ACC — This conference comes down to Clemson and Florida State. North Carolina might be a cute story again like they were in 2015, but the ACC is a battle between the two goliaths. However, Clemson has the difference-maker in quarterback DeShaun Watson.
BIG 10 — There are 4 teams worth talking about when it comes to winning the Big 10: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. First off, it’s going to be tough for Iowa to replicate it’s magical 2015 season. Secondly, Michigan State is in a bit of a reboot/reload season. The Spartans will still be very good; they just might not be as good as we’ve seen them in recent years. That leaves rivals OSU and U-M. The easy, fun, most intriguing route is that the two are both undefeated when they meet in Columbus to end the regular season, before the winner moves on to Indy for the conference title game. So let’s go with that. Michigan’s going to be very good, but Urban’s boys are still a bit better and they have the better QB — JT Barrett.
BIG 12 — Oklahoma looks to be the dominant team in the conference. Baylor’s offseason will likely derail any hopes they may have had, and Oklahoma State has potential to be a sleeper team if they get out of the gates strong. TCU will serve as the Sooners’ biggest threat. But the Big 12 should be Oklahoma’s to lose.
PAC 12 — The conference is totally wide open. Stanford, with Christian McCaffrey as a Heisman candidate and Keller Chryst throwing the ball, has probably the best team overall. Their schedule is daunting, but 2 losses might okay. UCLA will have a nasty defense and Josh Rosen at QB, but they have ran out of gas — or started without gas — over the past few years when expectations were high. With few people picking the Ducks this year, Oregon may be primed for a great year. But in the end, Stanford has the most pieces in place to win the conference.
SEC — Every year it feels like we search and search for someone to dethrone Alabama. LSU always has a shot because Les Miles recruits so well; Texas A&M has the offense to go toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide; and Ole Miss has proven they can beat ‘Bama. But let’s face it, Alabama should roll along — probably losing one game during the season that will cause Nick Saban to tear into his team and re-focus them — and find themselves in the top 4 and playing for the conference championship in December.
College Football Playoff
Clemson — Unlike 2015-16, the Tigers aren’t going to surprise anyone or be that team that looks good and strong but no one really expects them to win it all. Clemson will be and should be the definitive favorite going into the playoff.
Ohio State — I can see Ohio State dropping one of those “sleepwalking” games, as I call them — like an Illinois game or Northwestern. The ones where you are a big favorite but aren’t totally focused for whatever reason; and maybe there’s other factors at play — like bad weather. Ohio State also has a tough stretch where they go on the road to play Penn State and Wisconsin in back to back games. I think they get to the U-M game at the end with a blemish on their record. But a win against Michigan, who should be ranked in the top 2 in the nation, will propel the Bucks into the playoff.
Alabama — The Tide are always good for a loss along the way, but it never seems to derail their title hopes. In fact, Nick Saban uses the loss better than any coach in America uses losses to motivate his team. Alabama will be there in the end, but this is a Tide team that may struggle running the ball more than any ‘Bama team has in the recent past. However, it’s not a playoff if Alabama’s not in it.
Michigan — This final spot could easily be Oklahoma’s. But I have a difficult time picking Bob Stoops’ teams to contend on the national level — especially 2 years in a row. Plus, the Wolverines have a very nice schedule until mid-October when they travel up to East Lansing to play the Spartans. They also have to go to Iowa. But I expect Jim Harbaugh’s guys to come away with Ws in both those affairs, setting them up as a top 2 team in the country when the Big Game calls in Columbus. A loss against the Buckeyes will sting, but a 1-loss Michigan team won’t fall out of the top 4.
DeShaun Watson is the best player in college football — the most exciting and the most fun to watch. He was good enough to win the National Championship against Alabama last January, but fell just short. Scratch that — he wasn’t just good enough, he was great. He will be great again this year en route to the Heisman Trophy and a National Title. Clemson beats Alabama in a rematch for the ages.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.