The 2014 college football season introduces the coveted college football playoff format. It’s sure to be an exciting season, with perhaps the most satisfying finish ever. Here are my top ten Bold Predictions:
Texas A&M and Texas are the most interesting teams
By interesting, I don’t mean best, I mean popular teams with storylines in which the ending is utterly unpredictable. These teams could be very good or very mediocre.
First off, we have the Aggies. The loss of Johnny Football would be detrimental to any team, and especially to one that allowed almost 400 yards of offense per game in a conference known for its defense.
It should be interesting to see if sophomore Kenny Hill, named starting QB over the weekend, can step up and fill the gaping hole in this offense. Mike Sumlin always seems to have the answer when it comes to the offensive side of the football.
Secondly, there are the Longhorns.
Charlie Strong has stepped in along with a tremendous staff to follow the mostly successful 16-year tenure of Mack Brown. Strong’s task is simple, to get his program back on track from a four-year decline. He gets a one-year honeymoon, but muttering will break out if Texas isn’t soon competing again for championships.
The Longhorns should have a respectable defense, after an embarrassing season in which they ranked in the bottom half of the NCAA in total defense (yes, even worse than the Aggies).
The real question, much like A&M, is on offense. Senior quarterback David Ash can throw and run but has been often injured and is faulted for lack of leadership. The truth is that no one knows how much Strong and his staff have been able to do in such a short period of time. Texas could win anywhere between seven and ten games.
Marcus Mariota will win the Heisman Trophy
The junior QB is primed to keep the Oregon Ducks in the title chase throughout the season. After last November’s meltdown, caused by a not-quite-debilitating knee injury, Mariota is ready to prove he can go the distance. He can do it all, with his legs and arm.
Why not Jaimes Winston? I don’t like the guy’s record off the field. The fact that he has one. Something smelled fishy about last season’s rape allegations. And then petty theft? I feel a late-season slide is coming.
Winston’s head may be getting a tad too big, whereas Mariota has had all offseason to think about those losses to Stanford and Arizona.
Oregon should be one of the most explosive teams in the country once again, and may very well be in the playoffs come January.
Most decisive regular-season game: Buckeyes at Michigan State
Braxton Miller, reigning Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year, is lost for the season with a training-camp shoulder injury, but Ohio State remains the favorite in the ever declining Big 10. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett (6-1, 220 pounds) is not the running threat Miller was, but he’s strong and throws well.
The pressure to win a title under Urban Meyer is mounting in Columbus, and the Miller injury will not be an excuse for failure. The major hurdle is not the sagging traditional rival Michigan but surging Michigan State, Nov. 8 in Lansing.
The Spartans present an overwhelming threat. After stunning OSU in the Big 10 title game last season, they went on to win the Rose Bowl over a tough Stanford squad.
QB Connor Cook will be back to lead the Spartans into 2014 with national title aspirations in mind.
I see this as the make or break game for the Big 10. Whoever wins this one is coming out on top in the conference, and may go on to represent it in the inaugural playoff.
The AXE Award (this year’s big-name firing): Congrats, Bo Pelini
Bo has had more than enough time to whip into shape the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who will start this season ranked in the top 25, but won’t stay there for long.
A tough schedule features away games at Wisconsin and Michigan State. I don’t see how Pelini gets out of this season with much support. Time is up, and he has absolutely nothing to show for his efforts.
The Most Disappointing Team: Auburn Tigers
The defending SEC champion will be a flop this year. Tre Mason has left the building and it’s asking too much for returning QB Nick Marshall to make up the difference.
And I’m more worried about Auburn’s schedule at this point. The Tigers have road games against Kansas State (Bill Snyder is already practicing plays specifically for the Auburn game), Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama.
I see at least four of those five as losses. MSU and Ole Miss are rising, and Georgia and Alabama will be extremely tough in their homes – or anywhere for that matter. Not to mention Auburn has home games against South Carolina and LSU.
There is a lot of expectation that well-stocked Auburn will make another run for the SEC and could even repeat as its champion. But I don’t see it happening with the extremely demanding schedule and the fact that unlike last year, the Tigers won’t slip up on anyone.
Most Competitive Conference: The Big 12
The Big 12 is wide open this year.
Bryce Petty and Baylor are determined to prove that last year was no fluke. The same goes for Oklahoma after the Sugar Bowl upset over Alabama.
The Longhorns may perk up under the tutelage of Charlie Strong, while the dynamic offense of Oklahoma State will terrorize everyone it faces, as Air Gundy always does.
Look out for Texas Tech as season spoiler. After a 7-0 start last year, the Red Raiders fell out of contention. But this year looks to be a little different for the high-octane passing machine of dynamic young (35) coach Kliff Kingsbury.
That being said, I like Oklahoma to win the Big 12, followed closely by Baylor and Texas, but it should be a photo finish.
Most Improved Team: Mississippi State Bulldogs
All you need to know is this name – Dak Prescott. The junior QB will assume command of this offense full time after running a platoon last season. With tremendous arm strength and accuracy, not to mention an uncanny ability to shed tackles, Prescott is a new force to be reckoned with. Defenses may not be ready for him.
Six losses last season disguised the talent of the Bulldogs. Close games down the stretch against Alabama and A&M were more indicative of this team’s potential.
I see Mississippi State causing trouble for many an SEC foe, with an explosive offense led by Prescott and a solid defense. The Bulldogs could be in the mix late in the year if they play to their potential.
Coach of the Year: Steve Spurrier of South Carolina
The Old Ball Coach is ready to step up to the next level despite the loss of QB Connor Shaw and a few key players on defense — Clowney and company.
(See following for more commentary)
South Carolina wins SEC East, going undefeated in conference
Dylan Thompson is a more than capable replacement for Shaw, with excellent arm strength and accuracy. Thompson should take full command of this team, poised to streak through a fairly easy SEC East schedule.
They’re likely to start 7-0, with their three challenges being at home: Georgia, Texas A&M and defending East champ Mizzou.
It’s a big chance for the Gamecocks to rise through the ranks, with Georgia and Florida both weaker than in the past, and with Auburn and A&M (still no ’Bama!) as their only opponents from the West.
I see the Gamecocks winning the SEC East and progressing even farther into the college football playoffs later in the season.
The SEC will place TWO teams in this year’s playoff
Yes, the SEC bias will carry over to the college football selection committee when they make the final call on which teams are in and which will stay at home.
Yet, their bias will be justified. I’m giving the nod to Alabama to win the SEC, but slip up somewhere along the way.
The real player will be the Gamecocks. I like them to go undefeated into the conference championship game, and despite its outcome, win or lose, still make it to the playoff.
As for defending national champion Florida State, I think Winston and the Seminoles slip up at some point, and with that soft ACC schedule they cannot afford to slip.
In addition, there will be mayhem in the Big 12, and I doubt Bob Stoops’ ability to get out of conference play without a loss, or even two.
That leaves the gauntlet open for Oregon and, as I said earlier, the winner of Ohio State and Michigan State. Those conferences won’t be cakewalks either with UCLA and Stanford in the Pac 12 as well as Michigan and Wisconsin in the Big 10.
It’s easy to see on strength of schedule alone, provided only one loss each from the two SEC champs, that college football’s top conference sends two schools.