This time of year everyone has a college football prediction to offer you. Some of them are qualitatively “good.” That is, they are borne out by probative evidence. They’re well researched. They make sense. Many of them will nevertheless be spectacularly wrong. That’s why college football holds our attention. The game isn’t played on paper.
Some of them are qualitatively...suspect. They are the product of hunch, bias, allegiance, and a desire to be bold/different/memorable. These will likewise largely be wrong. But they’ll also be subject to ridicule, which is a nice bonus.
So why try to predict anything in college football? Because it’s fun. It’s like a free lottery ticket. It costs nothing to try to guess what will happen, and if you’re right there’s a significant psychological payoff. If you’re wrong, well, the time to pick your March Madness bracket won’t be more than a couple of months away by the time that’s decisively established.
Oh and for some of us, those of us who write for college athletic websites, it’s almost like our job.
So, in the spirit of nearly consequence free prognostication, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite predictions for the upcoming college football season. Please, enjoy my naivete and folly as much as I do. First up?
The College Football Playoff (One Day Sponsored by Poulan Weedeaters, if there’s any justice in the world)
Let’s get right to the big stakes. Who’s going to win this thing? I think the list of prohibitive favorites has to begin and end with Alabama. The Tide lost relatively little from last year’s national runner-up, and what they did lose is being replaced with fresh five star cyborgs. Navigating the SEC West is dicey. But we’ve been saying that for a decade. And Nick Saban keeps doing it. How far across the Mississippi River does the guy have to stroll in rolled up chinos before we admit that maybe, just for him, walking on water isn’t that impossible after all?
I think the Tide will once again be joined in the playoff by the Ohio State Buckeyes. Again, there’s just too much talent in Columbus. If the Fightin’ Urbans falter, it won’t be to Michigan. It will be in the Big Ten title game to . . .Wisconsin. Have you looked at the Badgers’ schedule? It is more preposterously easy than any Power 5 team deserves right up until they take on Michigan on November 18th. If there’s a guaranteed 10 win team in America that doesn’t play and practice in Tuscaloosa, it’s the one who does business in Madison, Wisconsin.
I also have Florida State emerging from the ACC onto the playoff stage. FSU could field the best defense in America in 2017. Deondre Francois returns a year older and wiser. Jacques Patrick is an incredibly productive big tailback, and freshman Cam Akers is quite frankly the best high school tailback I’ve seen since Adrian Peterson. Better than Gurley. Better than Fournette.
The Noles’ schedule is tough, but with only a couple of exceptions (the Atlanta opener against Alabama and November 11th at Clemson) they should be favored. They get perhaps their next two hardest opponents (Miami, Louisville) in Tallahassee. It’s entirely possible (I would argue probable) that Jimbo Fisher’s team loses their opener in Mercedes-Benz Stadium then runs the table to go 11-1. In a battle of one loss teams to get into the playoff, an ACC champ whose only loss is to Alabama on opening weekend ain’t getting left out.
And my final pick for the College Football Playoff? Washington. I debated long and hard on this one between Washington and USC before deciding that the Huskies are most likely to emerge as the PAC-10 champ and head into the playoff as a result.
If you’re keeping track at home, this means I have a school each from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and PAC-12 in the playoff. What about the Big XII? Well, frankly Oklahoma is the only team in the conference with the talent to go undefeated, or likely have but one loss. But they face a gauntlet of teams in conference play good enough to pick them off without being good enough to supplant them. And that’s assuming they win a week two showdown with Ohio State (spoiler: they won’t). Lincoln Riley is a phenomenal football coach, and he may yet do great things in Norman. But year one will be a 10-2 season for the Sooners, and that leaves them on the outside looking in.
Your eventual champion? It’s the Tide, PAWWLLLLL!!! I’m not a gambling man. But if I were, I’d do it by the numbers. Alabama returns more experience, more star power, and a coach whose teams have overachieved on the big stage to a statistically significant degree. Alabama might not be your national champion. But in my book any prediction to the contrary has at its heart at least a kernel of wishful thinking, jealousy, or too much tailgate bourbon.
So why am I wrong here? I welcome your ridicule in the comments. Until later...