NCAA Staff Predictions 2017
Compiled by Vincent Verhei
Every year on this site, we do two pieces on the subjective opinions of each of our writers, trying to guess which teams and players will exceed or fall short of our simulated projections. The NFL version of this piece will run next Thursday, but today we're going to look at staff predictions for the upcoming NCAA season.
Technically, the season started last weekend with Stanford's 62-7 stomping of Rice and South Florida's 42-22 win over San Jose State. There are a handful of other early games to come -- No. 10 Oklahoma State hosts Tulsa on Thursday afternoon, and Friday will feature No. 8 Washington at Rutgers and Utah State at No. 9 Wisconsin -- but the college football season starts in earnest this Saturday. Remember to check out Ian Boyd's Seventh Day Adventure for a preview of all this weekend's action, but here's how our crew expects things to shake out by season's end.
As a reminder, all staff predictions are based on F/+ projections combining Bill Connelly's S&P+ and Brian Fremeau's FEI. You can find updated FEI projections here; we'll begin updating F/+ ratings after this weekend.
COLLEGE TEAM MOST LIKELY TO BEAT F/+ PROJECTION
Ian Boyd: I like Auburn here. They have found a better formula on defense for getting their consistently high talent levels to play aggressive and fast. They just added a major passing component via a quarterback transfer and new offensive coordinator to pair with an already bruising run game. They're projected to finish 10th nationally -- I think they can win the SEC West.
Bill Connelly: Washington Huskies. We should probably just put a Chris Petersen Boost into the preseason projections. The Huskies should have a wonderful offense, and if last year's team was top 10, I feel this year's team is top 10.
Brian Fremeau: Oklahoma State will potentially have the nation's most prolific offense this season, and though that alone isn't likely to propel the Cowboys to a College Football Playoff run, I think it will propel them to something better than No. 21 overall.
Rivers McCown: Kansas State. Whenever there's chaos among the Big 12 bluebloods, Bill Snyder's squad tends to rise up. They also tend to do extremely well when their starting quarterback returns under Snyder. There's a huge glut outside of Oklahoma with everyone jockeying for position. I like Texas long-term, but think Kansas State is well-situated to take advantage short-term.
Chad Peltier: It's hard to imagine Wisconsin going worse than 10-2 during the regular season. They have only one toss-up game against Michigan -- otherwise they can expect to cruise through the regular season on the way to the Big Ten Championship again. That's not to say that the Badgers don't have questions: Wisconsin will break in a new, young defensive coordinator in Jim Leonhard; lost its top running back (who was inefficient to begin with); must replace T.J. Watt on defense; and there's not overwhelming confidence in quarterback Alex Hornibrook. But the schedule, the defensive experience, and receiving targets Troy Fumagalli and Jazz Peavy suggest a strong year for the Badgers -- at least record-wise.
Rob Weintraub: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Mason Rudolph is the Heisman candidate/NFL prospect no one remembers to mention, and the Oklahoma State schedule is pretty friendly -- Bedlam and TCU at home, weak Big 12 overall. They could sneak into the playoff and launch a million angry phone calls to Paul Finebaum. Also, UCLA will be hard pressed not to get to seven wins unless Josh Rosen goes down.
COLLEGE TEAM MOST LIKELY TO FALL SHORT OF F/+ PROJECTION
Ian Boyd: With Deshaun Watson and company heading off to the NFL, Clemson is sure losing a lot to finish as high as fourth and back in the playoffs for a third consecutive year. I have seen his replacement Kelly Bryant, and the downgrades in passing acumen AND running ability are pretty considerable before taking into account the losses of tight end Jordan Leggett and receiver Mike Williams. The defense will be great again, but that offense is due for a real drop.
Bill Connelly: Oklahoma. The Sooners will be good, but the new skill position guys and a rookie head coach will probably result in an unforeseen glitch or two.
Brian Fremeau: I like Oregon to have a bounceback year, but they're still stuck in a division with Pac-12 title contenders Washington and Stanford, and there are a few other landmines in the schedule as well. 9-3 seems like a stretch in Willie Taggart's first year.
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Rivers McCown: Oregon. Don't get me wrong, they'll bounce back. But I see them as more of a seven-, eight-win team than an instant Pac-12 contender as they try to come out of the ashes of the Mark Helfrich era.
Chad Peltier: Clemson looks a little high considering all that Deshaun Watson meant for the Tigers. Then factor in the departures of Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, and Jordan Leggett, and it's tough to see the offense being strong enough to break the top four. Then there's the Tigers' schedule, which includes lose-able games against Auburn, Louisville, and Florida State.
Rob Weintraub: USC Trojans. High expectations tend to land with a thud in TrojanLand -- of their 21 preseason top-10 rankings since the John McVay era, only once have they actually finished in the top 10. Sam Darnold was a phenomenon last season, but has only started ten games and is now under a massive spotlight. Yes, USC is up to its full scholarship total at last, but that's offset by the fact they have no off week this year. This season could be the inversion of last, when they closed with a rush -- watch out for a late swoon.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF FINAL FOUR
Ian Boyd: USC, Auburn, Florida State, Wisconsin.
Bill Connelly: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Stanford.
Brian Fremeau: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Washington.
Rivers McCown: Alabama, Florida State, Stanford, Ohio State.
Chad Peltier: Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida State.
Rob Weintraub: Alabama, Ohio State, Washington, Oklahoma State.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPION
Ian Boyd: USC.
Bill Connelly: Alabama.
Brian Fremeau: Ohio State.
Rivers McCown: Alabama.
Chad Peltier: Ohio State.
Rob Weintraub: Alabama.
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HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER
Ian Boyd: Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC.
Bill Connelly: Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC. (The real favorite, however, is Guy We Aren't Talking About Just Yet. That dude wins like every year.)
Brian Fremeau: Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State.
Rivers McCown: Derrius Guice, running back, LSU.
Chad Peltier: Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC.
Rob Weintraub: Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State.