Let’s come out the gate with the biggest, boldest shock to the system…
TEXAS IS THE NEW ALABAMA: The Longhorns have 10 starters back on defense, another stud at RB (Chris Warren) and, most critically, the head coach to take them there. Tom Herman will be at the forefront of not just a turnaround in Austin, but the resurgence of the Horns into an annual national powerhouse. If you can’t stand Alabama or Ohio State, you are gonna learn to really despise Texas.
FLORIDA STATE IS BACK AGAIN: Deondre Francois is the best QB in the ACC right now (and yes that includes you Lamar Jackson). Nine starters back on Jimbo Fisher’s defense. Yes the schedule is tough but the ‘Noles are good enough to beat Alabama to open the season and better than Clemson and Florida right now.
RED ELEPHANTS DON’T FORGET: Alabama isn’t going anywhere. Not with that depth of talent. New OC Brian Daboll will need to marshall QB Jalen Hurts through the landmines. Now that there is a book on him the Tide will need to run the ball with Bo Scarborough and shut other clubs down. They can surely do that even losing half a dozen defensive studs to the NFL draft, but two stumbles are not out of the question.
UNDERRATED IN THE HUNT: Penn State just doesn’t get the credit. They were the Big Ten champs last season and still didn’t get invited to the playoff, which chose a team in PSU’s division that the Nitany Lions beat. James Franklin has the QB (Trace McSorely) and the RB (Saquon Barkley) to be explosive enough against a schedule that should allow them to gain momentum as the season progresses. PSU can win the Big Ten again.
WASHINGTON – That was no fluke last year. QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin and the best from 7 on defense in the conference.
AUBURN – If not for being in the SEC West. Transfer QB Jarret Stidham has a great 1-2 punch at RB and an even better offensive line. Beat Clemson in week 2 and these might be the Tigers to watch in ’17.
THE SEC EAST WINNER – Not a dodge, just a head scratcher. There is no doubt the east is catching up to the west but is Georgia (in year-2 of Kirby Smart/QB Jacob Eason) ready to leap to 11 wins? Or will Florida (which is still looking to settle its QB spot) be the best in the division again. The winner here will be battle tested and could surprise in the SEC title game, which makes it a threat to make the playoff.
OVERRATED IN THE HUNT: OHIO STATE is a great program with quality athletes but there is something so hit-and-miss about QB J.T. Barrett that it gives me pause. Barrett is as capable of a disaster of a game as he is a spectacular. Indiana is good enough at home in Bloomington to beat the Buckeyes on opening night. OSU will lose 3 games.
USC – Solid club but not ready to contend for a title. Great QB against a tough schedule. Three losses could happen.
MICHIGAN – Great young talent, but so young they will need a season to grow together. Could be the title favorite soon.
CLEMSON – Fabulous defensive line (DT’s Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are both potential 1st team AA). But I strongly sense QB is going to be a major issue through the season. Clemson won a lot of close games last season that could well go the other way now.
POWER-5 CONFERENCE WINNERS:
Big 12 – Texas
Pac 12- Washington
Big Ten – Penn State
ACC – Florida State
SEC – Alabama
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF:
Alabama v. Texas
Florida State v. Penn State
NATIONAL TITLE GAME: Florida State v. Texas
NATIONAL CHAMPION: Florida State
HEISMAN WINNER: RB Saquon Barkley – Penn State
COACH OF THE YEAR: Tom Herman – Texas