Predictions for This Season

dexter lawrence
Dexter Lawrence is leading what could be an all-time defensive line at Clemson. (Photo: Gwinn Davis/The Post and Courier)

ACC

Atlantic Division

  1. Clemson – I think Kelly Bryant is pretty limited, but whether or not they stick with him or go to star recruit Trevor Lawrence, this team will be lead by their defense, more specifically their defensive line. In my opinion they have the best defense in college football and they still have more than enough on offense.
  2. Florida State – Last season was a lost year for the Seminoles. They have a new coach in Willie Taggart that seems to have re-energized the program. They have Deondre Francois returning and a guy in James Blackman who got experience last season. They aren’t at the level of Clemson, but they should have a much better season than last season.
  3. Louisville – Not a lot is expected from them after the loss of Lamar Jackson and a number of defensive starters. They do however have a good number of skill position players back and Bobby Petrino is one of the better offensive minds in the country. I think they will have enough to outscore a good amount of the teams on their schedule.
  4. NC State – This was a close one between the Wolfpack and Boston College, but the difference to me is Ryan Finley. Finley may just be the best quarterback in the conference and that should lead to the Wolfpack scoring a lot of points, which will give them a chance to win some shootouts with what should be a spotty at best defense.
  5. Boston College – It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Boston College finish in the top three in this division. Defensively they have been pretty solid under Steve Addazio, but this year the offense should take a step forward with 10 starters returning, including every offensive lineman. For them to make some real noise in this division though they will need better play out of Anthony Brown at quarterback.
  6. Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons don’t have a ton of talent on the roster, but they do boast one of the better offensive lines in the conference. They are also bringing back 14 starters from a team that went 8-5 a year ago. They have a history of overachieving under Dave Clawson.
  7. Syracuse – There’s just not a lot of talent on this roster. They do have Eric Dungey at quarterback, who is a pretty dynamic talent, but the depth chart is pretty bare outside of that. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them overachieve simply because of Dungey, and they did beat Clemson last season after all, but I just feel like Dungey will have to carry too much of the load.

Coastal Division

  1. Miami – The Hurricanes are coming off of a great season and should be the heavy favorites in this division. They are returning seven starters on offense, including quarterback Malik Rosier, so they should be more consistent on that side of the ball. Defensively, this team is loaded. They should have the second best defense in the conference behind Clemson.
  2. Duke – It’s not easy to pick a second place team in this division, but I’m going with the Blue Devils. They do have some experience at quarterback with Daniel Jones coming back, but where they should win some games is on the defensive side of the ball. They are bringing back eight starters on defense, which will be huge. They do however have to go to Miami and Clemson, which will make things very tough.
  3. Virginia Tech – The Hokies have had a ton of attrition this off season on the defensive side of the ball, but I trust Bud Foster a lot to put together at least a respectable season on that side of the ball. It likely won’t be the best season they’ve had in Blacksburg, but they have been a consistent program and I wouldn’t expect them to be too down.
  4. Georgia Tech – Another team in this division who might be down from where they normally are, but I trust Paul Johnson and his triple option too much to think they’ll be terrible. They have a serviceable offensive line, but they are also bringing back two 1,000 yard rushers from last season.
  5. Pittsburgh – There’s been a lot of positive buzz from preseason camp about quarterback Kenny Pickett. While they don’t return a lot on offense, if they have nailed it at the quarterback position that will be huge. Defensively they are returning nine starters from a defense that saw a 9-point improvement from 2016 to last season. They should only keep taking steps forward on that side of the ball, especially with a defensive-minded head coach in Pat Narduzzi.
  6. North Carolina – Not only are the Tar Heels coming off of a bad 3-9 season, but I’m not the biggest believer in Larry Fedora, and on top of that, they will be dealing with a ton of suspensions as the season goes on after a number of players got in trouble for selling school issued Jordan’s. Whether players should be suspended for the length they are is another issue, but the fact is those players will be dealing with suspensions of different lengths and there are so many they had to stagger them throughout the season.
  7. Virginia – This is still clearly a rebuild. Cavaliers’ coach Bronco Mendenhall has even said they don’t have enough division one players on the roster to win a lot of games at this point. They are coming off of a four-win improvement from Mendenhall’s first season, but I still think they’re a ways away and if you are a Virginia fan you should just want to keep seeing more consistent play on both side of the ball.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Clemson over Miami

Offensive Player of the Year: Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Defensive Players of the Year: Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson

Coach of the Year: Mark Richt, Miami

Freshman of the Year: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

American Athletic Conference

East Division

  1. UCF – They are of course coming off of an undefeated season that saw them end with a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. They are the heavy favorites in this conference despite losing head coach Scott Frost. They are bringing back a number of key offensive players, McKenzie Milton, Adrian Killins, Dredrick Snelson, Jordan Johnson and Wyatt Miller just to name a few. They probably still won’t be great defensively, but they should be good enough to win plenty of games with the amount of points they should put up.
  2. Temple – The race between Temple and USF for second in the East should be close, but the Owls get USF at home this season. They do lose some big targets, but they have Isaiah Wright coming back and they return all of their important rushers from last season. Defensively they should be very stout up front. They are bringing back Quincy Roche, who had the second-most sacks on the team last season and they bring back all of their starting linebackers.
  3. USF – Like I said, the race for second should be tight. The Bulls should be about just as good as Temple on defense, but on offense they lost star quarterback Quinton Flowers. They will have Blake Barnett, who is a former five-star recruit but has bounced around to three different schools in his college career. They should be very good at receiver, but they have some question marks everywhere else on offense.
  4. Cincinnati – This is where a sharp drop-off comes in this division. The only reason I really have the Bearcats at number four in the division is because they have the best defensive line of them, ECU and UCONN. They also have a solid quarterback situation going into the season.
  5. ECU – The Pirates have a 1,000 yard receiver back in Trevon Brown and they have some other solid skill position players. The bad part though is they don’t have much to wok with on defense. They were terrible a year ago on defense and even though they have seven starters returning, they really just aren’t all that talented.
  6. UCONN – This roster just isn’t very good and they only return two starters on defense, which is pretty astounding. What makes that even worse is that they gave up 37.9 points per game last season. This should be a rough year for the Huskies.

West Division

  1. Navy – Most people probably have Memphis winning this division, but I think the Midshipmen will do it, because they are pretty loaded on offense. They have two 1,000 yard rushers back and they have a very good offensive line. That, on top of running the triple option which is very tough to prepare for throughout the course of a season has me really bullish on Navy. They also get Memphis at home, which is a big reason why I’m picking them to win the division.
  2. Memphis – Mike Norvell has done a great job at Memphis and this season should be another good one. Offensively they are bringing back a ton of talent, but they did lose receiver Anthony Miller and quarterback Riley Ferguson. While those are huge losses they should be fine on the offensive side, plus Norvell is a good offensive coach. On defense they gave up 32.5 points per game last season, but they should be better this season. They will need to replace a lot of their sack production from last season, but other than that, they do have a good amount of talent on that side.
  3. Houston – Contrary to the regular, this Houston team should be lead by their defense. They are of course lead by Ed Oliver, who could very well end up being the first overall pick in this years draft, but other than him, they have talent at every level. D’Eriq King is back at quarterback, but he was pretty shaky last season in the passing game and will need to be better if they want to be more consistent on that side of the ball.
  4. Tulane – The Green Wave won’t win this division, but they are returning nine starters on offense after they’ve been trending up for the past few years. Defensively they will probably struggle a bit, but they should be able to put up points and beat some people win they get into shootouts with all of the experience they have coming back.
  5. SMU – Ben Hicks is back at quarterback after a strong year last year with 33 TDs and 12 INTs. He appears to be a perfect fit for the Sonny Dykes offense. They also do have some other good talent coming back on offense and really on defense they shouldn’t be too bad. The last time they gave up less than 35 points per game was 2013 and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them do better than that this season, which I know isn’t saying much.
  6. Tulsa – They were only 2-10 last season. They should be an improved team this year, but I’m not sure how much that improvement will translate to the win column. As a team last season they threw more interceptions than touchdowns, so that is something that will obviously have to change. They were also terrible on defense last year and I don’t see them making some dramatic turnaround.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: UCF over Navy

Offensive Player of the Year: McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF

Defensive Player of the Year: Ed Oliver, DL, Houston

Coach of the Year: Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Freshman of the Year: Ben Bryant, QB, Cincinnati

Big-Ten

East Division

  1. Ohio State – I’m not going to touch the Urban Meyer/Zach Smith/Courtney Smith situation. Speaking strictly on the field, this team has the best roster in the conference. They’ll have to replace J.T. Barrett at quarterback after it felt like he was there forever, but Dwayne Haskins is really talented and I think he’ll fit in just fine. This team is talented at every position and I think they’ll be making a return to the playoffs after a one year hiatus.
  2. Penn State – I really like James Franklin and think Penn State will be right there in the Big-Ten and in playoff contention despite having to replace Saquon Barkley. Franklin has been recruiting at a great rate and the Nittany Lions appear to be a program that has entered the realm of just being able to reload. Defensively they will be pretty inexperienced, but they have talent on that side of the ball.
  3. Michigan – It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Wolverines also went on to win this division. They are pretty loaded at every position on their roster and the only reason I don’t have them at first or second is because I’m not sure how much of a difference-maker Shea Patterson will be. I think he is good, but if he is at anywhere near an elite level that would go a long way in helping them win the division. Defensively they’ll be loaded. They only gave up 18.8 points per game a year ago and now they are bringing back nine starters, lead by linebacker Devin Bush and a whole host of other players in the front seven.
  4. Michigan State – If they were in maybe any other division in the country besides this one or the SEC West, Michigan State would have a good chance of making a conference title game. The schedule does work out for them as they host Michigan and Ohio State. The weakest part of their team is likely the offensive line, but every other part of their team is pretty strong and they do have Brian Lewerke at quarterback, who is a pretty mobile option and can create some time for himself if the line does struggle.
  5. Indiana – The Hoosiers have some really good skill-position players coming back this season and they actually have some decent options at quarterback this season with Peyton Ramsey and Arizona transfer Brandon Dawkins. They’ll probably struggle on defense and this is where a pretty big drop-off happens in this division, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hoosiers beat one of the top four teams this season.
  6. Maryland – There is actually some talent on this roster, but I still think DJ Durkin will end up getting fired with the situation they’ve got themselves into this off season and that controversy will hang over them this season.
  7. Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights are better than they were a couple years ago, but they still aren’t anywhere close to contending. They should just want to make sure they take steps forward this season.

West Division

  1. Wisconsin – I don’t see any scenario in which Wisconsin doesn’t win the West. They will be dominant up front on offense and will be able to run the ball at will against pretty much anyone, taking pressure off of solid, but limited quarterback Alex Hornibrook. They should also continue to be solid on defense and I think they’ll win this division fairly easily.
  2. Northwestern – Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job at Northwestern and has built them to the point where they are at least always competitive. They are bringing back Clayton Thorson at quarterback and while they lost running back Justin Jackson, they will have back Jeremy Larkin, who averaged 6 yards per carry a year ago. Defensively they should also be pretty good, especially up front.
  3. Iowa – The Hawkeyes will have a very good quarterback back under center in Nathan Stanley, and their two top receivers back. They should also be pretty good up front defensively, and those two components should make them a dangerous team.
  4. Nebraska – Scott Frost will be a rock star at Nebraska, but not quite this year. They have some very good skill players back, guys who should thrive in his offense, but they are looking at relying on a freshman quarterback in Adrian Martinez. Also, they don’t have a ton to work with on defense. I think they’ll be better than people expect this season and could upset someone, but the conference titles that Frost can win at his alma mater are not going to come this season.
  5. Purdue – Jeff Brohm is still someone who is a rising star in the coaching ranks and they will be returning nine starers on offense, including two nice quarterback options. They probably won’t be as good as the 20.5 points per game they gave up last year on defense this season, but they should be able to score points and I really like Brohm as a coach.
  6. Minnesota – Rodney Smith is coming back at running back for PJ Fleck and that’s a really bright spot. Other than Smith, the roster isn’t loaded by any means. They will be interesting to watch however as they will be starting a true freshman walk-on quarterback in Zack Annexstad. Fleck still has a lot of building to do at Minnesota before they start rowing the boat.
  7. Illinois – There’s just not much talent on this roster. The Lovie Smith experiment was a head-scratcher to me when they made the hire and I frankly don’t think he’ll be the coach much longer in Champaign.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Ohio State over Wisconsin

Offensive Player of the Year: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Bosa, DL, Ohio State

Coach of the Year: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Freshman of the Year: Justin Shorter, WR, Penn State

Big-Twelve

  1. Oklahoma – Despite the loss of Baker Mayfield, the Sooners are still pretty loaded. Kyler Murray is a former five-star recruit and will be stepping in at quarterback and he will have no shortage of weapons. Rodney Anderson is back at running back, CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown are back at receiver and they have three starting offensive lineman back. They likely still won’t be a juggernaut defensively, but they should be able to play enough defense to win plenty of games with the amount of points they’ll likely put up.
  2. West Virginia – There’s a lot of hype around West Virginia this season and for good reason. Will Grier is one of the top quarterbacks in the country and he is back and David Sills is one of the best receivers in the country and he is back in the fold. On top of that, they are returning four starters from the offensive line last season. Much like most teams in the Big-12, they likely won’t play lock down defense, but much like Oklahoma, they should be able to outscore a lot of teams.
  3. TCU – The Horned Frogs lost Kenny Hill, but they still have plenty of talent on that side of the ball to put up enough points to win. Another big thing is they should have the best defense in the conference. They are probably the best at every level of the defense in the conference and having a defense of that caliber will be huge in a conference where defense is a lot of times optional.
  4. Texas – We all have a tendency to over-hype Texas in the preseason so I’m not going to fall into that. If they prove me wrong that’s great for them, but I don’t want to over rank them yet again. Defensively they should be very strong and that will be huge. I’m not sure how good they’ll be on offense though. They have decided to go with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, who threw 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last season as a true freshman. If Texas wants to take a big step forward on offense they will need to generate somewhat of a running game after only averaging 140 yards per game on the ground last season, which isn’t normal for a Tom Herman offense.
  5. Kansas State – Bill Snyder has Kansas State set up to be somewhat of a dangerous team yet again. They are returning eight starters on offense and should be very good up front on that side of the ball. They should also be solid on the defensive side of things, as they usually are. Kansas State won’t be the most exciting team to watch as usual, but they should be solid once again.
  6. Iowa State – Kyle Kempt stepped in for the Cyclones last season and did a great job, highlighted by an upset win at Oklahoma. Well he is back and so is star running back David Montgomery. They did lose long-time star receiver Allen Lazard, but they do return Hakeem Butler, who caught 7 touchdowns last season. Defensively they should also be pretty solid, but they will have to replace a good chunk of their sack production from last season.
  7. Oklahoma State – I think it will be a little bit of a down year compared to what fans in Stillwater have grown accustomed to. They are going to have to replace four absolute studs on offense in Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill, James Washington and Marcell Ateman. That is just a lot of production to have to try and replace and I don’t think they recruit at the level that they can just plug and play. They might be improved on defense but I think they will take a sizable step back on offense.
  8. Texas Tech – Nothing too different here. The Red Raiders will probably put up a ton of points, but they will really struggle on defense. I don’t even care that they have 10 starters returning on that side because they’ve been among the worst defenses in college football for a while now, so I’m not sure how talented those players are.
  9. Baylor – They should be better than the 1-11 they were in Matt Rhule’s first season, but it’s still going to be a pretty slow build to try and get Baylor back to winning football games at a consistent clip. They do have 17 starters back and have a good chance at being 4-0 or 3-1 before things toughen up, but I don’t think they are poised for some great season.
  10. Kansas – I mean they’re one of the worst power five programs out there. They are returning 19 starters, which may lead to them being better and more competitive in games, but they shouldn’t have a very good season. If you’re a Jayhawk fan I think the main thing you’d wan to see is them being more competitive and finding a way to win one or two conference games.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: West Virginia over Oklahoma

Offensive Player of the Year: Will Grier, QB West Virginia

Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Banogu, DL, TCU

Coach of the Year: Dana Holgerson, West Virginia

Freshman of the Year: Brendan Radley-Hiles, S, Oklahoma

Conference-USA

East Division

  1. Marshall – A lot of people will pick the Lane Train and FAU to win this division, but I’m going to go with Marshall, because they nearly beat FAU last season, they have 18 returning starters and this year they get FAU at home. They will have a new quarterback after losing Chase Litton, but other than that they are bringing back nearly everyone, including their whole offensive line. Defensively they are also bringing back a ton, including most of their sack production from a team that only gave up 19.9 points per game last season.
  2. FAU – The Owls saw a huge turnaround last season from the year before and Lane Kiffin has FAU in the news constantly and they should be good yet again. They will have a new quarterback and may take a bit of a step back on offense. The defense on the other hand will be really strong. They only gave up 22.7 points per game last season and now they are returning 10 starters.
  3. Middle Tennessee – Brent Stockstill is a very solid quarterback and he will be back for them this season. They are returning a ton of starters and they do get FAU at home this season, which will be big.
  4. Old Dominion – The Monarchs, much like most of the other teams in their division, will be returning a lot of players. They are a little bit limited at the skill positions, but up front they should be very good on both sides of the ball.
  5. FIU – Butch Davis and co. are in a similar spot as Old Dominion. They don’t return nearly as many people, but up front they should be pretty good and that should help them hang around and win some tough games.
  6. Western Kentucky – They have some skill position players, but other than that they don’t have a ton of talent on the roster. They will need to replace quarterback Mike White, and that’s huge. It probably won’t be a year they are use to in Bowling Green.
  7. Charlotte – They have a lot of starters returning, but they went 1-11 last season. They just don’t have much talent and will be looking to just improve on last season with their 18 returning starters.

West Division

  1. Louisiana Tech – Skip Holtz has done a good job in Ruston. They are looking at another strong season, with the return of J’Mar Smith at quarterback and some other key players up front. They also get UAB at home.
  2. UAB – It was pretty amazing that UAB went 8-5 last season after not having a football program since 2014. They are returning a ton of key starters and the only reason I don’t have them winning the division is because they aren’t as good as Louisiana Tech up front, and they have to play on the road at Louisiana Tech.
  3. North Texas – Another team with a ton of returning starters in Conference-USA. The Mean Green actually have a chance to possibly have the best offense in the conference this season. Mason Fine is back at quarterback after a good season last year, although he’ll need to cut down on interceptions. They also return their top-three receivers so they will be tough to stop.
  4. Southern Miss – They don’t have the best roster in the conference, but the reason I have them in the middle of the division is because they have a very good quarterback situation with Kwadra Griggs being back. They should be solid on offense.
  5. UTSA – A rarity in this conference, but the Roadrunners aren’t returning a ton of starters from last years team. They do have Jalen Rhodes back at running back, which will be helpful, and defensively they should be solid up front.
  6. Rice – The Owls were terrible last season and threw way more interceptions than touchdowns as they had three quarterbacks. I wouldn’t expect too much out of them this season.
  7. UTEP – Dana Dimel has quite the task coming into El Paso after winless season. The offense only scored 11.8 points per game last season and the defense gave up 36.8 points per game last season. It will be a tough build and they should just start with trying to win a game.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Marshall over Louisiana Tech

Offensive Player of the Year: Devin Singletary, RB, FAU

Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Young, S, FAU

Coach of the Year: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Freshman of the Year: Sterling Palmer, TE, FIU

sutton smith
Sutton Smith is as good of a pass rusher as anyone in college football. (Photo: Lon Horwedel)

MAC

West Division

  1. Northern Illinois – They are returning a lot, including star defensive end Sutton Smith, who had 14 sacks last season. They will win this division because of how good they are up front.
  2. Western Michigan – Not only are the Broncos very good up front just like Northern Illinois, but they should also be pretty good at receiver. Jon Wassink was solid at quarterback last season and should be taking a step forward this season.
  3. Toledo – Skill position players galore here. They will be lead on the outside by Diontae Johnson, who had 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, but they have plenty of other options too.
  4. Eastern Michigan – They should be pretty good this season when it comes to the running game. Their defensive line should be really good and they have two good options at running back.
  5. Ball State – The Cardinals are coming off of a 2-10 season, but they should be able to put up a good amount of points this season. Defensively they gave up 40 points per game last season and that should be improved, but probably not by a great amount.
  6. Central Michigan – 8-5 was the result last season, but they are looking at taking a drop this season. They are only bringing back 10 starters in total and will not likely be too strong on most parts of the roster besides the front seven.

East Division

  1. Ohio – Nathan Rourke is a dynamic quarterback, coming off of a decent season through the air, but also having nearly 1,000 yards on the ground. If he is able to more refine his passing game, this offense should be very good.
  2. Buffalo – Tyree Jackson could be the best quarterback in the conference and he should lead this offense to a lot of points this season. On defense they aren’t great, but they have a good enough front seven.
  3. Miami (Ohio) – The Redhawks have a well-rounded roster. I do think they are fairly limited, but they are bringing back eight starters on both sides of the ball and are bringing back 47 lettermen from last years team. They din’t lose much in any spot on the roster and should be able to win games in multiple styles.
  4. Akron – The defense will be carrying this team. They are very good at linebacker and in the secondary. They probably won’t be too dynamic on offense, but that defense should keep them in a lot of games.
  5. Bowling Green – The secondary is the strength of what should be a pretty iffy defense at best. Jarret Doege is back at quarterback after a nice redshirt freshman season. They could put up some points but will likely struggle on defense.
  6. Kent State – Sean Lewis is not inheriting much at Kent State in his first season. They aren’t looking at being too good on either side of the ball and will really just be looking to improve as the season goes on.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Ohio over Northern Illinois

Offensive Player of the Year: Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio

Defensive Player of the Year: Sutton Smith, DL, Northern Illinois

Coach of the Year: Tim Lester, Western Michigan

Freshman of the Year: Amos Ogun-Semore, DL, Ohio

Mountain West

Mountain Division

  1. Boise State – The Broncos should be a pretty heavy favorite in this division with the return of quarterback Brett Rypien. They’ve been consistently the best program in this conference and with a very good quarterback coming back, along with 1,000 yard running back Alex Mattison and 10 starters returning off of a defense that gave up 22.9 points per game last year, should have them primed for another very good season.
  2. Utah State – This team should be very good up front on both sides of the ball. They are also returning some good skill position players, but the best part of this team will be up front.
  3. Wyoming – The Cowboys may have lost Josh Allen, whose production really won’t be too hard to replace, but they also have 17 starters returning and should be very good on the defensive side of the ball.
  4. Colorado State – Some key losses have them looking to replace some big-time production they got from Nick Stevens, Michael Gallup and Dalyn Dawkins. Luckily for Mike Bobo, they do have some guys coming back that got a good amount of playing time last season despite not being the focal points of the offense. They will also have Washington transfer KJ Carta-Samuels to play quarterback.
  5. Air Force – Arion Worthman could be the best offensive player in the conference and he will help them have a great running game. They should also be solid up front on both sides.
  6. New Mexico – The Lobos are probably the worst team in the division by a good amount, but they do have some returning starters and should be improved from the 3-9 season they had last year.

West Division

  1. Fresno State – Last season Jeff Tedford came in after a 1-11 season and was able to get Marcus McMaryion to join them late after he decided to transfer from Oregon State and it was a perfect fit. The Bulldogs had a dramatic turnaround, going 10-4. With Tedford having a full season under his belt n Fresno, things should just go even smoother, especially with McMarion back in the fold.
  2. San Diego State – Rocky Long has consistently had this program playing good defense and that should continue this season. Losing Rashaad Penny is obviously a big deal and will probably lead to them taking a step back on offense, but this defense should win them some games.
  3. UNLV – This team is going to score some points. They are returning a lot of key guys on offense, but will need more from Armani Rogers after he got a lot of seasoning as a true freshman. Defensively however, they’ll probably struggle.
  4. Nevada – This isn’t Chris Ault’s Nevada Wolfpack. They are trying to build the program back up to being a consistent bowl team again and as they try and make a bowl game after going 3-9 in Jay Norvell’s first season, having Ty Gangi back at quarterback will be very helpful.
  5. San Jose State – Brent Brennan’s first season was dreadful and I don’t expect this season to be much better. They averaged to lose by about 26 points per game last season, so I expect that to be better with 14 returning starters, but I don’t think it’ll translate a ton into the win column. They should just want more close games.
  6. Hawai’i – Nick Rolovich had to deal with a slew of transfers this off season or they might be looking at a much improved season. The Warriors did have some fairly close games last season so if they can find a way to close the gap on some of those games they could see more wins, but I don’t see that happening with all of the attrition on the roster.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Boise State over Fresno State

Offensive Player of the Year: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

Defensive Player of the Year: Andrew Wingard, DB, Wyoming

Coach of the Year: Bryan Harsin, Boise State

Freshman of the Year: Tyler Vander Waal, QB, Wyoming

Pac-12

North Division

  1. Washington – The weakness of this team is probably at receiver, but even there they are solid. Chris Peterson has them ready to contend for a College Football Playoff spot this season. Jake Browning has been questioned a good amount this off season, but if he can have a season somewhat like he did in 2016, it would be nearly impossible to see them not winning the conference because of their defense.
  2. Oregon – A healthy Justin Herbert will be important for the Ducks. They are bringing back a lot and should see an even more improved defense in year two under Jim Leavitt. If Herbert is healthy the Ducks should be able to beat at least one of either Stanford or Washington at home.
  3. Stanford – Bryce Love is as good as it gets in college football. They’ll of course have a good offensive line as they always do, but a lot of people seem to think KJ Costello will be able to take their passing game to the next level. I’ll have to see that to believe it first.
  4. California – Justin Wilcox had a nice first year in Berkeley laying the foundation for the program. They averaged 27.8 points per game last season and are returning 10 starters on that side of the ball. It should be another step forward for Cal this season.
  5. Washington State – It’s been a rough off season for the Cougars. They were already graduating a lot of key players, then Mike Leach nearly left for Tennessee and then it got worse and bigger than football with the tragic suicide of quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Mike Leach is a great coach, but it could be a rough year in Pullman.
  6. Oregon State – There’s just not much talent on this roster. Things got really bad with Gary Andersen before he left midseason last year so the thing Oregon State has going for them is at least Jonathan Smith should have everyone pulling in the same direction, which is something I don’t think was happening before. The important thing this season for Jonathan Smith is to lay a solid foundation for the program.

South Division

  1. Utah – I’m going to say Kyle Whittingham finally breaks through and wins the South. They should be very good up front on both sides of the ball and they’ll have Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss back. The South is wide open so I’ll just pick the Utes.
  2. USC – Losing Sam Darnold is huge, but the good thing is they are USC, so whoever ends up playing QB will have weapons. On defense they should be pretty good and even with the loss of Ronald Jones, look for a breakout season from Stephen Carr.
  3. Arizona – Kevin Sumlin and Khalil Tate seem to be a match made in heaven. We know Tate can run, but Sumlin should help Tate take his passing game to the next level. They also played a ton of young guys on defense, which should pay dividends this year.
  4. Arizona State – I ultimately think Herm Edwards will drive ASU into the side of a mountain, but for this season they have a lot of returning talent. On offense, Manny Wilkins is a dynamic quarterback and N’Keal Harry is one of the better receivers in the country. Defensively Koron Crump is coming back, which will be big.
  5. UCLA – Chip Kelly doesn’t have a ton to work with, but he does have some nice skill position players coming back. Depending on what kind of production the Bruins get out of the quarterback position will be key. Defensively they’ll just need to focus on improvement throughout the season as they were really bad last season.
  6. Colorado – It seems like 2016 could’ve just been an outlier for the Buffaloes. Steven Montez is back at quarterback and that’ll help a lot, but they also lost some key players on offense and are only returning 10 starters overall.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Washington over Utah

Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Jelks, DL, Oregon

Coach of the Year: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Freshman of the Year: JT Daniels, QB, USC

alabama game winning td
The Crimson Tide will be looking for a sixth national title in the Nick Saban era. (Photo: Butch Dill/USA Today Sports)

SEC

West Division

  1. Alabama – Alabama is Alabama. They’re loaded once again on both sides of the ball. They should be more explosive on offense this year than they have been in the past, which will make them even tougher to beat. They will need to figure out the quarterback situation between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, but they should be fine either way.
  2. Auburn – The Tigers should be dominant up front on defense this season and they have probably the best quarterback in the conference in Jarrett Stidham. They will need to prove they can have a good running game, which isn’t something that’s usually questioned under Gus Malzhan, but overall they should be really good on both sides.
  3. Mississippi State – Joe Moorhead is stepping into a great situation here. The Bulldogs are returning a bunch on both sides of the ball. Nick Fitzgerald will need to take steps forward in the passing game, but overall there’s plenty of talent on the roster.
  4. Texas A&M – The Aggies should be pretty good on defense this season. Jimbo Fisher will probably do really well at A&M and things should only get better after this season. Nick Starkel is a good quarterback to build the offense around.
  5. LSU – I don’t trust Ed Oregeron to be the head coach of a program like LSU. They should be very good on defense, as usual, but a lot of the success or failure of their season will come down to the quarterback play they can get.
  6. Ole Miss – This program is pretty depleted of depth from where they were a couple of years ago, but they do still have some talent. Jordan Ta’amu is back at quarterback, who was good in his playing time last season. The starting 22 at Ole Miss is about as good as anyone, but where this team will get hurt is the depth.
  7. Arkansas – Chad Morris is an offensive-minded head coach, but he doesn’t have too much talent to work with in his first season in Fayetteville. The defense also doesn’t have a ton to work with so overall I don’t think it’ll be a great year for Arkansas.

East Division

  1. Georgia – The Bulldogs are once again loaded on both sides of the ball. Jake Fromm has some great experience under his belt, which should really help this season. I expect Georgia to contend for a playoff spot this year.
  2. South Carolina – Will Muschamp has done a great job in his second stint as a head coach. Jake Bentley has a lot of experience at quarterback. I think they’ll be very good on offense this year and will have a good season.
  3. Florida – Dan Mullen will ultimately do good things at Florida in my opinion, but I’m not sure what they will do this season. They are returning 19 starters and are adding Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson to the roster at receiver, so this team has talent.
  4. Missouri – This team will be in some shootouts this season. Drew Lock is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, coming off of a season in which he threw 44 touchdowns and had 13 interceptions. Lock has some weapons to work with and they should score a lot of points. Defensively they don’t appear to be too strong.
  5. Kentucky – Mark Stoops has done good things in Lexington. They certainly won’t be contending for the East this season, but they should be very competitive and should make a bowl game. Oregon transfer Terry Wilson appears to be ready to take over the quarterback duties for them.
  6. Tennessee – Jeremy Pruitt has a lot of work to do. This roster really doesn’t have too much talent at this point, especially when it comes to trying to win games in the SEC. Pruitt needs to just try and lay a good foundation in year one.
  7. Vanderbilt – Frankly, there just isn’t much talent on this roster. They are looking at another pretty down season and it wouldn’t surprise me one but to see Derek Mason get let go after this season.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Game: Georgia over Alabama

Offensive Player of the Year: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

Defensive Player of the Year: Greedy Williams, DB, LSU

Coach of the Year: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Freshman of the Year: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU

Sun Belt

East Division

  1. Appalachian State – The race between Appalachian State and Troy should be close in this division as both teams are very good. I’m simply going with Appalachian State because they get to play Troy at home.
  2. Troy – As mentioned above, Troy will have to go to Appalachian State, but the Trojans are very good on both sides of the ball and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see them win the division.
  3. Georgia Southern – The Eagles are very good up front on both sides of the ball and are returning 18 starters in all. They are coming off of a 2-10 season, but those guys got a lot of valuable experience and should be improved.
  4. Georgia State – This team has some good skill position players, especially Penny Hart, who caught 74 passes a year ago for 1,121 yards and 8 touchdowns. Aaron Winchester appears slated to be the quarterback and he’s a pretty big question mark for someone who will be trying to get the ball to those weapons.
  5. Coastal Carolina – It’s only Coastal Carolina’s second season at the FBS level and they are probably looking at being the worst team in the conference this season. They will be looking to just keep building depth as they transition to the FBS level.

West Division

  1. Arkansas State – Justice Hansen is coming off of a very good season and he looks poised to lead the Red Wolves to a division title. He has plenty of weapons coming back and the team should have a very good defense.
  2. Louisiana – They do have to go to ULM, but after scoring 28.2 points per game a year ago, they are returning 8 starters on that side of the ball. They will have to be much better on defense though after giving up 40 points per game in their 5-7 campaign last season.
  3. Louisiana-Monroe – This team should also be able to put up points. Caleb Evans is a very good dual-threat quarterback that will be very hard for defenses in the conference to stop. They should also be improved on defense, although it’s hard to be worse after giving up 41 points per game like they did last season.
  4. South Alabama – Another team that should be able to put up points. They were not good on offense a year ago, but they brought back some of their top performers.
  5. Texas State – Coming off of a 2-10 season the Bobcats are pretty limited. They do return a good amount of starters, but I wouldn’t expect too much from them this season.

Conference Awards

Conference Title Games: Arkansas State over Appalachian State

Offensive Player of the Year: Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

Defensive Player of the Year: Hunter Reese, DL, Troy

Coach of the Year: Neal Brown, Troy

Freshman of the Year: Cephus Johnson, QB, South Alabama

Independent Schools

Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish look poised for another good season. They open with a tough game against Michigan, but after that things lighten up considerably before they play Stanford. Losing Josh Adams is a big deal, but Brandon Wimbush produced a lot of offense last season. This team should also be really good on defense as they were last season.

Army – It was a great season for Army a year ago. They are bringing back a lot on defense, a defense that was good last season, so that should lead to another good year on that side. They did lose a good amount on offense up front, but if they can get good play out of the new guys up front it should be another good season for Army.

New Mexico State – The Aggies were alright on defense a year ago, but they are returning nine starters and that is huge. They do have a fairly tough schedule so I’m not sure how good of a season they’re looking at, but they are returning 15 total starters.

BYU – Things have not gone well for Kalani Sitake at BYU. I’m not sure things will go much better this season either. They do return a good amount of starters, but I don’t think they have too much talent on this roster, especially going against a pretty difficult schedule.

UMASS – The Minutemen should be solid this season. Andrew Ford is a very good quarterback coming off of a season in which he threw 22 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. They’re also returning eight other starters on offense along with Ford. I’m not sold on them defensively, but I think they should put up a good amount of points.

Liberty – Stephen Calvert is a very good quarterback. They are also bringing back 1,000 yard receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, along with two other guys who topped 600 yards a year ago in Damian King and Cephas Reddick. They could have a pretty good season, but won’t be eligible for a bowl game until next season as they are still transitioning to the FBS level.

Heisman Winner

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

New Years Six Bowl Games

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs West Virginia

Peach Bowl: UCF vs Miami

Fiesta Bowl: Utah vs Notre Dame

Rose Bowl: Washington vs Penn State

Orange Bowl (semifinal): (1) Georgia vs (4) Wisconsin

Cotton Bowl (semifinal): (2) Clemson vs (3) Ohio State

National Championship (Santa Clara): Georgia over Clemson

 

 

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