One of the best parts of the offseason is trying to peg what will work for the upcoming year. Okay, that entire first sentence is a lie. There is no best part of the offseason. And looking forward is all we can do just to kill the pain of not having any football in our lives for, like, a billion days (rough estimate). Nonetheless, we do what we must to carry on.
In an effort to at least quell part of the offseason blues, here’s a gander at whom we feel will be the top five teams in each of the Power 5 conferences. In other words: at the end of next season, after all is said and done, this is how the upper echelon of the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12 and SEC will look. Enjoy the college football predictions for next season – and please sound off in the comments with any agreements, disagreements, observations we may have missed, or your picks.
College Football Predictions For 2015
- FSU – Ranked up top until somebody takes the strap. Jameis Winston, Nick O’Leary and P.J. Williams might all be gone, but Jimbo Fisher is now in the business of reloading rather than rebuilding. With a solid backfield and a ridiculously talented receiving corps, whomever ends up as starting quarterback will have to do little more than “manage the game.”
- Clemson – A trendy pick to win the ACC, we’ve knocked Clemson down a peg until “Clemsoning” ceases to exist. Deshaun Watson is a dark horse Heisman candidate, and Dabo Swinney has a bevy of Talent in Death Valley – the Tigers just need to show up in the big games.
- Louisville – Bobby Petrino might just be the conference’s best coach outside of Jimbo Fisher. In Year One of his return to Louisville, the Cardinals came within a whisper of both defeating the national champions and hitting 10 wins. There’s little reason to think the Cards will backslide in 2015.
- Miami – This one really hinges on if Brad Kaaya makes the leap that everyone projects. Beyond that, the Hurricanes are playing for Coach Al Golden’s job. There will likely be a watershed moment during the season where Miami faces adversity (likely in a rugged October stretch) and must dig deep. Look for that moment as to whether the ‘Canes rise, or if they permanently check out and tell Golden, “bye Felicia.”
- Duke – It was a toss-up between Duke and Georgia Tech, but since Paul Johnson’s teams tend to ride a roller coaster, we’re going to say the Jackets take a step back in 2015. Outside of FSU, Duke has been the conference’s most consistent team over the past two seasons. David Cutcliffe seems to have found the magic elixir in Durham.
- TCU – After getting boxed out of the College Football Playoffs in 2014, the Horned Frogs look primed to zoom to the final four this time around. Trevone Boykin is a legitimate Heisman candidate, and TCU’s schedule is exceedingly favorable. Without any real competition until November, they should roll through the majority of the season. Really, the year comes down to the final two games: Oklahoma and Baylor.
- Oklahoma – Whenever Bob Stoops has failed to reach double-digit wins in a season, his team responded the next year by winning, at least, the conference title. Oklahoma went 8-5 last year …
- Baylor – Baylor is a trendy pick, alongside TCU, to take the Big 12. Their schedule is favorable up until November. A three-game set against Oklahoma, OK State and TCU will tell the world all it needs to know about Baylor. Art Briles will be taking out all his aggressions with an American aggression unseen since 1776, so anything is possible for the Waco Bears.
- Oklahoma State – State was down last year, but there’s little reason to believe dancing Mike Gundy and crew won’t be back. An easy early-season slate should have the Cowboys teed up for a top-five Big 12 finish, even if they stumble down the stretch.
- Texas – Year Two is when Charlie Strong made his push at Louisville. It’s also when he’ll do it at Texas. The first season was filled with changing a culture that became a bit stale under Mack Brown. Now with his discipline in place, coupled with a solid core group of recruits, Texas will be much more competitive and position itself for a run at the conference in 2015.
- Ohio State – Urban Meyer, Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones, Joey Bosa, J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller. All are returning. They’re the champs and look primed to roll over the entire country, not just the Big Ten.
- Michigan State – Here’s something to consider for Michigan State: Mark Dantonio has never been a head coach without Pat Narduzzi on his staff. The 2015 season will be his first. After only collecting three losses in the past two seasons, there’s little reason to go against Sparty, but the loss of Narduzzi to Pitt is something to monitor.
- Penn State – James Franklin is one of the game’s top young football minds. After a decent first year at Penn State, the Nittany Lions should be primed to make some noise. An easy schedule and some coaching shake-ups around the league will help the cause. This has all the makings of a team that wins a few close games and whose record may be a little better than it really is.
- Wisconsin – Paul Chryst is a Wisconsin guy through and through. He’ll likely end the turns dial that has become the Badgers’ coaching job in recent seasons. However, he’s never won more than seven games in a year. Wisconsin isn’t going to be terrible (especially in a relatively soft conference), but losing Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon and having staff turnover will have an affect.
- Nebraska – Is Mike Riley a step up from Bo Pelini? Can he suck all the talent out of Nebraska like his predecessor? Will the Cornhuskers win more than nine games? We’ll see – but at least the administration will be happier.
- Oregon – No reason to see Oregon taking a step back. They just signed the offseason’s biggest transfer, Vernon Adams, who could make a stab at the stiff arm. The Ducks are still fully loaded, and are so unconventional that it’s likely another race for second in the Pac-12.
- UCLA – Jim Mora is doing big boy things down in Westwood. After landing yet another monster recruiting class, UCLA looks to be in the running for not just a conference title, but possibly a national championship. Outside of road games at Stanford and Arizona, scheduling lines up nicely for the Bruins.
- USC – Everything that can be said for Mora at UCLA can also be used for Steve Sarkisian at USC. The Trojans are finally off probation, have a solid recruiting class (including stud Iman Marshall), are flush with talent and are coming off a hearty 2014 campaign. One thing going against the Men of Troy is a difficult schedule – road contests against Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon make for a tough slate.
- Stanford – The Pac-12 North is so thin that it’ll be hard for Stanford not to play well. David Shaw’s squad had a rare down year last season (you know you’re program is doing well when 8-5 equals a letdown), but should be poised to bounce back. Should they be able to beat Oregon, it
- Arizona – Some may argue that Arizona should be higher on the list (maybe up as far as No. 2), but a number of close games last season have ‘Cats looking like a team that’ll take a step back. Their spread is still favorable for the conference, which bodes well for Rich Rod and crew. However, a stacked division and a few bad bounces knock Arizona down a notch from last year.
- Alabama – Nick Saban is the nation’s best coach; Lane Kiffin is the conference’s best offensive coordinator; and Kirby Smart is arguably the league’s best defensive coordinator. The Tide have taken an offseason hit in their running back core, but are still loaded across the board. Last season the Tide appeared to have finally figured out how to control the spread offenses that have given them trouble. This team figures to once again compete for a national title.
- Missouri – The two-time defending SEC East champs have the easiest schedule of any team in the conference. A light SEC East, soft non-conference and relatively easy cross-divisional games make the Tigers a shoe-in to frolic through the league. Beyond that, Missouri has played consistent ball over the past two years while pumping out talent on both sides of the ball.
- LSU – If LSU can figure out it’s quarterback situation, look out. Leonard Fournette has Heisman candidate written all over himself; Malachai Dupre is the next Odell Beckham; and the Tigers’ defense should be revitalized under new DC Kevin Steele. In a three-horse SEC West, LSU could take the cake.
- Auburn – Speaking of three-horse races, here’s numero tres. If Will Muschamp can fold his defensive identity into Gus Malzahn’s offensive scheme, then look out nation. The only reason Auburn is ranked at No. 4 is due to the early feeling out period. Muschamp tends to favor time of possession games, not tempo, so the first year might be a feeling out process. However, once GusChamp has a mind-meld it’s on like Donkey Kong.
- Georgia – Defense and running the ball. Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive unit is going to be stout, and it will keep the Dawgs in every game. Beyond that, Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall and Sony Michel will all be able to control the ball. Playing Auburn and Alabama will be a bear, but Georgia should fare well in a mild division still looking to get its legs.