Wish I could tell you it’s going to be a wild year in college football, but I just don’t see it.
I’ve projected all of the Power Five conference races below based on my preseason power ratings, which reflect my best efforts to come up with an objective measure of each team’s overall strength. I adjusted the results by accounting for home field advantage and the occasional situational factors.
We’ll take these in alphabetical order, starting with the ACC.
Conference championship: Clemson Tigers (13-0) over Miami Hurricanes (10-3)
Top 25 teams (rank): Clemson (2), Miami (16-tie), Virginia Tech Hokies (23-tie)
*Do you remember those “ACC on the rise” stories from a few years back? While Clemson has flourished, not much else about this league feels very “on the rise” to me. CU should roll through the conference slate.
*The Florida State Seminoles have an abysmal offensive line, but adding offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to Willie Taggart’s staff will rev up that offense. I see them bouncing back in part because most of the league’s teams are far behind them personnel-wise.
*The Wake Forest Demon Deacons stand to assemble a fraudulent seven-win season, although winning that many games in a season at Wake still counts for something.
*I’ll throw in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish projection here: 9-3. I have ND ranked eighth overall.
*If the Boston College Eagles win five games this year, that might get coach Steve Addazio pushed out the door.
Conference championship: Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0) over Wisconsin Badgers (9-4)
Top 25 teams (rank): Ohio St. (4), Michigan Wolverines (7-tie), Penn State Nittany Lions (13), Wisconsin (17-tie)
*Unfortunately for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, catching the Buckeyes late in the season always give all their young studs time to grow.
*Maybe first-year coach Ryan Day’s inexperience catches up with the Buckeyes along the way, but where? Notably, OSU enjoys a forgiving schedule this year, with the Michigan State Spartans, Wisconsin and Penn St. all visiting Columbus.
*I apparently think more of this year’s Maryland team than anyone alive. I couldn’t tell you why. #Analysis
*Scott Frost has the Nebraska Cornhuskers trending in the right direction.
*It would appear that Chris Ash is still coaching the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. He should expect a change in job status at the end of the year. (Probably Lovie Smith, too.)
Conference championship: Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) over TCU Horned Frogs (10-3)
Top 25 teams (rank): Oklahoma (5), Texas Longhorns (14), Oklahoma State Cowboys (21-tie), Iowa State Cyclones (21-tie), TCU (23)
*When I look at the sum of the parts for OU, I feel good enough to predict that the Sooners maintain their recent form from a win-loss standpoint. It seems to get overlooked that randomness in the form of turnover margin broke pretty strongly against the 2018 OU team – probably because that didn’t really affect the Sooners’ final record. That means the Sooners were fighting a pretty strong headwind last season, which gives me a little more confidence in how this year will shake out.
*I honestly don’t know what to think about Texas. The Longhorns have quite clearly improved in two seasons under Tom Herman. On the other hand, teams that win the way UT did last year rarely make huge strides the following season, especially when they’re working in so many new faces. I’m not questioning the talent of the rising youngsters on defense, for instance, but I have a harder time buying that they will all be immediately equal to or better than the departed guys who played ahead of them a year ago.
The USC Trojans get swapped out of this year’s schedule for the LSU Tigers, a team that will be far superior to what the Trojans were a year ago. Meanwhile, the Horns are playing on the road versus TCU, Iowa St. and the Baylor Bears – keep in mind that UT dropped its toughest away game last season at Oklahoma St. and squeaked by in trips to Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Tech.
Although it’s possible UT could take off this season, I suspect the Horns will run in place and grow into a really formidable team in 2020.
*Even with the uncertainty behind center, I like what TCU brings to the table. The fact that the Horned Frogs get Texas in Fort Worth puts them over the top and into second place for me. (And, yes, the prospect of playing Gary Patterson’s team twice in the same season should always worry Sooner fans.)
*Don’t be shocked if OSU finally gets a Bedlam win this year.
Conference championship: USC Trojans (10-3) over Washington Huskies (11-2)
Top 25 teams (rank): Washington (11-tie), Oregon Ducks (15-tie), Stanford Cardinal (19-tie), Utah Utes (19-tie)
*I don’t like being out on this limb with Southern Cal, but here we are. As uninspiring as Clay Helton may be, I do think his team will get a little juice from the arrival of first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. This is also the best roster in the conference. By the end of the year, I think the Trojans can work themselves into position to knock off UW in their rematch.
*I’ve heard all the buzz about Oregon, but I can’t go for that. I really like Justin Herbert; I just can’t get on board with Mario Cristobal as a head coach. Not to mention the road schedule: Stanford, UW, USC and Arizona State.
*Keep an eye on the UCLA Bruins. That is one team capable of exceeding expectations by a lot. Chip Kelly’s team brings back 19 starters and started rounding into form at the end of last season.
*Buyer’s remorse in Tucson over Kevin Sumlin?
Conference championship: Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) over Georgia Bulldogs (11-2)
Top 25 teams (rank): Alabama (1), Georgia (3), LSU (6), Auburn (9), Texas A&M Aggies (10), Florida Gators (11-tie), Mississippi State Bulldogs (23-tie), South Carolina Gamecocks (23-tie)
*From my vantage point, the Tide still look like the class of the SEC. Even after losing key pieces such as defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and defensive backs Saivion Smith and Deionte Thompson, I actually expect the D to take some steps forward this year.
*I’ve got the Tide and UGA meeting in the title game with two playoff bids potentially in play. If Bama wins, the Bulldogs would be on the outside looking in. If UGA finally gets over the hump versus the Tide, both squads could be in the final four.
*I ended up more bullish on the Kentucky Wildcats than I expected.
*South Carolina will be the best 6-6 team in the country, probably by a lot.
*Everyone likes Derek Mason at Vanderbilt, but this could be the end of the line.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: Alabama over Oklahoma
Fiesta Bowl: Clemson over Ohio St.
National Championship Game: Alabama over Clemson
*Bama gets its revenge. Yawn.