Who Needs a Blog Poll '14: Preseason Finale - The Contenders

In this era of passing, can a running back get Heisman love? - Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We wrap up all these #hot #takes with the top 7ish favorites to reach the playoffs.

Here's the money shot, the true competitors for a playoff spot. Gun to my head, as of June 26th 2014, I'd say your final four are: Alabama (3) v. Florida State (2); then Oklahoma (1) v. winner of Sparty-Oregon (4) with Wisconsin as your dark horse. And, yes, I cheated on UCLA/Ohio State. I'm pretty sure both are Top 10, but not playoff, teams. And, toss a coin to tell me which you think is better. They are both very talented and fatally flawed.

Feel free to praise my prescience, wisdom, and benevolence below.

Rank

Team

Final '13 Who Needs A Blog Poll

1

Florida State Seminoles

1

2

Oklahoma Sooners

8

3

Michigan State Spartans

2

4

Alabama Crimson Tide

9

5

Oregon Ducks

7

6

Wisconsin Badgers

19

7

UCLA Bruins / Ohio State Buckeyes

11 & 10

  1. Florida State Seminoles: To be the king, you gotta' kill the king. Losses at DL, RB and WR, but the OL and defense are loaded with veterans -and there are other SR playmakers on offense. When Fisher goes to the NFL in '15 (and he will), it'll be the loss of 4 SR OL, the top WR, the top RB and Jameis that sends him packing. The Noles start #1, but they won't finish there with Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida on the OOC schedule. I'm thinking at least one loss face the 'Noles before the mass exodus of graduation, the NFL, and a new coaching staff completely remake this team.

  2. Oklahoma: Last year's quietest 11-2 team now wears a post-Sugar Bowl bullseye (thanks, Alabama!), but at least the Sooners have a great schedule: 3/4ths of the tougher games are in Norman - Baylor, Okie Lite, and K State. Only the RRR game is of any road consequence. The OU Top 20 defense returns almost everyone (and they're healthy, unlike last season). The offense turned it on after last year's debacle in Dallas, and Trevor Knight looks to be a good one behind a veteran line. The only real question is the lack of proven RB depth, but Stoops didn't forget how to coach or recruit; OU will find a guy(s). Given the Big 12's state of flux, and my lack of confidence in the garbage that conference calls football, this is your Big 12 Conference Champion with a bullet. OU enters the CFBPO as the nation's sole undefeated and No. 1 seed, even if it is not the subjectively "best" team.

  3. Michigan State Spartans: Teams rarely get better losing playmakers like Bullough on an elite defense. But, in this case, the Spartans have enough incoming talent to somewhat offset losses; and, importantly, the offense clicked the second half of '13, and will not be the dull Dantonio fare we've seen the past few seasons (it could be as good as the 2010 unit, in fact.) Sparty can also ride all the way to the CFBPO based on a generous conference schedule that only features OSU as a truly difficult foe. The kickoff matchup vs. the Oregon Ducks is a September playoff elimination game. Sparty cannot afford a conference loss if they drop that one, because, while I am high on the B1G's depth this year, it's still not close to the PAC-12 perception-wise.

  4. Alabama Crimson Tide: Do you know what separates Michigan State from Alabama at this point? A veteran QB. Unlike Sparty, Alabama may not need much of a passing game the first few weeks of the season. When Coker (probably) starts to settle in around October, the line should have gelled, and the offense will be fine. The defense will be absolutely dominant: although the talent (in the secondary especially) is very young, but, like QB, they will grow together and be hell on wheels by midseason (we hope.) The OOC is pitiful, and Alabama gets Florida, Aggie and Auburn at home. As usual, the roadie at LSU should be for the SEC-W driver's seat. I think this team has a bump somewhere, but still beats UGA in the SECCG to make the CFBPO.

  5. Oregon Ducks: Five starters on the OL, dominating pass-rushing DL, returning Heisman candidate at QB, great RB depth - a lot to like here. What you cannot like is the perennial softness against running teams (Arizona, Stanford, Auburn), and especially you can't like the October four-out-of-five-game stint vs. Arizona, at UCLA, a now-competent Washington, and Stanford. There's no way the Ducks run that gauntlet with no proven WRs and a lack of commitment to being tougher inside. There's also the matter of Sparty on September 6, another power team that could give the Ducks fits - especially early in the season. I think it's two losses and a missed playoff for the PAC-12 champ, even if these Ducks are better this year than last season.

  6. Wisconsin: Meet the old boss, same as the old boss. RB Melvin Gordon is going to truck through a Big Ten that has largely forgotten how to play along the lines. A veteran QB and four returning starters on the OL will make the Badgers a dynamic, balanced offense. And, Wisconsin will likely need all of those points, having been gutted by graduation - returning just four defensive starters. The schedule, outside of the LSU game, is an absolute joke, as UW is set to sail smoothly all the way to Indianapolis (ducking Ohio State and Sparty help.) However, with such an easy schedule, the LSU game is a must-win. The schedule, the offense, and Andersen's coaching make the Badgers my dark horse to reach the playoffs. If the Badgers can eke past LSU, a predicted B10CG matchup versus Michigan State is for a playoff spot, as Melvin Gordon eclipses 2000 yards and is a Heisman finalist.

  7. (TIE) UCLA Bruins: The funny part about CFB is that the best team sometimes doesn't get the hype it deserves. This year, the beneficiary of this cosmic capriciousness is the UCLA Bruins, a team that I do not think is as talented as the Ducks, nor as good overall as Oregon. UCLA returns 8 starters on both sides of the ball including future NFL QB Brett Hundley. The DL figures to be a little better than last season too, and that's a blessing, because the Bruins are average to bad against the run. In fact, looking at UCLA's stats here's what you see: A team that does most things pretty well, but does nothing exceptionally well -except that +10 TO ratio; and I don't think you can count on the fumble gods to gift you that kind of luck every year. The schedule is as forgiving as possible, with Oregon, USC, Arizona and Stanford all coming to Pasadena. There are some potential pitfalls with a roadie to Tempe and a "neutral" game vs. Texas in Arlington. The bottom line is that the offense can bog down at times, and the defense has to get much, much better against the PAC 12's elite ground attacks for the Bruins to go dancing. Despite Mora's best efforts, I don't think UCLA can do it this year, with this team, as the Bruins finish with at least two losses, including killers to Oregon and Stanford/USC. Ohio State Buckeyes: Braxton Miller is going to make people look stupid this year in those moments when he's not on his backside. The offensive line has to be completely rebuilt, and there's no beastmode Carlos Hyde to take yards from him. The result is likely to be his most explosive output to date (think Tebow-esque.) He'll be helped of course by the nation's best defensive line (maybe not the deepest, but 1-4, Ohio State is head and shoulders above everyone.) The linebackers still aren't up to snuff, and losing Shazier didn't do the Buckeyes any favors. There's also that matter of a very suspect secondary that got worse when its only demonstrable talent (Roby) headed to the NFL. For Buckeye fans wanting to escape the shootouts and close calls of last season, I fear they're in for many more. The schedule is obliging for Meyer's club, as the Bucks dodge Nubber, Iowa and Wisconsin from the West. But, the final stretch includes three bowl teams, a dangerous IU team -with the Gophers and Spartans on the road. There's also the matter of decent OOC defensive battles with Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. The miracles, I don't think, can endure for three years. Expect a regular season loss, as the thin defense finally fractures and the offense can't hold serve.

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