Have you missed me? My apologies for the extended absence from writing but now I have the first part of my medical boards behind me and I’m going to try my darnedest to provide some written content every week…at least until it’s time for the second set of boards. This week, since week one is already upon us, I’m going to jump right in with the weekly college football column I’ve done for the last few years: “Playoff Picture”. For those that either forgot or have never read before, each week I will fill in the New Year’s Six games based on how I would set them if the season ended that week. This week I will be using my preseason predictions for the New Year’s Six. So, without further ado, here is the very first “Playoff Picture” for the 2018-2019 college football season.
Cotton Bowl (#1 vs. #4): Alabama vs. Ohio State
I know what you’re thinking: “Surprise, surprise the Alabama fan takes the easy way out and picks his team to finish first.” This might be a homer pick, but when your team has made four straight playoffs it’s kind of hard to argue it’s not also a good pick. The Tide start off the season with one of their more lackluster openers in recent memory taking on a Lamar Jackson-less Louisville team that’s not ranked to start the season. A big problem the Cardinals are likely to face on Saturday night is that the weakest part of their team is probably the offensive line, which historically is a recipe for disaster against Alabama.
Ohio State has made the news a bunch over the last month for all the wrong reasons. I’m not going to delve too much into the Urban Meyer/Zach Smith situation here, but it has certainly made things rocky for the Buckeyes before they even take the field in the 2018 season. Meyer won’t be on the sidelines Saturday, as he’ll be serving the first of his three-game “love tap on the wrist”, but it honestly likely won’t even matter with Ohio State playing an Oregon State team who has been one of the worst Power Five teams over the last half-decade.
Orange Bowl (#2 vs. #3): Clemson vs. Washington
Dabo Swinney finally announced on Monday that Kelly Bryant will indeed be the starting quarterback to begin the season for the Clemson Tigers. This is probably the right call even if the uber-talented Trevor Lawrence is ready to play as a true freshman. Bryant went through his fair share of ups and downs last season, and ended the season on a really low note in a 24-6 loss to Alabama where the offense looked out-of-sorts the entire game. It won’t matter much this week who’s under center though with the Tigers taking on their “in-state FCS rival” Furman.
Who Washington plays at quarterback, and every other position, matters a great deal, though. The Huskies take on Auburn it what will probably end up being the most important game of opening weekend. Fortunately, Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin make up, arguably, the best quarterback-running back combo in the FCS, and they’ll need to play like it too if Washington has any shot of scoring on this nasty Auburn defense.
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
In my preseason rankings, Stanford and USC are neck-and-neck for the second spot in the Pac-12. Ultimately, Stanford gets the edge due to their returning production at quarterback and the return of Bryce Love who is one of the Heisman frontrunners heading into the season. The Cardinal will look to avenge last season’s loss to San Diego State tonight and get their season off to a decent start.
Wisconsin is coming off of one of its best seasons in school history. The Badgers went into the conference title game undefeated and were within a few minutes of taking home both the conference crown and a playoff bid. Alas, they ultimately fell short and went on to beat Miami in the Orange Bowl. Jonathan Taylor, another Heisman favorite running back, returns after the best rushing season a freshman has ever had in Madison, and Alex Hornibrook is back at quarterback, which means expectations should be (and are) high for Wisconsin. They should have an easy time this week taking on a Western Kentucky program that has taken two massive steps back over the last year.
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Rematches may bore some people, but if this game were to produce results anything like last year’s Rose Bowl thriller then I don’t think anyone would complain about watching this one again. Georgia comes into the season with high expectations after being within a few plays of winning a national championship last season. Jake Fromm is back under center, but the Dawgs are replacing a ton of production on defense and one of the best running back tandems in school history. Georgia is still the class of the SEC East, but I don’t see a playoff bid in my alma mater’s future this season. Georgia gets a tune-up to open things up this year with Austin Peay coming to town (the team not the person…he died 91 years ago).
Oklahoma has almost the opposite problem. The Sooners return several starters on both sides of the ball, including running backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon, however none of those players is 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. He’s taken his crotch-grabbing, tiger-posing act to Cleveland, where he looks like an altar boy compared to the last quarterback they drafted in the first round. Joey Freshwater will bring his Florida Atlantic Owls (and hopefully not his Trumpesque tweeting thumbs) to Norman this weekend for a game that might be a bigger test than you would think if you haven’t been paying attention. Freshwater had his boys playing as well as any Group of Five team in the country, other than UCF, at the end of last year and returns plenty of talent this year. Many “experts” even think FAU will be this year’s UCF.
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Penn State
Boise State is my pick to claim the de facto “Group of Five” title and snag the automatic berth. That means either an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl or the Peach Bowl, and I may not be the best geographer in the world but I know Arizona is closer to Idaho than Georgia. The Broncos are returning tons of production on both sides of the ball, and stand a really good chance of re-emerging as the preeminent Group of Five program. Boise State travels near my neck of the woods Saturday to open their season against the Troy Trojans.
Many people are down on Penn State heading into 2018, and not without reason. The Nittany Lions lost an all-world athlete and running back in Saquon Barkley, a reliable tight end in Mike Gesicki and their best deep threat in DaeSean Hamilton. They also play in the toughest division in college football with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan (with their newly anointed “Sheavior”) all vying for the Big Ten East crown. That being said, don’t write off Penn State just yet. Trace McSorley is back under center. James Franklin is still one of the ten best coaches in college football. And, this defense should be better than it was a year ago. Appalachian State will travel to Happy Valley where Penn State will hope to avoid a repeat of the last, or at least most memorable, time a ranked Big Ten team hosted Appalachian State on opening weekend.
Peach Bowl: Auburn vs. Miami
As an Alabama fan and Georgia grad, I take deep pleasure in how hard Auburn got shafted at the end of last season. The college football fates still haven’t made up for what they did to me in 2013 as far as I’m concerned. However, that doesn’t change the fact that up until the SEC championship game, Auburn was playing as good as anyone in the country. Furthermore, and more importantly, Jarrett Stidham was playing his best ball at the end of the year and if he carries that over into 2018 then Auburn is an instant national championship contender.
Miami and the “Turnover Chain” return to action Sunday night against a “ranked” LSU team that will ultimately go 5-7. Mark Richt and company will hope to build on last year’s season where they got off to a riproaring 10-0 start before crashing and burning to finish 10-3. A big reason for that nosedive was the inconsistency in quarterback Malik Rosier’s play. It was a big enough reason that Miami actually had a quarterback competition this spring, despite the fact that Rosier was a healthy returning starter. Rosier ultimately retained his job, but he will need to be a more reliable signalcaller this season if Miami is going to avoid a similar fate. The presence of stud receiver Ahmmon Richards should provide Rosier with plenty of help.
That’ll do it for week one. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below!
Cover Photo Courtesy of Examiner.com