10) Ezekiel Elliott will win the Heisman Trophy.
After three straight 200+ yard rushing games and his strong showing in last year’s national championship game, there is little doubt in my mind he will be near the top of everyone’s list for the Heisman this season. With steep competition at the quarterback position – even among his teammates — Elliott has the best chance of any Buckeye to be this year’s best offensive player.
Trevone Boykin (TCU) and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) are also in the mix. Both can accumulate Heisman-like statistics but must win in order to stay in the competition. At this point Elliott is in the best position.
9) The Auburn Tigers will bounce back this year.
A year ago I predicted Auburn would fall from national contention and lose five games, which they did. This year I look for a rebound. The Tigers had a tough road schedule last year which brought three of their losses. Now they have Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State at home.
Auburn also boasts a recruiting class average of 8.7 over the last three years. Things are looking up for War Eagle.
8) Dalvin Cook will play again this season, sooner rather than later.
Cook is currently suspended from the Florida State Seminoles for alleged assault, punching a woman outside a bar in June. Coach Jimbo Fisher said his star running back will not be reinstated until legal matters are settled. The coach is sitting on the fence here, taking a team photo with Cook in it and another picture of the team without him.
With all the embarrassment caused the past two years by Jameis Winston’s treatment of women, FSU is in a difficult situation. But sooner or later, probably before midseason, Fisher will find a way to get Cook on the field.
The importance of this development can’t be overstated. Cook is a dynamic runner: 140 yards against Florida, followed by 177 against Georgia Tech and 90 yards in the first half of the national semifinal against Oregon.
Assault – as long as it falls short of rape or severe physical injury — is not taken very seriously in football, pro or college, which is a shame. I think this will be more of the same.
7) USC will win the Pac-12.
With no superman-like quarterback to save the day in Oregon and a growingly frustrated David Shaw at Stanford, it’s time for the Trojans to reclaim their throne in the West.
Cody Kessler is a senior and will be a dark-horse for the Heisman if he can continue his success from last year. The Trojans are formidable on offense and should take advantage of weaker than normal UCLA, Oregon and Stanford teams.
6) The Texas Longhorns will not have a winning season.
Charlie Strong is in trouble. Tyrone Swoopes was the worst starting quarterback in the Big 12 last year and he won’t be a lot better this year. Now the defense that several times rescued the offense is returning only five starters.
Without a solid QB it will be impossible to keep up with teams like TCU and Baylor. Texas also has an unusually tough road schedule, with games at TCU, Baylor and West Virginia and the traditional neutral site Red River Rivalry game against always powerful Oklahoma.
If Strong can’t recruit a blue-chip QB in next year’s class, his tenure at Texas could be over sooner than many think.
5) Kyle Allen will re-ignite Texas A&M’s hopes of winning the SEC.
Indecision and uncertainty at the quarterback position is cancerous for college football teams. Last year A&M’s Kenny Hill was benched mid-season for now starter Kyle Allen. It was an up and down year in which A&M finished 7-5.
The only redeeming win came at Auburn, a game in which Allen started. Make no mistake, Allen is the starter this season. While superstar Kyler Murray has all the talent anyone could ask for, he has had much less time to learn Kevin Sumlin’s system and is no threat to supplant Allen.
The best-case scenario for A&M would be to redshirt Murray, who was a true freshman last year, and let sophomore Allen lead the way as he did down the stretch last season, going 3-2.
The Aggies are not highly regarded. Most forecasts have them around .500. I think they will be better than that, finishing in the top three in the Western Division and perhaps being competitive with Auburn and Alabama.
4) TCU will not finish in the Top Ten, won’t win the Big 12.
The Horned Frogs are a trendy pick for the national top five, with widespread expectations that they at least will equal last season’s 12-1. They pin their hopes on Trevone Boykin, but they have to play defense too, if they want to make it out of the Big 12 alive. TCU returns only five starters on defense, coach Gary Patterson’s specialty.
The schedule is extremely demanding. TCU opens at Minnesota, which has risen to respectability, and also plays road games against a solid Kansas State team and perennially nationally ranked Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
If the Horned Frogs hope to keep a clean sheet, Boykin will have to be mistake-free in several big games. While he is capable, I see TCU falling short somewhere along the line.
3) Jim Harbaugh will have a winning year.
Few can dispute that he is coaching royalty. After becoming head coach of the Michigan Wolverines this offseason, Harbaugh instantly became a top-5 college football coach.
However, he is still left with the mediocre talent that Brady Hoke brought in over his time there. And like Charlie Strong in his debut at Texas, Harbaugh had no chance to attract a good recruiting class to begin his tenure.
But I believe Harbaugh will get several wins due to his impressive coaching skills. He will take advantage of a schedule with some soft touches – Oregon State, UNLV, Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana. Harbaugh almost always beats teams he’s supposed to beat. At worst, he will turn around Hoke’s 5-7 record of last year.
2) Baylor will win the Big 12.
The ultimate spread offense that Art Briles has created gives the Bears a shot at winning the conference every year. That is exactly what they will do this season.
With 17 starters returning, QB Bryce Petty will not be missed as much as people think. Once again, it’s the system. Junior Seth Russell is set to succeed Petty and will put up numbers similar to Petty’s.
1) Alabama will fail to make the College Football Playoff.
The SEC is the most competitive conference in college football. Alabama faces challenges from a rising Auburn and a Dak Prescott-led Mississippi State. Nick Saban’s job isn’t getting any easier, with road games this season against Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Auburn.
I am also skeptical of Jake Coker’s ability. Quarterback is a position that Saban has struggled to recruit throughout his time at ’Bama. The Tide will struggle to compete with high-powered offenses with no Julio Jones or Amari Cooper to catch passes from this year’s underwhelming QB of choice.