|Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press|
|QB Bryce Petty has helped make Baylor a contender for the new College Football Playoff.|
Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma and Oregon are the near consensus preseason picks to make up the first College Football Playoff. Which team has the best chance to crash the party?
Pac-12 contender poses threatUCLA not only is capable of crashing the party ... it's the team's expectation to do so.
From the moment Jim Mora accepted the job, he's pushed his vision, and executed his plan: Recruit talent and speed, install an offense that pushes the pace, mold pro-style principles with spread looks and plays and remake the defense into an extremely physical, swarming group that can run with anyone.
This is a team that will NOT ever be confused with the "Gritty Little Bruins" of the past. And, it has a QB that can do it all in Brett Hundley. He is ready to lead his team into title contention.
The Pac-12 has never been tougher, nor has UCLA since the heyday of coach Terry Donahue.
Top-tier QB, schedule working in UCLA's favorI'm a big believer in quarterbacks and in Brett Hundley, who is the best quarterback of a team not in the current top four. He is one of the three best quarterbacks in the nation. The Bruins also return 17 starters from last year's team.
UCLA will likely be favored in every game it plays in. UCLA gets Oregon, Arizona, USC and Stanford at home. The toughest game might be at Arizona State on a Thursday night, but the Bruins have a bye week prior to that road test.
Midwest edges West Coast for pickTwo teams come to mind: UCLA and Michigan State. The Bruins have a talent-rich roster and they return a dynamic, experienced signal-caller. However, they play a brutally tough schedule and I don't think they'll be able to run the table in the conference. Michigan State has a much easier road to travel. If the Spartans can pull off the upset at Oregon in Week 2, Ohio State looks to be the only stiff challenge remaining before the Big Ten title game. They also have an experienced passer leading the way and a defense that should continue to perform at a very high level. The Spartans are my pick to crash this party.
Baylor primed for runBaylor has one of the best offenses in college football and its defense is a tad underrated given how much time it spends on the field. The non-conference schedule isn't anything to write home about, but the Bears could overcome that by running the table and putting up big numbers. Beat Oklahoma for the Big 12 title, and Baylor could find itself among the final four.
Bears could make it happenWould anyone be surprised if Baylor went into Norman, Okla., on Nov. 8 and knocked off the Sooners on the road? I certainly wouldn't be, and if the Bears can pull it off, they should have every chance to break into the playoff in place of OU. Other than that game, it's a relatively weak schedule, particularly with expectations less than lofty for Texas, which is also a road game for Baylor. With a star senior quarterback in Bryce Petty and a dynamic offensive system under coach Art Briles, Baylor could carry a zero in the loss column all year. And without a conference title game, there is one less hurdle.
Don't underestimate Auburn ... againThe best chance to crash the playoff party? It depends on what happens when Michigan State plays at Oregon on Sept. 6. If the Spartans win, I think they become a legit contender for the spot. Heck, if they win at Autzen, they should not lose a game and will be in the playoff. Thing is, I think Michigan State loses. I'll go with Auburn as the team most likely to crash the party, as the SEC champ instead of Alabama. (I also think Baylor could replace Oklahoma and UCLA could replace Oregon as champs of their respective leagues -- but I don't think the Bears or Bruins have as good a shot as Auburn.)