In my opinion, May is the best time to bust out some Playoff picks.

I like to be on record before anyone else is, and I like to do so once we know what rosters will look like once the post-spring transfer portal window closes. In August, it’s too easy to talk yourself out of teams for silly reasons. Like, too many people are picking “team X” and I want to be different.

Like all predictions, there is a bit of creativity that’s required. If you were going into 2019 predicting a Playoff field of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma, you were told to pack up your things and leave the conversation because you were too boring.

(Go figure that picking Oklahoma now would actually be a bold move, and maybe you could say the same about Clemson after consecutive years of missing the field.)

It’s OK to be a little creative with a Playoff pick. Sometimes it hits like when I had Cincinnati in the field 2 years ago. Other times, it misses like when I had Utah in the field last year. History says you’ve gotta take at least 1 swing when it comes to predicting the Playoff field.

As for picking a national championship matchup? That’s a different story. A team like TCU breaking through as an unranked team to start the year was unprecedented in the Playoff era.

Speaking of unprecedented, we’re also a year away from the field expanding to 12. In other words, this could be the last year in which it really makes sense to offer up a Playoff prediction. Once the field expands, I imagine it’ll be a condensed version of March Madness and we’ll all fill out Playoff brackets.

So here’s my last field of 4 Playoff prediction:

4. Washington

We live in a world in which there could be 3-4 legitimate Playoff contenders out of the Pac-12. Stunning, I know. Washington, USC, Oregon and Utah could all start off as top-10 teams with veteran, elite starting quarterbacks. That’s not including possible preseason Top 25 team Oregon State fresh off its best season in 2 decades and the wild card that is Deion Sanders’ Colorado squad. It’s possible that leads to a very Pac-12 ending wherein the conference fails to produce a 1-loss team and it gets left out of the field for the 7th consecutive year.

But I’ll go with Washington, who has some very 2022 TCU vibes with all the upperclassmen who returned instead of leaving for the NFL. The Huskies didn’t have a single player drafted from a team who finished No. 8 in the AP Poll having won its final 7 games after a pair of 1-possession losses on the road.

Unlike TCU, though, Washington has year-to-year continuity with the coaching staff — keeping play-caller Ryan Grubb instead of letting Nick Saban poach him was huge for Kalen DeBoer — and it has an established star quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. The Huskies have 3 starters to replace on the offensive line, but they return a bevy of skill-players, including preseason All-American receiver in Rome Odunze.

The defense has to improve somewhat, and it should in Year 2 of the scheme with 73% of last year’s production back. But you can be mediocre on defense and make the Playoff. Oklahoma showed us that on almost a yearly basis in the 2010s.

The schedule also sets up extremely well. USC and Oregon State are Washington’s lone road games against teams who played in a bowl last year. The Huskies can split those and win the Pac-12 en route to the field and become the conference’s first Playoff team since … 2016 Washington.

3. Clemson

Dabo Swinney made 2 moves that changed my projection of Clemson entering 2023. The first was moving on from DJ Uiagalelei and letting Cade Klubnik spin it. The second, of course, was going outside of the family and poaching Broyles Award winner Garrett Riley from runner-up TCU to run the offense. That was a championship-level move that could very well be the difference in whether Clemson ends its Playoff drought (2 years has to feel like an eternity these days).

While I’m not necessarily sold on Klubnik being the second coming of Trevor Lawrence, I am sold on this Clemson offense soaring into one of the 10 best groups in America. I love Will Shipley’s potential in a less predictable offense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished the year as the clear best back in the nation. Clemson returns 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line, and only 1 player on that side of the ball was selected in the NFL Draft.

Defensively, there’s a ton to replace on the defensive line. Not having Brent Venables as the guy to do that reloading is daunting, but at the same time, we’re talking about a group who ranked in the top 25 in scoring who also ranks in the top 25 in percentage of returning defensive production.

Let’s also not forget that despite the duds against South Carolina and Tennessee to close the season, Clemson still went 8-0 against the ACC last year and it rolled in the ACC Championship. That was in a down year. Yes, the Notre Dame loss was technically a nonconference game, but the Irish come to Death Valley this year. That’s still a place where the Tigers have lost just once in the last 6 seasons (2022 South Carolina).

It’s worth noting that the ACC is now division-less, so even if Clemson loses to Florida State for the first time since Jameis Winston was in Tallahassee, the Tigers can get redemption in the conference title game. That schedule shouldn’t scare you. Any Playoff team should have to go on the road and beat frisky teams like Duke and South Carolina. Even if the defense takes a slight step back, I still like the potential offensive progression fueling Clemson’s first Playoff berth since 2020.

2. Ohio State

True or false: Ohio State had a 50-yard field goal attempt to knock off Georgia and advance to a national championship wherein it would’ve been a significant favorite. True. Of course, unlike Ohio State in the Peach Bowl against the defending champs, that field goal attempt never had a chance.

The Buckeyes have a chance to right the wrong of 2022 and win their first national title since 2014. Why? For starters, Ohio State returns a top-3 player in the sport in Marvin Harrison Jr. A loaded group of pass-catchers should help expected starting quarterback Kyle McCord, who figures to be the next in a long line of dominant Buckeye signal-callers.

Defensively, Ohio State did take a step forward with the Jim Knowles addition. In Year 2 of that defense, which only lost Zach Harrison to the NFL Draft (replacement Jack Sawyer might be even better), Ohio State ranks No. 20 in percentage of returning defensive production. Along with Sawyer, Ohio State is loaded with defensive players who are being projected as first-round picks (Todd McShay had 4 in his way-too-early mock). There’s talent. There’s scheme. There’s motivation.

There’s also a schedule that should set up well. Yes, Ohio State has to go to Notre Dame. That’s still against an Irish program who is 3-23 vs. AP Top 5 teams since 1999.

And yes, a trip to Ann Arbor looms. But we just watched Ohio State make the Playoff despite losing that game handily and missing out on a division title. That shouldn’t be the deal-breaker for the Buckeyes’ Playoff projection. We’ve seen multiple 11-1 Ohio State teams make the field. If anything, that precedent makes the Buckeyes an even safer pick to make the field.

Having said that, I expect a 12-1, Big Ten champ Ohio State team to hear its name called in the No. 2 spot on Selection Sunday.

1. Georgia

If you aren’t picking Georgia to make the Playoff, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you believe this team will lose 2 pre-Playoff games. That’s what it’ll take to not have the 2-time defending champs in the field. Don’t sell me this notion that Georgia needs to be undefeated to earn a Playoff berth. Did I mention that this is the 2-time defending champs? The 1-loss Dawgs would absolutely get the benefit of the doubt whether that includes a conference championship or not.

They won’t be punished for the loss of the Oklahoma game, either (nobody in their right mind would’ve left the one-off road game on the schedule because it makes zero financial sense). The conference who produced the last 4 national champs who had its winner in the title game in 16 of the last 17 years will get the benefit of the doubt, even if the quality wins are lacking. Georgia could be favored to win every pre-SEC Championship game by double digits. Sure, the schedule is weaker than normal, but who else could be considered a double-digit favorite on the road against a team who won 11 games last year? The Dawgs have earned that.

Losing 15 players to the NFL Draft and going 15-0 changes how we break down perceived areas of weakness. Carson Beck should be loaded with weapons to work with even if there are some legitimate questions about Mike Bobo taking over for Todd Monken. While the defensive line has had a ton of turnover in the last 2 years, you’ve still got arguably the best defensive line coach in America in Tray Scott.

It’s possible that some complacency sets in, but it’s hard to expect that when last year’s squad should’ve been a prime candidate for regression. Kirby Smart already showed us he knows how to combat that. Maybe we’ll have instances in which we question how motivated Georgia is, especially with the lack of headliner matchups on the regular season slate.

Still, though. If you’re picking against Georgia to make the Playoff, you’re overthinking it.