Title windows for top 16 contenders 

May, 21, 2014
May 21
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Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Nick SabanGetty Images, AP PhotoFSU, Oregon and Alabama should all be in the playoff mix. But how open are their title windows?
As a part of ESPN.com’s college football mock playoff, I thought I would evaluate the current title windows for each of the 16 participants.

In 2014, are the teams in their prime for title contention? Are their windows closing (they’d better win now)? Or are their windows opening (hope for the next cycle)?

Disclaimer: If your team is among those with closing windows, remain calm. It doesn’t mean your school’s program is folding; you’re a recruiting class or a quickly developing quarterback away from again wedging open that window.

Closing ...

Oregon Ducks

Bluntly, it’s a big year for Mark Helfrich. The second-year coach needs to show program sustainability beyond Chip Kelly, and he needs to do so by getting Oregon -- among the preseason favorites on an annual basis -- into the first playoff.

Oregon isn’t falling into the Pacific, but immediacy has been created by the surprising decisions two Ducks standouts made to return to school. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu were projected first-rounders, but now they’ll be veteran leaders on their respective sides of the ball. (Center Hroniss Grasu also would have been an early-round pick and returned.)

As I wrote earlier in the year, it’s time for the 2012 recruiting class to emerge. Running back Byron Marshall and receiver Bralon Addison figured to be the team’s most established playmakers, but then Addison tore his ACL this spring. The defensive front is comprised of '12 signees Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci.

After averaging the 18th-best class in our recruiting rankings from 2010 to '12, the Ducks dipped to 26th in 2013 and 27th in 2014.