The 2014-15 college football season concluded with Ohio State’s 42-20 win over Oregon on Monday night in Arlington, Texas. Although the on-field game action is over until next August, spring practice and offseason workouts will start for some teams in February. And with Signing Day just around the corner, there’s no shortage of college football news to fill the offseason void.
While the 2014-15 season is fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. The second college football playoff schedule has a few tweaks from this season’s version, as the Cotton and Orange host semifinal games on Dec. 31, with the national title game slated for Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.
Early College Football Title Favorites for 2015
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 1
Defending a national title is no easy task, but Ohio State is equipped to return to the championship game in 2015. The quarterback battle will dominate the offseason in Columbus, as coach Urban Meyer returns three standouts (Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones) ready to compete for the No. 1 job. Regardless of who starts under center, expect to see plenty of running back Ezekiel Elliott. The defense will miss tackle Michael Bennett and cornerback Doran Grant. However, end Joey Bosa and linebacker Darron Lee are two of the top defenders in the nation.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 2
The Crimson Tide has their share of offseason question marks to answer. Is Jake Coker ready to assume the starting job at quarterback? Who steps up to replace receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins? Until those questions are answered, Alabama can lean on a ground attack anchored by Derrick Henry (990 yards in 2014) and a tough front seven on defense.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 3
The Horned Frogs were one of the nation’s most improved squads in 2014. After finishing 4-8 in 2013, TCU jumped to 12 victories and dominated Ole Miss 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Most of coach Gary Patterson’s squad returns intact, starting with quarterback Trevone Boykin and a talented group of skill players. Defense is always a strength in Fort Worth, but Patterson will have a few voids to fill, including standout defensive backs Kevin White (CB), Chris Hackett (S) and Sam Carter (S), along with linebacker Paul Dawson and tackle Chucky Hunter.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 4
Until quarterback Marcus Mariota declares for the NFL or announces he is staying in college for another year, the Ducks are the hardest team to rank in early polls for 2015. Even if Mariota leaves, Oregon has a solid foundation for next season. The backfield of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman can carry the offense until a new quarterback emerges. The defense needs to reload up front - if Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner leave for the NFL - and in the secondary, but the Ducks should remain the favorite in the Pac-12 North.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 5
TCU is the favorite in the Big 12 next season, but the Bears aren’t too far behind. Art Briles continues to elevate the talent level in Waco, and even though quarterback Bryce Petty departs, there’s a track record of developing signal-callers at Baylor (under Briles). The Bears received some good news around the draft deadline, as offensive tackle Spencer Drango and end Shawn Oakman both decided to return for their senior season.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 6
In Mark Dantonio we trust. In four out of the last five seasons, Michigan State has won at least 11 games. Dantonio has to replace defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and there’s a handful of personnel concerns to address. Receiver Tony Lippett, cornerback Trae Waynes and running back Jeremy Langford won’t return, but the Spartans can ride veteran quarterback Connor Cook until the rest of the pieces fall into place.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 7
Fixing the defense was the top priority for coach Gus Malzahn this offseason, and he addressed the team’s biggest question mark by hiring former Florida coach Will Muschamp to call the defensive signals. Muschamp inherits a defense that returns most of its starting unit, and end Carl Lawson is back from a torn ACL that forced the rising star to miss all of 2014. The transition from Nick Marshall to Jeremy Johnson should be seamless at quarterback.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 8
The Bulldogs have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four seasons. And with the question marks surrounding the rest of the SEC East teams, coach Mark Richt’s squad is the early favorite to win the division in 2015. New offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer was an interesting hire, but the formula for Georgia’s offense shouldn’t change much with running back Nick Chubb leading the way. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was one of the top assistant hires from 2014. Pruitt should help the defense take another step forward in 2015.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 9
The Pac-12 South is loaded with good teams next year, but a slight edge as the favorite – for now – goes to USC. The Trojans need to find a way to close out games better, as coach Steve Sarkisian’s team lost three games by a touchdown or less. Receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen are off to the NFL, but quarterback Cody Kessler and talented freshmen receivers JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson return. End Leonard Williams is a significant loss on defense.
Early 2015 Ranking: No. 10
Over the last five years, the only team in the nation that has a better recruiting rank average than Florida State is Alabama. While the Seminoles have to replace quarterback Jameis Winston, receiver Rashad Greene, four starters on the offensive line and find a few answers on defense for a unit that allowed 25.6 points per game in 2014, there’s a ton of promising talent in place. Of course, the Seminoles will be a young team next year, but running back Dalvin Cook is a good place to start the rebuilding effort.
Under-the-Radar Teams to Watch for the Top 10 in 2015
The Yellow Jackets should be the favorites in the Coastal Division. Quarterback Justin Thomas returns, but the skill talent must be restocked with running backs Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins and receiver DeAndre Smelter expiring their eligibility.
Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Baton Rouge. However, the Tigers need to develop a passing game to pair with standout sophomore running back Leonard Fournette. How much will LSU miss veteran coordinator John Chavis?
The Rebels need to retool in the secondary, but the front seven should be among the best in the nation. Can Hugh Freeze find a quarterback this spring?
It’s a close call between USC, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and Utah for the early nod as the favorite in the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils host USC, Oregon and Arizona next year, and Mike Bercovici is ready to step in at quarterback to replace Taylor Kelly.
The Fighting Irish started 6-0 but finished 2-5 over their last seven games. Injuries and turnovers were largely to blame for the second-half struggles, but most of the team’s core is set to return for 2015. Malik Zaire is a promising option at quarterback, and the defense should take a step forward with the return of cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams from suspension.
2015-16 College Football New Year’s Six Bowl Schedule
If the top 10 looks like this at the end of the year, here’s a (very) early projection on the top bowls for 2015:
Chick-fil-A Bowl – Dec. 31
Projection: Georgia vs. Florida State
Fiesta – Jan. 1
Projection: Boise State vs. Arizona State
Rose – Jan. 1
Projection: USC vs. Michigan State
Sugar – Jan. 1
Projection: Baylor vs. Auburn
Cotton – Semifinal – Dec. 31
Projection: Ohio State vs. Oregon
Orange – Semifinal – Dec. 31
Projection: Alabama vs. TCU
National Championship – Jan. 11
Projection: Ohio State vs. Alabama