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 week, but today we're going to look at staff predictions for the upcoming NCAA season.
Technically, the season started last weekend with four games, including Florida beating Miami and Hawaii beating Arizona. Tonight, however, the college football season starts in earnest. 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.
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO BEAT ITS F/+ PROJECTION
Ian Boyd: Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns have a lot of talented players ready to fill in for all the departing production, including at crucial positions, and will be led by a now-junior Sam Ehlinger at quarterback.
Brian Fremeau: Texas Longhorns. I do think our numbers, along with every other analytics system projecting the college football season, are right to be wary of Texas making a significant playoff run. Even so, and even if they aren't making a Big 12 championship game run, a 7-5 (5-4) projection is especially pessimistic. I personally like the Longhorns in the 9-10 win range.
Rivers McCown: Texas Longhorns. I don't see much of a threat against them winning eight games this year in the Big 12. West Virginia is changing coaches. I like TCU but they were garbage last season. The Longhorns would have to lose pretty much every close game we have them in (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, LSU, West Virginia) to fall short of eight wins. With a coaching staff that has done an empirically better job in big games, and Sam Ehlinger doing some real Tebow stuff, I like their odds to contend for the Big 12, let alone winning eight.
Chad Peltier: Texas Longhorns. There is a big disconnect between media/fan expectations for the Longhorns' season (i.e., possible playoff contender!) and the F/+ projection of a 7-5 season. While I'm not going anywhere close to putting the Longhorns in the playoff, it would not shock me if Texas beat its projection and hit nine or ten wins. F/+ gives Texas a six percent chance of ten or more wins, but I also don't see anyone in the Big 12 (besides the Sooners and maybe Iowa State) that looks all that threatening. The Longhorns also are just above Oklahoma in the Blue Chip Ratio at 60 percent. Combine a strong talent base, a relatively easy schedule, and an experienced quarterback and its relatively easy to imagine them at least beating West Virginia and TCU (both of whom are favored by the F/+ projections).
Rob Weintraub: Nebraska Cornhuskers. Great coach in second season, last year were better than their record, looks like an easy schedule.
TEAM MOST LIKELY TO FALL SHORT OF ITS F/+ PROJECTION
Ian Boyd: Oklahoma Sooners. If I'm projecting Texas to come up big I'll have to pick Oklahoma to fall short of their No. 5 projection. The Sooners will have the more run-oriented Jalen Hurts at quarterback, which may diminish their normally explosive passing game. Defense will have new leadership with coordinator Alex Grinch, but they seem a year or two away from realizing the new vision.
Brian Fremeau: Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mississippi State is riding a stat wave that seems unsustainable. Their excellent defense last season may not perform as well this year, and frankly, the SEC-boost that appeared to inflate the ratings of the Bulldogs and a handful of other teams in that conference seems unlikely to surface in quite the same manner two years in a row. Mississippi State may be good, but not 10-2 good.
Rivers McCown: Boise State Broncos. It's picking nits when you're trying to discern who is going to stumble a bit in our top 20. I think the Broncos lost a ton on offense between Brett Rypien, Alexander Mattison, and their top two receivers. I think Boise State will be the class of the Mountain West, I just don't think they're going 11-1.
Chad Peltier: Auburn Tigers. Trying to forecast Auburn's season is always a fool's errand, since they seem to constantly defy expectations. The general consensus is that they should be a strong team this season, led by one of the best defenses in the country. There are two major concerns. The first is their insane schedule, with six games where F/+ projects between a 40 percent and 54 percent win probability (Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama). While their strength of schedule shouldn't affect their overall talent in terms of F/+ rating, their record definitely may not reflect how good they are. The second is on offense. The passing game will feature a number of new faces at wide receiver, and freshman Bo Nix will start at quarterback. Guz Malzhan is also back to calling plays. I think Malzhan's system may be more freshman-friendly than most, but there's still a good bit of uncertainty with all of the young faces. That said, watch Auburn win the SEC.
Rob Weintraub: Ohio State Buckeyes. Still will be good but the New Day won't be quite up to the level of the Urban Legend.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL FINAL FOUR
Ian Boyd: Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, Texas.
Brian Fremeau: Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma. It's pretty chalky, yes, but I'd still say going out on a bit of a limb picking the Crimson Tide to miss their first playoff field.
Rivers McCown: Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Sacrificial Lamb X (let's say Ohio State).
Chad Peltier: Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State.
Rob Weintraub: Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Michigan.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPION
Ian Boyd: Clemson Tigers.
Brian Fremeau: Georgia Bulldogs.
Rivers McCown: Clemson Tigers.
Chad Peltier: Georgia Bulldogs.
Rob Weintraub: Clemson Tigers.
HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER
Ian Boyd: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson.
Brian Fremeau: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson. Come December, he'll have an undefeated (and largely unchallenged) record and a gaudy pass efficiency rating. He may run away with it.
Rivers McCown: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia.
Chad Peltier: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson.
Rob Weintraub: D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia