College football is four weeks in, and at this point and we know quite a bit more than we did during the preseason. The fog has cleared over looming questions such as who would start under center for Ohio State, or whether Mr. Adams would impress as the new signal caller for the Ducks. We have experienced intense lows as injuries have sidelined leading players like Taysom Hill, and Myles Jack, and we have felt extreme highs as Mormons used Hail Marys and Ole Miss used passing tradecraft to surprise the entire south. College football has been a lot of things these first four weeks, but in no way has it been boring.
Now that we know a teensy bit more than we did before, it only seems fair to throw out some of those old preseason predictions, and replace them with brand new #hot #takes and predictions. Here are six things I think will happen, based on what I've seen over the first month of the season.
- Michigan will finish with AT LEAST four losses.
Yes I know, Michigan is a hot buy right now for almost every analyst of the game, but I have watched this movie too many times in the last ten years to agree. September is the month of the Wolverine and although I believe Ohio State is potentially in trouble in Ann Arbor this November, I cannot see Harbaugh's men getting through Big Ten play tallying less than three losses. With the resurgence of Northwestern, some trap night games against streaky teams (Minnesota & Penn State), and the two rivalry games on their schedule (Michigan State & Ohio State), they may want to take their eyes off of the rankings. These past few weeks have been encouraging but expectations are quickly losing touch with reality in Ann Arbor, especially since Oregon State and UNLV might just be bad.
- The Big 12 will not be represented in the College Football Playoff this year either. Sorry Art.
From what I have watched of the Big 12's contenders this year, hope for a representative to get a playoff bid is unrealistic. Sure, there are four legitimate undefeated teams in the Big Twelve (TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and WVU). But from what I can tell none of these contenders plays a sustainable game plan.
TCU has looked utterly exposed almost every week, from the close call in Minneapolis, to the shootout at home with SMU, the Horned Frogs are already skating on thin ice, and now have a host of defensive injuries and losses. Baylor has given up their share of points as well, and while their offense has been outstanding, it's hard to draw impressive conclusions after they've basically just had a few scrimmages over the first few games.
I will say that Oklahoma is intriguing, but their win over Tennessee looks less and less impressive as Davis's Vol's lose to objectively bad teams (like say, Florida). Another key reason that the Big 12 will not be represented is its round robin play. Each team will play one another and there will almost certainly be multiple unexplainable losses. Can anyone really predict what will happen between West Virginia and Baylor, or TCU and Oklahoma State? No. Without an undefeated representative, and without quality out of conference victories (with the exception of Oklahoma), the Big-12 will need to root for chaos in order to grab a bid. I doubt they get enough.
- Ohio State will find a way to make the playoff.
Do I think Ohio State's offense has been borderline nauseating to watch at times this year? Yes. Am I worried that Ohio State will hurt from lack of offense as the season progresses? No. Ohio State showed signs of life last week, and I think they made an important turn in the correct direction. That direction is downfield.
There has been so much chatter about how Ohio State will ever effectively go deep this year without Devin Smith to throw to. But in my opinion, last week proved how many mid-field and deep threats their roster really has. By my count, they have at least five serious downfield threats at any given time, and that's conservative. If Ohio State wants to repeat they need to let Cardale's arm loose on the Big Ten in a carefully planned passing-focused attack.
Getting the ball to guys like Braxton Miller, Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Mike Thomas, Curtis Samuel , and Nick Vannett increasingly often will be the key to an offense that defensive coordinators can only hope to contain. Ohio State's choice to let receivers and tight ends get more and more meaningful touches is what will align the rest of the offensive production. Increased passing will open up the running game and allow Cardale to get the reps in that he needs to get more comfortable with the offense.
Ohio State has a favorable schedule and I think that has to factor into their playoff chance equation, but I really see only one game that the Buckeyes could lose before the Big Ten Championship. Although you all don't want to hear this, Michigan is still their greatest threat to a repeat. Michigan plays Ohio State tough year in and year out regardless of empirical differences and records, and this year in Ann Arbor, they are more poised than ever to get their once in a decade win. However, my gut and brain still says Ohio State wins out, becomes the dynamic offense we saw glimpse of at Virginia Tech, and moves on to Miami or Dallas.
- Alabama will still win the SEC.
Sorry Georgia, it is that time of year, the clock has struck midnight. This Saturday's showdown in Athens is reminiscent in my mind of the famous 2008 matchup. The Tide came into Athens ranked slightly lower than Georgia and were expected to roll over in the hostile 'blackout.' However, the Crimson Tide not only won the game convincingly, they won over national credibility after dismembering Georgia on Saturday Night Football. I think that Alabama will get back on track this week and remind non believers that Derrick Henry is still a force of nature, and the Crimson Tide haven't given up on the playoff yet. Ole Miss is fifty shades of streaky, and as Auburn can attest to year after year, luck runs out. The Crimson Tide have the deepest defense, the best running back, and the best coach (SEC), I like their chances for their yearly trip to Atlanta to continue.
- USC will lose at least four more times.
USC was the nemesis of college football in the previous decade, now they are the most perennially overrated team other than perhaps Notre Dame. USC beat Arizona State last week, and pretty convincingly at that, but I see their narrative changing pretty dramatically after this week's layup against Washington. There is serious reason to believe that the Trojans could lose up to five of their last seven games, but to side with conservatism, I will say they lose only four. Notre Dame, Utah, Cal, Oregon, and UCLA are all candidates to beat the Trojans, and given USC's depth concerns, it's possible they lose to somebody else too. Cannibalism is alive and well in the Pac-12.
- Bert gets his annual win this week.
Bert will get a rare SEC win this week against Tennessee. After last week's suffocating loss to A&M, I almost felt a twinge of pity for the guy, but that went away quickly enough. The Razorbacks showed signs of life as the stage got bigger last week in Dallas, and I expect a deflated Volunteer team to feel the wrath of the angry southern pig this week in Fayetteville, as the Hogs should be able to control the lines of scrimmage. Don't tell Bert I have confidence in him though.
- Lastly, a trimester report prediction of the College Football Playoff's final four:
1. Ohio State
2. Florida State
4. Michigan State