Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins offers up his annual baker’s dozen: 13 thoughts on the national scene. A 14th thought could have been: How can it get any better than last year’s epic season?

1 The inaugural College Football Playoff was a rousing success. It had drama, controversy, terrific story lines. Many of us complained after TCU and Baylor were snubbed in the final poll, but simple math says someone is always going to be disappointed in this model: Five power conferences and only four playoff spots = frustration. …

 

– the same as the NFL. Factor in other variables (TV, impact on regular season, etc.) and it’s more complicated than just adding four more teams. …

 

3 The SEC’s aura has taken a hit the past few postseasons. Their coaches’ complaints about satellite camps hosted by northern schools also came across as whiny. Interested to see how the heavyweight responds to having its pride challenged. …

 

4 How long before Jim Harbaugh is feuding with half the Big Ten? His presence in the conference will be quality entertainment. …

5 The Big Ten has altered its national perception but I’d still rank the major FBS conferences this way: 1. SEC. 2. Pac-12. 3. Big Ten. 4. Big 12. 5. ACC. …

 

6 Repeating as champions in any sport is a difficult proposition. I wouldn’t bet against Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes. Not after seeing that collection of talent last season. …

 

7 I still find it somewhat astonishing that TCU and Baylor are two of the five best teams in college football. …

 

8 Forget the obvious favorites for a moment. Here are five other teams that could push for a playoff spot, in no particular order: Michigan State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Georgia. …

 

9 Coaches probably hate them, but it’s fun to see compelling nonconference matchups. How about these: Gophers vs. TCU; Wisconsin vs. Alabama; Michigan State vs. Oregon; Notre Dame vs. Clemson; Oklahoma vs. Tennessee; Arizona State vs. Texas A&M; Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech. …

10 Sign of the times: Baylor averaged 87.5 plays per game last season. In 2009, the Bears averaged 64.8 plays. That’s a big change in tempo in five years. …

 

11 Mark it down: A running back will win the Heisman Trophy this season. My guess is either Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott or Georgia’s Nick Chubb. …

 

12 Ronald Reagan was president when Frank Beamer took over Virginia Tech’s program in 1987. By comparison, the Gophers have had six coaches during Beamer’s tenure — John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, Glen Mason, Tim Brewster, Jeff Horton (interim) and Jerry Kill. …

 

13 Great name, great player, cool nickname: Scooby Wright, All-America linebacker for Arizona, who refers to himself as “Two-star Scooby” in reference to his recruiting ranking in high school. Perfect.

 

 

Five games that will affect playoff chase

Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3)

Yes, it’s early, so it’s not make-or-break, but it sets the tone for teams with playoff aspirations.

USC at Oregon (Nov. 21)

This could be an appetizer before a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game.

Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 21)

If the Buckeyes are down to their fifth quarterback by then, don’t worry. He’s probably an NFL prospect.

Baylor at TCU (Nov. 27)

Projected score: 70-66. Unless it goes to overtime.

Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 28)

The Iron Bowl doesn’t need any additional hype, but playoff ramifications bring extra sizzle.

Playoff predictions

National semifinal 1

TCU vs. Alabama in the Cotton Bowl

Dec. 31 in Arlington, Texas.

TCU returns 10 starters from an offense that averaged 46.5 points per game last season. It will be difficult for any defense to contain. Alabama and Nick Saban enter the season testy after losing to Ohio State in the semifinals and hearing about their flaws all offseason.

Winner: Alabama

National semifinal 2

Ohio State vs. Oregon in the Orange Bowl

Dec. 31 in Miami.

A repeat of last season’s national championship ends in similar fashion. Maybe not a blowout again, but the Buckeyes will have too much team speed and balance on offense for the Ducks.

Winner: Ohio State

National championship

Ohio State vs. Alabama

Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.

Urban Meyer’s team looks perfectly equipped to hoist the trophy again. The Buckeyes have Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback (pick one) and running back (Ezekiel Elliott), a boatload of speed, talent on defense and a proven big-game coach. Hard to pick against them.

Winner: Ohio State