CFB 24/7  

 

Biggest roadblocks for each of CFB's top playoff contenders

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Marcus Mariota's Oregon team faces a tough test early in the season against Michigan State.

We've had all offseason to identify the teams we expect to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and the elite squads have plenty of promise.

Of course, there are also some roadblocks and potential pitfalls along the way that those teams will have to avoid to give themselves a shot at making the playoff. We know well that those potential hazards won't all be successfully hurdled.

Tough losses and stunning upsets await.

The BCS is gone, replaced by the College Football Playoff. It's the dawning of a new and exciting era, with a four-team playoff starting this season. CFB 24/7 presents a primer to get you ready.

More:
» CFB Playoff Picture: If the season ended today
» Latest College Football Playoff rankings
» CFB 24/7 Top 25 Power Rankings
» AP Top 25: FSU back in top spot
» Updated bowl projections: Rising Tide

With that in mind, here's a look at my top 12 teams heading into the season along with their toughest matchup and another game where they could stumble and potentially be upset.

1. Florida State

The skinny: We all know about the Seminoles' potential. Will complacency be an issue for the defending national champs? This team is certainly talented enough to repeat.
Biggest obstacle: Sept. 20 vs. Clemson. FSU crushed the Tigers on the road last season, but they're still the team that should scare the Seminoles the most.
Cause for concern: Nov. 29 vs. Florida. I think the Gators will be much improved this year -- they might be one of the surprise teams of 2014 -- and should be fired up for this one. This will be the last game of the regular season, and FSU better not get caught looking ahead.

2. UCLA

The skinny: This team has developed into a contender much faster than anyone anticipated when Jim Mora took over as head coach before the 2012 season. This team expects to be in the playoff, and has a good shot at making it with Brett Hundley at quarterback.
Biggest obstacle: Oct. 11 vs. Oregon. The Bruins can send a message by knocking off the Pac-12 favorite. They have really struggled to show they can hang with the Ducks, though, including in last year's 42-14 drubbing.
Cause for concern: Sept. 13 vs. Texas (in Arlington, Texas). This is a game most people expect UCLA to win, but it's not an easy trip -- it's not a neutral location when you're playing Texas in the state of Texas. Charlie Strong would love to get this one, and the Texas fan base would be all aboard the Strong bandwagon with an upset of UCLA.

3. Oregon

The skinny: The Ducks look fully loaded, but their top four receivers from last season are gone. Bralon Addison, who was supposed to be the team's top target this season, suffered an ACL tear in spring practice and it's not yet clear when he'll be able to return. That position could be their Achilles' heel.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. Stanford. Stanford derailed Oregon's season last year. Oregon wants payback. We know it won't come easy, though.
Cause for concern: Sept. 6 vs. Michigan State. Stanford has given Oregon problems, and Michigan State's style of play is a lot similar to the Cardinal's. Oregon will have to prove it can hold up against a tough, physical team.

4. Auburn

The skinny: The Tigers won six games by eight points or fewer last season on their way to the national title game. They had the ball bounce their way more than a few times in 2013. Will things go their way again? They have Nick Marshall back at quarterback, which certainly helps.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 29 at Alabama. I need not remind you of what happened in the Iron Bowl last year. Yeah, this is a big one.
Cause for concern: Nov. 1 at Ole Miss. The Rebels have the talent to surprise people this year. They might have the SEC's top quarterback in Bo Wallace, and coach Hugh Freeze has his squad pointed in the right direction.

5. Oklahoma

The skinny: To me, the No. 1 question the Sooners have is at quarterback. Is Trevor Knight going to play like the guy we saw in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama? If he does, Oklahoma is going to be tough to beat.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Baylor. Most people have this one pegged as the Big 12 game of the year. OU got whacked at Baylor last season, 41-12, in a huge win for the Bears. The Sooners are at home this time, and they want revenge, but Baylor is well-stocked again.
Cause for concern: Nov. 15 at Texas Tech. If OU can escape Baylor with a win, it better not have a letdown against Kliff Kingsbury's Red Raiders. Lubbock has been a tough place for the Sooners to play over the past several years -- they've lost three of their last four games at Tech.

6. Alabama

The skinny: We still don't know what they're going to do at quarterback with Blake Sims and Jacob Coker competing for the job. We've heard plenty about how great Coker is, but he still has to prove it. Quarterback is the biggest question mark for them.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 8 at LSU. The Tide gets two weeks to prepare for this one. LSU might be replacing a lot of players after a draft exodus, but there's still plenty of talent in Baton Rouge. Count on this rivalry game being a tough test for Alabama.
Cause for concern: Oct. 4 at Ole Miss. Bama shut out Ole Miss last season, 25-0, but the game was closer than the score would indicate, and the Rebels should be much improved this year. If there's going to be a shakeup in the SEC West, it looks like it's going to go through Ole Miss with Bama and Auburn set to visit.

7. Michigan State

The skinny: The Spartans expect to be one of the teams contending for a playoff spot coming off a Rose Bowl win. There are voids to fill on defense following the departure of lockdown cornerback Darqueze Dennard and others, but this team still has star power on both sides of the ball in QB Connor Cook and DE Shilique Calhoun.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Ohio State. Sure, Ohio State is weakened by the loss of Braxton Miller, but it's still a contender in the Big Ten. Michigan State can't afford to take the Buckeyes lightly.
Cause for concern: Sept. 6 at Oregon. This is a statement game not just for Michigan State, but for the Big Ten as a conference. There are huge playoff implications stemming from this one.

8. Stanford

The skinny: The Cardinal is starting over a bit on defense following the departures of coordinator Derek Mason, now the head coach at Vanderbilt, and some key pieces, including Trent Murphy, who led the nation in sacks last season.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 1 at Oregon. Oregon's a national title contender and has lost two in a row to Stanford, including an overtime home game in 2012. Stanford certainly won't be intimidated, but a third consecutive win over its rival will be tough to pull off.
Cause for concern: Sept. 27 at Washington. The Cardinal lost a Thursday-night game the last time it visited the Huskies. This could be an early signature win for Chris Petersen in his first year as Washington head coach.

9. Ohio State

The skinny: With Braxton Miller out for the season, everyone is wondering what his replacement, T.J. Barrett, will be able to do. Even with the questions at quarterback, I still expect the Buckeyes to be pretty darn good.
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 8 at Michigan State. In a rematch of last season's Big Ten title game, Michigan State will have a chip on its shoulder, as usual. The Spartans still feel like they don't get the respect they deserve.
Cause for concern: Nov. 29 vs. Michigan. Will the Wolverines be playing for Brady Hoke, who enters the year on the hot seat, in this one? Michigan could have plenty of motivation to come to battle in this rivalry game.

10. Baylor

The skinny: Baylor is now the hunted, coming off its first-ever Big 12 title. Quarterback Bryce Petty is a Heisman contender and one of the most indispensable players in college football. The offense should be great again, but will the defense hold up?
Biggest obstacle: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma. It's expected that this game will determine who wins the Big 12 title. The Bears crushed the Sooners last season, 41-12, but Baylor has never won in Norman.
Cause for concern: Oct. 4 at Texas. Baylor beat Texas last year with the Big 12 title on the line. Texas has a tough schedule to start the season, and it's going to be motivated to go get head coach Charlie Strong a signature win against a team with hopes of making the playoff.

11. South Carolina

The skinny: There's no Jadeveon Clowney, who has been the face of the program, but another significant loss is quarterback Connor Shaw. It's Dylan Thompson's job to replace Shaw, and those are big shoes to fill.
Biggest obstacle: Sept. 13 vs. Georgia. The Gamecocks have two very tough tests in the first three weeks with Texas A&M in tonight's opener and the Bulldogs in a couple weeks. The game against Georgia will determine who becomes the front-runner in the SEC East.
Cause for concern: Oct. 25 at Auburn. Losses in SEC crossover games have cost Steve Spurrier in the past. Can South Carolina avoid one this time? It's a tough road matchup against the defending conference champions.

12. Arizona State

The skinny: The Sun Devils lost nine starters on defense, but they still have Taylor Kelly, who's an underappreciated talent in a Pac-12 loaded with quality signal-callers.
Biggest obstacle: Sept. 25 vs. UCLA. The Bruins are determined to prove they belong in the elite ranks of college football, and they know not to overlook Arizona State after losing to them in Pasadena last season.
Cause for concern: Nov. 8 vs. Notre Dame. Quarterback Everett Golson is back for the Fighting Irish, who beat ASU without him last season, albeit narrowly (37-34), in a game that was played in Arlington, Texas.

Follow Charles Davis on Twitter @CFD22.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15