Time For a Little College Football Horn-Tootage

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. . . Very, very little. What I am here to celebrate about myself is a prediction that can’t exactly be described as risky. But hey, right(ish) is right(ish), right? Before the season, my pick for the College Football National Championship game was:

Clemson 27, Alabama 24.

And the reality?

Clemson 35, Alabama 31.

Not too shabby!

Of course, it didn’t exactly take Joe-Namath-before-Super-Bowl-III guts to predict the best two teams from 2015 would be the best again in 2016. (Though a 1 vs. 2 rematch had never happened before.) Still, as a wise man once said: He who eats much crow may also toot his own horn softly and sweetly into the dark night of the soul.

Here’s how one man (who is wrong about most things most of the time) broke it down:

For starters, my four-team playoff field prediction was Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State.

First off, Bama: Though they would be playing an inexperienced QB—Jalen Hurts hadn’t been elevated to the starting role at the time, but every QB on the roster was green—well, the Tide had managed that the last two years running. Plus, the SEC just ain’t what it used to be. I didn’t foresee any great threat to Bama in its conference, and there’s no way an undefeated or one-loss SEC champion would be left out of the playoff at this point. The SEC has banked too much respect, never mind that it was actually a pretty putrid collection of teams this year.

Then, Clemson: The biggest knock against the Tigers was how much they were losing on defense. But they lost a ton the year before, too, and that worked out OK. Having been born about twenty miles from Clemson, I might pay a bit more attention to the Tigers than most prognosticators, so I was confident the team would reload on defense without taking much of a dip, if any. Plus, they had Deshaun Watson. When it came to the championship rematch I’d envisioned, I figured he would be the difference vs. what turned out to be a promising but still raw Bama QB.

Again: not too shabby.

As for one team that didn’t make it to the championship game—and another that didn’t even make the playoff . . .

Ohio State: Like everyone else, I envisioned Ohio State and Michigan battling it out in the Big Ten East while Wisconsin made a little noise in the West. Much of the reasoning given by those who predicted the Buckeyes would fall back was the absurd number of players they lost to the draft after the 2015 season. However, it wasn’t as if those players were being replaced by guys who just stumbled onto campus. A backup five-star defensive end, for example, still plays ten or fifteen snaps a game. Plus, I thought J.T. Barrett, freed of the ludicrous QB histrionics of 2015, would have a great year. He didn’t, but Ohio State’s next line of elite recruits did live up to its billing. Michigan, to my mind, was still at least a year away from equaling the Buckeyes, talent-wise.

And now for a little crow-eating: I did not in any way foresee Penn State rising to the top of the Big Ten. I do think the Nittany Lions should have gotten into the playoff over the Buckeyes. Head-to-head results mean a lot to me. Sure, if the Lions had lost three or four games, it’s no contest. But even with two losses, I think their win over Ohio State should have put them in at the Buckeyes’ expense. (The CFP selection committee, for what it’s worth, wasn’t picking between Penn State and Ohio State. To them, the Buckeyes were always in, and Penn State was competing with Washington for the fourth slot. I just disagree with them there.)

Oklahoma: I figured the Sooners would lose to Ohio State (which they did) but otherwise take advantage of a weakened Big 12 field to make the playoff. TCU was due to take a step back, though I didn’t envision how far that step would be, and the smoldering wreckage of Baylor eliminated one other competitor. I was close on this one, but I didn’t anticipate Oklahoma losing to Houston, too. That opened the door for Washington. Before the season, I thought the Pac-12 would again be a good, tightly-packed set of teams with too much parity for one school to finish undefeated or with one loss. (As in 2015, when Stanford just missed the playoff.) But the Huskies proved me wrong.

So that’s what I thought about the 2016 season. Of course, I could be making this all up now, in hindsight. But I promise I’m not, mostly because that would be an incredibly stupid waste of time.

How about next season, though? Here’s my first pass on the four-team playoff in the wake of last night’s game: Alabama, Florida State, Penn State, USC. Another pretty safe set of teams.

I think Bama will be fine. They’ll reload as always and Jalen Hurts will have more experience. Plus, I don’t see the SEC being incredible next year—better than this year, certainly, and I don’t believe Alabama will go undefeated in conference again, but the SEC is still not going to be the juggernaut it once was. Bama should win the league.

Clemson will take a step back, but the machine Dabo Swinney has built there will keep them from cratering. Still, the loss of Deshaun Watson will hurt. I see the Tigers going 9-3, thus opening the door for FSU to retake the ACC throne. FSU and Bama, by the way, play at the beginning of next season. Whoever loses that game will have plenty of time to build up their resume, and the committee won’t ding either one of them for losing to another top five team so long as they take care of business elsewhere. I also think FSU will benefit from the halo-effect the ACC earned this year with its teams’ romp through the bowl games.

USC and Penn State are bandwagon picks, of course, coming off their incredible Rose Bowl.

In the Pac-12, Washington is losing a lot on defense, but the Huskies should still be pretty good. USC doesn’t play Washington in the regular season, so maybe both make it to the Pac-12 championship game with a shot at the playoffs. And I think USC has the edge there.

I’m sorely tempted to pick Oklahoma again instead of anyone from the Big Ten, because I think the Big Ten East might cannibalize itself next year. And maybe Ohio State should get the nod if I am going to go with the Big Ten champ. The Buckeyes got back to the playoff a year ahead of schedule; their real target was 2017. But I’m banking on Penn State continuing the improvement it showed in the second half of last season and taking the Big Ten, at which point its resume will trump that of any Big 12 champ, including Oklahoma.

As for a championship game prediction . . . oh, let’s say:

Alabama 34, USC 31.

(Prediction subject to change dramatically before the the beginning of next season, of course.)

(Also, it’s really easy to accidentally type “Peen State.” And then laugh like a twelve-year-old when you catch your mistake. Watch yourselves, friends.)

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