College football picks are far from an exact science: As Wisconsin, Texas, Virginia Tech and many others learned in the first half of the 2018 season, top teams can be beaten on any Saturday if they don’t come to play. The same can be said for broader predictions about what will happen by the end of the season. My fellow SI.com college football writers and editors made a number of predictions in late August ahead of the 2018 season, and at the year’s midpoint it appears that many of those picks and expectations were ... ill-advised.
Below, we’re setting aside the pats on the back for another day and highlighting the preseason picks and predictions we got totally wrong.
1. Ed Orgeron’s hot seat status
LSU’s fiery coach was the centerpiece of more than one preseason hot seat watch list, but it seems Orgeron was always going to last the year as long as he didn’t turn the Tigers into an embarrassment, and that itself seemed to swing on the return of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. That unit is still a work in progress, but it did enough to secure huge wins over Georgia, Auburn and Miami which have lifted LSU into the top 10. The Tigers are Alabama’s biggest regular season threat thanks to a menacing defense and transfer quarterback Joe Burrow’s knack for big moments. Even if they don’t win the SEC West, they’ve proven the skepticism about Orgeron’s program management capabilities was misguided.
2. The Heisman candidacy of Bryce Love
Love was a lay-up preseason Heisman Trophy favorite after he finished second in the voting behind Baker Mayfield last season. The Stanford running back had an outstanding 2017, rushing for 2,118 yards, scoring 19 touchdowns and dominating highlight reels with his penchant for ripping off big runs. This season, Love has been banged up (like he was last year) with an ankle injury, which has caused his yards per carry to dip from 8.1 to 4.3. Part of that can be blamed on Stanford playing from behind in some of its games, but while Love remains an outstanding back, a trip to New York this year may no longer be in the cards unless he goes off in the second half of the season and Stanford somehow ends up back in Pac-12 contention.
3. Washington’s playoff return
The Huskies looked to have the ingredients to reprise their 2016 playoff run with veteran quarterback Jake Browning leading the charge and a shortage of Pac-12 foes that looked like they were ready for primetime. But Washington spoiled its margin for error with a Week 1 loss to Auburn and saw its championship dreams crushed when kicker Peyton Henry missed a potential game-winner in an eventual overtime loss to Oregon. The Huskies would now need mass chaos to even be part of the conversation on Dec. 3.
4. TCU disrupting the Big 12 status quo
Oklahoma has owned the Big 12 recently, with three straight conference titles and two playoff appearances on the strength of relentlessly efficient offenses. TCU, known for its stout defenses, was a trendy pick to end the Sooners' dominance this season after falling short in the conference title game last year. But problems were always on the horizon: TCU returned one offensive starter from last year’s team and had to break in quarterback Shawn Robinson in his first year as a starter. The Horned Frogs averaged 42 points a game in their first three games, including a competitive loss to Ohio State, but since then they have scored 16, 14 and 14, losing two of those matchups. There’s still time to make noise in the Big 12 race, starting when the wretched Sooners defense comes to Fort Worth on Saturday, but other Big 12 sleeper picks have passed TCU by.
5. The state of Florida’s hype trains
We found reasons for preseason optimism at every prominent Florida FBS school—except for Florida itself, where Dan Mullen’s turnaround wasn’t expected to take place overnight. Now the Gators are threatening the top 10, while Miami, Florida State and Florida Atlantic have not followed through on the potential laid out within their offseason headlines.
Miami looked to be Clemson’s primary threat in the ACC, but the season started with a quarterback controversy, as incumbent Malik Rosier won the job over redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry, then struggled in a blowout loss to LSU and lasted all of four games as the starter. Perry was benched last weekend after throwing back-to-back interceptions in an upset loss to unranked Virginia, and injuries elsewhere have put the Hurricanes’ ACC title hopes on hold.
The Seminoles were expected to start fast under new coach Willie Taggart, at his third school in the last three years, after Jimbo Fisher jumped to Texas A&M. Instead, FSU looked lifeless in losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse, needed all four quarters to put away Samford of the FCS and blew a 20-point lead against Miami. Their 36-year bowl streak is now in serious jeopardy.
FAU was thought to be an outsider contender for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid. But Oklahoma sent the Owls back to reality with a 63–14 thrashing on opening weekend, and losses to UCF and Middle Tennessee since have made the defending Conference USA champions look decidedly human.
6. Michigan and USC doom-and-gloom
Questions dogged bluebloods Michigan and USC: Will Jim Harbaugh ever turn the tables on the Wolverines’ biggest rivals? And how long will USC fans put up with Clay Helton’s big-game failings before the Trojan faithful stop showing up at the Coliseum?
Michigan’s Week 1 loss to Notre Dame seems like ancient history now that the Wolverines have heated up with help from the nation’s top defense and Shea Patterson’s steadily improving quarterback play to keep pace in the Big Ten East race. Pivotal battles with Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State loom ahead, but Michigan has the look of a top-10 team.
It’s not so bad for USC either, as the Trojans have righted the ship after losses to Texas and Stanford, won three in a row and control their fate in the Pac–12 South.
7. Breakout players that haven’t broken out
Some of our breakout player picks have been right on the money, like Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock and Kyler Murray. Some haven’t had the impact on the team as some imagined. With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the NFL, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift was expected to step into a starring role—last season, he played limited snaps behind Chubb and Michel, but still gained 618 yards at almost eight yards a pop—but he's been alternating in the backfield with Elijah Holyfield, who leads the Bulldogs in rushing.
8. Wisconsin at No. 3
Wisconsin was thought to have a straightforward path to the playoff, coming off a 13-win season that ended with an Orange Bowl victory and returning nine starters on offense, including the entire offensive line, Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor at running back and almost none of its defense.
It took all of three weeks for it all to coming crashing down at the hands of BYU, who stunned the Badgers with a 24–21 upset. Then in Week 7, they were overmatched against Michigan once the Wolverines forced the game into the hands of quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who completed seven of his 20 passes while being picked off twice and sacked twice. Wisconsin is in for a fight to win the Big Ten West as Northwestern and Iowa round into form.
9. Arizona as a potential playoff sleeper
SI put the Wildcats’ electric quarterback Khalil Tate on one of its four college football preview issue covers, and the arrival of new head coach Kevin Sumlin had fans in the desert excited about another year of show-stopping offense and maybe even the school’s first ever Rose Bowl berth.
BYU ruined that in Week 1 with a 28–23 victory in Tucson, and subsequent losses to Houston, USC and Utah have the Wildcats in disappointingly familiar territory: fighting to tread water in the middle of the Pac-12 South.
10. The one thing we agreed on: Clemson winning it all
Six out of seven SI staffers chose Clemson to be the team celebrating in Santa Clara, with the lone dissenter picking Alabama to repeat. Most of the reasons for picking the Tigers had to do with their dominant defensive line stocked full of future NFL talent. Clemson can still win the championship, and it seems the offense’s consistency problems have been solved with Trevor Lawrence taking over for Kelly Bryant at quarterback and getting a big assist from running back Travis Etienne. But there isn’t a single person that won’t admit that Alabama is the class of college football, a fact we probably should have seen coming two months ago.