2014 College Football Predictions
July 17, 2014 by Jean Neuberger • Print Story •
As the college football season has unofficially kicked off with SEC Media Days, it's that time of year where I make some off-the-wall predictions for the weeks ahead.
It's the third year I've challenged myself to make some not-so-obvious predictions and last year's was definitely a mixed bag. While I correctly called the SEC returning to the title game, I completely missed the boat on Jameis Winston's Heisman win. I called Mack Brown's retirement, Lane Kiffin's firing and Jadeveon Clowney being the first pick in this year's draft, yet missed wildly on Indiana breaking their bowl jinx (I'm not picking them this year).
So, here we go again, some off the cuff calls for the upcoming season.
The College Football Playoff committee will have a controversial first year. Some years, it's easy to pick the best four teams. This year, that will not be the case. Florida State looks to be a strong contender to repeat from last year. Oklahoma and Baylor have the potential to have big years and with no Big 12 title game, could make the decision to pick one or both extremely tough. Oregon again could make a run in the Pac-12, but generally everyone trips each other up in that league and it could end up a giant mess. The same thing could be said for the SEC, who could finally go a year without having a truly dominant team in the league. Yet, given recent history, can you really leave the SEC champion out? Ohio State might cruise, yet the Big 10 doesn't look strong as a whole at the moment. This season has drama written all over it.
Famous Jameis will make it a repeat. Many people overestimated the effects of Johnny Manziel's wild offseason last year. Manziel lacked the weapons that he had in 2012, but certainly provided a solid year for Texas A&M in '13. Now, here's Jameis Winston, fresh from an investigation last year and caught stealing crab legs this offseason. Will it prevent him from shredding the ACC into bits and pieces this season? Probably not. Getting Clemson early in the year is a big help and if Winston keeps his focus on the field, he should have as good a chance as there is to join Archie Griffin in the double Heisman club.
Iowa will grab some of the national spotlight. The Hawkeyes are coming off a pretty solid season in 2013. While they're likely not national title contenders, Jake Rudock and company could still end up making a lot of noise this year. The main reason: the schedule couldn't be better for Iowa. The Hawkeyes dodged both Michigan schools, Ohio State and Penn State, landing Indiana and Maryland as their Eastern Division opponents. Add to the fact that two of their toughest games, Wisconsin and Nebraska, are at the end of the season and at home and Iowa is set up to have a big 2014.
Wyoming will pull off one significant upset this season. Craig Bohl knows how to win big games. His North Dakota State teams not only won the last three FCS titles, they routinely beat the BCS level teams they scheduled. Wyoming pulled a massive coup in luring Bohl to Laramie and it should surprise no one if results came immediately. Oregon, Michigan State and Boise State are on the slate this season. Going 3-0 or even 2-1 against them would be miraculous. Pulling off one win though would be no shock at all.
The seat too hot to handle belongs to Florida's Will Muschamp, Going 4-8 and losing to Georgia Southern puts Muschamp in Ron Zook territory amongst the folks in Gainesville. That's about the last place any Gator coach wants to be. While Florida should be much better this season, it'll be up to new offensive coordinator Kyle Roper to cure all ails for Jeff Driskel and company. The problem for Florida is that Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, and Florida State are on the schedule. Certainly, Missouri and Georgia won't be pushovers as well, so finding eight wins for the Gators will be a challenge for Muschamp, who would likely need at least that many wins to keep his job.
James Franklin will shake up the Big 10. Anyone who could come into Vanderbilt and produced three straight bowl seasons is a force to be reckoned with. Franklin was the perfect selection for Penn State and his impact on the program will be immediate. Franklin will rally Happy Valley, who in turn will provide him with the built in fan support that he lacked at Vandy, despite his success in Nashville. Penn State isn't out of the NCAA shadows yet, but Franklin will rile some coaches in the league, become the villain of many a school in the Midwest and will re-establish Penn State as one of the Big 10's elite.
Charlie Strong has his work cut out for him. Though it wasn't at all what Texas fans wanted to hear, Strong was right in saying the Longhorns aren't going to challenge for the national title this year. Texas does land a huge matchup with Baylor early on at home, which will serve as a true litmus test for how they'll handle the conference slate. Still, the Horns will struggle with road trips to Oklahoma State and Kansas State, where they've struggled frequently in recent years. Their trips to the Metroplex to play UCLA and Oklahoma seem brutal and with rumors of Strong not starting off strong with high school coaches in the state, the path for Strong in Austin is definitely a rocky one.
Army will beat Navy. Why not try this again? Navy continues to own West Point over the last decade, but new coach Jeff Monken could be the breath of fresh air Army needs to finally break the curse. No team wants to beat their rival more than Army; this might be the year they can pull it off.
The opening weekend game we'll all be talking about on Sunday is Alabama/West Virginia. I think Alabama wins the game. However, you're talking about a team with a brand new quarterback and a slew of new faces going to play a high-octane offense that is hungry to rebound from a surprising 4-8 season. This game will end up being a lot closer than people think.
Florida State will topple Oklahoma for the first playoff title. I like Florida State's path to the playoff and they seem to be the team with the least question marks. They look primed to repeat for a national title and I think they'll do just that, though Oklahoma will give them a run for their money, especially with a partisan crowd in Arlington. Bob Stoops knows he has a title contender on his hands. His addition of Dorial Green-Beckham was risky, yet done to provide an extra luxury weapon should he and Trevor Knight absolutely need it. The Sooners get four of their last six at home, including Baylor, which bolsters their chances to get to the playoff. In the end though, I can't see anyone better at the moment than Florida State, and the legacy of Jimbo Fisher will continue to grow in Seminole lore.