a steady offensive attack and also last year proved you shouldn't count out Brent Venables' defense even with big gaps to fill. I have Oklahoma as the runner-up, but if Ohio State can survive the trip to Norman, they could easily be swapped in given the state of the Big Ten. Repeats are rare and I see LSU as the SEC champion, leaving Alabama out of the playoff for the first time. As for the last pick, I wanted to throw in a bold prediction so consider me on the Huskies' bandwagon. We all know what Chris Petersen has accomplished and the Jake Browning-led offense is one of the most underrated in the country.|
Austin R. Vaughn
|Dabo and Deshaun went 14-0 with a chip on their shoulder last year and almost got a fifteenth win against King Saban and the Tide. 2017 ought to see a just as powerful Clemson Tiger, fueled by anger and ready to crush that chip off their shoulder. As for the aforementioned Alabama, betting against Saban's boys used to be an interesting pick, assuming that at some point the Tide has to have a down year. But, that pick stopped being cute around the time Saban brought a third trophy to Tuscaloosa. Harbaugh will once again improve the Wolverines exponentially, and Heisman-winner Christian McCaffrey will lead Stanford to a 12-0 season.|
Eric Vander Voort
|Last year, Alabama won the national title after CFP disappointment the previous year. Clemson suffered a gut-wrenching defeat in last year's national championship game, having led at the end of the third quarter before an incredible turn-around from the Tide. This year, they return QB Deshaun Watson, who is my preseason Heisman pick, talented RB Wayne Gallman, and they get WR Mike Williams back from injury. Few teams, if any, have as complete of an offensive set of weapons to choose from. I'll take the Tigers to go undefeated this season. I'll also say LSU gets revenge on Bama, Michigan rolls through the Big Ten, Baker Mayfield leads Oklahoma to another Big 12 title and the Pac-12 beats up on each other too much to make the Playoff again.|
Some might take a gripe with the fact that a Pac-12 team not named Stanford made it into this list, but UCLA’s sophomore QB Josh Rosen has a rocket arm and designs on a Pac-12 championship. College football is a wild beast y’all. Many of these teams will face a tough slog just to make it out of their respective conferences, and still there’s no guarantee of a spot in the playoff. Nonetheless, the best way to learn what it takes to win a championship is to get there and lose. There’s only one team in all of college football that has that experience under their belt, and Clemson does also have QB Deshaun Watson under center. Enough said.