By Cade Cavin
Pac 12: USC Trojans
On offense, the Trojans sport substantial star power in quarterback Kedon Slovis and wideouts Drake London and Bru McCoy. Texas transfer Keontay Ingram will give the Trojans a reliable and skilled back to lean on in order to take pressure off of Slovis’ arm. The defense is talented enough to avoid costing them games if the offense puts out, and potential top ten draft pick Drake Jackson will be a force on the defensive line. Looking at their schedule, San Jose State could be a trap game, and Notre Dame will be a tough one, but overall it is very favorable. A 12-0, conference champion USC would easily slide into a 3 or 4 seed in the playoff. The best case scenario for Trojan fans this season is a CFB Playoff berth.
SEC: Florida Gators
The Gators were a playoff caliber team last year, and if it weren’t for an unfortunately placed cleat, they might have slid into the fourth seed. Florida will have to deal with major losses on offense in Kyle Trask, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Pitts but Emory Jones will look to make up for the lost production. On defense, Brenton Cox Jr. and Kaiir Elam lead a unit that struggled greatly in the 3 game skid that ended Florida’s season last year. The Gator’s chances at a CFB Playoff berth depend on the defense’s ability to bend but not break, and Emory Jones’ ability to live up to the hype.
Big 12: Iowa State Cyclones
After a breakout season last year, it may be hard for some to consider them a playoff dark horse, but the program’s history tells us otherwise. In the decade before Matt Campbell took over in 2016, the Cyclones only logged two winning seasons, going winless in conference twice in that span. Now, with Heisman candidate Breece Hall returning along with a slew of other veteran stars, the Cyclones are looking like the team best fit to challenge Oklahoma’s streak of dominance in the Big 12. Brock Purdy is a talented quarterback who did struggle with turnovers on occasion, but Hall’s dominant presence in the ground game should take pressure off of Purdy. On defense, the Cyclones return reigning Big 12 DPOY Linebacker Mike Rose who leads a unit that may be the best defense in the conference. Oklahoma should be the only true obstacle in the Cyclones path to the playoff, barring slip ups late in the season.
Big 10: Indiana Hoosiers
Coming off of one of Indiana’s best seasons since 1967, star quarterback Micheal Penix Jr will be looking to help this program take the next step and earn the illustrious CFB Playoff berth. Penix Jr. is a certified all star and will look to contend for national honors as his collegiate career progresses. The losses of vetern standouts running back Stevie Scott (2543 yds, 30 TDs, 4.5 YPC) and wideout Whop Philyor (180 rec, 2067 yds, 12 TDs) will be felt on offense, but transfers and super seniors will pick up where those stars left off. Former USC ball carrier and transfer Stephen Carr will receive the bulk of the backfield touches, while 5th year senior Ty Fryfogle will lead the way for the receiving corps. The Hooisers sport good talent in the secondary as well, with Junior cornerback Taiwan Mullen looking to have another elite season as a ballhawk for Tom Allen. Indiana has enough talent and experience to sneak into a 4th seed if the circumstances allot for it.
ACC: Louisville Cardinals
Louisville may seem like a long shot to make the playoffs in a conference that Clemson has dominated for nearly a decade; however, they have the best shot out of all ACC teams not named the Tigers or Tarheels. The Cardinals return starting signal caller Malik Cunningham, who is an efficient playmaker when given time. Louisville returns 61% of its production from last year, and a pair of transfers at the safety position shore up a defense that should be one of the better secondaries in the conference. Transfer safety Qwynnterio Cole is a two time HBCU All-American who will make an immediate impact for the Cards. The lack of returning production at wide receiver is a concern, but the Cardinal’s young talent will help them overcome the roster’s weakness. True freshman wideout Jordan Watkins is a recruit that flew under the radar for many, but is very comparable to NFL wideout Dede Westbrook. Redshirt freshman back Jalen Mitchell will be slotted into the starting role for Louisville after rushing for 6.7 YPC during last year’s campaign. While their floor is low, their ceiling is competing for that 4th seed in the esteemed CFB Playoff.