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ESPN’s Desmond Howard CFP Final 4 of Michigan, Texas A&M, Baylor and Pitt


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College football season kicks off today and already people are looking to the future, making predictions for conference championships and national titles. Some of these takes are scalding hot.

Earlier today, Lee Corso told College GameDay viewers that he didn’t believe an SEC team would win the SEC Championship! That’s pretty bold, but somehow it’s not the hottest take of the day. That belongs to 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.

That’s right. Howard picked Pitt to go to the Final Four. In fact, only one of these teams, Michigan, has ever made it to the college football playoff. This would be a program-first for Pitt, Baylor and Texas A&M.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think all of Howard’s picks are bad. Michigan is still a well-coached team (yes, I like Jim Harbaugh) fresh off a great season and returns a few offensive line starters — and gained Olusegun Oluwatimi at center from Virginia — returns their starting quarterback, and returns most of their weapons from last season as well, which could be even better considering that receiver Ronnie Bell missed most of last year with a knee injury. The losses of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are big, but given Howard’s affiliation with Michigan (as in he’s an alum), I’ll let that pick slide as a slight bias. It’s not impossible, perhaps even likely, but given that the player with the most sacks last year returning in 2022 is Taylor Upshaw (2.5 sacks), I’d say that it’s a bit of a reach.

I love the Texas A&M pick for the playoff. Picking them to win the natty? Now, you’ve lost me a bit. Sure, the Aggies lost Isaiah Spiller and Jalen Wydermyer, but Evan Stewart, Ainias Smith, and Devone Achane have seemed more than capable of filling those voids and then some. My biggest problem with this selection is that Alabama and Georgia are two of the favorites for the national championship, let alone the playoffs. They’re almost guaranteed to reach the CFP. You might as well pencil them into the bracket at the start of every season. Their reputation as programs makes voters less likely to drop them too far, and unless the Aggies can beat Alabama on the road on October 8, I don’t see the Aggies making it out of the SEC and into the playoff. If the game against Bama were at home, I’d feel a little more confident. As it stands right now, that selection is still a little shaky.

By selecting Pitt and Baylor, Howard basically just threw his last two picks in a dumpster. According to OddsChecker US, while both Michigan and Texas A&M both have good title odds, at +5000 (8th-best odds) and +2500 (5th-best odds) respectively, Baylor (+15000, 20th-best odds, 0.7 percent chance) and Pitt (+25000, 31st-best odds, 0.4 percent chance) are so out of left field, you can’t help but think Howard is trolling. In the history of the college football playoff, only one team has ever reached the CFP after preseason title odds of +15000 or worse: 2021 Cincinnati (+15000), and I’d argue they only made the playoff because so many college football fans were clamoring for the CFP committee to let a non-Power 5 school in. The next closest? 2021 Michigan at +10000. After that? 2014 Ohio State at +4000. While I don’t think Baylor is a bad team by any means, the odds are most certainly not in its favor.

Most of Baylor’s top weapons from last season are gone, either via transfer or the NFL draft. Their offensive line, howeveer, is still very solid, and perhaps it can carry the Bears to a solid season. On defense, the Baylor’s secondary took a massive hit, losing safeties Jalen Pitre and J.T. Woods as well as cornerback Raleigh Texada. They are very well-coached and deep so perhaps those losses will be mitigated. Still, with a tough schedule ahead, Baylor’s playoff hopes seem dim at best.

Picking Baylor was definitely puzzling, but it’s nothing in comparison to Howard picking Pitt as his fourth and final CFP team. You’re telling me that the team that just lost QB Kenny Pickett and receiver Jordan Addison is going to boast an offense good enough to be one of the top-four teams in college football?

No.

I know the saying is “that’s why they play the games,” and while there’s plenty to be optimistic about if you’re a Pitt fan, that team couldn’t even crack the top-10 in the AP poll with a Heisman finalist quarterback and Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver. Will they finish the season ranked? Probably. Will they win a Bowl game? Wouldn’t surprise me. Will they win their conference? I mean Clemson, N.C. State, and Miami are all really tough, but I could see a situation where that happens. Will they make the CFP? Boy oh boy, that’d be as crazy as Deshaun Watson getting a sponsor deal from Nickelodeon this year.

Howard, we loved you in 1991, and I’m all for making outlandish predictions at the start of the season, but the key is that you have to make them slightly believable. Frankly, this just ain’t it.

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