The inaugural NCAAF Playoff featured 4 conference winners, with Ohio St. taking the national title as the No. 4 seed. Can we expect similar results or might a non-conference winner make the field?
Florida State won its third straight ACC Championship Game last season and was the only Division I team without a loss during the regular season. However, the Seminoles were beaten soundly in the Rose Bowl as the No. 3 seed against No. 2 Oregon, the Pac-12 champion. The Seminoles are expecting back just 11 starters for 2015. Of course the biggest loss is 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who seems very likely to be the No. 1 overall college football pick by Tampa Bay in the NFL Draft. Even though FSU hasn't lost an ACC game since Oct. 6, 2012, against NC State, it is not the favorite to win the conference title this coming season. Clemson is at +250 on NCAA football odds, with the Noles right behind at +300. The Tigers bring back perhaps the best QB in the ACC in Deshaun Watson, although he will be coming off ACL surgery. Clemson does get to host Florida State this year, coming on Nov. 7. The winner of that should take the Atlantic Division. The Tigers have tough conference road games at Louisville and Miami. Clemson is +2400 to win the national title.
The Buckeyes remain solid +450 favorites to repeat as the national champion and -150 on NCAA football odds to win the Big Ten Championship Game for the second straight season. And why shouldn't they be with 15 returning starters, the Heisman Trophy favorite in running back Ezekiel Elliott and three potential All-Big Ten quarterbacks on the roster in Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, although I still think Miller will transfer somewhere to play his final season. Although Miller's quarterbacks guru, George Whitfield, told reporters at the NFL Combine that Miller will stay in Columbus. He's still coming back from shoulder surgery, and Urban Meyer says Miller should be able to start throwing with some velocity in May. Barrett won't be involved in any contact during the spring as he recovers from a broken ankle. Michigan State is the +300 second favorite for the Big Ten. Sparty visits Ohio State on Nov. 21 in what should again be the conference's most important game of the season.
Baylor and TCU finished tied atop the Big 12 last season at 8-1, although the Bears won the head-to-head matchup. Of course the Big 12 was the only Power 5 Conference not to make the College Football Playoff as TCU dropped out of the final rankings and Ohio State moved in. The Frogs are +200 conference favorites for 2015 and +800 second favorites for the national title. They bring back 14 starters, led by QB Trevone Boykin. He's right there with OSU's Elliott as a Heisman favorite for 2015. The Big 12 game of the year should be Nov. 27 between Baylor and TCU in Fort Worth. The Bears are +225 to win the conference.
Oregon was the Pac-12 champion last year but lost 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. The Ducks reportedly targeted Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams over Ohio State's Miller and indeed Adams did transfer to Oregon after three huge seasons at the FCS level. He threw for 110 touchdowns and ran for 11 more with EWU, which is a powerhouse at that level. Incidentally, Eastern Washington visits Oregon in the season opener. Adams should be the front-runner to replace Mariota, with his main competition likely Mariota's former backup, junior Jeff Lockie. Oregon is the +200 favorite to win the Pac-12 again, followed by UCLA and USC (both +450). The Ducks host the Trojans on Nov. 21 but don't face the Bruins in the regular season.
Alabama won the SEC for the fourth time in six years in 2014, beating Missouri handily in the conference title game. The Tide are +260 favorites to add another and +900 to win the national championship. Alabama lost quarterback Blake Sims, superstar receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.Y Yeldon and brings back just four starters on offense so the defense might have to carry the load in the early going. Auburn and Georgia are each +400 second-favorites for the SEC title. The Tigers host the Dawgs on Nov. 14 and host the Crimson Tide on Nov. 28. Alabama is at Georgia on Oct. 3, so UGa gets hosed in a way in having to play both those West Division powerhouses. Florida, by comparison, doesn't play either.