In honor of the masses’ perceived wishes for a college football playoff (a sentiment not entirely shared by your humble narrator), I won’t be doing Top 25 lists. Here we present a super deluxe early post-signing day/NFL declaration Elite Eight, a projection of which teams would make an 8-team playoff. I’m taking the existing BCS structure of picking each of the BCS conferences winners plus 2 at-large teams. So even though a conference could have three teams in a Top Eight list, 3 teams likely wouldn’t make it to the playoff. I’m also ignoring the Rose Bowl’s outdated preference for a Big Ten/Pac-10 match-up. There will be no undeserving participants like last year’s Illinois in this list. Also, this super deluxe early list may need to change if/when Terrelle Pryor signs a Letter of Intent.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
OU returns QB Sam Bradford and RB DeMarco Murray so the offense will likely stay explosive. Navigating the Big XII won’t be easy with KU, Texas Tech and the traditional Red River Shootout against Texas but the Sooners don’t have Missouri on the schedule this year.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
They’d get smoked again if they made the National Championship game. However, the Big Ten is even weaker this year. Michigan will be transitioning to Rich Rodriguez’s offensive style and Penn State needs to replace LB Dan Connor, CB Justin King and QB Anthony Morelli. An away game in Pasadena is likely to be the Buckeyes’ toughest obstacle on the way to another undefeated season.
3. USC Trojans
Like OSU, Southern Cal will benefit from a weaker Pac-10 this year. Oregon loses Dennis Dixon, UCLA is breaking in a new coach and Arizona State is still at least a year away from truly contending. Don’t think that Cal will provide adequate competition as the Golden Bears have beaten the Trojans only once since 2001. Running backs Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight will be counted upon while either Mark Sanchez or Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain transition into the starting QB role.
4. Florida Gators
Tim Tebow returns as does the electric WR/RB/Do-Everything Percy Harvin. The defense is still suspect but unlike Georgia, the Gators have proven the past few years that they know how to pull out the big wins. I’m projecting at least 1-2 losses for any team that wins the SEC, which would result in a lower seed than might actually deserve.
5. Texas Longhorns
It’s tempting to put Missouri in this at-large spot given Texas QB Colt McCoy’s struggles last year and the defection of RB Jamaal Charles to the NFL. But the Tigers won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. Texas is not a program that rebuilds. It reloads.
6. West Virginia Mountaineers
They won’t make any early season Top 10 lists but WVU will still be playing with a chip on its shoulder after Rich Rodriguez departure from Morgantown. The Mountaineers return standout QB Pat White and though I loved RB Steve Slaton on my fantasy team, they may not miss him much. Noel Devine provided plenty of reason to think he can step in for Slaton. The defense has never been fantastic but after demolishing Big XII champs Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, don’t underestimate Bill Stewart’s squad.
7. Clemson Tigers
This could finally be the year that Tommy Bowden breaks through and wins the ACC though whether that will satisfy the crazed fans of the Tigers is yet to be decided. With a stellar in-coming class and the return of RB James Davis and QB Cullen Harper, Clemson returns the best offense in the ACC.
8. Georgia Bulldogs
I really don’t think UGA will be able to navigate the SEC like UF or LSU have in past years. However, it’s hard to ignore a program that returns so much talent with RB Knowshon Moreno and QB Matthew Stafford set for another season Between the Hedges.
Knocking on the door: LSU, Missouri, BYU, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, South Florida