January 1 may be the most logical day for predictions but in football, today's kickoff of the D-I season serves as the New Year holiday.
As such, here are my five bold predictions for the 2014 season of college and pro football and the impact they'll have on the 2015 NFL Draft. And by bold, I mean bold. Surprising Heisman winner? Check. Breakout NFL prospects? You know it. Improbable national title and Super Bowl predictions? Yep, got those too.
Disagree with them? Fine, that's the nature of the article. But rather than just gripe about my predictions, show us your own prognostication skills in the comments section... and most importantly, enjoy ... football is finally here.
5. The Oakland Raiders will 'earn' the No. 1 overall pick
Projecting the Raiders to finish last in the NFL really comes down to two factors -- quarterback Matt Schaub and the fact that Oakland's schedule projects as the league's most difficult this season. Regardless of whether it's due to his recent elbow injury or simply losing velocity with age, Schaub has not shown ideal arm strength for out-breaking and vertical throws - staples in any NFL offense. I remain a big fan of rookie Derek Carr's arm but throwing him into the fire with few playmakers at receiver and behind a suspect offensive line could result in the same beating that stunted his older brother's growth in Houston. I like some of the other veteran additions that GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen brought to town but not enough to keep up with their AFC West, AFC East and NFC West opponents this season. What might the Raiders do if they indeed "earn" the first overall pick? Fellow NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler and I addressed that very question here.
4. Running backs return to first round
Much has been made of the fact that no running backs were selected in the first round of the past two NFL drafts. Their absence deserves noting as prior to 2013, at least one back had annually been selected in the opening stanza since the Kennedy administration. The NFL's new preference for committees rather than bell-cows at the position is one widely-held theory explaining the recent drop-off. Here's a simpler one: the rookie backs available the past two years simply weren't that good. This year's class, however, could be extraordinary with juniors Georgia's Todd Gurley, South Carolina's Mike Davis and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon each potential first-frame selections.
3. Trio of pass rushers explode in SEC
Every year a few prospects seemingly come out of nowhere to emerge as first round picks. So who will be this year's Blake Bortles or Dee Ford? I don't see a meteoric rise from a quarterback in 2014 quite as dramatic as the one Bortles engineered last season for Central Florida but there is a trio of SEC pass rushers I'm anxious to see this fall. Missouri's Markus Golden collected 55 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season in back-up duty behind Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and is already arguably a more complete player than either of them. Another senior, Mississippi's C.J. Johnson, is a 6-foot-2, 237-pounder who is coming off an injury-shortened 2013 campaign. He's an explosive and fluid athlete, who projects well as a hybrid edge rusher for any NFL scheme and, if healthy, will push for double-digit sack numbers on a defensive line also boasting super-sophomore Robert Nkemdiche. LSU redshirt junior Danielle Hunter may lack name recognition now (it's pronounced Duh-neal) but the 6-6, 241-pounder has rare strength and agility for a man of his size and could pique the interest of scouts in much the same way that his predecessor Barkevious Mingo - the sixth pick in the draft two years ago -- did for the Tigers.
2. And the 2014 Heisman goes to ... UCLA's Brett Hundley
Between Hundley, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Oregon State's Sean Mannion, the Pac-12 is loaded with future NFL quarterbacks. That fact alone is going to get the Pac-12 more national attention this year and given that the conference hasn't produced a Heisman winner since Matt Leinart in 2004, perhaps it needs more of a spotlight. Hundley has the big market, favorable schedule and most importantly, the dynamic dual-threat game to take full advantage. He remains a work in progress as an NFL prospect, needing to improve his patience and accuracy as a pocket-passer, but grace and speed as a runner and a terrific arm make him a highlight reel hero. Like everyone else, I'd list Jameis Winston as the favorite at this early point to repeat but the nation's best offensive line should continue to get attention, perhaps earning just enough the credit from voters to leave the race wide open. Should Hundley beat Mariota and Oregon in their showdown game at the Rose Bowl October 11 and guide the Bruins to their first New Year's Day bowl game since the turn of the century as I project, he'll be taking home the trophy.
1. Seminoles, Seahawks repeat as champs
I can appreciate the statistical improbability of repeating in today's era of college and pro football but film review over the summer confirms what we all saw last winter - that the Florida State Seminoles and Seattle Seahawks are the best teams in their respective levels of football. Each underwent the typical roster turnover after their championship runs but are simply more talented than their peers. Quarterbacks Winston and Russell Wilson will confirm their superstar status in 2014 rather than suffer a let-down and will be supplemented by dominant running games. Fast, physical defenses are led by playmakers in the secondary and versatile rushers - critical for success against today's pass-happy offenses. Perhaps most importantly, the teams have remained surprisingly healthy in the build-up to the season and the leadership among coaches and players seems to be in place to handle the pressure and distractions that come as defending champs.