The first big Saturday of the 2018 college football season kicks off tomorrow, so it’s time to share predictions for the year. These are my picks for the Power Five Conference winners, the Heisman Trophy, the College Football Playoff, and the CFB Playoff National Championship.
Power Five Conference Predictions
Miami might take another step forward under Mark Richt, and Florida State might have a quick turnaround in Willie Taggart’s first season as head coach, but Clemson is just too talented not to be the choice in the ACC.
Big 12: Oklahoma
With Baker Mayfield gone, the Big 12 is probably more wide-open than it was last season. TCU is always in the mix, West Virginia is led by senior quarterback Will Grier, and Texas could make a jump in Tom Herman’s second year. However, I believe Lincoln Riley’s offense led by Kyler Murray will remain electric, which will be enough in a conference that typically doesn’t play great defense.
Big Ten: Penn State
The toughest conference in college football for 2018 is the most difficult to predict, with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State all as legit Playoff contenders entering the year—and Nebraska under Scott Frost could make some noise, among other teams. But I think the experience of Trace McSorley is the difference for Penn State, who gets to play Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin at home.
Washington should be the favorite heading into the season, but I’m going with UCLA to win the Pac-12. First and foremost, Chip Kelly is 46-7 as a college head coach, and I expect quick success for the Bruins within the next couple of seasons. Also, UCLA hosts Washington early in the season, and a win against the Huskies could be a huge momentum-builder the rest of the way. They are a darkhorse Playoff team for me, especially if they can take down Oklahoma in a couple Saturdays.
There’s been a lot of coaching turnover in the SEC since last season, but I expect it’ll again come down to Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn. The Crimson Tide host the Iron Bowl, so I think that gives them a leg-up in the SEC West, and they would probably be the favorite over Georgia (or whoever else) in the SEC title game.
Heisman Trophy Prediction
Trace McSorley, Penn State
Penn State is my pick for the Big Ten, and I believe Trace McSorley is clearly the best quarterback in the nation, so he’s my choice to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy. Bryce Love of Stanford and Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin are extremely strong candidates that should put up eye-popping numbers at running back, but it might be tough to top a prolific season from a senior quarterback.
I really wish college football programs made All-22 film available so that I could go deeper and share why McSorley might be the best player in college football entering 2018, but it would not be a surprise if he garners first-round recognition for the NFL draft after the year. McSorley makes smart decisions and is accurate to all areas on the field with an underrated arm, and he is also a playmaker that makes plays with his legs and makes accurate throws on the move.
McSorley is 22-5 as Penn State’s starter, including a Big Ten title in 2016 and a Fiesta Bowl victory against Washington last season. The redshirt senior holds school records for total offense, total touchdowns, career passing touchdowns, passing touchdowns in a season, and passing yards in a season. He’s going to break and build on records, and he might also have a Heisman Trophy to show for it in December.
College Football Playoff Predictions
The monsters up front on Clemson’s defense are going to make it difficult for opposing offenses every week, and quarterback Kelly Bryant getting pushed by talented true freshman Trevor Lawrence could ensure the offense is always locked-in and on its game. And Dabo Swinney is one of the best coaches in the country. The Tigers might be undefeated heading into the Playoff.
Until Nick Saban and Alabama miss a College Football Playoff, there’s no reason to believe they’ll miss one. The Crimson Tide have two excellent quarterbacks, a ton of talent at every position, and a coaching staff and culture that obviously leads to winning a lot of games.
The Nittany Lions are my Big Ten pick, and Trace McSorley is my Heisman pick, so that would equate to a College Football Playoff berth. James Franklin’s squad was arguably robbed from the Playoff a couple seasons ago with a conference title, but the chances of that happening again aren’t great.
I have both Big 12 winner Oklahoma and Pac-12 winner UCLA missing the Playoff to SEC runner-up Georgia. Perhaps the Committee would treat a potential Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship Game as a de-facto play-in game for the Playoff, but if Georgia has one loss and is seen as a top-four team in the nation, they have to make the field unless another conference winner has a similarly-stellar season. Washington, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Auburn were all also near choices for the final Playoff spot.
Penn State over Georgia
Jake Fromm showed rare poise for a young player in last year’s College Football Playoff, and I expect he’ll do the same in big games for the rest of his college career and into the NFL. He might be the difference in what would be an entertaining College Football Playoff semifinal between Clemson and Georgia.
Alabama is as good as it gets on defense, but Penn State has played well offensively against top defenses like Wisconsin and Washington the last two years. The Nittany Lions have obviously lost some weapons like Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin, and DaeSean Hamilton since then, but the quarterback remains in place. Penn State’s defense might actually make it tougher on Alabama’s offense than the other way around, and it could lead to an upset.
Penn State versus Georgia would be a rematch of the 1983 Sugar Bowl, which the Nittany Lions won, 27-23. Georgia defeating Clemson to get to the title game would be an outstanding victory, but if this is the championship matchup, Penn State will have been more tested throughout the season. It’d probably be a close game that comes down to the wire, and I like Penn State to hoist the trophy.