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#DearAndy: Is Michigan a real threat to win it all?
2:25 | College Football
#DearAndy: Is Michigan a real threat to win it all?
SI.com Staff
Thursday October 20th, 2016

The 2016 college football season begins its second half this weekend, and the stakes are only getting higher each Saturday. Eleven teams remain undefeated while plenty of other teams with one loss are still in the hunt for conference titles and College Football Playoff berths.

Who will shine in crunch time to make the playoff, win the Heisman or rescue a season on the brink of disaster? And who will collapse when it matters most? SI’s college football experts have made their bold predictions for the second half of the season, including for the national championship, the Heisman, this year’s biggest playoff controversy and more.

 
Peach Bowl

Fiesta Bowl

National Championship Game

National Champion

Andy Staples
vs. vs. vs.

Pete Thamel
vs. vs. vs.

Brian Hamilton
vs. vs. vs.

Lindsay Schnell
vs. vs. vs.

Joan Niesen
vs. vs. vs.

Colin Becht
vs. vs. vs.

Gabriel Baumgaertner
vs. vs. vs.

Chris Johnson
vs. vs. vs.

Ben Estes
vs. vs. vs.
  Second-half surprise team Second-half flop team Heisman Trophy winner Next to fall out of Heisman race Coach of the year

Andy Staples

Lamar Jackson

Deshaun Watson

Nick Saban

Pete Thamel

Lamar Jackson

Deshaun Watson

P.J. Fleck

Brian Hamilton

J.T. Barrett

Greg Ward Jr.

Urban Meyer

Lindsay Schnell

Lamar Jackson

Christian McCaffrey
Dana Holgorsen
or
Chris Petersen

Joan Niesen

Lamar Jackson

J.T. Barrett

Bobby Petrino

Colin Becht

Lamar Jackson

Dalvin Cook

Urban Meyer

Gabriel Baumgaertner

J.T. Barrett

Deshaun Watson

Chris Petersen

Chris Johnson

J.T. Barrett

Donnell Pumphrey

Urban Meyer

Ben Estes

Lamar Jackson

Dalvin Cook

Urban Meyer

Staples: Alabama

This is the safe, boring pick, but at this point it’s tough to bet against the Crimson Tide. (Writing this guarantees Texas A&M wins Saturday, doesn’t it?) The read option dimension quarterback Jalen Hurts adds to the offense means Alabama can play an uptempo spread or slow it down and play in a phone booth. Add a defense that finds the end zone every game, and the Tide are the toughest out in college football.

Thamel: Alabama

It’s hard to pick against Alabama at this juncture, considering the way they manhandled USC, mauled Arkansas and obliterated Tennessee. Yes, Ole Miss gave them problems, but that hasn’t slowed the Tide in past years. This weekend against Texas A&M provides their biggest test until the playoff begins (Sorry, Coach O). Just imagine how far along Jalen Hurts could be by then.

Hamilton: Alabama

Here’s the thing: The Crimson Tide might be the rare powerhouse squad that is throttling everyone and somehow has ample room to get better. Let’s remember that Jalen Hurts is a true freshman quarterback who has started just five games, and yet his 256.3 yards per game of total offense ranks sixth in the SEC. Presumably, he’s just going to improve week-to-week, and that’s emblematic of where Nick Saban’s team is. No sense in overthinking it. Alabama is poised for another title run.

Schnell: Ohio State

Picking against Alabama sort of feels like the dumbest thing I’ve done in awhile (I’m imagining Nick Saban’s glare from that bank commercial where he tells the college freshman she needs to stop spending money on things she doesn’t need), but I’m such an Ohio State believer after the Buckeyes win at Wisconsin. That is a really tough place to play, and the Badgers’ defense is legit. I’ve long believed Urban Meyer is the best coach in the country and J.T. Barrett will push for the Heisman. This is what you call a winning formula.

Niesen: Alabama

Alabama is the best team in college football, I think, by a pretty large margin—large enough, that is, that I can’t see the Crimson Tide losing for the rest of the season. The running game is solid, Jalen Hurts is a legitimate quarterback, and the defense is… well… a typical Alabama defense.

Becht: Alabama

I picked the Crimson Tide to win the national title before the start of the season. It wasn’t particularly bold then, and it’s even less bold now. The only difference is now I don’t think Alabama will lose a single game on its path to its fifth national championship in eight years. The Tide have clearly been the best team in the first half of the season, and they’re only getting better as the season progresses.

Baumgaertner: Ohio State

Ohio State was my preseason pick, and I’m sticking to it. The Buckeyes’ youthful roster hasn’t hindered them, their defense has shown a knack for huge plays, and J.T. Barrett is as trusty a field marshal as you’ll find in college football.

Johnson: Alabama

College football is stubbornly resistant to conforming to the obvious, but come on: The Crimson Tide are the best team in the country. While I would still take “the field” over Alabama, right now Nick Saban’s team is operating on a different level than everyone else. Maybe the Tide’s game against Texas A&M will offer a hint about how to beat them. I doubt it, though.

Estes: Clemson

I’m expecting a repeat national title game matchup of 2015, but with a different result. Clemson will again (finally) play its best football of the year in the postseason, stunning an Ohio State team that enters as a big favorite. In the title game rematch, the Tigers will get revenge, taking advantage of key turnovers by Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Staples: LSU

Ed Orgeron is doing exactly what he did when he was the interim coach at USC. He went 6-2 then with little depth due to NCAA sanctions. LSU has no such issue. It has an Alabama issue, but the Tigers might beat everyone except the Tide. Or they might just beat everyone.

Thamel: Utah

The Utes, at 6–1 with their only loss coming at Cal, are well positioned to win the Pac-12 South. They could also end up playing spoiler to Washington’s playoff run and may have two shots to do it. Utah plays in Seattle on Oct. 29, and even with a loss there could end up seeing the Huskies again in the Pac-12 title game. Who would have thought Utah’s game at Colorado could be for a bid in the Pac-12 championship game?

Hamilton: Auburn

The revival is already underway on the Plains, with three wins in a row and the early losses to Clemson and Texas A&M looking very explainable. It’s hard to imagine the Tigers winning out heading into the Iron Bowl, but the schedule is such that you can make a game-by-game argument for Gus Malzahn’s crew doing just that.

Schnell: Oklahoma

Dede Westbrook is coming on strong for the Sooners, Baker Mayfield is getting in a rhythm and that defense is only going to get better. Can you imagine a world where the Sooners go undefeated through Big 12 play? I can.

Niesen: Florida State

Florida State will beat Clemson at home on Oct. 29 and finish the season in the top 10. However, it’ll still finish second in the Atlantic Division to Louisville.

Becht: Stanford

The Cardinal were all but written off after losing handily to Washington and Washington State in consecutive weeks, but if they can get Christian McCaffrey back for Saturday’s matchup with Colorado and keep him healthy the rest of the year, they could easily finish the season 10–2. Washington and Washington State both capitalized on Stanford’s shaky offensive line play in ways no other team on Stanford’s schedule will be able to. Colorado, Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon, Cal and Rice all lack the defensive lines to wreak the kind of havoc the Huskies and Cougars did, which should mean more room for McCaffrey to run and more time for Ryan Burns to make good decisions with the ball. Stanford could still end this year in the Rose Bowl, assuming Washington makes the playoff.

Baumgaertner: USC

Whether the fanbase wants Clay Helton to remain as head coach is a separate question, but regardless of his job security, freshman quarterback Sam Darnold is a star in the making. He’s already righted the team back to 4–3 after a disastrous 1–3 start to the season, and he looks increasingly comfortable every week. With a trip to Washington looming on Nov. 12, an 8–4 record seems like the best scenario for the Trojans, but it’s feasible with Darnold at the helm.

Johnson: Michigan State

In our preseason version of this feature, I picked the Spartans to make the playoff. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but it’s jarring to see a program that has been so consistent under Mark Dantonio take such a staggering fall. The Spartans will improve in the second half, and maybe even shake up the Big Ten East race by knocking off Ohio State or Michigan at home.

Estes: West Virginia

Before the season it seemed much more likely Dana Holgorsen would lose his job than the Mountaineers would win the Big 12, but West Virginia will beat Oklahoma in Week 12 and will be playing for at least a share of the conference title in the final week of the year. (And for the record, I made this pick before the Mountaineers’ impressive win over Texas Tech on Saturday.)

Staples: Baylor

The Bears have raced out to a 6–0 record against teams that have a combined record of 9–28, and the wins against the two best of those teams (Oklahoma State and Iowa State) weren’t blowouts. The remaining teams on Baylor’s schedule have gone a combined 21–13, and the Bears have to play them in rapid succession.

Thamel: Baylor

It’s hard to imagine Baylor’s undefeated record holding up. You can argue their final six games are all more difficult than their first six. That includes road games at Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Baylor has looked vulnerable against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Plus, the Bears are down to 72 scholarship players because of transfers and defections. Eventually, that attrition has to catch up.

Hamilton: Nebraska

It’s somewhat enough that the Cornhuskers have matched their win total from 2015 and they didn’t require a whole season to do it. (That’s 6–7 to 6–0 and counting.) But consecutive road trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State likely will puncture the balloon, and even November games against Minnesota and Iowa are no sure thing.

Schnell: Baylor

The Bears undefeated run has been impressive so far, especially considering all the turmoil (one could use the word “distraction”) surrounding the program. But the schedule has been less than impressive, and I think losses are on their way. Baylor still has Oklahoma, Kansas State and West Virginia. Don’t be surprised if it loses all three.

Niesen: Ole Miss

Ole Miss has one hell of a second-half schedule, and I can see the Rebels losing to LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M. That’d certainly bump them from the top 25—and it would, in fact, leave them just barely bowl eligible.

Becht: Nebraska

Mike Riley has made a nice rebound in his second season in Lincoln, getting the Cornhuskers off to a 6–0 start. Going forward, however, Nebraska’s road gets much more difficult. Amid the Huskers’ undefeated first half, their best wins are road victories over Indiana and Northwestern. Those don’t measure up to upcoming trips to Wisconsin (Oct. 29) and Ohio State (Nov. 5). A regular season finale at Iowa isn’t a gimme either. Overall Nebraska will end this year in much better shape than last year’s 5–7 regular season, but don’t expect to see the Huskers in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

Baumgaertner: Nebraska

I’m awfully tempted to pick Baylor but shied off because of the play of quarterback Seth Russell. I’d love Nebraska to be this year’s Iowa, a low-turnover, methodical team that grinds its way to 12 wins. I’m simply saying “flop” because the Huskers likely won’t survive back-to-back road dates against Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Huskers still stand a great chance of finishing 10–2, which would be an outstanding second season for Mike Riley.

Johnson: Clemson

The Tigers are in good shape to make the playoff, but I don’t think they’ll hear their name called on Selection Sunday. This team has had some close calls already, and it’s bound to lose at least one game over the next few weeks. I could also see Clemson getting upset by the ACC Coastal Division winner in the conference title game (that’s if the Tigers make it there).

Estes: Washington

The Huskies won’t collapse, but they will drop a game they shouldn’t at some point (at Utah? USC? The Apple Cup?) and then get upset in the Pac-12 title game. It’ll still be a big step forward for the program, but given where Washington sits right now, it’ll feel like a disappointment.

Staples: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

Duke slowed Jackson a bit last week, but he’s still going to put up absurd numbers that will rival the Heisman seasons of Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. The only things that might keep him from winning are injury or Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett having a huge game against Michigan—it would probably have to be a win—and a monster Big Ten title game. (Or substitute Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and a Michigan win in those games.)

Thamel: Jackson

Lamar Jackson is perhaps the most mesmerizing player to pirouette into college football in the past decade. There’s an electricity every time he takes a snap that can’t be quantified. It’s hard to see anyone catching him, as there’s been few as captivating as him.

Hamilton: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

It’s not that Jackson’s numbers should be expected to trail off significantly. It’s that Louisville’s sophomore quarterback, the current Heisman frontrunner, has but one showcase matchup remaining: at Houston on Nov. 17. Maybe that’s enough. But Barrett, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and Washington’s Jake Browning have multiple high-profile outings ahead of them. Two of the three—or if things get nutty, maybe even all three—could lead their team to the playoff. Barrett currently is the nation’s No. 10-rated passer, with 22 total touchdowns so far. He’s elevated the youth and inexperience around him on Ohio State’s offense. Plus, he will get a late profile boost over Browning, who is currently the nation’s most efficient passer, with the magnitude of the Buckeyes-Wolverines rivalry game.

Schnell: Jackson

I’m not sure if there’s a formula to stop him, and he’s so enchanted Heisman voters midway through the season that it would take some sort of spectacular disaster—like a five-interception game—for him to fall out of first place. Also, he’s really, really good and, at least as of right now, absolutely deserves to win.

Niesen: Jackson

Jackson hasn’t been putting up quite as gaudy of numbers in recent weeks, but that’s to be expected against tougher ACC opponents. I don’t think anyone should let that detract from the fact that he’s the best, most electrifying player in the game this season.

Becht: Jackson

We were absolutely certain this time last year that Leonard Fournette would win the Heisman only for him to fall so far out of the race that he missed out on an invite to New York and finished sixth. So why won’t Jackson suffer the same fate of getting crushed under the weight of unrealistic expectations set by an extraordinary first half of the season? Simple. Unlike Fournette, he doesn’t have to play Alabama.

Baumgaertner: Barrett

Duke provided a blueprint to slow down Jackson during Louisville’s squeaky 24–14 win over the Blue Devils. Jackson gets another major test this week against NC State and another tricky one at Virginia a week after that. His star power exceeds Barrett’s, but the Ohio State quarterback’s numbers will be unassailable by year’s end. He’s too effective and has too many weapons. 

Johnson: Barrett

Yes, Jackson is the clear leader in the race right now. But the Louisville quarterback is going to have a hard time maintaining the torrid pace he set during the first half of the season. When he has his first “bad” game, Barrett, the leader of a team on track to earn a playoff berth, will usurp him in the pecking order.

Estes: Jackson

The fact Leonard Fournette was the huge frontrunner at this time last year is reason for pause, but I can’t go against Jackson. J.T. Barrett isn’t quite good enough as a passer, Deshaun Watson hasn’t been as consistent as in 2015, and Jake Browning and Jabrill Peppers won’t be able to overcome Jackson’s lead.

Staples: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

I had him first on my Heisman ballot last year and predicted he’d win the thing this year, but I fear he’ll fall out if the Tigers stumble against Florida State on Oct. 29.

Thamel: Watson

Watson just hasn’t been as sharp this season as last year. His completion percentage is down to 63.6% from 67.8%. His eight interceptions put him on pace for more than last season’s 13. If NC State’s field goal had gone through the uprights at the end of regulation, he may have been knocked out already after a garish pick-six against the Wolfpack.

Hamilton: Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.

It’s a matter of opportunity and margin for error. If Houston loses or Ward stumbles somewhat against the lackluster competition coming up—SMU, Central Florida and Tulane are the next three foes—then Ward will slide accordingly. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson are in similar no-room-for-slippage scenarios, too. But Stanford’s schedule lightens a bit from here out. And Watson still has marquee games in which to make statements.

Schnell: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

Is he’s still even considered in the Heisman race? [Insert sad emoji face.]

Niesen: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

This year’s candidates for the most part seem poised to stay in the race until the bitter end; there’s been no one who’s flamed out by midseason, really. But among the most likely candidates, I see J.T. Barrett dropping from the group faster than anyone else, not necessarily for having done anything wrong, but just from not keeping pace with the likes of Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Dalvin Cook and even Jake Browning.

Becht: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

I’m a big fan of Cook. He would have gotten my vote for the Heisman last year, and he was my preseason pick this year. But he’s doomed to suffer the same deathblow he fell to last season. Unless Florida State can upset Clemson next week, the Seminoles will fall from relevancy, leaving Cook fighting an uphill battle to stay in the Heisman hunt. It also doesn’t help that four of Florida State’s remaining five games are against defenses ranked in the top 25 in Football Outsiders’ S&P + rating for rushing defense, including Clemson (No. 16), NC State (No. 8) and Boston College (No. 3).

Baumgaertner: Watson

Watson may put up huge numbers against Florida State and Syracuse because of how porous each pass defense is, but the quarterback’s inconsistent play has put him squarely behind three other QBs (Lamar Jackson, Jake Browning and J.T. Barrett) for the award. Watson likely takes his team to the playoff, but there is too much ground for him to make up individually.

Johnson: San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey

It’s a shame Pumphrey doesn’t get more recognition. The Aztecs star keeps piling up big numbers, but it’s really hard for him to grab most voters’ attention because he doesn’t play in any big games. Unfortunately for Pumphrey, none of the remaining contests on San Diego State’s schedule are likely to draw more than a passing reference on Saturday wrap-up shows. 

Estes: Cook

Cook remains a spectacular player, but I’m predicting Florida State will lose to Clemson on Oct. 29, and that will be it for his candidacy. He just won’t have the stats or marquee performances to make up for the Seminoles ultimately being a three- or four-loss team.

Staples: Alabama’s Nick Saban

Why does the coach of the year always have to go to the guy whose team was supposed to stink but didn’t? How about giving it to the guy whose team routinely dominates? In Saban’s case, the award would be for the way he has evolved to keep his team on top even as the game has changed. I’d also accept Urban Meyer, another guy who won’t win any of these awards because his team is too consistently good.

Thamel: Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck

Fleck has Western Michigan on a collision course with an undefeated season. He’s already delivered the school its first bowl victory last season and first-ever national ranking this season. With the Broncos 7–0 and favored every game the rest of the way, he’s rowing them toward more history. Doing something the first time somewhere is much harder than upholding tradition somewhere else.

Hamilton: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer

It’s time to stop handing the award reflexively to the coach-whose-team-does-better-than-expected. Give it to the guy who had 12 players from his 2015 roster drafted by NFL squads, including five in the first round and 10 through the first three rounds, and nevertheless brought young replacements along quickly enough to challenge for a playoff bid. Nick Saban qualifies here, too, though he probably started with fewer questions personnel-wise. Either one works, when it comes to defining a truly impressive coaching job in 2016.

Schnell: Either West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen or Washington’s Chris Petersen

Some wondered if Holgorsen was going to get fired at the end of this season because West Virginia had been mostly underwhelming in his tenure. I think it’s safe to say he’s saved his job. Meanwhile, we all knew Petersen was a terrific coach, but Washington’s rise has been extremely impressive, especially considering all the hype that started in March. Petersen was a master at silencing outside noise when he was at Boise, and it appears he’s conditioned another team to do that again.

Niesen: Louisville’s Bobby Petrino

Petrino has taken Louisville from a consistently good team to a great one, which is probably the hardest jump to make in college football. He said after Les Miles was dismissed at LSU that he had no plans to leave Louisville, and why would he?

Becht: Meyer

Nick Saban has rightly entered the realm in which the debate centers on where he ranks among the all-time great coaches. Meyer isn’t there yet, but years like this one so far could propel him into that threshold. Under Saban, we’re used to seeing Alabama lose boatloads of talent to the NFL—the kind of loss that would cripple most programs—and keep rolling. That’s exactly what Ohio State is doing this season. Despite losing nine underclassmen to the 2016 NFL draft and five players to the first round of the draft, the Buckeyes remain at the peak of college football.

Baumgaertner: Petersen

Many wondered if Petersen could mimic his success at Boise State. He’s taken a sleeping Pac-12 giant and turned it into one of the nation’s most fearsome teams. Is anybody still doubting his coaching abilities?

Johnson: Meyer

This award typically goes to the coach who exceeds expectations given his roster’s talent, but Meyer’s ability to field arguably the nation’s top outfit despite the off-season departure of 16 starters is remarkable. He’s turned the Buckeyes into an Alabama-like machine that can reload year after year without missing a step.

Estes: Meyer

Chris Petersen, Bobby Petrino and Tom Herman will all have solid cases, and Nick Saban could rightfully win this award every year, but Meyer gets the nod. To take such an inexperienced team and make it a juggernaut almost immediately is a feat worthy of recognition.

Staples

It’ll be the one-loss conference champ that gets left out. Recent history tells us 10 of the 11 currently undefeated teams will lose by Dec. 4. So let’s assume either Ohio State or Michigan goes undefeated through the Big Ten. It’s probable that the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 champs will have a loss. (And there also could be Louisville and the Michigan-Ohio State loser.) If the Big 12 gets left out, that league will be severely psychologically disadvantaged for a while.

Thamel

Could this be the year we see two teams from the same league make a strong case for the playoff? Will it be Ohio State and Michigan? Will it be Clemson and Louisville? Could it be Alabama and Texas A&M? The Big 12 seemingly eliminating itself from the playoff in September makes this possible. As does the lack of a bellcow team in the Pac-12 outside of Washington.

Hamilton

A one-loss Clemson team will be included over a one-loss Big Ten team, reigniting the debate over the weight of conference championships. Here’s betting either Ohio State or Michigan makes it through the season unscathed, and here’s betting the loser of their titanic Nov. 26 showdown has an argument to be included over the Tigers, whose only blemish will be an Oct. 29 loss at Florida State but whose season will be fairly uneven overall.

Schnell

West Virginia will go 11–1 but miss out on the playoff because of no Big 12 championship game. By Dec. 11, the Big 12 will announce it’s contemplating expansion. Again. And like suckers, we’ll all tune into the conference call.

Niesen

There won’t be a Big 12 team in the playoff for the second time in three years, a major disappointment for a Power 5 conference that fancies itself among football’s best and boasted the No. 3 team in the country in the preseason AP poll. The addition of a league championship game next season can’t come soon enough

Becht

A one-loss Michigan squad will get left out of the playoff despite its only loss coming on the road to playoff participant Ohio State. So far, the playoff has skated clear of a convincing playoff argument from a conference runner-up, but the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan showdown will have an excellent case if both teams enter that matchup undefeated. So far, neither team has offered a reason doubt it will do so. This year’s playoff discussion will also feature some cries from the Group of Five when an undefeated Group of Five conference champion, likely Boise State or Western Michigan, doesn’t even get serious discussion for a playoff berth.

Baumgaertner

The Big 12 will miss out again. Oklahoma will go undefeated in conference play and, in turn, knock out every other eligible playoff candidate from the conference. David Boren will smirk from his school president chair and let out a movie-villain laugh.

Johnson

The field will be composed of teams from only two conferences. The Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC all will fail to produce a CFP-worthy squad, leaving the selection committee no choice but to pick a pair of teams from both the Big Ten and the SEC. A national semifinals featuring Ohio State, Michigan, Texas A&M and Alabama will reinforce the perception that the Big Ten and the SEC have distanced themselves from the other Power 5 leagues.

Estes

Michigan will make the playoff despite losing in the final week of the regular season to Ohio State. The committee will cite Michigan’s top-to-bottom performance and its quality loss to the Buckeyes. (The guaranteed TV ratings Michigan provides will be an unspoken factor.) Louisville will be incensed at getting passed over for another one-loss team, Washington will say it’s unfair the others didn’t play in a conference title game, and whoever wins the Big 12 will complain about a non-league champion getting selected. With two Power 5 leagues left out, calls for an eight-team playoff will reach deafening levels.

Staples

I keep saying two teams from the same league will make the playoff—which would cause other leagues to freak out and begin pushing for the eight-team playoff that would boot the bowls and produce quarterfinals and semifinals on campus. But I keep being wrong. So I’m going to predict four different Power 5 conference champs make the playoff and hope the reverse jinx invites some chaos into the process.

Thamel

Last season’s coaching carousel didn’t have quite the reverberations we expected because Cadillac jobs like Georgia and USC were filled by assistant coaches. (Hence, no significant trickle down.) This year, with LSU leading the way and at least Texas and Oregon projected to follow, expect there to be a bit more trickle-down chaos on the carousel this year. More head coach hires will lead to more openings.

Hamilton

LSU head football coach Chip Kelly.*

*Yes, I know it says “bold,” not “drunk,” but here we are.

Schnell

Boise State goes undefeated and gets left out of the playoff.

Niesen

USC will lose its last four games and fire coach Clay Helton after just one season. The talk about Helton’s future has quieted after three straight wins over Arizona State, Colorado and Arizona, but losing to even three of the last four teams—Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame—would put him right back on the hot seat.

Becht

Lane Kiffin will get a head-coaching job with a Power 5 school. He’s not walking into a Georgia-level program like former Alabama assistant Kirby Smart, but Kiffin’s going to get a better job that you might think. Once the Tom Herman sweepstakes are over, there will be a bevvy of high-profile programs forced to come to grips with the fact that this year’s candidate pool is short of elite options. With some program-management lessons from Nick Saban and Kiffin’s proven offensive track record despite constant turnover at quarterback, he’ll get another shot as a head coach at a middle-tier Power 5 job.

Baumgaertner

Led out of the tunnel by an Ed Orgeron with a torn shirt and smeared with that paint, LSU beats Alabama behind a star performance from Leonard Fournette. The game ends with Orgeron and his offensive linemen accidentally knocking over the entire camera crew during the ensuing celebration.  

Johnson

USC will eliminate the Pac-12 from the playoff. The Trojans got off to a really rocky start, but they’ve played a lot better with redshirt freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback. I think USC will upset Washington either at Husky Stadium on Nov. 12 or in the conference championship game (that’s if the Trojans make it there), leaving the league without a viable CFP candidate.

Estes

Bobby Petrino will move to LSU, and Charlie Strong will return to Louisville. The Tigers will lose the Tom Herman sweepstakes to Texas. Jimbo Fisher will also turn them down, causing them to move on to … Petrino, who will again prove he has no shame when it comes to professional opportunities. In a weak market, Louisville will then hire one of its previous coaches for the second straight time, reminding us all that time is a flat circle.

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