WASHINGTON — At long last, the BCS is dead. Sort of.
After years of hand-wringing by everyone from Brent Musburger to President Obama, college football has at long last ditched its computer/poll hybrid demon in favor of a 13-person panel who will determine the top four teams in the country, then pit them against one another in a two-round playoff to determine the national champion.
While the new system will not exactly bring a meritocracy on the level of March Madness — where a seven-seed beat an eight-seed for this year’s national title — it’s a start toward a better future for the sport.
Unfortunately, no area teams seem likely to figure into the playoff this year. But there is reason to believe at least one may be in line for a banner year — and it’s probably not the one you would expect. We break down the teams, and WTOP’s resident college football expert, Dave Preston, pitches in his predictions for each.
Maryland was as hard to figure out as any team in Division I last year. The Terrapins shelled a respectable West Virginia team, 37-0, at home, then had two weeks to prepare for Florida State, only to get their doors blown off, 63-0. They gave ninth-ranked Clemson a better game than they did Syracuse, losing both at home. They won road games at Virginia Tech and NC State sandwiched around an embarrassing home loss to Boston College.
Well, welcome to the Big Ten, Terps! Maryland’s early-season schedule is pretty favorable, playing James Madison at home, at South Florida, and hosting West Virginia before heading to Syracuse for a chance at revenge and — maybe — a 4-0 record. They even get Indiana before the real conference test begins, facing Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan in a six-game span. This is what you wanted, Maryland. Good luck.
Preston’s Prognosis: 7-5 (4-4 in the Big Ten), with a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit Dec. 26 against an ACC team.
Navy’s schedule includes a pair of preseason-ranked opponents, but outside of that, there are a lot of winnable games on the schedule. More so, those two big games are Notre Dame at home — facing multiple academic fraud violations from key members of their program — and an Ohio State team that just lost its Heisman-hopeful starting quarterback for the season, this weekend in Baltimore. Could the Midshipmen run the table?
It might seem preposterous, but if Navy can get past the two huge hurdles in their schedule, they could be on its way to something historic. Their only road tests are at Temple, Texas State, Air Force, South Alabama and the finale at West Point. No matter how you slice it, the fourth 10-win season in program history seems eminently attainable.
Preston’s Prognosis: 9-3, highlighted by a season-making victory over Army. The bowl trip is merely gravy.
Much like Navy, Virginia will be tested by a top-10 team at home on opening weekend, as the Cavaliers play host to seventh-ranked UCLA, a popular pick by many to make the playoff. That’s a tough matchup for a program that has dropped 18 of its last 22 games, including a 2-10 mark last season.
The Cavaliers’ performance in that contest may be a good early-season barometer for how they will fare in an ACC schedule that has them playing no ranked teams other than Florida State in Tallahassee on November 8. However, with conference road games at Duke, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech as well, it could be another long season in Charlottesville.
Preston’s Prognosis: 5-7 (3-5 in the ACC), capped with another loss to Virginia Tech in the final game of the season.
After a strong 6-1 start that saw them reach 16th in the polls, the Hokies really struggled down the stretch in 2013. The three-point Duke loss doesn’t look nearly as bad now, but the overtime defeat to Maryland, the narrow escape in Charlottesville and the shellacking by UCLA in the Sun Bowl didn’t help.
In a strange quirk of scheduling, Virginia Tech will also face Ohio State early this year, which looks to be their toughest test by a good measure. Road games at North Carolina and Duke could be tricky, but the Hokies get Miami at home. If they can play the way they started last year, Tech could find themselves atop the Coastal Division, earning the honor of getting pulverized by Florida State for the ACC title.
Preston’s Prognosis: 10-2 (7-1 in the ACC) with a trip to the ACC Title game (losing to Florida State) before heading to the Chick Fil A Bowl.
Here at WTOP, we have aggregated our staff picks to determine our final four and national champion. Among 14 staff members, we picked four different national champions and 10 playoff-bound teams. In the end, though, some clearly stood above and beyond the rest.
National Champion: Alabama (6), Florida State (4), Oregon (3), Michigan State (1)
Playoff Teams: Alabama (13), Florida State (12), Oregon (10), Michigan State (8), South Carolina (4), Baylor (3), Oklahoma (2), UCLA (2), Stanford (1), Wisconsin (1).
See all our individual predictions, including sleepers and most overrated teams, in the gallery on the right.