4 college football playoff teams, ranked by chances of winning it all

Then there were four. The College Football Playoff is in its final year under the current four team construction, and that has never been more heavily scrutinized that 2023-24 with the omission of undefeated Florida State. At this point arguing about the Seminoles is a pointless effort though, and so we move onto the teams that are left.

The National Championship Game will be settled on New Year’s Day with Alabama and Michigan meeting in the Rose Bowl, followed by Texas and Washington facing off in the Sugar Bowl. Today we look at the four remaining teams, and who we think has the best chances of taking home the natty when it’s all said and done.

4. Alabama

The 2023 Crimson Tide are far from Nick Saban’s best team, but this is still Alabama we’re talking about. The Tide don’t really excel in any one area, but they’re not weak in any facet of the game either.

Offensively their chances come down to Jalen Milroe and the receiving corps. In many ways this 2023 Alabama team is suffering from the same problems as 2022, with a solid quarterback who doesn’t have enough weapons. This is a problem considering that Milroe doesn’t have the chops that Bryce Young did to make plays out of nothing. If Saban and co. can scheme around the flaw they can win, it’s just that this team looks a lot less promising than Tide teams of the past.

On defense this team is missing the impact of Will Anderson Jr. on the defensive line, but still have some really solid pass rushers in Dallas Turner, Chris Braswell and Justin Eboigbe — and they’re backed up by future Top 10 draft pick Kool-Aid McKinstry.

That’s kind of the whole story of Alabama in 2023. Still really great, but shaky compared to teams from Saban’s past. The Tide snuck into the playoffs under controversy at the sake of Florida State, and have the weakest resume of the four teams remaining. At the end of the day coaching can cover a multitude of sins, and count out Saban at your own peril.

3. Texas

Is Texas finally back?

What was once a punchline has now come true, as the Longhorns are in the College Football Playoff for the first time in the four-team history of the event. Texas earned their spot thanks to a 12-1 record, and an impressive early-season win over Alabama.

Now, the Longhorns are favorites in their Sugar Bowl game against Washington, despite the Huskies being the higher-seeded team.

Part of that might be proximity to Austin, as you can expect the Sugar Bowl to feel like a home game for Texas. But there are other reasons to believe the Longhorns can make a deep run. On the defensive side of the football, Texas put together the best defense in the Big 12, and they have the best rushing defense of the four teams left standing. The Longhorns allowed just 80.8 rushing yards per game this season, tied with UCLA and behind only Penn State.

A big reason for their success against the run? Defense tackle T’Vondre Sweat, who is one of the best in the business. “He is hard to move. He takes up a lot of space. Takes multiple blockers, and so that frees up the linebackers,” said Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski this week. “Gives us a little bit more luxury to play with lighter boxes.”

Those lighter boxes could be critical against Washington’s explosive passing attack. Oh, and if necessary, Sweat can also catch the ball out of the backfield.

Then there is what the Longhorns can do on offense. Quinn Ewers put together an impressive season, throwing for 3,161 yards and 21 touchdown passes, against only 6 interceptions. He is also coming off his best game of the year, as he hit for 452 yards in the Big 12 Championship Game, along with four touchdowns, as he led Texas to a 49-21 blowout victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Ewers also has some tremendous weapons to target in the passing game, including wide receivers Adonai Mitchell and Xavier Worthy, and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders.

And he might even have a little more motivation, after this photo was snapped ahead of the Sugar Bowl, of Ewers observing the crowd around backup Arch Manning:

Could that be enough for Texas to make a deep run?

It just might.

2. Michigan

To say it has been an interesting year for the Michigan Wolverines would be an understatement.

Their regular season began with Jim Harbaugh serving a suspension, and it ended the same way, with Harbaugh watching “The Game” on television along with the rest of us as the Wolverines dispatched Ohio State, booking their spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. But beyond the suspensions and the sign-stealing allegations, all the Wolverines have done is win.

And what makes them a scary team is this: They have a number of different ways to beat you. They can do it on the right arm of J.J. McCarthy, as they did in a 49-0 blowout over in-state rival Michigan State. They can do it with a strong rushing attack, as they did in their win over Penn State, the first game of Harbaugh’s second suspension. They can do it with their defense, as that unit led the way in wins over Indiana and Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The one thing that has us slightly worried? Now they get Nick Saban, with a month to prepare.

Should be fun.

1. Washington

The Washington Huskies are underdogs again.

Which might be exactly where they want to be.

Heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game the Huskies were underdogs to Oregon, a team they had already beaten in the regular season. But that did not matter, and once again Washington pulled off a three-point win over the Ducks, securing their spot in the College Football Playoff.

The Huskies are tested in a way few other teams can claim. Washington played seven one-score games this season, and won them all. They emerged from the gauntlet that was the Pac-12, as in its final season the conference put together some of the best football of the season, and the Huskies beat a number of ranked opponents along the way.

They can boast about one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football, and it is an offense the like of which Texas has not seen yet this season. The closest facsimile to this offense on Texas’s schedule this year? Oklahoma, and the Longhorns lost that game. Washington has one of the best wide receivers in the nation in Rome Odunze, some more explosive weapons alongside him in players like Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan, a Heisman Finalist in Michael Penix Jr. running the operation, and they’ll be going up against a Texas defense which has allowed an average of 240.8 passing yards per game.

Which ranks 93rd in the nation.

Washington may be underdogs, but that is exactly where they have been all year.

And look where it has gotten them.

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