Man, oh man, oh man. Cannot believe that we are actually here. It's game week. Week 1 of the college football season. As great as Week 0 was - shout out Scott Frost! - it doesn't really feel like college football season is here, until that first, full weekend of games. A weekend which starts on Thursday night, and rolls well through after midnight ET on Labor Day night.
Of course with the start of the season, it also means it's time to make some predictions. And boy oh boy do I have a few bold ones today.
Let's get to my College Football Playoff and National Championship Picks:
College Football Playoff Final Four:
Clemson: I mean, this one feels like the most obvious of all obvious College Football Playoff picks.
Admittedly, I've picked Clemson to beat Georgia on Saturday, but even if they lose, the schedule sets up in a wild way, where the Tigers aren't projected to play another ranked opponent the rest of the year. The next time they would face a team that has a realistic chance to be competitive with them - let alone beat them - wouldn't be until the ACC Championship Game, against either North Carolina and Miami.
So yeah, if they win this game, I hate to say it, but it's easy street to the playoff. And if they lose, I suspect they will be favored in every other game they play by double-digits.
There's a hypothetical down the road where if they lose this game, and a few SEC teams finish with one loss (especially if one is Georgia) they could be in real trouble. But I'll believe a one-loss Clemson, as an ACC champ on a 12-game win streak at that point, will be left out of the playoff when I see it.
Oklahoma: The Oklahoma hype has been real since the day they steamrolled Florida in the Cotton Bowl, and hasn't really stopped since. And while I think the hype might be a tiny bit much at this point, I don't see the scenario where someone else wins the Big 12 or Oklahoma gets left out of the playoff.
First off, let me be clear, I love Iowa State. But they had an almost perfect set-up last year, of facing Oklahoma at home, early in the season, when the Sooners were breaking in a new quarterback... and still only beat them by seven. They still lost to them in the Big 12 title game a few months later. So while I'm bullish on Matt Campbell, and bullish on the Cyclones in general, I'm just not sold they are toppling the Sooners.
Especially since, this is - by any tangible measurement - Lincoln Riley's most complete team at Oklahoma. Yes, the offense is going to be crazy explosive with Spencer Rattler and the return of 1,000-yard rusher Kennedy Brooks (who opted out last season), and this will also be the best defense of the Lincoln Riley era. The Sooners actually ranked in the Top 30 nationally in both total defense and scoring defense last year. And in a very - un-Oklahoma stat - held their final five opponents under 21 points.
So yeah, I like the Sooners a lot, but do question their national title mettle. The defense was clearly improved last year, but the team's final five opponents were Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Florida, without any of their skill position guys. Were the Sooners that improved or did they just hit a sweet spot of their schedule?
In the end, I believe this team is good, really good. I'm just not sure they're national title good.
Ohio State: Alright with Clemson and Oklahoma both in the playoff, who do I have playing for a national title? Well, let's start with my national runner-up: Ohio State. I know this team lost a lot. And I know there are questions. But they are insanely talented, and believe they'll get better as the season goes along.
One, the offense is going to be explosive. It might not be tonight, night one against Minnesota. But it will be in general. First off, I've heard great things about CJ Stroud. He isn't Justin Fields, but I don't expect this program to take too far of a step back with him under center. Especially with an explosive backfield with Master Teague and freshman star TreyVon Henderson and a wide receiver room that PJ Fleck called "the best he's ever seen" this week.
How good are Ohio State's receivers? They have two first rounders in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson at the top, and behind them are the No. 1 overall receiver in the high school class of 2020 (Julian Fleming) and the No. 1 overall receiver in the high school class of 2021 ( Emeka Egbuka).
Again, if I'm not clear, Ohio State's third and fourth wide receivers were the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the past two classes.
Ultimately, the defense worries me a little, but there is simply too much talent to not take care of business against most teams.
Really though, the reason I like Ohio State to make a run is this: Who from the Big Ten is going to step up and beat them? Wisconsin is talented, but always falls short athletically when they play the Buckeyes. I don't trust Penn State as long as Sean Clifford is the quarterback. And I think we've all officially given up on Michigan ever being a contender in this league.
In the end, Ohio State might start slow. But expect them to pick up steam all season, culminating in - at worst - another Big Ten title and playoff berth.
Georgia: I already know what you're thinking: "Torres, I just read above that you like Clemson this weekend. How can you possibly have Georgia losing this game, but still like them to win the title? Are you out of your mind."
Well, I can't lie. I might be. But with that said, I'm picking the Bulldogs to win it all.
One, I actually liked Georgia in the Clemson game, right until half their team has gone done with injuries. George Pickens went out in the spring, we know that. And Arik Gilbert arrived, then departed this fall (insert your own commentary here). But those two injuries with tight end Darnell Washington and corner Tykee Smith really, really hurt the Dawgs in this game.
But, have you seen their schedule after this game? The SEC East is a mess, with Tennessee, Vanderbilt and South Carolina all breaking in new coaches and Florida will likely be down. The second best team in this division is probably Kentucky. Oh, and Georgia doesn't play Alabama, LSU, A&M or Ole Miss in any cross-over games.
Point being, that even if they lose Saturday, they have a schedule built for them to get right throughout the season, and peak in late November and December.
Beyond that, I just like this team, assuming Washington and Smith get healthy. The run game and defense will be their usual stout selves, and the offense took off when JT Daniels got under center last year (sorry, I'm a Daniels believer - I watched all those USC games his freshman year. He's not the reason they struggled).
Oh and one more thing: I mentioned Arik Gilbert above, a high-risk, high-reward transfer, who right now isn't panning out. I'm not going to sit here and say I know if he'll play, or even what impact he could have being away from the team all fall long.
Ultimately though, he is a metaphor for this season. Kirby Smart took a swing on him - and fellow high-risk transfer Derion Kendrick from Clemson - this year, because he knows this, this season right here, is his window. He has a national title roster (he usually does) with a quarterback good enough to get them there, and enough breaks on the schedule as well.
I truly believe Kirby knows this is his window, and I feel the same way.
I've got Georgia as your 2021 national champion.
Follow Aaron Torres Media on Facebook
Follow Aaron Torres Media on Twitter
Follow Aaron Torres Media on Instagram
To hear Aaron's full Week 1 preview, download the Aaron Torres Podcast below