The Ultimate 2014 College Football Preview Guy’d

Boston College Football Practice

As a college student who has to walk a mile from his apartment to his classes every day, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it does not feel like football weather on any campus in America right now. However, despite the dearth of frozen tundra and bone-chilling winds, college football season is nearly upon us. 

Georgia State faced off against Abilene Christian at 7 PM EST Wednesday, the moment that marked the official start of the 2014-2015 college football season. The time for the legal wrangling and power shifting that defined this offseason is past. The time for tailgates, fight songs, raucous student sections and Lee Corso headgear choices has arrived.

What can we expect this year? We can certainly anticipate confusion and controversy as everyone tries to adapt to the machinations of the new College Football Playoff (inventive name, right?) that replaces the BCS starting this year. Beyond that, all we can expect is the usual chaos of a college football season. This guide is this writer’s (probably misplaced) attempt at creating some semblance of order out of that chaos.

Cue the sound of 100,000 screaming fans.

First Things First

What’s the deal with this whole playoff thing?

The BCS is finally dead. After years of players, coaches, athletic directors, analysts and even Barack Obama railing against the champion-determining system, the powers that be in major college football have created a fresh new way to crown the sport’s annual king. Of course, “fresh new way” doesn’t mean “way without controversy.”

The basic premise of the aptly-named College Football Playoff is simple: a 13-member selection committee, themselves selected by the FBS conference commissioners, will choose four teams to play in a season-ending, single-elimination tournament to determine a national champion.

The 13 dignitaries who hold the fate of the college football world in their hands are as follows

  • Jeff Long – University of Arkansas Athletic Director and Committee Chair
  • Condoleezza Rice – Stanford University Provost (among other titles)
  • Oliver Luck – West Virginia University Athletic Director (and Andrew’s dad)
  • Barry Alvarez – University of Wisconsin Athletic Director
  • Pat Haden – USC Athletic Director
  • Dan Radakovich – Clemson University Athletic Director
  • Mike Tranghese – Former commissioner of the Big East Conference
  • Tom Jernstedt – Former NCAA Executive Vice President
  • Mike Gould – Former superintendent of the Air Force Academy
  • Tom Osbourne – The most beloved man in Nebraska
  • Archie Manning – Patriarch of the First Family of Football
  • Tyrone Willingham – Former coach at Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington
  • Steve Wieberg – Former USA Today college football reporter (the guy they used to throw journalists a bone)

These are the people you should direct your vitriol at when a two-loss SEC team makes the Playoff over your undefeated alma mater from a smaller conference. The committee is tasked with deciding the “best” teams, and it appears that any team outside of the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big 12) will have to be incredibly dominant to crack the final four.

The committee will use the following guidelines to determine their selections

  • Strength of schedule
  • Conference championships won
  • Head-to-head results
  • Results against common opponents

The best four teams based on those criteria will play in the semifinal games. These semifinals will rotate each year amongst six major bowls; the Cotton, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Peach Bowls have been assigned this honor. For the inaugural CFP, the Rose Bowl (played in its traditional New Year’s Day timeslot) and Sugar Bowl will serve as the semifinals, with the championship game played more than a week later, on January 12, 2015 at Cowboy Stadium. The committee will also choose the teams to play in the other “major” bowls when they are not serving as semifinals.

The selection committee itself is a large step forward past the notorious combination of a flawed computer system and rankings based on the opinion of coaches who couldn’t possibly watch all the important games that determined the BCS standings. The new Playoff isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a leap in the right direction.

The Best of the Best

Who is on this season’s preseason Heisman Trophy watch list?

On one hand, the last two Heisman winners have been completely off the radar for the award before the season started. On the other hand, making a list of potential candidates gives us players to follow closely in the season’s opening weeks. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to make doomed predictions, so I’m going to do it. Here are the players to watch for in the race for the 80th Heisman Memorial Trophy.

The Frontrunners

Jameis Winston QB – Florida State

Florida State v Florida

Winston is the defending champ, looking to become the first repeat Heisman winner since Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75. His Seminoles enter the season ranked No. 1, so all Winston needs to do to retain the trophy is lead FSU to a second straight undefeated season and put up even bigger numbers than he did a season ago. He’ll have to do it without two of his top three receivers from 2013, but there’s still plenty of talent at wideout and five senior starters man an elite offensive line. Don’t bet against Famous Jameis, especially in the relatively weak ACC.

Marcus Mariota QB – Oregon

Oregon State v Oregon

Mariota was a preseason favorite for the Heisman a year ago as well and was right in the thick of the race until a loss to Stanford and subsequent partially torn MCL derailed his chances. It’s a tribute to Mariota’s immense talent that many considered a season in which he posted an Oregon record 4,380 total yards and led the Ducks to an 11-2 record to be a disappointment. The Honolulu native might have his campaign disrupted if a trio of talented running backs behind him, including the Pac-12’s leading returning rusher Byron Marshall, steals the headlines.

Brett Hundley QB – UCLA

UCLA v USC

Like Mariota, Hundley would easily have been a first-round pick in the NFL Draft this year had he ended his college career early. Instead, No. 17 returned to lead the best Bruins team since Cade McNown was under center at the Rose Bowl (insert sound of all Bears fans sobbing). The October 11 matchup in Tinseltown between the Ducks and Bruins could decide which of these Pac-12 quarterbacks has an inside track.

Braxton Miller QB – Ohio State

Sorry Buckeye fans.

In the Discussion

Bryce Petty QB – Baylor

Petty put up video game numbers a year ago in Art Briles’ aerial assault offense, throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 TDs with only three picks. It wasn’t a coincidence that Baylor had the best season in school history. Petty came back to try to earn Baylor a spot in the first CFP and avenge a Sugar Bowl loss in which Blake Bortles badly outplayed him. The senior signal-caller will have a showcase game against Oklahoma on November 8 in Norman. 

Todd Gurley RB – Georgia

With the graduation of Aaron Murray, Gurley is now by far the brightest star on the Georgia offense and possibly in the entire SEC. He’ll have to shoulder a heavy workload as quarterback Hutson Mason gets his feet wet in his first year as the undisputed starter. Gurley’s totals from a season ago suggest he is capable of handling anything the SEC throws at him; he averaged an unheard-of six yards per carry last season, despite being slowed by an ankle injury late in the year. If Georgia emerges from the SEC, the bruising back will be at the forefront of the Heisman discussion.

Other names you’ll hear ad nauseum early in the season.

Nick Marshall QB – Auburn

Melvin Gordon RB – Wisconsin

Mike Davis RB – South Carolina

Connor Cook QB – Michigan State

The longest longshot (who actually has a chance but no is talking about)

Davis Webb QB – Texas Tech

Watch out for Webb, a sophomore at the controls of Kliff Kingsbury’s extremely pass-heavy offense in Lubbock. The Prosper, Texas native threw for 400 yards three times against Big 12 foes and fileted Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Texas Tech has a chance to be 9-0 when they face Oklahoma on November 15, giving Webb plenty of national exposure.

And the winner is…

Which teams will make the inaugural CFP and who will win it all?

The Semifinals

No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 UCLA

The Seminoles simply have too much talent to drop a game in a schedule that features no real tests outside of Clemson and maybe Florida in a rivalry game. FSU will cruise to an undefeated season and an ACC title behind more Winston heroics and the defensive playmaking of superstar DE Mario Edwards.

UCLA will be tripped up by either Stanford or Oregon (my guess is by a faster Oregon squad on October 11), but exact revenge against the Ducks in the conference title game and make the Playoff, much to the chagrin of two-loss Georgia. Hundley will be a star and a defense anchored by two-way standout Myles Jack (a starter at TE and LB) will be just good enough to keep the Bruins in games.

Winner: Florida State, 41-20

No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama

Maybe it’s the Big Ten bias in me, but Wisconsin has the look of a juggernaut in my eyes. The Badgers face a powerful LSU team in Week 1, but the Tigers are in the midst of a quarterback controversy that hasn’t been sorted out yet. Bucky will win by two touchdowns in that game and the rest of the schedule is smooth sailing until a conference championship matchup against Michigan State. The winner of that game will get this spot and I expect it to be Wisconsin behind large doses of Melvin Gordon and a fast (rather than the typical bulky) defense.

The Crimson Tide will be the one team left standing after the smoke clears in what should be a fantastically entertaining SEC season. ‘Bama will be upset once (keep an eye on their October 11 matchup against improved Arkansas) but Nick Saban returns a hugely talented group (albeit one without a named starting quarterback at this writing) hell-bent on avenging last year’s loss in the Iron Bowl. An explosive backfield featuring TJ Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, and Derrick Henry will help the offense score at will on the ground.

Winner: Alabama, 31-17

National Championship Game

Florida State vs. Alabama

This is what everyone wants, a clash of two titans. The mentor, Nick Saban, will face his protégé, Jimbo Fisher. I hate going chalk with these predictions, but these two teams seem to have far more talent than anyone else out there. I give Florida State the edge in this game, as their defense should befuddle the inexperienced Tide quarterback (whether it turns out to be FSU transfer Jacob Coker or senior Billy Sims). If Florida State can remain focused and get up for each game they play, they’ll win a second straight national title.

Winner: Florida State: 24-16

Dylan Sinn is a freelance contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSinn or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Getty