Where did the time go?
Six weeks ago, Ohio State and Oklahoma were penciled into the College Football Playoff. Now they each have one loss and no margin for error.
Don’t worry, though, there’s still a lot of football left to play.
Here are 12 predictions for the rest of the season:
1. Saquon Barkley will not pull a Herschel Walker for Penn State
Barkley might be the most gifted player in college football. He’s a physical specimen who can run through, around and over the top of defenders at will.
He is Penn State football this season, racking up yards in the running game, passing game and special teams.
With all due respect to quarterback Trace McSorley, the numbers don’t lie. Barkley has accounted for 38 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage this season, which is the highest rate in the Big Ten and the fourth-highest in FBS.
While that might mean a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy is in order (more on that later), it doesn’t bode well for Penn State’s chances of contending for a national championship. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last team to win a national championship with one player accounting for that large a portion of his team’s total yards from scrimmage was in 1980 when Herschel Walker carried Georgia to the promised land as a freshman.
Ultimately, the overreliance on Barkley is going to come back to bite the Nittany Lions. And we’re going to see it play itself out very quickly when, after failing to face a single defense ranked in the top 45 nationally the first half of the season, Penn State will play three top-15 defenses (Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State) — and lose to at least one — in its next three games.
Barkley is a special talent, but that is too much to ask of any one player.
2. The Pac-12 championship will be a playoff play-in game
The Apple Cup will be the country’s most consequential and interesting rivalry game. No. 8 Washington State is one of the biggest surprise stories of the first half of the season, but the Cougars will be in for another rude awakening when they play No. 5 Washington in Husky Stadium on Nov. 25.
Here comes the curveball: USC is going to run the table the rest of the regular season — the Trojans have an 84 percent chance to win the South, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index — and knock off Washington in the conference title game.
If last season showed us anything, it’s that the Trojans know how to finish strong. Quarterback Sam Darnold will cut down the interceptions and this time USC will be rewarded with a CFP berth.
It will result in a couple of angry one-loss teams from the state of Washington, and Mike Leach’s monologue on playoff expansion will be played on a loop inside the Pac-12 offices.
Mike Leach wants FBS to change its playoff system and offers a review of the postseasons for every level of the sport.
3. Harbaugh’s honeymoon period will come to an end
Michigan is 1-4 under Jim Harbaugh against Michigan State and Ohio State. Despite infusing the Wolverines with much-needed energy and enthusiasm, another third-place finish in the Big Ten East is on the horizon and the natives in Ann Arbor are going to grow restless.
Harbaugh will ultimately be judged by how Michigan fares against its biggest rivals and he’ll fall to 0-3 against Urban Meyer after losing to Ohio State again on Nov. 25.
That’s right, Meyer and the Buckeyes have been lying in wait ever since that embarrassing loss at home to Oklahoma, and they’re about to get right back on your radar in a hurry, starting with a win at home over Penn State in two weeks. Then, Ohio State can use a victory against Michigan to seal its place in the Big Ten championship game.
Michigan’s offense is just not at a championship-caliber level. The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on just 33 percent of their red zone drives (5-of-15) — ranking behind South Alabama and Bowling Green, teams that have combined for a 2-9 record. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett might not be perfect, but in four games since the loss to the Sooners he has posted a Total QBR of 90.7 with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions, albeit against lesser competition.
It’s going to be the same story as last year: an Ohio State-Michigan showdown that will come down to the wire, the Buckeyes will win and Harbaugh will be complaining about something afterward, whether it’s an errant call by a referee or a lack of double-ply toilet paper in the visitors locker room.
Meanwhile, Michigan fans will start to think they should do better than a third-place finish in the Big Ten East in Year 3 under Harbaugh.
4. Big 12 will be too deep for its own good
Don’t freak out, Bob Bowlsby.
It won’t feel like it in December, but you did the right thing by pushing through a conference title game. Now no one can say you don’t have the most thorough format for deciding a champion in college football.
It’s going to cost you this year. Your conference is just too deep for its own good.
A couple of weeks ago, there was talk of the Big 12 being the strongest conference in the country, that maybe it would get two teams in the playoff. As it turns out, that number is going to be zero.
We’ve already started to see the conference cannibalize itself with TCU beating Oklahoma State and Iowa State upsetting Oklahoma. The next big blow will come in Bedlam on Nov. 4 when that porous Oklahoma defense is going to get shredded by Mason Rudolph, James Washington and the rest of Oklahoma State’s prolific attack.
TCU, which has been a revelation this season under coach Gary Patterson, won’t escape unscathed either. Kenny Hill is still prone to an ill-advised pass or two, and whether it’s against Kansas State, Oklahoma or Texas Tech, it’s going to cost his team, setting up a win-and-you’re-in scenario in the conference title game with one-loss TCU vs. two-loss Oklahoma State.
The Pokes win and while the Big 12 will be able to boast the most depth in college football — don’t be surprised to see half the league nationally ranked by season’s end — it won’t be able to get a two-loss team in the playoff.
5. SEC ADs will regret silly buyout figures
Let’s call that the exception to the rule.
It’s about to be Buyout Season in college football, especially in the SEC where a few LSU fans have already chipped in to a GoFundMe page to pay Ed Orgeron his $ 12 million buyout and start over.
Arkansas is in a state of panic after the Hogs dropped to 2-3 thanks to an inexplicable blowout loss to unranked South Carolina. Five years in, Bret Bielema hasn’t shown progress in the win column and his buyout is currently $ 15 million. Tennessee, which is on the verge of kicking Butch Jones out of the state after losing 41-0 at home to Georgia and might make a move if he loses to South Carolina next weekend, has a buyout just north of $ 8 million.
If Texas A&M wanted to go a different direction from Kevin Sumlin, it would have to pay him more than $ 11 million.
Whether it’s in the eager SEC or abroad, a bunch of agents and financial advisors are going to cash in on their clients being shown the door.
6. Sorry, Chip Kelly is just not that into you
Look, um, we don’t quite know how to say this. But you’re not Chip Kelly’s type.
This might hurt, but we’re just trying to save you the heartache when Kelly’s name shows up on every single list of potential candidates at every single potential job opening. Don’t get your hopes up. He’s not coming.
After winning big at Oregon and then trying his hand in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, he’s not going to jump back into college football for just any opportunity. If that were the case, he’d already be coaching. Looking at the possible openings this offseason, it’s difficult to see the right fit.
We’re talking turn-key, high-dollar programs. We’re talking administrations that don’t have a reputation for meddling. (Looking at you, Texas A&M). We’re talking about a place where he won’t have to exert too much energy recruiting or dealing with extraneous responsibilities because it’s pretty clear that all Kelly wants to do is coach ball.
Maybe if UCLA was on the verge of opening, that might pique his interest. But Jim Mora’s buyout is steep. Maybe Arizona or Arizona State does the trick, but is either worth giving up a well-paying TV gig when he could wait to see what comes open next year? Probably not.
If Kelly ends up anywhere, it’s probably as a quality control coach at Alabama. Nick Saban would love to add him to his stockpile of former coaches.
7. Stanford, you’ve seen how this movie ends
It’s not that Derrick Henry wasn’t deserving of the Heisman Trophy in 2015. He was. But McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards and came in second. Somehow, he got 88 fewer first-place votes than Henry. If that wasn’t a case of East Coast bias, then I don’t know what is.
Guess what? It’s going to happen again.
Sadly, it won’t matter, through no fault of his own.
This snub won’t be as much about time zones as it is about wins and losses. When Stanford lost in back-to-back weeks to USC and San Diego State, the Cardinal flew off the radar.
He’ll be upstaged by another running back: Barkley.
8. Two Group of 5 teams — USF and San Diego State — will finish undefeated and out in the cold
A Power 5 coach once told me there’s no such thing as parity in college football. He was right. The world belongs to the blue-blood programs and the rest of the FBS is just playing pitch and catch.
We’re going to get not just one, but two undefeated teams this season and neither is going to make the playoff over several one-loss Power 5 teams.
It won’t come as a huge surprise, but South Florida and San Diego State will reinforce the status of Group of 5 teams in the CFP era. They simply won’t have the résumé needed to make a difference in playoff deliberations. Just look at their current FPI ratings where they check in in the 40s.
It’s a shame, too, because USF’s Quinton Flowers and San Diego State’s Penny are bona fide stars.
9. The best player in the NFL draft won’t be a QB
Everyone needs a quarterback.
We get it. NFL general managers will be falling all over themselves for one come draft day. USC’s Darnold, UCLA’sJosh Rosen and Wyoming’sJosh Allen are tank-worthy prospects if you think all that separates your team from the playoffs is a strong right arm. (Never mind the amount of interceptions they’ve thrown.)
He’s a menace with a nose for the football. At 6-foot-4 and 240-pounds, he can move. He has 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the 5-1 Wolfpack, who have emerged as Clemson’s biggest threat in the ACC Atlantic.
10. We’ll discover new ways to describe Alabama’s excellence
Alabama is the most dominant team in college football, and Nick Saban is just going to have to live with that.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Alabama has run an FBS-high 56 plays this season while holding at least a 40-point lead, nearly twice as many as any other SEC team. What’s more, the Tide have run more plays with a 60-point lead (seven) than they have while trailing by any margin (six).
Bama is laying waste to the SEC, and that’s with an offensive line and running game that is just now beginning to hit its stride.
The rest of the regular-season schedule is going to be a breeze. LSU might not cross the 50-yard line when the teams meet in November, and Auburn will struggle to complete a pass when its suddenly resurgent running game meets the brick wall known as Alabama’s front seven. (Spoiler alert: It’s going to look a lot like that Clemson game from Week 2.)
The best challenge will be the SEC title game against Georgia, and even then Saban is going to show his protege Kirby Smart the door.
11. Clemson will finish No. 1 though
Alabama will be the most dominant team in college football but not the most deserving of No. 1. That will be Clemson, which will earn its No. 1 seed with wins over ranked opponents Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and, eventually, NC State and whichever team reaches the ACC title game.
Looking back, it was easy to roll your eyes at Dabo Swinney when he told anyone who would listen this offseason that losing Deshaun Watson wouldn’t be the death of the program. He kept pointing to his depth on the offensive line and how much he had returning on defense. Still, we didn’t listen.
Well, now we know. Kelly Bryant might not be the next Watson, but he’ll certainly do the trick. And that defensive line is the stuff nightmares are made of. Austin Bryant leads the team with 5.0 sacks, but the Tigers have spread the wealth with 12 different players with at least one full sack this season, the most in the ACC and second-most in FBS.
In a repeat of last season, Clemson will get matched up with Ohio State in the playoff semifinal game and move on to the national title game against Alabama.
12. But Bama will get its revenge
Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick might disagree with this assessment, but Alabama is an angry football team. Even Fitzpatrick admits that the goal this season isn’t just to win, but to demoralize teams.
The root of that defiance, that us-against-the-world mentality, is Clemson. Losing in the final second to the Tigers in Tampa last year lit a fire inside the Tide and Nick Saban is going to ride that all the way to his sixth national championship.
This time, Jalen Hurts will be more of a threat throwing the football.
This time, Alabama’s defense won’t wear down during the home stretch.
This time, a pick play — err, a “rub route” — won’t be the difference.
The third game of this fantastic series will go to Alabama and immediately after we’ll start planning for a four-peat.