As college football finally enters the playoff era, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Same could be said for my preseason predictions.
This annual exercise is more often than not destined for failure. College football has so many variables (just ask the injury-decimated 2013 Georgia team) that it’s practically impossible to foresee all of the eventual pitfalls in August.
But usually you can at least stumble upon one or two keen judgments.
That was not the case in 2013. Granted, nobody else has come forward to claim forecasting an Auburn-Missouri matchup in the Southeastern Conference championship game. And anyone can be forgiven not seeing Jameis Winston’s sudden ascent at Florida State or Duke’s emergence as a viable threat, much less an Atlantic Coast Conference division winner.
But it’s hard to explain away my broad faith in South Carolina to sweep both the BCS title and the Heisman Trophy with Jadeveon Clowney. I didn’t suspect Clowney would coast through his final collegiate season in NFL Draft-prep mode or the Gamecocks losing to Tennessee.
And there’s simply no excuse for picking Louisville to make the BCS final. Must have been drinking the same Kool-aid that prompted Cardinals officials to rehire Bobby Petrino and pay Todd Grantham $1 million a year for his expertise in building one of the worst defenses ever assembled in Athens, Ga., last season.
So, I guess I wasn’t the only college football idiot last year.
This season doesn’t have to be better, but it can’t be worse.
Without further ado, here are the things I will be apologizing for next year:
SEC: Sorry Gamecocks, but you’re my pick again in the East. This has to be your year. The schedule is aligned too well to be otherwise. Mizzou can’t do it again. Florida might be much improved, but the Gators have both Louisiana State and Alabama to deal with and that’s too much. Georgia and South Carolina both face defending champ Auburn, but the Bulldogs have to go to Columbia, where the Gamecocks are on a roll. Over in the West, the Iron Bowl winner would be the safe pick. But I have a hunch that Louisiana State is going to have a surprise year with all that talent and Alabama coming to Death Valley. The Tigers will be the ones to win in Atlanta and geaux all the way to the playoffs.
ACC: Winston is certainly going to miss Kelvin Benjamin – a lot – but the Seminoles still have too many weapons (and a home date with Clemson) to give up ownership of the Atlantic Division. Assuming Winston stays out of trouble, this should be an easy repeat. As for the Coastal, any one of five teams could step up and win the weakest division of the Power 5 conferences. Miami and North Carolina are trendy picks to finally emerge, but as much as it pains me to say, Virginia Tech is likely to be the representative in Charlotte, N.C. Florida State will be the one to get a playoff bid assuming the Seminoles don’t stumble against nonconference foes Oklahoma State or Notre Dame.
HEISMAN: If your name isn’t Archie Griffin, it’s hard to repeat as America’s collegiate darling and win consecutive Heisman trophies. So let’s assume Winston is going to sit this one out. Let’s also assume that Georgia running back Todd Gurley can get through a season healthy. That’s a big assumption. But if Gurley does, he’s the best running back in the nation. A healthy Gurley should keep Georgia relevant until the end and close enough for voters not to dismiss his candidacy. And since 12 of the past 13 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, it’s about time a rusher got ahold of the trophy depicting a rusher once again.
PLAYOFFS: I’ve already given you my SEC and ACC reps, and I think LSU-FSU would make a fine Sugar Bowl semifinal matchup. As for the Rose Bowl semifinal, it looked like a perfect Pac-12/Big Ten pairing was possible with Oregon and Ohio State. But Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury alters the forecast for the Buckeyes. Oregon will have its hands full with UCLA (perhaps twice) and that winner should qualify. I’m not sure Michigan State will have a strong enough record for the Big Ten to submit a playoff team over an Oklahoma squad that has little in its way to a perfect mark. So my guess is Oregon-Oklahoma meet. When all is said and done, the SEC has to win the first playoff. So LSU it is.
Naturally, this pretty much guarantees that Alabama will beat UCLA for the first true national title.