College football’s new four-team playoff format starts on Jan. 1 with Oregon and Florida State meeting in the Rose Bowl, while Alabama takes on Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl to close out the first round. The Crimson Tide ranked as the No. 1 seed in the new format, with the Ducks ranked No. 2 over the defending national champs. The winner of the Sugar and Rose Bowl games on Jan. 1 are set to meet on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The Sugar and Rose Bowls won’t take place for almost another month, but it’s never too early to look ahead. Athlon’s editors predict the first two games and offer their national championship pick in the early playoff predictions.
College Football Playoff Predictions
David Fox (@DavidFox615): Alabama over Oregon
The showdown we’ve wanted to see for years — Oregon’s high-powered offense vs. Alabama’s shutdown defense. Never mind that the architect of the offense coaches for the Eagles now, and this is merely a “good” Alabama defense rather than an outstanding one. The Ducks’ defense will be the difference here, and not in a good way. Alabama re-tooled its attack this season to a spread, no-huddle and this is the endgame, a national championship over the best in the West.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Alabama over Florida State
There is plenty of intrigue in the first four-team playoff and any of the matchups would provide an entertaining national championship. Alabama is the nation’s most-talented team, and the defense is the best among the teams in the playoff. It’s hard to pick against the Crimson Tide with a month to prepare for an Ohio State team that has a quarterback making his second career start. The Rose Bowl should be a high-scoring affair, but I’ll differ with my colleagues and take Florida State over Oregon. The Ducks have an explosive offense and the top player in college football this year in quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, the time off should help the Seminoles get healthy on defense, and I like the coaching edge and experience in big games of Jimbo Fisher. Regardless of which team wins the Rose Bowl, I don’t think either is getting by Alabama in the national championship. The Crimson Tide win their third title in four years.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Alabama over Oregon
I tried to find a reason to pick a team other than Alabama — but couldn't pull the trigger on any team but the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban's team is far from perfect but has fewer issues than any of the other three schools in the College Football Playoff field. The offense is loaded with elite playmakers and is thriving under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin. The defense has had some problems in the secondary but is still one of the best in the nation. Oregon will no doubt present a difficult test, but I can't envision a scenario in which the Ducks have enough answers defensively for the Tide's diverse offense.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Alabama over Oregon
Ohio State has SEC-type talent and a former SEC mad scientist running the show, but Nick Saban and Alabama will have more than three weeks to prepare for a third-string quarterback making his second career start. That doesn't bode well Urban Meyer. Out West, Marcus Mariota will be the difference against a Florida State defense that has lived on the edge all season. The Seminoles have struggled against the run and their inability to get stops will create a role reversal in the Rose Bowl as Mariota leads a game-winning drive in the waning moments, costing Jimbo Fisher a second straight championship. In Arlington, the Crimson Tide uses physicality and defense to push around and disrupt the Ducks offense en route to Saban's fifth national championship.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR): Oregon over Alabama
With all of the debate surrounding the fourth team, I don't think there's much argument when it comes to which two we will see play on Jan. 12. Give Urban Meyer and Ohio State plenty of credit for accomplishing what they have despite losing a Heisman Trophy candidate (QB Braxton Miller) before the season even started. That said, Nick Saban will have Alabama's defense ready for Cardale Jones/Ezekiel Elliott, and the Crimson Tide's ability to attack teams both on the ground and through the air will be enough to get past the Buckeyes. On the other side of the bracket, I look for Oregon and Marcus Mariota to be the team that finally makes Florida State and Jameis Winston pay for a sluggish start. Besides, isn't it appropriate that the next Heisman Trophy winner takes the mantle from the former one by beating him? That leaves us, fittingly, with a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup at Jerry Jones' house for all of the marbles. I'm probably in the minority here, but I am going to take my chances with Mariota putting a stamp on his spectacular season by bedeviling Alabama's defense to lead his Ducks to their first-ever national title. After all, in a season that has been as crazy as this one, doesn't it make perfect sense to pick the only team (and head coach for that matter) in the bracket that has never won a national title to do just that?