6-Pack Thursday: College Football Predictions

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Duquesne and UMASS officially kickoff the 2018 College Football season at 5:30PM ET on Saturday and I literally could not be more excited for that contest.

After a summer full of scouting football players from games I've seen dozens of times by this point, football plays that have never happened before are upon us.

With just two sleeps between us and a fresh season of college football, it's time to make some predictions.

Let's crack this thing open!

Heisman Trophy Winner

Let's face it -- the Heisman Trophy goes to the most statistically dominant running back or quarterback on the best team in the nation. That helps us narrow down the pool of potential candidates considerably.

Who comes to mind? Last year's runner-up Stanford RB Bryce Love is a popular choice. Dazzling Arizona QB Khalil Tate should put up video game numbers. But my money is on Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor.

In 2017, Taylor set a new FBS freshman record for rushing yards with 1,977, tacking on 13 touchdowns to boot. He had three games over 200 rushing yards and averaged a whopping 141.7 rushing yards per contest -- all in his first taste of collegiate action.

Wisconsin returns an entire offensive line from last season that features four All-Big Ten selections and several potential NFL starters. 2017 was just the tip of the iceberg of what Taylor and this Badgers rushing attack can do.

Debuting at No. 4 in the initial AP Poll, the Badgers are primed to compete for the Big Ten Title and contend for a playoff spot. Taylor is the catalyst and my preseason pick to win the Heisman Trophy.

Breakout Player

DeAndre Hopkins...Sammy Watkins...Mike Williams...Tee Higgins.

Tee who?

Get familiar, because he's the next superstar Clemson receiver.

After losing 107 receptions for 1,237 combined from last year's top receivers Ray-Ray McCloud III and Deon Cain, the Tigers' passing offense has plenty of slack for someone to pick up. While the ever-reliable Hunter Renfrow returns and will get his share of targets, Higgins is the weapon with the most big play potential in Clemson's arsenal of pass catchers.

Higgins is listed a 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and averaged over 20 yards per catch in his true freshman season. Among the standouts in Clemson's spring game, Higgins racked up a game-high 118 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The No. 15 overall recruit in the Nation according to Rivals, Higgins was the highest graded prospect in Clemson's 2017 class. The time is now for Higgins to become a household name and carry on the legacy of dynamic Clemson receivers.

Sleeper Team

Among the surprises to me when examining both the AP and Coaches Poll is the notable omission of the South Carolina Gamecocks. And after a 9-4 season in 2017 with an Outback Bowl win over Michigan, USC didn't crack the final 2017 polls either.

It's time for the Gamecocks to earn some respect.

I feel certain Will Muschamp will field one of the best defensive units in the SEC, just like he always does. The defense is anchored by NFL talent at all three levels headline by EDGE DJ Wonnum, LB TJ Brunson and S Steven Montac.

But surprisingly, the real excitement for the 2018 Gamecocks is what the offense is capable of under the direction of new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon who replaces the fired Kurt Roper.

In 2017, USC ranked 108th nationally in yards per game and 98th in points per game. In an age of up-tempo offense, the Gamecocks ran only 61.9 plays per game -- 120th nationally. Simply put, the offense wasn't effective and McClendon is regarding as a rising star in the industry.

A veteran offensive line returns and so do SC's top six leading rushers. But the excitement stems from the passing game, where more tempo and quick decisions are going to be required from triggerman Jake Bentley, who already has 20 starts under his belt. A simplified approach is a welcome change given the stagnant nature of the unit in 2017. Bentley is a physically gifted passer but struggles with accuracy and consistency.

At Bentley's disposal is one of the nation's most talented receiving corps, headlined by the dynamic Deebo Samuel. Bryan Edwards is an alpha receiver and Shi Smith is electric slot weapon.

The biggest challenges on South Carolina's schedule are a Week Two showdown with Georgia in Columbia and closing the season at Clemson. With that said, the Cocks are more than capable of a double-digit win season and a potential top 20 ranking.

BOLD Prediction for Each Power Five Conference

  • SEC - A whopping seven (7) teams close the season ranked in the top 25: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina.
  • Big 10 - Michigan State finishes higher in the Big 10 East standings than Ohio State and Penn State.
  • Big 12 - Oklahoma State is not bowl-eligible for the first time since 2005.
  • ACC - Wake Forest finishes the season ranked for only the second time since 1993 and first time since 2006.
  • Pac-12 - Utah plays in its first ever Pac-12 Title game.

Power Five Conference Championships

  • ACC -  Clemson over Miami: It's hard to imagine any other teams playing in Charlotte for the ACC Championship.
  • SEC - Georgia over Alabama:  Georgia was deserving of last year's National Championship and revenge is in order.
  • Big 10 - Wisconsin over Michigan:  The Big 10 East will beat up on each other all season long and as long as Alex Hornibrook doesn't limit the Badgers too much, Wisconsin can claim its first league title since 2012.
  • Big 12 - Oklahoma over TCU:  The Sooners aren't likely to repeat last year's success but they have too much firepower offensively to not win the Big 12.
  • Pac-12 - Washington over Utah:  Don't sleep on the Utes but Washington is the class of the Pac 12.

College Football Playoffs

  1. Clemson
  2. Georgia
  3. Washington
  4. Wisconsin

No Bama!?!?!? Call me crazy but I think the Tide can realistically lose two games -- one of them being the SEC Championship to Georgia and any one of the LSU, Mississippi State or Auburn games. If that happens, a two-loss Alabama is on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.

Now for the teams actually in the playoffs...

Orange Bowl (Semifinals) - Clemson over Wisconsin

It's strength vs strength when it comes to the Badgers' offensive line and Clemson's defensive line but this comes down to the Tigers offense having more collective firepower.

Cotton Bowl (Semifinal) - Georgia over Washington

The Bulldogs defense will be too much for Jake Browning and the Washington offense. Georgia's offense is LOADED with skill players and is arguably the most well-coached team in college football.

National Championship - Clemson over Georgia

Heartbreak in back-to-back years for Georgia but Clemson has a defense capable of matching up with Georgia's offensive firepower. And don't sleep on the Tigers' offense, which has a potent running back tandem and rising stars at receiver. Clemson is my pick to be the Champions of College Football.


Written By:

Joe Marino

Chief Administrative Officer

CAO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.