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ALOST’s 2015 Preseason College Football Top 25

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hopes to take another Irish team to a national title game with a first-year starting quarterback, this time with Malik Zaire (AP)
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hopes to take another Irish team to a national title game while having a first-year starting quarterback, just like in 2012. This time, junior Malik Zaire (r.) will be the signal caller. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

College football is back! No, we’re not playing around.

It’s already been seven months since we were all debating which teams should (or shouldn’t) be in the College Football Playoff, only for experts who didn’t think Ohio State should have been in the initial Playoff (ahem, me) look like fools when the Buckeyes ran roughshod over Alabama and Oregon to take home the national championship. So as we look at the 2015 season and what might be in store, we debut The A Lot of Sports Talk 2015 Preseason College Football Top 25, the first of our weekly series of college football polls during the season. For each team capsule, we make the case as to why said team may make a run to the semifinals – held at the Orange and Cotton Bowls this year – as well as make arguments to dismiss such aspirations (“Why we’re just playing”).

With any new season, some things change while other elements remain the same, and our group of pollsters, as well as our number, has gone through just a little bit of turnover. But, as always, we are privileged and thankful to have assembled an esteemed group of broadcasters, reporters and fans – all with great credentials – to combine their own polls – seven polls in total – to create our amalgamation that is the ALOST College Football Poll. And here they are: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional based in Ohio), Evie Van Pelt (managing editor at The Rebel Walk Magazine), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Nick Mancuso (patent attorney who attended USC as an undergrad and Oregon for law school), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous football staff member at a Division II school who once coached at the FBS level.

Here is ALOST‘s 2015 Preseason College Football Top 25.  If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at feedback@alotofsportstalk.com. We’d love to hear from you.

 

1. Ohio State Ohio State (175, seven first-place votes)

Why Ohio State in the College Football Playoff: They shouldn’t lose until the Playoff. Period. They are the best team from last season, and return so many players for 2015 that they should be the best team this season. We could leave it at that, but it’s never that easy.

The story of the three two quarterbacks (J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, with Braxton Miller moving to receiver/H-back) has been written/read/talked about ad nauseam, but it’s possible that the two best players on the team aren’t even quarterbacks. The Buckeyes replaced Carlos Hyde in the backfield in 2014 with Ezekiel Elliott, and all he did was rush for 696 yards in the three biggest games of the year for OSU, and in back-to-back-to-back games (B1G title game, CFP semis, CFP championship). On the defensive side, Joey Bosa might be the best defensive end in college football and is projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Whichever quarterback starts, Ohio State is stacked, and should be in the Playoff once again.

Why we’re just playing with Ohio State: But then again, Bosa, as well as starting receiver Jalin Marshall and two other players, have been suspended for the season opener on Monday at Virginia Tech, and that has caused an unnecessary distraction, let alone weakening the team during one of its premier games of 2015. Oh, and do you know how many teams have won the undisputed national championship in back-to-back years since 1980? That would be a grand total of one: Nebraska in 1994 and 1995. Heavy is the head that wears the crown indeed.

 

2.   170px-TCU_Horned_Frogs_Logo.svg  TCU (165)

Why TCU in the Playoff: Last year, I was one of the voters who DID have TCU as one of the top four teams going into the College Football Playoff selection show. Instead of being down about not being in the Final Four, they went out and emasculated Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, setting up this lofty ranking to start 2015. And what’s not to like? Trevone Boykin is a legit Heisman candidate at quarterback, Gary Patterson’s defense continues to be stingy and the Horned Frogs will have an “unfinished business” mentality going into the season.

Why we’re just playing: Though it didn’t make national headlines, Dick Bumpas, a former Frank Broyles Award finalist as the best assistant in college football, retired as defensive coordinator in the offseason. His departure might not mean much, but he’s been as much of the brains behind TCU’s great defense over the past decade-plus as Patterson. While TCU gets Baylor at home the day after Thanksgiving, they do have road games against Oklahoma and a Minnesota team looking for revenge to start the season. TCU slipped up once last season, by three points on the road against a Top Five team, and didn’t make the Playoff. You think their margin for error is wider this time around? Don’t think so.

 

3. AlabamaTidelogo Alabama (152)

Why Alabama in the playoff: Another year passes without Alabama winning a national championship? Nick Saban must be going bonkers, and that’s not just because he only has three returning starters on offense and questions at the quarterback spot. But the defense, which returns almost everyone except safety Landon Collins, projects to be one of the nation’s best once again, and that’s the perfect tonic for a team who hopes their offense can gather its legs as the season goes on. Also, Derrick Henry, who just missed reaching the 1,000-yard rushing mark, will ease the burden for whichever quarterback, Jacob Coker or Alec Morris, starts under center. Oh, and under Saban, Alabama has won two national championships with first-year starting quarterbacks. If one is an accident and two is a trend, then….

Why we’re just playing: Honestly, you can’t return only three starters and expect to be just fine. There’s going to be growing pains, and probably more of them if they’re not on the ball to start the season against a pretty good Wisconsin team in Arlington. With seven teams from the Southeastern Conference ranked in our poll, we could easily talk about how tough each of those teams’ schedules are. Instead, we’ll shorten it by placing this: _________________ (Insert “brutal 2015 SEC conference schedule” line here.) It just saves time, as well as my fingers while typing all of this.

 

4. 173px-Baylor_University_Athletics_(logo).svg Baylor (148)

Why Baylor in the Playoff: Oh, no! The Bears have to replace another productive quarterback, and their history in doing that recently has been….umm…pretty good!  When RG III left Baylor with Heisman Trophy in tow, Nick Florence stepped in and dazzled in his only season as starter in 2012. After Florence, Bryce Petty became a serious Heisman candidate in his two seasons under center. Now it’s Seth Russell’s turn, and as long as he’s upright, he’s going to put up big numbers and Baylor should be mowing teams down in the foreseeable future. Eighteen starters are back, and this team definitely has a chip on its shoulder after not making the Playoff last season, despite its status as Big 12 co-champions and defeating the team it tied with for the conference title last season.

Why we’re just playing: Here’s what was written in this space about Baylor in 2014: “Baylor’s defense under Art Briles has never been one to write home to mother about… .” Well, last year’s defense was one of the nation’s worst against the pass and allowed 40 points four different times last season. At least TCU has a defense that can regularly stop other offenses from running/throwing all over them. Does Baylor have that?? That answer has been a resounding “heck no” for a while, and that might not change in 2015.

 

5. 250px-AuburnTigers.svg Auburn (140)

Jeremy Johnson of Auburn. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Although in limited action, Johnson has completed 73 percent of his passes with 9 TD and 2 INT in his two prior seasons at Auburn. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Why Auburn in the Playoff: We’re already sold on new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson before we’ve even seen him on The Plains as the starter in 2015. If his form, which has been stellar in limited action, matches the hype attached to it, then there’s no reason Gus Malzahn’s high-octane offense won’t be firing all the way into the Playoff. Oh, and then there’s Will Muschamp, the man who’s been lights out as a coordinator and was so-so during his head coaching stint at Florida. He’s now War Eagle’s “new” defensive coordinator, coming back to the school after a stint as coordinator from 2006-07.

Why we’re just playing: Muschamp had better work wonders with that defense, because, using last year’s metrics (ranked in lower half of SEC in rushing yards allowed and points per game allowed), the Tigers won’t be anywhere near the Playoff without a big improvement (or Auburn scoring 55 points per game). ________________ (Insert “brutal 2015 SEC conference schedule” line here.)

 

6. 295px-OregonDucks.svg Oregon (139)

Why Oregon in the Playoff: We could talk about Vernon Adams Jr., the talented former Eastern Washington quarterback who now will be replacing Marcus Mariota at quarterback. But let me come at you in a different way about the Ducks, and invoke a theory that I had initially called, back in 1998, the Lawrence Moten/Keith Van Horn effect. (Bill Simmons, whose much more popular than me, wrote a well-read article after my idea formulated and used the term “The Ewing Theory,” which uses the same principle as mine.) Like Syracuse and Utah basketball in 1996 and 1998, as well as the New York Knicks in 1999, the loss of a team’s supposed franchise player actually helped spur on the remaining members of the team to pull their weight and lead the team to heights they had never reached while those great players were there. Could that happen with Oregon in 2015? Why not?!?

Why we’re just playing: In last season’s preseason poll, we asked when the Ducks would finally break through the ceiling and win the national championship if they aren’t able to do it in Marcus Mariota’s final season in Eugene. Well, they were close…but Ohio State was there to send them tumbling back to Earth in the National Championship Game. So why would you think this year would be the year when they’ve had better teams but yet hadn’t won the big one then? As far as on-the-field concerns, running back Thomas Tyner had to have shoulder surgery and is lost for the season, hurting the Ducks’ depth at running back, even with bowling ball Royce Freeman in the fold.

 

7. Msu_head_logo.svg Michigan State (136)

Why Michigan State in the Playoff: Michigan State has three elements needed on a football team to be a championship contender: an elite offensive line, a veteran, winning quarterback and a rock-solid defense. Mark Dantonio has turned winning 10-plus games into a tradition in East Lansing, and the comeback win over Baylor to end the season at the Cotton Bowl should give the psychological edge this team has needed in believing they can beat one of the elite teams in college football in a big game.

Why we’re just playing: The Spartans held on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi for as long as they could. The defensive guru is now the head coach at Pittsburgh, and although the defense still looks to be stingy, it won’t be led by Narduzzi. Michigan State also has those games against Oregon (Sept. 12) and at Ohio State (Nov. 21) to contend with.

 

8. 100px-Interlocking_USC_Logo.svg  Southern California (125)

Why USC in the Playoff: We were live in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl last December and, after watching the USC offense run up, down, and around Nebraska, we left Qualcomm Stadium asking “If all of these players are pretty much coming back, how can they not be in next year’s Playoff?” The talent on the roster is startling, and Cody Kessler is coming off one of the finest seasons a USC quarterback has ever had (39 TDs, 5 INT, 69.7 comp. pct.), and that’s saying something given the QBs the school has produced.

Why we’re just playing: The effects of those NCAA sanctions are almost a thing of the past, but the Trojans, like past seasons, still have to worry about depth and amount of injuries they incur during the year. More recently, another issue has become a concern: the behavior of its head coach. That needs to be a thing of the past, and soon, or questions about the ability of Steve Sarkisian to lead this school will only ratchet up, and that might be a distraction that could lead to not-so-great play on the field…and losses.

 

9.  Georgia logo Georgia (111)

Why Georgia in the Playoff: Somehow, the Bulldogs might be replacing the nation’s best running back with…the nation’s best running back. While Todd Gurley was recovering from a devastating knee injury, freshman Nick Chubb blew up for 1,547 yards and already is in the Heisman discussion for 2015. His emergence should take the pressure off of Greyson Lambert, the former Virginia quarterback who transferred into Athens and is now the starter to start 2015.

Why we’re just playing: I was going to put that “brutal schedule” line here, but I might as well expound on it, because, out of the West, Georgia draws both Alabama (home) and Auburn (road). Oh, and now that Georgia Tech game becomes even tougher than it already has been because of the Jackets’ reemergence. Lambert wasn’t particularly, um, good, when we was at Virginia, so to expect him to raise his level of play in this league comes with a high amount of skepticism.

 

10. Notre Dame Notre Dame (96*)

Why Notre Dame in the Playoff: Not only is there talent (17 returning starters), but there’s quarterback clarity to boot! Malik Zaire is the new man for Brian Kelly under center after Everett Golson’s transfer. The Irish, despite a disappointing 2014, ended it in style with a win over LSU, and they should be able to use that as momentum going into this season. There’s talk that this team is even more talented than the one in 2012 that went to the national championship game. If so, then this team has to be Playoff bound then, right?!

Why we’re just playing: As always, Notre Dame’s schedule is either going to be what gets them in the national championship discussion or gets agitated and impatient fans in a stir once again about the job security of another coach in South Bend. The Irish’s ACC opponents include a visit from Georgia Tech and a road trip to Clemson. Pretty tough!

 

11. UCLA_athletics_text_logo.svg UCLA (96)

Josh Rosen of UCLA (Lawrence K. Ho/LA Times)
A former youth tennis player, freshman Josh Rosen now has become the man entrusted to deliver UCLA’s first conference title since 1998. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

Why UCLA in the Playoff: There has never been this much talent at UCLA for a revenue-generating sport since John Wooden was coaching the basketball team. And that statement’s not too, too far from a stretch. Mora named true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, the top-ranked QB out of high school, as the team’s starter, and if he plays to his potential immediately, UCLA fans may be saying “Brett Who?” pretty soon. It doesn’t hurt that he has the Pac-12’s best running back to hand off to in Paul Perkins, who led the league in rush yards per game. Myles Jack, who was a two-way sensation at running back and linebacker in 2013, should elevate his lever to All-America status on the defensive side of the ball.

Why we’re just playing: Brett Hundley might not have been as consistent and/or healthy at quarterback as he was to begin his college football career, but replacing him and keeping the same level of success under Mora might be too much to ask for, even with all the athletes and skill recruited to Westwood over the past four years. Back-to-back games against the Arizona schools will determine if this team is Playoff bound or Sun Bowl bound. Though Oregon is not on the schedule from the Pac-12 North, another scourge to the Bruins in the recent past, Stanford, is on the slate. They play in Palo Alto on Oct. 15.

 

12.FSU_Seminoles_logo Florida State (94)

Why Florida State in the Playoff: At a school like Florida State, you can replace a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Jameis Winston with a player who also led his team, at one point in his college career, to the national championship game. Former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is in the fold at Florida State and consistency at quarterback, in terms of skill level, remains pretty much intact. The same questions were asked about FSU when they had to replace E.J. Manuel, and all FSU did the following year was win the national championship. On defense, Jalen Ramsey is one of the country’s best corners on one of the country’s best secondaries.

Why we’re just playing: I guess it’s as simple as “No Jameis, no Playoff.” That might be too facile of an explanation for why the Seminoles won’t be part of the Playoff, but remember the number of games Florida State lost with Winston as an active member of the football team: one. Not only did Jameis leave, four of the five starters on the offensive line are gone as well, which should be a worry given that the Seminoles are breaking in a new QB and need running back Dalvin Cook to take pressure off the new signal caller, probably Golson.

 

13. 299px-Clemson_University_Tiger_Paw_logo.svg Clemson (90)

Why Clemson in the Playoff: As long as sophomore Deshaun Watson is healthy and playing at quarterback, Clemson is a legit national title contender. He’s that good already! We saw it when he was more than effective when directing the Tigers’ in Tallahassee last season when Clemson was thisclose to pulling off the win at Doak. He’s so good that he can suit up in a rivalry game and complete 14-of-19 passes for two touchdowns while playing with a torn ACL, which he did last year against South Carolina. Watson has the “it” factor at QB, and if he can put it together for a 12-game stretch…watch out, college football!

Why we’re just playing: The biggest reason why the Tigers have won 10 or more games for four consecutive seasons has actually been an underrated and top-notch defense. Unfortunately for Tigers fans, that defense only will have three returning starters for 2015, as players like defensive end standout Vic Beasley and D-lineman Grady Jarrett are now in the NFL. Watson’s offense will not be run by Chad Morris anymore, who left his coordinator job at Clemson for the head job at SMU.

 

14. LSUTigers LSU (83)

Why LSU in the Playoff: The quarterback situation is clear going into the 2015 season…sort of. Brandon Harris has been named the starter of last year’s signal caller, Anthony Jennings, though we believe Jennings will still figure in the mix during the season as long as he’s past his legal issues that dogged him this offseason. Whoever starts, all they really have to do is turn around, give the ball to Leonard Fournette and let the All-America type running back do his thing. The sophomore is the type of runner that, by himself, can carry a team to conference and national titles.

Why we’re just playing: We get that the quarterback situation is a spot of bother going into this season, but probably more concerning is the departure of “The Chief,” former defensive coordinator John Chavis. He packed his bags and left Baton Rouge for College Station to be their defensive coordinator. And yes, the quarterback situation is a worry, and that deserves repeating.  __________________ (Insert “brutal 2015 SEC conference schedule” line here.)

 

15. 410px-Ole_Miss_rebels_Logo.svg  Ole Miss (74)

Why Ole Miss in the Playoff: When you return most of the players on a defense that was one of the top five units in the country, you’ll always be in the national championship hunt if you possess at least a competent offense, and Ole Miss definitely has that. The Rebels, outside of wanting to repeat a dream season that they were so close to achieving in 2014, might be playing with a huge sense of urgency, as a few members of the ballyhooed Class of 2013 – including defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell – might be playing their last seasons on The Grove before taking off for the NFL.

Why we’re just playing: Though we won’t have to worry about which Bo Wallace will show up, “Good Bo” or “Bad Bo,” this season might be a case of “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” if the Rebels can’t capably replace the departed senior. Junior college transfer and JC national champion Chad Kelly is a talent, but he already has red flags coming to Oxford, with the way his time at Clemson ended, as well as his arrest last December and plea deal on a disorderly conduct charge back in his hometown of Buffalo. All of that, and now he’s thrown into the biggest pressure cooker in college football, playing in the SEC. _____________________ (Insert brutal 2015 SEC conference schedule line here.)

 

16. GeorgiaTechYellowJackets Georgia Tech (72)

Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Paul Johnson once again proved the triple option doubters wrong, leading Tech to the Orange Bowl and a win over Mississippi State. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Why Georgia Tech in the Playoff: The Ramblin’ Wreck’s last four games of 2014 all came against Top 20 teams, with three of those games coming against the Top 10. All Tech did was win three of those games, with their only loss in that stretch a two-point decision to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. Paul Johnson may have his best ever triple-option quarterback in junior Justin Thomas, who combined for 26 touchdowns in 2014 (18 passing, eight rushing) and rushed for over 1,000 yards to boot. Tech’s defense improved in 2014, and the unit caused a turnover on 26 percent of opponent’s possessions, an FBS best.

Why we’re just playing: I am not one to doubt the triple option offense and how far a team can go with it in today’s college football, but it leaves little margin for error each and every game, especially if the team gets down in games early. Before the middle of October, they will have played road games in South Bend and Clemson, and, after their visit to Death Valley, they could already be out of the Final Four conversation. To boot, there are games against Florida State (home), Virginia Tech (away) and Georgia (home) down the stretch.

 

17. 75px-Arizona_State_Sun_Devils_trident_logo Arizona State (71)

Why Arizona State in the Playoff: You can talk about returning starters all you want, but the most important returner to Tempe is head coach Todd Graham, who’s always a hot name every offseason when premier head coach openings emerge. Quarterback Mike Bercovici was more than just the man who completed the Hail Mary pass that sunk USC at the Coliseum last year; he filled in admirably when Taylor Kelly was sidelined through injury. Bercovici is the man now, and he has D.J. Foster, maybe the best two-way running back in the country, back for one more run at the Pac-12 title.

Why we’re just playing: The receiver who caught that Hail Mary against USC, Jaelen Strong, decided to skip his senior year to jump into the NFL, and all he did was post 157 receptions and 2,287 yards the past two seasons. And then there’s that brutal stretch from late September to late October, where Sparky plays back-to-back games against the Southern California schools, then, after a matchup at home against Colorado, play back-to-back games against Utah (away) and Oregon (home).

 

18. StanfordCardinal  Stanford (61)

Why Stanford in the Playoff: No, it wasn’t a vintage year for Stanford last year. (Wait, I’m using the word “vintage” to use Stanford’s recent success? Yikes. But you know what I mean.) But with a veteran quarterback, Kevin Hogan, Stanford should be in every game this season. (If you haven’t read the story about Hogan and having to go through dealing with his dad’s illness, and eventual passing, during the 2014 season, give it a read.) David Shaw’s offense still has a bunch of maulers up front, and they should pave the way for talented back Christian McCaffrey. Also, the end of their schedule is super friendly, with six of their last eight games at home, with the road games in that stretch trips to Pac-12 doormats Washington State and Colorado.

Why we’re just playing: Oops. Did I not tell you about their opening part of their schedule? Well, three of their first four games are on the road, with the opener two time zones away at Northwestern. Two games later is a trip the the Coliseum against USC, and then a tricky trip to Corvallis follows against Oregon State. The best defense in the Pac-12 last season, the Cardinal lost almost all of their defensive line and secondary to graduation.

 

19. OU-Logo Oklahoma (60)

Why Oklahoma in the Playoff: An Oklahoma team without many expectations to do anything but have a decent season is scary to me. Absolutely scary. Bob Stoops, despite the Sooners not playing up to their lofty standards the past few seasons, knows how to get the best out of his teams in Norman. Lincoln Riley, former assistant coach to Mike Leach at Texas Tech, was hired from East Carolina to bring the Air Raid offense back. (Before Leach coached at Texas Tech, he was the OC at Oklahoma for one season.) But when the Sooners aren’t throwing it around, they will have the luxury of handing the ball off to Samaje Perine, and all he did his freshman year last season was rush for over 1,700 yards and set a new single-game FBS rushing record as well.

Why we’re just playing: Well, there’s a reason Oklahoma is not the fancied team in the Big 12 anymore. Both TCU and Baylor have assumed the title of top dogs, and Oklahoma better knock them both off this season. (Avoid tying for the Big 12 title at all costs, as we saw what happened with that mess last season!) Quarterback is still a huge question mark, as incumbent Trevor Knight had a disappointing 2014 after looking like a preseason Heisman candidate after that Sugar Bowl win over Alabama two seasons ago. Baker Mayfield, the transfer from Texas Tech, may be the new man in the shotgun when the season starts.

 

20. 125px-University_of_Arizona_Block_A.svg Arizona (39)

Scooy Wright of Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Going into 2014 as a relative unknown, Scooby Wright III comes into the 2015 season as the nation’s most accomplished defensive player. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Why Arizona in the Playoff: Give Rich Rodriguez a talented quarterback to work with, and watch him work wonders. Anu Solomon, the first Wildcat freshman to start a season at quarterback, led all FBS freshmen in passing yards (3,793) and also added the element of making plays with his legs. Rodriguez is an offensive genius, but he also has the luxury of having the nation’s best defensive player in linebacker Scooby Wright III, who won the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi awards. Before losing their last two games, in the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Fiesta Bowl, the Wildcats two other losses came by a combined 12 points, both to the Southern California schools. They’re so close to breaking through.

Why we’re just playing: It’s more than possible that Arizona makes its second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game, but it might be real hard envisioning them in the Final Four when looking at those non-conference games: Texas-San Antonio, Nevada and Northern Arizona of the FCS. Don’t be surprised if this is the Playoff contender that gets shredded nationally the most for its lack of non-conference heft.

 

21. Arkansas-Razorback-Logo-2001 Arkansas (31)

Why Arkansas in the Playoff: It won’t be fun playing Arkansas this season. At all. Bret Bielema’s team wants to pound you into submission with its running game, and they have almost all of the pieces back from last year’s team that came so close to season-changing wins early on against Texas A&M (OT loss) and Alabama (one-point loss). Wins against LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks signaled a turning of the corner, and mauling Texas in their bowl game officially put Arkansas as team to watch in 2015. (Either that, or it signaled that the Longhorns still have a long way to being back to college football relevance. Probably both)

Why we’re just playing: Two running backs rushed for over 1,000 yards last season for Arkansas, and both were expected to team up again to create more havoc. While Alex Collins and his 1,100 yards and eight TDs is back, Jonathan Williams and his 1,190 yards and 12 TDs will be sitting out the season after a foot injury suffered earlier this month – throwing a wet blanket on the momentum built going into this season. Oh, and which Brandon Allen will emerge in 2015: the quarterback who was beyond underwhelming in 2013 or the one who threw 20 touchdowns to only five picks last season? It depends on how fast he gets acclimated to the offense of new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. ________________ (Insert “brutal 2015 SEC conference schedule) line here.)

 

22. WisconsinBadger.svg Wisconsin (29)

Why Wisconsin in the Playoff: We’ve been through this before: old coach departs, new coach comes in, question emerge about how team will replace star running back as well as previous successful coach, team continues to run opponents into the ground with a new running back star and wins with new coach. It should be more of the same in 2015 with Paul Chryst taking over the helm as head coach for the departed Gary Andersen (Oregon State), and Corey Clement, given his work as Melvin Gordon’s understudy last season, should be the next Wisconsin running back superstar before too long. Luckily for Wisconsin, they don’t have to play either Ohio State or Michigan State until a possible matchup in the conference title game.

Why we’re just playing: How many times can Wisconsin make a near seamless transition with head coaches without incurring some serious rough patches? Oh, and there’s the small fact of having to play Alabama in the season opener in Arlington that might cause some problems in securing a big out-of-conference win. Win against Alabama, and there’s a decent chance the Badgers could run the table in the regular season.The problem with that? That possible rematch against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, where the Buckeyes knocked the Badgers into next year with that 59-0 shellacking in Indianapolis.

 

23. Boise State png (90x75)  Boise State (22)

Why Boise State in the Playoff: We know that one team from a non Power Five conference will make it into the New Year’s Six, and Boise State not only was that team last season, but defeated one of the hottest teams in the country, Arizona, and in their backyard no less. This year, the Broncos return 17 starters, and, given the school’s football pedigree, that should add up to more Mountain West domination.

Why we’re just playing: The Broncos return nine of their 11 starters on offense, but the two starters gone are quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, and all they did in 2014 was combine for 89 percent of the team’s offense and 92 percent of the team’s touchdowns. Ouch! Also, Boise’s success in the past decade has hurt their ability to attract big programs to play them in the regular season, which especially hurts in this new era of the College Football Playoff. Bronco fans have to hope that a game at home against Washington and road tilts against BYU and Virginia is enough meat on the bone for the Playoff Committee if they happen to run the table.

 

T-24. 100px-Missouri_Tigers_Logo_svg  Missouri (14)

Why Missouri in the Playoff: Why not? For all the talk about the old guard in the SEC, Missouri has been far from chop liver in their first few years in the conference, heading to the SEC Championship Game the past two seasons. Maty Mauk is back at quarterback to provide stability. Probably the biggest plus for the Tigers is their schedule, specifically, their crossover opponents in conference play: Mississippi State (home) and Arkansas (away). It’s not easy, but it could have been worse. Much worse.

Why we’re just playing: Missouri has excelled in the SEC the past two seasons because of its vaunted pass rush, which incurred yet another loss after 2015 NFL Draft first-rounder Shane Ray’s departure. If no pressure can be applied to the quarterbacks, the back seven could be exposed big time. As good as Missouri has been the past few years (going back to their Big 12 days), they’ll throw in one unexplained clunker per year, like last season’s home loss to Indiana. Which game might/will that be in the 2015 schedule? Oh, and… __________________ (Insert “brutal 2015 SEC conference schedule” line here.)

 

T-24. 200px-VT_logo.svg Virginia Tech (14)

Why Virginia Tech in the Playoff: For so many years, the strength of the Hokies, along with its special teams, has been the defense, and that unit looks as stout as it has been in a few years. If cornerback Brandon Facyson returns healthy from a stress fracture in his leg that he suffered late last season, he’ll combine with cornerback mate Kendall Fuller to form maybe the best cornerback duo in college football. VA Tech’s defensive line is also stout. It doesn’t take too much improvement to skyrocket up the ACC charts, as Georgia Tech showed last season. It could be Beamer’s boys to shoot up the standings in 2015.

Why we’re just playing: Well, the defense has the potential to be good, but that offense is pedestrian at best. Michael Brewer, the Texas Tech transfer, ended his first year throwing only three more touchdowns than interceptions (18-15). Opening up at Lane Stadium against Ohio State provides the ultimate opportunity for a statement win, but I have a feeling the Buckeyes will be out for a little revenge after the Hokies nearly derailed Bucky’s season before it really got started last year with that win at the Horseshoe.

Others receiving votes:

Tennessee (8 points), Texas A&M (7), Michigan (6), Mississippi State (5), Minnesota (3), Nebraska (3), Louisville (2), Miami (2), Florida (1), Utah (1)

* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)



[Cover photo (Urban Meyer/Ohio State) courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images]

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