The road to the College Football Playoffs starts on Sept. 3 and unlike any other major sport in the United States, one loss in the opening week of the season can ruin a team’s playoff chances. With only the best four teams can make the playoffs, one loss can be the difference between playing in the Rose Bowl or playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. God forbid two losses? Better luck next year.
Even though it is only Week 1, it is not too early to predict which four teams will be playing in late December and early January in the College Football Playoff. The best way to hypothesize is to look back at the four teams who made it to the playoffs last year: Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State.
Ohio State, the Big Ten champion and defending national champion, is the unanimous preseason No. 1 in the AP Top-25 poll. The defending champions have a favorable schedule this year, with their two most difficult challenges coming at the end of the year. On Nov. 21, they host preseason No. 5 Michigan State and the following week is on the road against Michigan to finish the year. With Urban Meyer coaching, Ohio State has suffered one loss, which bodes well for them locking up another College Football playoff berth.
Last year’s runner-ups, Oregon, is place in the No. 7 spot, just outside the coveted top four, a ranking they will not achieve this year. In their second game of the year, they travel to Michigan State in what will likely be a loser-goes-home matchup. If Oregon can win this, they have road games against No. 15 Arizona State, No. 21 Stanford and a home matchup against No. 8 USC.
The Pac-12 this year is loaded, featuring five Top 25 ranked teams. In what will be a transition year for the Ducks, No. 13 UCLA will win the Pac-12 but not grab a playoff spot. Instead, No. 10 Florida State or No. 11 Notre Dame will grab the spot. The Seminoles currently only play two ranked teams with the possibility of a third in the championship, which sets them up for another undefeated season.
Notre Dame, who is an independent team and does not get the extra game in the championship, has a loaded schedule against four ranked teams.
With two spots left, odds are the spots will be split between Alabama, Auburn, TCU and Baylor. With the SEC always a daunting gauntlet, the winner of the Alabama vs. Auburn Nov. 28 matchup will have the best resume, even with a possible early season loss to garner a playoff spot.
Last year, TCU and Baylor did not make the playoff due to the lack of a championship game, but this year the Big 12 added one, making their chances of getting into the playoff that much better.
Both teams only play two ranked teams, with one being each other, but most likely will play for a second time in the conference championship. TCU is ranked No. 2 and feature Heisman trophy candidate Trevone Boykin while the Bryce Petty-less No. 4 Baylor Bears are ranked fourth. Whoever can sweep the other team over the course of the season will lock up the playoff spot.
Matthew Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.