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Recapping the 2019 season: Hits and misfires from preseason projections

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Lessons from 2019 include reminders to trust Texas to underperform and not to put your faith in Coach Boom.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Champions Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Back in August, I took at stab at projecting the races in the five power conferences and the College Football Playoff for the 2019. With the season in the books, the verdict on my picks: They were... okay.

Let’s take a look back at what went wrong and what I got right.

ACC

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Virginia vs Clemson Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Projected conference championship: Clemson Tigers over Miami Hurricanes
(Actual: Clemson over Virginia Cavaliers)

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.

Clemson trouncing the rest of the ACC was the easiest preseason call out there. Guess what? It will be the same in 2020. This conference stinks.

I was really wrong about: Miami

Shoo wee, that was an ominous start for Manny Diaz, whose team capped off a 6-7 season by playing dead in a 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. Even if it’s just Diaz’s first year, coaches rarely right the ship when that happens.

Honestly, you could pick from a lot here, including a big bounce-back call for Florida State.

I was kinda right about: Virginia

Granted, I didn’t picks the Hoos to win the Coastal, which they did. I did nail the record in the regular season (9-3). I wasn’t exactly out on a limb, as UVA was a darling with the pundits.

I was also close on Notre Dame.

Team to watch in 2020: North Carolina Tar Heels

New coach Mack Brown did what he does by hiring a couple good coordinators and getting out of the way. Except when he was doing the Juicy Blueberry in the postgame locker room:

Quarterback Sam Howell gives the Tar Heels something to build around in the fall.

Big Ten

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Projected conference championship: Ohio State Buckeyes over Wisconsin Badgers
(Actual: Ohio St. over Wisconsin)

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.

OSU didn’t slow down and actually got better in Day’s first year.

I was really wrong about: Maryland Terrapins

I mentioned that I had no idea why I had the Terrapins making a bowl this year. Mike Locksley’s track record was a harbinger of things to come. He probably gets bounced within a couple years.

I was kinda right about: Wisconsin

The Nebraska Cornhuskers got all the preseason hype. I blocked out the noise and went with the old standby in the B1G West. Wisky is basically a blue-chip stock at this point.

Team to watch in 2020: Nebraska

The buzz got too far ahead of the Huskers this year, but Scott Frost has the program trending the right way. They start next season with five of their first six games in Lincoln, and the only road game is a visit to the Northwestern Wildcats.

Big 12

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Baylor vs Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Projected conference championship: Oklahoma Sooners over TCU Horned Frogs
(Actual: OU over Baylor Bears)

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.

The Sooners did have just enough in the tank to win a fifth Big 12 crown and get a token bid to the College Football Playoff. They should come back even stronger in the fall.

I was really wrong about: TCU

The Horned Frogs spent the holidays at home, a rarity during Gary Patterson’s tenure. I thought TCU had enough options at quarterback to find at least one workable solution. Turns out that when you’ve got four QBs, you’ve really got none.

I was kinda right about: Texas

I pegged the Longhorns at 8-4, which was probably on the bearish side relative to the consensus of prognosticators. It turns out that I was overly optimistic. Ironically, all the turnover on the UT coaching staff may hurt the Horns’ chances of bouncing back next season.

Team to watch in 2020: West Virginia Mountaineers

The obvious answer here is the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who may enter 2020 as a clear No. 2 in the league. I’m intrigued to see what Neal Brown and his staff have in store in year two, though. The personnel leaves something to be desired, but WVU has one of the better groups of coaches in the Big 12 now.

Pac-12

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Projected conference championship: USC Trojans over Washington Huskies
(Actual: Oregon Ducks over Utah Utes)

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.

Should have listened to my gut about the Trojans, although I was right about Harrell.

I was really wrong about: Stanford Cardinal

Me and a lot of other people, I imagine. The salad days might have come to an end in Palo Alto. Cardinal fans will have to take comfort in all their stock options and caviar.

Kinda boned my calls on UW, the Oregon Ducks and Colorado Buffaloes, too.

I was kinda right about: Arizona State Sun Devils

To be fair, you can’t really go wrong predicting that Sparky will go 7-5. The Sun Devils finished with the same record in each of the two previous seasons.

Team to watch in 2020: Arizona Wildcats

Kevin Sumlin is likely entering a prove-it year in Tucson. He’ll do so with a seasoned defense and a promising young QB in Grant Gunnell. The Wildcats should go bowling at the end of the 2020 season.

SEC

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Louisiana State John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Projected conference championship: Alabama Crimson Tide over Georgia Bulldogs
(Actual: LSU Tigers over Georgia)

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.

Even though I missed one of the participants entirely, I do feel a little vindicated in so far as an UGA win in the SEC title game probably would have put two representatives from the conference in the CFP.

I was really wrong about: South Carolina Gamecocks

I only missed S. Carolina’s record by two games, but this didn’t come close to being the “best 6-6 team in the country, probably by a lot.” That’s what you get for putting your faith in Will Muschamp, who’s supposedly a really good dude and undoubtedly a bunk head coach.

I also managed to underestimate how awful the Arkansas Razorbacks would turn out this year. Just a depressing program right now.

I was kinda right about: Kentucky Wildcats

I mentioned that I was higher on UK than expected. Mark Stoops’ team came through with a resourceful 7-5 campaign. Looks like he may be entrenched in Lexington at this point, too.

Team to watch in 2020: LSU

Given all the players graduating and leaving Baton Rouge early for the NFL, 2020 doesn’t look like the kind of reloading campaign to which we’ve become accustomed recently from reigning national champions. LSU is staring at something more like a reset, instead.

Can never take this year away from the Bayou Bengals, though.

Projected CFP

Peach Bowl: Alabama over Oklahoma

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson over Ohio St.

National Championship Game: Alabama over Clemson

LSU stole a bit of Alabama’s thunder in 2019, but as I said before, a 2020 repeat seems unlikely.