Let us start with the local teams.
<strong>Utah State Aggies:</strong> An impressive set of skill players will only go as far as the offensive line takes them. The defense has the potential to be good, not great. As any lifelong Aggies can attest to, it is safer to be pessimistic until proof to the contrary manifests itself.
The fixed rotating Mountain West schedule sticks it to the Aggies in 2016. No Hawaii, UNLV or San Jose State…who are all terrible. Assuming they go 2-2 out of conference, 6-2 in the Mountain West is optimistic and 4-4 in cynical. 5-3 seems about right. Call it a 7-5 season and another 3rd-tier bowl where the team buses are parking behind the end zone.
<strong>Utah Utes:</strong> Have trouble sleeping? I got the cure. Ute football! Too much is lost from an offense that really wasn’t that eye-popping last year. Transfer QB Troy Williams cannot carry the load.
The pundits are being kind to the Utes. I see this team relying heavily on their defense all year. The Pac-12 rotating schedule gives them a break with playing walkovers Oregon State and Cal. I see a 7-5 record and a humiliating loss to BYU coming their way.
<strong>BYU Cougars:</strong> An embarrassment of riches on offense could make watching BYU football fun for the first time in over two decades. Switching to a 4-3 defense will embolden an experienced secondary that has a high shut down potential.
I can make a strong argument for BYU going 11-1. If their front 7 on defense steps up, they can beat any team on their schedule not named Michigan State. But I am not sure that is going to happen. Another brutal independent road schedule will put Cougars at 9-3.
And now we will look at the Mountain West and the five powerhouse conferences.
<strong>Mountain West:</strong> As mentioned above, Utah State gets the shaft with inter-division scheduling. Both Boise State and Air Force get to feed on the cupcakes from the other division. I predict the Falcons upsetting the Broncos when they play the last week of the season to take the Mountain Division.
It won’t matter. San Diego State will romp in the championship game. The Aztecs should go undefeated in conference play. They are a legitimate contender for the “Group of Five” bid for the “New Year’s Six” bowl games.
<strong>Big XII:</strong> This conference oozes drama from every pore. A down year for the conference should open the door for a dark horse to shock the world. Oklahoma State and Texas both have the potential to pass Baylor and TCU in a power shift.
Oklahoma will be the best team in this league’s compelling 9 game round robin format. The big problem for the Sooners is having Houston and Ohio State early. That will kill off this league from getting into the College Football Playoff, but it will prep Oklahoma for a dominating run to the conference championship.
<strong>Pac-12:</strong> The South Division should be an L.A. duel. USC is actually under the radar this year. Talent is trumping controversy. That is why I pick the Trojans to edge out UCLA.
In the north, Stanford is a huge favorite for the division and the conference. Nerd Nation should lower expectations. The Cardinal have a sadistic road schedule. I am going with an out-of-nowhere-this-boy-is-smoking-something dark horse.
Washington State. Lead by former Logan Grizz QB Luke Falk, Wazzu is going to light up scoreboards. They do have to go to Palo Alto; but, they nearly beat Stanford last year. And even if they drop that game, the Cardinal may fall twice in the conference.
Wazzu over USC for the Pac-12 Championship. Madness.
<strong>ACC:</strong> I am not buying into North Carolina, Louisville and Pitt having great teams. This league is Clemson, Florida State and a buffet of blech. When you consider that the Tigers and the Seminoles start the year off-campus versus SEC teams, a case can be made that the ACC could be irrelevant before the NFL kicks off.
The winner of these two powerhouses on October 29th in Tallahassee will take the conference. The ‘Noles are overrated. Give this pathetically unbalanced league to Clemson.
<strong>Big Ten:</strong> The West Division is truly awful. Iowa lost some key players, but I am not sure Nebraska or Wisconsin can accelerate their rebuilding plans enough to beat the Hawkeyes out this year. Minnesota? Northwestern? Sheep to the slaughter.
It is going to come down to the “Big 3” in the east. Michigan is sensational, but they have to travel to Michigan State and Ohio State. That has not fared well for the Wolverines in recent history. Michigan State’s defense is as good as you can find. Can Sparty score points? Do they need to?
Ohio State? Urban Meyer is so good at recruiting that he can easily replace a busload of NFL draft picks with a group of guys that will be a busload of NFL draft picks three years from now. The Buckeyes will be an overwhelming favorite to win the National Championship…next year.
I see Michigan overcoming ominous road trips to East Lansing and Columbus and taking the conference.
<strong>SEC:</strong> In the east, it is time for glory to return to Rocky Top. The fact that Tennessee has to play Alabama and Texas A&M inter-division whilst Georgia gets to feast on Mizzou and Auburn is just flat out unfair.
In the west, it is Alabama and LSU. They play each other in Baton Rouge on November 5th. I just think the Tide are a shade better than the Bayou Bengals. A&M and Ole Miss have exceptional teams, but not good enough. ‘Bama whips up on UGA to win the best league in college football.
<strong>Heisman Trophy:</strong> Leonard Fournette from LSU. Next.
<strong>Who will win?</strong> No one team in the five power conferences has a clear path to an undefeated season. Iowa has the easiest road, and they ain’t making it. But the Big Ten is nearly a lock for an invite. I know Michigan has to play Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road within a five week span…but I am drinking a Big Gulp of maize and blue Kool-aid and predicting the Wolverines to make it.
If Clemson loses at Auburn on the opening weekend, they can run the table and still be in a great spot. Given one of those games would be a road win against Florida State it is easy to see that the Tigers will make it.
If any conference can get an invitation with a two loss team, it is the SEC. That is more slack than is needed. Alabama will roll into the Playoff. Book it.
Who will be the fourth team? If any school from the Big XII or Pac-12 is undefeated, they go. I looked at every squad in both conferences and cannot make a case for any of them going the season unscathed. Pass.
The so-called “Group of 5” conferences? Houston has an excellent chance to make it if they beat up on Oklahoma in the opener. There are so many obstacles for a team outside of the “Power 5” that even a great team like Houston seems to have the system rigged against them. And I do not think either San Diego State or Cincinnati have the clout to get in if they run their tables.
Notre Dame? Maybe. They are really talented. Half their schedule are patsies and the other half are top shelf teams. I say they drop two games.
That leaves the SEC. I think LSU will earn enough respect for beating up on everyone but Alabama. They get a spot in the Playoff.
Alabama, LSU, Clemson and Michigan. And the winner is…
Roll, Tide, roll!