College football is finally back! The Alabama/Clemson saga seems to be poised to continue for what seems like the 10th year in a row. Clemson has been ranked #1 in the preseason AP poll for the first time in program history, unseeding an Alabama team that had been ranked #1 to start the year each of the last 4 seasons. There are some interesting teams looking to shake up the playoffs this year, but it is very hard to go against the two juggernauts.
A bit of a personal update:
Since the end of last year, a couple of pretty exciting things have happened in my life. The biggest being I got engaged and am now working on planning my wedding. The other big news is that I will be moving to Murfreesboro, TN with my fiancé so he can go to school at MTSU. Due to the impending move and some cool travel we are doing, I won’t be at as many games this season. While in Hawaii I will have the chance to see Central Arkansas play the Rainbow Warriors in Aloha Stadium and I will get in a Razorback road game in Lexington.
Like last year, we have a couple “Week 0” games this weekend. Miami and 8Florida will square off as will Arizona and Hawaii. Why not just start the whole season early? Why are just 4 teams playing? Why does the SEC only play 8 conference games? Will these questions ever be answered? Maybe not, but there is a question I can answer: Am I still laughing about Ohio State fans think they deserved a shot at the playoffs despite losing to Purdue by 29? You bet I am. (Also remember that time they lost to Iowa by 31 a couple years ago and then threw a fit about that too? Good times.)
SEC: Alabama over Georgia
This seems familiar, but I just don’t see anyone else making it out. Even though Alabama was routed by Clemson in the National Championship Game, they are still Bama and they are still coached by Nick Saban. The Tide do have to go on the road to face Auburn, but besides that their schedule is favorable (mainly because they are the only SEC West team that doesn’t have to play Alabama). Tua comes back to lead the team for his third season along with star WR Jerry Jeudy. On the other side, Georgia will return QB Jake Fromm and RB D’Andre Swift. The Dawgs draw A&M for their rotating West opponent this season and will play at Jordan Hare. These two teams have done nothing to show me they won’t be playing in Atlanta in early December.
Big 10: Michigan over Nebraska
Michigan has to finally get over the Ohio State hump this year, right? I mean, Harbaugh has yet to take down his biggest rival making even good seasons a little bittersweet. The Wolverines get Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame at home this season. I think if it is ever going to be their year, this is it. Ohio State will be moving on from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day. Day was at the helm during Meyer’s suspension last season, but being an interim and being the man in charge are very different. I think there will be a bit of a drop off, at least enough to give Michigan a win. The Big 10 West is much harder to pick. Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin are all competitors. Nebraska was two different teams last year and Scott Frost is a heck of a coach. Iowa is just a little more stable in my eyes and their veteran QB makes them a more comfortable choice to win the division, but the schedule favors the Huskers.
ACC: Clemson over Virginia
I wish I could show off more analysis here, but Clemson has been one of the two best teams over the last 4 years and I don’t expect that to change this season. The defending champs dominated Alabama to hoist the trophy and return much of their offense. The star of the of the team is QB Trevor Lawrence and his luscious hair. I don’t expect the Tigers to be challenged too much during the regular season. The Coastal division is more of a toss-up. I am picking Virginia on a gut instinct. Miami struggled last season and they have a new coach. Virginia Tech just isn’t giving me a strong feeling despite knowing that they are going to have a good defense. The Cavaliers have been on the rise the last couple years and I think this is their year.
Big 12: Oklahoma over Texas
A transfer QB at Oklahoma? Where have I heard that before? How about the last two Heisman winners? Jalen Hurts will follow in the footsteps of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as he takes over for the Sooners. Hurts already has one National Championship to his name and is no doubt looking for another. The one dark spot for the Sooners is the loss of CB Tre Norwood to knee injury. OU is definitely the front runner in this conference. Texas might be back. In my opinion they have more of a chance to be back this year and the other years they were back. They are a good team and even have the chance to be a title contender, especially since they don’t have to start the season off playing Maryland. They will need to show up for every game, something they have struggled with over the last couple years. Iowa State is also a contender to look out for, even more so when they get to their 3rd string QB (at least that’s how it was last year).
Pac 12: Utah over Washington
The Pac 12 is an interesting conference to try to predict. They have not been good over the last few seasons. Utah should be the strongest and most reliable team. USC might be able to challenge them a bit, but they are entering the season unranked in the Preseason AP Poll for the first time since 2001. Oregon, Stanford and Washington are the top contenders in the North. Oregon might end up with one of the best passing offenses in the country with senior QB Justin Herbert and a great OLine, but Washington and Chris Peterson have been steadily good over the last 5 or so years. The Ducks have to travel to Stanford, Washington and USC this year making me think that while they could be the best team in the division, they will struggle to make it through those games unbeaten. Stanford may have the nicest schedule, but I don’t think they will be able to score enough points to win the North.
American: Cincinnati over Houston
It looks like there might be a bit of a changing of the guard in the AAC this season. UCF will be without injured QB Mackenzie Milton, but they will have Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush to fill the spot. This will be UCF’s second season without Scott Frost and I think there will be a slight dip in production. Cincinnati is coming off a great season last year and retains a lot of production. They also host UCF in what could be the division deciding game. Houston and Memphis once again look to be the big dogs in the West (that’s funny because both of their mascots are cats). Houston brings in HC Dana Holgerson from West Virginia after a late season slump led to the firing of Major Applewhite. Memphis is hard for me to pick because they are such an offense heavy team. I just don’t trust a team that can’t play consistent defense.
Mountain West: Boise State over San Diego State
Boise State has been one of the best group of 5 teams in recent memory. Their ability to find QBs that can be strong starters for 4 years is unmatched. They have said goodbye to Brett Rypien and hope their new first-year QB will be as good. The Broncos also dodge both Fresno State and San Diego State in the regular season. Air Force has a chance to upset the balance this year. They return a ton of players and they were within a touchdown of winning 4 more games last season. Don’t be surprised to see the Falcons win some games this year. Over in the West we have Fresno State and SDSU vying for the top spot. The Aztecs ended their season on a very sour note and will be looking to get back to what is expected. Fresno State is coming off back to back double-digit win seasons but they don’t return the same number of starters this year. SDSU will get to host the game that could decide the division and that is why I am giving them the edge.
C-USA: Southern Miss over FAU
Ever since the Lane Train pulled into Boca Raton, the Owls have been flying high. Though last season wasn’t great, the hype is still there. They do lose their top offensive producer in RB Devin Singletary, but will add transfer QB Deondre Francois. They also have a favorable conference schedule this season to help them out. The West is a bit more up in the air. There are 4 teams that are considered to be tight contenders: Southern Miss, UAB, North Texas and Louisiana Tech. Southern Miss might have the easiest route to the division title thanks to being one of the most experienced teams in the country as well as getting to host both UAB and North Texas. I think all of that experience will be the difference maker.
MAC: Ohio over Toledo
As much as I love me some #MACtion, I am not totally confident in my picks. This conference features some good teams that tend to compete well with each other. Toledo is the front runner in the West. Western Michigan has a good team, but they have to face a brutal schedule that doesn’t offer much of a chance to the Broncos. Northern Illinois is always a threat in this division, but they will have a new head coach. In the East, Ohio rises to the top due to their QB Nathan Rourke who helped break records for points per game last season. They are also poised to have a stronger defense this year. That combination should give them the edge in the division and the conference.
Sun Belt: Appalachian State over Arkansas State
The battle in the East will be Appalachian State and Troy. The two are both good enough to win the division and there is a decent chance that the winner when the two meet up in the final week of the season will head to the conference championship game. While that game will be played at Troy, I think that Appalachian State has a better QB. In the West Arkansas State has the smoothest path to the championship game. The Red Wolves did just lose their head coach Blake Anderson to a leave of absence after his wife lost her battle with cancer. That is a devastating blow that could really impact the team. Louisiana is definitely capable of winning the division, but they have a tough road to get there.
Here are my playoff predictions, as well as the 8 other teams I think will end up in NY6 Bowls.
Semifinal (Peach): 1Alabama over 4Michigan
Semifinal (Fiesta): 2Clemson over 3Oklahoma
National Championship (Superdome, NOLA): Alabama over Clemson
Rest of the New Year’s Six Bowls:
Cotton Bowl: Texas vs Notre Dame
Orange Bowl: Georgia vs Virginia
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs Utah
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs Cincinnati
Top 5 Heisman Candidates (in alphabetical order):
QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama