College football season is among us! The excitement has been building throughout the summer for the upcoming months of football. In the NFL, a team can lose many regular season games, but still have a shot at winning the Super Bowl. In college football, if a team loses twice they are essentially out of the College Football Playoff, which makes every game feel like an elimination game. December is when the four teams in the CFP will be determined; while these predictions are premature and may ultimately be inaccurate, let’s dive right in.
Top Four Teams
1. Alabama Crimson Tide: At this point, it feels like Alabama and Clemson are shoo-ins to make the playoff. Since the four-team playoff was introduced, Alabama has made it every year, while Clemson only missed the inaugural year. Last season, it looked like Alabama had one of the best rosters ever assembled by Nick Saban, as they rolled over every regular-season opponent by 20 or more points. This season, the Tide return many impact stars, including Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Dylan Moses and more*. Alabama still has the bitter taste of last year’s national championship defeat to Clemson with them; expect the Tide to use that as motivation this season.
2. Clemson Tigers: The phenom is only getting better. Last year, true freshman Trevor Lawrence led the Tigers to the national championship victory. The hype around him has only grown from there. Many football experts say that he is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck/Peyton Manning/John Elway (all of whom have been drafted by the Colts). Many say he would be able to start in the NFL right now. The bottom line is that he’s 19 and a sophomore, so he has to wait two years before entering the NFL. Clemson has built a machine that is equal to—arguably, better than—Alabama. Dabo Swinney has helped bring Clemson two national championship victories in the past three seasons. Before Dabo, Clemson had only won one national championship, back in 1981. Clemson might have the best receivers in the nation**, and despite losing four defensive linemen to the NFL, the Tigers appear to still have one of the best defenses in college football. At this point, it would be a complete shock if Clemson wasn’t the one or two seed in the playoff selection at the end of the year.
3. Georgia Bulldogs: This one was a tough pick. In terms of their roster, the Bulldogs may have one of the top three in the nation. The Kirby Smart recruiting effect is now in full swing, and Georgia is producing NFL talent at every position. Quarterback Jake Fromm looks to be one of the best at his position in the upcoming NFL draft, with the same being said about running back D'Andre Swift***. Despite the defense losing many stars to the NFL in the past two seasons, the Bulldogs have rebuilt the defense, and the current one may be the best Kirby Smart has had in his tenure at Georgia.
With all this being said, it seems like an obvious choice to put the Bulldogs in the playoff. They have one major problem: a tough schedule. Granted, the SEC East isn’t as intense as the SEC West. That being said, Georgia still has to play #8 Florida, #9 Notre Dame, and go on the road to Auburn, where they suffered their only regular season loss in 2017.
If Georgia goes undefeated, as many expect them to do, then they will (most likely) have to play Alabama in the SEC championship game. The unwritten rule for the college football playoff is that a team can lose once, but can’t lose twice. If Georgia loses one game, but that game is vs. Alabama, then they will make it into the playoff. If they lose one regular season game, and then lose to Alabama in an SEC Championship game, they will very likely find themselves playing in neither the Fiesta nor Peach Bowl in late December.
4. Texas Longhorns: Almost every year, there is one team that makes the playoff that is considered a “sleeper”, a team that isn’t ranked in the preseason as a top tier team, but finishes in the top four. My sleeper pick is Texas. Many are picking Texas to make the playoff as their “sleeper” pick, which makes it feel like it’s not a sleeper after all.
Texas Longhorns fans have every reason to feel optimistic. After being irrelevant for the past decade, Tom Herman has brought Texas back into Big 12 title discussion, as well as playoff discussion. Texas is led by a rising star at quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. Sam is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, as he demonstrated last year, when he accounted for most of the teams touchdowns in both rushing and passing. Texas also has one of the more complete offenses in their conference, with a loaded receiving corp and an emerging running game that was lacking last year. The defense lost many starters from last year who need to be replaced. One of the players to watch on this defense is Caden Sterns. Sterns is one of the best safeties in the nation, as well as one of the best overall defenders.
There are two major reasons why Texas might not make the playoff. The first reason is the University of Oklahoma; the Sooners have owned the conference this decade, and have made the playoff in back-to-back years. Personnel-wise, the Sooners may be just as talented, if not better, than the ‘Horns. Texas has beaten them in the regular season in recent years, but has failed to beat them in the Big 12 Championship. If Texas is in the playoff discussion, they will inevitably play Oklahoma in the championship game, and have to win that game. The other reason Texas may miss the playoff is if they play down to their opponents. As of recent, Texas has lost one or two games every season to a team that is clearly worse than them. If the Longhorns want to reach the playoff for the first time in school history, they can’t afford to do so.
With all this in mind, I see Texas dropping one game in the regular season. That one loss won’t be enough to keep them out of the playoff. It’s important to keep in mind that Texas has an “elimination” game on September 7th vs. #6 LSU. If they can win this game, then the road will be clearer for the Longhorns to make the playoff.
Teams That Will Just Miss the Playoff
LSU Tigers: They have a great defense, and Joe Burrow looks special. They just have too tough of a schedule.
Michigan Wolverines: This may be the year that Jim Harbaugh beats Ohio State. However, Michigan tends to lose games in the most heart-breaking fashion. They also can’t afford to drop more than a game with the schedule they have.
Oklahoma Sooners: The Sooners have all the reasons to return to the playoff, including the fact that they’ve had back-to-back playoff seasons, as well as back-to-back Heisman winners****. However, last year’s defense wasn’t good, and it doesn’t look like it got better this year; they may need to put up 40+ points every game to win.
Utah Utes: Probably the most complete team in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, the Pac-12 is the invisible conference of college football; they can go 12-1 and possibly still wouldn’t get into the playoff.
The Rest of the Top 25
9. Ohio State
10. Notre Dame
15. Texas A&M
18. Penn State
20. Michigan State
22. Iowa State
24. Boise State
Pick to Win the Heisman
Tua Tagovailoa: I was convinced that Tua was going to win the Heisman last year. He had a career year and was the favorite to take the trophy the whole season, until Kyler Murray stole it in the last week of the year. Tua and the Tide are playing with a chip on their shoulders this season. Tua will use the embarrassment of last year’s national championship and the fact that he came in second in the Heisman vote as fuel to win this year’s trophy.
Dark Horse Pick to Win the Heisman
Jonathan Taylor: Tua and Trevor Lawrence are the heavy favorites to win the Heisman this year. They are both at 3/1 to win, which isn’t such good odds if you want to bet on them and win money. It’s also worth mentioning that the Heisman is very hard to predict; in the past, many players who were barely heard of before the season started have taken the trophy.
With this in mind, it would be wise to bet on a sleeper pick or someone with strong odds. Jonathan Taylor has 25/1 odds currently. He also may be the best running back in the nation. If Taylor has a career year while leading Wisconsin to a possible playoff appearance, he will be in the Heisman discussion.
Other dark horse picks to win the Heisman with favorable odds are: Joe Burrow (40/1), AJ Dillon (50/1), D’Eriq King (60/1) and D’Andre Swift (60/1).
National Championship Pick
Alabama over Clemson: Round 5? All signs point to another rematch between the top two teams of this decade. They have been the two best teams in college football for some time now, and unless Georgia can pull off an upset or another team surprises us, it looks like that will continue. Alabama will probably be thinking of last year’s defeat all season, and they are starving for revenge against the Clemson Tigers.
Other Major Bowl Game Predictions
Rose Bowl: Michigan over Oregon
Cotton Bowl: Ohio State over Utah
Sugar Bowl: LSU over Oklahoma
Orange Bowl: Notre Dame over Syracuse
* There is NFL caliber talent at every position on this roster. These three are the more well known names; they are likely to win awards this season, as well as be top picks in the upcoming draft.
** The Tigers have been known in recent years as an NFL wide receiver factory, with players like Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams making their marks in the NFL.
*** It’s noteworthy to mention that the Bulldogs are also getting back Zamir White. White was the number one running back from the 2018 recruiting class, but couldn’t play last season with a knee injury. If White returns to form, the Bulldogs backfield may be the best in college football.
**** Also back-to-back number one picks in the NFL draft in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.