College football is back, with Florida and Miami kicking things off on Saturday night in Orlando. Teams have not even hit the field yet, and no one really knows what’s going to happen over the next few months; but let’s dive right into the predictions.
Power Five Conference Predictions
Nothing against the other ACC schools, but this is the easiest conference champion choice. Clemson is a powerhouse that should coast to a fifth straight ACC title.
Big 12: Oklahoma
Iowa State is an up-and-coming program led by head coach Matt Campbell, while Gary Patterson’s TCU squad should never be counted out, but I think the Big 12 will come down to Oklahoma and Texas. The quarterbacks leading the Sooners and Longhorns have a positive vibe about them—Jalen Hurts was highly successful at Alabama and is playing in an offense that helped produce the last two Heisman winners, while Sam Ehlinger has drawn Tim Tebow comparisons for his playing style—so both schools should feel good about their conference title chances in 2019. Oklahoma is the choice because of Hurts’ history of winning to start his career.
Big Ten: Michigan
The Big Ten is the toughest conference to pick in my opinion, but the two safest options are Ohio State and Michigan. I’ll go with the Wolverines because their matchup comes in The Big House this season, and they are due to break through under Jim Harbaugh. Nebraska in Scott Frost’s second year could be a big-time threat with Adrian Martinez at quarterback, and they host the only three preseason top-25 teams on their schedule (No. 5 Ohio State, No. 19 Wisconsin, and No. 20 Iowa). Also, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State are always programs that could be in the mix.
While Michigan and Ohio State were the safe choices in the Big Ten, the Pac-12 prediction goes in another direction with UCLA. The Bruins have a tough out-of-conference schedule that includes early-season showdowns with Cincinnati and No. 4 Oklahoma, but the Pac-12 isn’t expected to be challenging enough that they can’t be legitimate contenders for a conference championship. Chip Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football, and his team could surpass expectations and win the Pac-12 early before building up a potential national title contender over the next couple of years.
The SEC is loaded, and LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, and Auburn all have the talent to beat any team in any week; however, Alabama and Georgia should be the favorites as top-three ranked teams heading into the season. The Bulldogs have come heartbreakingly close to toppling the Crimson Tide in their last two matchups (the title game two seasons ago and the SEC title game last year), so they’ll have the confidence that they can go toe-to-toe with them.
Heisman Trophy Prediction
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
There are many excellent Heisman Trophy candidates in 2019, but Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor should be the narrow favorite over Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Taylor is coming off a 2,194-yard season last season, and he had a 1,977-yard campaign as a true freshman. In what’ll likely be his final college season before entering the NFL, Taylor might have a chance to challenge Barry Sanders’ single-season record 2,628 rushing yards like former Badger Melvin Gordon did back in 2014 when he racked up 2,587 rushing yards. The Heisman has become a bit of a quarterback award, but Taylor has the all-around ability to make this year different.
College Football Playoff Predictions
Again, Clemson is the best bet to win their conference, and they’re also the best bet to make the College Football Playoff because of that. The Tigers’ senior class from last year went 55-4 with two national championships, but the current guys in the program will look to continue putting their own stamp on things with another College Football Playoff appearance and a chance to continue this dynastic run.
The team that wins the SEC should almost certainly make the Playoff, and I picked Georgia, so this was an obvious choice. One concern with the Bulldogs is the loss of three top receivers from 2018, but Jake Fromm is the type of quarterback that will still play at a high level no matter the receiving corps around him.
I think an ACC champion Clemson and an SEC champion Georgia or Alabama would be locks for the Playoff, but the final two spots could get interesting. Perhaps other conferences could have multiple strong teams, but it’ll likely come down to champion representatives from the Big Ten, the Big 12, and a top-tier SEC non-champion. The Big Ten champion (Ohio State) was left out last season despite a completely dominant win against their rival to end the regular season before a conference title game victory (because Notre Dame was put in), but there’d be major drama if that happens two years in a row.
We’ll see how the season actually plays out, but I’m predicting a one-loss Bama team in this case—which should be good enough to get into the top four. This could be the an occurrence with the Crimson Tide either getting left out of the SEC Championship entirely or suffering a close loss to the Bulldogs.
Clemson over Georgia
Initially, Georgia was going to be the national champion pick, but it’s so tough to pick against Clemson. Trevor Lawrence is probably the best player in the nation, and he’s complemented by an exceptional supporting cast including stud junior running back Travis Etienne and monster six-foot-four receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. Anything can happen in any game, but to beat Clemson, a perfect game will likely have to be played—Georgia certainly has that ability, especially with an elite quarterback of their own in Jake Fromm. But overall, the Tigers are probably going to be the favorites to win it all for as long as Lawrence remains in schools (which is at least the next two years).