Jameis Winston, Florida State Favored to Repeat as College Football National Champions

P.J. WilliamsThe BCS era in college football went out with a bang as Florida State won its first national championship since the 1999 season with a thrilling 34-31 victory over Auburn at the Rose Bowl. It was the best national title game since Texas’ epic win over USC on Jan. 4, 2006, also at the Rose Bowl. Florida State’s victory ended the SEC’s streak of seven straight national championships.

Sports fans have short memories, though, and they’re ready to look ahead already. College football handicapping is tough until knowing which eligible underclassmen will declare for the NFL draft, for which the deadline is Jan. 15. Several contenders also will have new quarterbacks under center next season.

One team that doesn’t have to worry about that is Florida State with Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Winston, favored to win the Heisman in 2014 as well, would have a chance to go No. 1 overall in this spring’s NFL draft, but he’s not eligible. So, the Seminoles are 4-1 favorites at Bovada to win the NCAA championship again next year, the first year featuring a four-team college football playoff.

Florida State has to wait for a few underclassmen to make their NFL decisions, but the Noles are stacked with five-star recruits. The Seminoles’ nonconference schedule will be tougher next season. They open against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas — the site of the first college football playoff national title game — and have home games against Notre Dame and Florida, with the Gators expected to be much improved. FSU also hosts Clemson and has to visit Miami (Fla.) and new ACC member Louisville.

Alabama closed the season with consecutive losses, but the Crimson Tide continue to out-recruit everyone and are 13-2 favorites next season. Dare to bet against Nick Saban after a down season? In 2010, Alabama finished “only” 10-3, and then won national championships the next two seasons. The big task will be replacing quarterback AJ McCarron, who was 36-4 in his career. The schedule sets up pretty easy. The nonconference slate is weak, and all the tough SEC games — Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn — appear to be in Tuscaloosa outside of a Nov. 8 visit to LSU.

Oregon (9-1) was squeezed out of a BCS bowl this season but throttled Texas in the Alamo Bowl. The Ducks’ two losses in 2013, to Stanford and Arizona, came when quarterback Marcus Mariota was dealing with a severe injury. Mariota has said he will return in 2014 and likely will be the Heisman second favorite. The Ducks get nemesis Stanford in Eugene and have a tough nonconference game there against Big Ten champion Michigan State.

Ohio State and Oklahoma (both 12-1) round out the favorites. Ohio State brings back Heisman candidate Braxton Miller at quarterback and misses Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin during Big Ten play. The big test should be Nov. 8 at Michigan State (20-1). The Sooners beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and might have unearthed a star in quarterback Trevor Knight. Boston College is among the longest shots at 200-1.

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