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Bold Predictions for the College Football Season

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (spots in Jim Harbaugh’s Head Coach for a Day rotating lottery sold separately in Ann Arbor):

(Previously: Get Ready to Leave These College Football Traditions Behind)


Welcome to Week 1. It’s time for The Dash to tell you how this season is going to go.


Game of the Year: LSU at Alabama, Nov. 4. Winner takes the SEC West, as usual.

Alabama vs. LSU is likely to decide the SEC West again.Scott Clause/USA TODAY Network

Coach under pressure: Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri. He’s had some huge recruiting coups that could continue to buy him some time, but a 17–19 record in three seasons isn’t justifying his $6 million salary for this year.

Leading man: Brock BowersGeorgia tight end. Forget the quarterbacks; this is the best football player in the conference.

Scene stealer: K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas quarterback. If the Razorbacks jump back up to nine wins after last year’s 7–6 dip, it will be on the arm and legs of Jefferson, the top returner in the league in total offense at 299 yards per game.

Candidate to be this year’s TCU: Texas A&M. All those blue-chip freshmen are now sophomores. If Bobby Petrino can fix the offense and improve the quarterback position, look out for the Aggies.

Overrated: Tennessee. Replacing a guy who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting (Hendon Hooker) probably won’t be that easy. Same with breakout receiving star Jalin Hyatt. Circle Sept. 16 in The Swamp as an early barometer on whether the Volunteers can replicate last year’s 11–2 season.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Hugh Freeze will win a game he shouldn’t and say something he shouldn’t.

Dash team guarantee: Florida will again beat Utah to open the year, and it again will be a false positive indicator for the season to come.

Champ: Georgia.

BIG TEN (12)

Game of the Year: Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 25. Unless it’s actually Michigan at Penn State on Nov. 11.

Coach under pressure: Tom Allen, Indiana. That 6–2 season in 2020 is looking more like a COVID-19 blip than a true sign of a program on the rise. Since then the Hoosiers are 6–18. Allen would be expensive to fire, though.

Leading man: Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State wide receiver. Might be farther ahead of the rest of his position than any other player in the country.

Harrison Jr. (18) is an early Heisman contender.Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

Scene stealer: Drew Allar, Penn State quarterback. If he delivers on a lot of hype and potential, the Nittany Lions could finally surpass Ohio State and Michigan, win the conference and advance to the College Football Playoff.

Candidate to be this year’s TCU: Wisconsin. Luke Fickell takes over the best program in the West Division and revamps the offense behind coordinator Phil Longo and SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai—and they still have Braelon Allen in the backfield.

Overrated: Iowa. This is somewhat by default, because there are five Big Ten teams ranked, and the other four look strong. Coach’s son/offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz (titles in that order) has some proving to do in what is very much a contract year.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Matt Rhule will have Nebraska looking so much more competent than at any point in the Scott Frost era that some overwrought Cornhuskers fan will get a tattoo of Rhule’s face on his calf a month into the year.

Dash team guarantee: When Iowa plays Iowa State on Sept. 9 in the Suspension and Dismissal Bowl, all bets are off.

Champ: Michigan.


Game of the Year: Florida State at Clemson, Sept. 23. These two teams have won 11 of the past 12 league titles, and once again the winner of this game should rule.

Coach under pressure: Jeff Hafley, Boston College. The Year 3 dip caught Hafley, just as it caught Steve Addazio and Frank Spaziani before him. Spaz kept sliding to 2–10 in his fourth and final season, while Addazio briefly righted the ship and hung around for four more years. We’ll see which way Hafley goes after winning three games in 2022—two of them by a point and one over Maine.

Leading man: Drake MayeNorth Carolina quarterback. If Caleb Williams isn’t the best player in America, Maye might be. His first season as a starter was epic, producing 5,000 yards total offense and 45 touchdowns.

The Tar Heels will go as far as future first-rounder Maye (left) takes them.Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

Scene stealer: Jordan Travis, Florida State quarterback. If the Seminoles have the kind of year they’re seemingly capable of, Travis will quickly shoot into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Candidate to be this year’s TCU: Miami fits the preseason mold, coming off a 5–7 year and being picked to finish fifth in the league. Mario Cristobal has two new coordinators, and DC Lance Guidry could be the stealth hire of the year.

Overrated: North Carolina. Unless the No. 21 Tar Heels have learned to tackle, they’re going to lose at least four games for the eighth straight season.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: A Louisville fan and horse owner will name a thoroughbred after Jeff Brohm when the Cardinals beat Kentucky.

Dash team guarantee: North Carolina State will lose at least one game in inexplicably excruciating fashion.

Champ: Florida State.

BIG 12 (14)

Game of the Year: Kansas State at Texas, Nov. 4. Can the Longhorns change the substance vs. sizzle labels attached to both programs?

Coach under pressure: Neal BrownWest Virginia. We got Feisty Neal at Big 12 media days, chafing at his Mountaineers being picked to finish last in the 14-team league. “Looking forward to proving everybody wrong on that front,” he said. “We won’t finish there.” The question is whether Brown will be around for the finish, since he enters the season on the hottest seat in the major conferences.

Brown starts 2023 on thin ice in Morgantown, W.V.Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Leading men: The QBs in the state of Kansas. Jalon Daniels of KU and Will Howard of K-State didn’t play full seasons in 2022, but when they were on the field they were outstanding. Give them 12 regular-season games to show what they can do, and it could be a banner season in the Sunflower State.

Scene stealer: Quinn Ewers, Texas. Arrived with more hype than the rest of the league’s QBs combined. Backed it up in flashes last year, cut the mullet in the offseason and by all accounts has put in the work to become a star.

Candidate to be this year’s TCU: Texas Tech. This is the trendy-wendy team in the league, perhaps with good reason. Six different programs have made the Big 12 title game in the past three seasons; Tech wants to be the league’s latest big riser.

Overrated: Oklahoma. There are very few programs of privilege that get to go from 6–7 one year to the preseason top 25 the next, and the Sooners are one of them. Brent Venables has plenty to prove after going 0–5 in one-score games in his first season as a head coach.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Scott Satterfield’s Cincinnati team will look great when you least expect it and terrible when you least expect it.

Dash team guarantee: Texas will be pronounced BACK before it has proven to be BACK. Though by season’s end the Longhorns might really be BACK.

Champ: Kansas State.

PAC-12 (15)

Game of the Year: Washington at USC, Nov. 4. First one to 50 wins and advances further into Playoff contention.

Coach under pressure: California coach Justin Wilcox is well regarded, but he’s also 30–36 in Berkeley and has had three straight losing seasons. His offenses have been, without exception, dismal.

Leading man: Caleb Williams, USC quarterback. You might have heard of him. If not, check the new Dr Pepper commercials when they start rolling out this week.

Scene stealer: Michael Penix, Washington quarterback. Who led the nation in passing yards per game last year? It wasn’t Williams. Penix averaged 357 yards through the air and has a flush receiving corps again this year.

Penix powers a Huskies squad looking to make a statement in its final year in the Pac-12.Daniel Dunn/USA TODAY Sports

Candidate to be this year’s TCU: Oregon State. Are you a Beaver believer? You should be. If Clemson transfer D.J. Uiagalelei regains his top form, this will be a beautifully balanced offense. The defense might not be as good as last year’s, but it should still be one of the best in the league.

Overrated: Oregon. The Ducks might be worthy of their No. 15 preseason ranking, but the competition in the league is stiff, and there is a tricky nonconference trip to Lubbock.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Kenny Dillingham will be gritting his teeth all season answering questions about the way his university trap-doored his debut season with a surprise self-imposed bowl ban.

Dash team guarantee: Colorado will be the most-watched bad team to start a season in a long, long time.

Champ: Oregon State.


Game of the Year: UTSA at Tulane, Nov. 25. For the second straight season, the road to the AAC title might well run through Yulman Stadium.

Coach under pressure: Mike Bloomgren is in Year 6 at Rice, and this significant upgrade in conference difficulty is probably not a welcome development.

Candidate to be this year’s 2021 Cincinnati: UTSA. Roadrunners have nailed the timing of their entry into the league, going 23–5 the past two seasons, retaining coach Jeff Traylor and seventh-year QB Frank Harris.

Harris (center) and UTSA are ready to make waves in Year 1 in the AAC.Mike Watters/USA TODAY Sports

Leading man: Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt. NFL scouts will be checking in regularly on Pratt, who was outstanding from October on last year as the Green Wave went 12–2 and won the Cotton Bowl.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Tom Herman will not make a public deal about the Florida Atlantic players’ urine.

Dash team guarantee: Navy will be better than its annual season-opening disaster performance. (This year: a 42–3 loss to Notre Dame that was not as close as the score.)

Champ: UTSA.


Game of the Year: Air Force at Boise State, Nov. 25. Fresno State might have something to say about this, however.

Coach under pressure: Danny Gonzales of New Mexico is 7–24 in three seasons and has won one of his last 15 MWC games. All ten losses last season were by double digits.

Candidate to be this year’s 2021 Cincinnati: Boise State found itself offensively last year after a 2–2 start, with redshirt freshman dual-threat quarterback Taylen Green emerging. The Broncos carry over most of their offensive talent and should still be solid defensively, with a big national splash opportunity in the opener against Washington.

Leading man: Green ran and passed for more than 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns despite three games of limited or no action in September. At 6’6″ and 220 pounds, he’s an intriguingly large prospect.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Barry Odom will have UNLV ready to play when Vanderbilt visits Vegas on Sept. 16. Odom was 3–1 against the Commodores as head coach at Missouri.

Dash team guarantee: Wyoming will lead the nonservice academy nation in games with single-digit pass completions. And the Cowboys will still have a winning record.

Champ: Boise State.


Game of the Year: South Alabama at Troy, Nov. 2. The Iron Bowl isn’t the only big game in the state of Alabama this year.

Coach under pressure: Shawn Clark, Appalachian State. There were some memorable highlights last year, but App’s 6–6 mark was its worst since 2012.

Candidate to be this year’s 2021 Cincinnati: Troy takes an 11-game winning streak into this season, with a returning starting quarterback and an 1,100-yard rusher. Second-year coach Jon Sumrall has jumped onto the radar of athletic directors who might be making a coaching change.

Leading man: Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall is back again, sticking with the Chanticleers through a coaching change. McCall is third in FBS history in career pass efficiency, trailing only Alabama stars Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.

McCall (10) is one of the most efficient passers in college football history.David Yeazell/USA TODAY Sports

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Coastal Carolina’s Tim Beck, who has been an assistant for Urban Meyer, Tom Herman, Mark Mangino and Bo Pelini, will be thrilled to finally not have an unstable genius for a boss.

Dash team guarantee: Coastal Carolina will again lead the nation in eye black.

Champ: Troy.


Game of the Year: Eastern Michigan at Toledo, Nov. 8. Wednesday night #MACtion in November; hope for sleet to complete the scene.

Coach under pressure: Mike Neu has had six losing seasons in seven years on the job at Ball State, with the exception being an eight-game COVID-19 blip in 2020. He also lost star running back Carson Steele to UCLA via the transfer portal.

Candidate to be this year’s 2021 Cincinnati: Toledo won the league last year despite a minus-8 turnover margin, which tells you how much better the Rockets were than their competition on a play-to-play basis. (Their three league losses were each by a touchdown, and Toledo was minus-10 turnovers in those games.)

Leading man: This would have been Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke before Saturday, when he sustained an undisclosed injury in an opening loss to San Diego State. It might not be serious, but Rourke has an injury history. So let’s go with Toledo QB DeQuan Finn, who has produced more than 5,500 yards total offense as a Rocket.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Kent State coach Kenni Burns is going to wonder what he got himself into taking over a program with zero returning starters on offense.

Dash team guarantee: Western Michigan will be sick of traveling after three straight September road games, at Syracuse, Iowa and Toledo. But then the Broncos have to go back out in October to Mississippi State, Ohio and Eastern Michigan, though not all in a row. WMU has seven road games this season.

Champ: Toledo.


Game of the Year: Liberty at Western Kentucky, Oct. 24. Huge matchup of random mascots, with the Liberty Flames represented by “Sparky,” an eagle, and WKU represented by “Big Red,” a blob.

Coach under pressure: Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill is in his 18th season as coach and is 65 years old. After this many seasons at a low-major program, there’s pressure just to get out of bed every day.

Candidate to be this year’s 2021 Cincinnati: Western Kentucky should have one of the more explosive offenses in the country. And, hey, if the Hilltoppers truly want to shock the world and put themselves on even the periphery of the Playoff picture, they’re at Ohio State on Sept. 16.

Leading man: Malachi Corley, WKU wide receiver. NFL scouts dig the speedster who caught 101 passes for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns while forming a dynamic duo with quarterback Austin Reed.

Dash first-year coach guarantee: Jamey Chadwell will run some excellent option stuff at Liberty, though he probably won’t regrow his Coastal Carolina mullet.

Dash team guarantee: Former Power 5 head coaches Rich Rodriguez (Jacksonville State), Jerry Kill (New Mexico State), Dana Dimel (UTEP) and Mike MacIntyre (Florida International) will wonder what the hell they’re doing here at varying points in the season.

Champ: Western Kentucky.


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