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Road to Tampa: Early guesses on the final four

Both staff writers think Jim Harbaugh and Michigan will have a shot at the title game this season.

Dirk Shadd | Times

Both staff writers think Jim Harbaugh and Michigan will have a shot at the title game this season.



As part of our college football coverage leading up to the Jan. 9 national title game at Raymond James Stadium, we’ll be picking our final four weekly.

The first week is a guess, so it requires some explanation.

Matt Baker's top four:

Florida State: The Seminoles are the team most likely to finish the year undefeated thanks to a defense that should be one of the best in the country. It helps that their toughest non-conference game (Ole Miss) is in Orlando and the toughest game overall (Clemson) is in Tallahassee. 

Alabama: I wavered between the Crimson Tide and LSU. But every year, Bama finds ways to reload. If I’m going to err, I’ll err on the side of Nick Saban.

Michigan: The Wolverines return a ton of talent, and I think coach Jim Harbaugh will take Michigan forward another step in his second season. Something wacky will happen in the Big Ten, which helps a one-loss Wolverines team get into the conference title game and, eventually, the playoff.

Oklahoma: The Pac-12 doesn’t have a dominant team, so I could see its champion (Stanford? Washington? UCLA?) having two or three losses. OU, meanwhile, has a star quarterback in Baker Mayfield and one of the best running back duos in the nation which helps the Big 12 champ get back into the playoff. 

Joey Knight's top four:

Clemson: The Tigers survive an offensive slug fest Saturday on the Plains before their replenished defense gradually rounds into shape. After Saturday, there's no major test for a month (Oct. 1 vs. Louisville).

LSU: New Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, considered an up-and-comer in coaching circles, arrived from -- you guessed it -- Wisconsin. We see the Tigers making a big opening night statement. Even if Lambeau Field's tundra was frozen, it wouldn't slow down Leonard Fournette against the Badgers.

Michigan: College football had better brace for a khaki coronation. Jim Harbaugh's gamesmanship already has begun; he refused to share the Wolverines' scrimmage tape with Hawaii (presumably to keep the identity of his starting QB concealed)

Houston: The Cougs will shock Oklahoma to enter the CFP committee's collective consciousness. Houston's schedule (which includes Louisville) is just sturdy enough for it to sneak into the four-team field if it runs the table.

Our guys have had their say, now have yours. 

[Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2016 9:39am]


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