College football is back this week, and we’re already submitting end-of-season predictions. I’m no ESPN expert, but with the unpredictability of the sport, my crazy picks are as good as any. We’ve got a tremendous slate of Week One games, but let’s fast forward to December/January for some conference championships and playoff predictions.
Pac-12 Championship: USC vs. Washington
I’m not sold on either of these teams to reach this game. The two teams that I believe can stop them have Heisman candidates. Arizona boasts the electric Khalil Tate, who led the team in rushing and passing in 2017, and they get the Trojans at home—a potential game-changer in the Pac-12 South race. Stanford has the Heisman favorite in Bryce Love and if he puts up the season many expect, there’s no reason to think that Stanford can’t reach Santa Clara.
However, disregard all of the above. USC is still talented enough to win the South even without Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones, and Washington is as experienced as they come with Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, and a top-notch defense. These two haven’t met since 2016, when the Trojans beat the Huskies 26-13, but a collision course seems likely this season. I’m taking the Huskies in this one after Jake Browning has the game of his career.
Prediction: USC 28, Washington 30
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma vs. Texas
A week ago, I was very critical of the Longhorn’s appearance in the preseason AP poll, and now I’m putting them in the conference championship game. I still don’t think they should be ranked right now, but if they can pick it up on the offensive end, it’s very possible that they can find themselves in Arlington with the play of their defense, which is one of the best in the Big 12.
That comes with a big “if” though. Quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele both have potential, but they haven’t been able to lead the Horns’ offense where it’s needed to be in the past few years. I do think, however, that giving Tom Herman a year of coaching under his belt at UT will be huge. It also helps that the Longhorns have all their games against ranked opponents at home.
As far as the Sooners are concerned, many see the loss of Baker Mayfield as the reason the Sooners won’t reach the CFP again, and, of course, there will always be some regression when you lose your Heisman winner. But as Lee Corso often says, “Not so fast, my friend.” Kyler Murray may not have the passing skills that Mayfield possesses, but he can absolutely fly, and he knows what it takes to win, going 42-0 in high school. Look for Lincoln Riley and company to win this one by more than 10.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Texas 23
SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Georgia
I’d be shocked if any other teams in the SEC reached this game. Georgia has little to worry about in the SEC East, save for a potential upset bid in Week Two against South Carolina.
In the SEC West, not only does Alabama have the best team, but they have the easiest schedule of the contenders. Meanwhile, Auburn has five top-25 teams on their schedule: No. 6 Washington, No. 25 LSU, No. 18 Mississippi State, No. 3 Georgia, No. 1 Alabama. LSU doesn’t have it any easier: No. 8 Miami, No. 9 Auburn, No. 3 Georgia, No. 18 Mississippi State, No. 1 Alabama.
Alabama only has LSU and Auburn on its schedule, and the Iron Bowl is in Tuscaloosa this season, so I don’t think they’ll have much trouble getting to Atlanta—but, in a battle of sophomore quarterbacks, Fromm outplays Tagovailoa as the Dawgs avenge their title game loss. The key to the game? Georgia running back D’Andre Swift. He has to replace the production of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, but I predict that he’ll become a household name by Week Seven and he’ll help lead Georgia back to the College Football Playoff.
Prediction: Alabama 21, Georgia 24
ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Miami
These will be the two best teams in the ACC once again, and we’ll have our first repeat championship matchup since 2007-2008, when Boston College played Virginia Tech two years in a row. Last season, this game was over by halftime as Clemson demolished Miami 38-3. Clemson will still win this one in 2018, but it’ll be closer. Miami continues to build a stout defense, led by one of the best linebacking corps in the country, and Malik Rosier is steadily improving.
But Clemson is on another level than the entire ACC. If you haven’t heard about their D-line, check them out—they have four potential first-round picks, and they’re about to anchor the best defense in the country. Trevor Lawrence is going to bring a passing element to this team that just wasn’t there when Kelly Bryant was at the helm. It seems the Tigers are on their way to their fourth straight playoff appearance.
Prediction: Clemson 33, Miami 17
Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State
The Big Ten East could be the best division in all of college football, and I’m going with the team projected to finish fourth in the standings. Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are all sexy picks to reach Indy, and people won’t really bat an eye if you picked any one of those teams, but Michigan State is entirely ready to contend. They won 10 games last season and they bring back a majority of their starting group. D’Antoni is probably the best coach that nobody talks about, and he has an experienced quarterback in Brian Lewerke at the helm. I’m calling for the upset bid in the Big Ten.
As for the Badgers, there are few people that don’t believe Wisconsin will reach Indy again this year, but in order for people to really take the Badgers seriously, they have to win. They’re 0-3 in their last three championship appearances, and the past two have been gut-wrenching losses. These two met in the inaugural Big Ten Championship and it was an instant classic—look for more of the same in this one.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 24
College Football Playoff
Orange Bowl: 1. Clemson vs. 4. Wisconsin
This would be the dream matchup for neutral fans around the nation. The best defensive line squaring off against the best offensive line, a battle of the century in the trenches. Clemson would clearly be the favorite in this game, but if Alex Hornibrook summons his Orange Bowl magic, the Badgers can win this game. They would need a big performance from a defense that is losing seven starters, but give me the Badgers in an upset.
Prediction: Clemson 20, Wisconsin 26
Cotton Bowl: 2. Georgia vs. 3. Oklahoma
Is it boring to see a rematch? Maybe for some, but you’re crazy if you don’t want to see these two teams take the field again after their Rose Bowl matchup last season, which ended up as one of the greatest college football games ever played. It’s unlikely that it would live up to last year, but it would still be an instant classic. Look away Sooner fans, I’m going with another heartbreaker for Lincoln Riley’s squad.
Prediction: Georgia 37, Oklahoma 34
National Championship: 2. Georgia vs. 4. Wisconsin
Both teams have a long trip to Levi’s Stadium for the title game, but you’d better believe both of these teams’ fans are going all in. Georgia fans are out for revenge after a heartbreaking loss in Atlanta last January, and Wisconsin fans have waited their whole lives for this moment. As painful as it is to type, I’m going with Georgia. Jake Fromm would simply outplay Alex Hornibrook, and the Bulldogs’ number one recruiting class would overtake the Badgers’ level of talent to claim their first national championship.
This would mark the best season in Badger history and, although it would end disappointingly in this scenario, it’s time to take Wisconsin football seriously.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Wisconsin 21