With the fall camp underway across the nation, we make several bold college football predictions for the upcoming 2016 season.
It wouldn’t be the eve of a new season without some college football predictions.
After spending the last seven months of the offseason digesting all nuggets of information, from coaching changes and transfers to injury updates and suspensions, the time has come to dispense opinions on the programs and the players that will dominate college football over the next three months. Everyone knows Christian McCaffrey will be dynamite and Jim Harbaugh will do something outrageous. But what lurks ahead in the 2016 campaign that few are talking about today?
Without making gratuitous attempts to shock for shock sake, here are this year’s bold college football predictions for the upcoming season.
16. San Diego State, Not Houston, Represents Group Of Five In A New Year’s Six Bowl Game
The Cougars have a great thing going under Tom Herman. And quarterback Greg Ward Jr. will be the catalyst for routine explosions. But winning big is a whole lot tougher when absolutely everyone expects you to do so. Plus, what happens if Houston fails to fell Oklahoma in the opener? There won’t be another chance to make a statement until Louisville visits on Nov. 17.
15. Texas A&M Will Crack The Top 10 After Beating Tennessee
The Aggies are an intriguing squad, with many of the ingredients needed to be sleeper out of the SEC West this season. A&M has stabilized after a rough end to last season and turbulent offseason. There’s a fair amount of talent in College Station, particularly at wide receiver and along the defensive line. Bringing Trevor Knight over from Oklahoma will also inject some much-needed maturity and senior leadership into the huddle.
14. Brady Hoke Will Be This Year’s Gene Chizik
Chizik began restoring his reputation last season as a defensive leader in Chapel Hill. This year, it’s Hoke’s turn to prove that a rocky stint as a head coach doesn’t mean he has lost the ability to mentor kids.
13. Mark Richt Will Pay Huge Dividends At Miami … Eventually
Haven’t we learned anything about the Hurricanes over the past decade? From a talent perspective, this program still has a long way to go in order to match the ACC power brokers. And assuming Richt, who was below .500 versus quality opponents in his final six years at Georgia, can just flip the switch in Miami is patently naïve. This process is going to take a little time. Plus, where is this year’s edition of the Canes a cut above the competition, besides at quarterback and possibly running back?
12. Jim Mora-Bo Pelini Comparisons Become A Thing
11. Clemson’s Defensive Rebuild Catapults Brent Venables To His Alma Mater
Only three starters return from last year’s defense, but it’ll hardly be detectable this fall. There’ll be an emergence of new stars, like defensive end Austin Bryant, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, linebacker Kendall Joseph and safety Jadar Johnson, to prevent the unit from unraveling.
10. USC Rises To The Top Of The Pac-12
As usual, the Pac-12 is wide-open, and the Trojans are poised to capture it now that there’s more sideline stability with Clay Helton and uncertainty up in the North Division. Troy will endure some September lumps, with three games outside the Coliseum. However, it’ll rally in the second-half of the year to take the South and the title behind the improved passing of Max Browne. For the second straight year, the Pac-12 will be left out of the playoff picture, with the opening day loss to the Crimson Tide looming large when resumes are being evaluated.
9. Texas Goes On A Tear
The future is bright for the Horns, thanks to a swath of emerging underclassmen, inculding Shane Buechele, who could get the ball as early as the opener with Notre Dame. Texas will start slowly—again—but use Oklahoma as a crimson and cream fork in the road—again. And from Dallas forward this emerging squad will be virtually unbeatable over the final two months, earning Strong at least another year to coach up his young kids.
8. Michigan Loses To Ohio State, Still Earns A New Year’s Six Invite
The Wolverines are surging like a locomotive under Jim Harbaugh, a trend showing no signs of stopping. Still, the backfield is average compared to the rest of the Big Ten, and the second-half schedule is nasty. Michigan opens with five games in Ann Arbor, and should be 7-0 by the end of October. But the final five weekends include telltale trips to East Lansing, Iowa City and Columbus. And Michigan State and Ohio State have had a whammy on the Wolverines in recent years. The Wolverines will avenge last year’s crushing loss to the Spartans, lose a fifth straight to the Buckeyes and finish the season in Pasadena.
7. Florida State Loses To Louisville, Still Earns A College Football Playoff Berth
The Seminoles will win the ACC behind a historic season from Dalvin Cook, but they’ll lose all margin for error in a wakeup call loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 17. Louisville is extremely athletic and dangerous on both sides of the ball, and sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson is prepped to do his best RG3 circa 2010 impression.
6. Oklahoma Does Not Win The Conference
The Sooners are heavily favored to win the Big 12, particularly in light of Baylor’s offseason issues. That’s cause for grave concern in Norman. Historically, Bob Stoops’ teams tend to overachieve when expectations are modest (see: 2000, 2013 and last year) and underachieve when wearing a fat target (see: just about every other year). While Oklahoma has more talent than anyone in the league, there’s something about a preseason top 10 ranking that’s vexed this program. It’ll open 2-2, spend the holidays in San Antonio at the Alamo Bowl and, in January, look back on a season of lost opportunities.
5. TCU Claims The Big 12, But Misses The College Football Playoff
The Horned Frogs were hammered by injuries a year ago, yet still lost just twice, including a one-point heartbreaker at eventual Big 12 champ Oklahoma. Now, the offense is getting a complete facelift, with a new quarterback needing to step up in place of Trevone Boykin.
4. Ohio State Enters College Football Playoff As Nation’s Hottest Team
Plenty of people are overlooking the Buckeyes because they’ve experienced so much roster turnover. And while there are challenges to be sure, it’d be a mistake to underestimate Urban Meyer’s ability to maximize the ability of young athletes getting their first chance at starring roles. In fact, Meyer loves the makeup of this squad, which is far hungrier and eager to please than the star-studded 2015 edition that suffered from a national championship hangover. With a Week 3 upset in Norman, Ohio State and quarterback J.T. Barrett will serve national notice that they’re ready to contend for a national title and a Heisman, respectively.
3. SEC Sends Two Teams To College Football Playoff
True, it’s a narrow needle that must be threaded, particularly since the College Football Playoff committee places added value on winning a league championship. But it’s feasible, provided the SEC West produces a pair of one-loss teams. And it’ll not only drive the rest of the country into a state of hysteria but also ignite talk of the need for an eight-team playoff in the future.
2. Fournette Wins Heisman, Leads LSU To SEC Crown
Fournette winning the Heisman will hardly qualify as a surprise. Carrying his Tigers to an SEC championship, though, will be a bit of an upset. But LSU is poised for the challenge ahead after darn near costing Les Miles his job last November.
1. Bama Won’t Win Its Division, Will Cop a Playoff Berth
By the two key measures, player personnel and coaching prowess, the Tide is one of the four best programs entering the 2016 college football season. And even after falling to LSU on Nov. 5 in a game that’ll decide the SEC West, the playoff committee will rightfully agree that Bama is still one of the game’s four premier teams.
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