Thursday, October 22, 2015

Who Makes the Final 4

It is hard to believe, but we are more than half way through with the 2015 season. The past two years have brought more excitement to the sport as it has transitioned from an antiquated system to a playoff format. It was hard to predict which two teams would play for the championship, but at least you could make some guesses based on the BCS algorithm that was developed. Now, it is up to the human element to determine who gets a shot at the championship. In one of my preseason posts, I made my predictions for who would make the playoffs this year and so far I'd say I only feel confident about two of them. Actually, I know for a fact that neither Auburn nor Oregon is going to get a bid considering each has two losses. Ohio State looks primed for a selection, but TCU will need to win out which means putting away a Baylor team that has looked unstoppable this year. Let's take a look at who will be making the cut now that we've seen the teams in action. In no particular order:

Alabama Crimson Tide

The loss to Ole Miss looks worse and worse with each passing week that the Rebels struggle, but make no mistake, Alabama is still a ridiculously talented team. I still would like to see better play from the quarterbacks, but Nick Saban has shown the ability to win with a stifling defense and a dominant run game. Alabama has both of those in spades this year, as this could be the most talented front seven that the Tide have boasted under Saban. This, along with having the Tigers at home, is the primary reason that I am taking Alabama over LSU to come out of the SEC and claim a playoff spot. Leonard Fournette is by far the most talented running back in the country, but he hasn't seen a defense that can suffocate like Alabama's can. LSU stands in the way, but after that there really isn't anyone that I think is going to stop the Tide. Derrick Henry is a man-child who can completely take over games, a skill that was on display against the Aggies. As soon as they are able to get a lead, they can just hand the ball to Henry and watch him churn out yards and get first downs to keep the clock moving. Calvin Ridley is starting to come on as the team's go-to receiver, and tight end OJ Howard has game breaking ability as well. The only area that I worry about with this team is the secondary. Despite their three pick-six performance against Texas A&M, they are still playing two freshman who are athletic but raw. I don't think that this is a weakness that will be exposed during the rest of the regular season, but a team like TCU or Baylor could be a nightmare in the playoffs.

Baylor Bears

I had initially predicted TCU to grab a spot in the playoffs after sweeping the Big 12, but I'm starting to think that Baylor is the better team. Scratch that, I know that they are. Whereas this was a team that used to have completely outgun the opposition, this Baylor team is putting their opponents away with a physical defense. Now, they are still averaging 64 points per game while boasting a Heisman worthy quarterback and receiver. But the combination of Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings is making quarterbacks' lives hell while the secondary is opportunistic. Teams like Texas Tech and West Virginia have still been able to put up five touchdowns on the defense, but consider how many times they are getting to touch the ball with how quickly Baylor is scoring. All this team needs to do is get a couple of stops on defense and the offense has a chance to blow the game wide open. I was a bit wary of how Seth Russell would perform this season, but he has lived up to the hype and has Baylor poised to reach unprecedented heights. There is no doubt, however, that he is helped tremendously by the wide receivers at his disposal. Corey Coleman has 41 catches for a whopping 16 touchdowns already halfway through the season. His acceleration and cutting ability make him a nightmare anytime, even without the ball. Opposite him, Jay Lee and KD Cannon have continued to showcase similar skill sets to Coleman which has helped them combine for 41 catches and 9 touchdowns. The dangerous passing game has also greatly benefited Shock Linwood, who is averaging 8.5 yards a carry. Games at TCU and Oklahoma State will really show if this team is ready to take the next step.

Clemson Tigers

Bleh, I don't really like this pick but I really don't have much of a choice here. I don't necessarily think that Clemson is a bad team, I just think that the ACC is a bad conference (yes, even worse than the Big 10) and that Clemson really hasn't been tested this far into season. Notre Dame is down a ton of players and it is becoming more and more clear that Georgia Tech was vastly overrated at the start of the season. Deshaun Watson is an immensely talented player, but until he cuts down on the turnovers, I can't see Clemson making it over the hump into the elite category. Watson is a very dynamic player that can elevate this team over most opponents. Watson has scored 16 total touchdowns this year, but has also thrown seven picks which includes two multi-pick games. Watson is without half of his dynamic passing offense in Mike Williams, who sustained a neck injury early in the season, but Artavis Scott is a legitimate playmaker who is Watson's go to guy. Defensively, I can't see this team really being tested until they get Florida State at home on November 7. They played Notre Dame at home, but the Irish are a team that has been decimated by injuries on offense. The Seminoles will bring a balanced attack with a top five running back who will really show how stout this defense is. If Clemson makes it past them, I can't seem anyone else in the ACC beating them. However, I suspect that once they make it to the playoffs they will be exposed on both sides of the ball.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Like it or not, Ohio State is primed for a run at a playoff spot. Now that Urban Meyer has made the change from Cardale Jones to JT Barrett, you can expect this offense to run much more efficiently. Cardale thrived on the deep ball which has been eliminated from this play book thanks to Devon Smith graduating. Now, the passing game relies on short, precise throws that get the ball to the playmakers in space and allow them to turn up field. Barrett has a much better deep ball than he is given credit for, but his ability to be pin point with the ball on passes of ten to twenty yards deep really makes all the difference in the game plan. Michael Thomas is best when running quick break routes that allow him to move the chain, while Braxton Miller and Jalen Marshall can turn any short pass into a monster gain. Barrett is also a more elusive and quicker runner than Cardale is. In Urban's offense, a mobile quarterback is an absolute must. The scramble element allows Zeke Elliott to have a lot of running room before he even gets hit. Zeke already has 988 yards and eleven touchdowns through seven games, so make no mistake that he will be the focal point of the offense through the rest of the season. This offense is at it's most efficient when the run game is able to dominate and control the opposition. The only component of this team that really worries me is the run defense. They have given up over 150 yards rushing to a single player in several games this year. The middle of the defensive line greatly missed Michael Bennett, but the pass rush is still lethal with about five guys on rotation who know how to get to the quarterback. The secondary has had a few lapses, but for the most part they have been shut down players and created a lot of turnovers. Gareon Conley has become a great number two corner opposite of Eli Apple, while Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell are great tacklers and all around sound players. The talent on this team is borderline overwhelming. I can see them getting hot at the end of the year much like they did last year right before Wisconsin.

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