The college football season officially starts tonight when Abilene Christian and Georgia State kick off. It’s a game no one would normally care about, but since we’re a football-starved nation, curious eyes will tune in to ESPNU.
The “real” season begins Thursday with a full lineup of impact games. Texas A&M-South Carolina, Boise State-Ole Miss and Rutgers-Washington State should draw the most interest. Saturday is full of even more intrigue, as half the top 15 plays in a marquee matchup.
I won’t try to predict the winners and losers of Week 1. Instead, I’ll fast-forward to January and forecast the entire season.
Here are my Big Ten, Indiana and inaugural College Football Playoff predictions sure to go wrong.
1. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
6. Penn State
Michigan State over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game
Braxton Miller’s injury, combined with an inexperienced offensive line, will be too much for Ohio State to overcome, paving the way for Michigan State’s second consecutive conference title.
The Spartans defeat Iowa, who develops into the Big Ten darling, in the conference championship game. But an early season blowout loss at Oregon keeps Michigan State out of the playoff.
Indiana: 7-5 (4-4)
Brian Knorr’s scheme works wonders for Indiana, as an improved defense leads the Hoosiers back to a bowl. With Miller out at Ohio State, Nate Sudfeld, Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman form the most exciting offense in the Big Ten.
A three-game September stretch will make or break the Hoosiers’ season -- at Bowling Green, at Missouri, Maryland. If Indiana wins two of three, a winning season becomes much easier with two months left in the season.
Indiana’s non-conference slate is Indiana State, Bowling Green, Missouri and North Texas. Indiana State and North Texas should be W's, so if IU can win at Bowling Green or Missouri, it only takes a 3-5 conference record to reach bowl eligibility.
Obviously, the Hoosiers have bigger goals than just getting to a bowl game. But placed in a division with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, they should be happy with another improvement on the previous season’s win total.
College Football Playoff: UCLA, Oregon, South Carolina, Oklahoma
National Champion: UCLA
I’m all-in on UCLA. The Bruins are the total package on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the top signal callers in the nation and head coach Jim Mora is vastly underrated.
A tough schedule will benefit UCLA as the season progresses. The PAC-12 is poised to supplant the mighty SEC as college football’s best conference. It will come to fruition when two teams from the West Coast appear in the inaugural playoff.