CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Playoff Predictions

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Year One of the College Football Playoff brought a new energy to the sport of college football, begging many to ask after each week of games just where teams stood in the playoff hunt. Sure, the conversation and debate over playoff position may have been forced or manufactured at times, but there was no escaping the idea that playoff hopes could be dashed in almost any given week. Then, as the season drew to a close we were left wondering just how the selection committee, a group of characters from all walks of life brought together and locked into one single meeting room, would emerge with the final say.

Alabama. Oregon. Florida State. Ohio State. (Sorry Baylor and TCU).

That was last year. We learned a few things along the way as we watched the selection committee dive head first into this brand new playoff format. We learned that conference championship games matter more than some were led to believe. We learned it is still OK to lose early, as it once was under the BCS system. We learned that going undefeated may not necessarily make you a lock for one of the four golden tickets. And we learned that being left out leads to some bitterness and resentment. Of course, we also learned that predicting how this whole thing will play out can be a difficult task, with rankings changing week by week using a logic that seems to change just often enough to throw you off your game once you think you figured it out. And guess what. We haven’t even learned everything yet.

This season will see a brand new set of scenarios brought to the table for discussing inside those closed doors. How will the selection committee handle things not yet seen? That is anybody’s guess, just as it is anybody’s guess which four teams will finally reach the playoff on New Years Eve.

Ohio State and TCU look like strong contenders out of the gate, locking down the top two spots in the national polls that have been rendered even more meaningless than they already were. The SEC and Pac-12 feel like conferences strong enough to send a team back to the playoff even if the conference champion wears a crown with one loss or two. The ACC has some potential candidates as well with Clemson and Florida State, although the margin for error may not be as wide as it is for whichever team comes out of the SEC, be it Alabama or Auburn or Georgia. Oh, and let’s not forget about Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish always seem to wiggle into this conversation with some serious merits in the preseason.

Below are the College Football Playoff predictions from the College Football Talk crew, as well as a few extra special guests.

John Taylor: Orange Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State over No. 4 Clemson (Orange Bowl), No. 2 TCU over No. 3 Auburn (Cotton Bowl). Ohio State over TCU in CFP championship game.

Zach Barnett: Baylor, Ohio State, Michigan State and Auburn – not necessarily in that order.

The four teams that reach the College Football Playoff will be great in two areas: quarterback and defensive line. Sure, you want your offensive line stout and your defensive backfield deep, but no positions hold sway over a game, a team, and a season like those two. Those four teams will allow their quarterbacks to make plays while making their counterparts miserable, and they’ll be the ones playing on New Year’s Eve.

Kevin McGuire:  No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Oregon (Orange Bowl), No. 2 TCU vs. No. 3 Auburn (Cotton Bowl)

I have gone on record saying I believe Ohio State and TCU will each run their respective tables in the regular season, and I’ll throw Ohio State a 13th win with a Big Ten championship game victory over Nebraska. TCU will not be left on the outside looking in this season if they manage to avoid a trip along the way. A 12-0 record gets the Big 12 in this season. Oregon manages to sneak in at the end of the season, and Auburn pulls down the other spot despite having a pair of losses. That’s right, we’ll have a 2-loss SEC champion in the fun while the ACC champ gets left out.

Vinnie Duber (CSN Chicago, Big Ten Talk): 1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Auburn, 4. USC

The Buckeyes seem like a lock for the CFP with all their returning talent at nearly every position on the field, plus they seem like they should be even better than last year’s team, which obviously won it all. TCU boasts maybe the nation’s best quarterback in Trevone Boykin, who has the experience to beat out Baylor in what should be a Big 12 dogfight. Auburn should pile up points behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson and could be snuffing out opposing offenses behind new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, though the SEC West is always a gauntlet. And finally, USC has the Pac-12’s best QB in Cody Kessler, allowing the Trojans to edge out an Oregon team replacing Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.

Ben Kercheval (Bleacher Report, former CFT contributor): TCU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Auburn

Michigan, USC added to Fresno State’s future schedules

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A common opponent has been added to the schedules of both the Michigan and USC football teams.

Thursday, Fresno State announced that it has reached an agreement with the Michigan and USC football programs for future games.  The Wolverines game will be played in 2024 while the Bulldogs will face the Trojans.

Obviously, both of those contests will be road games for Fresno State.

The game against Michigan will mark the first-ever meeting between the schools.  Fresno State and USC have met five times previously, the first coming the first in 1992 and the most recent in 2019.  The Trojans own a 4-1 record in the mini-series, with that lone loss coming in the first-ever meeting.

This past season, the Trojans got past the Bulldogs but lost starting quarterback JT Daniels to torn ACL.

Fresno State and USC had also been scheduled to meet again in 2022 and 2025.  According to USC, that 2025 game has been moved to 2026.

Texas A&M pulls LBs coach from Wake Forest

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For its newest assistant, Texas A&M football turned to an ACC school.  And, a familiar face for that matter.

Thursday, A&M announced that Tyler Santucci has been hired by Fisher as linebackers coach.  Santucci will replace Bradley Dale Peveto, who was still under contract but won’t return for the 2020 season.

Santucci’s hiring marks a homecoming of sorts as the assistant spent the 2018 season as a defensive analyst for the Texas A&M football program.

Last season, Santucci was the linebackers coach at Wake Forest.  That was his first on-field job at the Power Five level.  His first on-field job at the FBS level came as linebackers coach at Texas State in 2016.

In 2017, Santucci was a defensive analyst at Notre Dame.  During that brief stint in South bend, Mike Elko was the Fighting Irish’s defensive coordinator, the same position he’s held with the Aggies since he was hired in January of 2018.

The first coaching job for Santucci, who played his college football at Stony Brook, was at his alma mater as safeties coach.

In Jimbo Fisher‘s second season in College Station, the Aggies posted an 8-5 record.  A&M has won both bowl games since Fisher took over the program.  After finishing tied for second in the SEC West his Fisher’s inaugural season, the Aggies dipped to fourth in 2019.

Ex-Michigan RB Jordan Castleberry transfers to Maryland

Jordan Castleberry is transferring from Michigan to Maryland.
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After one semester at Michigan, freshman running back Jordan Castleberry has transferred to Maryland. Castleberry announced his transfer decision on his Twitter account on Thursday.

Castleberry originally committed to West Virginia during his recruiting process out of high school. Shortly after his commitment to West Virginia, Michigan became a more likely recruiting victor. Castleberry enrolled at Michigan in July 2019.

Castleberry did not play for Michigan in 2019, so he can use the 2019 season as a redshirt year to preserve a year of eligibility. However, NCAA transfer rules will force Castleberry to sit out the 2020 season. This will not make Castleberry eligible for Maryland until the 2021 season, at which point he will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Ruffin McNeill steps away from Oklahoma and football to be with family

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Family will always be more important than football, which is why Ruffin McNeill will be putting football on hold for an undetermined amount of time. Oklahoma announced on Thursday that assistant head coach and outside linebackers coach McNeill will leave football to help take care of his father.

“This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” McNeill said in a statement released by Oklahoma. “But in the end, being near my dad was a necessary choice. Right now I need to be a son again and I need to help my brother and other family members take care of my dad, who is battling significant health issues. This is not retirement for me. I still want to coach in some form or fashion. But right now that can’t be the case. My focus needs to be on my dad back in North Carolina.”

“Ruffin means so much to me and to my family, and his family means so much to him,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said in a statement. “I know his decision to leave OU was a very difficult one, but was one he felt he had to make.”

Although McNeill said this is not a retirement decision and expressed a desire to continue coaching when the time is right, Riley confirmed the Sooners will be looking for a replacement on the staff.

“I still want to coach in some form or fashion,” McNeill said. “But right now that can’t be the case.”

McNeill joined the Oklahoma coaching staff under Riley in 2017.