Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ten Bold Predictions for the 2015 NCAA Football Season

Why even bother watching college football this year? I tell you the Power Five Conference Champions, the big Bowl Game outcomes and, of course, this year's National Champions four months in advance. 

By: Jimbo X

Folks, are you ready for (some kind of) FOOTBALL? Of course you are, and thankfully, the college football season kicks off next week. To be fair, I've never really been that big of a college pigskin fan (thanks in part to attending a college that didn't field a team until recently), but there's no denying the high-scoring amusement of Saturday 'ball. 

So, which Power Five Conference will lose out when it comes playoff team selection time, you're probably wondering? Furthermore, just how well can a non-Power Five team do this year? Are 'Bama and Ohio State really on an inevitable collision course at AT&T Stadium in mid-January? And hey -- what are the odds that those offensive juggernauts out in the Big 12 actually make it to the big dance this time around? 

Well folks, for your miscellaneous inquiries, I've got answers. Using my super-secret college football prognostication formula (hint: it involves both sabermetrics and a Magic Eight Ball), I've gone on ahead and ran calculations for the outcomes of every Division I college football game of the fall. Or maybe, I just kind of skimmed the schedule on ESPN and made a few seat-of-the-pants calls. Like there's that much of a difference, no? 

Wanna' know if your team is bound for glory or destined for failure? Wonder no more, fellas: here are ten bet-your-kids-college-fund locks for the 2015 NCAA Football season...

Ohio State will falter early and late in the season

You better bookmark this page, folks, ‘cause in a couple of days, you people are going to think I’m some kind of oracle. Right now, THE Ohio State University is the nigh universal consensus pick for this year’s National Champions. They are a stacked team, no doubt, but I expect Urban Meyer’s juggernaut to suffer colossal book-end losses that sinks the team’s odds of even playing for the Big Ten Championship this year.

Last year, Virginia Tech upset the Buckeyes, and on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, I fully expect the Hokies to do it again. It’ll be a seismic shock to everybody except us, but I’m just feeling it in my bones -- it ain’t easy winning games in Blacksburg, and with so much hype piled on the team, I just think there’s all the makings for a gargantuan week one collapse. From there, I see the Buckeyes righting the ship, winning their next nine games (although Penn State will make it a nail-biter.) Still eyeing a playoff berth, I see Michigan State shocking the Buckeyes at home, a big, wet, proverbial French Kiss of Death that’ll keep THE Ohio State from even thinking about playing for THE National Championship. And to add insult to injury? A deflated Buckeyes squad will go on to lose against arch-rivals Michigan, in an iteration of “The Game” that has no real bearings on the National Championship hunt.

As for the Big Ten Championship game? I have a one-loss Michigan State squad (who stumbles in week two against Oregon) running roughshod over a one-loss Wisconsin team, whose sole loss during the regular season happens week one against ‘Bama.

And some quick projections for a few other Big 10 teams before we move along: Penn State will drop just two games all season (week 7 against OSU and week 13 against Michigan State), while the new look Wolverines win seven or fewer games -- including the aforementioned just-for-funsies tilt against the Buckeyes.

Louisville will win a surprisingly competitive ACC

With so many ongoing distractions in Tallahassee in conjunction with the loss of Jameis Winston, it’s not really a surprise that the Seminoles won’t go undefeated in the regular season like they did last year (for the record, I have them dropping five games, including an effortless loss against the Gators on Nov. 28). What may be surprising, however, is just how contentious the battle for the ACC crown will be in 2015, in the absence of any one true “dominant” team.

With Florida State on a downward trajectory, the ACC Atlantic is Louisville’s to lose. While a week one loss against Auburn is all but inevitable, I see the team running the table all the way up to a shock-loss against UVA on Nov. 14. Still, that’s more than enough to put them in the ACC Championship Game, which I project them winning.

I’ve got Georgia Tech winning the Coastal division, but it won’t be easy. They’ll slink by Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, but their “perfect season” comes to an end in a Thursday night  game against the Hokies. They will drop next week’s game against Miami, but they rebound with a decisive win against arch rivals UGA. Miami will also be a two-loss team, giving up games to Nebraska and Florida State early in the season. Virginia Tech will ALSO be just a two-loss team, with an Oct. 17 loss to Miami and an inexcusable Halloween loss to Boston College. Miami and VT fans alike will be pissed a plenty that their teams didn’t get in, but alas, that’s how the NCAA mathematics work, I am afraid.

As for the rest of the conference, we’re dealing with mostly junk teams. Duke had an aberrationly good year last year, but I’d be surprised if they win more than 6 games this time around. The big shock, however, is going to be how bad Clemson performs this year, as the team with the third best defense in the country in ‘14 winds up dropping five consecutive games from Sept. 17 to Oct. 24, with three more disastrous losses (including one at the hands of conference basement dweller Wake Forest) before the season painfully wraps up.

The Big 12 will be a three-team shootout, with TWO representatives making the National Championship Playoffs

Last year, TCU and Baylor missed the playoffs, despite their respective one-loss records. Both teams will once again find themselves in the National Championship title hunt, but what might surprise a few folks is who they will have as company in the race to the Big 12 Championship.

As was the case last year, I expect Baylor -- with their potent, No.1 ranked offense -- to best TCU in a shootout on Nov. 27. The rub there is, the week before, the Golden Bears will drop yet another game at Oklahoma State, which will effectively keep them from winning the conference.

The Horned Frogs will lose just one game all season -- an Oct. 10 double-digit loss to Kansas State. After a Nov. 5 loss to Baylor, the Wildcats will remain potential National Champion contenders all the way up to a shock loss against West Virginia on Dec. 5. As the Big 12 doesn’t have an official championship game of their own, that’s going to brew a LOT of controversy over who should be deemed the champs. While TCU gets the official nod, a lot of folks will consider Baylor the real champions. And -- much to the delight of high-scoring football game fans across America -- this year, we WILL get to see Baylor and TCU face-off twice.

Regarding the rest of the 10-team Big 12 this year? I’ve got West Virginia and Oklahoma State dropping four games each, Oklahoma dropping six and Texas losing at least eight games. Oh, and beginning in 2016? They will most definitely have their own Championship Game, or else I will eat my own hat.

The Pac-12 will be atrocious, with two three-loss teams battling for the conference championship 

With no Marcus Mariota, I’ve got Oregon taking a precipitous plunge in 2015. By November's end,  I expect them to have at least three losses on the record. Obviously, that puts them out of National Championship consideration, but -- speaking to the abject dreadfulness of the Pac-12 as a whole this season -- they'll still make a return trip to the conference championship game.

My predictions for the outcomes of the Power
Five Conference Championships. Just, uh,
overlook the flip-flopped Big 10 and Big 12
labels, please.
The South will be better than the North, but not by much. Both Arizona and Arizona State had some fluky success last year, and similarly, I see the two squads in Washington having some unexpected success this season.

As expected, USC will crash and burn after some early success. After going 3-0, they will drop four games in a row and almost lose to Cal. Expect them to drop at least two more games before the season’s end. That leaves UCLA and, unbelievably, Utah battling for the division, with a three-loss Utes squad barely squeaking past a four-loss Bruins squad .

In the end, I’ve got Utah taking out Oregon in a relatively meaningless conference title game. And -- not surprisingly -- no one will consider the Utes worthy of a shot at the National Championship after they scoop up the Pac-12 crown.

Auburn will win the SEC West and Tennessee will win the SEC East

EVERYBODY is picking Alabama to win the National Championship this year (and by proxy, the SEC crown), which is more than enough reason to pick against them. Oh, Nick Sabin’s squad is going to be good, all right -- I’ve got the Tide dropping just one game (an Oct. 24 loss to a resurgent Vols squad) en route to the 2015 Iron Bowl. Alas, I’ve got the Tigers winning that one (and thus, the SEC West), although I do expect them to drop one game before then -- I don’t know why, but that Nov. 7 game at Texas A&M just rubs me the wrong way.

Over in the SEC East, I’ve got a one-loss Tennessee team running roughshod over the rest of the division -- this, despite a pretty inexplicable loss against Florida in late September. Expect the UGA defense to fare much worse than it did last season, while Missouri’s already piss-poor offense gets even sloppier. The downward trajectories for Florida and South Carolina will continue -- I see both teams dropping at least five games a piece this season.

The SEC Championships ought to be a barn burner, a high-offense hootenanny remarkably similar to that Auburn/Missouri shootout in 2013. Alas, I reckon Auburn’s defense is just a smidge better, which ought to give them enough of an edge to squeak by the Vols -- I’m calling a 34-31 finish here, complete with a dramatic last minute TD from the Tigers.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State were twin surprises last year, but I don’t see them having anywhere near as much luck in 2015. Arkansas just doesn’t have the offense to get past half the teams in the SEC, and while A&M and LSU will pull off some upsets, I’d be really shocked if those squads managed to do better than four losses this upcoming season.

Boise State and Notre Dame will make strong cases for playoff berths, but neither team will get in

Outside the Power Five, I see quite a few interesting things happening. The Broncos are pretty much guaranteed the MWC Championship, but I’m not quite sure they’ll be able to run the table. Although the team most certainly has a shot at a perfect season,  I think they’ll wind up dropping at least one game, with the most likely loss being their week 2 showdown with BYU. Sorry, Idahoans, but I just can’t imagine an undefeated Boise State squad earning an invite to the final four, let alone a team with a sole “L” in their win-loss column.

Speaking of Mormon country, I see BYU being one of the big surprises of the 2015 college football season. They’ll do very well against Top 25 competition (they will knock off Nebraska, Michigan and UCLA, for sure) but at the same time, it’s pretty hard to imagine them finishing the season better than two losses. The Missouri game on Nov. 14 has “trap game” written all over it, and for reasons that I just can’t rationalize, something tells me they’ll choke against Fresno State or Utah State.

I’ve got Notre Dame dropping just two all-year-long; a week 3 double-digit stomping at the hands of Georgia Tech and a “you’ve got to be shitting me” loss against Boston College just before Thanksgiving. They’ll do well enough for a New Year’s Day Bowl bid, but alas, this ain’t their year to win a National Championship.

Every year, there seems to be that one over-achieving non-Power Five team that makes a run at an improbable playoffs berth. Last year, it was Marshall, and this year, I’m putting my money on Navy. Defensively, they need a lot of work, but they averaged the third most rushing yards of any Division I college team in the nation last year. That, and as new recruits to the AAC, they have a fairly easy field to plow through; outside of an Oct. 10 contest against Notre Dame (and maybe the Nov. 28 match-up against Houston), I just don’t see the Midshipmen losing to anybody this season.

A lot of teams expected to do well this year will suck…

Looking at the US Today Coaches Preseason Poll, I’m seeing a TON of overrated squads with unreasonably high rankings.

For starters, two teams who made the final four last year (fifth-ranked Oregon and eighth-ranked FSU) will almost certainly wind up dropping at least three games a piece.

With a super-tough schedule, the overrated Georgia Bulldogs (ranked ninth) could easily drop five games, if not more. Similarly, number 10 USC and number 12 Clemson are both likely to drop four games each, as is number 13 LSU.

UCLA (number 14), Arizona State (number 16) and Ole Miss (number 15) are definitely going to be four-loss minimum squads. Oklahoma, Arkansas and Stanford (numbers 19 through 21, respectively), are probably going to drop at least five games throughout the season. Arizona and Missouri did pretty good last year, but I see them doing much worse this year -- both teams, feasibly, are five-loss squads, at best.

…while a lot of teams expected to suck will do surprisingly well. 

My predictions for the "Big Seven" Bowl
Games in January. 
Heading back to the Coaches Poll, both Boise State and Tennessee -- who occupy the 24th and 25th slots -- are going to finish the season in the top 10. Along those same lines, I see both Georgia Tech and Wisconsin (ranked 17th and 18th) making it all the way to their respective conference championships.

Of course, the teams who are really going to shock the shit out of people in 2015 aren’t even ranked in the so-called “Top 25” right now. Kansas State, Utah, and Louisville all have the makings of conference champions, while Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Miami, BYU and Washington are all guaranteed to finish above .500.

While I wouldn’t call them championship caliber squads, I wouldn’t sleep on Virginia Tech or West Virginia, either. While neither team will make a real run for their conference titles, I predict both teams will play spoiler and keep other highly ranked teams from making the playoffs.

Oh, and for those looking for the upset of the year? I’ve got two games to mark on your calendars: Sept 12. (when Cal Poly shocks Arizona State) and Oct. 10 (when Eastern Michigan will go into Death Valley and utterly stun the LSU Tigers.)

For the most part, this year's bowl games will be relatively close.

We'll do the four-team playoffs later. For the time being, I want to focus on the big four non-playoff bowl games. In the Rose Bowl, I'm guessing it's going to be Utah against Ohio State. The Buckeyes, on paper anyway, are clearly a better team, but having lost their opportunity to make another National Championship run in late November, I figure they'll just phone it in here. I've got the Utes winning it, 38-21

Louisville and Boise State are my selections for the Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals are going to be mighty pissed about being named the fifth best team of the regular season, and they definitely have a lot to prove against a similarly unheralded Broncos squad. This one has all the makings of a shootout classic, which is exactly why I'm prognosticating this one will be a defense-oriented, low-scoring affair. I've got Louisville wining a nail-biter here, 21-19. 

You know, you could possibly make a better match-up than Alabama and Miami (not of Ohio) for the Peach Bowl, but come on. This game is held in SEC territory, so you know the best leftover team from the Cotton Belt is a lock for this one. Expect it to be a points-heavy affair, with the Tide's defense coming up big in the fourth. I see 'Bama taking it, 42-35. 

And lastly, we come to the Fiesta Bowl. Really, there's a goulash of teams that deserve a shot in the game (Navy, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Penn State, among others), I figure this one will wind up being a fairly random tussle between Notre Dame (gotta' get the Catholics glued to the boob tube, you know) and Kansas State. The idea is that, of the remaining two-to-three-loss teams remaining, KSU is the one the Irish have the best shot of beating. Which, as we all would have guessed, means they actually end up dropping the game to the Big 12 also-ran, 20-14. 

Auburn will best TCU in a nail-biter to win the National Championship

In order, I've got the selection committee choosing the following four teams for the playoffs: Auburn, Baylor, TCU and Michigan State. 

The second go-at-it between TCU and Baylor will be every bit as entertaining as their regular season score-fest. Alas, this time around, I expect a flip-flopped outcome in the Cotton Bowl;  with a minute to go, TCU marches down the field and connects on a late touchdown, securing a 48-44 victory for the Horned Frogs. 

The Orange Bowl contest between Auburn and Michigan State will be every bit as exciting. While they won't put up a combined 90 points like the Big 12 schools, the Spartans and Tigers will nonetheless make it a compelling game, with Auburn's defense making a huge fourth and goal stop to punch their tickets to the National Championship. Final score: Auburn, 24, Michigan State, 21. 

That leaves us with an SEC on Big 12 grand finale at Jerry World. Throughout the better part of the season, Auburn has been able to do just enough to squeak by, and even against TCU's potent offense, I think that will remain the case. Inconceivably, I imagine this one being a low-scoring affair, with the Tigers secondary shutting down the Horned Frogs aerial attack. Since Auburn does a better job of running the ball, I see them using the clock to push their way to a slim 21-19 victory, complete with a last second TCU Hail Mary coming up unbearably short in the game's final seconds. 


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