In six short months, the stretch run of college football begins, with the final two weeks of the regular season sure to shape the playoff pairings and races for major awards. All this week, we’re looking forward to late 2016 as the Power 5 conferences jockey for postseason position.
Next up: Which team is an overrated contender to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve?
ACC: Florida State
Both Clemson and Florida State are likely top-five preseason selections, so tagging one with an overrated label is sure to blow up in my face. Louisville and North Carolina should be ranked in the preseason, but they’re on the playoff periphery. Forced to pick between Clemson and Florida State, I’d say the Seminoles are the more overrated contender, despite both teams having clear issues. There are questions at every position of FSU’s offense, outside of running back Dalvin Cook. A seasoned, future first-round draft pick at quarterback isn’t required to win a championship, as we’ve seen lately, but Florida State’s offensive line and receivers have not yet proven they can shoulder part of the QB’s burden. Clemson will be inexperienced on defense, but the offense could be the country’s best. -- Jared Shanker
Big 12: Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield. Samaje Perine. Jordan Thomas. A lengthy list of stars makes it easy to see why Oklahoma is the runaway favorite to be Big 12 champion for the second straight season and stake a claim in the College Football Playoff. With Mayfield a Heisman candidate at quarterback, Perine rushing for more than 3,000 yards in his first two seasons in crimson and cream and Thomas one of the Big 12’s top cornerbacks, the Sooners could be even better in 2016 than they were a season ago. But a brutal early schedule could derail their playoff dreams. The Sooners face Houston and Ohio State in a matter of three weeks in September, setting up a very real chance that Oklahoma enters October with a loss and/or a beaten-up roster that has to overcome TCU, Texas and Kansas State in its first three Big 12 games. The talent on Oklahoma’s roster is capable of reaching the pinnacle of the college football mountain, but the schedule stands as a major roadblock in that quest. — Brandon Chatmon
Big Ten: Michigan
There’s no question Jim Harbaugh has revitalized his alma mater and shaken up the national landscape, and the hype is certainly building for his second season at Michigan. But there is still uncertainty lingering at the most important position on the field, even with Wilton Speight taking the lead in the quarterback derby. And the program’s biggest rivals have home-field advantage when they play the Wolverines: If they can manage to exact revenge on Michigan State in late October, there’s still a huge test looming a month later at Ohio State in a series hasn’t been kind to the Wolverines lately. The early lines already have the Buckeyes favored in The Game, thanks in part to Urban Meyer’s head start in stockpiling talent, so it seems premature to tab Michigan for one of those four coveted playoff spots. -- Austin Ward
This one is a little tough for me, because I think this team might be the most talented in the SEC. But I honestly don’t even know what to think of what the mental state of the LSU Tigers will be this season. Sure, a team with Leonard Fournette and a defense like it has should be near the top of the playoff charts, but remember all that late-season drama in Baton Rouge? You know, the whole Les Miles was maybe going to be fired, then he wasn’t fired, then everyone loved him? Well, what happens if the Tigers lose early? Is he out? What about a loss to Alabama? Gone then? No matter the talent -- or the supposed improvement of embattled quarterback Brandon Harris -- we have no clue how this team and coaching staff will react to adversity. I can’t trust a team that has to walk a tightrope all season long and could crumble at the first misstep. -- Edward Aschoff
Pac 12: Stanford
The Pac-12 doesn't really have a good candidate for "overrated," because it appears the conference will lack a highly rated team this preseason, with Stanford seemingly the only candidate to slip into the top 10. Ergo, the Cardinal -- rebuilding in several areas -- are the most likely to fall short of expectations, in large part because Stanford's recent expectations have been very high. What Stanford has going for it is a belief that the program has matured into a "reload not rebuild" entity. That means folks are not wringing their hands over the departure of quarterback Kevin Hogan, a four-year starter who played in three Rose Bowls. Since Stanford is one of the nation's best line-of-scrimmage teams, there's an expectation it can overcome losing three starters on its offensive line and two on its D-line. Some questions at linebacker? No worries, right? Still, it remains possible that these issues could take some time to solve, and Stanford's schedule, among the most brutal in the nation, provides no time to develop gradually. -- Ted Miller