25 Crazy Predictions, II
Let's jump to it again.
11. The Sooners will continue to show signs of dysfunction.
Sure, the recruiting has been spectacular, but Bob Stoops has had a hard time getting the most out of that gold mine. A walk-on wide receiver has reportedly jumped ahead of electric recruit Michiah Quick, and there have been other stories of players not making strides. The staff is changing their defense again to a 3-3-5, 4-2-5 hybrid, and that's on top of changing their offense to an Air Raid when they have the best running back stable in the country. Some or all of this might work out, but there's no denying that Stoops is looking for some of his old magic.
12. Michigan's quarterbacks post a better completion percentage than Ohio State's.
Last year, Ohio State completed 63.6% of their passes on the season. (Quick fun fact: That was good for best in the Big Ten, but would have been in the bottom half of the Pac-12.) Michigan, meanwhile, averaged 58.0%. Expect that number to rise with Jake Rudock under center and a greater emphasis on managing the downs.
13. Alabama is the SEC's best offense again.
Blake Sims will be missed, and there was a guy named Amari Cooper, too. But this is Lane Kiffin's show, and the talent is there to once again lead the SEC in total offense. Derrick Henry is an All-American talent, as well, and this could finally be O.J. Howard's time to shine.
14. At some point during the year, fans around the country will get to know Jesse Ertz.
Don't know who Ertz is? You're definitely not the only one. Still, the redshirt sophomore was just named as Kansas State's starting quarterback. Not only that, he has been called a combination of "Jake Waters and Collin Klein." Not a bad comparison.
"He has made reasonably steady progress with a few of those dips in the road," Bill Snyder said this week. "Once we got into camp and we were a week or so through, the angle of the ascent became steeper. As I say with everybody, he has a wealth of space between where he is and where he can be but I'm pleased with the progress he's made."
Ertz is the first underclassman to start for the Wildcats since 2004.
15. This is not Texas's year.
There's too many freshmen competing for playing time. The quarterbacks are still students of the game first and athletes second. And the skill positions need replenishing. The defense is going to be great, of course, but the offenses they will face (Notre Dame, California, TCU, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor) are pretty formidable too. It'll be exciting to see what growth Charlie Strong can coax out of Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, as both are thrilling runners and play-makers, and what Joe Wickline can do with the offensive line. But 'exciting' probably isn't the right word to describe this year if you're a diehard Texas fan. 'Restive,' maybe.
16. Jeremy Johnson will be the SEC's best quarterback.
In a year with plenty of turnover, Johnson provides the SEC with a safe bet at the quarterback position. And, without a doubt, Johnson has the talent to play some phenomenal ball in Gus Malzahn's offense. But to be the best, he'll need to improve some of his downfield accuracy, something I believe he can do as the year goes on. Having Duke Williams will be a big asset for him as well.
Still, this is not a prediction given lightly. Dak Prescott has proven himself already at a high level, and there are several other quarterbacks who, whether they've proven themselves or not, will man some very explosive offenses that are led by some of the best offensive minds the game has to offer. In some ways, this is also a bet for Gus Malzahn and his ability to protect and nurture Johnson's abilities.
17. Pitt will compete for a division crown.
The pieces are there on defense, and the coaching staff is similarly a nice mixture of unproven talent. With a little more muscle, athleticism, and direction given by Pat Narduzzi, this team could find itself competing in the fourth quarter against some more talented teams. Steal a win or two, and you're in business.
18. Some of the coaches to get fired: Mike London, Derek Mason, Kirk Ferentz, and Larry Fedora.
But Al Golden, Darrell Hazell, Steve Sarkisian, and Scott Shafer will keep their jobs. Now that's a crazy prediction.
19. Wisconsin will not be the Big Ten's rushing leader - Michigan State will.
Michigan State is going to be downright fantastic at two things: running the ball, and stopping the run. But if the Spartans find that their defense is getting burned by the pass a little too often, Mark Dantonio (who, for all his assistants' innovations, is a conservative, cloud-of-dust guy at heart) might try to protect the defense with a good, clock-eating running game. And, out of every position on that team, the running backs are the deepest, strongest, scariest unit Michigan State has. Better than the defensive line, better than the quarterback spot.
Of course, Wisconsin will have something to say about that, but Paul Chryst is trying to move the offense into a more balanced design. Both will be fantastic (and Connor Cook will get his chances to throw, as well), but I see a resurgent running attack in East Lansing.
20. 2015 will be the Year of the Running Back ... AND the Year of the Wide Receiver.
The game of football has been absorbed with athletes at the game-manager position, but it's about to find some of those absorbing athletes at other parts of the field. Depth at running back and receiver is better now than in past years, and in fact last year's Heisman finalists (Mariota, Amari, and Gordon) represented each of the three skill positions.
21. In late November, Notre Dame will be playing well enough to cause Playoff worries.
Brian Kelly's toughest challenges will come from Georgia Tech September 19th, Clemson October 3rd, USC October 17th, and Stanford November 28th. If the Irish can play their way into a 10-1 record going into the final week of the season, pundits will be going nuts trying to predict what the Committee will do - and what that means for the conferences.
22. Bill Cubit does well enough to keep the Illinois job.
Cubit is no stranger to the rodeo, and he was a driving force behind Illinois' success already. With the rest of the coaching staff still in place, and a big motivational chip for the players to unite and salvage their season, Illinois could perform better with Cubit than it would have with Beckman.
23. Alabama (#4) and Ohio State (#1) meet in one semifinal, and UCLA (#2) and Clemson (#3) meet in another.
Oregon has an easier slate to the Pac-12 Championship Game than anybody in the South, but will Oregon be able to go undefeated late in the year against other great teams? This feels like a year where Jim Mora gets his due; the Bruins are Los Angeles' team now, and Rosen seems to be a cool customer.
24. Aaand the Buckeyes win another title.
The odds are they don't, luckily. But they have everything. Forget about the talent - this team has the leadership, the will, and the teamwork to do it. There aren't many teams that have so many qualities come together like this.
25. A running back will not win the Heisman .... and it will be very controversial.
Last year, Melvin Gordon put up eye-popping numbers on an 11-3 team, and he was a distant second to Marcus Mariota. Considering that Heisman voters have been toying with breaking tendencies in recent years (with younger recipients, and a winner for a 10-3 team), that was a harsh blow to running backs anywhere.
With that said, take a look at these dark-horse Heisman runners: Nick Chubb carrying Georgia's offense, Ezekiel Elliott at OSU, Royce Freeman at Oregon, Leonard Fournette at LSU, Samaje Perine at Oklahoma, and Derrick Henry at Alabama. One of them might lead a 12-0 or 11-1 season with enough production to force their way into the race. If they do that, they probably still won't win. But it might change some discussion about the Heisman being a quarterback's award.
25.5. If Ezekiel Elliott doesn't enter the NFL Draft, this will still be a weak draft showing for the running backs.
Might as well throw in another half a prediction - you know, to get your money's worth.
The catch here is Ezekiel Elliott, who could leave after this year and go to the NFL. As to whether he actually makes that choice, I have no idea and wouldn't even hazard a guess. But if he stays in Columbus, this will probably end up as another weak showing for running backs when the draft comes around. After all, Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, and Royce Freeman all have another year they have to play.
Then, there's this recurring fact: undrafted running backs perform well. Thomas Rawls, a name Michigan fans know all too well, has latched on at Seattle. Zach Zenner, a former FCS star, has been a phenom in preseason for the Detroit Lions. Bronson Hill, a former Eastern Michigan star from 2012-14, has led the Buffalo Bills in carries and started against the Cleveland Browns - then caught the game-winning score.
The preseason is, of course, a time to test depth, but the fact remains that there's plenty of value that can be explored at the bottom of the draft. Whether this turns into the "Year of the Running Back" or not, next year's draft should prove to be more of the same.
Hitting the Links Is Hatin' Ohio State
There had been some talk of Mike Weber moving up the depth chart, but he does not make an appearance. Meanwhile, Braxton will return punts.
A couple interesting notes about Auburn-Louisville: Auburn's secondary is on the short side, while Louisville's wideouts are on the tall side. The Cards will probably be able to move the ball on Auburn. Also, the depth chart that Bobby Petrino released has an 'or' for four starting quarterbacks. And, Louisville will be starting TCU's former star, Devonte Fields.
I'm not sure who to root for in this one - Hatin' Spurrier against OSU or the Big Ten against the SEC.
O'Korn on Harbaugh: "He can still play, you know."
Fun fact from this: Adoree Jackson touched the ball 11 times on offense last year, and three of them went for touchdowns.
It's nice to be considered a physical team again.
The defense has me optimistic, but this is a good range of outcomes and voices.
There's a lot of growth going on with Penn State's team. Trevor Williams grew a lot at cornerback after previously being a wide receiver; Chris Godwin and DeAndre Thompkins are potential breakouts at wide receiver. At right guard, Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey have adjusted to life on the offensive line.
This part has been covered here before, and is pretty unsurprising.
Some other Indiana news: Camion Patrick will not be eligible in 2015, and Tommy Mister also will not see the field. Both of those give a blow to IU's skill position depth.
This quote was great: "I mean, they scored 90 touchdowns last year, guys, and they're going to try and score 90 on Monday night just because of what happened last year," Foster said.
Maryland's depth will be a critical storyline this year, because of the sheer number of positions with depth concerns.
Minnesota's starting tailback, Rodrick Williams, is a Texas native. The game will be held in Minneapolis.
Nose tackle Malik McDowell is 275 pounds, and strongside defensive end Lawrence Thomas is 305 pounds. Basically, this line will be stout and disruptive.
Dipping into the NFL, Seattle opens up about how they handled the Super Bowl loss and what they are doing to move forward.
Best wishes to both Les and Cam Cameron, who is recovering from prostate cancer.