The college football season is here. The season kicks off tonight in earnest with a couple of ranked teams in action (#9 Tennessee against Appalachian State and #19 Louisville taking on Charlotte), but all eyes will really be on Saturday and even Sunday and Monday when we have a lot of great matchups. Games that people are really intrigued by include #3 Oklahoma vs. #15 Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, #20 USC vs. #1 Alabama at Jerry World in Dallas and then on Sunday you have #10 Notre Dame at Texas and Labor Day night it’s #11 Ole Miss versus #4 Florida State from the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. To a lesser extend #16 UCLA @ Texas A&M and #5 LSU vs. Wisconsin from Lambeau Field in Green Bay are also very intriguing games. Should be a great opening weekend. The Stack is here with a season preview we hope you demand so let’s get right to it and preview the 2016-17 college football season in “the stack” for today, Thursday, September 1st:
2016-17 College football season preview
Before we get to previewing the major power 5 conferences, here’s something nice for a change…no conference realignment issues. The Big 12 is talking about adding a couple of new teams and bids have been submitted, but the conference is currently in the process of reviewing all of the applicants.
Can I ask that there be no more new bowl games and no 5-7 teams in bowl games this year? Thanks.
Plenty of schools have new faces leading their programs this year including Mark Richt at Miami (FL) (he used to be at Georgia), Kirby Smart at Georgia (former Alabama defensive coordinator), Will Muschamp at South Carolina (former Florida head coach) Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech (formerly at Memphis) Tracy Claeys at Minnesota (he was with Jerry Kill and finished as the team’s interim head coach), Lovie Smith at Illinois (former Bears and Buccaneers NFL head coach) and many more. Will be interesting to follow along with these teams and see how they all do.
I will mention a couple of things regarding the non-power five conferences now. I have no clue who is going to win Conference USA. We’ll just go with a pick and say Marshall. How does that sound? Same thing with the MAC. I’m feeling either Toledo or Northern Illinois. The Sun Belt is going to be a three team race between Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Arkansas State. That will actually be a pretty fun conference to watch. As for the Independents, BYU is going to go 8-4 and watch out for Notre Dame. They had to endure multiple issues at the quarterback position last year and still managed to make it to the Fiesta Bowl. Well I think big things are in store for this Notre Dame team this year. Big things! Assuming they can stay somewhat healthy, head coach Brian Kelly has done a magnificent job putting together his teams and getting the right recruits. They will finish 11-1 this year with that sole loss coming on the road in the regular season finale at USC. Will that be enough for them to make the playoffs? We’ll find out here momentarily.
San Diego State will go undefeated and win the Mountain West Conference and that includes a MWC championship game against the Boise State Broncos who may come into the championships game with only one loss themselves. Donnel Pumphrey is a terrific running back for Aztecs and a name that not too many people know about in college football, but they will this year. Don’t think SDSU will be able to do enough to secure a playoff spot, but they’ll be in the discussion. And Houston, oh man, what can I say about their head coach Tom Herman? He won me over when he as at ESPN when all of the coaches were going through the “carwash” and said that he made his teammates sign a contract that they would have the toughest training camp of anyone in the country, because winning is fun, but you need to work your butt off to make it fun. Love that. Houston has a good quarterback too. They’ll win the American Athletic Conference (AAC) easily and will certainly make an argument/push to be in the College Football Playoff. Now can we get onto the power five conferences? Thanks.
Clemson didn’t do what they have done for so many years and that is Clemsoning. They actually made it to the College Football Playoff losing in the national championship game to Alabama in what was a pretty entertaining game. Sure they lost some guys on defense like Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Shaq Lawson, but they return the most important part of the team and that is quarterback Deshaun Watson. This guy is electric. He can pass for a lot of yards and he can hurt you with his legs. Mike Williams is a terrific receiver. There is a lot to like about the Clemson Tigers this year and their chance at repeating.
It seems as though only Florida State stands in their way both for the Atlantic Division title and the ACC in general. The Seminoles are skilled everywhere across the board. Running back Dalvin Cook is a Heisman hopeful. What concerns me though is the issues at the quarterback position. Senior Sean Maguire is injured and the Seminoles will pin their hopes at least at the beginning of the season on freshman Deondre Francois. With a great running back who is full healthy this year though (he had a big hamstring last year) and a great defense, I see no reason why the Seminoles can’t do big things this year. The big date to keep your eye on is Saturday, October 29th when Clemson visits Tallahassee to take on the Noles. Clemson has only won once in Tallahassee since 1992. This year would be a good time to pick up their second win.
As for the rest of the Atlantic Division, I give Louisville a small outside chance of winning the division, but the rest is kind of crappy. At least Boston College will be better though and should win at least one conference game this year unlike last year.
Atlantic Division predicted records and conference records
1. Clemson 12-0 (8-0)
2. Florida State 11-1 (7-1)
3. Louisville 9-3 (6-2)
4. NC State 5-7 (3-5)
5. Wake Forest 5-7 (2-6)
6. Boston College 5-7 (2-6)
7. Syracuse 3-9 (0-8)
The Coastal Division is very crowded at the top. Miami (FL) with new coach Mike Richt may be the best of the bunch. He is coming home, but it will probably take a year or two for his recruits to truly make the Hurricanes a contender though he will make life difficult for the rest of the ACC this year. Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech retained some of Frank Beamer’s staff including his son and defensive coordinator Bud Foster. That will help a great deal. Plus the Hokies schedule isn’t too bad so they should fair just fine. Pittsburgh and UNC are also going to be right up there. It’s really anyone’s guess as to who will win this division. Having said all that, regardless of who wins, they really don’t stand much of a chance against either Florida State or Clemson.
Coastal Division predicted records and conference records
1. Virginia Tech 8-4 (6-2)
2. Miami (FL) 8-4 (6-2)
3. UNC 8-4 (5-3)
4. Pittsburgh 8-4 (5-3)
5. Georgia Tech 5-7 (2-6)
6. Virginia 5-7 (2-6)
7. Duke 3-9 (1-7)
Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
ACC Champion: Clemson
The Big 12 conference (with only 10 teams) seems a little weak this year. We all know what has happened at Baylor this offseason and Art Briles is no longer the head coach. They are in for a disappointing year and the disappointment will extend far beyond this year as they will struggle with attracting the best talent in the state to come play for them. They took risks on several guys and it will cost them for years.
This truly feels like it is going to come down to three teams: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. Oklahoma over the last few years has felt like a team that will always let you down by losing a game that they should not. It happened last year when they inexplicably lost to Texas, but they rebounded nicely to win the Big 12 and make it to the College Football Playoff. It is a daunting challenge they face this year with non-conference games against Houston and Ohio State plus a road game at TCU right after the game against the Buckeyes. Fortunately for the Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield and that is good news for the Sooners. He also gets to hand off to Samaje Perine which is helpful considering how explosive this kid is. It won’t be easy for the Sooners, but they’ll be right there at season’s end along with in-state rival Oklahoma State who brings back a lot of talent and will definitely be a factor. If only they would get Oklahoma at home to end the season instead of having to travel to Norman. That may prove to be the deciding factor in this race.
Alas though, we may have forgotten about TCU. Sure quarterback Trevone Boykin is gone, but former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill is there and can hopefully duplicate a lot of the good things that Boykin did in his time with the Horned Frogs. TCU also has plenty of skill position players that will certainly step up and have big roles this season and their most difficult games all come at home it would seem. Call me crazy, but TCU seems like they have just what it takes to win the conference. I see Charlie Strong’s job being very much in jeopardy with a 6-6 season this year. I don’t think he should be fired, but Texas has some tough games and their quarterback depth isn’t really great. The recruits are getting there, but not fast enough to help Texas this year. Heck, I’m even giving Kansas two wins this year. I must be feeling generous or optimistic this year considering that would be two more wins than the Jayhawks had all last year.
Predicted Big 12 standings
1. TCU 11-1 (8-1)
2. Oklahoma 10-2 (8-1)
3. Oklahoma State 10-2 (7-2)
4. Texas Tech 7-5 (5-4)
5. Texas 6-6 (4-5)
6. West Virginia 7-5 (4-5)
7. Iowa State 5-7 (3-6)
8. Baylor 5-7 (2-7)
9. Kansas State 4-8 (2-7)
10. Kansas 2-10 (1-8)
All eyes are on Michigan in the Big Ten and rightfully so. They’ve taken college football by storm since Jim Harbaugh came to Ann Arbor last summer. They were pretty good last year and figure to be even better this year and next year with all of the recruits they’re getting in. When I was predicting records and getting ready to do the blog the most difficult thing I had to do was figure out if Michigan would beat Ohio State. The game is in Columbus this year on November 26th, but that will decide the division and listen, I get it. I get that Ohio State lost a lot of talent to the NFL from last year’s squad and that they will be a little inexperienced, but they still have J.T. Barrett at quarterback and that will certainly help. Urban Meyer knows how to coach (breaking news I know) and he knows how to recruit. This is going to be a fascinating battle to watch.
Penn State will be a factor in this too, don’t get me wrong. It’s tough to play at Happy Valley and head coach James Franklin is a good head coach. Penn State isn’t the team they once were, they don’t have that aura about them, but they will be good and they will impact who wins the east division. Just like Ohio State is losing a bunch of starters so too is Michigan State and they are losing the biggest piece and that is the quarterback. Connor Cook is no longer there. The Spartans will still have a good year, but they won’t be a huge threat to win the eastern division. The rest of the division, good luck. That’s all I have to say. Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana are the doormats of the Big Ten East.
Big Ten East predicted records and conference records
Ohio State 10-2 (8-1)
Michigan 10-2 (7-2)
Michigan State 9-3 (7-2)
Penn State 8-4 (6-3)
Indiana 6-6 (3-6)
Maryland 5-7 (2-7)
Rutgers 3-9 (1-8)
As for the Big Ten West, I have made some blasphemous statements in this blog and on my podcast The Sports Block (which you can listen to on a weekly basis….we’ll be linking to it tomorrow with our big college football preview) in the past, but what I am about to say may be the most blasphemous statement of all time. I think the Minnesota Golden Gophers can take down Iowa and the division. And not just beat Iowa with a 7-5 or 8-4 record this year. I think the Golden Gophers can win double digit games this year (What the hell did he just say?!). They avoid Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. They get Iowa at home. Their non-conference schedule is pretty easy. I think there is some decent talent on the team and they have Tracy Claeys who was with Jerry Kill for years so things will be very similar to what the Gophers have had the last few years. Iowa had an easy schedule last year and used that to springboard to the Big Ten Championship. It’s Minnesota and Iowa this year for the Big Ten western division title.
Reason I don’t include Wisconsin in the discussion is that their schedule is absolutely brutal. In addition to playing LSU this weekend, they have a four week stretch starting September 24th through October 22nd where they play @ Michigan State, @ Michigan, VS Ohio State and @ Iowa. If they go 2-2 I’d be stunned. I think a lot of people would be. One win seems plausible. It’s ridiculously hard. It may even be a more difficult schedule than USC’s. I also don’t think Nebraska is going to do much this year in part because I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Mike Riley to get the job done and bring in the best recruits. Northwestern will also be good, but it’s Minnesota and Iowa fighting for the division this year and October 8th when the two teams meet in Minneapolis at TCF Bank Stadium will likely decide the division winner. I have Minnesota winning that one.
Predicted Big Ten West standings and conference standings
Minnesota 10-2 (7-2)
Iowa 10-2 (7-2)
Northwestern 7-5 (4-5)
Wisconsin 7-5 (4-5)
Nebraska 6-6 (4-5)
Illinois 3-9 (1-8)
Purdue 3-9 (1-8)
Big Ten Championship game
Ohio State vs. Minnesota
Big Ten Champion: Ohio State
I mentioned that Wisconsin has an incredibly tough schedule. USC arguably has a more difficult schedule or at the very least would be second or third. A neutral site game against #1 Alabama on Saturday at Jerry World and then two weeks later they go to Stanford. They follow that with a game at Utah which is never an easy place to play. The middle portion of their schedule is very manageable, but take a look at their final four games:
VS Oregon 11/5
@ Washington 11/12
@ UCLA 11/19
VS Notre Dame 11/26
That is incredibly difficult. USC has some great players across the board, but I don’t eve know with all of that talent how they manage to win more than eight games this year. Their rival they share a city with (OK, technically UCLA plays their games in Pasadena) looks really good. Quarterback Josh Rosen is young, but he is sensational. Defense is very good. Solid team overall. Watch out for the Bruins. Utah may be an interesting team to watch and a possibility to win the Pac-12 South, but at the end of the day it comes down to USC and UCLA and you have to go with the team that has the easier schedule I feel.
Pac-12 South predicted records and conference records
UCLA 10-2 (8-1)
USC 8-4 (6-3)
Utah 8-4 (6-3)
Arizona State 7-5 (4-5)
Arizona 6-6 (4-5)
Colorado 4-8 (2-7)
The Pac-12 North is very interesting. A lot of people are drinking the Kool-Aid on Washington this year and for good reason. They have a phenomenal young team. Chris Peterson has done a great job recruiting, but they may have too many expectations on them this year. It feels just like what people felt about Tennessee last year. Tennessee ultimately lost a few games that derailed their chances at meeting those expectations. They may just do it this year (more on that in a bit). Washington I think is a year away from being a legit playoff team, but they certainly can win the division this year.
It feels as though people are cooling on Oregon this year. Isn’t Oregon a bit warmer though due to global warming and El Nino? I digress. They don’t have quite the talent that they used to, but that doesn’t mean they won’t win the division. They still can put up a bunch of points. They will run the ball very well this year and be a factor in the Pac-12 as it seems like they have for quite some time.
But what about Stanford? Quarterback Kevin Hogan may be gone, but perhaps the most dynamic player in the country returns in running back Christian McCaffrey. He runs, he catches, he returns kicks. He does it all. With a player like him, there is no reason why Stanford can’t make a deep run this season. The Pac-12 is going to be incredibly interesting to watch.
Predicted Pac-12 North standings and conference standings
Stanford 10-2 (8-1)
Washington 10-2 (7-2)
Oregon 9-3 (6-3)
Washington State 6-6 (4-5)
Oregon State 3-9 (2-7)
California 1-11 (0-9)
Pac-12 Championship game
UCLA vs. Stanford
Pac-12 champion: Stanford
Finally we get to the best college football conference in the land. It’s hard to argue with the dynasty that Alabama has built. There is a lot of buzz around Tennessee and head coach Butch Jones. There is a lot of pressure on him. Joshua Dobbs is a dynamic quarterback. In order to win the division though, they can’t trip up on the likes of Appalachian State and Virginia Tech who they play at Bristol Motor Speedway week two. That will be such a fun atmosphere. They need to figure out a way to beat Georgia and Florida though, two teams that the Volunteers have long losing streaks against. There is more than enough talent in Knoxville to not only end those streaks, but to also win the division the SEC East.
Standing in their way though are Georgia and Florida, both teams as previously mentioned who they haven’t beaten in quite some time. Georgia has a new head coach in Kirby Smart who comes from Alabama where he was the defensive coordinator. Georgia has a lot of good running backs, but Nick Chubb is the best of the bunch. There are still some questions regarding his knee, but he should still be able to play opening weekend. Expectations in Georgia are high, but the pressure in Tennessee may be higher. Florida also has a good team, but quarterback issues really hurt them last year after a suspension. They have a good defense and it they are definitely a factor in the division. It’s Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and everyone else. Until Tennessee proves they can beat Florida, Georgia or both, it’s hard to pick them to win and win the division.
SEC East predicted standings and conference standings
Georgia 10-2 (6-2)
Tennessee 10-2 (6-2)
Florida 9-3 (6-2)
South Carolina 6-6 (3-5)
Kentucky 6-6 (3-5)
Missouri 4-8 (1-7)
Vanderbilt 4-8 (1-7)
Defending national champion Alabama will have to replace their quarterback and running back, but their defense is stellar. They’ve replaced running backs before, but they’ll do it again. However, a more experienced LSU team awaits them and guess what? They play in Baton Rouge this year on November 5th. It is going to be a good game and LSU is loaded. They have the best running back in the land possibly in Leonard Fournette. They have fantastic skill players, but is Brandon Harris really the answer at quarterback? We know they’ll have a phenomenal defense. They just need some good quarterback play to take the pressure off of Fournette. I think it will happen.
We could see some firings after this season in the division. Every coach makes over four million dollars. There have been issues at Texas A&M though and Gus Malzahn has a lot of pressure on him, but I think it is another down year for War Eagle. Going to be tough to replace Dak Prescott at Mississippi State and Ole Miss may not be as good as they were last year, but they have to worry about some off-field issues that could affect what happens at the end of the year. No worries though. Ole Miss is still going to be a factor though and they host Alabama this year so Alabama needs to watch out or they will lose three games in a row to them. Arkansas will certainly be a factor as well. The SEC West in general is going to be fascinating to watch. Alabama may be the number one team in the country right now, but they won’t be by season’s end. They won’t even be heading to Atlanta.
SEC West predicted standings and conference standings
LSU 11-1 (7-1)
Alabama 10-2 (6-2)
Arkansas 9-3 (6-2)
Ole Miss 8-4 (5-3)
Mississippi State 6-6 (3-5)
Auburn 5-7 (2-6)
Texas A&M 4-8 (1-7)
SEC Championship game
Georgia vs. LSU
SEC Champion: LSU
College Football Playoff
That brings us to what teams will make the College Football Playoff. There are a handful of teams that will be in the discussion including Houston (assuming they go undefeated), Michigan, UCLA, Alabama, TCU and others. Florida State and Clemson should both be able to make if they can avoid losing to any team other than each other. This was tough picking all of the teams, but The Stack is predicting the following…
#1 Clemson vs. #4 Notre Dame
#2 LSU vs. #3 FSU
National Championship game
Clemson vs. LSU
National champion: Clemson
As for the for the Heisman Trophy, it will come down to four players, one quarterback and three running backs.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson
LSU running back Leonard Fournette
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook
It is going to be a very close race, but in the end I think Deshaun Watson wins the Heisman and will win the national championship. Not a bad year at all if I do say so myself. Enjoy the college football season everyone. It is bound to be a good one.
Coming up Friday: Reaction to Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, possibly more thoughts on Colin Kaepernick and more.