With the preseason hype machine in the full force, the following are some predictions for the upcoming college football season.
#1: USC will not live up to the preseason hype and finish outside the Top 10 at season’s end
This has the feel of the 2012 Trojans. That edition of USC had a star quarterback (Matt Barkley) that many pundits pegged as the Heisman favorite and No. 1 pick in the draft. The 2012 Trojans came into the season as the preseason No.1 and although this year’s team is at No. 4, the preseason hype is comparable.
The 2012 team lost to Stanford early in the season and never lived up to the hype as they finished 7-6 and 5-4 in the PAC 12. I see this year’s USC squad having similar difficulties living up to the preseason expectations.
Sam Darnold has been the talk of the offseason, but the redshirt junior will not finish in the top three in the final Heisman standings. College football predictions are fueled by a player or team’s latest data point. In Darnold’s and USC’s case, that was an impressive Rose Bowl victory vs. Penn State.
USC may have the best pro prospect behind center, but they do not have the best college quarterback. The Trojans lost a ton of talented playmakers on the outside and have to rebuild their offensive line, which is why I see USC losing two of their first three games (Stanford and Texas) and falling out of the National Championship conversation early.
#2: Texas Wins the Big XII
Charlie Strong was not a fit at Texas, but he has not left the cupboard bare for incoming coach Tom Herman. Texas is still Texas and Herman will help the Longhorns realize their potential. Early predictions have Oklahoma and Oklahoma State battling out for the Big XII crown, but UT plays Oklahoma at a neutral site as always and hosts the Cowboys.
If his record at Houston is any indication, Tom Herman doesn’t take long to turn around a program. Texas will first grab the nation’s attention with a win over USC in September and will ride that belief and momentum as they get into conference play.
This season, the Big XII is re-implementing their conference championship game and instead of dividing the conference into divisions, they are simply taking the two best teams. The Longhorns will be among the top two and will defeat Oklahoma State in Jerry World to win the Big XII for the first time since 2009.
#3: Georgia’s Margin of Victory vs. Notre Dame Will Be Greater Than There Margin of Victory vs. Appalachian State in Week One
Before Notre Dame fans jump down my throat, this is giving more credence to Appalachian State instead of piling on ND.
The Mountaineers nearly pulled off the upset against Tennessee a season ago, so they will not be intimidated by an SEC home crowd. UGA will be looking ahead to their trip to South Bend the following week and the Bulldogs are notorious for playing down to their competition as witnessed by their escape last season vs. Nicholls State.
The Mountaineers will keep it close deep into the second half before the Bulldogs escape with the victory.
Notre Dame’s matchup with the Bulldogs could be trouble for the Irish. Much of the talk of the preseason camp has been the improvements on the Irish defensive line, but being improved and holding up against an SEC offensive line are two different standards.
The Bulldogs may have the two best running backs the Irish will face all year in Sonny Michel and Nick Chubb and will have a field day against the Notre Dame front.
Jacob Eason is unproven and the game will be relatively close throughout, but I don’t see the Irish having an answer for the Bulldog rushing attack.
#4: Florida Beats Michigan in Week One and Wins the SEC
I feel less confident about this prediction now that Antonio Callaway is indefinitely suspended, but Florida may have finally found themselves a QB.
Jim McElwain has yet to officially name a starter, but all signs point to graduate transfer Malik Zaire getting the nod. An engaged Zaire will provide the Gators with their best quarterback since Tim Tebow.
However, that is more of an indication as to how porous UF’s quarterback play has been over the last decade instead of high praise to Zaire.
Florida has had stout defenses, which has allowed the Gators to win the SEC East the last two years, but their offensive production has been abysmal.
I’m not saying Zaire will be an All-American, but he can make plays with his arm and legs and finally give the Gators a viable playmaker at the quarterback position.
The much-maligned SEC East will come down to UGA and Florida and the Gators defense will too much for Jacob Eason as UF cruises to an SEC East title and eventual SEC Championship title when they solve the Alabama puzzle in Atlanta.
#5: South Florida Goes Undefeated and Quinton Flowers Finishes in the Top Three in Heisman Voting
For as bad of a fit as Texas was for Charlie Strong, returning to his Florida roots is a match made in heaven. Willie Taggert left a lot of talent in Tampa before he bolted to Oregon and Strong inherits one of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football.
Quinton Flowers will supplant Lamar Jackson has the best dual threat quarterback in the nation. I would pick him to win the Heisman, but the Bulls simply don’t have enough big games late in the season for Flowers to have his “Heisman Moment” that often wins over the voters.
The schedule sets up nicely for the Bulls. Most of their tougher games (Illinois, Houston, Cincinnati) come at home and they are by far the most talented team in the AAC. The one stumbling block I could see is in USF’s last game on the road vs. an up-and-coming UCF team.
The Bulls simply do not have the schedule strength to contend for a playoff spot, but they will clinch a New Year’s Six Bowl appearance.
#6: Wisconsin is Iowa of 2015 2.0
Just as Iowa used a weak Big Ten schedule to fraudulently climb the polls in 2015, Wisconsin will use a similar tactic this year. Now, the 2017 Badgers are a much better team than Iowa was in 2015, but National Championship contenders? Absolutely not.
However, the Badgers will use a weak non-conference schedule and a more than favorable in-conference slate to have themselves in the National Championship conversation well into November.
The Badgers boast their usual strong running game and defense and will be favored in every game this year. The only two challenges Wisconsin faces before Michigan comes to Madison in the penultimate game of the season are road games against BYU and Nebraska.
Wisconsin will be the team everyone concedes doesn’t belong in the playoff picture, but cannot leave them out of the conversation when they are undefeated late in the season.
The Badgers will go undefeated before getting run out of the building by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.