College Football Research


Preseason Predictions

by Big Al

One of the problems with being a part-time college football commentator is the simple fact that I have a lot of other duties in this world, so I can't always get to college football. I have a job I need to attend to, a family that needs me, and other organizations that require my time. Not to mention some other projects that also take up my time. So I often can't get to college football! And with the conference upheaval going on right now, it's actually harder to write anything: by the time I've had a chance to think about the new situation, the situation has changed again.

Anyway, the season has snuck up on me again and now I find myself needing to write a preview for week 1... or week 0 or whatever we are calling it. But, when you are having trouble deciding which game is the biggest one of the weekend: Ohio at San Diego State or UTEP at Jacksonville State, well, I don't think we really need to preview this weekend at all.

As always, I'm not going to give a ranking for all the teams. I'm going to analyze who's in the race and why, and why we should look for these teams to make a splash.

The Usual Suspects

  • Georgia
  • Michigan
  • Alabama
  • Ohio State

We expect all these teams to be in the national-title mix. And we can almost guarantee they will be. Almost. At least one of these teams won't make the playoffs. Probably two. And odds aren't all that bad on three of them sitting out in the cold. But I would be willing to bet, as the phrase once went, "dollars to donuts" that at least one of these teams will make the playoffs. But, for each of these teams, a drop out of the top 10 would be a very poor season indeed.

Michigan is the best choice to make it to the playoffs. They are returning of lot of talent and their team is very well-designed for the type of game that they want to play. They get Ohio State at home after two straight wins. They are looking good to get back to the big dance. But we won't know until November, because that's when they play their biggest games of the year. Unless Nebraska does something very surprising, we can pretty much just count on ten wins right now and ignore Michigan until Penn State weekend

Ohio State is the most likely to not make it, because they are replacing a lot of key components, their schedule doesn't set up well at all, their defense has a long way to go to be competent and their coaching staff is still figuring things out. It's a hard situation to be in. Honestly, a #8 finish for them is probably in the cards.

Georgia and Alabama are hard to figure. I'd like to think they are an either-or choice, but that really depends on what LSU does and whether Alabama can make it to the SEC Championship game.

Alabama's schedule doesn't set up well with a lot of games that may or may not be tough, starting with Texas on September 9. The only two real gimmes are Middle Tennessee on September 2 and Chattanooga on November 18. One thing you can guarantee is that at least one team in the SEC West will be suprisingly good this year, and one team expected to be good will be shockingly bad. Alabama won't be the latter, but they will be dodging landmines all year.

Georgia, meanwhile, doesn't have an easy path, but the landmines are much clearer. The closing stretch of Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech is anyone's guess on just how good any one team will be. The biggest risk before that is actually South Carolina, because Spencer Rattler is just such a huge wildcard. Otherwise, Auburn, Kentucky, and Florida are legitimate risks, but far from unknowns. So I would put Georgia in as the second most-likely to make the playoffs.

The Likely Challengers

  • LSU
  • Penn State
  • USC
  • Clemson

Everyone sees LSU coming this year, which will hurt them. But they have a coach who turned them around quickly in year one, so he clearly knows what he's doing. LSU has a decent chance to continue their push past Alabama, but I'm not going to count on it either. Alabama is still Alabama and they don't take kindly to last year's losses.

Penn State may have their quarterback lined up. They get Ohio State at home, but have to travel to Michigan. Their schedule sets up very well, so they have clear sailing except for those two games. Get past West Virginia in week one and they appear to have smooth sailing until October 21.

USC is returning their Heisman-winning quarterback and might have made it to the playoffs last year if he hadn't gotten injured in the Pac-12 championship game. But he is something of the now old-style running/throwing quarterback that isn't quite as popular as it used to be. Pocket passers have been coming back into vogue, largely because quarterbacks defenses have figured out what to do with them. Plus, running quarterbacks get tired the more they run and get hurt the more they get hit. Caleb Williams is a great talent, but I'm not sure all the pieces are in place around him. But, in a fairly unremarkable Pac-12, that may be more than enough to get to the playoffs.

Everyone is forgetting about Clemson. You know, the team that won two national titles last decade and made the playoffs for six straight years and made the finals four times? They're still well-coached and pretty good. It's a little tougher for them now, but they are still a team to reckon with.

I'm Not Sold Yet

These are teams that some people are expecting to challenge for the championship, but I'm not seeing it. I might be wrong and I probably will be with at least one of these teams, but I can't even guess which one. And at least two of them will probably be in the mix all the way through October. But I expect that November will clear out the rest of them.

  • Florida State
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington

Florida State is clearly on the upswing. I've got faith in them to at least get back into the national title mix. But... I didn't see a team last year that was ready for that. They don't look complete. I want to see at least another year of recruiting to have a top-to-bottom contender that you need to win in November.

Tennessee is in a similar situation. Hendon Hooker was a phenomenal talent and, when he went down with an injury, they didn't quite know what to do. Admittedly, Joe Milton got them a win against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, so they are still pretty good. But I'm not quite sold yet.

Texas keeps threatening to make a title run, but the Longhorns have a way of letting their fans down. Their best win last year was a close loss to Alabama. Quinn Ewers does look pretty good, but I want to see more from him and the rest of the offense before I'm on board.

Washington... it's USC's conference again. Good luck with that.

The Wildcards

There are some teams that can make some noise. Probably won't, but we'd be crazy to ignore them.

  • Notre Dame
  • Utah
  • TCU
  • Oklahoma
  • UCLA

Feels weird putting Notre Dame on this list. Especially when they were out of the title hunt after week 2 of last year. It was a rough freshman year for Marcus Freeman's coaching career. But they got better. And now they have an experienced, very talented quarterback in Sam Hartman that could make the difference for them, and a schedule that sets up fairly well with some good games against good teams. Honestly, they should probably be in the Likely Challengers section. But last year's results should put them in the Spoilers list. So this really is the best spot for them.

Utah may not be USC, but they are tough, disciplined, and scrappy as all heck. They don't have top-level talent, but they make a lot out of what they have. And they are the sort of team nobody wants to play when they have it all working.

TCU made the playoffs last year. Oh, and the beat Michigan and made it to the championship game. Remember that? I'm not counting them out.

OKlahoma has had a weird last couple of years. If they can straighten themselves out, they are a team to keep an eye on. They are still talented and they are still Oklahoma.

When Chip Kelly is your coach, you have a chance. If UCLA can keep it together, they are a fun team to watch. So I'm not going to ignore them.

The Spoilers

No, these teams are not in the title hunt. And no, they won't make the playoffs. But they may just make a run at it all the same. And they may very well wreck someone else's title run while they're at it.

  • Wisconsin
  • Florida
  • South Carolina
  • Texas A&M
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Kansas State
  • Nebraska

Wisconsin was a good team that just added a coach who did very well at Cincinnati. He may still have a lot to prove, but I wouldn't sleep on Wisconsin. I'm not ready to call them contenders, but I am interested to see what the Badgers can do.

Florida has not been good. But they are still Florida, which means they have players that are talented. Coached well, they are scary. Don't forget about them.

Spencer Rattler is still at South Carolina. When he has it working, he is scary good. He is not the sort of guy you want to ignore when he is on your schedule.

Texas A&M learned the hard way that there is more to getting wins than high recruiting rankings. Jimbo Fischer, admittedly, is not the best recruiter on earth, because he doesn't seem to pull in real talent (which was obvious when he left Florida State). But he is a good coach (you don't win national titles if you're not). I don't know how this will turn out right now or in the long run, but I'm not sleeping on the Aggies.

Since Mach Brown came back to North Carolina, they have been on the cusp. But they can't quite get over that hump. I suppose part of the problem is the simple fact that they aren't a real football school, so their depth chart will always be thin. But I expect they will be worth watching.

Oregon just keeps being Oregon. They are scary when it's working for them. If it works for them at the right times, they can really wreck someone else's season.

Kansas State's best result is as a spoiler, but not much else. They simply don't finish the year in the national title mix. They get very, very close, then they just fall short, even in the best situations. Wish I could say otherwise, but they are a team that is often scary, but not an actual threat for crystal footballs.

Nebraska is a strange case, and I have no idea what to do with them. They spent the last two years getting so abysmally close to big wins that everyone was waiting for them to break out. They were very, very close against the best teams on their schedule. But they always found ways to lose. In the clutch, they choked. If Matt Rhule can sort that out, they are going to be scary good. But, for now, I don't think he has the right players for the type of game he wants to play.

In Conclusion

Everybody's got an opinion right now. And, as of, well, last weekend, they don't mean diddly. The season has its own priorities, and it's going to be exciting to see what this year brings.


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