College Football Playoff Outlook: Preseason
It has been 232 days since the last college football game, where Alabama beat Georgia in an instant classic. After the long offseason college football is finally back with the opening slate of games starting this Thursday. Even though there is plenty of football to be played, that doesn’t mean it’s too early to make some predictions for this year's College Football Playoff:
1. Clemson Tigers
Coach Dabo Swinney and his No. 2 Clemson Tigers look to be as strong this season as they have ever looked on paper in the Swinney era. Senior quarterback Kelly Bryant beat out true freshman Trevor Lawrence for the starting job and Bryant will have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Sophomore Travis Etienne leads a loaded running back group to go along with sophomore receivers Tee Higgins and senior Hunter Renfrow on the outside.
Even with all that firepower on offense, the defensive side of the ball is what will make Clemson special in 2018. With 14 of their 18 leading tacklers from last season returning, Clemson will have one of the most talented and experienced groups in the country. Headlining the defense is the star-studded defensive line led by senior Christian Wilkins. All four defensive lineman will likely be top 15 picks in the NFL draft in 2019. With a relatively easy schedule this season, the Tigers could go into the ACC championship undefeated.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Whether it is junior Jalen Hurts or sophomore Tua Tagovailoa under center, the Crimson Tide look to be a power again in 2018. Coach Nick Saban has refused to announce a starter at quarterback ahead of their matchup with Louisville, but either quarterback will have plenty of help with them. Senior running back Damien Harris headlines a deep running back corps for the Crimson Tide attack.
Replacing the entire secondary will be a tough adjustment for Saban, but if we have learned anything in Saban era, it’s that nobody puts out defensive talent like the Crimson Tide. Junior linebacker Anfernee Jennings takes over the leadership role on the Alabama defense. Matchups with LSU and Auburn will make or break the Tide’s season but expect them back in the SEC Championship again.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
A trendy pick for the College Football Playoff this season has been Penn State. Coach James Franklin will have a lot to prove in his fifth season in Happy Valley. Losing Saquon Barkley to the NFL and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State are just a couple of changes at Penn State in 2018. However, this team is still loaded with talent, most notably senior quarterback Trace McSorley. McSorley will have new weapons around him this season including junior running back Miles Sanders and the return of junior wideout Juwan Johnson.
Losses to the defense include Marcus Allen and Jason Cabinda who have made their way to the NFL, but plenty of talent remains for the Nittany Lions on defense headlined by freshman linebacker Micah Parsons. This is the season Franklin shows the program he has built at Penn State. With Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all making the trip to Beaver Stadium this season, I expect Penn State to make a return appearance to the Big Ten championship in 2018.
4. Georgia Bulldogs
Coach Kirby Smart’s team was one play away from a national championship last season and comes into 2018 reloaded and focused. Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm returns after a phenomenal freshman season but will have to watch out for true freshman and No. 1 recruit in 2018, Justin Fields. Despite the losses of running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Bulldogs will be just fine with sophomore D’Andre Swift who could be a Heisman finalist.
The Bulldogs’ defense was dominant in 2017 and looks to be the same in 2018. Senior D’Andre Walker will take over the leadership role on the Bulldogs defense that was occupied by first-round pick Roquan Smith. The secondary will be strong this season with the return of senior cornerback Deandre Baker and junior safety J.R. Reed. A week two trip to South Carolina has upset alert written all over it, but we might be looking at an Alabama-Georgia rematch in the SEC championship.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
6. Oklahoma Sooners
Camden Tofil is a sophomore majoring in advertising. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.