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College Football Week One: Thoughts, Heisman Prediction and Playoff Projection

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Texas isn’t back; Notre Dame has a path; The PAC-12 needs to get lucky

Alabama looked unstoppable, and Notre Dame picked up a big victory. Before turning to that, we’ll start with the PAC-12, where the league looks destined to miss the playoff for the third time.

PAC-12:

Auburn knocked off Washington, 21-16. The Huskies were close, and they made a few untimely mistakes.

Washington’s problem is that the Huskies—almost assuredly the best team in the PAC-12—now need to go 12-0 to make the playoff. A two loss team hasn’t made the playoff, and with how bad that league is, this team won’t be the first.

USC struggled early with UNLV. Bryce Love was bottled up by UNLV, finishing with just 1.6 yards per carry.

The PAC-12 playoff optimist would say the league is bad enough that the Huskies can run the table. Maybe they can. I wouldn’t count on it. Nearly everyone loses at least once in that many games.

SEC:

As bad as week one went for the PAC-12, the SEC had a fantastic day. The league went 12-1 (LSU plays tonight) and has three teams that look like legitimate playoff contenders.

Tua Tagovailoa won the starring job and was insane. He finished with a QBR of 99.1 and an average of 14.2 yards per attempt. He also made this play in Alabama’s 51-14 win over Louisville:

The rest of the SEC rolled. If there’s any worry for the league it’s that the top 12 looks pretty good. Someone in the middle of the league might knock Auburn or Georgia out of the playoff. But with how good Georgia looked last year, and with Auburn picking up a giant non-conference win, those teams have a shot at making the field with two losses.

Big 12:

The Big 12 looks like a league with a legitimate top and a catastrophic bottom. After week one, the bottom may involve more than Kansas.

Texas led the day with a loss to Maryland. The game was delayed by lightning, and the idea of Texas being back is gone for at least one more season. Sam Ehlinger couldn’t make plays late, and he’s not the kind of quarterback to lead a team back from a 17-0 deficit. I made a chart for anyone wondering about Texas being back:

Texas wasn’t the only team to feel like the dumpster fire burns bright. Texas Tech couldn’t stop Ole Miss, falling 47-27 in Houston. Kansas State trailed South Dakota 24-12 in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats avoided overtime when a South Dakota field goal attempt bounced off the goalpost. Neither quarterback played well.

Then there’s Kansas. The Jayhawks are now 2-2 against FCS teams in the David Beaty era. They lost at home to Nicholls State in overtime. The Jayhawks travel to Central Michigan and play Rutgers before the Big 12 opener in Waco. I’d be shocked if David Beaty is still the Jayhawks coach after the Baylor game. He may not even make it to that game. He’s now 3-34 in three seasons at the helm.

As bad as the bottom of the league played, Oklahoma looks like they’re still here. The Sooners blitzed Florida Atlantic. And most importantly, Kyler Murray looked like the man Texas and Texas A&M once fought so hard to make the future:

West Virginia picked up a big victory against Tennessee. Will Grier threw for 429 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-14 mauling of the Volunteers. If he stays healthy and the Mountaineers can get to 10 wins, he should be in New York.

The Big 12 survived the championship game rematch last season. They may not this year. TCU rolled a bad team. They’re definitely a top 20 team. A one loss Big 12 champion should make the playoff (though never forget the 2014 debacle). After yesterday, the league has a decent chance for that to happen during the regular season. Hopefully a two or three loss team doesn’t win the title game.

Big Ten:

The league didn’t have the best week. Michigan State was pushed by Utah State, escaping with a 38-31 victory. Penn State needed overtime to beat Appalachian State at home. Winning is all that matters in college football, but margin of victory is a good predictor of future success.

At least those teams won. Michigan did not. Jim Harbaugh has not beaten a ranked opponent on the road. Notre Dame won 24-17. Shea Patterson was supposed to be the answer at quarterback for Michigan. He finished with a QBR of 32.4 and zero touchdowns. The Wolverines need to get better fast.

Wisconsin and Ohio State took care of business. The Badgers returned every starting offensive lineman from a unit where everyone ranked in Pro Football Focus’ top 60 lineman rankings. Ohio State’s offense didn’t miss Urban Meyer or J.T. Barrett; they put up 77 points on Oregon State.

After missing the playoff last season, the Big Ten would be fine with just getting a playoff team this year, regardless of how the rest of the league does. Ohio State is the top team in S&P+ and Wisconsin went 12-0 last season. I’d be surprised if one of those teams didn’t make the playoff.

ACC:

Clemson has the easiest path to the playoff. The Tigers return a starting defensive line that is the best position group in college football. They added the nation’s top quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. And their schedule is pretty favorable (at Florida State is their only ranked opponent) in an ACC that doesn’t have anyone close to their level, outside of maybe Miami. Lawrence split duties with returning quarterback Kelly Bryant. But Lawrence threw three touchdown passes. He’ll likely win the job sometime this season:

Miami plays LSU at 6:30 tonight. That one airs on ABC. Florida State plays at 7:00 on Monday against Virginia Tech. We’ll know after those two games if anyone has a shot at the Tigers.

Other relevant games:

Notre Dame always looms as a playoff spoiler. They exist outside the power five structure. They’ve lost at least one game—outside that brutal 4-8 season—they shouldn’t since the playoff era. The Irish play four more ranked teams: Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC. Florida State might be the only one ranked by the end of the season. Their next three games are Ball State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forrest. Expect to hear about the Irish crashing the playoff through at least October.

UCF was awesome in their first game under Josh Heupel. Unfortunately with North Carolina as their only power five opponent, an undefeated UCF will need 2007 level chaos to make the playoff.

Houston pulled away from Rice in the second half. Ed Oliver had 13 tackles. With a bobble head as nice as his game, Oliver has a good shot at finishing 4th in the Heisman vote. He’ll need to get several offensive touchdowns to have a chance to win an award that goes to a quarterback or Alabama’s best running back.

Heisman Prediction:

Both the Heisman and playoff predictions are future predictions. I’m not saying who would win the award or be in the playoff if either group voted after one game.

1) Tua Tagovailoa- Alabama and Clemson are the two best teams. Tagovailoa will have plenty of Heisman moments. Vegas listed him as the 4/1 favorite before the season. That looks like a prescient call.

2) Kyler Murray- Grier may have better statistics, but Murray has the advantage of playing in the middle of the country. Heisman voting can often be regional. He also plays for the Big 12’s best team. Add in the baseball stories, and he’ll have positive press all season. Being good and having those kind of advantages matters.

3) Jake Fromm- Georgia’s defense is so good that Fromm may not be able to put up giant stats against weaker competition. He was my preseason pick, and luckily, I overreact and abandon my early picks quickly!

4) Ed Oliver- He’s the best player in college football. He’ll have a better NFL career than anyone above him. But he plays defense and for Houston. That’s not a Heisman winning combo.

Playoff Prediction:

1) Clemson- Fantastic team and easy schedule. They’re easily the most likely team to make the field.

2) Wisconsin- Their schedule is much tougher this season. But they avoid Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan and Penn State didn’t inspire anyone in week one.

3) Alabama- The Tide have to play LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn in three out of four weeks to end the season. If they win the SEC West, they’d then likely face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. That’s a tough stretch to go undefeated. But a one loss Alabama will make the playoff.

4) Georgia- Auburn is their only ranked regular season opponent. If they beat the Tigers, a competitive SEC title loss would be very likely to put them in the field.