Power 5 predictions: Conference champions, top players and key storylines

Sports

As much as college football has changed over the past few seasons through the transfer portal, conference realignment and NIL money, the lopsided nature of the sport has largely remained unchanged.

Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State are still the most dominant teams in the FBS, and it’s difficult to find any other program that might challenge them for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.

If you’re a fan of the 127 other FBS teams, an expanded playoff can’t get here soon enough.

As the 2022 college football season kicks off with 11 games on Saturday, here are predictions for each of the Power 5 conferences:

ACC

Atlantic

Clemson 11-1, 8-0

NC State 10-2, 6-2

Louisville 8-4, 5-3

Wake Forest 8-4, 4-4

Florida State 6-6, 4-4

Boston College 6-6, 3-5

Syracuse 4-8, 2-6

Coastal

Miami 9-3, 6-2

Pittsburgh 8-4, 5-3

North Carolina 8-4, 5-3

Virginia 6-6, 3-5

Virginia Tech 6-6, 3-5

Georgia Tech 3-9, 2-6

Duke 2-10, 0-8

ACC champion: Clemson
Offensive player of the year: Devin Leary, QB, NC State
Defensive player of the year: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
Freshman of the year: Blake Miller, OT, Clemson
Impact transfer: Kedon Slovis, QB, Pittsburgh (USC)
Coach of the year: Dave Doeren, NC State
Coach on the hot seat: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Coordinator who will be a head coach: Josh Gattis, offensive coordinator, Miami
Nonconference game of the year: Clemson at Notre Dame, Nov. 5
Conference game of the year: Clemson vs. NC State, Oct. 1
Upset of the year: Louisville over NC State, Nov. 19

Three bold predictions for the ACC

1. Clemson goes back to the CFP: The Tigers had a bit of a rebuild last season, especially on offense, but they still won 10 games for the 11th straight year, which shows how solid Dabo Swinney’s foundation is built. Now Clemson will have to do it without longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who left for Oklahoma, and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, who departed for Virginia. Clemson’s offensive woes were exposed in a 10-3 loss to eventual national champion Georgia in the 2021 opener. The Tigers are going to look a lot like the Bulldogs did last season with their menacing defensive line.

2. The U. is back! Well, sort of … : The college football team that dominated the sport from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s has won 10 games in a season only once in the past 18 years, under Mark Richt in 2017. Former Oregon coach Mario Cristobal is trying to instill substance over hype, and his wise decision to do away with the Turnover Chain is proof. With quarterback Tyler Van Dyke returning, the Hurricanes will have a good chance to win the Coastal Division, which they’ve done only once since joining the ACC in 2004. Miami will stumble at Texas A&M and Clemson, but it will defeat Pittsburgh at home in the regular-season finale to win the division.

3. Florida State goes bowling: Bobby Bowden guided the Seminoles to 28 consecutive bowl games from 1982 to 2009, but they haven’t played in the postseason in three of the past four seasons. Last year, the Seminoles were better in Mike Norvell’s second season, even if their record didn’t reflect it. In many ways, they allowed Notre Dame to beat them twice, losing to FCS foe Jacksonville State the next week. Then things spiraled downhill. With seven home games and a finally improving offensive line, FSU should be good enough to get to 6-6 or better.

Big 12

Oklahoma 10-2, 7-2

Baylor 9-3, 6-3

Oklahoma State 9-3, 6-3

Texas 7-5, 5-4

Kansas State 7-5, 5-4

Iowa State 6-6, 4-5

West Virginia 6-6, 4-5

TCU 7-5, 4-5

Texas Tech 5-7, 3-6

Kansas 3-9, 1-8

Big 12 champion: Oklahoma
Offensive player of the year: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Defensive player of the year: Will McDonald IV, DL, Iowa State
Freshman of the year: Jordan Hudson, WR, TCU
Impact transfer: Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oklahoma (UCF)
Coach of the year: Brent Venables, Oklahoma
Coach on the hot seat: Neal Brown, West Virginia
Coordinator who will be a head coach: Jeff Grimes, offensive coordinator, Baylor
Nonconference game of the year: TCU at SMU, Sept. 24
Conference game of the year: Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 5
Upset of the year: TCU over Oklahoma, Oct. 1

Three bold predictions for the Big 12

1. Texas goes bowling: The Longhorns were a big disappointment in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first season in 2021, losing six games in a row en route to a 5-7 finish. Texas is still a year or two — and an Arch Manning-led recruiting class — from challenging for a conference title. It might be a struggle for Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers playing behind a suspect offensive line. Texas will finish 7-5 after knocking off Baylor at home in the regular-season finale.

2. JT Daniels will throw 30 touchdowns at West Virginia: Brown called Daniels “the smartest quarterback we’ve ever had.” Daniels’ football smarts and talent have never been questioned. The former five-star recruit won the starting job at USC and Georgia but couldn’t stay healthy. He’s at his third FBS school, and this is a last opportunity to prove he’s more than another Tate Martell. Daniels will throw more than 30 touchdowns and have the Mountaineers in the hunt for a bowl game. By season’s end, more than a few Georgia fans will still be questioning why coach Kirby Smart chose Stetson Bennett over Daniels.

3. Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn will lead the Big 12 in rushing: Robinson, Texas’ star running back, is the best NFL prospect in the league and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. The only problem: Texas’ offensive line is very young and might not be very good. The Longhorns lost guard Junior Angilau, a fifth-year senior with 34 career starts, to a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp. Vaughn ran for 1,404 yards with 468 receiving yards and 22 total touchdowns in 2021. He might put up even bigger numbers this season.

Big Ten

East

Ohio State 11-1, 8-1

Michigan 10-2, 7-2

Penn State 9-3, 6-3

Michigan State 8-4, 5-4

Maryland 7-5, 4-5

Rutgers 4-8, 2-7

Indiana 4-8, 2-7

West

Wisconsin 10-2, 7-2

Minnesota 9-3, 6-3

Iowa 8-4, 5-4

Purdue 7-5, 4-5

Nebraska 6-6, 3-6

Illinois 5-7, 2-7

Northwestern 5-7, 2-7

Big Ten champion: Ohio State
Offensive player of the year: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Defensive player of the year: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
Freshman of the year: Will Johnson, CB, Michigan
Impact transfer: Jarek Broussard, RB, Michigan State (Colorado)
Coach of the year: Ryan Day, Ohio State
Coach on the hot seat: Scott Frost, Nebraska
Coordinator who will be a head coach: Jim Leonhard, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Nonconference game of the year: Notre Dame at Ohio State, Sept. 3
Conference game of the year: Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26
Upset of the year: Purdue over Penn State, Sept. 1

Three bold predictions for the Big Ten

1. Ohio State will have two Heisman Trophy finalists: Stroud seems like a lock to return to New York as a finalist if he picks up from where he left off in 2021. He completed 71.9% of his passes for 4,435 yards with 44 touchdowns and six interceptions. He should be even better in his second season as a starter. Either running back TreVeyon Henderson, who ran for 1,248 yards with 15 scores as a freshman, or receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who led the Buckeyes with 95 catches for 1,606 yards with nine touchdowns, will get to New York as well. All three could be deserving if Ohio State’s offense is as good as advertised.

2. Frost won’t make it through the season: One of Nebraska’s favorite sons, Frost’s tenure at his alma mater has been a disaster. The Cornhuskers have gone 15-29 in his four seasons and haven’t made a bowl game under his watch. He took a $1 million salary reduction, and his buyout gets cut in half to $7.5 million after Oct. 1. The Cornhuskers will start 3-0, but penalties and turnovers will continue to doom them during a 1-3 stretch after that. Athletic director Trev Alberts will cut him loose after a loss at Purdue on Oct. 15.

3. Minnesota wins the West: I went with Wisconsin, which seemed like the safer pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gophers in the Big Ten championship game, either. Minnesota has to throw the ball more than it did last season — only Navy, Army and Air Force attempted fewer passes in 2021. Quarterback Tanner Morgan should be better under offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who was there when Minnesota won 11 games in 2019. Tailback Mohamed Ibrahim, the Big Ten running back of the year in 2020, is back after tearing his Achilles in last season’s opener.

Pac-12

Utah 10-2, 7-2

USC 10-2, 7-2

Oregon 8-4, 6-3

Washington State 8-4, 6-3

UCLA 8-4, 5-4

Washington 7-5, 5-4

Oregon State 6-6, 4-5

Arizona State 6-6, 4-5

California 5-7, 3-6

Stanford 5-7, 3-6

Arizona 3-9, 2-7

Colorado 3-9, 2-7

Pac-12 champion: Utah

Offensive player of the year: Caleb Williams, QB, USC
Defensive player of the year: Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon
Freshman of the year: Lander Barton, LB, Utah
Impact transfer: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Coach of the year: Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Coach on the hot seat: Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Coordinator who will be a head coach: Alex Grinch, defensive coordinator, USC
Nonconference game of the year: Oregon vs. Georgia, Sept. 3
Conference game of the year: USC at Utah, Oct. 15
Upset of the year: California over Oregon, Oct. 29

Three bold predictions for the Pac-12

1. USC just misses a New Year’s Six bowl game: The Trojans are going to have plenty of star power this season. Riley, one of the brightest offensive minds in the game, brought in Oklahoma transfers Caleb Williams and Mario Williams to shore up USC’s offense, along with reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Addison. But USC’s offensive line still needs work, and Grinch is going to have to rebuild a defense that ranked 11th in scoring defense (31.8 points) in 2021. The Trojans will be better, but they’ll lose to Utah twice, first on the road on Oct. 15 and again in the Pac-12 championship game.

2. UCLA starts 5-0: The Bruins are finally starting to show some improvement under coach Chip Kelly, whose second run in the Pac-12 hasn’t been nearly as good as his first at Oregon. The Bruins are just 18-25 in his first four seasons, but they went 8-4 in 2021. UCLA will have offensive firepower with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and tailback Zach Charbonnet returning. The offensive line and receiver corps will have plenty of new faces, though. The Bruins will lose four of their final seven games and finish 8-4 for the second straight season.

3. Oregon’s Dan Lanning is the best first-year coach: Lanning helped Georgia end its 41-year national title drought as its defensive coordinator. He’s a first-time head coach, and the Ducks will have some early hiccups against the Bulldogs in Atlanta on Sept. 3 and at Washington State three weeks later. After a 2-2 start, the Ducks will get it rolling to finish 8-4. Auburn transfer Bo Nix is going to send Oregon fans on another roller-coaster ride, but Oregon’s defense and its veteran and talented offensive line will carry the load.

SEC

East

Georgia 12-0, 8-0

Kentucky 9-3, 5-3

Tennessee 8-4, 4-4

South Carolina 7-5, 4-4

Florida 7-5, 4-4

Missouri 6-6, 2-6

Vanderbilt 3-9, 0-8

West

Alabama 12-0, 8-0

Texas A&M 9-3, 5-3

Arkansas 8-4, 5-3

LSU 8-4, 4-4

Ole Miss 7-5, 3-5

Mississippi State 6-6, 2-6

Auburn 5-7, 2-6

SEC champion: Alabama
Offensive player of the year: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Defensive player of the year: Will Anderson, LB, Alabama
Freshman of the year: Walter Nolen, DL, Texas A&M
Impact transfer: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama (Georgia Tech)
Coach of the year: Nick Saban, Alabama
Coach on the hot seat: Bryan Harsin, Auburn
Coordinator who will be a head coach: Glenn Schumann, defensive coordinator, Georgia
Nonconference game of the year: Alabama at Texas, Sept. 10
Conference game of the year: Texas A&M at Alabama, Oct. 8
Upset of the year: Ole Miss over Texas A&M, Oct. 29

Three bold predictions for the SEC

1. Alabama and Georgia are both undefeated in the regular season: Two years ago, I correctly predicted that Alabama would defeat Georgia in the SEC championship game and that Jalen Hurts would come off the bench to rescue the Crimson Tide. Last year, I predicted correctly that Georgia would lose to Alabama in the SEC championship game but avenge that defeat in the CFP National Championship Game. Both teams will go unbeaten in the regular season again this year. The Crimson Tide will win the SEC championship game 31-28 on Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton‘s winning touchdown catch.

2. Alabama blasts Texas A&M: The Aggies’ trip to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 8 will be the most anticipated game of the season. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher caused a firestorm during the offseason when he ripped his mentor, Saban, for suggesting that the Aggies’ No. 1-ranked recruit class was the result of boatloads of NIL cash. The former friends will hug it out at midfield before the game, before Saban fails to take his foot off the gas in a 42-17 victory that will remind Fisher who is still the boss.

3. Tennessee finally beats Florida: The Gators and Volunteers used to play in one of the sport’s most heated and competitive rivalries. With Steve Spurrier poking Tennessee whenever he could, it was annually one of the most anticipated contests in the SEC and went a long way toward deciding the SEC East champion. Since 2005, however, the Gators have remarkably won 16 of their past 17 games against the Volunteers, including five in a row. Tennessee’s only victory during that stretch was a 38-28 win at Neyland Stadium in 2016. Volunteers coach Josh Heupel will get his first win over Florida with a 38-27 victory at home on Sept. 24.

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