Each week, our staff will form our own version of the College Football Playoff committee to unveil a four-team playoff field.
We will also release our rankings of the top 14 teams in the country in a weekly series called “The Big 10.” Why that name and why 14 teams? The actual Big 10 conference has 14 teams, proving that basic math isn’t a necessity in life.
All seven members of our staff voted for these rankings. First, here are the teams that just missed the cut: Georgia, Miami, LSU, Kansas State, Louisville and Texas. For dramatic effect, our rankings are in reverse order (first place votes in parentheses).
The Big 10
David Shaw has won three Pac-12 titles in his six-year tenure at Stanford, and his team should be in the mix again in 2017. The Cardinal return 16 starters—eight on both sides of the ball—off of a 10-win team from last season. Quarterback Keller Chryst is 7-0 as a starter as he took over the starting job midway through last season. Stanford opened the season with a 62-7 route over Rice down under in Australia. Shaw will have two weeks to prepare for the showdown at USC on Sept. 9, and the Cardinal have won seven of the last nine meetings in the series. — Lance Barton
Jim McElwain has somehow managed to win back-to-back SEC East crowns despite virtually zero help from his offenses. Whoever wins the quarterback job between Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio will have plenty of weapons around them, and the Gators have an experienced offensive line that returns four starters. The defense should be solid again under new defensive coordinator and former Miami coach Randy Shannon. The Gators open the season in a showdown with Michigan at Jerry’s World Sept. 2, and we will find out a lot about both teams that afternoon. — Lance Barton
Michigan only returns five starters from last year’s Orange Bowl team, but Jim Harbaugh has recruited at an elite level and the Wolverines should still be among the best in the country—even in a rebuilding year. Michigan might not look like a contender the first half of the season, but this is a team I expect to steadily improve throughout the year. By the time they host Ohio State to end the season, the Wolverines could be a dangerous bunch. — Cole Frederick
The Tigers just missed our staff’s preseason top 10 going into the 2017 season. This team brings back a plethora of playmakers at skill positions, and the offensive line is one of the most experienced in the SEC. New starting QB Jarrett Stidham has been garnered plenty of attention this offseason, and many believe he has the arm and playmaking ability for Auburn to be a contender this year. Stidham and Co. will be put to the test in Week 2 when they travel to Death Valley to face the defending national champion Clemson Tigers. —TJ Daugherty
Paul Chryst is 21-6 in two seasons with the Badgers, including last year’s 11-win team that won the Cotton Bowl. Wisconsin should be a double-digit win team again in 2017, and they have a decent chance to run the table in the regular season. An early season road game at BYU is tricky, but if they can win in Provo, this could be a 12-0 team entering the Big 10 title game. — Cole Frederick
9. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are coming off of back-to-back 10-win seasons, and this looks to be Mike Gundy’s most talented team since they won the conference title in 2011. The offense features a Heisman-contending quarterback in Mason Rudolph, the best receiving corps in the nation led by James Washington, a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Justice Hill, and three returning offensive lineman. There’s a lot to like here from this Cowboys team, and I think they are the team to beat in the Big 12. — Lance Barton
Two-time Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield is back for his senior season, and he has the best offensive line in the country in front of him. The Sooners lost several playmakers—including WR Dede Westbrook and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon—but they still have the talent to compete for a playoff berth in Lincoln Riley’s first season as head coach. — Brock Little
The defending national champions will have some large shoes to fill on both sides of the ball coming into this season. However, they return the bulk of their offensive and defensive lines, and both are projected to be top tier units in the country. Kelly Bryant has patiently waited for his turn at quarterback and his time has finally arrived following the departure of Deshaun Watson. Bryant will be without star wideout Mike Williams, but I believe WR Deon Cain is going to have a breakout year in 2017 while Clemson remains in the national title conversation. — TJ Daugherty
The Trojans looked electric in the Rose Bowl against Penn State last season, and they finished the year as hot as almost any team in the country. Redshirt sophomore Sam Darnold is poised to have a Heisman-caliber season for the men of Troy, and there is plenty of talent surrounding him. I expect USC to build on last year’s terrific season, win the Pac-12 and make the playoff field. — Sam Johnson
Chris Petersen is having to replace almost his entire secondary and star receiver John Ross, but don’t expect the Huskies to take a step backwards after last year’s playoff berth. Quarterback Jake Browning returns, and he is the perfect QB to lead Petersen’s offense. Myles Gaskin joins him in the backfield, and the Huskies should still be potent offensively. The front seven will be great on defense, and I think Washington, not USC, should be getting all the attention out West. — Cole Frederick
Week 1 College Football Playoff Field
4. Penn State
The Nittany Lions return the best running back in the country in Saquon Barkley, and quarterback Trace McSorely is one of the top quarterbacks in college football. The defense was suspect at times in 2016, but they should be improved in 2017. They might have the most well-rounded offense of any team in the country, and I’m expecting them to take the next step as a program in James Franklin’s fourth season in Happy Valley. — Cody Jinnette
3. Florida State
Despite the brutal schedule, I think Deondre Francois will lead the Seminoles to the playoffs this year. He proved his toughness last season by taking hit-after-hit and still delivering and leading his team. Safety Derwin James might be the best defensive player in the country, and the FSU defense will be among the best in all of college football. — Chance Cassidy
2. Ohio State (3)
I voted the Buckeyes No. 1 because they are loaded with experienced talent, and quarterback J.T. Barrett should benefit greatly from new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson’s system. Ohio State was a year ahead of schedule last season, and Urban Meyer’s team should be even better in 2017. Meyer is 10-3 in bowl games after last year’s 31-0 loss to Clemson, and the last two times his team lost in a bowl, they came back and won the national title the next season. — Cole Frederick
1. Alabama (4)
Alabama has made the playoffs 100 percent of the time since the four-team field was created before the 2014 season. Statistically speaking, Alabama will be a playoff team for the rest of eternity. Seriously though, as long as Nick Saban is at the helm and hauling in top recruiting classes, there’s no reason to believe the Tide will miss the playoffs in January. — Sam Johnson