Making five bold predictions for the 2017 college football season
From a freshman Heisman winner to a crazy October for coaches, here's what 2017 could bring
In six months, we'll know exactly how the 2017 college football season has played out. Until then, all we're doing is guessing what will happen. Some guesses are educated and reasonable. Some are not. But it's the dog days of summer and what's the point of all of this if not to have a little fun with those guesses?
With that in mind, bold predictions for the upcoming season are back.
Last year'swere ... um ... a little off, with No. 1 and No. 2 being especially off target. That's alright, one out of five ain't bad.
Besides, the point of bold predictions is to go head first into a brick wall, despite having gathered all the facts indicating you should not, and knowing there's almost a 100 percent chance you're going to get bloody. And I have the taste for blood again.
Let's get to 'em.
1. The Heisman Trophy will be awarded to a true freshman for the first time: And I'm putting my nonexistent, figurative money on Florida State running back Cam Akers, one of the crown jewels of the 2017 recruiting class. Going all-in on a true freshman goes against my grain. It doesn't matter how talented a first-year player is ... it's still a first-year player. The adjustment period to the college level has shrunk with the growing popularity of summer camps and the 24/7/365 nature of football, but it still exists. It's extraordinarily hard for a player to come right out of high school and consistently play at a high level for the entire regular season. (It's hard for most players in any year.)
However, there are some Heisman boxes Akers checks off, which leaves him some room to utilize his God-given gifts and maybe even have a down week or two.
- He plays the right position. Every Heisman winner since Charles Woodson in 1997 has been a quarterback or running back.
- Akers plays on a team built for success. Florida State could very well be the preseason ACC favorite. The Seminoles are already Alabama should be a top-three matchup and the winner gets a leg up in the playoff race.
- The offense caters to his strengths. FSU has proven to be a better run blocking team as of late; 5 yards per carry last season is nothing to scoff at. The Noles are breaking in a new-look offensive line, but coach Jimbo Fisher has heavily invested in O-line recruits in recent years.
The Alabama game looks like a bad matchup on paper, and it wouldn't be surprising if Akers was kept under wraps. But the Heisman isn't won in September (unless you're Lamar Jackson). If Florida State is a better team in November when it plays Clemson and Florida -- on the road, no less -- Akers will have a real shot at this.
2. This year's leading rusher will not be a name you expect: Speaking of Akers, college football is in the midst of a running back resurgence. When it loses Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, it returns Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. When it loses those two, it returns Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice. There are a lot of big-name running backs in college football, but this year's leading rusher will be someone you might not have heard of.
It'll be Northwestern's Justin Jackson. The senior just missed the cut of our for the upcoming season, but he received a lot of consideration. In fact, Jackson, not Penn State's Saquon Barkley, was the Big Ten's leading rusher a year ago with 1,524 yards at 117.2 yards per game. And roughly two-thirds of those yards came after contact.
As Ralph Russo of the Associated Press noted, Jackson has "more combined carries and catches than any player in a Power Five conference." At 298 carries in 2016, Jackson is the nation's leading returning ball toter. He is the definition of a workhorse back. If he stays healthy, there's every reason to believe he can lead the nation in yardage.
3. Tua Tagovailoa will become a steady part of Alabama's offense: It would be foolhardy to call a quarterback controversy before Week 1 of the season. Besides, Jalen Hurts was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, according to the conference's coaches. But here's betting early-enrollee quarterback Tagovailoa, a five-star member of the Crimson Tide's 2017 recruiting class, sees the field sooner rather than later -- and eventually becomes a packaged part of the offense by some point in the season.
The hype surrounding Tagovailoa has been Florida Atlantic, couldn't help but gush over the quarterback he won't get to coach in Tuscaloosa.. Former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, now the coach at
"I would sure think so," Kiffin told Tide 102.9 FM (via SEC Country) regarding whether Tagovailoa would play in 2017. "I mean you guys saw him at spring game. He's a special talent. And coach [Nick] Saban will figure out the best way to do it obviously, whether they both play."
If Kiffin was still the offensive coordinator, this prediction would be a slam dunk. If nothing else, Kiffin might usher Tagovailoa onto the field before Saban could say anything and deal with the inevitable ass-chewings later. (Remember, kids, sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.) Hurts remains the starter and shouldn't have to deal with any murmurs to the contrary unless he shows reason to make a change. But if Hurts has also taught Saban anything, it's that quarterback talent is too good to be left on the sideline.
4. Kansas State will send coach Bill Snyder out on top: I'm doubling down here. I'm all-in on Kansas State winning the Big 12 and Snyder calling it a career after the season. The storybooks demand it.
I'm often wary of so-called dark horse conference titled contenders. They're fun talking points in June when everyone is 0-0, but it's hard to go against Vegas and dark horses are dark horses for a reason. However, we have a brutally awful tendency to overlook K-State, set at 7.5 wins for the season, and the Big 12 race just became more interesting with the sudden retirement of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. On top of that, Kansas State was one of the least experienced teams in the FBS a season ago -- 96th, according to Phil Steele -- and still won nine games, including six of their last seven.
Keep in mind, too, that of the four Big 12 teams Vegas predicts will win more games than the Wildcats -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU -- K-State gets three of them at home. With the return of a Big 12 championship game, all K-State needs to do is finish second in the conference standings. From there, it's a one-game season. Snyder, having done all he can do with the greatest turnaround in college football history, will have the perfect time to pass on the proverbial baton.
5. At least five Power Five coaches will not make it to November: That's a lot of fives. We are in a day and age now in college football where schools refuse to wait before making a coaching change -- or, at the very least, get the process started. Les Miles was infamously fired by LSU last September after losing to Auburn when he probably should have been released after the end of the 2015 season. October is the new December and there are a number of coaches on the hot seat entering this season. Among them are Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), Hugh Freeze* (Ole Miss), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), Todd Graham (Arizona State), Jim Mora (UCLA) and Butch Jones (Tennessee).
Growing buyouts and the landscape of the coaching marketplace can dictate how and when coaching changes take place. This feels like a year when conditions will be right for a number of early-season firings. It's not uncommon anymore to get a couple Power Five firings in September, but I'll go on the record to say we get five.
*That Ole Miss is squaring up against the NCAA by standing firmly in Freeze's corner indicates he might be safer than expected, but it's hard to tell how long that will last.
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