From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about making predictions that may or may not be reasonable, in fact, some might say they are bold. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Bold Predictions” articles here.
As we are around a month away from the start of the college football season, anticipation is starting to ramp up. In the upcoming weeks, preseason polls, preseason All-America teams, and award watchlists will all be released. With the opening of preseason camps and some key position battles coming into better view, there will be predictions for the season that will be made with more confidence than in previous months.
Since this week will be all about bold predictions here at LGHL, we figured that we’d get in on the act. While there will be plenty of spicy prognostications about Ohio State, we are going to look outside Columbus today. What we are looking for is the boldest prediction for the college football season not involving Ohio State.
Your bold prediction could stay inside the Big Ten, or it could be about any other conference in Division I college football. Or the prediction could pertain to an individual honor, whether it be the Heisman Trophy, an All-America team, or any other award. Maybe there is a team that isn’t regularly part of the College Football Playoff that you think has a great shot at making the four-team field in the final year before it expands to 12 teams.
Today’s question: What is your boldest prediction for college football this season outside of Ohio State?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: The Pac-12 will have a team make the College Football Playoff
In the nine years of the College Football Playoff, there have only been two representatives from the Pac-12. Oregon made the inaugural CFP in 2014, beating Florida State before losing in the title game to Ohio State. Washington made the 2016 CFP after posting a 12-1 record with Jake Browning at quarterback before losing to Alabama 24-7 in the semifinal. Since then the highest a Pac-12 team finished in the final CFP rankings was when Oregon was ranked sixth in 2019.
So with their recent track record, why am I optimistic the Pac-12 can get a team in the CFP this year? It figures that in the final year with USC and UCLA in the conference, the Pac-12 has a number of strong teams. USC has Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, as well as Lincoln Riley in his second year as head coach. Oregon has quarterback Bo Nix returning, while Washington counters with Michael Penix back for another season in Seattle. Even Utah has Cam Rising returning, so you can’t write off the Utes.
What the Pac-12 will have to try not to do this year is cannibalize each other, which we have seen in a number of years. Washington hosts Oregon in October, but a win over the Ducks won’t mean anything if the Huskies can’t navigate road games at USC and Utah in back-to-back weeks in November. Even though the conference has four really good teams at the top, they’ll need a team to step up and prove that they are better than the rest.
The team that I think has the best shot to make the CFP from the Pac-12 is USC. The toughest games on the road for the Trojans are an October trip to Notre Dame, and then a showdown up in Oregon with the Ducks the week before their regular season finale at home against UCLA. The biggest question for USC is if their defense can toughen up a little bit since the offense has shown it can hold its own with Williams at quarterback.
Matt’s answer: Alabama will not make a New Year’s Six Bowl
I have to admit, it’s still July and I am neck-deep in Cincinnati Reds’ Fever, so I have not dived deep into the Alabama Crimson Tide roster, but I knew all I needed to know about how Nick Saban feels about his offense by the fact that his team brought in former Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner to compete for the starting job.
Admittedly, Buchner very well might not be the Tide’s starter this season as he will be battling it out with third-year player Jalen Milroe and second-year QB Ty Simpson with the incumbent Alabamans looking like the most logical choices. Both were highly recruited players, Simpson was the No. 26 player nationally in 2022. But how confident could Saban be in his options to bring in Buchner?
Of course, that decision was probably fueled more by the hiring of Tommy Rees as the new offensive coordinator as he had been the quarterbacks coach and/or OC in South Bend since 2017. Then again, how bad are things when you are Alabama and you’re hiring the OC of the No. 60 offense from last season? Coincidentally, Kevin Steele is the team’s new defensive coordinator (he has been on Saban’s staff previously). Last year, he was the DC at Miami last season and his unit ranked No. 65 in total defense.
But the concerning quarterback and coordinator situations aren’t the only issue for the Tide this season. The Alabama roster this year, they still obviously have the topline talent that you expect from a Saban-led squad, but behind the starters, they are unusually thin on both offense and defense. If and when injuries inevitably happen whether or not unproven players can step up will go a long way to determining the outcome of their season.
ESPN’s Bill Connelly calculates that the Tide has only 40% of its 2022 production returning, a number that puts it at 125th nationally; 43% on offense, 36% on defense. For context, the Buckeyes are 48th nationally returning 67% of production (57% on offense and 77% on defense).
“Not only will he have two new coordinators,” Connelly wrote, “but he’ll also be looking to replace starting quarterback Bryce Young, leading rusher (and No. 3 receiver) Jahmyr Gibbs, most of the offensive line’s two-deep and about half of 2022’s defensive regulars.”
So, while Connelly goes on to say that Alabama’s recruiting prowess will almost certainly keep them toward the top of the College Football Playoff discussion, there is the possibility for a little bit of backsliding due to the lack of experience. And, given the schedule that the team plays in the SEC, if new stars don’t emerge, that could have a dramatic impact on how they weather the storm.
Not only do they host former Buckeye Quinn Ewers and Texas in Week 3, but over the course of four-consecutive games, Alabama has to face Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennesse, and — following an off week — LSU. While the Tide avoids Georgia in an interdivisional crossover this season, that is a pretty tough stretch, of which I could see Alabama losing one or even two of them. If they also lose to the Longhorns or drop the Iron Bowl (or an SEC Championship Game), they could be looking at three or four losses before the bowl assignments are announced.
Now, am I predicting that Alabama doesn’t make a New Year’s Six Bowl? Yes, that’s literally the point of the article, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Alabama is still Alabama and Nick Saban is still the greatest coach in the history of the sport. But, if you are asking me to be bold, I think there is at least a decent chance this could happen.