Big 12 staff writer Zach Kinder pitches nine bold predictions for the 2015 season. While these don't necessarily all reflect our opinions, never count out Kinder, who has a knack for correctly forecasting the craziness of college football.
Originally written on September 4
1. Either Baylor or TCU finishes outside the top two in the Big 12
TCU has heard it all offseason – it’s the best team the Big 12 has to offer, a hair better than co-favorite Baylor. However, one of these two favorites will fall out of the top two at some point this season. TCU travels to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State while Baylor travels to TCU and Oklahoma State. The Sooners are relative unknown at this point, but shouldn’t be counted out based on its performance in 2014. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has a favorable schedule, getting all three top teams in Stillwater, plus Kansas St.
2. Alabama misses out on the second annual College Football Playoff
It’s no secret the SEC is a tough conference to come out of unscathed. The West Division of the SEC alone is home to four top 18 teams, not counting a dangerous Texas A&M team. The East Division is also home to two other top 25 teams, both of whom play Bama during the season. The Crimson Tide kick of the season with a neutral site game against No. 20 Wisconsin and travel to No. 9 Georgia and No. 6 Auburn to end the season. They’ll also make dangerous road games to College Station and Starkville. It’s a brutal schedule, and one that does not favor a return trip to the College Football Playoff.
3. Oregon doesn’t win the Pac-12
While a tough road game against No. 5 Michigan State doesn’t play into the Pac-12 picture, road games vs. No. 15 Arizona State and No. 21 Stanford do. The Ducks were also unfortunate enough to land No. 8 USC on its schedule, although it does miss No. 13 UCLA. Stanford has been a thorn in Oregon’s side in recent years, costing the Bucks the Pac-12 championship more than once. Oregon must play them sandwiched between Arizona State and USC, with a underrated Cal team in between. Don’t overlook a Sept. 26 home match vs. Utah, either. The Utes may have the conference’s best defense.
4. Notre Dame returns to elite
As a lifelong hater, I’ve jumped on the Fighting Irish bandwagon this season. This team has all the pieces it takes to make a run at the College Football Playoff. Only a week ago the Irish looked to be returning a defensive unit completely intact. Then the NCAA declared senior defensive tackle Ishaq Williams ineligible. However, the Irish are loaded at every other position, minus some depth issues in the secondary. NFL-ready defensive lineman Sheldon Day and All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith anchor one of the country’s best front sets, while corner KeiVarae Russell leads the secondary. The offensive also looks impressive, led by the emergency of quarterback Malik Zaire. Unfortunately, scheduling did Notre Dame no favors, with road games vs. No. 12 Clemson and No. 21 Stanford and home games vs. No. 16 Georgia Tech and No. 8 USC.
5. Harbaugh revives struggling Michigan in first season
Harbaugh isn’t winning the Big Ten in his first season with Michigan, but he will make a dent in the standings. Minus a road game at Utah and home games for No. 5 Michigan St and No. 1 Ohio State, the schedule is largely winnable for the first year head coach. There are questions at quarterback and receiver for Harbaugh’s club but returns nearly every player from a solid defense a season ago. A road game at Minnesota may prove to be a stumbling block, but no other games look out of reach for the Wolverines. Following last year’s disaster, an 8-9 win season would look much better in the eyes of Michigan fans everywhere. *UPDATE: Harbaugh lost the season opener vs. Utah thanks in large part to a struggling quarterback. But a solid defensive performance inspires hope for the rest of the season. Could this team potentially pull a surprise and knock off one of the two Big Ten heavyweights?
6. Georgia Tech takes down rival Georgia for the second straight year
A year ago, Georgia Tech pulled off its first win against its SEC rival since 2008, and only its second 14 seasons. They did it on the road, between the hedges. They followed it up with a near upset of Florida State in the ACC Championship and a beatdown of Mississippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl. While the Yellow Jackets lost some key players, particularly in the backfield and at middle linebacker, they return the right pieces at the right spots to make another march toward the ACC Championship game. They end the season at home on Senior Night vs. Georgia. Georgia will have to go through a brutal, physical SEC schedule before coming into the game. If all goes particularly well for the Bulldogs, they’ll also be gearing up for the SEC Championship game and a shot at the College Football Playoff. Georgia Tech doesn’t have a cakewalk through the season, but looks more manageable. The Yellow Jackets also have certainty at one place Georgia does not – quarterback. *UPDATE: Alcorn State felt the sting of this Yellow Jacket attack yesterday evening, suffering a 69-6 loss.
7. Temple wins double-digit games
When was the last time Temple won double-digit games? Not in recent memory. The Owls did win nine games twice in a three-year span from 2009-2011, but also won only four games total between 2003-2006. Doesn’t inspire much confidence for a casual college football fan to suggest the Owls might have the ability to produce its best season in more than 15 years. Here’s why it will happen: Temple’s defense. The Owls return all 11 starters and almost every backup on a defense that was ranked No. 16 on Bill Connelly’s Def. S&P+, an opponent-adjusted defensive rating. Of the Owls six losses a season ago, three were only a single score game. Of the other three opponents, two are at home and other isn’t on the schedule. The stiffest road contest for the Owls comes in week 2, when they travel to Cincinnati, one of its losses in 2014. There’s also optimism on offense, which returns an experienced offensive line to protect a quarterback PJ Walker, entering his third year at the helm. Newcomers at running back, including 4-star TJ Simmons, give the Owls options. Temple will have to overcome one of Penn St, Notre Dame, Cincinnati or Memphis at some point this season to reach the double digit plateau (assuming its able to win a bowl game), but the Owls certainly look like they have the pieces to do so.
8. BYU starts out 0-4
I might have reconsidered this pick if the Cougars first game wasn’t on the road. The first four games for coach Bronco Mendenhall’s club are at Nebraska, home vs. Boise State, then on the road at UCLA and Michigan. That’s really enough said, but I’ll give some more details. The biggest opportunity for BYU to frustrate my predictions also comes on opening weekend at Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers are installing a new offense and defense under new head coach Mike Riley. Riley produced some impressive offenses during his time at Oregon St, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong isn’t your typical pro-style slinger. He’ll also have to replace Ameer Abdullah. However, Nebraska has pieces on offense and defense to field a team that will be difficult to beat at home. Boise State is coming of a 12-win season, including a win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, and return 17 starters. The Mountain West favorite might struggle on Provo, but it’s questionable whether Tysom Hill can carry BYU over a tough Bronco team. The next two games are on the road, and the Michigan game is intriguing. See my previous prediction for more information on why I think Boise leaves Ann Arbor with an L.
9. SEC Champion will have at least three losses
The SEC could be a mess this year. There is little, if any, consensus on the conference’s best team, with picks including at least five teams. Of those, pretty much all of them play each other. The ones who are lucky enough to escape one of those teams play a marquee nonconference game against another tough opponent. Alabama and Texas A&M open the season with Wisconsin and Arizona State, respectively, and Tennessee hosts Oklahoma the following weekend. Georgia ends the season with a road matchup vs. Georgia Tech. It would take more luck than talent to navigate such a slate unscathed. Missouri, which misses Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU (somehow) has the best opportunity to emerge with just two losses going into the championship game.
Zach Kinder is a Masters graduate of Oklahoma State University ('15). Kinder joined the Pick Six Previews staff in February 2014, covers the Big 12 by previewing every league game each week. Kinder's Big 12 expertise and insights helped Pick Six Previews finish with the "Most Accurate Power 5 Previews in America" in 2014 (via Stassen Accuracy Ratings).
Follow him at @ZachKinder on Twitter.