With a new college football season on the horizon, it’s now time to see what the sports staff at WDBM is predicting will happen on Saturdays for the next four months. Michigan State’s chances were discussed on the Aug. 21 episode of The Pact, but there are 127 other teams with the chance to make their mark on the 2016 season. Here’s what our staff is forecasting for the upcoming season:
National Championship: Clemson over LSU
Michigan has a defensive line full of NFL-level talent in Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and Taco Charlton. The secondary features two future pros in CB Jourdan Lewis and LB/S Jabrill Peppers. Their schedule is just easy enough to figure out the quarterback situation early on, as their first serious game is on the road in East Lansing. If the Wolverines can split their rivalry games and end up in the Big Ten championship game, they should be confident against the B1G West.
LSU will benefit from having to face both Alabama and Ole Miss at home. The offense should be just good enough outside of Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette to take care of business. Usually, Les Miles’s defenses in his time at LSU have been pretty close to dominant, and this year’s group returns its entire secondary and defensive line from 2015. Wins against Bama and Ole Miss should make things pretty straightforward.
Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield are good enough to get through the rough first couple weeks of their schedule. The Sooners’ matchup with Houston will be an interesting matchup for neutrals, and I’m confident that they can get in even with a loss to Ohio State. Their early schedule is a bear, and playing TCU right after their matchup with the Buckeyes will be troublesome. Mayfield is a legitimate star though, and the offense will have to carry a defense that loses very good linebackers in Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander.
Clemson returns one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Deshaun Watson, and despite replacing a couple of defensive stars, the Tigers only have one toss-up on the schedule when they head to Tallahassee in late October to face Florida State. Clemson also has more weapons for Watson to use this year, and if they can replace the secondary and defensive ends, the defense should be fine. I think Clemson is the safest playoff bet in 2016, as the traditional powers of Alabama and Ohio State, among others, have very difficult schedules and will have to replace talent at important positions.
National Championship: Clemson over Alabama
Revenge is sweet, isn’t it? I think the Tigers, led by coach Dabo Swinney, get the best of the Crimson Tide in a rematch of the 2015 National Championship game. With a lot of Alabama’s talent on defense gone to the NFL, and most of Clemson’s talent staying, most notably Deshaun Watson, I think they win it all.
Christian McCaffrey can do it all, so I think the Cardinal will win the Pac-12 and get into the CFP.
Finally, I think the Wolverines are really good. I actually see them going undefeated in the regular season. Obviously, beating Ohio State and Michigan State both on the road are tough tasks, but like it or not, the Jim Harbaugh era is here, and Michigan football is back. Sorry, someone had to say it, ya know?
National Championship: Georgia over Oklahoma
I’m already getting a lot of heat for these picks as I am once again the outlier of the group. But hear me out.
Besides Oklahoma, the rest of the teams are flying under the radar. They should have no problem zeroing in on their goals without the media and polls interfering with their progress. You can also never go wrong leaning on squads with large depth and a plethora of experience.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is quite the gunslinger, and standing behind him is the lethal tailback tandem in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The Sooners have a favorable schedule as they host No. 6 Ohio State, No. 21 Oklahoma State, and No. 23 Baylor. Their biggest roadblock is against No. 13 TCU. If they can pass that test, it will be nothing but smooth sailing for Oklahoma. A loaded defense led by Jordan Thomas and Charles Walker should feed off of the success of the high powered offense, as they will reclaim a spot in the CFP.
Georgia will go as far as running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will take them. UGA alum and first year coach Kirby Smart aims to take the Bulldogs to new heights with a potent offense and a talented secondary, who ranked first nationally in pass defense last year. Georgia’s quest proves to be a stiff one, as they need to beat threatening division rivals Tennessee and Florida to capture the SEC East, then slay the dragon in Alabama or LSU to become the first SEC East club to be crowned SEC champions since 2008. If all goes according to plan, the Bulldogs will be seeking their first national title since 1980.
Louisville is one of the most experienced teams in the country with 17 returning starters. The Cardinals bring back all of last season’s offensive contributors, most notably standout quarterback Lamar Jackson. The juggernaut offense will be accompanied by an intimidating front seven guided by Devonte Fields (10.5 sacks, 22 tackles for loss). They must be able to upset both No. 4 Florida State and No. 2 Clemson in order to be in the playoff picture. Being stacked across the board plus a favorable schedule is a recipe for success that will spring Louisville to the CFP.
Iowa will punch their ticket to the CFP by riding on the success of their stingy defense. Senior defensive back Desmond King is the leader of the lockdown secondary who will force takeaways left and right, while the front seven anchored by Josey Jewell will be causing chaos in the opposing backfield. The Hawkeyes will be CFP bound if they can make a strong case to the playoff committee with convincing victories with an unblemished record. They can’t have any slip-ups, however, because of the fragile Big Ten West division.
National Championship: Clemson over Michigan State
LSU is by far the deepest and most talented team in the country. The Tigers broke a vicious cycle of constantly losing players early in the draft and were able to maintain a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. I won’t go out and say LSU has the best running back in the country quite yet because of a young man out in Palo Alto, Calif. But nonetheless, Leonard Fournette is a transcendent talent that will bless your TV screens on Saturday mornings. Also, knock it off with bashing quarterback Brandon Harris. He is an SEC quarterback, so the talent is alive and well. If Anthony Jennings takes his job, that says more about the talent of Jennings than the flaws of Harris. The Tigers will also take serious advantage of having both Ole Miss and Alabama at home.
MSU at the 2? Homer alert. The Spartans, like the Tigers, will have an upper hand by having their two biggest games at home. They will also exploit an overrated Notre Dame team still trying to replace some key playmaker positions early in the season. Ohio State is going to have a “down year,” and by down year, I mean maybe losing two games, maybe. Michigan is still too young to compete with the two schools that have both beat them seven times in the last eight years. There’s no more rebuilding in East Lansing, only reloading. And although the Spartans will have to reload a lot of talent, head coach Mark Dantonio still feels this is his deepest team ever.
If you’re looking for themes in this post, then it’s favorable schedules. TCU will host a parade, and it won’t be for when the Horned Frogs make the College Football Playoff. It’s going to be for whoever scheduled Oklahoma at home right after the Sooners play a pair of tough games against Houston and Ohio State. The Horned Frogs are incredibly deep at the receiver position, and they will have no problem giving former Texas A&M icon Kenny Hill some solid targets to throw to. And in the conference known for James Harden-esque defense, TCU at least attempts to play some D. The Horned Frogs’ front seven will be atop the Big 12, and they have some strong safeties. Other than going to West Virginia, I don’t see another game TCU could lose.
Clemson, just squeaking into the playoff picture? The Tigers once again benefit from a favorable schedule, but they will in fact lose to Florida State in Tallahassee. But because FSU is going to go out and lose at Louisville and another trap game, the Seminoles will still be left out of the ACC championship, giving Clemson a shot at redemption in the playoff. But there is no arguing the capability of this team, and they will get that shot at the championship again.
National Championship: Oklahoma over Clemson
My 2016-17 College Football Playoff prediction features two teams from last year’s playoff, Clemson and Oklahoma at No. 1 and No. 3. Stanford, Alabama and TCU are my Nos. 5-7, beaten out by LSU and OSU at No. 2 and 4.
Deshaun Watson and Clemson play at Auburn the first weekend of the season. Then, the biggest hurdles for the Tigers to make it to the ACC Championship and CFP are home against Louisville and at Florida State–two games the Tigers should win.
LSU’s schedule is daunting. Wisconsin, at Auburn, at Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and at Texas A&M to close the season. But Les Miles and Leonard Fournette will get their team to Nov. 6 with one loss and three games to go, putting the Tigers in prime contention for a CFP spot.
Oklahoma has Ohio State at home in Week 3 and travels to TCU the following week. It will be tough for the Sooners to not lose one of those games, but their offense, featuring Baker Mayfield and the running back duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, is good enough to beat anyone. They may have to go 11-1 again just to get into the CFP because they have no conference championship game.
I mentioned the possibility of OSU beating Oklahoma in Week 3, and a win could springboard the Buckeyes to a 10-0 record heading into their final two games at Michigan State and at home against Michigan. Urban Meyer’s squad did lose plenty of talent, including Ezekiel Elliott, but JT Barrett and a solid recruiting class will get OSU to a top-four spot. Because strength of schedule is valued so highly by the playoff committee, one of the final CFP spots may come down to the Big Ten Championship, much like last season.
National Championship: Clemson over Ohio State
Fans of the classic college football blue-bloods will love my picks. My colleagues here in East Lansing surely will not.
Starting at the top, I believe Clemson–led by the best quarterback in college football in Deshaun Watson–will separate themselves from the pack by late October. If the Tigers can survive their Week 1 road test at Auburn and then Week 9 at Florida State, Clemson should easily run the table in the ACC. Just below them is Ohio State, led by another elite quarterback in JT Barrett. I watched Barrett tear Michigan State’s defense to shreds in 2014 in Spartan Stadium, and with all the first team reps this year, I expect him to light up the Big Ten again and manage a daunting road schedule. Never count out Urban Meyer’s depth, especially on defense.
I’m shocked that Alabama hasn’t gotten much love in these predictions. For the third straight year, the Tide will be breaking in a new quarterback. But that obviously did not stop them from grabbing Nick Saban’s fifth national title last January. Alabama simply has better athletes than every team they will face, including a beastly running back filling in for Derrick Henry, Bo Scarbrough. Expect Saban to weave his third straight playoff run.
Then, my outlier: Notre Dame. Brian Kelly’s team was this close to crashing the College Football Playoff last season, and I would not be surprised to see the Irish follow through this year. Their quarterback tandem of Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire, although confusing, will sort itself out (my money is on Kizer). On top of that, their two biggest games–Michigan State and Stanford–are at home. But my biggest reason for including them is that I don’t trust either the Pac-12 or the Big 12 to produce a strong enough champion for the final playoff spot. I fully expect the bracket to include the champions from the three toughest conferences–the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten–with one spot open for a mid-major or an independent like Notre Dame, with a small chance of one of those conference runners-up sneaking in.