Only these 6 college football teams can claim ‘playoff or bust’ in 2016

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Stewart Mandel’s Mailbag. Submit questions to Stew on Twitter or Facebook.


Your recent tweet about Notre Dame’s expectations got me thinking: Which other teams go into this season thinking "playoff or bust?" Realistically, I’d say Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan and Oklahoma are the only teams that should enter the season with a legit expectation to make the playoff. But are there other schools (particularly in your "Kings" tier) that think otherwise?

— Thomas, San Jose, California

To be clear, my Notre Dame tweet was largely in reference to the fact it has no other prize to play for, though the Irish certainly feel the playoff is a realistic goal this year. As for the other teams, “playoff or bust” is less about returning starters, etc., and more about the general year-to-year expectation level. Because while Iowa, for example, was overjoyed to reach the Rose Bowl last season, Ohio State fans would have considered the same bowl a disappointment.

So while the actual pool of teams with “realistic” playoff aspirations is far deeper than you’re suggesting – I’d contend that closer to 20 teams have the core talent to do it – they’re not all necessarily going to consider anything short of that a good season. For example, Michigan, which hasn’t won a Big Ten championship in 12 years, is in no position to claim “playoff or bust.” If the Wolverines go 11-2, beat Michigan State and/or Ohio State but don’t reach the playoff, that’s still a great season given the recent state of the program.

My playoff-or-bust list: Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Most years I’d include Ohio State, but not with the absurd amount of talent it is replacing. And while most SEC teams with Tennessee’s profile would hold similarly lofty expectations, the Vols have been so down for so long that just winning the SEC East would be a triumphant season for them.