Tradition Roundtable: Our way-too-early College Football Playoff picks
Each SDS/ST roundtable discussion involves the SDS/ST staff providing individual answers and comments to questions covering a wide range of sports and non-sports topics. In this discussion, we ask the question: Who are your way-too-early picks to make the CFP?
Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder
I suspect the usual 4 candidates will be the predictions for the College Football Playoff. For my 2020 predictions, I’m going with 1. Clemson, 2. Ohio State, 3. Florida and 4. Oregon.
Yeah, these might look quite foolish at some point during the season. However, I think this is the year that the Pac-12 gets a team in after sitting out the past 3 years. It can’t last forever, right?
Clemson will run through the ACC, while Ohio State will dispatch the Big Ten quite easily. That leaves No. 3 and No. 4 seeds somewhat open. The Ducks will get in at No. 4, and the 1-loss Florida Gators will represent the SEC in the Playoff.
SEC West favorites Alabama and LSU will be replacing several key positions, as will SEC East favorite Georgia. Therefore, with a veteran quarterback and a defense that has enough firepower — all led by Dan Mullen, the Gators win the SEC Championship and get into the Playoff.
Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist
Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon.
Boring? Eh, maybe a little. But here’s my thinking. Clemson and Ohio State somewhat speak for themselves. They’re so far ahead of the rest of their respective conferences and with the 2 top returning quarterbacks (and players) in all of college football, I can’t bet against them, especially when we’re talking about a wiped out spring that’s going to favor a veteran team.
Speaking of veteran teams, that’s why I give Alabama a nice advantage. Sure, Scott Cochran is gone, but that staff continuity is going to be vital in an offseason like this. Alabama brought back 4 guys who could’ve been first-round picks in this upcoming draft. For now, there are fewer questions with the Tide than any other SEC team right now. Whether it’s Mac Jones, Taulia Tagovailoa or Bryce Young, I like the odds of Alabama getting back to winning the SEC in an up-for-grabs year.
And why Oregon? Didn’t the Ducks just lose Justin Herbert? Yes, indeed they did. There’s a little Patrick Ewing/Bryce Harper theory here (the team will actually get better the year he leaves), but I think the Ducks are in prime position to end the Pac-12’s Playoff drought. They’ve got a trio of 4-star quarterbacks battling for that starting gig, which is the big unknown. But I like what new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead inherited with one of the nation’s top returning backs in C.J. Verdell and the nation’s top offensive line in Penei Sewell. Oregon adds a new spice to a Playoff field that needs it.
Dustin Schutte, Saturday Tradition managing editor
Clemson: Much like 2019, Clemson appears to have the easiest path to the College Football Playoff, at least when it comes to scheduling. Outside of the Nov. 7 matchup with Notre Dame, there isn’t really a team that should provide Dabo Swinney’s bunch with much of a challenge. That doesn’t mean that Clemson isn’t immune to an upset, but the slate is favorable. Oh, and having Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne back, the best QB-RB combination in college football, won’t hurt. The Tigers might be as close to a lock for the College Football Playoff as there is in 2020.
Alabama: Yes, I understand Alabama lost a lot from last season, but something tells me that Nick Saban isn’t going to miss out on the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons. Mac Jones is going to have big shoes to fill with Tua Tagovailoa gone, but as we all know, the Crimson Tide don’t rebuild, they’re always reloading. The offense should be electrifying with Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle being the primary playmakers. Having a much healthier defense will also help Bama return to the Playoff.
Penn State: This should be the year James Franklin finally leads Penn State to the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Sean Clifford has a full year of experience, the running back room is loaded and tight end Pat Freiermuth decided to give the Nittany Lions 1 more season. Penn State’s defensive line is solid with Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh on the edge and linebacker Micah Parsons is one of the best defensive players in the game. Ohio State will be the favorite to come out of the B1G, but with that game in Happy Valley, I think the Nittany Lions get a big win over the Buckeyes, win the conference title and compete for a national title.
Oregon: Picking the 4th team was a bit challenging, but I’ll go with Oregon. They’ll still likely be the best team in the Pac-12 and they’ll have a chance to make a statement early in the year with a home game against Ohio State. Even if the Ducks lose that contest and play the Buckeyes close, a 1-loss season might be enough to squeak into the field. Oregon should be more experienced on the defensive side of the football and bringing in Joe Moorhead to run the offense could really be the X-factor for Mario Cristobal and Co.
Michael Bratton, News editor
Florida, Penn State, Clemson and Oregon.
Florida wins the SEC after beating Georgia and the top SEC West teams beat each other up.
Pencil in Clemson every year to the CFP until the cupcake league finds another team to compete with the Tigers.
Oregon continues to trend in the right direction with more tough, physical football players joining the Ducks’ roster each and every offseason.
Everyone is going to pick Ohio State out of the Big Ten, but I’ll roll with Penn State this year.
Adam Spencer, Newsletter editor
I’ll start with the most obvious and then work from there. First up, Clemson is about as close to a lock as we have to make the Playoff. Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, etc. Those guys are going to put up some serious numbers on offense. Second, I’ll go with Ohio State. The Buckeyes return Justin Fields and just added Trey Sermon from Oklahoma as a graduate transfer running back. They should continue to hold off Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and all other threats in the Big Ten.
Next, there’s obviously going to be at least one team from the SEC in there. Though I think Ed Orgeron is going to eventually have the LSU Tigers as a yearly CFP contender, they lost a ton of talent from last year’s title-winning team. Give LSU another year to bounce back from those losses. Therefore, I’ll take Alabama as the third Playoff team. I think Bryce Young will eventually usurp Mac Jones as the starting quarterback. Add in Najee Harris at running back, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith in the receiving corps and Dylan Moses back to lead the defense and it could be a great year for Nick Saban’s squad.
Finally, I’ll take Oregon. Yes, they just lost Justin Herbert, but whoever lines up at quarterback for the Ducks will have perhaps the best offensive lineman in the nation blocking for him in Penei Sewell. The Ducks also have CJ Verdell returning at running back and some experienced receivers. Add in Kayvon Thibodeaux (last year’s freshman defensive sensation) and the Ducks’ defense should be quite formidable as well. I would give USC some serious consideration, too, but the Trojans play Alabama in Week 1, so I’m going to go ahead and eliminate them from contention.
Neil Blackmon, Florida columnist
1. Clemson: I am told Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross are on campus. I am also told Clemson plays in the Power 5’s weakest league. I think we know what that means.
2. Ohio State: Justin Fields is back and Master Teague will make people forget J.K. Dobbins awfully quick. The defense loses Chase Young and Jeffrey Okudah but the back end, paced by Shaun Wade, will be the nation’s best secondary. The B1G is terrific, but the Buckeyes should have played for a championship last year and might win the whole thing next year.
3. Alabama: I think Mac Jones will be the starting quarterback. He has Najee Haris and Trey Sanders to pound the rock and call Jaylen Waddle 7-11 because he’s always open. The Tide will be a bit more of a bruising offense in 2020, but they will still score plenty of points and with 7 starters back on defense, I think that unit is the league’s most improved. That bodes well for fans on the Capstone and makes these Playoff picks awfully boring.
4. Oregon: Tyler Shough replaces Justin Herbert and has been waiting for this moment for over a year. Yes, the Ducks play Ohio State on Sept. 12, assuming there is football Sept. 12. But take an early L in that game and the rest of the schedule sets up beautfiully, with Washington, USC and Stanford all coming to Eugene and the Autzen Zoo. That defense will be one of America’s best too — Kayvon Thibodeaux is a future first-rounder and S Brady Breeze headlines a deep secondary.
Chris Wright, Executive editor
Carryover is very much a part of the Playoff fabric.
Every year, thanks largely to Alabama or Clemson, we’ve had at least 1 Playoff team make it back the following season. Two teams made it back in 2016 (Alabama, Clemson), 2017 (Alabama, Clemson) and 2019 (Clemson, Oklahoma) and 3 teams returned in 2018 (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma).
There’s a good bet 2 teams also make it back in 2020: Clemson and Ohio State.
I don’t see any scenario in which LSU makes the field again in 2020, and given the fact the Big 12 (read: Oklahoma) just fell to 0-4 in Playoff semifinals, it might be time to give somebody else (read: Pac-12 champ) a shot. Everybody seems to love Oregon, but the Ducks couldn’t beat a 3rd-place SEC team last year when they had a potential 1st-round NFL QB. Now the QB is gone … and they’re going to be better? They’re going to be good enough to take out Ohio State in Week 2? I don’t think so.
I want to see Texas. I don’t necessarily think I’ll get my wish, but the door certainly is open. Oklahoma and LSU are starting over at QB, and the Longhorns get both in the first half in the season. I don’t know that Texas is back, but I do know Texas has played Oklahoma extremely well the past 7 seasons. OU is 5-3 against Texas in that span, but 4 of those wins were by a TD or fewer. As Dan Mullen likes to lament, that’s 1 play away.
I also know it would be great for college football if Texas did make a legitimate run at the Playoff. As always, I root for the best story, and it’s tough to top Texas facing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The “OK, Cool, Hook ’em” storylines write themselves.
That leaves, of course, one more spot, opposite Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
After a year off, I think we’re all ready for Round 5.
What do you say, Nick?