Clemson just won the title with one of the more dominant seasons in recent memory. Nick Saban and Alabama have owned much of the decade, and been a part of every single College Football Playoff to date. Trevor Lawrence has two more seasons before he’s draft eligible, Tua Tagovailoa one more. It got us thinking – which program has the best chance of winning next, and where does Notre Dame fall in line? And what better way to answer that than a draft?

The Rules

With Bama and Clemson off the board, each participant selected their next best bet to win a championship first in a snake draft format. We intended to pick 18 teams and then have a quick lightning round, but the lightning round ended up pretty thorough, so what followed is really a 4-round, 24 team draft. As you will quickly see, there are nowhere near 24 teams with any shot of winning the CFP any time soon.

The order / participants:

  1. PJ Gaughan (new writer! I did not give him first pick because he was new)
  2. Brendan R
  3. Firstdownmoses (FDM)
  4. Dan Zibton
  5. Chris Wilson (aka @rakesofmallow, and of Rakes Report fame)
  6. Michael Bryan

We set up the draft spontaneously in the famed 18 Stripes slack room. What follows is the draft transcript, unfortunately editing out emoji comments and reactions.

Michael: my random number generator has produced our order. everyone good on the rules?

Brendan: PJ with the expansion team slot

Firstdownmoses: Just so we’re clear, we can pick any three teams except…who?

Brendan: Bama and Clemson are off the board

Chris: there is a team that if somebody takes them they should be ashamed so i guess technically three teams off the board

Brendan: Well, I assume none of us will take Michigan

Firstdownmoses: Well yeah, this isn’t amateur hour over here

PJ – 1. Georgia

PJ: For the first pick I select the Georgia Bulldogs. While the Bulldogs may think in their mind they would have won the National Championship the fact still remains that they were close in 2017 and coming up in 2019 they are returning most of their superior personnel from last year and bringing in a top recruiting class.

After a tumultuous first year head coach Kirby Smart seems to have figured things out in a division that features a potentially frisky Florida team but no other scary team so you can potentially pencil them into the SEC Championship for the near future which sets them up for the perfect storm of a season to get them their first National Championship since Herschel walked on campus in Athens.

Dan: Good pick — easily the #1 non-Clemson/Bama option, and after their loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl, a great value at most books somewhere around 12-14 to 1. I considered protesting/abstaining (but I won’t!) if I couldn’t get Georgia, because I kinda think they’re legitimately the only option to have a shot next year.

Brendan: Agreed, they should be able to get into the SEC title game again with relatively little resistance, and if they can get past (probably) Bama they can do some damage in the playoffs.

Dan: Not to mention that an undefeated Bama vs undefeated UGA in the SEC champ game will, more often than not, get both into the playoffs. I guess it’s up to us to derail that possibility in late September.

PJ: Haha yeah I tried to not focus so much on 2019 because of the fact of that Notre Dame game but it was the easy pick for me

Brendan – 2. Oklahoma

Brendan:  Yes, Kyler Murray is gone, along with some other key guys, but I think Lincoln Riley has the beginnings of an offensive machine in Norman and just hired one of the best young DCs in the game away from Ohio State in Alex Grinch. A Texas program that might be on the ascent could pose some problems, but there’s a chance Oklahoma will be set up to own the Big 12 for a few years. If Grinch can do for the defense what Riley did for the offense, they can be a very tough out in the postseason.

Dan: I like the OU pick and if I had them I was going to stake my claim that Grinch would have been the best hire for any coach in CFB

Brendan: Such a great move. He’s probably the best DC in the conference already, right? Orlando at Texas is good, West Virginia DC Tony Gibson – if Neal Brown keeps him – is decent. But I’d take Grinch over either of them.

PJ: I tend to lean yes only because he turned around Wazzu and he didn’t have as much talent there as he’ll have in Norman

Michael: Riley plus their recruits on offense (the class they just signed has the top dual threat QB and three borderline 5 star WRs) guarantees title caliber offense. Just needs a solid defense, and Grinch is reason to believe that improves

Dan: Yep — and given that we’re not forecasting “who will be good” like a preseason poll, we’re forecasting who can actually get to the top of the mountain, his upside is *clearly* way higher than the rest (although basically any decent DC hire has more upside than the rest — we’ve seen what the rest have been able to do in the B12 and there’s a reason B12 Defense is a punchline).

Chris: How much did Grinch have to do with OSU’s defense this year? Because it was not good.

Brendan: Good question, and the answer is I don’t know. But Schiano being the DC for the two previous seasons makes me think he had more to do with running the show than Grinch. Supposedly Grinch was hired last offseason in anticipation of Schiano planning to leave shortly for a head job, and then the blowback at Tennessee killed that.

FDM – 3. Ohio State

Firstdownmoses: Although their loss to the Spoilermakers crushed their Playoff chances and ultimately drove Urban Meyer out of the coaching profession due to embarrassment, the Buckeyes will still be dangerous for the foreseeable future. It’s true that they lost their DC to Oklahoma, but they’ve also brought in plenty of coaching talent by cannibalizing Michigan (which is always worth a chuckle).

And with Haskins declaring for the NFL, the Martell vs. Fields QB competition should be fun to watch for the next couple years. OSU also faces relatively little resistance from its division foes, which means most years they’ll usually make it to the B1G title game with 0-2 losses and a healthy chance at the CFP.

Dan: Whew, I thought you were going to make me take Ohio St, FDM. I appreciate that.

Brendan: I thought about them briefly, but I think they’ll come back to the pack a bit in the Big Ten East and I think Nebraska might be ready to make some noise in the West. So their path to the Big Ten title might be more obstructed than it has been for a while.

Firstdownmoses: I’m much better-suited for memes and gifs, this serious analysis stuff is hard! But yeah, like Bama and UGA, OSU is blessed with weak division competition lately.

Brendan: Also, Day’s defensive hires have been… interesting, to say the least. If I was a Buckeye fan I’d be very concerned about having too many cooks in the kitchen.

But they definitely have lots of built-in advantages to get to the dance, so not a bad pick.

Michael: Slam dunk pick based on talent on hand. Day is a big question mark though and we just wont know for a while.

Dan – 4. Notre Dame

Dan: I really think there’s a clear top 4 in this draft of likeliest champions, so I’ll happily take the Irish with the last team in this tier. I probably would have taken them at #3 ahead of Ohio St because of the uncertainty on the coaching staff there. As we’ve seen, Notre Dame is close, but still has ground to make up to hang with the Clemsons and Alabamas of the world.

While the future seemed bleak after the 30-3 rout, if you squint, you can see some promising signs. Whether it’s that basically every break went against us and we were still closer than Alabama was, that our defense (with Julian Love edition) acquitted itself very well against the Trevor Lawrence buzzsaw or that young playmakers appear poised to step up in multiple key spots, there’s reason to believe! 2019 will be a tough path for the Irish, as they have to travel to Georgia and to Michigan, plus expect bounce backs from USC, Virginia Tech and a solid Virginia squad, but the opportunities are there for big wins and a chance to return to the grand stage for a second straight year.

Firstdownmoses: HOMER

Brendan: Man, I really thought I would be the one with the homer pick. Thanks Dan!

I do think it’s fair to be cautiously optimistic that we’re set up for a run though, especially if we can hold onto our assistants.

The roster is probably more athletic 1 through 85 than it’s been in 25 years, and I think our coaching staff is really good on both sides of the ball.

Dan: It’s funny cause I’m usually the most pessimistic of this group. I figured ND would be gone at #3 ahead of OSU, given Urban’s departure. I really do think it’s a tier of 4 teams at the top, where you don’t have to strain yourself too hard to see the path. Few teams have the talent to go head to head with both Clemson/Bama within 9 days of each other, but individual units on each of those top 4 teams we drafted have proven themselves worthy.

ND’s D, OSU and Oklahoma’s O, Georgia’s full squad. Then we get to a group of like 8-10 teams that are in the “can’t stop tripping over themselves” group — the ones that have a shot if you really squint, but it would take large steps forward on BOTH sides of the ball, and likely require someone else doing some of the dirty work for them.

Firstdownmoses: I sorely wanted to pick ND, but 1) I didn’t want to be a homer, and 2) making jokes at both Urban’s and Michigan’s expense was too good to pass up

Michael: I think the ND pick is solid but probably by talent we are still only about the 10th best team? Continuity helps, but a gap to bridge in depth and top end guys to not just Clemson and Bama but also UGA, OSU, LSU

Dan: If ND is 10th in talent but 4 of those teams ahead of them are FSU, LSU, Michigan and USC with garbage coaching, no continuity and other issues (tough rivals/hard division, etc), I’ll happily take ND at 6 [since Bama/Clemson are out of this draft]

Brendan: Maybe 8th? I don’t think we’re that far off in front line talent. We’re missing the Jaylon Smith level freaks that Alabama, Clemson, Georgia get with regularity, but we’ve seen up close how a team with that talent can waste it. The 2015 ND defense featured I think five or six current pros.

If we can throw a couple of those guys in the mix I think we’re right there with them. Big if, I know.

Chris – 5. Texas

Chris: I want to stress I’m not taking them based on this year or the Sugar Bowl, because the advanced metrics are not kind to the Longhorns. I’m basing this on their last two recruiting classes (No. 3 last year, No. 9 this year), the resources they have in Austin, the fact Tom Herman is a good coach even if he’s off his rocker (being good as an underdog will be useful against the Tide and Tigers) and it’s easy to imagine them splitting Red River and Red River Rematch to get to 12-1 because the rest of the Big 12 isn’t anything special.

Going against me: Herman being good as an underdog is a skill that should be less valuable as they are favored more and this program, despite all of its seeming advantages, has won a single title since Nixon left office.

Firstdownmoses: I like the recruiting angle there, Chris

Dan: Another team where there’s a lot of downside if it starts to fall apart and they can’t get past Oklahoma (or keep stumbling elsewhere), but this draft is about who can get to the top of the mountain and Texas certainly has to be considered there based on history and potential

Chris: It’s just insane to me that if not for Vince’s run their last title would be 1970. How?!

Brendan: I was thinking about Texas in round 2 but didn’t think they’d be there, solid choice.

Michael: Personally, I’d have Texas before ND, just because of a higher recruiting ceiling and Herman I think is building the strong foundation you mentioned.

Dan: so Chris with Texas at 5….now to the turn with 6/7, Michael?

Michael: wow, my big board got slaughtered…

Michael – 6. LSU, 7. USC

Michael: I’ll go LSU first – they’ve got a ton of the raw materials you need. Recruiting talent, defensive coordinator who is well paid and is providing continuity, big investment and budget for assistants. Does it suck to be in the SEC West? Yes it does, but you’re going to have to beat Bama sooner or later if you want to win a title, and taking them out of the playoff (probably) is a quick way to do it. The defense has been championship level pretty regularly, so if they can finally land a QB and offensive mind to elevate that side of the ball I can see them back in title contention quickly

I think you can make a strong argument for USC as one of the best coaching jobs in college (along with Texas and UGA), and this is a pick based on Helton getting fired next year and them landing a good replacement (not rooting for this!). But there’s so much freaking talent, and recruiting is so automatic, and the Pac-12 is just sitting there for the taking. If, say, Bob Stoops or Urban or Pete Carroll came back or even Matt Campbell is really good and went there, I think you can be seriously contending for a playoff in Year 2 or 3 with the talent on hand.

Chris: yeah i think those were my next two. reliant on hires (OC at LSU, HC at USC) but well within the realm of possibility

Michael: I wonder if the draft slots of Texas and LSU would be flipped if Herman had gone to Baton Rouge instead of Austin (or maybe the Tigers are even higher)

Chris: maybe, but i think Texas is nice because of the Big 12 vs. the SEC West.

Dan: yea, hard to ignore the talent. LSU’s best shot is in a year when Georgia/Bama play each other across divisions, which is 2020. The biggest problem with Bama is that they’re going to get the benefit of the doubt until someone besides Clemson beats them, so winning the LSU/Bama matchup (which is a problem in itself because LSU runs an offense that attacks the thing Bama is built to stop) wouldn’t even eliminate Bama most of the time.

Michael: the SEC cross division thing is really dumb. Makes the degree of difficulty for some teams so much harder when Auburn-UGA play every year, and LSU-Florida, and Bama gets to paste Tennessee

Dan: yep. It’s a difficult issue to deal with, especially as Florida gets better (and even worse if Tennesse continues to get left behind).

If Florida gets too good and Tennessee stays mediocre, Alabama’s two chief rivals will have to play the good SEC East teams every single year, while Bama catches them 1 of every 3 years.

Also, LSU plays Texas the next two years, so that’s fun for your two picks, MB. Elimination games!

Chris: I feel like the board just opened way up – one moment

Dan: yea, that’s probably the end of Tier 2 (or T3, if you believe Georgia is on a tier by themselves)?

Chris – 8. Penn State

Chris: This is a reach – or is it? There are a few picks right now that require either a) Navigating the SEC b) Getting past Clemson when you’ve been a .500 team the last two years c) The Pac-12 being good and respected, so all very difficult. If we assume the next few years are going to belong to Tua and Trevor, then walk with me through this plan.

1) James Franklin continues to recruit at a very high level. 2) Ohio State dips with Urban Meyer’s retirement while Michigan continues to be Michigan, making the Big Ten East less formidable. 3) Franklin is either fired for being unable to coach fourth quarters or jumps for a different job. 4) The next guy takes the talent Franklin has assembled and does it in 2021/2022. It’s a big swing, but I’m taking it.

Michael: I would feel better about it if they had closed this season better. they really tried to lose to Rutgers. but you’re right that every program after here has serious warts

Dan: I like it. We’re definitely out of the top 2-3 tiers and really more talking about a point in time in which Clemson/Bama cede the throne and it’s a debate of who will be ready to ascend at that point in time. If part of the narrative is Michigan and OSU taking a step back, someone’s got to step into that spot.

Chris: Closing the season poorly is part of the plan that gets James Franklin fired so…Matt Campbell (?) can win.

Matt Campbell is coaching a lot of teams in this draft

Michael: I just wonder if Franklin’s kind of maxed out their recruiting and that it’s not quite enough talent to win a title (if not that means bad things for ND, btw)

Chris: There were about a half-dozen teams I considered here and PSU would have maybe made it back, but I’m okay with this.

Brendan: You could do worse, I guess. Franklin is a great recruiter but a terrible game-day coach, and they just lost a lot of talent.

Plus they have to get past Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State every year, which perpetually feels like a split waiting to happen.

On the other hand, as noted, every team on the board has some major strikes against it at this point.

Chris: would you rather have to get past those three or UGA/LSU/SEC West champ or Bama/LSU/SEC East champ

Michael: trick question give me another conference please

Dan – 9. Oregon

Dan: As pointed out by CW, we’re now at the spot in the draft where we’re accepting low odds in 2019 and projecting for 2020 or beyond, and with the top 10 options now off the board (including Alabama/Clemson), I feel great about grabbing Oregon. Stanford is ready for a step back as they continue to struggle to recruit linemen, and Mario Cristobal has a chance to build some momentum up in Eugene.

We know what the Nike money can do for the program and I find it hard to believe the Pac12 can stay bad forever, so I’ll take my shot with the Ducks. They play Auburn this year, Ohio St in 2020/2021, which is important for the chance to earn some national benefit of the doubt. Justin Herbert will be back for 2019 which should provide them some margin for error as they return to the national stage, as well.

Chris: i almost did the same thing but with “The guy who replaces Willie Taggart”

Brendan: Solid pick

Chris: yup

Brendan: In both cases

Florida State should make an appearance here, but it’s really hard to trust them to rebound to contender level at the moment.

Chris: Oregon almost won a title twice in the last decade under two different coaches, no reason a third couldn’t do it

Brendan: I agree with taking Oregon ahead of Washington as a contender out of the Pac 12 North, too. I think we’ve seen Washington’s ceiling. They’ll have generally-good defenses and generally-blah offenses, which is a good way to get waxed by playoff teams. As we’ve seen.

Michael: Landing 12 blue chips in this ’19 class is a big warning shot. Big investment, easier road to playoff

can take advantage of the near-term USC and UCLA being down to keep recruiting California well

Chris: this pick could look like it should have gone to MB at the end of next season or maybe not so good, lot of variance in this one between how 2019 goes + 2020 class

and by the time we hit Dan’s timetable, they’ll have cycled out the 2017 class, which was 25 players, only 5 4-stars

Brendan: They do really well in Northern California and with Polynesian prospects, don’t see any reason for that to change soon. Cristobal is an excellent recruiter and did really well in the head job at Florida Atlantic, before the AD got delusions of grandeur and canned him against pretty much everyone’s advice.

Dan: I think Florida St should be ahead of Penn St, given what we know of the power vacuum in the ACC and how easy it is to flip the switch for recruiting for them, but I like the logic on how PSU gets there, and they certainly belong in this larger tier. Like I said before, we’re now at the “need to squint to see the path” group of teams, and all of these teams have warts and obstacles. I think Oregon’s path is clearest because it just involves retaining the coach, not hiring a new one. Their real biggest obstacle is Pac12 respect….which is going to take some work.

Brendan: But Florida State is stuck in Clemson’s division. I think that over the next 3 years or so it’ll be easier for Penn State to get past OSU/Michigan/MSU than it is for FSU to get past Clemson

Dan: but to Michael’s point on LSU, you’ve gotta go through them sometime. And maybe if you go 11-1 with some non-conference wins, people will overlook the loss to Clemson?

Chris: and it’s not crazy to think they could just get lucky in a game in tallahassee and sneak by

Michael: lotta FSU talk, FDM, you gonna take the bait?

Chris: hahaha i was going to say, at least we don’t have to have this discussion when the Noles go

Michael: think it’s telling how dependent this thing is on talent and program when we have teams that finished 39th (SC) and 51st (Oregon) and 84th (FSU) in S&P+ this year that are all reasonable top 10 picks

Brendan: Just wait for my pick, buddy…

Chris: you can wait until the third round to take North Dakota State

Dan: Texas was 30 in S&P+ too….

FDM – 10. Florida

Firstdownmoses: We’re dipping our toes into the Swamp for this pick. Dan Mullen’s Gators had something of a resurgence this year, posting a 10-3 record and capping off a great season by beating none other than our good friend Jimothy Harbaugh. This coming season is the first year that Florida will be comprised entirely of Dan Mullen’s recruits, so this bump year could solidify the foundation he’s built this season.

It’s true that he’ll have to contend with a powerful Georgia program each year, as well as an upstart Kentucky squad. However, Mullen’s current recruiting class is ranked #11, and if he continues to build momentum and take care of business in his division, it’s possible that Florida starts to make the SEC title game every other year or so. They’ll have to prove that this past season was no fluke, but if they do…then chompity chomp, folks.

And with that selection, all three teams who beat Michigan this year are off the board!

Michael: They were about next on my board. If Mullen can make New Year’s day bowls in Starkvegas he can for sure get to a playoff at UF.

Especially if Kirby ends up more Richt 2.0 and less Saban East

Dan: Good pick. Someone needs to give Georgia a challenge and there’s some momentum brewing down in Gainesville. And to MB’s point, this is really about program ceiling less than it is “how good are they right now.” I think they were highest remaining on my board, close with one other. Let’s see if Brendan goes with the other one at #11, or PJ at the turn…

Brendan – 11. Texas A&M

Brendan: As much as it pains me to say it… I’ll stay in the SEC and take the Aggies. Jimbo has a staff of excellent recruiters and one of the best, if also most mercenary, DCs in the country. Texas will probably still get more in-state talent most years, but A&M should get their fair share. We know Fisher isn’t going anywhere because he’s not getting that sweetheart 10 year guarantee anywhere else but if they can keep the rest of their staff together – a huge if, as Elko already interviewed for the Temple HC job this offseason – they might be able to sneak into the SEC title game.

PJ: Damn I was gonna take them

Brendan: Boom, sucker

PJ: you should also say Jimbo is staying there because of the Dolla Dolla Bill Yall

Firstdownmoses: I believe the correct vernacular is, “Holla holla get dolla”

Dan: Good pick. They were tied with Florida for me.

Michael: Yeah that will spend all of the money, have a solid staff, cross division rivalry not too bad

Dan: Yea. Get South Carolina every year while Auburn and LSU have Georgia and Florida

Firstdownmoses: Yep, it seems like they’re regaining their stride a little bit after the post-Manziel malaise. It’s a crowded division, and they have a brutal schedule this coming year, but there’s some promising stuff there.

Michael: Virtually all these teams are gambles on like 2021 as opposed to next year or two (or say when ND plays A&M in ’24/’25)

PJ – 12. Washington

PJ: With my next pick I’m going to take the Huskies. Conventional wisdom may think that the window for UW closed with the departures of Myles Gaskin and John Ross over the past couple of seasons but I think the best team in Seattle has a good infrastructure set up by Chris Petersen, who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere even if a head coaching position in Los Angeles opens up.

They have five star QB Jacob Eason coming in next season and it could set up a situation where Washington, who has made the CFP before, could continue to rule the Pac-12 North. Much like my pick of Georgia, they seemingly are the top dogs of their division. They do have to fight the perception of the Pac-12, which limits their margin of error to get into the Playoff, but if they can strike gold with Eason, more talent may follow.

Firstdownmoses: The Washington Good Boys will probably be fighting the perception of the Pac-12’s weakness more than their own division in most years, so they better do their best to avoid the conference’s annual self-cannibalization.

PJ: right I knew I had to include that especially after the dreadful Pac-12 Championship Game

Brendan: Their one decent OOC game is so critical for them.

PJ – 13. Nebraska

PJ: My final pick is a bit of a swing, but there aren’t any true names that I have confidence can make the leap (besides that team up North who like to measure wins by yards). My final pick is the Cornhuskers. I am drinking the frosty kool-aid in Lincoln. Like my pick of Georgia, I think that the Big Ten West is open for a power to claim it, with Wisconsin taking a step back, and I think Nebraska is setting itself up for a chance run at the top.

I am a big fan of their Quarterback Adrian Martinez as a dynamic playmaker who is nowhere near their ceiling. They are working on back to back top 25 classes and if Frost can get his team improving as they did down the stretch, they could be an immediate threat to the Big Ten West which can only build the confidence in the famously impatient boosters at Nebraska and down the path the fans have wanted in over twenty years.

Firstdownmoses: WOW. Outta left field!

PJ: Hey it’s my first article…wanted to leave an impression

but I do think Frost is building something that could be special

Brendan: Damn, they were going to be my dark horse pick!

Nice choice. If Michigan and Ohio State do flounder a bit, and if Frost is turning it around like it looked he was in the second half of the season, they might have a relatively smooth path to the conference title within a couple of years.

S&P+ thinks they’re headed for a bounce back in 2019, fwiw.

Dan: Damn, was hoping they’d get to me at 16! Nice pick

Michael: it will be interesting to see what the Nebraska recruiting ceiling is in the modern era. Frost winning early will definitely elevate them, just a question of how far they go making inroads in Cali, Texas

Brendan: Ah, I’m up, lol.

Slim pickings.

Michael: (Ooohhhohhhhohhhooo)

Firstdownmoses: Slim Pickens, eh? You must be gunning for them Oklahoma State Cowboys…

Brendan: Haha, briefly considered, but no.

Michael: in my rough tiering exercise 3/4 Tier 4 teams are gone but only 1/5 in Tier 3!

Dan: How many T1/T2 teams did you have?

Michael: 4 and 5

Dan: And is Michigan a T3 school who were all just ignoring by choice?

Brendan: T99

Michael: haha that is correct

Dan: They’ve won 0.5 titles since 1948 why would they start now?

Brendan – 14. West Virginia

Brendan: Without any conviction whatsoever, I’ll take West Virginia. I don’t feel good taking anyone else in any of the other conferences. They almost pulled off a Big 12 title this year; they lose a lot, but maybe Neal Brown can turn them into something in a few years.

Michael: the hard part with West Virginia is that unless there’s an alum out there who has it as a dream job, it feels like it’s still a stepping stone and a title caliber coach would leave

(like Rich Rod, who wasn’t quite a championship caliber coach but close at WVU anyway)

Dan: I agree…. And they don’t do anything at a championship level. Recruit, coach, D. Really anything but chuck it around the yard

They’re basically Texas Tech

Brendan: And yet they almost landed in the Big 12 title game this year. If they catch Oklahoma/Texas at the right time…

Michael: (I’m asking this question without judgement but…no one picked FSU, correct? we just talked about it a bunch of picks ago?)

Dan: No one took FSU yet

Brendan: I’m not inclined to take FSU. I think they’re at least 2-3 years away from challenging for the division.

Michael: fair enough!

Brendan: They either need to beat Clemson in the regular season or have Clemson lose (at least) twice, neither of which seems very likely. They _should_ be top ten every year based on the talent they pull, but Jimbo left a bit of a mess. And I’m not sold on Taggart

FDM- 15: Army

Firstdownmoses: Move over, Navy — your reign as the “oh no here comes that annoying triple-option offense” team is officially over. Jeff Monken’s Army Black Knights are coming off the winningest season in West Point history, which included taking Oklahoma to overtime in Norman and tying an FBS record with 70 points in their bowl win over Houston. Monken has won COTY honors this year, and although the 2019 schedule is somewhat thin (especially since they’ll have an easy Week 2 win at Ann Arbor), from 2020 onward Army has intentionally scheduled solid-to-great opponents such as Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Tennessee, and Syracuse.

Obviously the two biggest obstacles for Army are recruiting and relatively poor strength of schedule, but Monken has built an amazing foundation and Army has a chance to really make some noise in major bowls for years to come.

God bless America.

Brendan: Ha. Now that’s a homer pick, FDM

Michael: I mean, they were the only team to put up 70 in their bowl game

Firstdownmoses: Just thought I’d continue the trend of picking teams who have beaten (or are about to beat) Michigan!

Michael: If any non power five or ND team is going to make it, scheduling a power, beating them, and that power having  good year is probably a necessary ingredient.

I do wonder where you crazy kids are going to go with your wild card picks now, but it’s definitely helping my draft board (although the top teams left are not exciting)

Firstdownmoses: But seriously though, even if it would take a miracle to reach the Playoff, they’re not going away anytime soon

Brendan: Interested to see how losing their DC affects them.

Dan – 16. FSU

Dan: So I don’t love the pick but if you’re looking at untapped resources and the chance to turn things around quickly, you have to go to the best recruiting ground in the country. If everything were a blank slate right now, FSU would be getting picked ahead of Penn St/Washington/Nebraska/West Virginia/Army.

It’s not, so it’s understandable why they fell, but we’re talking 3 years out at this point, so it’s more of a blank slate than we think. I don’t love the Taggert hire, but the guy is a mercenary with a win at all costs attitude and even if he gets canned, it wouldn’t take the next guy much to get the engine going. It’s more of a sleeping giant with fast wake up time pick than a “like what I see going on there right now”, but at 16, I’m ok with it.

Michael: the one thing I’ll add is that Kendal Briles is a shrewd (gross) hire at OC for Taggart.

I do think we also overestimate the stability of powers like current Clemson (or anyone). Before this run it was Jameis and company embarrassing Clemson and reminding them they were a class below the bluebloods. Now the tables have turned, but in 4-5 years they could easily turn back (although I wouldn’t count on it)

Brendan: It’s certainly defensible. You could say some of the same things, to a lesser degree maybe, about Miami and Manny Diaz. I’m not sold yet that either guy is capable of getting them there, but we’re in the “take a flyer” portion of the draft.

I think FSU is a great choice if you’re prioritizing access to talent, which is absolutely a good way to look at it. I’m mostly weighing path to the playoff, which I think is clearer for West Virginia. West Virginia is maybe more likely to get there, but FSU would probably be less likely to get punked if they make it in.

Dan: Yea — I think WVU and Washington both have good paths to get in, but as we’ve seen the last few years, getting into the playoff doesn’t mean you’re that close. Getting punked and sent back to mediocrity is a very real option

Firstdownmoses: If FSU is in the Playoff, it likely means that Clemson Has Fallen™

But yeah, the fertile recruiting grounds argument is a good one. It wasn’t that long ago that FSU was scraping the rest of the ACC off the bottom of their cleats

Brendan: Their 2013 season was an all-time great. +553 on scoring margin, while 2018 Clemson was “only” +447.

They had 12 four-score wins in 14 games. Five years ago. So the potential is definitely there.

Chris – 17. UCLA

Chris: It seems like Chip Kelly is pretty out on important things like “recruiting” but the Bruins played better as the season wore on and he’s already proven he can take a Pac-12 team to the cusp of a title. (And it’s not like USC is a huge impediment in the near future the way that school is being run.) If Kelly doesn’t make it, I still think UCLA is always a trendy sleeper pick considering its location and the various advantages it offers with Westwood and the Rose Bowl.

Brendan: Damn, they were my lightning round choice. You guys are killing me.

Even with Chip not being a great recruiter himself, I could see them hoarding some talent if USC flounders for the next 2-3 years. That’s not an unreasonable window either, as they’re locked into at least one more year of Helton and whoever comes in after him will probably need a couple of years to clean up the mess.

All Chip really needs is a handful of plus skill position guys and he can probably still put together an offense that can do some damage.

Michael: they were high on my lightning round board too.

Firstdownmoses: It’s fascinating how tightly their success seems to be tied to USC. Is it remotely possible for UCLA to succeed if Helton magically rights the ship performance-wise? Has that simultaneous success happened in the recent past?

Chris: i don’t think so. for both recruiting and winning the division, this requires a dark age of troy

fingers crossed!

Firstdownmoses: Out of curiosity, what other current pairings are comparable to USC-UCLA in terms of two local teams fighting for power? UW/WSU? UF/FSU?

Chris: i don’t think UF/FSU because they have proven they can both be good at the same time historically.

Firstdownmoses: I guess USC/UCLA is pretty unique because they’re two major colleges in the same (enormous) city, whereas other metropolii (NY, Boston, Chicago) don’t really have two major CFB powers

PJ: Boston doesn’t even have one power, let alone two

Firstdownmoses: try saying that about the Beanpot, you’ll get shanked behind a Dunkin’s

Michael – 18. Miami

Michael: I’ll close out with another recruiting hotbed and take Miami. It briefly looked like they were surging last year, and even if 2018 sapped some of that momentum Manny Diaz is in a better place than when Richt took over. They have already had a defense playing at a top 5 level and just have to figure out the offense. Diaz is a local guy who should kill it in recruiting at the least. The ACC Coastal is ripe for the taking, and even if Diaz doesn’t figure it out Cristobal and others could step in in 3 years or so and rev that thing up quickly

The warts are there though – big expectations with less university commitment and dollars than most other programs listed

Firstdownmoses: That’s a fierce battle in the Florida recruiting grounds.


Chris: That’s probably a better pick than UCLA, i got too cute.

Brendan: That was my other lightning round pick. Now I have to think.

firstdownmoses : Brendan, I think your “secret list” was hacked from your email server (edited)

Michael – 19. Auburn

Michael: Lightning round! Surprised they are still here but I’ll grab Auburn. Top 10 talent, and they’ve gotten a title in the past decade and been to another. I don’t like being the 4th pick in the SEC West and playing UGA every year, but they beat Bama and the Dawgs (checking notes) last year! Not a huge Gus believer but they will pay someone all the money to succeed him if needed, and blue chippers everywhere

Firstdownmoses: Dang, forgot about them

Never count out the #bagmen

Brendan: And that was another team I was looking at. I’m hosed. Damn Russian troll farm infiltrating my Google Drive…

Michael: Can Newton was worth whatever anyone offered x100

Dan: They’re one of the last remaining solid options left, but their crossover game against Georgia every year leaves me very skeptical (during a period where Georgia is good)

If we’re picking who can win a generic title 5+ years from now, Auburn has to be on the list, but I’m not sure I buy them as the next team to break through. Still better than anyone else available (edited)

Chris – 20. UCF

Chris: Slightly longer term play but I’m going with UCF. Big school, two BCS/NY6 wins this decade already, ideal state for a football power despite the competition, will have a giant alumni base and will get picked up by one of the big boys in the next round of realignment so schedule won’t be an issue in a few years.

Firstdownmoses: If they join a P5 conference, things could get interesting

Dan: Damn, UCF was the last team on my big board. Good pick for a dark horse

Brendan: Phew. The prospect board looks absolutely terrible right now.

Dan: I’m literally scrolling through the NCAAF standings page on ESPN trying to figure out who to take. I was positive I’d still have UCF as a fall back pick when it got to me.

Brendan: Heh, I’m doing the same with S&P+ from the last few years.

Dan: good work with the last 4 picks CW/MB

PJ: I have one team left on my board before I get to scramble mode

Michael: UCF was my big non P5 sleeper. Huge school, want to invest. Big question is if Heupel can sustain what Frost started building, because a bad season or two will shoot their momentum badly

(And by bad I mean less than 10 wins, so not really that bad. They need a Boise like run)

Brendan: Yeah, despite “little brother” mockings nationally, UCF is the biggest school in Florida – they should have the resources for a fight if they want it.

Chris: it’s very possible my lightning round pick is better than my 2nd or 3rd round pick but i’ll take the value

Dan: This comes down to a debate of which is more likely, “the path opens up wide for a team that’s been solid to very good but never great before” or “a minnow invests big and hits the jackpot”….lets go quasi boring with Virginia Tech.

Dan – 21. Virginia Tech

Dan: This is another very longshot pick, but at least we’ve seen this team be good in the past. I liked Justin Fuente as a head coach, although what he’s done over the last few years has given me pause. Regardless, this school cares about the sport, is in a conference where a path is viable and Lane Stadium is a hell of a fun place to play ball.

It’s not as boring as one other school that was floating on my list, but it’s more boring that saying “Cincinnati!” or “Maryland!”

Chris: i like it

Brendan: Solid choice. They have the right context to stay in contention for the conference title and they’ve played in a national title game this century, which is more than most of the previously-selected teams (and Michigan) can say.

Michael: If they can become the destination for the Tidewater recruits (instead of the best ones going to the SEC, OSU, or Penn State), they have the infrastructure. Probably the second best job in the ACC Coastal?

Firstdownmoses – 22. Kentucky

FDM: After their upstart season, maybe it’s time to start taking the Wildcats seriously. They’re the big dogs recruiting-wise in their region (vs. Tennessee and Louisville, lol), and their basketball program has proven that the school has lots of wealthy donors who may be willing to start bankrolling upgrades to a successful football team as well. Their scoring defense is fairly high (22nd in defensive S&P+), and they have the chops to take down the big boys (i.e. their win in The Swamp this past year). Should be a lot of fun to see if they can sustain their success.

Brendan: Oooh, interesting.

PJ: Oooooooh

Brendan: Let’s see how much of a springboard they can make their 2018 season.

Brendan: They should be able to pull talent from Cincinnati/St. Louis/Tennessee/Indiana if they maintain some of that success, which could make things interesting.

Dan: I like the idea, but they’re a HUGE regression candidate for this year. I’ll bet they fail to be above .500 in conference this year.

Their scoring margin/second order win total suggests they were just an overachieving team who managed to steal a bunch of close games

Firstdownmoses: Like 2012 ND, perhaps?

Brendan: They are actually; S&P+ has their 2018 second-order win differential at -2.2, meaning they overachieved substantially. Over the last 12 years something like 95% of teams with a differential that big moved the other way the following year.

But in theory, at least, they could be a presence in the SEC East if they can win upgrade their talent a little and string a few decent years together.

Chris: The schedule isn’t bad, I can talk myself into 5-1 going into Athens

and a perfect November

if we’re talking about building some more momentum

Dan: Anyone in the SEC East can theoretically have a path if they get some momentum going, but they have some serious headwinds based on the fact that they were a Texas Tech level team last year

and have never actually been good

but thats why its a dark horse round!

PJ: Let’s not sully the name of Texas Tech…their former head coach just jumped to the NFL

Just don’t pay attention to the path he took the past month

Michael: Very dark horsey. I’d want a different SEC East team first

Brendan – 23. TCU

Brendan: Four short years ago they were a horrible DPI call away from being 12-0 and in the playoff. Instead they went 11-1 and then demolished S&P+ #6 Ole Miss 42-3 in the Sugar Bowl after being shut out of the playoff. Sure, the stars aligned for them a bit – they don’t land guys like Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson with regularity, Oklahoma and Texas were both down, etc. – but if it happened once it could happen again.

Did you know their defense has been in the top 20 in S&P+ six of the last eight years, including the last two? If Patterson can add some offensive brainpower, like he did for the 2014 season, they just might be able to pull off another exceptional season.

Chris: I thought about TCU with my pick for all the reasons stated. Horned Frogs are a good one.

PJ – 24. Houston

PJ: My pick is Houston…they want to win “we fire coaches at 8-4” and just plucked a P5 coach to lead them back to where Herman led them and they have the Texas landscape to get talent from and are a perennial (and most sensible) expansion option for the Big 12 and Pac-12 as recently as last spring. They want to win and win ASAP and if they get the Big 12 invite the sky is the limit for the Cougs

Brendan: Maybe – not sure how Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU would react to Houston being invited.

As much as the “we fire coaches at 8-4” comment from their AD made me cringe, I absolutely think they made a major upgrade going from Applewhite to Holgo. Like you say, if nothing else that shows a commitment to wanting to win.

Michael: Fertitta is willing to spend whatever $ to win big. TCU has Patterson. Texas has talent on talent. Both good picks.

The Final Draft

1. PJ – Georgia
2. Brendan- Oklahoma
3. FDM – Ohio State
4. Dan – ND
5. Chris – Texas
6. Michael. – LSU
7. Michael – USC
8. Chris – Penn State
9. Dan – Oregon
10. FDM – Florida
11. Brendan – Texas A&M
12. PJ – Washington
13. PJ – Nebraska
14. Brendan – West Virginia
15. FDM – Army
16. Dan – Florida State
17. Chris – UCLA
18. Michael. – Miami
19. Michael – Auburn
20. Chris – UCF
21. Dan – Virginia Tech
22. FDM – Kentucky
23. Brendan – TCU
24. PJ – Houston

Drafted Programs:

PJ – Georgia, Washington, Nebraska, Houston
Brendan – Oklahoma, Texas A&M, West Virginia, TCU
FDM – Ohio State, Florida, Army, Kentucky
Dan – Notre Dame, Oregon, Florida State, Virginia Tech
Chris – Texas, Penn State, UCLA, UCF
Michael – LSU, USC, Miami, Auburn

Close Calls and Review

Dan: No one on Tennessee, huh?

Firstdownmoses: I strongly considered Tennessee

Brendan: They’ve just been a mess for so long, they have Georgia to contend with, Florida might possibly be on the rise, they play Alabama cross-division…

Dan: Tennessee was my “downed power” and Wisconsin was my “they’re not that good, but the path could open up”

Brendan: Plus the biggest problem is Phil Fulmer as AD. I don’t think he’s good for their long-term health.

Rumor is he undercut John Currie constantly and scuttled the mutual understanding he had with Mike Leach because Leach wasn’t Fulmer’s idea of an RKG.

Chris: I thought about Tennessee as well, butch had them on the cusp of the cusp but still pretty far out

Firstdownmoses: Yeah ultimately their leadership just seems too toxic/brittle

Brendan: Yep, Tennessee’s leadership was ecstatic to bring Fulmer back on board because he’s a good ol’ boy. I don’t see it working for them unless they get lucky or they have major changes in leadership.

PJ: The coaching hire fiasco from last year I think will leave scorched earth for a long time and as everyone said above Phil Fulmer doesn’t feel like the fit at AD

Dan: that’s all fair

Brendan: Leach would’ve been a fantastic hire – his offenses would’ve ripped up the conference for at least a couple of years and let them make some noise.

I don’t know how good Pruitt can be, and if he flops around while Georgia and Florida both continue their ascent, it puts them even farther in the hole.

Plus they’re a disaster financially, so they’re not going to be able to spend their way out of bad decisions.

In short, I don’t like Tennessee’s chances, lol.

Michael: yeah, my remaining two were Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Dan: ok, so I hate to even ask this question, but if we werent all homers, where would Michigan have been taken?

Brendan: Late 2nd/early 3rd?

PJ: If they were there at my turn I would have taken them instead of Nebraska

Brendan: Ha… was just about to say, right around where Washington and Nebraska went.

PJ: Which is why I made a reference to them in my Nebraska blurb

Michael: I had them (taking apart where they suck and will never win) somewhere after Texas A&M. We are in agreement

Dan: ok — I was going to say below Washington/A&M but above the next swing of teams

Michael: I think they are ahead of UW/Nebraska. They’ve shown they can meet the talent bar, just not that they won’t trip over themselves pulling it through

Urban leaving also is very helpful for them in the near-term. Probably not helpful enough, but that’s (OSU) really been their biggest problem the past two decades

Dan: I think I’d take Washington>Michigan, but it’s close.  And Mich>Nebraska, but it’s also close and highly dependent on what you think of the rising star of Scott Frost.

Brendan: All fair points, although I’m not sure I agree that Michigan has shown they can meet the talent bar – certainly defensively, but their offensive talent is much more of a mixed bag. OL has been a big question mark throughout Harbaugh’s tenure, and if not for Hugh Freeze’s ouster at Ole Miss QB would be as well.

They should be able to recruit well on both sides, I just don’t think their offensive recruiting has been all that good aside from WR.

Chris: can we excise all discussion of Michigan from the post?

Brendan: I thought about Wisconsin for the lightning round, but they have the “late season fade” down a little too well for my liking

PJ: Plus if they beat Ohio State last year I can’t see them getting past any of the other three teams and that seems like their platonic ideal of Wisconsin football

Dan: Wisconsin was off my list based on the fact that I don’t know that they can ever get the talent to get over the top. If I were picking “likelihood of 10 win seasons” or even “playoff appearances”, they’d be much higher, but like WVU, I just dont know that the talent can ever be there to handle the very top echelon

Brendan: There’s probably some kind of a case that can be made for them against almost anyone in the bottom half of the draft, but I just can’t shake the feeling that they’re a perennial paper tiger.

I think Dan’s comment is a perfect summary of it, actually – they seem relatively likely to continue to rack up 10-win seasons, but can you really trust them beyond that?

BTW, Michael quietly put together a hell of a draft – every one of his teams has won a title since 2000.

PJ has no title winners, I have one (Oklahoma), FDM has two (Ohio State, Florida), Dan has one (Florida State), Chris has one (Texas).

Dan: it’s a bit of a different topic, but for all the talk of expanding the playoff to allow more teams access, as we’ve already seen, the fact that you have to win two games to notch a title means you have to be legitimately great talent wise, and it’s actually reduced the number of teams that can win it

Brendan: Yeah, that’s a good point. I did see that raised in an article in my Twitter feed recently but I skimmed past it. It’s worth drilling into it.

It’s a lot harder to win a title when it’s not just “any given day” but “these two days.”

Dan: it hurts when neither of my first two picks have won titles…..but they’ve both played in the dance multiple times (ND/Oregon)

Brendan: Solid strategy too though. The dance itself has been pretty limited, so taking teams that get there – and in Oregon’s case, have even won a playoff game – is a decent way to go.

PJ: But it feels like it does give the CFB world a more (legitimate) champion because of the fact you need to be ready for two top quality opponents

Dan: to my point above though on the reduced number of teams that can win it — Even comparing to the BCS era, we’re in very different territory now. Gone are the days of hoping that Kansas St is the only other team who is undefeated your year and playing them in the title game. Gone is being able to claim a half a title because you were undefeated in a down conference.

I look at most of the teams we drafted and think “no friggin way!” on them *ever* winning a title again

and that’s not knocking the picks…I just think even if you modified this draft out to “attempt to draft the most national titles over the next 100 years”, you’d have like 12 teams to be picked and then we’d be all scrounging for dark horses or teams that COULD EVENTUALLY spend money

Brendan: Yeah, unfortunately for us… I think we would’ve beaten Kansas State in 2012 and would’ve been the “undisputed” champion, but even Irish fans who are honest with themselves would know that we dodged a bullet by not having to play what was probably the best team in the country. There’s none of that anymore – that bullet isn’t falling out of the top four.

Michael: Agreed Dan. If you’re a sneak-in type team that has maybe a 20% chance of beating an elite team, now that’s 20% chance that has to come through twice, so like 4% chance of winning a semi and a final

Brendan: You might be able to land a good-not-great playoff opponent, but there’s no way you’re going to draw two of them.

Dan: If my list was “any national titles ever”, the top 11 picks probably stay the exact same, then you add in Auburn, Tennessee, Florida St, Miami and UCF and then call it a day.

Brendan: Yeah, below Nebraska was where I really started to feel like these teams have no realistic path to the title.

Dan: I’d wager a significant sum of money that as long as the format stays what it is, there are zero national champions not from that group of 17+Bama/Clemson. Maybe expansion is a good thing because it seems more likely to put a few of those teams in the field and cause some chaos a la march madness?

you could probably even trim it down a little and still feel relatively safe

Brendan: If you look at it as Bama/Clemson vs. The Field, The Field’s best chance is to have Bama/Clemson play an extra game in which anything can happen.

PJ: Or play each other in the semis like last year

Brendan: Ah yes, but that’s a tough one when they’re both going 12-1/13-0 every year and have a decade of elite play to justify the benefit of the doubt in a 1/2 vs. 3/4 ranking decision.

Dan: it’s been an extremely dominant 6 years of CFB, and there’s an argument to be made that in recruiting, watching a limited number of teams succeed concentrates their ability to double down on success

Chris: it’s annoying Lawrence went to Clemson, he’s the type of guy who could have Vince Young’d somebody else to a title potentially

Michael: Let’s wrap this up – any last sleeping giants to throw out there?

Dan: Rutgers?

I think the answer is “absolutely zero”, but is there a chance Syracuse ponies up some cash to try to keep Babers (or the next good young coach they nab?) and make a move upwards?

Brendan: Maybe someone like Arizona State could make a Cinderella run some year – they have a great campus, great reputation as a fun place to be, can maybe get lucky with recruiting a few key guys at just the right time.

Chris: Colorado? After visiting the area a couple times I don’t understand why they aren’t better. San Diego State if they get a new stadium and get bumped up in the next realignment.

Yes I almost added Arizona State, that works, just not a ton of local talent but it’s not crazy

Brendan: Okie State seems to perpetually be on the cusp of being good, and they have essentially unlimited funding from Pickens. Maybe it’ll come together for them at some point.

Michael: Georgia Tech was the last one on my darkhorse list. Atlanta is a goldmine. ACC Coastal features only one anytime power in Miami. The ceiling is there.

Chris: I don’t see it with Syracuse. They’re always going to be at a recruiting base disadvantage and have to get through Clemson and FSU in that division.

Brendan: Ah, that’s a good call with GT. Even with Georgia cleaning up there should be plenty of talent left for Tech. Collins should have an easier time recruiting offensive talent to his non-triple-option system too.

Chris: Georgia Tech makes sense

Brendan: Agree with Chris on Syracuse. I’m from (roughly) the Syracuse area, and it’s just not a place that’s going to ever be able to draw anything other than leftovers. The best players in the program’s history – Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Don McPherson, Art Monk – were all from New York, and that kind of talent hasn’t exactly been abundant in the area over the last few decades. I think Babers got them pretty close to their ceiling. It’s also a basketball school, and I think their appetite for football investment will always be limited.

Dan: I kinda think so too — they just struck me as one of the few under the radar teams that is already decently good right now that nobody really believes in and was curious if anyone thought there was ANY path towards staying power. They did have Donovan McNabb….although that was a long time ago now

Brendan: Yeah, they struck a chord with McNabb somehow. Also Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney. McNabb is the only one out of all those guys who wasn’t from the Northeast, though – Freeney was Connecticut and Harrison was Philly – and I think the rest of the country has gotten better about plucking the few Northeastern jewels out of the region.

Dan:  one last one for general thoughts: Utah?

another unlikely, but interesting one

Brendan: Utah is interesting. They seem to be consistently not-terrible on defense, which always gives someone a chance to be in the conversation.

I think they struggle with a lot of the same problems Syracuse would have, though – who wants to go to Salt Lake City versus, say, Tempe, Palo Alto, Eugene, etc. for four years, and how much is the school willing to invest in football? I like them as a dark horse conference title contender. Not sure they’re a legit national title contender, even on the margins.

Enjoy the article? Want 10,000 more words? Let us know how you enjoyed this format, as it’s a new format we may use (or not!) for some more offseason articles.