Fearless and loathsome college football predictions for 2016

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By MIKE HERNDON

It’s finally here. You don’t have to fret about the heat anymore. You don’t have to pay attention to this farce of a presidential election anymore. You don’t have to keep yourself amused with Jim Harbaugh’s Twitter page while counting down the days anymore. College football is back.

The season actually started last Friday, when Cal beat Hawaii 51-31 in Australia. But for the rest of us, the season starts in earnest this week. As we prepare for kickoff, some predictions for the 2016 season:

Most overhyped team: Michigan

Everyone, it seems, has Harbaugh Fever, which has been spreading like the bubonic plague since the Khakied One returned to his alma mater and started calling out every SEC coach he could find a Twitter handle for. The Fever is so potent that otherwise sane and intelligent people are predicting the Wolverines to win the Big Ten. Michigan was 10-3 in Harbaugh’s first year but Jake Rudock, who sat in for a year at quarterback after transferring from Iowa, is gone and the Wolverines will likely turn to Houston transfer John O’Korn or junior Wilton Speight. Call me when they can beat Ohio State.

Hottest seat: Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Entering his fourth year as the head Boilermaker, Hazell says this will be his best team at Purdue. That’s not setting the bar particularly high, since none of his three previous teams there have won more than three games in a year. Hazell is 6-30 since coming to Purdue after going 16-10 in two years at Kent State, and if this isn’t his best team by a long shot he should be looking for a new gig come December.

Memo to athletic directors: Hiring the hot name of the month isn’t always the best way to go in your coaching search, particularly when that hot name has produced exactly one good season at a mid-major (11-3 in 2012 at Kent State).

Who should win the Heisman: Leonard Fournette, LSU

There are several players you can make a case for: Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. They are all very good players and they were all in the discussion for last year’s Heisman, which went to Alabama’s Derrick Henry. But none of them have the rare blend of power and athleticism of Fournette, who has the look of a once-in-a-generation back.

Who will win the Heisman: Dalvin Cook, Florida State

We all know the best player in college football doesn’t always win the Heisman. It’s not even always the best offensive skill position player. It’s usually the best offensive skill position player on a team that’s in the national hunt. Cook is one of the most explosive backs in the country and will be running behind a veteran offensive line. And while Fournette and the Tigers must get past Alabama – the defense that deep-sixed Fournette’s Heisman hopes last season — Cook will play for a team that has a great shot to be playing for a national title in January.

Conference predictions:

SEC: Alabama

The Crimson Tide remains loaded with NFL-caliber talent on the defensive side of the ball and stocked with talented playmakers on offense. The biggest question mark is at quarterback, where either Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett will lead the Tide against Southern Cal this weekend, but Alabama has gone into each of the last two seasons with a big question mark at quarterback and has gone 26-3 with one national title in those two seasons.

I’ll take the Tide to edge out LSU and Ole Miss in the West and for Nick Saban to school another protégé, Kirby Smart of Georgia (my pick as surprise winner over Tennessee in the East), in the SEC Championship Game en route to another College Football Playoff berth.

ACC: Florida State

Clemson is the defending conference champ, the team that took Alabama to the wire in the national championship game, the team with one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country in Watson. But Florida State has a loaded offensive line, a bona fide playmaker in Cook and a defense that could even be better than last year despite losing first-rounder Jalen Ramsey. The big question mark is quarterback, but redshirt freshman Deondre Francois could be a rising star.

Big Ten: Ohio State

The Buckeyes welcome back only six starters, but one of them is quarterback, J.T. Barrett, who is 15-2 as a starter. Urban Meyer has the recruiting machine in Columbus working in much the same way as Nick Saban’s at Alabama: He can reload with a fresh batch of five-star talent every year. The Buckeyes’ toughest challenge for the Big Ten crown might not even be Michigan, but Iowa, which returns quarterback C.J. Beathard and eight defensive starters from last year’s 12-2 squad.

Big XII: Oklahoma

Back is Mayfield, a Heisman candidate who threw for 3,700 yards and 36 TDs last season. Back is Samaje Perine, who ran for 1,349 yards and 16 scores, and Joe Mixon, who added 753 yards and seven scores. The Sooners will have plenty of offensive firepower, and have talent ready to step up for departed senior starters. They’ll also benefit from the disarray at Baylor and the graduation of much of TCU’s offensive production.

Pac-12: Stanford

McCaffrey is back after setting an NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards last season, but much of his supporting cast is gone, including quarterback Kevin Hogan and three-fifths of the offensive line. The Cardinal will be challenged with a young, but explosive Washington squad, a UCLA team led by hotshot quarterback Josh Rosen and traditional powers USC and Oregon, but look for them to emerge in a tight race.

College Football Playoff: Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma

National champion: Oklahoma



Categories: College football

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