Will Clemson Repeat as College Football National Champions?
It’s football season! The college football schedule officially kicks off this week with a couple of games before things really get rolling in the last weekend of the month. This week brings us a battle between Miami and Florida in Orlando, while Arizona will also visit Hawaii in Honolulu.
While it’s not unfathomable to think that a team like Florida could nudge itself into the College Football Playoff conversation, most of the legitimate contenders will kick things off in a couple of weeks. In news that should surprise absolutely nobody, Clemson and Alabama are listed as the preseason favorites to win the national championship this season. The Tigers and Crimson Tide have developed something of a rivalry over the last handful of seasons, and oddsmakers are fond of their chances at yet another rematch early in 2020.
Clemson is priced at +180 to make it back-to-back national titles over at MyBookie.ag, while the Tide are right behind them at +220. Georgia (+750) and Ohio State (+900) are the only other schools with odds lower than +1000. Will Clemson and ‘Bama meet in the playoff for the fifth consecutive year? Or will a new college football champion emerge?
Locks for College Football Playoff
The term “lock” may be a bit optimistic, but it’s hard to imagine either Clemson or Alabama faltering during the regular season. Clemson has won at least 12 games in each of the last four seasons. They have won the ACC in all four years, and they have toppled the Tide to win a pair of national championships in that span.
The Tigers get a cupcake matchup with a new-look Georgia Tech squad in Week 1, followed by two games against teams in the preseason top-25. Assuming they’re able to get past 12th-ranked Texas A&M (at home) and 22nd-ranked Syracuse (on the road) in Weeks 2 and 3, it’s tough to see Clemson losing a game during the season. Each of their last nine games will come against teams unranked in the preseason poll. The ACC is a weak conference, so the Tigers should have little trouble.
The SEC is a different story. While Alabama is in the midst of a golden era of their own, their annual schedule includes more landmines than Clemson’s does. The schedule includes three games against teams that are currently ranked (Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn), along with other tough conference matchups with the likes of Arkansas and Mississippi State.
‘Bama has a tougher path to the playoff than Clemson, especially considering they will have to face a team like Florida or Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. That said, if Alabama enters the conference title game undefeated and loses, they can still earn a spot in the playoff. Just two years ago, Alabama qualified for the playoff and went on to win the national title despite not even playing in their conference title game. Needless to say, the selection committee has a soft spot for Nick Saban’s crew.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to have ever qualified for the College Football Playoff, which was installed in 2014. The Sooners have made three appearances in the tournament, yet they are still in search of their first victory. Oklahoma lost to Clemson in their inaugural playoff appearance in 2015, and they’ve been beaten by Georgia and Alabama in each of their last two appearances under head coach Lincoln Riley.
The Sooners have had a Heisman-winning quarterback in each of the last two years. Baker Mayfield took home the award two years ago, while Kyler Murray won it last year. Both players went on to be the No. 1 pick in their respective NFL drafts. Can they make it three straight with Jalen Hurts set to start after spending the last few years under Saban in Tuscaloosa?
Oklahoma has the best odds of any Big 12 team at +1300 to win the national title this season. Texas isn’t far behind (+2800), but no other team in the conference is even close. Oklahoma State, who is listed way down at +20000, has the next-best title chances. Barring something shocking, the Big 12’s spot in the playoff will likely come down to OU or Texas.
Oklahoma had one of the most prolific offenses in college football history with Murray at the helm last year. However, in addition to losing Murray, the Sooners also lost four starting offensive linemen as well as top receiver Marquise Brown. Hurts never put up staggering numbers at Alabama, but moving to Riley’s more high-octane offense should help. It will also help to be facing defenses like Texas Tech instead of LSU during the regular season.
Oklahoma’s defense has been their downfall in recent years. Putting up boatloads of points is a strategy that can win games in the Big 12, but that hasn’t amounted to any playoff success. Alabama managed to tear this defense to shreds running basic slant patterns in last year’s matchup. This team also allowed 40 points to Kansas, who had one of the worst offenses in America. Returning nine defensive starters should help from a continuity standpoint, but I’ll have to see this defense actually getting stops before I’ll buy into it as an improved unit.
Texas always feels like a trendy pick, and this year is no exception. Trouncing Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl has caused the Horns’ stock to skyrocket heading into the new campaign. Sam Ehlinger was quietly one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation last season, and he’s a sleeper Heisman candidate heading into 2019. Their schedule is tough, though, as they’ll have road games at TCU and Iowa State in addition to a non-conference tilt with LSU early in the season. Losing to a potential top-5 team in LSU wouldn’t doom their playoff hopes, but they will likely have to navigate the rest of the schedule with no more than one additional defeat.
Oklahoma, who gets both Iowa State and TCU at home, have an easier path. The team’s non-conference opponents include Houston and UCLA. Neither of those teams look all that daunting. Because OU’s path to a Big 12 title looks cleaner than Texas’, I’m much more interested in betting on the Sooners than I am the Longhorns at this point.
Clemson and Alabama are good bets to occupy half of the available slots in the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma looks like the best team in the Big 12, but I’ll stop short of calling them a lock. There are enough question marks on both sides of the football to where I don’t think the Sooners can be guaranteed a spot out of the Big 12.
So, there are two playoff spots up for grabs. Ohio State has reigned supreme in the Big Ten for the last handful of years, but many pundits seem to think Michigan is poised to overthrow the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer and Dwayne Haskins have left Columbus, while we are still waiting for Jim Harbaugh to take the Wolverines to the next level. If Michigan is ever going to make the leap, this has to be the year.
Haskins quietly threw for nearly 5,000 yards with 50 touchdowns last season, so he will be missed at Ohio State. Justin Fields, a first-time starter, is set to take over. It’s fair to expect some growing pains with Ohio State returning just four offensive starters from last season. The Buckeyes’ defense was a weak spot last year, though returning nine starters on that side of the ball means they’re likely to improve. If Fields can capably replace Haskins, this team has a chance.
Michigan will be looking to win the conference for the first time since 2004. Harbaugh has helped drag the program out of the doldrums, but fans are still eagerly awaiting the next step. The Wolverines are expected to run a no-huddle spread offense this season under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, which should suit the skill set of two-way threat Shea Patterson. The offense will go as Patterson goes this season, especially after losing their top-2 rushers from a season ago.
I like Michigan to finally get over the hump this season. With several new faces in Columbus, the Buckeyes may be in for a down year. Harbaugh and company have to take advantage. If they don’t, we may well see a new coach patrolling the sidelines at the Big House at this time next year.
Oregon and Washington are the only Pac-12 teams to have ever played in the College Football Playoff. Quite frankly, they also happen to be the only teams in the conference with a remote chance at qualifying this year. Oregon is 1-1 all-time in the tournament, with a notable loss to Ohio State in the 2015 National Championship Game on their ledger. Washington was beaten by Alabama in their lone appearance back in ‘16.
The Huskies won the PAC-12 last year, but they were forced to settle for a spot in the Rose Bowl, where they were beaten by Ohio State. Washington finished the season 10-4 overall, though Chris Petersen has led the team to three consecutive 10-plus win campaigns. Getting Oregon at home is a plus, but I think the Ducks are the biggest playoff threat out of the PAC-12.
Justin Herbert is arguably the best quarterback in the nation. He surprisingly passed up the chance to jump into the NFL draft last year in order to return for another season in Eugene. His numbers weren’t off the charts a season ago, but he is once again the face of this offense. The Ducks will also return all five starters along the offensive line, which is huge.
Opening the season against Auburn at a neutral site in Texas isn’t easy. However, the Tigers have an uncertain quarterback situation as of now, so getting them early in the season is fortunate for Oregon. While the Ducks may struggle to beat a team like Clemson or Alabama if they do sneak into the playoff, I do like their chances of actually getting there. It may require a perfect regular season, but that’s not impossible given the relative weakness of the conference.
I like the value that comes with betting on Oregon to qualify for the playoff at +800. Washington at +1000 is fair, but the Ducks just look like the better team on paper.
The SEC is always lauded as the best conference in America, but the bottom of the conference isn’t looking so hot these days. Alabama will carry the torch once again, but Georgia and LSU look like the only other teams with a legitimate shot at the playoff this season. You can bet the Bulldogs at +120 to make it, while the Tigers are down at +500.
Alabama checked in behind Clemson at No. 2 in the preseason AP poll. Georgia is third, while LSU is sixth. Texas A&M (12th) is the only other SEC team in the top-25. Texas A&M could fall quickly, though, as their schedule includes games against Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia.
This will likely be Georgia’s last and best shot at winning a national title for a few years. Jake Fromm is entering his junior campaign. While he has led the Bulldogs to the brink in the past, there’s a decent chance he heads to the NFL after this season. Georgia returns six offensive starters and seven defensive starters, though a tough non-conference game against Notre Dame could throw a wrench into their plans.
Fromm did lose most of his better pass-catchers from last season, as running back D’Andre Swift’s 297 receiving yards are the most among returning players. The Bulldogs may have a more balanced attack as a result, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
LSU will be returning 16 starters, including quarterback Joe Burrow. It’s been a while since LSU had a legitimate signal-caller, but a revamped offense could help this team take the next step. LSU’s path to the playoff likely runs through Alabama, though. The Tigers haven’t beaten the Tide in eight years, and it’s tough for a team to make the playoff without winning their own conference. Considering they share a division with ‘Bama, LSU’s road to the tournament is murky at best.
Who Will Win the Title?
If I had to pick, I would take Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, and Michigan to make the College Football Playoff this season. Oregon makes for an interesting sleeper, while Oklahoma will be right on the doorstep once again. There’s certainly no upside in betting on either Clemson or ‘Bama to qualify at minus odds, but the other options do offer decent value.
Clemson steamrolled Alabama 44-16 in last year’s title game with freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence leading the charge. The Tigers having lost their five standout defensive linemen is cause for concern, but Dabo Swinney has helped turn this program into an absolute juggernaut. Lawrence was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation last season as a true freshman, so it’ll be fun to see what he has in store for his sophomore campaign.
Tua Tagovailoa will have the Tide in the conversation once again, and it’s hard to fathom a scenario in which we don’t see these two programs duking it out once again this winter. Alabama has played in the National Championship Game in each of the last four years, and I certainly wouldn’t bet against a fifth straight appearance for the Tide.
Anything can happen on gameday, but we are looking squarely at yet another Clemson-Alabama rematch. I’ll side with Lawrence and the Tigers at +180, but betting on the Crimson Tide at +220 offers plenty of value in its own right. One of these teams will win it all again. Clemson has the edge, though, and Swinney will win his third national title in four years.