Dawn of a new era

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere

This is the year. This is the year that college football finally joins the rest of the 21st century and introduces a playoff system.

I'm sure there will still be controversy at times over which teams were left out of the playoff mix, but this is still a mammoth upgrade from the BCS.

Now, which four schools are the most likely to finish the regular season in the top-four?

Of course, you have to start with defending champion Florida State.

The Seminoles lost leading rusher Devonta Freeman and giant receiver Kelvin Benjamin, but the offense is still loaded from top to bottom.

They return controversial Heisman winner Jameis Winston at quarterback, and he has two reliable targets in last year's leading receiver Rashad Green and tight end Nick O'Leary.

Karlos Williams--who ran for over 700 yards last year--will take over as their lead back.

Defensively, they lost quite a few stars, but there is just too much talent and speed on that side of the ball to think they'll be anything short of staunch.

And most importantly for the 'Noles, they have a very favorable schedule. They only play two preseason top-25 teams in Clemson and Notre Dame, and they get both of them at home.

It's almost a guarantee that they'll go undefeated and head into the playoffs as the top seed.

I don't think Auburn will be joining them this time around.

The Tigers should still be very good on offense with Nick Marshall leading that prolific no-huddle, option attack. However, their defense is a major concern. They lose their best player Dee Ford and even though Gabe Wright is back to anchor the defensive line, I don't think he'll be enough. They gave up at least 35 points four times last year.

In addition to the suspect defense, they have a downright brutal schedule with trips to Kansas State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama and home games against LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

I think Oregon will also miss out on the playoffs.

It's hard to say Oregon is short on weapons, but they lost so many in the way of the passing game.

Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota is back at quarterback, but who is he going to throw to?

The Ducks lost their top three wideouts in Michael Huff, Bralon Addison and DeAnthony Thomas, and they even lost tight end Colt Lyerla.

They have 1,000-yard rusher Byron Marshall and a solid defense, but the lack of weapons in the passing game and a pretty tough schedule will make it hard for Oregon to make a playoff run.

I think Michigan State will find themselves in the playoff mix.

The Spartans are riding high after their huge upset win over Stanford in last year's Rose Bowl.

Quarterback Conor Cook was spectacular in that game. He returns along with Jeremy Langord--who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last year--and one of the Spartans' leading receivers Tony Lippett.

Even though they lost Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, they should still be solid with monster defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun leading the charge.

With Braxton Miller going down for Ohio State, it really opens things up for the Spartans.

They'll most likely take a loss in a early-season road test at Oregon, but their schedule sets up perfectly for them to finish the rest of the year unblemished.

I think Oklahoma will earn a playoff spot as well.

I'm not jumping on the Trevor Knight bandwagon just yet. He was brilliant in the Sooners' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama but before that game, he struggled for much of the year.

The good thing for Knight is that he has a very dependable and explosive receiver to get the ball to in Sterling Shepard. He also has a great defense to rely on when he's not playing his best.

Oklahoma returns nine defensive starters--including disruptive outside backer Eric Striker.

Most importantly, the Sooners have a favorable schedule. The only tough games look to be the Red River Rivalry against Texas, a home matchup with Baylor and a tricky road trip to Texas Tech.

And as long as Alabama has Nick Saban, you have to concede a playoff spot to them.

They have a big question mark at QB after losing three-year starter AJ McCarron. In comes Florida State transfer Jacob Coker--a guy that has never made a start.

Lucky for him, he has plenty of weapons around him. Alabama will have one of the best backfields in the nation with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry.

And Coker will have a plethora of dependable receivers to throw to with Amari Cooper, Christian Jones, DeAndrew White and tight end O.J. Howard.

The Tide lost many crucial pieces on their defense, but a Saban-run defensive unit will always be good--especially when they're being led by standout safety and former Dutchtown Griffin Landon Collins.

They have tough road games against Ole Miss and LSU and a tough home game against Auburn, but I could see them going 2-1 in those games and getting into the playoffs with the one loss.

When it's all said and done, I'm going with Florida State. You have to go with the champs until they're dethroned.

With so many teams losing so many key players, they're the squad that has the fewest question marks.

They're going to have the best offense in the nation and when you pair that with a stout defense, they're going to be tough to handle.