2015 Season Preview

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The wait is over, and the best time of the year is finally upon us.  The months of analyzing teams, making predictions, and having nothing to watch but replays of last year’s games can finally give way to a new season and all of the surprises and storylines that come with it. Last season marked the beginning of a new era in college football with the first ever 4-team playoff, and it was a bit of a roller coaster in the race to who got in. The initial rankings released by the playoff committee in November featured three SEC teams, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Auburn, none of which went on to win the conference. The last team to get in, Ohio State, was ranked as low as #22 and completely written off after their loss to Virginia Tech early in the season.  However, when the dust finally settled the playoff selection was pretty much chalk: all four teams (Alabama, Oregon, FSU, and Ohio State) were ranked in the top 5 of the preseason AP poll. The predictability from last season is usually not the norm. In fact, its pretty common to see several teams that began the year outside of the top 10 or even unranked finish in the top 4 by season’s end. For proof on how unpredictable a season usually is, here’s the final four teams in the AP poll at the end of the regular season (before bowl games were played) with their original preseason ranking from the past 15 years:

2000
19 Oklahoma, 5 Miami, 2 Florida State, 13 Washington

2001
2 Miami, 7 Oregon, NR Colorado, 4 Nebraska

2002
1 Miami, 13 Ohio State, NR Iowa, 8 Georgia

2003
8 USC, 14 LSU, 1 Oklahoma, 4 Michigan

2004
1 USC, 2 Oklahoma, 13 Auburn, 17 California

2005
1 USC, 2 Texas, NR Penn State, 6 Ohio State

2006
1 Ohio State, 7 Florida, 14 Michigan, 8 LSU

2007
11 Ohio State, 2 LSU, 8 Oklahoma, 13 Georgia

2008
5 Florida, 4 Oklahoma, 11 Texas, 24 Alabama

2009
5 Alabama, 2 Texas, 17 TCU, NR Cincinnati

2010
22 Auburn, 11 Oregon, 6 TCU, 12 Wisconsin

2011
4 LSU, 2 Alabama, 9 Oklahoma State, 7 Stanford

2012
NR Notre Dame, 2 Alabama, 18 Ohio State, 23 Florida

2013
11 Florida State, NR Auburn, 1 Alabama, NR Michigan State

2014
2 Alabama, 1 Florida State, 3 Oregon, NR TCU

Seven out of the past 15 seasons a team that started outside of the top 10 finished in the top 4. In five seasons a team that started unranked finished in the top 4. Now if I had predicted any of those teams, especially one’s unranked, to finish that year that high, everyone would call me crazy. But the reality is that its more realistic and more common than we tend to think. With all of this in mind, I think we’re in for a pretty surprising season with several teams making the playoff that are completely off everyone’s radar right now. Outside of Ohio State, the remaining playoff spots are completely up for grabs.

Enjoy the season guys, and let the madness begin…

Underrated/Overrated: Teams I like, others I don’t

Underrated:

-UCLA: While USC is a popular pick by many to reach the playoff, their cross-town rival might actually be better. The Bruins return 18 starters from last year’s 10-win team, including standouts like running back Paul Perkins and linebacker Myles Jack. Freshman QB Josh Rosen was recently named the starter, and if he can find consistent play throughout the year, don’t be surprised if the Bruins upset USC and win the PAC-12 South.

-Ole Miss: Similar to UCLA, the Rebels have questions at QB, but are loaded everywhere else. They return Laquon Treadwell from injury and have arguably the nation’s best left tackle in Laremy Tunsil, and will once again have one of the best defenses in the nation. Incoming transfer Chad Kelly was named the starting QB last week, Kelly dealt with attitude problems and off-the-field issues while at Clemson. However, he’s more talented than Bo Wallace, and if he can put his past behind him, Ole Miss may have upgraded at the position. Many are writing them off after their rough finish last season, but I think the Rebels are serious contenders in the SEC West.

-Notre Dame: After falling apart in the second-half of last season due to several injuries on defense, the Irish return 19 starters and will have one of the most experienced teams this year. The Irish have NFL talent at practically every position group, and QB Malik Zaire looked impressive against LSU in the Music City Bowl. It’s worth noting that every head coach to win a national championship at Notre Dame averaged at least 9 wins per year during their tenure at ND. Through five seasons, Brian Kelly is averaging 9 wins (45 total) a year. It’s not crazy to think that Kelly brings a national title back to South Bend before his time there is over. Why not this year? In 2013, FSU was ranked #11 in the preseason AP poll, and Ohio State fell to as low as #22 after two weeks last season before going on to win a national title. Don’t sleep on the Irish this year.

Overrated teams:

-USC: I had high expectations for the Trojans last season and they disappointed me after losing 4 games. I had already been skeptical that Steve Sarkisian was the right hire, and his antics at a USC kickoff event last week only confirmed that. While the Trojans certainly have the talent to overcome a tough schedule, I think a poor coaching job will lead to them losing a couple of games that they shouldn’t, keeping them out of the playoffs.

-Alabama: Similar to USC in the four years with Pete Carroll after losing to Texas in ’05, the Tide will continue to be very good, just not national championship caliber. Alabama only returns 11 starters, losing their biggest offensive playmaker in Amari Cooper, and their best player in a struggling secondary in Landon Collins. QB Jacob Coker hasn’t taken command of the starting job like many expected and the position remains a question mark. You would expect the Tide to lean heavily on the run with Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, but just like the Sugar Bowl and several other games last year, I think Lane Kiffin will turn to the pass too often. Alabama plays a ridiculous 9 teams in the top 27 of the AP poll, which will just be too much for an otherwise young team. It’s also worth noting that the Tide have not repeated as SEC champs in the Saban era, and its been 17 years since any SEC team has repeated as conference champs.

-Auburn: The winner of the Iron Bowl the past six seasons has produced either the SEC champ or national champion, but I think that streak finally ends this season. While Will Muschamp was brought in help turn around a struggling defense from last season, I don’t think things will be fixed overnight. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson looks poised to pick up where Nick Marshall left of in Gus Malzhan’s high-paced offense but a tough pecking order in the SEC will keep them from living up to their lofty #6 preseason ranking.

Playoff Picks

Orange Bowl:

(1) Ohio State (13-0) over (4) Oklahoma (11-1)

Cotton Bowl:

(3) Notre Dame (11-1) over (2) LSU (11-1)

National Championship:

Ohio State over Notre Dame

I’ve already gone into detail about my expectations for Notre Dame, and while many like TCU or Baylor out of the Big 12, I’m going with a surprise pick here in Oklahoma. The Sooners under Bob Stoops always seem to disappoint when given high expectations, but play well with low expectations. In 2000, Oklahoma was coming off a 7-5 season and began the year ranked 19th, but went on to finish 13-0 and winning the national title. Last season, the Sooners were a popular pick to reach the playoff entering the season ranked 4th, but would finish 8-5 after a blowout loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Transfer quarterback Baker Mayfield comes in from Texas Tech and takes over for Trevor Knight who struggled last season. Oklahoma also boasts one of the best backfields in the country in Heisman hopeful Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. As for LSU, I think the Tigers are legitimate contenders and are being overlooked in the SEC. Their nonconference schedule is very favorable and they draw South Carolina and Florida out of the East, avoiding Georgia and Tennessee. LSU has also beaten Alabama in 5 of the past 7 meetings in Tuscaloosa. In the end however, it was just too hard to pick anyone but Ohio State to win the national title this season. The Buckeyes are loaded on both sides and moving Braxton Miller to wide receiver makes their offense even more dangerous, whether its J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones throwing the ball.

Conference champs:
SEC: LSU (11-1) over Georgia (10-2)
Big Ten: Ohio State (12-0) over Nebraska (10-2)
ACC: Clemson (10-2) over Georgia Tech (9-3)
Pac 12: UCLA (10-2) over Oregon (10-2)
Big 12: Oklahoma (11-1)

Bowl Picks:

Rose Bowl: UCLA (11-2) vs. Michigan State (11-1)

Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss (10-2) vs. Baylor (10-2)

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State (11-1) vs. USC (10-2)

Peach Bowl: Clemson (11-2) vs. Alabama (10-2)

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Georgia (10-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Outback Bowl: Auburn (9-3) vs. Nebraska (10-3)

TaxSlayer Bowl: Tennessee (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (9-4)

Alamo Bowl: Oregon (10-3) vs. TCU (10-2)

Holiday Bowl: Penn State (8-4) vs. Stanford (9-3)

Music City: Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Florida State (9-3)

Belk Bowl: Arkansas (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)

Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami (8-4) vs. West Virginia (8-4)

Texas Bowl: Missouri (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)

Liberty Bowl: Florida (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)

All-Americans

QB Trevone Boykin, TCU

RB Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State
NCAA Football: National Championship-Ohio State vs Oregon

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

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WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State

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WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

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TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas

OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame

OG Landon Turner, North Carolina

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C   Jack Allen, Michigan State

OG Pat Elflein, Ohio State

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OT Spencer Drango, Baylor

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DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State

DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama

DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor

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LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

LB Scooby Wright, Arizona

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LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

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S   Vonn Bell, Ohio State

S   Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

K Brad Craddock, Maryland

P J.K. Scott, Alabama

Heisman Predictions

Winner: RB Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State

Although a running back has only won the award six times in the past 21 years, Elliot burst onto the scene in the Big Ten championship and the playoff, rushing for over 200 yards in all three games, carrying the load for the Buckeyes’ offense. I think Elliot will carry the momentum into this season as he leads Ohio State to an undefeated regular season and a return trip to the playoff. Besides, there’s a trend here definitely worth mentioning:

1955 Heisman winner: Ohio State running back Howard Cassady
20 years later…
1975 Heisman winner: Ohio State running back Archie Griffin
20 years later…
1995 Heisman winner: Ohio State running back Eddie George
20 years later…
2015 Heisman winner: ?????

Finalists:

QB Trevone Boykin, TCU

QB Cody Kessler, USC

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

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