Okay, so these predictions aren’t all INSANE, but I wanted a nice clickbait headline since social media taught me everyone loves clickbait.
Please remember – I will revisit this after the season. In 2013, I did pretty good. In 2014, I did not, even though I correctly picked the national champion.
1) TCU & Ohio State will go undefeated
It has been very surprising to read the ongoing narrative that college football is wide-open this year. This is solely due to the new playoff, which opens up more slots for teams to play for a title. Because if this were a BCS year, there would be no “wide-open” narrative, merely the feeling of inevitability.
To me, 2015 feels an awful lot like 2005. If you recall, USC came into 2005 as the defending champion, with a ridiculous amount of returning offensive stars, and obliterated everyone. That’s 2015 Ohio State. And if you recall, Texas came into 2004 off of a 1-loss season, a tremendous bowl performance and bringing back its Heisman-worthy quarterback. That’s 2015 TCU.
I don’t see either team losing. In fact, I don’t see either team coming close to losing. They both start on the road against Power Five non-conference opponents. They will both win by 21+ points. They will be #1 and #2, in some order, for the entire season. Yet neither team will win the national championship.
2) Cincinnati will go 12-0....but lose the AAC title game
If Gunner Kiel can stay healthy, Cincinnati will be the best Group of Five team. They were a really good team last year that didn’t quite get the respect it deserved due to tough road losses to Ohio State and Miami. Most damning, they were ambushed by a vastly improved Memphis team in between those two games – ugly three game losing streaks tend to make people forget about you.
Here’s to guessing that won’t happen again. Cincinnati should be 3-0 heading into a big Thursday night rematch at Memphis, which I believe the Bearcats will be primed and ready for. They return home for another rematch game against Miami – another Thursday night game – that will provide yet another national TV showcase. Miami is still not that good. The tricky game is the road game at BYU, but it comes after a bye week and the jury is out on BYU being any good this year. The last six games are all winnable.
So that puts Cincinnati at 12-0, with a high ranking, maybe even on the fringe of the playoff discussion, when they host the AAC Title Game in December. The problem? They’re going to play Memphis again. And it’s really, really hard to beat the same team twice. They won’t.
3) Notre Dame will lose to Navy
4) Notre Dame will make the playoff
The first year of the college football playoff revealed an interesting quirk – it’s better to lose to an average team than a great team. When we examine resumes of contenders in December, it’s clear that quality of wins is going to be the determining factor. It certainly was last year when Ohio State crept past the two Big 12 teams. In my opinion, TCU was the better team but losing to Baylor robbed them of the key quality win they needed. If TCU had lost to, say, Kansas State but had beat Baylor, they would have had a stronger resume. We’ll see if this trend continues, but the playoff committee has clearly shown a preference in Year 1 toward big wins.
Which brings us to Notre Dame and their perfect playoff-era schedule. They play 4 teams that would qualify, in the preseason, as a quality win – Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford. They also play a slew of teams, such as Texas and Pitt, that should be decent enough to help their overall strength of schedule. That includes Navy, a team that always gives Notre Dame fits. This year, Notre Dame plays Navy the week after a trip to Clemson and before a visit from rival USC. Might as well just put TRAP GAME in bold letters.
Notre Dame is good enough to go undefeated. They won’t. They are good enough to go 11-1. By losing to the right team – and by ending the season with a win over 11-0 Stanford – Notre Dame will find itself in the Top 4.
5) Stanford will win the Pac-12
Stanford went 8-5 last year. They should’ve gone 11-2. They lost to Notre Dame on the road on a blown assignment during a 4th down play. They were driving to beat USC before a late turnover. And they lost to Utah in double OT. Stanford was way too good last year to lose those games – they were not good enough to beat Oregon or Arizona State. But those losses served to ruin expectations for Stanford in 2015. It doesn’t quite make sense.
I was in Vegas in late July and I jumped all over Stanford at 25-1 to win the National Title. One down year has made way too many people forget about Stanford. QB Kevin Hogan is still there, and he’s still the same QB that was bandied about a first-round draft pick prior to last year.
Most important, though, is the schedule. With the exception of USC, they play all the other top Pac-12 teams (and Notre Dame) at home. They play 5 road games and USC is the only one who even went to a bowl – a remarkable bit of luck in an insanely stacked conference.
I know Mississippi State is losing a lot of talent from last year’s team, but the thorough lack of respect for the Bulldogs is astounding. This team was #1 for nearly half of 2014 and was in the playoff hunt until Thanksgiving weekend. The season ended with a thud, but they are not the first, or last, team to get vexed by a triple option team. Simply put, the Orange Bowl made the Bulldogs look much, much worse than they were.
Oh, and I may be burying the lede here, but Mississippi State returns the best QB in the SEC. Dak Prescott was an absolute monster in 2014 and he was my Heisman choice for most of the year. He is back. Josh Robinson is back. Dan Mullen has been recruiting like crazy. Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss are all looking to break in new starting QBs. Arkansas needs to make another huge leap to get into title contention. And Texas A&M sucks.
The season will be defined in September, when the Bulldogs host LSU and go on the road to Auburn. An easy October means the Bulldogs could – again – be undefeated and in the thick of the playoff hunt come November.
7) UConn will make a bowl game
What’s the fun of August without irrational optimism? Bob Diaco said UConn was going undefeated, so maybe a 6-6 prediction isn’t that insane.
8) Baylor will lose at least 3 games
I’m selling on Baylor this year for two reasons. First, I don’t think Bryce Petty got nearly enough credit. There’s a notion that Baylor develops “system” QBs and that you can plug in anybody there to get similar results. I do not buy that at all. Baylor won 2 conference titles in my lifetime and Petty was at the helm both times. That means something.
Secondly, Baylor’s game does not travel. They are unbeatable at home and very, very beatable on the road. They also have a dreadful schedule, with 7 easy games leading up to a bye on Halloween, which is followed by a ridiculous finish where they play the Big 12’s five best teams in five weeks, including road trips to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU. Yikes! Given Baylor’s high expectations, I could see one loss becoming two, becoming three as the wheels come off.
9) Texas A&M will lose at least 5 games
Unless Johnny Football is walking through that door, Texas A&M is going to be what they have been for 20 years – a five-loss football team. It is insane to me that people are picking them to actually win the SEC West, when it’s far more likely they finish last. People are pointing to hosting Alabama and Auburn as a reason for them to surprise people….but they are 3-7 at home in SEC conference play. Kyle Field has been a cakewalk for visitors.
Maybe it’s Kevin Sumlin’s appeal, or the renovated stadium, or a ridiculous notion that the state of Texas is now somehow Aggieland, but Texas A&M is not a Top 10 program. The SEC West is loaded and they’ll start the year with a loss against Arizona State.
10) Frank Beamer will announce his retirement in October
It’s not quite a Bobby Bowden situation, but Virginia Tech has lost 17 games in the past three years. For a program, and a coach, that pumped out 10-win seasons like clockwork for 15 years, that’s rough. Unfortunately, I don’t see things dramatically turning around for Beamer and the Hokies.
A Labor Day night beatdown will get the vultures circling. I expect them to right the ship enough by October that Beamer will get to announce his retirement at the end of the season, which will give Va. Tech to give him the proper sendoff he deserves and allow the succession plan to get going before recruiting.
In horse racing terms, the 2014 Michigan season was a total toss-out – just draw a line through it. The entire program was in such disarray that once the wheels started coming off, the season was lost. The results after the Minnesota/Shane Morris fiasco did not matter. The season was over.
That is a long-winded way of saying Michigan is not your typical 5-7 Big Ten team. They are more talented than that. They needed a new coach. They didn’t just get any new coach, they got arguably one of the Top 5 coaches in all of football. How will they not get better?
Secondly, the schedule is ideally set up for a huge gain in wins, even if the season starts with a loss to Utah. They play three straight home games after the opener, which means they should be playing BYU to enter Big Ten play at 3-1. They get their two toughest conference opponents – Michigan State & Ohio State – at home. The road trips to Penn State, Minnesota and Maryland aren’t easy but Michigan should realistically expect to win each of those games.
Lastly, has Michigan football ever entered a season with so little expectations? I mean, no one nationally is talking about them. They will get a fair amount of hype for the opener, but an expected loss to Utah will remove that hype. That might be the key to Michigan returning to a New Year’s Day bowl. Hello, Outback Bowl.
Bobby Petrino is a pretty horrible being, as the inclusion of Devonte Fields on his roster reveals. But Bobby Petrino is also a pretty damn good football coach, as the Cardinals win over Auburn will prove in week 1. Louisville is a much better team than people give them credit for and Auburn is a tad overrated. I could see Auburn becoming a Top 10 team by November – I don’t see them getting their act together by week 1.
Let’s not discount the motivation factor. For Auburn, this is a season-opening game, no more, no less. For Louisville, this is a season-defining game, particularly after the drubbing fellow SEC team Georgia dealt them in their bowl game.
13) No SEC team will make the playoff
Okay, this is my boldest prediction by far and the one that I feel most confident about. Why? The SEC is in a down cycle. No, it’s not terrible. Yes, it will have at least 2 teams playing in New Year’s Six bowls. The problem is the league lacks the elite teams that deserve to play for a title.
Here’s the deal – the SEC has about 10 teams that could win the SEC. That means a lot of parity. That means a lot of fun football. That means a lot of losses for a lot of teams. I highly doubt we’ll see a return of last September, when the SEC West beat everyone. Auburn will lose to Louisville. Texas A&M will lose to Arizona State. Tennessee will lose to Oklahoma. Those non-conference losses, compared with the grind of the SEC, will lead to a two-loss champion in a year where Notre Dame, as an independent, will usurp their playoff spot.
This is the not-so bold prediction: all hell will break loose on ESPN when 11-2 Georgia gets ranked #5 in the final poll.
14) No ACC team will be in the Top 10 after the regular season
The ACC has been a mediocre conference in the 21st century. The only change came in the past few years as Jimbo Fisher returned Florida State to their prior glory. They are in for a tough rebuilding year – they were lucky as hell to go 13-0 last year – and will probably be 2- or 3-loss outfit. They may be Top 15 or 20, they won’t be Top 10. Neither will Clemson. Neither will Georgia Tech. Without Florida State at an elite level, the ACC will return to sending a multiple-loss team to a major bowl game. It will be forgiven this year, though, because….
15) Duke win the ACC.
Why not? I don’t have this based on any football reason. It feels like a down year for the ACC and Duke has been improving. It would be fun. And who wouldn’t love a Memphis/Duke Peach Bowl??
16) The Orange Bowl will do insane ratings on New Year's Eve; the Cotton Bowl will not.
I have #1 Ohio State vs. #4 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Everyone will change their New Year’s Eve plans to watch.
I have #2 TCU vs. #3 Stanford in the Cotton Bowl. No one will change their New Year’s Eve plans to watch a game that will kick off at 4:30 p.m., aka when half the country is still at work.
Will it lead to playing the semifinals on New Year’s Day every year, like God intended? We can only hope.
17) Memphis will play in the Peach Bowl & Justin Fuente will get an SEC job
Well if I have Cincinnati at 12-0 and losing the AAC title game to Memphis, it makes sense Memphis will be the Group of Five representative. I see the Tigers going 11-2, with losses during the regular season to Cincy and Ole Miss. The revenge win on the road at Nippert Stadium will make them AAC champs and easily the best Group of Five team.
The problem is that Justin Fuente will almost certainly get too big to stay at Memphis and his reward for one of college football’s most remarkable turnarounds will be an SEC gig. Unfortunately, that SEC gig will be Vanderbilt but it’ll be a big step up.
18) Mike London will be the first coach fired
I’m not sure if this is a bold prediction, or an acknowledgment that Virginia has the worst September schedule of any team in the country. Who thought it was a good idea to start at UCLA, then host Notre Dame? And then end September with a visit from Boise State? A 1-3 start is nearly assured.
By the time UVa plays road games back-to-back against Miami and Louisville, London will be coaching for his job and a bowl game. They would have to go 5-3 in the ACC to make a bowl and I’m not seeing it. When UVa gets loss #7, London will be let go. My best guess is after the Miami game on Nov. 7.
19) Trevone Boykin will win the Heisman Trophy
If I have two teams undefeated for the whole season, passing #1 back and forth, then it’s fairly obvious where the Heisman Trophy is going. The problem for Ohio State is an embarrassment of riches will split the vote – even more so now that Braxton Miller is playing H-back (shudder).
That leaves Boykin, whose play in 2014 was the biggest revelation in the sport. TCU has always been a good team offensively, but the way Boykin fit the up-tempo spread game that TCU introduced last year was beyond stunning. With another year in the system, it could be even more potent. Unlike with Ohio State, only 1 player will be getting the headlines.
20) Stanford will win the National Championship
I put my money where my mouth is. While in Las Vegas last month, I got Stanford at 25-1. Here’s how the Cardinal season plays out: they will start 11-0, lose to Notre Dame, win the Pac-12 title game, beat TCU in the Cotton Bowl, stun Ohio State in the title game, and I will cash in a big winning ticket. Now that’s insane.Follow me on Twitter