Deep within the depths of the college football offseason, fans will do anything to satisfy their craving for some pigskin. Auburn fans will watch the “Kick-Six” against Alabama on their DVR for the 3,428th time. Some fans will watch a replay of North Dakota State vs. Towson on ESPNU just because, well, it’s football.
Yeah, there’s NBA free agency and NFL training camps to tide people over in their hunger for sports, but for millions, those things don’t hold a candle to the wild, unpredictable, controversial beauty that is college football.
Fortunately, we can finally see the light at the end of the offseason tunnel. Soon, players across the nation will report to campus for training camp, the official sign (if you don’t count the circus of SEC Media Days) that college football is near.
In 2014, Florida State will look to again dominate the ACC and try to win their second consecutive national title. The Seminoles have a dynasty on their minds. Don’t tell that to some of college football’s other prime contenders, such as Auburn (the lone team to give the Seminoles a real scare in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game), Alabama, Oklahoma, Baylor, Ohio State, Michigan State, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, Georgia, South Carolina and others. Perhaps another surprise team will emerge in college football and challenge for the title.
No matter what, this college football season will be fantastic, as it always is. Here are my personal predictions for the 2014 college football season. These predictions cover everything from major conference standings, records, Heisman finalists, bowl projections and the first-ever College Football Playoff national champions.
1. Auburn Tigers (11-1, 7-1) – What’s Gus Malzahn’s idea of an encore? After taking over a team that went 3-9 in 2012, Malzahn transformed the Tigers in every way imaginable. Led by dynamic dual-threat Nick Marshall, Heisman finalist Tre Mason and terrific offensive and defensive lines, the Tigers ran their way to an SEC Championship in Gus’s first year. This year, three key offensive players (Tre Mason, Greg Robinson and Jay Prosch) are gone to the NFL, but Marshall is back with an offseason with Malzahn under his belt, the running backs group is deep and talented, four offensive linemen are back, the wide receivers corp are great led by Sammie Coates and Duke Williams and the defense has its best players, save Dee Ford, back. I think Auburn invades Tuscaloosa, wins their second straight over Alabama in the de facto SEC West title game and wins the West again, despite the damning schedule.
2. LSU Tigers (9-3, 6-2) – What? How can LSU finish above Alabama in the SEC West standings despite Alabama playing Auburn for the right to win the West? Simply, LSU will hold the conference record tie-breaker. Despite returning four starting offensive linemen, LSU has to replace numerous key players and might lean on a true freshman QB in Brandon Harris and RB in Leonard Fournette. The defense has to reload, as well. This team is pretty young, which will cause LSU to struggle early in the year. I predict LSU to lose to Wisconsin in the first game, as well as to Auburn and Florida. After that, though, LSU’s young players will be more experienced and the Bayou Bengals will improve as the year goes on. The Tigers will be rolling by the end of the year, ending Alabama’s unbeaten season in Baton Rouge and entering their bowl game with a chance at their 5th consecutive 10-win season.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2, 6-2) – What? Alabama finishing third in their own division despite a soft schedule? I believe that will be so. The Tide does return three offensive linemen, an excellent WR corp led by Amari Cooper and perhaps the best running back stable in college football. The defensive front seven will be good, as always. However, concern in the secondary gives me pause. Also, Jacob Coker is an unproven commodity at quarterback. He was Jameis Winston’s backup at Florida State and looks like the clear front-runner to win the starting job for the Crimson Tide, but he’ll have to prove on the field that he’s a capable replacement for AJ McCarron. Added into the mix is offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. He might have a pretty good offensive mind, but his head coaching stints and personality are serious cause for concern. The Tide will go unbeaten into November before losing in Baton Rouge. The 10-1 Tide will remain in the thick of the playoff race, but in the SEC West title game, Alabama will fall short against Gus Malzahn’s Tigers again.
4. Ole Miss Rebels (8-4, 4-4) – Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty, Ole Miss now has the SEC’s attention. The Rebels have used dynamite recruiting and a steadily improving on-field performance to make a name for themselves in the SEC West. This year, Ole Miss plays host to Alabama and Auburn, as well as West darkhorse Mississippi State. 9 starters on defense are back. Bo Wallace is back in his third year as the starting quarterback. This might be the year that Ole Miss takes their next step forward and challenges for a spot in the SEC Championship Game. However, there are concerns for the Rebels. Bo Wallace has been inconsistent his entire career, often turning the ball over in crucial times. Depth on the offensive line is a red flag. Hugh Freeze has shown his ability to recruit, but for some, the jury is still out on his X’s and O’s. He shows no hesitation to go for it on fourth down, and often, those decisions backfire. Ole Miss will field their best team in a few years, but they won’t be quite good enough to become a real contender in the SEC West.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-5, 3-5) – Of all the teams in the SEC West, Mississippi State is the most likely to exceed my expectations. No, the Bulldogs’ roster doesn’t have the talent that Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M have. However, the Bulldogs return 17 starters, including star QB Dak Prescott. Prescott is a dynamic dual-threat QB with a high ceiling and loads of potential. He has solid players on offense to help him and the MSU defense, as usual, will be good enough to keep the Bulldogs in any game they play. I wouldn’t be that surprised if the Bulldogs pulled off a few upsets and finished with a winning SEC record.
6. Texas A&M Aggies (7-5, 3-5) – No, this ranking isn’t based on the fact that A&M loses the greatest quarterback in school history. It’s based on the fact that the Aggies also lose Mike Evans at WR and, despite getting four offensive linemen back, will have inexperienced skill players. The conference schedule is also brutal, as the Aggies visit South Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn, along with home games against Ole Miss, reigning SEC East champion Missouri and LSU. Four wins are guaranteed thanks to a soft non-conference schedule, but the conference schedule is among the conference’s toughest. However, the porous defense from a year ago has 9 starters back, so that unit will be improved. Also, Kevin Sumlin’s an offensive guru, so this offense won’t exactly be dead in the water. However, with a lot of young talent on hand, this year figures to be a rebuilding year for Texas A&M.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks (3-9, 0-8) – Ouch, Bielema. Despite 15 returning starters, include stud running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, the Razorbacks are simply devoid of talent in most areas right now. Since winning the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2011 season, the Razorbacks have gone 7-17 (2-14 in the SEC). That trend will continue this year. The Razorbacks will be improved, but it won’t matter because of the schedule. The Hogs open the season at SEC Champion Auburn and play other road games at Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Missouri and Texas A&M (at Cowboys Stadium). The Razorbacks also host Northern Illinois, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. The Hogs are capable of winning some conference games, but they’re just not talented enough to do so. Despite another successful running game, Bret Bielema’s SEC record at Arkansas will slide to 0-16. Ouch.
1. Florida Gators (10-2, 7-1) – Which season was a mirage for Muschamp and the Gators: 11-2 in 2012 or 4-8 in 2013? If I had to choose, I’d say 2013. The Gators had absolutely no good fortunes in 2013, being decimated by injuries and falling into a deep slump, most notably losing to Georgia Southern. However, if there were any solid signs for the Gators, it’s that, despite starting third string players on both sides of the ball, Florida remained competitive in most of their losses. This year, if the Gators remain healthy, the SEC East title is not an impossibility. Florida returns 7 starters on offense, 7 on defense, the punter and the kicker. New OC Kurt Roper, whose offense at Duke ripped through the ACC in 2013 as the Blue Devils won 10 games, will give Florida’s offense a pulse. Jeff Driskel is healthy and finally in a system that suits his skills. The Gators also have arguably the best defense in the entire SEC. Other notable East contenders South Carolina and Missouri visit the Swamp, while the Georgia game is in Jacksonville. The Gators will lose just one conference game (at Alabama), beat Georgia and win the SEC East. Needless to say, Will Muschamp will be off the hot seat.
2. Georgia Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1) – Despite losing their all-time leading passer, three offensive linemen and a chunk of their secondary, Georgia will be a prime contender for the SEC East. The Bulldogs were crippled by injuries last year, and many of those key players are back and healthy in 2014. That includes the nation’s best running back, Todd Gurley, who is essentially a tank. New QB Hutson Mason is stepping into a good situation with plenty of skill players around him. The Bulldogs struggled on defense last year, giving up 29 points per game. However, the front seven is strong, as the Bulldogs return two defensive line starters and all four linebackers, including All-SEC caliber Ramik Wilson. The secondary will continue to be a weakness, but the Bulldogs have the talent, coaching and schedule to contend for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoffs. In fact, According to these standings predictions, Georgia will be in position to make the Playoff without winning the SEC if Florida pulls off an upset in the SEC Championship Game.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks (9-3, 5-3) – South Carolina is becoming bored with the consistent 11-win seasons. Doesn’t that sound strange? Well, it’s true. The Gamecocks believe that, despite losing most of their defensive line and QB Connor Shaw, 2014 will be the year they break through and win the SEC for the first time. They certainly can do just that, as new QB Dylan Thompson is experienced, RB Mike Davis is one of the conference’s best and the only offensive line in the SEC that is better than Carolina’s is Auburn. Most of the secondary is back, as are all three starting linebackers (counting the “Spur” position). Also, the Gamecocks get Georgia and Missouri in Columbia, SC. However, the Gamecocks have to play at Vanderbilt, Auburn, Florida and Clemson. At the end of the day, the Gamecocks will fall short of the SEC Championship again, but a bowl win would give South Carolina four straight double-digit win seasons.
4. Missouri Tigers (7-5, 3-5) – To clarify, pegging Mizzou to finish 4th in the East isn’t a sign that I think Missouri was a one-hit wonder in 2013. They’re anything but. However, The only area where Missouri doesn’t lose almost all their starters is on special teams, where kicker Andrew Baggett and punter Christian Brinser are back. On offense, only 5 starters back (unless you don’t consider Maty Mauk a returning starter, in which case four starters are back). To make matters worse, only 4 defensive starters are back. The Tigers host Georgia but go to South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee. The loss of personnel is reminiscent to the 2011 Auburn Tigers, when they lost over 30 players from the championship team and saw their record fall from 14-0 to 8-5. Missouri will be fine in the next few years, but in 2014, regression should be expected.
5. Tennessee Volunteers (6-6, 3-5) – Butch Jones has done all the right things at Tennessee so far. He’s built a good staff, put in new schemes on both sides of the ball and has been on fire on the recruiting trail. One thing he hasn’t done, and likely won’t do in 2014, is win big. Of course, that’s not Butch Jones’s fault. He took over a Vols program in shambles and is in the midst of a massive rebuilding job. This isn’t a quick fix. Butch knows it and the Vol Nation knows it. However, I do think Tennessee will show that the program is going in the right direction in 2014 by making a bowl game for the first time since 2010, despite a brutal schedule that includes Utah State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
6. Vanderbilt Commodores (5-7, 1-7) - In the past two years, Vanderbilt has been among the most consistent teams in the SEC, winning 18 games in 2012 and 2013. However, in 2014, they have a new head coach (Derek Mason), return only 10 starters and face a difficult conference schedule. The lone team on Vanderbilt’s conference schedule with fewer returning starters is Missouri, and that game’s in Colombia. Derek Mason is a solid coach who believes Vanderbilt could win the SEC East, and for what it’s worth, I picked Missouri to finish last in the East last year, so that could be a good omen for the ‘Dores to be the surprise team in college football. However, I doubt I’ll be that wrong about the East two consecutive years. Mason takes over a team in a little more of a rebuilding mode than he would like to acknowledge.
7. Kentucky Wildcats (4-8, 1-7) – The Wildcats haven’t won an SEC game since beating Tennessee at the end of the 2011 season. However, Mark Stoops has been hot on the recruiting trail, as he brought in a top 25 class this year. Those talented freshmen won’t all play immediate dividends, but Kentucky and its fans have bought into what Stoops is selling. Kentucky will take a step towards Stoops’s vision in 2014, as they will win an SEC game for the first time in a few years. Are they good enough to make a bowl? Absolutely not. Not yet, anyways. But with 16 starters back and another offseason in Neal Brown’s offense, improvement is inevitable.
SEC Championship: Auburn beats Florida
In the first case of playoff race weirdness, Auburn will face Florida in the SEC Title Game… where a lot will be on the line for Georgia. If Florida upsets Auburn, Georgia would likely secure a playoff spot despite finishing second in the East. However, I think Auburn nips that root of chaos in the bud, beating Florida in Atlanta, securing a playoff bid and becoming the first team since the 1997-1998 Tennessee Volunteers to win the SEC two years in a row.
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
1. Florida State Seminoles (12-0, 8-0) – I mean… duh. Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back. Head coach Jimbo Fisher is back. Four offensive linemen are back. 6 defensive starters are back, which may not seem like that many unless you consider last year’s dominant FSU defense had just four returning starters from 2012. The schedule is much tougher for the defending national champions this year, as they play non-conference games against Oklahoma State (in Arlington), Notre Dame and Florida. The ‘Noles also host ACC power Clemson and travel to Louisville (on a Thursday night) and hated rival Miami. However, FSU returns many key pieces from the nation’s best team a year ago, and there’s no reason to expect anything less than a perfect regular season, a 3rd-straight ACC title and the top seed in the College Football Playoff.
2. Clemson Tigers (9-3, 7-1) – Clemson has won 32 games in the past 3 years, including wins over LSU in the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl and Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl. However, many of the key offensive weapons of the past few years are gone, including Tahj Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Roderick McDowell and Martavis Bryant. Clemson might be starting a true freshman at QB in Deshaun Watson, which isn’t good when you travel to Georgia and defending national champion Florida State in the first four weeks. Clemson will feature their best defense under Dabo Swinney, led by All-American DE Vic Beasley. Also, the good news for the offense is OC Chad Morris is back. However, tough games against Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina will mean that the Tigers will have to win their bowl game if they want a 4th consecutive double-digit win season.
3. Louisville Cardinals (8-4, 5-3) – Everything about Louisville’s program is new, and yet, in a weird way, familiar. The Cardinals have a new coach, a new quarterback and are entering a new conference. However, Louisville went “back to the future” with their coaching hire, bringing in former head coach and offensive guru Bobby Petrino. Teddy Bridgewater is gone, but 7 other offensive starters are back. Most of the Cardinals’ defense is gone. The schedule is obviously tougher than last year, as the Cards visit Clemson and Notre Dame and host Florida State on a Thursday night. Bank on a solid first season in the ACC.
4. Syracuse Orange (7-5, 4-4) – Syracuse football is on a mission to prove to the ACC that it isn’t “softnosed” (despite playing in a dome and being outscored 164-17 by Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech). That’s easier said than done, but with 17 starters back from a team that won its final two games last year, there’s reason for optimism for the Orange. Dual-threat QB Terrell Hunt is back, as he looks to improve on his passing from a year ago (10 TD, 8 INT) while continuing to be a force on the ground (500 yards, 7 TD). The Orange will be an improved team from a year ago.
5. NC State Wolfpack (6-6, 3-5) – Want a team in the ACC that will show the most improvement? I give you the Wolfpack of NC State. 2013 was rough, as they went 3-9 (0-8 ACC). They also suffered near-defeat against FCS Richmond. However, this year, 16 starters are back as Dave Doeren enters his second year. Doeren is an excellent coach, as he transformed Northern Illinois from just another #MACtion program to a BCS-busting one (The Huskies went to the Orange Bowl in 2012). I expect the Wolfpack to double their win total from last year.
6. Boston College Eagles (5-7, 2-6) – Boston College was one of college football’s best surprise stories, as Steve Addazio’s first team won 7 of their first 11 games, were the lone ACC team to challenge Florida State (even leading the Seminoles 17-3 before losing by 14) and producing a Heisman finalist in RB Andre Williams (2,177 yards and 18 TDs). Unfortunately for BC, Williams is gone. Even worse for the Eagles, so is everyone else. Only 9 total starters are back (3 on offense, 6 on defense, none on special teams). Addazio has proven to be a good hire for Boston College already, but this year looks like a rebuilding year for 2015.
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-11, 0-8) – This record isn’t reflective of Dave Clawson, who takes over Wake Forest after five successful years at Bowling Green. Legendary coach Jim Grobe stepped down after 2013, so the Deacons decided to hire Clawson, which is a solid decision. However, right now, the cupboard is bare. 10 starters are back from a team that went 4-8 last year, so this year figures to be somewhat of a disaster. The Clawson era will get off to a bumpy start.
1. Miami Hurricanes (9-3, 6-2) – The ACC Coastal is one of the most wide-open divisions in college football. It’s basically a round-robin tournament to decide which poor sucker will be sacrificed to Florida State in Charlotte. The Hurricanes look to be that poor sucker. Al Golden returns to coach the Canes, who need to find a QB and a defense. Miami allowed at least 500 yards to six of their 13 opponents last year. 7 defensive starters are back, but time will tell if that really matters. The reason I’m picking Miami in this division is that they have perhaps the ACC’s best running back in Duke Johnson and three returning offensive linemen. Getting Duke, North Carolina and Pitt all at home helps, too.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3) – Carolina enters 2014 as the trendy pick to win the Coastal thanks to returning 17 starters from a team that won 6 of their final 7 games last year. Larry Fedora is a great offensive mind and this is the best defense Larry Fedora has had since arriving at North Carolina. However, defense is still a concern, as is the conference slate, as the Tar Heels travel to Duke, Miami and Clemson. They also play Notre Dame 0ut-of-conference. This will be a solid year in Chapel Hill, but not championship-level like some are expecting.
3. Duke Blue Devils (8-4, 5-3) – 16 starters are back from a team that went 10-4, with two of their losses coming by a total of 7 points to Pitt and Texas A&M (lost 58-55 and 52-48, respectively). OC Kurt Roper is gone, which is a huge blow and the main reason I’m not picking the Blue Devils to repeat in the Coastal. However, QB Anthony Boone is back, as are most of his weapons. If the defense shows improvement, another Coastal title isn’t out of the question, but even if they don’t repeat, it should be another solid year in Durham.
4. Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4, 4-4) – If you want a darkhorse in the ACC Coastal, I’d recommend the Pitt Panthers. They have 8 returning starters on offense and also return their kicker, who is unfortunately named Chris Blewitt (Which is why I’m not picking Pitt in this division. KIDDING, KIDDING.) Pitt draws Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Duke at home. In fact, if we’re talking absolute best-case scenario, Pitt could start this season 9-0. However, realistically speaking, I think Pitt’s inexperience on defense will cost them some division games at home, resulting in a 4th-place finish.
5. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-5, 4-4) – Some seem to be high on the Hokies, but I’m not. Logan Thomas is gone to the NFL, leaving an offense that was already struggling without a quarterback. Frank Beamer’s special teams unit has fallen off in recent years, and while the Hokies have the ACC’s third-best defense behind Florida State and Clemson, the offense is just non-existent. I know, I know, a Scot Loeffler offense being ineffective? GASP. But this looks like another stale season for the Hokies, who will be about the same as they were last year, if not a little worse.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-7, 2-6) – Speaking of stale, Paul Johnson’s tenure at Georgia Tech has gone south fast. Just a few years ago, the Jackets were the ACC’s hottest program, ripping apart defenses with an old-fashioned triple option attack and playing in the Orange Bowl after the 2009 ACC Championship season. Since then, the Ramblin’ Wreck has an ACC record of just 19-14 and this year loses most of their experienced players. Paul Johnson is firmly on the hot seat and a losing season might spell the end of his regime at Georgia Tech.
7. Virginia Cavaliers (3-9, 1-7) – Another coach squarely on the hot seat is Mike London. In 2011, the Cavaliers started 8-3 and faced off against Virginia Tech for the ACC Coastal title. On their own field, the Cavs were stomped, 38-0, and haven’t recovered. Since their 8-3 start that year, they’ve posted a record of 6-20 (2-15 ACC). They return 19 starters this year, but are still outmatched in talent and depth by most of their opponents. Mike London’s days at UVA are numbered.
ACC Championship: Florida State beats Miami
This one is somewhat obvious, isn’t it? Florida State, having dispatched the Hurricanes in Miami in November, will face their hated rivals again in Charlotte. The outcome won’t be too different than it was before. Florida State wins this game by at least four touchdowns and wins their third consecutive ACC title.
1. UCLA Bruins (11-1, 8-1) – Jim Mora continues his renaissance of L.A.’s “other team”, as he has a 2-0 record against the cross-town Trojans, has brought in excellent recruiting classes and has compiled 19 wins in two years. This year, the Bruins figure to be a prime national title contender. A whopping 19 starters are back, including Heisman hopeful QB Brett Hundley and All-American linebacker Myles Jack. The Bruins could stand to improve their run defense, but there’s enough talent on hand for Jim Mora to contend for the school’s first national championship since 1954.
2. USC Trojans (9-3, 7-2) – Steve Sarkisian steps into a solid situation at Southern Cal, as the NCAA Sanctions are over and, despite depth issues, the roster is still filled with talent. After a 3-2 start last year that saw Lane Kiffin fired in a parking lot, the Trojans went 7-2 in their final 9 games under interim coaches Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton. Now, Sarkisian is out to prove he was the right hire, and his first team has the weapons on both sides of the ball to contend for the Pac-12 South right away. Road games at Stanford and UCLA loom large.
3. Arizona Wildcats (7-5, 4-5) – Rich Rodriguez has had two solid years at Arizona following the Michigan debacle. Though the Wildcats continue to struggle defensively, their offense is good enough to make them a tough out in the Pac-12 South. The non-conference schedule is soft (UNLV, at UT-San Antonio and Nevada), and USC and Arizona State both travel to Tuscon. However, Arizona must replace their quarterback, 5 of their top 6 rushers (the Wildcats return only 134 rushing yards from last year, by far the worst in the conference) and games at Oregon and UCLA look daunting.
4. Utah Utes (6-6, 3-6) – The Utes have had a difficult time adjusting to the Pac-12 so far, as they have an overall record of 18-19 since joining the conference in 2011. Kyle Whittingham’s seat appears to be warming in Salt Lake City, so it’s crucial for Utah to make a bowl game this season. The schedule is brutal, with road games at Michigan, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford and Colorado. That’s six true road games. However, I think an early-season upset at Michigan will give Utah enough momentum to get to .500 and make their first bowl game in three years.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-7, 3-6) – I’m sure I have the Sun Devils rated lower than anyone else. Last year, I predicted Arizona State to win the division. This year, I don’t think they’ll even go to a bowl. Taylor Kelly is back at QB, which is huge. However, I really do not trust their defense. Only 2 starters return from a defense that gave up 26.6 points per game last year. This year, the Sun Devils will have to win some high-scoring games to make it to the postseason. Todd Graham’s a good coach and Arizona State’s still a program on the rise, but the defense will ultimately cost them this year as they fall well short of expectations.
6. Colorado Buffaloes (4-8, 1-8) – Mike MacIntyre’s team showed immediate signs of progress last year, quadrupling their win total from 2012. It’s still too early to expect a bowl from this team, as they are rebuilding in the second-toughest conference in college football behind the SEC. With 8 starters back on offense, 8 starters back on defense and both special teams players back, the Buffaloes will be improved in every facet of the game. Not improved enough to put a dent in the Pac-12 South standings, but enough to show that they’re still moving in the right direction.
1. Stanford Cardinal (11-1, 8-1) – Once again, Oregon will enter the season as the favorite to win the Pac-12 North, thanks to their explosive firepower and flashy program. And once again, beauty will be bested by brains and brawn. Stanford will once again cut down Oregon’s title hopes and win the Pac-12 North thanks to their physical brand of football and tough defense. The schedule is a challenge, as Stanford hosts USC, visits Washington, Notre Dame and Arizona State, hosts Oregon State, visits Oregon (in the all-important division-changing game) and UCLA. However, I’m not making the fatal mistake of counting out Stanford.
2. Oregon Ducks (10-2, 8-1) – 2013 was a disappointing year for the Ducks, as they were plastered by Stanford and Arizona in the final month, resulting in an appearance in a non-BCS bowl. This year, the Ducks feel primed to win their first national title, as they are led by Heisman contender QB Marcus Mariota. Most of the offense is back, so expect points galore. Unfortunately, despite the Ducks’ best efforts, they still won’t be able to match the physicality of their two best opponents, Michigan State and Stanford. Despite both of those games being in Eugene, I think they will lose to the Spartans and the Cardinal. Big and tough teams will once again mean Oregon’s downfall.
3. Washington Huskies (9-4, 5-4) – Steve Sarkisian, out. Chris Petersen, in. Petersen built Boise State into one of the nation’s most consistent programs from 2006-2013, going 92-12 (with 5 of those losses coming in a rebuilding year last year). After many programs chased Chris Petersen during his time in Boise, it was Washington that finally reeled him in. There’s solid talent on hand, but unlike some think, not enough to immediately make noise nationally. 2014 will be a building year in which Petersen and Washington become familiar with each other. However, it will still be a solid season. Petersen is skilled enough to make UW a national title contender in the near future.
4. Oregon State Beavers (7-5, 4-5) – The Beavers were better than their 7-6 record a year ago suggests. Sean Mannion lit the Pac-12 up to a tune of 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. Gone is star WR Brandin Cooks, but the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th-leading receivers for the Beavers are all back (combined for 13 TDs). The defense will surely show improvement from their performance a year ago, where they gave up at least 500 yards of offense 6 times. With a grand total of 16 starters back, Oregon State has the potential to make some noise in the North.
5. Washington State Cougars (6-6, 3-6) – Wazzu exceeded expectations in 2013, making their first bowl in a decade thanks largely to Connor Halliday’s passing (4,597 yards, 34 TDs and 22 INTs). Halliday is back, and he’s joined by his top eight receivers from last year. The key for the Cougars will be defense. All-American defender Deone Bucannon is gone to the NFL, and run defense continues to be a real concern. The Cougars allowed over 224 rushing yards to six different opponents last year. An early-season game st home against Oregon will be a good measuring stick to see how improved these Cougars are.
6. California Golden Bears (2-10, 0-9) – Things aren’t going too well for Cal Football these days. The Golden Bears were 1-11 last year (0-9 in the Pac-12). They enter 2014 on a 14-game conference losing streak. Since 2010, the Bears have a conference record of 9-27. While the Golden Bears are solid on offense (averaged 331 passing yards per game last year and return 9 starters), the defense redefined “awful.” 6 starters are back from a defense that gave up 45.9 points and 530 yards per game. The only Cal opponent last year to have fewer than 400 yards was Oregon (who still scored 55 points on 381 yards). This looks to be another year that will be anything but golden.
Pac-12 Championship: Stanford beats UCLA
Stanford will start 2014 with an 11-0 record before visiting 10-1 UCLA on Black Friday. UCLA will win that game, but for the second time in three years, the teams will meet again just a week later. In the first Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, Stanford will beat the Bruins, crushing their national championship aspirations. The Cardinal will make history by winning their third consecutive Pac-12 Championship.
BIG TEN CONFERENCE
Big Ten East:
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2, 7-1) – In Urban Meyer’s two years at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have gone 24-0 in the regular season and dominated most of their competition. However, thanks to NCAA sanctions and some uninspired postseason play, the Buckeyes have no Big Ten titles or bowl wins to show for it. Meyer has continued to dominate the rest of the Big Ten in recruiting, so it seems inevitable that Ohio State will win the conference title sooner or later. 2014 could be the year, as Braxton Miller is back to pilot the offense and the defensive secondary should be improved from a year ago. A great defensive line, a playmaking QB and the Big Ten’s most talented roster gives the Buckeyes an edge over Sparty.
2. Michigan State Spartans (10-2, 6-2) – 2013 was a good year for Sparty, as MSU went 13-1, won the Big Ten (while delivering Urban Meyer his first loss at Ohio State and denying the Buckeyes a shot at the national title) and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl to finish #3 in the final standings. This year, Mark Dantonio’s team enters the season with a “Playoff or Bust” mentality. QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford are back, and though Michigan State replaces 7 defensive starters, it’s hard to count out a Dantonio-and-Narduzzi defense. I think Michigan State will beat Oregon in Eugene early, but Ohio State will get their revenge in Spartan Stadium come November.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4, 4-4) – When Penn State first received their sanctions, it was the general consensus that a few years into their sanctions, their football team would be talentless, listless and lifeless. However, the Penn State football program has been handled extremely well, almost perfectly, since the NCAA dropped the proverbial hammer. Bill O’Brien, who won 15 games in two years at Happy Valley, is off to the NFL, so in comes James Franklin, who turned Vanderbilt (VANDERBILT!) into a tough out in the SEC. The bowl ban is still in effect, but with sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg and a solid defense, this program won’t miss a rebuilding beat in 2014.
4. Maryland Terrapins (7-5, 4-4) – Maryland enters the Big Ten with high hopes, as 19 starters are back from a team that won 7 games in 2013. Senior quarterback C.J. Brown is an underrated weapon, and he has an elite WR in Stefon Diggs to throw to. The schedule is also kind, as Big Ten contenders Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State all visit College Park. This team won’t come into the Big Ten and make a splash like Texas A&M did when they joined the SEC in 2012, but Maryland will have a surprisingly solid first year in their new home.
5. Michigan Wolverines (6-6, 4-4) – College football is fickle. Just two years ago, Michigan went 11-2 and Brady Hoke was seen as a savior of Wolverine Football. Now, Hoke will be coaching for his job. A combined 15-11 record the past two years has not been an encouraging sign for this program. Despite some of the conference’s best recruiting, results have yet to manifest themselves on the field. This year, Michigan has to travel to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State, while hosting Utah, Penn State and Maryland. Will Brady Hoke win enough games this season to keep his job? I’m predicting… no.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (5-7, 2-6) – I would say that having 18 total starters back would be a sign of inevitable improvement from the Hoosiers, but they had 19 starters back a year ago and only improved their record by one game. I fact, despite having 8 defenders back last year, their defensive YPG dipped from 464 to 528. This is simply a case of having returning starters that, quite frankly, aren’t that good. I picked the Hoosiers to have a winning record last year, but it’s become apparent that Indiana simply doesn’t know how to play defense. This will be another season where Indiana’s awesome offense will be let down by its defense.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-10, 0-8) – Has any major athletics program struggled as much as Rutgers University in the past year? Multiple abuse scandals and terrible PR management has already made Rutgers the laughing stock of the Big Ten despite the fact that have yet to play a game there yet. On the field, recent results haven’t been inspiring, either. Last season, they went 3-5 in the weak AAC (losing their five conference games by a score of 194-75). To make matters worse in 2014, the Knights have to travel to face Washington State, Navy, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland while hosting Michigan and Wisconsin. I have such little confidence in Rutgers that I would be legitimately surprised if they pulled off a conference win.
Big Ten West:
1. Wisconsin Badgers (11-1, 7-1) – It’s been a meteoric rise for Gary Andersen. It was just three short years ago that his upstart Utah State Aggies nearly took down the defending national champion Auburn Tigers, and now, he enters his second year at Wisconsin with a chance to make some noise in the national title race. The defense does have to replace 8 starters, and QB Joel Stave’s job isn’t exactly safe, but this is Wisconsin we’re talking about. They’re going to run for just south of 300 yards per game, plug-and-play on defense and upset LSU in Houston to place themselves firmly in the national title race.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-3, 6-2) – In 2012, longtime Hawkeye head man Kirk Ferentz seemed to be coaching for his job, and he ultimately put a good enough product on the field to easily earn another year. The Hawkeyes won four of their final six games last year (losing to Wisconsin and LSU in the Outback Bowl) and enter 2013 as one of the favorites in the new Big Ten West. There’s a lot to like about Iowa, such as their improving offense, consistently stout defense and the fact that they get top division rivals Northwestern, Wisconsin AND Nebraska at home.
3. Northwestern Wildcats (8-4, 6-2) – When ESPN’s College GameDay rolled into Evanston in week five to see the 16th-ranked Wildcats take on #4 Ohio State, the Wildcats were 4-0 on the year and had won 14 of their last 17 games. After the Buckeyes defeated them on their home field 40-30, however, the wheels fell off of the Wildcats. The Ohio State loss was one of seven straight losses by Northwestern on their way to a shocking 5-7 finish. That shouldn’t be the case again this year, as 18 starters return, including QB Trevor Siemian. RB Venrick Mark is one of the conference’s best. Home games against Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan loom large, as well as road trips to Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa and Notre Dame.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4, 4-4) – There’s a lot of things Nebraska fans can fault Bo Pelini for, but there’s two things working for him: internet savvy (his clever, obvious nod to the famous @FauxPelini) and consistency (Nebraska has lost exactly 4 games every single year since Bo Pelini took over in 2008). With just 12 returning starters this season but ample talent available on both sides of the ball, there’s no reason to expect anything different in 2014. The main story in this scenario is, will Bo Pelini be able to hold on to his job if he loses 4 games again? Some believe that anything short of a Big Ten West title would be damning for Bo Pelini… and they might be right.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6, 3-5) – Tim Beckman’s Illini haven’t exactly been world-beaters in his first two years, as a 6-18 record is anything but. However, the Illini took steps forward in 2013, doubling their win total, increasing their offensive production significantly (16.7 PPG and 297 YPG in 2012; 29.7 PPG and 427 YPG in 2013) and losing three extremely close games to Washington, Penn State and Northwestern. I think the improvement continues this year, as Oklahoma State transfer QB Wes Lunt takes over the offense and 8 starters back on defense surely means improvement. I think Beckman stays alive by taking Illinois to their first bowl since the 2011 Fight Hunger Bowl.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7, 2-6) – Minnesota was one of the best surprise stories in the Big Ten a year ago, starting the season 8-2 despite continuing health issues for head coach Jerry Kill. The Gophers ended the season poorly, however, As they scored a combined 27 points (with just 2 offensive touchdowns, both in the bowl game) against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Syracuse. New QB Mitch Leidner has experience, as he threw 78 passes last season. RB David Cobb is an underrated weapon and the defense is solid. However, the conference schedule is much tougher this year, so I see Minnesota taking a step back.
7. Purdue Boilermakers (4-8, 1-7) – What do the Purdue football team and a dumpster fire have in common? They both recorded zero wins against FBS competition in 2013. However, Purdue should fare better than the dumpster fire this year, thanks to a more experienced roster and a second year under Darrell Hazell, who almost took Kent State (KENT STATE!!!) to the Orange Bowl in 2012. I expect the Boilermakers to be much improved, but there’s not enough talent to expect anything better than last place in the West.
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State beats Wisconsin
At long last (and by long last, I mean for the first time in three years), Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes will rule the Big Ten. No more sanctions or disappointment in Indianapolis. While a couple of regular season losses will keep the Buckeyes from even sniffing the playoff, some conference championship rings won’t be too disappointing for Meyer and Miller.
BIG XII CONFERENCE
1. Oklahoma Sooners (12-0, 9-0) – I feel like Oklahoma’s once again baiting us into the “Sooner Trap”, in which a great performance at the end of the previous season causes people to buy into Oklahoma as a championship team, only for the Sooners to fall well short of their goal. Trevor Knight still is a wildcard at QB. However, despite the Sooners’ recent history giving me pause, I’m picking them to run the table and win the Big 12. Nine starters return on an Oklahoma defense that was among the conference’s best last year, Trevor Knight has serious potential, the special teams unit is among the conference’s best and Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State have to visit Norman, while the Red River Rivalry is in Dallas as always. Road games at TCU and Texas Tech look tough, but I think the Sooners are the Big 12’s best team and they will be in the first College Football Playoff.
2. Baylor Bears (10-2, 7-2) – Think Baylor’s a one-year wonder? Think again. In the past three years, Baylor has a 29-10 record, a Heisman winner (RGIII in 2011) and a conference title in 2013. McLane Stadium is brand new, but the offensive production will be the “same old, same old.” Bryce Petty is an elite QB, and he’s surrounded by the conference’s best offense. Last year, Baylor had at least 675 yards of offense SEVEN times, including five 700 yard games and a game against West Virginia that saw the Bears roll up 872 yards. 50 points per game, along with 600 yards per game, isn’t an unrealistic expectation for the Bears. The concern lies on defense. Baylor played good defense last year, holding opponents to an average of 360 yards and 23.5 points. 9 of Baylor’s 13 opponents had fewer than 400 total yards (which is great by Baylor standards). However, only 4 starters return from last year’s defense. Also, that all-important game against Oklahoma is in Norman.
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-3, 6-3) – When Kliff Kingsbury took over the Red Raider program, he brought with him something that was absent in Lubbock under Tommy Tuberville: fun. Pass-happy Texas Tech started the season 7-0 before a five-game slide caused them to fall off the national map. A convincing Holiday Bowl win over #16 Arizona State gave them some momentum heading into the offseason, and there’s several reasons to like this team. 9 starters are back on offense, including QB Davis Webb, the team’s two leading rushers and most of the receiving corp. Texas and Oklahoma both have to visit Lubbock, while the Baylor game is in Arlington. Defense is still a concern, but I think Texas Tech will be the Big 12’s surprise team, as they will enter the Oklahoma game on November 15 still in contention in the Big 12.
4. Kansas State Wildcats (8-4, 6-3) – Bill Snyder might be the best coach in college football history, as far as guiding a program is concerned. The man IS Kansas State Football. After a rebuilding year in 2013, the Wildcats enter 2014 with a conference title in their sights. The schedule could be a problem, though. As if hosting reigning SEC champion Auburn on a Thursday night isn’t tough enough, KSU plays Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor on the road. However, the Wildcats’ offense is spectacular, led by big-arm QB Jake Waters and the nation’s best wide receiver in Tyler Lockett. It will be another solid year in the Little Apple.
5. Texas Longhorns (8-4, 6-3) – For the first time since 1997, Texas enters a season with a head coach that is not Mack Brown. In comes former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, a tough-minded, strict and fundamentally sound coach who turned Louisville into a consistent winner (23-3 record in 2011 and 2012, including wins in the Sugar Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl). Now, he tries to build the Longhorns back into a national power. While a national championship is unlikely this year (you can even ask Charlie Strong himself), there’s solid talent to work with already. The quarterback position is a concern, and will be until Strong brings an elite QB into the program. An eight-win campaign would be a good start for Strong’s Longhorns.
6. TCU Horned Frogs (7-5, 4-5) – Blame it on a rash of injuries. Blame it on some players having off-field issues. TCU hasn’t transitioned to the Big 12 as smoothly as they would have liked to. In the four years before joining the conference, the Frogs had a record of 47-5 with a Fiesta Bowl appearance (loss to Boise State) and a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Since joining the Big 12, TCU is just 11-14. However, this figures to be Gary Patterson’s best team since joining the Big 12. The defense will be tough as always and Texas A&M transfer Matt Joekel could be a difference-maker at quarterback. This team could pull a few upsets and surprise in the Big 12.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-6, 4-5) – The Pokes have been one of the nation’s most consistent teams in recent years. Since 2010, OSU has a record of 41-11, thrice winning 10 or more games. However, this year figures to be different, thanks to only 8 total returning starters. The schedule isn’t forgiving, either, as they open the season in Arlington against #1 Florida State, winners of 16 straight games, and travel to TCU, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma. The offensive line and secondary are major concerns. For the first time since 2006, Oklahoma State will have a losing conference record.
8. Iowa State Cyclones (4-8, 2-7) – Paul Rhoads is a decent coach, and I really don’t mean it as a back-handed compliment when I say he’s the most beloved 27-36 coach in the country. He stepped in for Gene Chizik in 2009 and has put a solid product on the field. However, there simply isn’t enough talent in the area for the Cyclones to escape the bottom third of the Big 12. Iowa State hasn’t had a winning record since 2009 (7-6), and despite 16 returning starters and obvious improvement, Rhoads will miss a bowl game for the third time in five years.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers (2-10, 1-8) – Remember back in January 2012, when West Virginia rolled up 70 points on ACC champion Clemson and were considered national title contenders entering the 2012 season? That feels like forever ago, now. Since a 5-0 start in 2012, the Mountaineers have gone just 6-14. The pass-happy offense has become less sharp and the defense simply hasn’t existed for a few years. This year, Dana Holgorsen is on the hot seat, and it doesn’t help that the Mountaineers open with powerhouse Alabama in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. Getting Oklahoma and Baylor at home seems nice, but the odds of WVU contending with either of those teams are slim to none. I think Dana will be done in Morgantown after 2014.
10. Kansas Jayhawks (3-9, 0-8) – What’s there to say about Charlie Weis’ tenure at Kansas other than “4-20″? Weis is 4-20 with Rock Chalk, including a 1-17 Big 12 record, and this year doesn’t figure to be much better. Kansas returns most of their starters, but I’m not going to pretend that matters. Kansas hasn’t made a bowl since 2008. That’s a long time. It’s even harder to believe that as recently as 2007, Kansas was a national title contender that won the Orange Bowl. Those days have faded away, and instead, Kansas has entered a cycle of monotonous failure.
OTHER NOTABLE TEAMS
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3) – With Everett Golson back at QB and Brian Kelly having his most talented team at Notre Dame yet, what’s stopping the Irish from competing for the national championship in 2014? Well, the schedule is, quite frankly. Phil Steele regards Notre Dame’s schedule as the toughest in the country. The Irish play home games against Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Northwestern and Louisville. They travel to Florida State, Arizona State and USC and play neutral-site games against Purdue, Syracuse and Navy. This is Kelly’s best team since arriving in South Bend, but don’t expect them to be a playoff contender this year.
BYU Cougars (10-2) – Ten wins for BYU looks really impressive, until you realize they face a terrible schedule (ranked 73rd by Phil Steele). They open the season with a likely win at UConn and a toss-up at Texas. There’s weeknight/Friday night tilts against Houston (home), Utah State (home), UCF (road) and Boise State (road). The schedule is far from daunting. Taysom Hill is one of the best dual-threat QBs in college football and Bronco Mendenhall has been the head coach here for a decade. BYU averaged 267 rushing yards per game and every running back, along with the aforementioned Hill, is back. I believe the Cougars will get their first 10-win season since 2011.
Navy Midshipmen (10-2) and Army Black Knights (5-7) – Navy and Army combine to return 35 starters from 2013 (17 for Navy, 18 for Army). The Midshipmen have won 12 straight games against the Black Knights, but this season could be bigger than just the Army game for Navy. This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best team yet. They could be favored in every true road game, and games against Ohio State and Notre Dame are being played at neutral sites. Army, meanwhile, is still trying to build their program back to respectability.
Cincinnati Bearcats (11-1, 7-1 AAC) – Good ole Tommy Tuberville will make his first splash in quite some time in 2014, guiding Cincinnati to an early season upset at Ohio State, winning the American and earning a berth in a major bowl. Gunner Kiel has the potential to be the best quarterback in the conference, the top three rushers from 2013 are back and the roster is the most talented in the Louisville-less AAC.
Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1, 8-1 C-USA) – Marshall is a popular pick this year to run the table and earn a spot in a major bowl. The schedule is one of the weakest in college football, Rakeem Cato is a playmaker at quarterback and the Herd clearly have the best roster of any C-USA team. Despite all these positives, I believe the Herd will drop a game somewhere during the season and, despite easily winning the conference, fail to make a major bowl.
Boise State Broncos (11-2, 8-1 MWC) – Out steps Chris Petersen, in steps Bryan Harsin. After one year at Arkansas State (I’ve never used that statement before), Harsin is being handed the keys to one of the most consistent programs of the past decade. He’ll look to right the ship from a 2013 season that, although an obvious rebuilding season, was still disappointing for the Broncos. Boise State doesn’t ease into the season, as their first game is in Atlanta against SEC upstart Ole Miss. A loss there will end most hopes of a major bowl, but the Broncos will rebound to win the Mountain West championship.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (10-2, 8-0 Sun Belt) – If you don’t know who Mark Hudspeth is yet, you should become familar with him so you’ll already be aware of him when he lands a major job. He took over the Louisiana football program before the 2011 season. The Cajuns had never even made a bowl game. All three years under Hudspeth, though, the Cajuns have won 8 regular season games and have won the New Orleans Bowl every single year. Hudspeth has a 27-12 record with the Cajuns and this is his best team yet. Double-digit wins is the expectation this year. Hudspeth’s stock is skyrocketing. He might even be an SEC head coach in the near future.
Heisman Trophy Prediction
And the winner of the 2014 Heisman Trophy is….
Todd Gurley, RB, University of Georgia
Sure, this will cause some Georgia fans to claim that they, not Auburn, are the SEC’s “Running Back U.” While Georgia has a proud history of producing running backs, that statement would be a complete fallacy. However, Gurley is the best running back in college football, and in a sport that glorifies quarterbacks, Gurley will stay healthy, keep Georgia in national title contention and win the Heisman Trophy. I almost went with Jameis Winston to repeat, but most voters don’t like to vote for the same player twice. Whether it’s fair or not, many voters will have a bias against Winston, and that will benefit Gurley, as he becomes Georgia’s third Heisman winner after a huge season.
Final Heisman Standings:
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
4. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
5. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (FL)
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Barry Sanders Jr., RB, Stanford
Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Nevada vs. Louisiana
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State vs. Rice
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Utah
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. San Diego State
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Akron vs. South Alabama
Miami Beach Bowl: East Carolina vs. BYU
Boca Raton Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Florida Atlantic
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. Utah State
Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Tulsa
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Colorado State
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois vs. UT-San Antonio
Detroit Lions Bowl: Syracuse vs. Michigan
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: SMU vs. NC State
Military Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Memphis
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Duke
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland vs. Pittsburgh
San Francisco Bowl: Iowa vs. Oregon State
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Oklahoma State
GoDaddy Bowl: Ball State vs. UL-Monroe
Cactus Bowl: Washington State vs. TCU
Hyundai Sun Bowl: North Carolina vs. Arizona
National University Holiday Bowl: Michigan State vs. USC
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson vs. Texas
Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Washington
Birmingham Bowl: Tennessee vs. Central Florida
Autozone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Marshall
AdvoCare Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville
Music City Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Nebraska
Taxslayer Gator Bowl: LSU vs. Miami (FL)
Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Northwestern
Capital One Bowl: Florida vs. Notre Dame
Georgia Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (11-1, 7-1 AAC)
Georgia flirts with a playoff spot but Florida is unable to upset Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Instead, Mark Richt’s team goes to the Peach Bowl to face a familiar foe, Tommy Tuberville, whose 11-1 Bearcats are the highest-ranked “non-Power Five” team. Cincinnati, having already upset Ohio State, will look to give the American Conference yet another major bowl win, but beating the Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome is easier said than done.
UCLA Bruins (11-2, 8-2 Pac-12) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
Two team coming off of losses in their respective conference title games will look to end the season with positive momentum going into 2015. The Bruins have a Heisman candidate at QB and a solid defense, but Wisconsin is a physical, well-coached team that has a Heisman candidate of their own at running back. This would be an entertaining West vs. Midwest battle.
Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer? That’s must-see TV. These are two of the best coaches in America with extremely different philosophies (ball control vs. hurry-up tempo). This game would be a good measuring stick for Ohio State. If they could win a bowl game against one of the SEC’s finest, that would be a sure sign that Urban Meyer’s program has reached elite status. That is, of course, depending on Alabama’s motivation to play in a “consolation game” like the Orange Bowl. Yes, I went there.
Oregon Ducks (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Baylor Bears (10-2, 7-2 Big 12)
If you like chrome, high-flying offenses and the color green, this game is for you. A match-up that would surely see a drastic increase in popcorn sales, Oregon facing Baylor at Cowboys Stadium would be one of the most-hyped Cotton Bowls in recent years. Who wouldn’t want to see Bryce Petty face off against Marcus Mariota? This game would be a lot of fun.
WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PLAYOFFS!
The first-ever college football playoff game at the FBS level features the Oklahoma Sooners, the unbeaten champions of the Big 12, and the Auburn Tigers, the once-beaten champions of the SEC. The Sooners and Tigers will clash at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for a spot in the National Championship Game in Dallas. Gus Malzahn and Bob Stoops will face each other for the first time since 2007 (a 62-21 loss by Tulsa when Malzahn was their offensive coordinator). These two teams are built similarly, with solid rushing attacks that feature some read option and steadily improving defenses.
Prediction: In a tight, back-and-forth game, Auburn defeats Oklahoma to claim their first Rose Bowl victory and their second straight National Championship Game appearance (3rd in 5 years).
After Auburn earns the first berth in the National Championship Game, the second playoff game will feature the undefeated champions of the ACC, defending national champion and top-ranked Florida State against the once-beaten champions of the tough Pac-12, the Stanford Cardinal. Jimbo Fisher has his program dreaming of a dynasty, but David Shaw would like nothing better than to end that dream and seal Stanford’s status as an elite program in college football. These two teams play great defense. Florida State’s content to let Famous Jameis sling it around the yard, while Stanford will shove the ball down a defense’s throat.
Prediction: In a stunner, Stanford spoils FSU’s chance at a 2014 BCS National Championship rematch thanks to their physical play and experience against a brutal schedule. Stanford shockingly wins by double digits.
National Championship Game
Stanford Cardinal (13-1, 9-1 Pac-12) vs. Auburn Tigers (13-1, 8-1 SEC)
The first College Football Playoff National Championship Game will feature the champions of the two best conferences in America: Auburn (SEC) and Stanford (Pac-12). For both schools, a third claimed national championship in school history is on the line. Auburn will be looking to win their second national title in five years, while Stanford will aim for their first title since 1940. In a classic battle between styles, Auburn’s explosive hurry-up offense will be going up against the defensive-minded Cardinal. Will Gus Malzahn capture a national title in his third year as a head coach, or will David Shaw officially complete Stanford’s multi-year rise to relevance by sticking the Cardinal flag on the top of the college football mountain?
And the 2014-2015 National Champions are…. the Auburn Tigers!
Tags: Auburn Football