My 2018 playoff picks

I guess technically the playoffs will be in 2019 but whatever, this will be clearer. My picks are normally pretty terrible, last year I took a somewhat serious stab at it after years of throwing out some interesting picks and missed wildly once again.

The picks? USC, Auburn, Florida State, and Wisconsin.

Of course it was actually Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and Oklahoma. I was cautious about the Sooners because of their D and lack of proven targets but they had so much infrastructure back on offense that they overcame that. I dunno why I didn’t pick the Tide, maybe because it’s boring and because I didn’t trust Jalen Hurts. Clemson had a tall order replacing Deshaun Watson and it proved every bit the challenge expected but the ACC sucked so it didn’t matter. Georgia kinda came outta nowhere.

Other than Florida State I’d argue I actually did a pretty good job of identifying some teams that were poised to put together big seasons. With the ‘Noles I didn’t realize that Jimbo’s program was collapsing under its own weight and I had kept picking them expecting a breakthrough from all of the talent they kept stockpiling. Not typical Ian-reasoning, really.

With the USC Trojans I ultimately just overlooked their issues at tackle figuring that Sam Darnold could mostly paper over that and it just didn’t happen. Maybe in large part because Darnold had a bizarre propensity to fumble when he got hit in the pocket, so the protection issues were actually exacerbated rather than mitigated. They had some problems with depth on D as well but protection was the killer, they could have outscored most opponents if not for that issue.

The Auburn Tigers were who I thought they were, but Georgia emerged in a big way and were better. Close on that one. Ditto Wisconsin, I had them pegged as a really strong team with a super weak schedule that only needed to beat one of a few B1G East powers that I thought were beatable in a B1G title game in order to sneak into the playoffs. They came within a 27-21 defeat against Ohio State from making me look like a genius.

Instead, I completely missed all four teams…but here’s a stab at 2018!

This is pretty difficult this season. I’ve had Ohio State as a slam dunk contender due to the weapons and direction they’ve been going on offense combined with Dwayne Haskins greater lethality in the passing game. Now there are a few big problems with that prognostication.

The main one is that Urban Meyer wasn’t around (save for maybe hiding behind a bush) for Ohio State’s fall camp because he was put on leave. I honestly doubt that he was totally absent but he can’t have been there as much as he usually is and that’s a big deal because his oversight is why he’s a coaching legend. Additionally, he won’t be there on game day for the Buckeyes first three games which includes the TCU game against a Gary Patterson who’s been waiting to be the angel of death to the Buckeye football program for something like a decade or more.

Another problem is that the Big 10 is loaded right now. I have some doubts and concerns about Penn State but they’re no pushover and their ceiling is probably pretty high. Wisconsin will be tough again, Michigan State could be better, and then Michigan looks poised to make the leap.

All the distractions from the fallout of Urban Meyer and Ohio State’s colossal moral failure to discipline Coach Ryan Smith is going to hurt the team this season. Now’s a good time to note that Ohio State has been pursuing a national recruiting strategy for the last few years so their team isn’t a pack of Ohioans that are going to cling to each other for the glory of the tradition and program they grew up to idolize. I really doubt this team is able to hold together under the conditions they’ll face this season. Trips to State College and East Lansing will be unforgiving.

I’m bouncing the Buckeyes from my list and offering up these four that’ll probably be wrong anyways:

  1. Georgia Bulldogs
  2. Michigan Wolverines
  3. Washington Huskies
  4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

I’d been arguing that the Bulldogs were going to take a step back after losing a ton of good seniors on D, both RBs, Isaiah Wynn, Roquan Smith, etc. However, they still return a ton of good pieces and have a lot of growth potential with Jake Fromm, their TEs, and the passing attack in general while the run game is likely to still be very good. The D shouldn’t take too hard a step back either, this piece on how Georgia has adapted some of the same changes as Todd Orlando in response to the need to have good answers for the spread offense is pretty compelling. Evidently the Bulldogs have a sophomore bullet named Monty Rice and a converted RB named Tae Crowder, Jr ready to go at LB. Their scheme is such that it frees up their LBs to scrape and run hard and these guys sound like really quick dudes with big range, much like Roquan.

I think there’s a pretty good chance that Michigan finishes something like 10-2 but erases the Buckeyes’ chances for winning a title ala the 10-year war between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. I was confused to learn that ol’ Bo, the most famous and revered coach in Michigan history, hadn’t won a single national title. Later I learned that it was because Ohio State and Michigan took turns spoiling each others’ best seasons during the 10-year war. Anyways, his “those who stay will be champions” mantra was something that held true as every recruiting class who stuck around all four years graduated with B1G title rings, that’s pretty impressive.

For now I’m picking Michigan to get through their difficult schedule though and make the playoffs as an 12-1 team and I honestly wouldn’t rule out their chances of getting in as an 11-2 team. I recently wrote on their evolving offensive strategy and the infusion of Shea Patterson and a figure of B12 past, Ed Warriner. Their perennially elite defense under Don Brown returns something like 9 or 10 starters. Most models have Michigan playing at a top 10 level with a top 40 offense. If they have a top 20 or top 10 offense? Look out.

Washington is absolutely loaded right now with seniors and experienced players up and down their roster. Their secondary had to start over after the NFL draft gutted their 2016 unit and they came back strong in 2017 and now have five returning starters. QB Jake Browning is back with RB Myles Gaskin, a ton of experienced OL, 2-3 good TEs, and a variety of weapons that Chris Petersen will know how to use. They get Auburn to start the year and they need to win that game, the Pac-12 North should be navigable (though not at all a cakewalk) and they’ll probably also have to beat USC in the Pac-12 title game.

Picking Notre Dame came about as a result of me flailing about looking for a fourth team to pick that made sense with my top three selections. I had to skip over Alabama because I think they’re going to lose the SEC title game to Georgia and the committee is going to be hard pressed to give them another shot in the playoffs if they just lost the title game to another playoff entree. That’d just be bullcrap and everyone knows it. The years in which Alabama snuck in without winning the SEC title were not that analogous to that scenario. You had 2017, when Alabama and Georgia didn’t play, and then 2011 when they’d narrowly lost to LSU a month or so prior in the regular season. Alabama could very well be better this year than some of the teams I listed but I THINK that they have to be better than Georgia to get in and they have to be better in the SEC title game.

I skipped over Clemson because I have doubts about their QB situation, namely whether Kelly Bryant can survive any bad games in a tougher ACC and whether freshman Trevor Lawrence will be near as ready as everyone thinks to guide them past elite competition.

I almost picked Boise State because I think they’ll be undefeated with an impressive road win over Oklahoma State on their resume but there’s no chance the committee lets them in. I’m pretty suspicious that the committee exists in part to make sure that a team like Boise State never gets in. The BCS was supposed to do that and then their rankings let them down and kept elevating mid-majors who were unexpectedly effective in the TV revenue era.

Here’s the case for Notre Dame:

Their WR talent and overall skill talent is exceptional, people don’t know the full extent of their talent here because Brandon Wimbush couldn’t throw a year ago and so neither Brian Kelly’s eye for skill talent and development nor Chip Long’s RPO game were in effect. The OL loses two all-time players but they have several other top starters returning from a mash unit and lots of depth and rising players.

The defense is really loaded with a brilliant and speedy LB tandem in Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill, a highly experienced secondary that is replacing some starters not because they’re gone but because rising players are better, and then a big and talented DL. They put up great numbers a year ago and figure to improve this year.

“But Ian, surely you have them losing a home opener to Michigan…and do you really think Wimbush improved enough over the offseason to start flinging the ball around?”

No, I do not. I think Wimbush struggles against Michigan, the Irish turn to my cousin Ian Book, the passing attack and RPOs are unleashed, and the Irish go on a tear that propels them into the playoffs. A one-loss Irish team with a different QB at the helm for their run of wins has a strong case. Perhaps a two-loss Irish team can make a similar case depending on how the rest of the top 10 or so turn out.

“Hey, don’t you have Texas winning the B12 this year? Not picking them to get in?”

I’m picking Texas to win the B12 title with some losses on their resume and potentially by being the #2 team in the league after the regular season. What’s more, I don’t think Texas is ready for the playoffs and would get popped by the teams likely to end up there.

Anyways, this is surely totally wrong but that’s what I’m thinking heading into the year.

11 Comments

    • ianaboyd

      I like Day, I expected them to push Meyer out and make him the man. I underestimated the degree to which pending NCAA sanction led to Tressell’s removal, in hindsight.

      It’s a major distraction though and like I said, I don’t know if their nationally recruited team is gonna have the esprit de corps to hang together.

      • Ryan

        Oh, I was more so pointing out a small but important typo:

        All the distractions from the fallout of Urban Meyer and Ohio State’s colossal moral failure to discipline Coach Ryan Smith is going to hurt the team this season.

  1. Matt

    I have a hard time seeing this being reality at the end of the year but it sure would be fun. I think you’d probably see a UGA vs UW title game with the Dogs topping the Huskies.

    • ianaboyd

      Man I have no idea what would shake out from my theoretical final four. I think I like Michigan in head to head, their struggle is getting there without taking too many losses from a tough schedule.

      We’ll know what’s up with Washington after they play Auburn this weekend. As always, look for my “seventh day adventure” column on footballoutsiders.com for stat and analytical previews for the week’s top 6 games.

  2. Clayton Davis

    My picks are Bama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Washington, with Wisconsin the most likely to get in if one of those slips up more than once. Washington will beat Auburn, and that will help them in case of a conference los later in the season.

    I know I am being fairly homerish with Oklahoma, but OU has a good O-line and good backs to carry the load for the offense, and I think the defense takes a step forward this year.

    • ianaboyd

      It’s all about that OU D. If they were good then the team has a chance to sneak into the playoffs only to be sent home yet again. I’m not close to buying this as a team that can win a playoff game.

      • System Poster

        Big 12 offenses might be down enough this year that it at least appears that OU’s defense has made a big leap.

        • ianaboyd

          That’d be a good point except that the league is likely to be oriented heavily around spread run games this year, often involving QB run option, and that’s where OU’s D has been weakest and is most likely to struggle in the coming year.

          They have some stout DL and good cover corners. What will kill them is not fitting gaps and then loosing dangerous runners into a secondary that A) has their backs turned and B) isn’t really about that life.

  3. Cameron

    1) Georgia over Alabama – Not my pick, but I like your argument for how this particular selection works out.

    2) Clemson being left out – Yeah, I don’t think Clemson really needs to progress much in their passing game from 2017 to end up 11-1 and win the ACC. So while I understand your skepticism of the Tigers in that one area, with their current schedule, defense, and running game, I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference in the regular season.

    3) Michigan – I think we’ve talked this particular selection to “agree to disagree” status. I’m bullish on the Wolverines. Just not as bullish as you against that schedule.

    4) Washington – I have them making it, too, so yeah: agreed.

    5) Notre Dame making it in – I guess this sort of makes sense in the context of all your other predictions about the other likely playoff contenders. But speaking about as objectively as I can as an Irish fan, I think we’re likely to end up 10-2, and that’s not going to be enough to make the playoff. Playing a combination of Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, USC, and VT … odds are we’re going to slip up more than once. I just don’t see us being good enough on offense against that slate, regardless of QB.

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