2019-20 Season Predictions

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Conference Predictions

Power Five Schools
Conferences ACC Big 10 Big 12 Pac-12 SEC
Winner Clemson Michigan Oklahoma Washington Alabama
Sleeper Virginia Northwestern Iowa State Arizona State Auburn
Fade School Pittsburgh Indiana Kansas State USC Tennessee

Barring significant injuries to QBs Trevor Lawrence and/or Tua Tagovailoa, it seems like a given that Clemson and Alabama will collide in the College Football Playoff for a fifth straight season. Just how likely is it?

Consider this: There was a prop bet released early this summer in which bettors could take Alabama and Clemson vs. The Field to win the CFP. The odds opened as a pick ‘em (-115 either way). Within two weeks, the side of Clemson/Alabama had been bet so much that the price was driven up to nearly -200 (it’s -190 at DraftKings right now).

Therefore, you have two of my picks for the CFP in the Tigers and Crimson Tide. The third and fourth teams are likely the Big Ten and Big 12 champ, who are Oklahoma and Michigan for me.

But the Sooners and Wolverines are picks I make with plenty of hesitation. Texas and Ohio State could certainly unseat those schools, and there’s always that option of the second-best SEC team. LSU, Georgia and Florida might be in that conversation if they can finish 11-1, and they’d probably be more deserving of a CFP bid than a two-loss champ from the Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12.

I hate being chalky with predictions in August, but my brain tells me that Clemson beats Alabama in the CFP finals for the third time in four years.

The SEC West looks like a race between Alabama and LSU, but Auburn might factor into the equation if it gets quality quarterback play from freshmen signal callers Bo Nix and/or Joey Gatewood. Nix, a five-star recruit who is the son of Patrick who starred at AU in the mid-90s, has been named the starter for the opener vs. Oregon.

The Crimson Tide returns most of its explosive players from an offense that averaged 45.6 points per game, and let’s remember that Tagovailoa (43/6 TD-INT) didn’t take his first fourth-quarter snap of the season until Week 7 vs. Missouri.

Nick Saban’s team gets LSU in Tuscaloosa, so we’re comfortable calling that a Crimson Tide victory. We also feel good about ticketing ‘Bama for Atlanta unless Nix just rips it up. If he does, we’ll note that Auburn gets Georgia and Alabama on The Plains, and I think the Tigers have the nation’s best defensive line and one of the country’s top-five overall defenses.

As for the SEC East, it’ll come down to what happens in Jacksonville between Georgia and Florida. UGA’s defense won’t be as salty this year, and the WR position has inexperience and lots of question marks.

UF needs Feleipe Franks to play like he did in the last four games of 2018, when he threw eight TD passes without an interception and ran for four more scores. The Gators have their best group of WRs in a decade, but their offensive line could be an issue.

Washington isn’t getting much preseason love, which is probably based on just two starters returning on defense. Still, I feel that Chris Petersen remains one of the nation’s top-five coaches, and new QB Jacob Eason showed off an NFL arm and size when he started 13 games at Georgia as a true freshman in 2017.

I’m not overly confident in picking Michigan to take the Big 10 for the first time under Jim Harbaugh, but I do think Ohio State will fall off a decent amount. With the Wolverines catching the Buckeyes at The Big House, this is probably the year for Michigan to break through. And Ohio State is due some bad luck in close games after going 23-3 in one-possession contests under Urban Meyer (hat tip to Christopher Smith for that factoid).

There’s no need to even touch on the ACC because nobody is close to Clemson.

Watch out for Iowa State in the Big 12. Matt Campbell has done a sensational job. Nevertheless, Oklahoma is the safe play in this league.

Group of Five Schools
Winner Central Florida Florida International Ohio Boise State Appalachian State
Sleeper Tulane Middle Tennessee Eastern Michigan Hawaii Louisiana-Monroe
Fade School UConn UTSA Akron New Mexico Georgia State

If Scott Satterfield was still around, I might say that Appalachian State will be the best Group of Five team in 2019. However, you never know how a coaching transition is going to go, so I think UCF and Boise State are the teams most likely to play on New Year’s Day.

Memphis is going to have a great offense and it might be favored in all 12 of its regular-season games. A mid-November trip to Houston could be the exception. My only problem with the Tigers is their defense, and it’s a unit I can’t trust at all.

Jeff Tedford has done a sensational job at Fresno State, producing a 22-6 SU record and a 20-6-2 ATS mark. Except for a home loss to UNLV in 2017, the Bulldogs’ only defeats have been one-possession setbacks on the blue carpet at Boise State (17-14 and 24-17), a close loss at Minnesota (21-14) and losses at top-ranked Alabama and at sixth-ranked Washington.

However, Fresno State returns only eight starters. The Bulldogs lost 29 lettermen, including their star QB and WR, in addition to four of their top-five tacklers.

Season Win Total Best Bets

ACC – Virginia OVER 7.5 (-140)
Big Ten – Maryland OVER 4 (-15)
Big 12 – Iowa State OVER 8 (-115)
SEC – Tennessee Under 6.5 (+120)
Pac-12 – UCLA Under 6 (+110)

Tennessee is 2-15 in its last 17 games against Power Five foes. The Volunteers have already lost two defensive starters -- nose guard Emmit Gooden and nicklebacker Baylen Buchannan -- to season-ending injuries.

I'm not sold on Jeremy Pruitt at all. After a nice home win over Kentucky last season, Tennessee lost 50-17 at Missouri and 38-13 at Vanderbilt in two chances to clinch bowl eligibility.

UT's schedule doesn't do it any favors. Three opponents -- Mississippi State, UAB and Kentucky -- get two weeks to prep for UT when it has to play the previous week. Even if the Vols are 6-5 going into the regular-season finale, bettors will be able to hedge with a bet on Vandy as an underdog. The Commodores are currently seven-point 'dogs in Games of the Year, despite the fact that they have beaten UT by double-digit margins in three consecutive encounters.

Virginia is only a lock to be an underdog twice -- at Notre Dame and at Miami. The Cavaliers finished last season 8-5 SU, but they lost two games in overtime and by just four at Indiana. They get Liberty, Old Dominion and William & Mary at home for three layup victories.

Bronco Mendenhall has one of the ACC's top QBs in Bryce Perkins, who completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,680 yards with a 25/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018. Perkins also rushed for 1,189 yards (before subtracting sack yardage to bring his net rushing to 923 yards) and nine TDs.

UVA returns eight starters on a defense that allowed only 20.1 PPG last year. Don't be shocked if UVA makes its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

Maryland has one of the nation's most explosive RBs in sophomore Anthony McFarland, who garnered second-team All-B10 honors as a freshman when he ran for 1,034 yards and four TDs with a 7.9 YPC average. The Terrapins landed Va. Tech transfer QB Josh Jackson, who started 16 games for the Hokies in a two-year span. Jackson threw for 3,566 yards with a 25/10 TD-INT ratio. If he falters, there's back-up QB Tyrrell Pigrome, who is a dangerous runner that's started four games in the past two campaigns.

Maryland finished 5-7 last year, but it lost by two at Indiana and by one vs. Ohio State in overtime. The Terps had a 542-374 advantage in total offense against the Hoosiers, who were able to win thanks to a +3 turnover margin.

I have Mike Locksley's team capturing home wins over Howard and Indiana, in addition to a victory at Rutgers. With one game left to win for a push and two for a victory, we have these potential Ws: vs. Syracuse, at Temple, vs. Penn State, at Purdue, at Minnesota and vs. Nebraska.

The only guaranteed underdog spot for Iowa State is at Oklahoma on Nov. 9, and let's remember how Matt Campbell's squad won a 38-31 decision over the third-ranked Sooners in its last trip to Norman as a 31-point underdog.

There's a lot to like about the Cyclones, who bring back 16 starters (eight on each side of the ball) from a team that finished 8-5 after dropping a 28-26 decision to Washington State at the Alamo Bowl. Iowa State returns 10 of its top 13 tacklers from a defensive unit that gave up only 22.9 PPG.

In Phil Steele's preseason magazine, his Big 12 Unit Rankings have Iowa State at No. 1 on the defensive line and at the linebacker position. The Cyclones have the league's second-ranked special-teams units and are third on the offensive line.

As a true freshman last year, QB Brock Purdy completed 66.4 percent of his throws for 2,250 yards with a 16/7 TD-INT ratio. He also had 451 rushing yards and five TDs.

All three non-conference games are at home against Northern Iowa, Iowa and ULM. The Cyclones get two weeks to prepare for the Hawkeyes. They might be favored in four of five Big 12 road assignments -- at Baylor, at WVU, at Texas Tech and at Kansas State.

UCLA went 2-3 in one-possession games on its way to a dreadful 3-9 SU mark in Chip Kelly's debut campaign. In other words, it wasn't as if the Bruins were losing a slew of nail-biters and were a bounce or three away from going to a bowl game. No, they were awful. In fact, UCLA is 13-24 since the start of the 2016 season.

Kelly's second team brings back 19 starters. The burning question is whether or not that's a good or bad thing? The non-conference slate is brutal: at Cincinnati, vs. San Diego State and vs. Oklahoma. The Bearcats won by a 26-17 count at UCLA in last year's opener. The Aztecs, who have won at least 10 games in three of the past four seasons, are 4-1 in their past five games against Pac-12 competition since 2016.

I'll give UCLA home wins over Oregon State and Colorado, but it will have to play well to beat San Diego State and/or California in Pasadena. Maybe the Bruins win at Cincinnati, but they are underdogs. Their best possibility at another road win is at Arizona, but the Wildcats get two weeks to prepare and the Bruins are in Pullman the previous week. I'm not even sure UCLA wins five games.

Game of the Year Best Bets

ACC – Week 3 Virginia (Pick ‘em) over Florida State
Big 10 – Week 9, Michigan State -2.5 vs. Penn State
Big 12 – Week 14, Oklahoma State +10 vs. Oklahoma
Pac-12 – Week 8, Stanford -3 vs. UCLA
SEC – Week 4, Texas A&M -2.5 vs. Auburn

Michigan State has dominated Penn State in recent years, going 5-1 both straight up and against the spread in the past six head-to-head meetings. The Spartans are in the better spot here with two weeks to prep for the Nittany Lions, who will be playing their fifth game in five weeks and their third road assignments in five weeks. Even with five offensive starters out last year, Mark Dantonio’s team won outright at Beaver Stadium as a 13.5-point underdog.

Oklahoma State is 4-1 both SU and ATS as a home underdog since 2015. Unless Hawaii transfer Dru Brown wins the starting QB job, Mike Gundy will be going with a freshman in Spencer Sanders or Brendan Costello. Either way, I expect the Cowboys’ offense to be playing a lot better in November.

Whether it’s Bo Nix or Joey Gatewood (Nix has been named the Week 1 starter vs. Oregon), Auburn will have a freshman QB making his first career road start in front of 100,000 fans at Kyle Field. I like to fade teams in that sort of spot, and I also give the Aggies the head-coaching advantage here.