The biggest surprise in college football this season will be …
Jeff Feyerer @JeffFeyerer, CFN
The rejuvenated Big Ten West
Since the Big Ten moved to the geographical divisions, the West has always been the lowly understudy to their high-powered brethren in the East. Not anymore.
Wisconsin has the best offensive weapons it’s had, maybe ever, and Iowa is going to Iowa, especially if Nate Stanley can keep up his record setting TD pace.
Arrows are pointing up for the Scott Frost-led Huskers and PJ Fleck-led Gophers, who return a ton from last year and who played better than their records indicated in 2018.
Northwestern now has the best quarterback it has ever had in the program in Hunter Johnson, along with a Coach Fitz-type in Paddy Fisher leading the defense. Jeff Brohm and Rondale Moore have created an electric offense at Purdue. Even Lovie and the boys at Illinois … have a new locker room? Expect this to be the most talented West Division we’ve seen.
Pete Fiutak @PeteFiutak, CFN
Minnesota. I’m just not 100% convinced enough with that gnawing feeling that Clemson is going to lose two games and miss out on the College Football Playoff – Texas A&M game and one other misfire – but I really do believe that the battle between Minnesota and Wisconsin in the Paul Bunyan Axe game will be for the Big Ten West.
Everyone loves Nebraska, Purdue is a fun story, and Wisconsin is actually the best team in the division – with a BRUTAL schedule. The Gophers will have a few weird misfires – like the blowout loss to Illinois last year – but they’ll also be rock-solid offensively with enough efficiency and effectiveness to be deep in the West hunt until the end.
LSU. It’s higher ranked now, but it’ll still be just good enough to make a major push for the SEC title.
Nick Saban will retire after winning another national title. He’s getting increasingly grumpy – even for him – in his advanced age, and he’ll want to enjoy the rest of his days not yelling at reporters. There will really be nothing left to prove after he gets his revenge on Clemson in the national championship game.
Iowa finds itself on the verge of a College Football Playoff berth, but a loss to Michigan in the regular season – and again in the Big Ten Championship game – relegates it to a New Years Six bowl.
The Hawkeyes have solid returning experience on both sides of the ball, an incredible defense and Kirk Ferentz gets them close about every 4-5 years. This is that year. Honorable mention to a Maryland team that has long been on the verge, but has had extenuating circumstances keeping it from succeeding the past two years.
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Miami. People are sleeping on The U, and perhaps rightfully so. The end of the Mark Richt era was a disaster, but they’re loaded with talent and Manny Diaz has totally flipped the vibe in and around the program. I think they lose a de-facto playoff game to Clemson in the ACC title game, but finish top ten-ish.
Jeremy Mauss @MWCWire,MWwire.com
Utah will go 13-0 and make the College Football Playoff. If the Utes are going to make a run at a bid, this is their best chance. They have a senior QB in Tyler Huntley, potential top-100 NFL Draft pick in RB Zack Moss, and head coach Kyle Whittingham – who always has an elite defense – has called his defensive line his best ever.
Nebraska. The hype around the Huskers is off-the-charts, and it’ll be right – they’ll win the West and play Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Beside Alabama missing the College Football Playoff? The Texas Longhorns. Despite losing 14 starters, including eight on defense, Tom Herman’s crew will dethrone the Sooners in the Big 12 and get into the final four.
Michigan State will take the Big Ten East. There will be an offense to go along with another amazing year from that D.
Chip Kelly’s UCLA offense started to click late in the season … it’ll rise up and beat Oklahoma in September en route to winning the Pac-12 South
Nebraska should finally get back in gear this year. The Huskers were 4-8 last season in Scott Frost’s first year going through some growing pains. Adrian Martinez will be amazing, and the recruiting classes will start to kick in.
Mack Brown takes North Carolina from 2-9 to 8-4.
Temple. Temple has the QB talent and surrounding cast to get to ten wins and maybe more. Anthony Russo will be a breakout player with a new coach and a returning lineup that was, for the most part, competitive last year. Now they can win those games they lost a year ago.