The Harris Poll: CFB Final Four Prediction
By Jordy Harris
Welcome to The Harris Poll. This is a poll of one: me. From time to time, hopefully more often than not, I'll rank things. I love lists and ranking things. In my first poll I'm going to look at the four teams I believe will be in the College Football Playoff at the end of the 2016-2017 season. Enjoy.
1. Clemson Tigers
Key Games: Sept. 3rd @ Auburn / Oct. 29th @ Florida State
Clemson returns their all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson, who finished third in last season’s Heisman trophy voting and led Clemson to the National Championship game vs. Alabama, where they would lose 45-40 to Heisman-winner Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide. Clemson returns eight starters on an offense that scored 38.5 PPG last season, which was led by Watson’s 4,000+ yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, a first by an FBS player in college football history. They also return a big and physical offensive line to block for junior running back Wayne Gallman. Watson will have wide receivers with a ton of talent to throw to with targets like Mike Williams and Artavis Scott. The defensive side of the ball, which was the top defensive unit in the country last season, lost nine starters. But, Clemson’s defense is led by defensive coordinator Brent Venables, and Venables will have plenty of talent to replace those nine starters lost from last season. Dabo Swinney is, maybe it’s just me, one of those coaches that you sort of can't stand if you’re not a Tigers fan. He is a fiery coach that knows how to recruit and knows how to get guys to play for him and that is evident by the recent success of Clemson’s program. However, he just as a weird edge to him, which works for him. I think that Clemson has a bad enough taste in their mouth from last season after losing to Alabama. Deshaun Watson is the Heisman favorite and I think their offense is going to be even better this season because of him. Their toughest tests are at Auburn, the first game of the season, and at Florida State. Both stadiums are beyond tough to go to and win, especially at night, which Clemson will be playing Auburn at night. I believe Clemson will narrow out Auburn on the road, and the same at Florida State, while blowing through the rest of the ACC on their way to another undefeated season and playoff berth.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Games: Sep. 3rd vs. USC (@ Dallas Stadium, Arlington, TX) / Sep. 17th @ Ole Miss / Oct. 15th @ Tennessee / Nov. 5th @LSU
Chick-Fil-A should be open on Sunday’s. Selena Gomez will always be my number one celebrity crush. Alabama will be in national title contention as long as Nick Saban is the head coach. Those are a few things in life that I know are certain. Look, every single season Alabama finds a way to win big game after big game. They get every teams best shot on Saturday’s. They’re the kings of college football over the last half decade. Somehow, they’ve managed to do so without an All-American quarterback year after year. This year will be no different. Alabama will once again be fantastic on defense, even though they lost their defensive coordinator from last year’s national championship team, Kirby Smart, to SEC-rival Georgia. The defense will be led by middle linebacker Rueben Foster, and surrounded by a plethora NFL talent with defensive end Tim Williams, and returning All-American safety Eddie Jackson. On the offensive side of the ball, Alabama will have their third starting quarterback in three seasons. The Crimson Tide have a quarterback competition going on to begin the season. Whomever emerges at quarterback will have plenty of talent and returning production to throw to with the likes of Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart at the wide receiver position. Alabama will need to fill spots along the offensive line, but that is usually routine for Saban with their yearly turnover in talent. The offense will most likely be led by 5-star recruit Ben Scarbrough, who has been dubbed the next great running back at Alabama. Alabama have a very tough schedule, more so than usual it appears. It is always tough playing in the SEC, but there is no way that I am counting out Saban and the Crimson Tide. They’ll be in the college football playoff when the time comes. Alabama could potentially lose two games, win the SEC, make the college football playoff and the college football world outside of the SEC will go up in flames. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Key Games: Oct. 1st vs. Wisconsin / Oct. 29th @ Michigan St. / Nov. 12th @ Iowa / Nov. 26th @ Ohio State
Look, am I drinking the Jim Harbaugh mixed, newly Jordan-branded, Michigan Wolverine Kool-Aid? YES. I’m still not completely convinced in my heart that this is a great pick, but ya know what? I’m all in like Jim Harbaugh in his recruiting rap video. Let’s see if I can give you enough reasons to drink the khaki colored drink as well. Michigan returns sixteen total starters, nine on offense, six on defense and their kicker, to a team that went 10-3 last season in Harbaugh’s first year in Ann Arbor. Sip. Of those sixteen, thirteen are seniors, sip, including preseason All-American TE Jake Butt, RB De’Veon Smith, WR Jehu Chesson and DE Chris Wormley. I cannot express how much experience the Wolverines has coming back to Ann Arbor this season and how it will benefit them late in the season when their schedule gets tough. They are, however, bringing in a new QB under center this season. As if they really even had one in Jake Rudock last season. Too much? Sorry, Jake. At least you had your school paid for and I’m sitting in student loan debt. Anyway, reports from fall camp point to RS Soph. Wilton Speight being the guy, even though Harbaugh hasn’t officially named a QB yet. Speight, a former Under Armour All-American, is a big, physical quarterback (6-6, 240) who can stretch the ball downfield. He played in a few games last season, but only in mop-up duty. Last season, Michigan finished 4th in overall defense and will look to stay toward the top of the leaderboard this coming season with those six returning starters. Another sip. Next up, their schedule. Which has its goods and bads. The Wolverines only have four road games this season, three of which are out of the state of Michigan (Rutgers, Iowa, Ohio St.). That other road game is to rival Michigan St., which Michigan should have beaten at home last season if it wasn’t for one of the worst special teams blunders ever to end the game. The fact Michigan only plays three times outside of their own state is absurd, but here we are. Take another sip. Historically Harbaugh’s teams on the collegiate level have increased their win total every year. Sip. Harbaugh will look to join the list of coaches like Bob Stoops (OU) and Urban Meyer (UF) as coaches to win national titles in their second year as head coach at their universities, in recent memory. Their non-conference schedule is a joke. BIG sip. However, even though the Big Ten won’t be as laughable, they should win every game at home. Their four road games will provide Michigan with their biggest chances to fall, and I think they’ll fall once. If I had to guess, I would say it would be at MSU. Michigan will then go on to beat Iowa on the road, and make up for last year’s drumming against rival OSU. The win against OSU will look even better because OSU will probably be ranked in the top 10 in the country. They’ll go onto the Big Ten championship game and win en route to the college football playoff. By now you should have an empty, figurative cup in your hand, with a maize and blue “M” at the bottom and you thinking, “ya know, maybe he’s onto something.”
4. Oklahoma Sooners
Key Games: Sept. 3rd vs. Houston (@ NRG Stadium, Houston, TX) / Sept. 17th vs. Ohio State / Oct. 1st @ TCU / Oct. 8th vs. Texas (@ Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX) / Oct. 23rd @ Texas Tech / Dec. 3rd vs. Oklahoma State
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not an OU fan by any stretch. But, I am always fair with them, even when people don’t think I am, trust me, I am. The satisfaction of potentially being right is greater than my dislike of any team. This year remains no different. My prediction of the Sooners reaching the college football playoff for the second year in a row has a lot to do with the fact that the Big 12 is so…for lack of a better word, bad. Yes, I said it. I’ve been saying it for years now. The Big 12 compared to the other Power Five conferences, from top to bottom, is behind in many ways. The conference has been down for several years now and I’m not sure when, or if, it will become an elite conference among the Power Five again considering all of the turmoil surrounding the conference this past summer. The high end talent, again, compared to other conferences, just isn’t there. Research the NFL draft stats over the last few years compared to the early 2000's if you don't believe me. Recently, ESPN released their preseason All-American list. Not one player from the Big 12 conference was on there. Now that my probably perceived Big 12 hate is over, on to the bright spots. I truly do think OU is going to be very explosive again on the offensive side of the ball with Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield and the dynamic duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon in the backfield. They’re going to need wide receivers to step up in a big time way, and offensive linemen to come in and perform early, but I think offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, and Baker Mayfield, can make up for a lot of the lack of experience for the Sooners at those positions. After the way OU’s defense, actually both sides of the ball, were worn down physically against Clemson in last year’s national semifinal, I truly think that OU will come back and be a much more physical team this season. They’ve had an offseason to let all of that mostly embarrassment set in and can use all of that as motivation. I think OU loses to either Houston, which should be a fantastic, high scoring game, or more likely Ohio State, which potentially will be the most physical team the Sooners will play all season. After losing to either one of those teams, OU will rip off a streak of wins in the Big 12 and finish the season 11-1. OU’s talent is much greater than others in the Big 12 and I think this will be the biggest factor in them winning the Big 12 and eventually making the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row.