25 Crazy Season Predictions (Part 1)
Let's jump to it.
1. The Leonard Fournette Heisman train never takes off.
Yes, he's a phenomenal player. But the line is thin in the SEC West, and the LSU Tigers are surely looking up at Alabama, and very probably some combination of Auburn, Ole Miss, MSU, or Texas A&M. This team has not proven consistent enough, or dominant enough, to run the table. And given how thin the line is for a running back to even contend for the award, no SEC Championship appearance means no Heisman for Mr. Fournette.
2. The Trevone Boykin Heisman train never takes off.
While Fournette is a running back, Boykin is exactly the kind of player Heisman voters have been throwing awards at since Troy Smith in 2006. And Boykin, like Fournette, is an unbelievable player.
But defenses will have now had a year to prepare for TCU's offense, and Boykin is still a work in progress for some of the finer aspects of the quarterback job. Turnovers, too, could be key: last year Boykin threw 10 interceptions, and had just one lost fumble out of five times he coughed up the ball. I'd expect defenses to try and find ways to gang tackle him, hit him hard, and wear him down over the course of the season, and that makes the timing of this year's Baylor game potentially bad timing. The Bears travel to Fort Worth for the final game of the regular season, and that is a very different kind of affair if Boykin, who relies so heavily on his legs, is not 100%.
3. The Ezekiel Elliott Heisman train never takes off.
Say what you will about Urban Meyer, but he's old-school where it counts. That includes the value he puts on a good inside run game.
But with all the weapons at Ohio State's disposal, I'd expect Meyer to use Zeke as an ace in the hole, keeping him healthy during a long season and only unleashing him in the fourth quarters and late in the year. Essentially, exactly what happened last year. And that will mean fewer carries for Zeke than he might need.
4. Notre Dame will be carried by Ronnie Stanley.
The AP Poll and the Coaches Poll both have Notre Dame at 11th. But unfortunately for Notre Dame's opponents, this team is dripping with talent.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was a likely first-round pick last season, decided to return - and he might not be their best player (that distinction would go to Jaylon Smith). But Stanley will be critical in keeping Malik Zaire upright and making the right decisions.
"Seeing the emotion and happiness it brought to [Ohio State]," Stanley said about his decision to return, "and knowing that I could be in that spot — and knowing that we have the talent in place to be in that spot — is something that really struck me. I 100-percent feel we can win a national championship."
5. An 11-2 Alabama squad makes the Playoff.
Sometimes, you've gotta stick with what makes sense. In the SEC West, there are a lot of teams with equal parts talent and questions - Texas A&M with their re-tooling defense, Auburn with their re-tooling defense, LSU with their re-tooling defense, Arkansas with their re-tooling ... well, the point here is that other teams have questions. Alabama doesn't. The quarterback battle and the wide receiver battle don't exactly count, because they have several options to fill those voids. The closest Bama has to an unknown quantity is their secondary, and Nick Saban brought in an NFL defensive coordinator (Mel Tucker) just to coach that part of the defense. Plus, Cyrus Jones has the tools and the experience to play some top-notch football.
In short, Alabama is great enough to make the Playoff. The schedule they play is also undeniably difficult, and that might test the theory of a "two-loss SEC champ" making the college playoffs. If Alabama plays in the SEC Championship game, they could presumably have played ten top-25 teams in one season.
6. UCLA's Josh Rosen shows he belongs as a true freshman.
USC has now lost to UCLA three years in a row, and none by less than 10 points. Mora will look to make that 4-0 in his time at Pasadena with the help of Josh Rosen, a freshman five-star talent. Jim Mora's offense is easy enough for anybody to play well in, and Rosen will be throwing behind a great defense, a great running game, and in the face of some great receivers.
7. Clemson ends the year on a heartbreaking note.
As for Clemson, it's impossible for me to really bet against a coaching staff that has produced elite recruiting, amazing development, and top-notch schemes to handle the rest of the ACC. Florida State has a lot of holes, not the least of which is leadership, and Georgia Tech has some concerns as well. Meanwhile, Clemson's projected S&P+ ranking (15th) is higher than every team it faces. So, yay for Clemson!
Unfortunately, the defense does lose an awful lot, and the offensive line has some major question marks with four starters to replace. You'd figure the replacements will be ready, but what about injuries? Will they be physical and stout enough to handle the very best teams at the end of the year? And would a 12-1 season be enough to oust the Big 12 from a playoff berth, if some of those wins were more than shaky?
8. USC will dramatically underwhelm.
The Trojans start this season in the AP Top 10, but they might end up as the most overrated team in the conference. Tim Drevno has moved on, and been replaced by Oklahoma State's Bob Connelly. Leonard Williams is gone, too, and this team already lacked a pass rush. And, this hasn't been discussed much, but Steve Sarkisian will be leaning on a lot of youth in the secondary, out wide, and on the offensive line.
That's not to say USC will be a bad team, or that recent negative headlines regarding Coach Sarkisian will somehow torpedo their season. But Arizona has a terrific defense and a nearly terrific offense, and Arizona State looks pretty unimpeachable as well. USC is simply a step below the Bruins, Sun Devils, and Wildcats, and might lose a fist-fight against Utah, as well. Combined with high preseason expectations and some recent bad press for Sark, this could turn out pretty rough before it's all over.
9. Some Pac-12 cellar dwellers will make big strides.
This may surprise some people, but Colorado is fielding a pretty good team. Their quarterback, Sefo Liufau, threw for 3,200 yards last year and 28 touchdowns. The offensive line is coming into its own, and a secondary that got banged up last year returns healthy. They'll get run on, but at least they're not in the Big Ten.
Washington State is figuring out ways to add some dimension to their offense, and they seem to be stockpiling some beef on the offensive line. The defense, meanwhile, will be coached by Alex Grinch, who spent the last several years as a safeties coach at Missouri. Grinch will also build up WSU's secondary. Head coach Mike Leach also made a couple other good moves, promoting Joe Salave'a to assistant head coach and bringing in Roy Manning.
10. Tennessee-Oklahoma eclipses Michigan State-Oregon.
I'm on a bit of a hot streak, since I predicted NDSU-Montana would be worthwhile TV. And trying to think of a good Tennessee prediction, all I can think of is how great that Oklahoma game on September 12th is likely to be.
They're a couple proud programs, for one, led by two terrific running backs. There will be new faces at quarterback, new pages in the offense, and ridiculously athletic wide receivers. Big Show Bob will have his hands full with Tennessee's defense, and Butch Jones will be trying to get his offensive line (recently a weakness) to handle a blitzing Eric Striker off the edge.
Besides, some of the allure of Michigan State-Oregon was force vs. object, Runway vs. No Fly Zone. But Michigan State's secondary is not what it was two years ago, and Oregon might need to run a little extra with Vernon Adams, fresh on the scene and still absorbing the playbook.
Hitting the Links Names All The QBs
But the screen is blue too!
This was a downright Dave Brandon-level statement by Mike Thomas, in July of this year: "I truly believe we wear integrity on our sleeves," he said. "That's the foundation of our program. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want to hear it, because they think we're diverting from these other issues — we got a lot of great things going on."
This was an interesting quote by Pat Fitzgerald regarding a two-QB system:
I'm not going to worry about that, and that's what I told him. I said, ‘You don't need to look over your shoulder, you don't need to worry about things, just go out and be you, and do what you do and be successful. I anticipate that he will.
We're going to have roles for the other guys, and they'll be prepared, if that ever were to happen. With what we want to do offensively, in the past, we've played multiple quarterbacks. One year, we specifically played two. I'm not saying we're doing that now, and I'm not saying we're not doing that now. But we've had to play multiple quarterbacks [in the past], and both Matt and Zack know that. And they know that the only thing they can control is their attitude, and then obviously the way that they prepare. Their attitudes have been unbelievable, and I fully expect that they'll be prepared if their opportunity presents itself.
Also, Chad Kelly has never been mentioned here before, so I did some digging on what he brings. First off, he is the nephew of Jim Kelly, a former NFL quarterback who was famous for making four straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, but winning none of them. The younger Kelly tore his ACL and red-shirted in 2012, then was kicked off of Clemson's team after 2013 for some very immature behavior. He spent a year in the JUCO ranks.
Kelly is also a very athletic pro-style QB, with a live arm but also an under-developed game. He'll throw his share of touchdowns - as well as picks.
Harris has apparently greatly impressed. Georgia's Lambert is a Virginia transfer who will have two seasons to play. He beat out Brice Ramsey, a younger and more touted prospect who apparently struggled to absorb the playbook.
Saying this as a guy who really respects Brian Kelly's offensive touch, but Everett Golson is going to surpass anything he ever did at Notre Dame. A bit like Denard Robinson, Golson will benefit from a more wide-open attack with five-star receivers who can get wide open.
Faint praise maybe, but the first-stringers look like they could play some ball. Miles Taylor could turn out to be a nice safety for the Hawkeyes, and Ben Niemann has some burst at linebacker.
The man I really hope takes over Illinois is none of the ones on this list - Ohio State's Tim Beck. And, if he's not available, Michigan's Chief Deputy Director in Health and Human Services, Tim Becker. But adversity often calls in these scenarios, and Becker might want to stay in the health care industry (insert a Tim Beckman joke here). In that case I'd go for the famous UFO sighter Tim Beckley.
Alright, for real this time. Not totally, though, because they mention Jim Tressel.
In honor of Scheelhaase being promoted to Illinois' running backs coach, at the ripe age of 24, here's a highlight from his playing days.
Wisconsin's running backs have been in the spotlight because of their success, but once you go behind the scenes they've shown to be some of the hardest-working, most determined trainers in the game. This goes into some detail about what the group does to succeed.
Wisconsin has been banged up, and I'm still a little worried about their wideouts. We'll see.
It's not every year that a season starts that terrifically.
For Thursday: Moar predictions. And cookies.