David M. HaleESPN Staff Writer
It’s common knowledge that sportswriters are always right. Just look at our preseason predictions. We had Alabama at No. 1, and sure enough, there are the Crimson Tide, chugging right along with one blowout win after another. Pretty smart, eh? Not many folks have the kind of institutional knowledge that allows them to make bold predictions like that.
Now to be fair, we got a few things wrong, too. Turns out that half of our preseason top 10 already have multiple losses, and no, Bryce Love probably isn’t going to win the Heisman Trophy (though he could still run for 900 yards against Oregon State’s defense on Nov. 10).
The point is, we put ourselves out there, and we do it strictly out of the goodness of our hearts. And the paychecks. Those help.
What would be the purpose of reaching the midseason reflection point without setting out a whole new list of truly bold and insightful predictions that will prove, once again, the innate genius of us scribes? Be sure to bookmark this so you can see how right we were when the season is over.
Alabama will be tested
Sure, the Tide have been heavy favorites each week and have won by an average of 39 points, which is the sixth-largest average margin of victory through seven games in the past 15 years. But of those five teams ahead of Alabama in this category, only one — the 2013 Florida State Seminoles — finished the year as champs. In fact, FSU was the only one of those teams to even close out the regular season undefeated. Easy wins don’t necessarily translate as the year progresses. Whether it’s LSU on Nov. 3 or Mississippi State or Auburn after that, someone is going to push Alabama, and history suggests there’s still a decent chance we don’t hit the postseason with a 13-0 Tide.
The SEC West, Big Ten East, Pac-12 North and ACC Atlantic all will win again
The SEC West has won eight of the past nine conference championships. The Big Ten East has won five straight. The Pac-12 North has won six of seven conference title games. The ACC Atlantic has won seven straight. They’ll all add to those numbers this time around with … let’s say, Alabama, Michigan, Washington and Clemson winning. All the chaos comes from the Big 12.
Nebraska will win a game
Sure, Scott Frost hit rock bottom three losses ago and then kept digging, but the important thing to remember is this can’t last forever. Minnesota, Bethune-Cookman and Illinois all represent potential wins for the Cornhuskers, and even this Nebraska team can’t squander that many chances.
Fairly bold predictions
Dwayne Haskins will win the Heisman
If the midpoint gives us a fairly clear picture of the playoff contenders, we tend to have a little worse track record predicting the Heisman. Tua Tagovailoa has been sensational so far, but he also has played limited second-half snaps, is currently battling an injury and lacks many marquee games to build a great Heisman narrative. Instead, Haskins can point to some big come-from-behind moments against TCU and Penn State and still has some huge matchups awaiting him. Moreover, he’s on the field a whole lot more to pad that résumé.
There will be fewer than a dozen coaching changes
We had our first coaching change this week, with Bowling Green firing Mike Jinks and promoting Carl Pelini in an interim capacity. (What could go wrong?) But this won’t turn unleash an avalanche of changes. Over the past three years, 66 coaches have been hired, which, in addition to ensuring security, also has translated into hefty buyouts that some other schools are now regretting (hello, Louisville and North Carolina). So whether it’s patience or finances or a simple lack of quality candidates out there to fill openings, we’re guessing this will be a relatively quiet spin on the coaching carousel. The last time fewer than a dozen jobs opened was 2015.
All four playoff teams are currently in the top 10
In the first four years of the College Football Playoff, 14 of the 16 teams to make it were ranked in the top nine at the season’s midpoint. The lone exceptions were the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes and the 2015 Oklahoma Sooners. So while there’s a path for a few teams outside the current top 10 — Kentucky, Oregon and NC State could get in by winning out — the truth is, we’ve already narrowed the likely contenders to a list of eight or nine.
Really bold predictions
Appalachian State will get the Group of 5 New Year’s Six bowl bid
We’d like to provide a good explanation for this to UCF fans, but they’ve already stopped reading to start working on their hate mail. So here are some fun facts: App State currently ranks sixth nationally in ESPN’s efficiency numbers, 23rd in Sagarin ratings and 11th in S&P+. In other words, the stats nerds love them. The Mountaineers will be heavy favorites the rest of the way, and they took Penn State to overtime in the opener. Soon enough, the voters will realize what they’re missing.
Notre Dame will lose, Michigan will get in
The Fighting Irish nearly lost to Pitt last week, which was a nightmare scenario for Notre Dame fans. Other potential stumbling blocks are still out there, with Northwestern, Florida State and Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium) all slated, before a road trip to a resurgent Southern California. Let’s say that Syracuse’s tempo perplexes the Irish defense and the Orange pull a stunner (we can’t wait for the Dino Babers victory speech), while Michigan wins out and takes the Big Ten crown. Sure, Michigan and Notre Dame both have a loss, and the Irish would have the head-to-head. But here’s betting the committee goes with the conference champ, pushing Notre Dame one step closer to joining a league, as well. You’re welcome, John Swofford.
Christian Wilkins will play QB
After Kelly Bryant left the program and Trevor Lawrence got hurt against Syracuse, the Clemson QB carousel became the subject of some fun speculation. The end result was receiver and 12th-year senior Hunter Renfrow getting into the Wake Forest game and completing a pass. All of this has riled Clemson’s star defensive tackle, with Wilkins insisting he can do the job better. It’s hard to argue. He has caught a pass; run with a fake punt; played fullback, defensive tackle and defensive end; and in the team’s spring game, even lined up at safety. If Dabo Swinney has any sense of justice (or humor), he gets Wilkins under center.