13 August 2015

2015 College Football Predictions

(Daily Emerald)
The College Football Playoff debuted last season and was by all accounts a major success, especially if you bleed scarlet and gray. Even after being left for dead following an embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech and the loss of not one but two starting quarterbacks, the Buckeyes of Ohio State upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and then beat Oregon in the National Championship Game to win their eighth national title. Can they meet the preseason expectations an repeat as national champs? Or will somebody claim the title belt?

It is time for my predictions for the upcoming 2015 college football campaign.
Coaching Carousel
With a Jameis Winston-sized hole at quarterback and an inexperienced offensive line, Florida State should be vulnerable enough to allow somebody to seize the conference. However, there are enough flaws with the rest of the top competition (Clemson's season is solely reliant on a healthy Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech still has a substandard defense and has to replace a number of key skill players and Louisville's quarterback issues may not be going away soon) and the Seminoles still have oodles of talent. I see them taking out the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship Game but I don't think they'll put together the kind of resume that could get them back in the Playoff. 

Atlantic
1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. Louisville
4. NC State
5. Boston College
6. Syracuse
7. Wake Forest

Coastal
1. Georgia Tech
2. Virginia Tech
3. Miami
4. Pittsburgh
5. North Carolina
6. Duke
7. Virginia

Championship
Florida State over Georgia Tech

Bowl Projections
Florida State - Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Clemson - Russell Athletic Bowl
Georgia Tech - Hyundai Sun Bowl
Louisville - Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Virginia Tech - New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Miami - Military Bowl
Pittsburgh - Quick Lane Bowl
NC State - Belk Bowl
North Carolina - Independence Bowl
Duke - Arizona Bowl
It has been an interesting few years for the American but now the conference has expanded to 12 teams and will have a conference championship game for the first time. In the East division, Cincinnati seems like a solid bet thanks to a strong offense powered by quarterback Gunner Kiel and some talented wideouts, but their defense has some holes and if they suffer injury issues again, their second could go downhill fast. The rest of the division isn't strong, although Temple has a strong defense, but the West could be a fun one. Memphis had a breakthrough season last season but they suffered a lot of losses on defense while Houston has to rebuild both lines and Navy will be seeing tougher competition. I like Navy to claim the division but to fall to Cincy in the title game.

East
1. Cincinnati
2. Temple
3. UCF
4. East Carolina
5. South Florida
6. UConn

West
1. Navy
2. Memphis
3. Houston
4. Tulane
5. SMU
6. Tulsa

Championship
Cincinnati over Navy

Bowl Projections
Cincinnati - Miami Beach Bowl
Navy - Military Bowl
Memphis - Boca Raton Bowl
Houston - Hawaii Bowl
Temple - Birmingham Bowl
UCF - St. Petersburg Bowl
East Carolina - AutoNation Cure Bowl
TCU is getting a lot of serious title buzz after a breakthrough 2014 season and an omnipotent victory over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl but you can't rule out Baylor. Yes, they will be breaking in a new quarterback but Art Briles will work his offensive wizardry nonetheless and the Bears return 17 starters. I think the Horned Frogs have the edge in their matchup due to being at home but we could very well see both them and the Bears in the Playoff. Oklahoma should improve off a disappointing 2014 season but I think they are a clear step behind TCU and Baylor.

1. TCU
2. Baylor
3. Oklahoma
4. Oklahoma State
5. Texas
6. West Virginia
7. Kansas State
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

Bowl Projections
TCU - Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (CFB Playoff)
Baylor - Allstate Sugar Bowl
Oklahoma - Valero Alamo Bowl
Oklahoma State - AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Texas - Cactus Bowl
West Virginia - Russell Athletic Bowl
Kansas State - AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas Tech - Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl
With all the talent they have coming back and a relatively small amount of holes on their roster, there is a reason why Ohio State is the favorite to repeat as national champions. They look to be a step ahead of the rest of the conference, even a very good Michigan State team. In fact, OSU has a favorable schedule to run the table prior to the Playoff but they better not look past a road trip to Virginia Tech. Speaking of Michigan State, they are a Playoff contender in their own right thanks to an excellent quarterback in Connor Cook and, as always, a strong defense. But they have to go to Columbus this year and that could be too much to overcome for Sparty. A lot of eyes will be on Michigan thanks to new head coach Jim Harbaugh but he's got a lot of work to do with the offense of the Maize and Blue, particularly at quarterback, before they become a serious contender.

East
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
3. Penn State
4. Michigan
5. Maryland
6. Indiana
7. Rutgers

West
1. Wisconsin
2. Nebraska
3. Minnesota
4. Iowa
5. Northwestern
6. Illinois
7. Purdue

Championship
Ohio State over Wisconsin

Bowl Projections
Ohio State - Capital One Orange Bowl (CFB Playoff)
Michigan State - Rose Bowl
Wisconsin - Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Nebraska - Outback Bowl
Penn State - TaxSlayer Bowl
Michigan - New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Minnesota - Foster Farms Bowl
Iowa - National University Holiday Bowl
Maryland - Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Northwestern - Quick Lane Bowl
Indiana - Arizona Bowl
Although it is not a definite by any stretch, it seems like a reasonable bet that the Conference USA football champion will be coming from the East division, specifically Marshall or Western Kentucky. You can make sound cases for either team but I think that the Hilltoppers, who were fantastic down the stretch, including beating Marshall in a bonkers contest on Black Friday, have a slight advantage due to returning star quarterback Brandon Doughty and a deep supporting cast offensively.

East
1. Western Kentucky
2. Marshall
3. Middle Tennessee
4. FAU
5. Old Dominion
6. FIU
7. Charlotte

West
1. Rice
2. Louisiana Tech
3. UTEP
4. North Texas
5. Southern Miss
6. UTSA

Championship
Western Kentucky over Rice

Bowl Projections
Western Kentucky - Miami Beach Bowl
Marshall - Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Rice - Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl
Middle Tennessee - St. Petersburg Bowl
Louisiana Tech - Gildan New Mexico Bowl
UTEP - R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Notre Dame is getting some buzz about potentially getting into the Playoff and while they should be very good this season, I do not think they will be good enough to be on that level. However, quarterback Malik Zaire should be awfully fun to watch.

Bowl Projections
Notre Dame - Fiesta Bowl
BYU - Hawaii Bowl
America always loves itself some Maction and both divisions should be fascinating but particularly West division which is led by a triumvirate of Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan. All three have more experience than they did a year ago but the NIU reign, having won five straight division titles, may come to an end. I then have Toledo getting the title crown since they get both the Huskies and the Broncos at home. The East division is a step behind and while quarterback Matt Johnson will make Bowling Green a threat, I don't see them taking the conference title.

East 
1. Bowling Green
2. Akron
3. Massachusetts
4. Ohio
5. Buffalo
6. Miami (OH)

West
1. Toledo
2. Western Michigan
3. Northern Illinois
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan

Championship
Toledo over Bowling Green

Bowl Projections
Toledo - GoDaddy Bowl
Western Michigan - Boca Raton Bowl
Northern Illinois - Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Bowling Green - Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Akron - Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
The Mountain West should be a fun conference to watch as always, especially as Chuckie Keaton will return under center for Utah State. That said, this conference is Boise State's to lose especially as the Broncos return virtually everyone from last year's Group of Five representative on New Years and a team that won the Fiesta Bowl.

Mountain
1. Boise State
2. Utah State
3. Colorado State
4. Air Force
5. New Mexico
6. Wyoming

West
1. San Diego State
2. San Jose State
3. Nevada
4. Fresno State
5. Hawaii
6. UNLV

Championship
Boise State over San Diego State

Bowl Projections
Boise State - Fiesta Bowl
Utah State - Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
San Diego State - San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Colorado State - Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Air Force - Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
New Mexico - Gildan New Mexico Bowl
The race for the conference title should be tight with a number of teams with a legitimate shot at winning the conference. Oregon is a machine at this point but they have some uncertainty at the quarterback position. USC had some disappointing losses last season but have plenty of talent and an excellent quarterback in Cody Kessler. UCLA has a lot of talent and experience on both sides of the ball but can talented freshman Josh Rosen fill the void at quarterback? Stanford looks good on defense as always but can Kevin Hogan stay healthy? Arizona State should be exciting on offense but is their defense deep enough? And can Arizona step it up defensively? I think you'll see USC and Oregon in the championship game and I think that Kessler will be the difference in Santa Clara.

North
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. California
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Oregon State

South
1. USC
2. UCLA
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Championship
USC over Oregon

Bowl Projections
USC - Capital One Orange Bowl (CFB Playoff)
Oregon - Rose Bowl
UCLA - National University Holiday Bowl
Arizona State - Valero Alamo Bowl
Stanford - Hyundai Sun Bowl
Arizona - Foster Farms Bowl
Utah - Cactus Bowl
California - Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Washington - San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
The SEC will be stout once again, especially the SEC West which should be far and away the best division in football. After all, that division has seven teams that could be Top 25 caliber. There are two legitimate Playoff contenders in Auburn and Alabama so you know that the Iron Bowl will be wild, as always. I like both teams a lot but I think the Tigers playing at Jordan-Hare for that game will get the slightest of edges. The SEC East simply is not near the same level as their counterpart but Georgia should be pretty good, Missouri is always good these days and Tennessee is really on the rise.

East
1. Georgia
2. Missouri
3. Tennessee
4. Florida
5. South Carolina
6. Kentucky
7. Vanderbilt

West
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Ole Miss
4. Arkansas
5. LSU
6. Mississippi State
7. Texas A&M

Championship
Auburn over Georgia

Bowl Projections
Auburn - Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (CFB Playoff)
Alabama - Allstate Sugar Bowl
Ole Miss - Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Georgia - Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Arkansas - TaxSlayer Bowl
LSU - Outback Bowl
Mississippi State - AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Missouri - Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Texas A&M - Advocare V100 Texas Bowl
Tennessee - Belk Bowl
Florida - Independence Bowl
South Carolina - Birmingham Bowl
2015 is the first year in what seems like a while where there is a little bit of stability in the wake of all the realignment shenanigans. One of the new additions to the conference, Georgia Southern, claimed the title last year with a perfect 8-0 record in conference play but they were ineligible for a bowl due to continuing the process of moving to FBS. The Eagles do benefit by missing both Louisiana and Arkansas State but both of those teams will still be title contenders as will Appalachian State. That said, I think that the option attack of the Eagles will reign supreme once again.

1. Georgia Southern
2. Arkansas State
3. Appalachian State
4. Louisiana
5. Texas State
6. South Alabama
7. Louisiana-Monroe
8. Troy
9. Idaho
10. New Mexico State
11. Georgia State

Bowl Projections 
Georgia Southern - GoDaddy Bowl
Arkansas State - AutoNation Cure Bowl
Appalachian State - Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Louisiana - R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
The Horned Frogs will have the homefield advantage here but AT&T Stadium will definitely see plenty of offensive fireworks. The key for either team will be the defenses, both of which are the weaknesses of either club. In the battle of the minds of Gary Patterson vs. Will Muschamp, Patterson may have the slight edge.
Pick: TCU
It seems a little odd that you would have a Big Ten-Pac-12 showdown of this magnitude in Miami (Gardens) instead of Pasadena but alas. I think that the Trojans are a good team, certainly one to get to the playoff, and they have the kind of quarterback in Cody Kessler that can lead them to a title. However, they are not deep enough on both sides, in my humble opinion, to take down Ohio State.
Pick: Ohio State

Not exactly standing out on a limb with this championship matchup predictions but hey. I think that Texas Christian is clearly a team good enough to win the whole shebang, especially if they get here in the first place, but I don't see a Buckeyes team that is better than they were a year ago falling shy of repeating.
Pick: Ohio State

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