College football conference logos
Graphic: Ryan Lemerman

College Division I football is one of the most underappreciated sports of our pastime. It is what builds professional careers to the National Football League, and it exposes the exhilarating environment of many fans, students, and alumni. Many universities carry rich traditions, like Kansas’s “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” and Wisconsin’s “jump around,” that bring together a group of fanatics to form a family. A handful of Oswego High School students can look forward to being apart of these college surroundings after graduation this May.

As we are now approaching October, we can look forward to cooler skies, brighter futures, and the welcoming atmosphere of college football. Last season, fans witnessed the massacre of Alabama-Clemson for the fourth straight time, and it would be fair to have more variety in pursuit of the championship trophy.

I took the time to forecast the biggest surprises, biggest downfalls, the winner of the 84th Heisman Trophy, breakdown of each Power 5 conference, and national Playoff predictions from the field of 130 Division I teams. Some of my predictions may be bold. Some may be basic. Some may be savvy. Still, I stand by them upon the upcoming season for one of the most underrated and infatuating sports in America.

*DISCLAIMER: This is posted after week five of the season, so all results are updated, but predictions don’t change.*

Biggest Risers:

University of Nebraska

2018 Record: (4-12)  Predicted 2019 Finish: (9-3)

The Cornhuskers will turn around and widen eyes after last season’s atrocious debut from Head Coach Scott Frost. Their 4 win finish in 2018 is detrimental, but quarterback, Adrian Martinez, will lead Nebraska through the storm and tie together one of the biggest Cinderella stories this college football year. Colliding an excellent defense and an above-average offense is always a positive, with Seniors Mohamed Barry, Carlos Davis, and Eric Lee Jr. leading the way. A favorable schedule will significantly boost their status and be huge for a program with such devoted fans.

University of Virginia

2018 Record: (7-5) Predicted 2019 Finish: (9-3)

This may not seem like a big jump, but considering they only got to play in the Belk Bowl while Pittsburgh appealed to the Sun Bowl shows that Virginia has much more to work for. Pitt took the division title, despite going 6-6, appearing dominant in ACC play. Bryce Perkins is a name people have not heard of, silently leading Virginia to a 7-5 record last season. This division is up for grabs for anyone. Based on strength of schedule, the only true threats to the Cavaliers have to be North Carolina or Pittsburgh.

University of Missouri 

2018 Record: (8-4) Predicted 2019 Finish: (9-3)

It’s possible this may not appear as a large jump, but Missouri finished just seventh in the SEC (South Eastern Conference) last year. Due to an academic fraud situation, the Tigers won’t be able to participate in a bowl game. This will not prevent them from winning games though, as I believe that Missouri will very quietly become the third-best team in the beloved SEC. Transfer Kelly Bryant has plenty of experience from Clemson and can provide that chip of leadership the Tigers lost from Drew Lock, who is now under contract as a Denver Bronco. An early loss to the Wyoming Cowboys shouldn’t alarm many, but it just makes them more underrated. Keep an eye out for the Tigers.

Oklahoma State University 

2018 Record: (6-6) Predicted 2019 Finish: (8-4)

The Cowboys are always a team that is slept on, year after year. Their presence on both sides of the ball defines why they can upset any team, no matter what kind of year they are having. For instance, after going 5-7 last year, Oklahoma State managed to beat Texas and West Virginia and come close to Oklahoma. But more so, this offense is the most dynamic in the Big 12 aside to Oklahoma, giving way for them to possibly sneak into a New Year’s Six Bowl game. This mentality will be put on display through the best receiver in the NCAA, Tylan Wallace, picking up more wins for the Cowboys. 

University of Maryland 

2018 Record: (5-7) Predicted 2019 Finish: (8-4)

New coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator Michael Locksley will bring a new system to the Terrapins. We shouldn’t expect anything imperious on defense, but the thought of an almost upset scenario similar to last year’s Ohio State game could turn heads. Their offensive side of the ball revolves around a strong based run scheme, pushing new mobile quarterback, Josh Jackson and speedy Anthony McFarland Jr. to rely on the offensive line. Already putting the offense on full display, the Terrapins combined for 132 points in their first two weeks, with an upset victory against Syracuse, who were ranked No. 21.

University of Wisconsin 

2018 Record: (7-5) Predicted 2019 Finish: (9-3)

Simply enough, Wisconsin’s Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor will carry the workload and define how the team plays. This is the third Big 10 team expected to blow up, proving the depth in such a remarkable conference. Personally, I feel as if the Badger’s are one of the most overrated teams of this past decade, but they do not bring on this vibe to 2019. Key victories against Michigan and Iowa contribute to their large win percentage, but losses to Ohio State and Nebraska will hurt their chances at a conference championship run.

Biggest Fallers:

University of Tennessee 

2018 Record: (5-7) Predicted 2019 Finish: (2-10)

With the No. 13 ranked recruiting class heading into this season, and the No. 23 next year, the Vols have a good future, ruined by poised coaching. But in general, there is not much to be said about the Volunteers this year, after they paid Georgia State $950,000 to play in their stadium just to be embarrassed. Hey, good thing the students in Knoxville are focused on academics and not football.

University of Michigan 

2018 Record: (10-2) Predicted 2019 Finish: (8-4)

Let’s be honest here. Michigan has not lived up to any of the hype it’s been prescribed. Large expectations will put Jim Harbough’s job in danger, and target Shea Patterson’s dreams of reaching the NFL. Last week, they should not have beaten Army, not having the intelligence to predict and stop the run game, where the Golden Knights had 62 rush attempts to four passing attempts. Don’t get me wrong, a win is a win. But hey, at least they will beat Ohio State for the first time since Nov. 26, 2011. 

Stanford University

2018 Record: (9-4) Predicted 2019 Finish: (5-7)

Stanford, the Ivy League school of the Pac 12, picked up huge wins against USC, Arizona State, and Oregon last season. KJ Costello is a very talented quarterback, and not a bad leader, but at the same time, this Cardinal team doesn’t exhibit the same energy that was able to get them through big games last year. Bryce Love, once a Heisman candidate, now gone to the Washington Redskins is going be a tough hole to fill, considering he was the university’s best player since Andrew Luck. 

Duke University

2018 Record: (7-5) Predicted 2019 Record: (3-9)

Daniel Jones, the former Duke quarterback, going sixth overall to the Giants this year was the only good thing about the football program in the last five years…besides a bowl game victory. The new captain, Quentin Harris, has the potential to fill his shoes but his ceiling is extremely low. Anyway, Blue-Devil basketball is something to look forward to if football fails.

University of West Virginia

2018 Record: (8-3) Predicted 2019 Record: (4-8)

With no regret, I confidently picked the Mountaineers to win the Big 12 last year, and I wasn’t that far off. But in one offseason, West Virginia managed to lose their star quarterback, top wide receivers, defense backs, and their coach. Quarterback Will Grier built a name for himself in the hills and mountains, but now it’s up to Oklahoma transfer, Austin Kendall to fill his shoes, with a below-average receiver core and bottom tier defense. It is a shame to see such a promising team become the Rutgers of the Big 12.

University of Notre Dame

2018 Record: (12-0) Predicted 2019 Record: (8-4)

I will continue to state that Notre Dame does not deserve to have recognition for going undefeated or being a powerhouse team. They typically schedule for all but one non-favorable matchup and are in the Independent Conference, meaning they aren’t entitled to be grouped with other teams. It’s odd because the Fighting Irish are in the Atlantic Coastal Conference for all other sports, except football. I am not here to discredit the legacy Notre Dame has built for themselves, but I won’t be the first to agree that they are a mere overrated team. An embarrassing blowout in the Playoff against Clemson gives reason to why they are a weaker team, with just a mediocre schedule to reflect their record.

Conference Breakdown

Big Ten:

Let’s begin with the Big 10. Many argue it is the most underappreciated conference to play in, with strong teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Although, fans tend to look back on this claim, pointing at a one-time playoff appearance in 2015 by the Buckeyes. Iowa is known to be a local favorite, as they are home to two well-known veterans: Oswego’s very own Noah Shannon at defensive tackle and Oswego East’s Ivory Kelly-Martin at running back, while the Hawkeyes look to finally get back to being a Big 10 contender. 

Overall, the dis-involvement in the field’s most competitive stage reflects reasoning to the criticism and confusion as to why the Big Ten is so lowly rated. It will be a close battle between Wisconsin and Nebraska, but the Huskers will pull away, winning a crucial Nov. 16 matchup to seal the West Division. On the other side, there is no slowing down the Buckeyes, with former No. 1 ranked recruit and Georgia quarterback Justin Fields taking them to their third straight Big 10 title game and East Division title.                                                                                                                                          

Big Ten Conference Championship: Ohio State vs Nebraska, Winner: Ohio State                       

Big 12: 

Moving on we have the Big 12. This group often offers an overdose of offense, but a true lackluster display on defense. It is often the top five teams in this conference will go into back and forth shootouts, based on constant offensive play. We saw this between Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Texas last year. It has been the Sooners as the leaders of the division for the last four years, and it should continue to be that way in 2019. 

SEC: 

Third, we have a rigorous Southeastern Conference. The SEC possesses the most competitive matchups week in, and week out, including a handful of top 25 teams. Alabama may have won the last five out of seven years, but that doesn’t mean another team can’t sneak in the playoff race. Just last year, we saw Georgia gifted the fifth seed, nearly clinching their second playoff berth, despite losing to the Crimson Tide twice. For such a deep field of teams, it will be hard to not include one of these universities in the playoffs.                                                                          

SEC Championship: Alabama vs Georgia, Winner: Alabama

Pac-12:

Next, the group of Pacific Coast universities distribute the most equal group of teams compared to any other Power 5 conference. They may not all be top 25, but each team truly scares each other, unless we are talking about Oregon State. We’ve seen Southern California, Oregon, and Stanford dominate the last twenty years, absorbing 16 of 19 conference titles. 

This year it is genuinely up for grabs, despite Washington winning in 2017 and 2018. Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks provide a large spark on offense, giving them the early favorite to win, but Utah’s very easy schedule has them in the same boat. Additionally, Anthony Gordon and Washington State, Jacob Eason and Washington, Michael Pittman Jr. and USC, and Steven Montez and Colorado are names not to forget.                                                                                            

Pac-12 Championship: Oregon vs USC, Winner: Oregon

ACC: 

Lastly, we have the thinnest conference of the five, the Atlantic Coastal Conference. Clemson continues to dominate, and are year-to-year the favorite to win. Teams like Syracuse, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia are in the field to compete, but an assumption that Clemson won’t win the ACC title is immaculately false.                                                                                                                     

ACC Conference Championship: Clemson vs Virginia, Winner: Clemson

The historic Heisman trophy is awarded to the most outstanding player in college football, both on the field and off the field. Such an inspiring story, Jalen Hurts exhibits the script of a bounce-back athlete. Rewinding to 2017, Hurts exemplified such a promising future through his first two seasons at Alabama, throwing for 4,861 yards and 40 touchdowns as a starter for the Crimson Tide. Hurts got suddenly benched after a slow start in the National Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs for Tua Tagovailoa, later using the 2019 transfer portal to bring him to Oklahoma. 

Heisman Trophy Winner: Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma                                                                                                  

Now playing for the Sooners, Hurts has immense shoes to fill, modeling after back-to-back Heisman winners, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. With an immaculate playstyle, the new Oklahoma QB reflects Murray’s speed and Mayfield’s precision, making an ideal fit for Lincoln Riley’s system. Already through week one, Hurts showed flashes of the most dynamic player since Lamar Jackson, on a better team putting up an immense stat line against the Houston Cougars. He has already totaled more yards through the first four weeks of the season than Murray and Baker, looking to continue that run going forward. Oklahoma should be able to capture yet another award to its glorified accolades.

Playoff Prediction:

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: (1) Clemson vs (4) Ohio State, Winner: Clemson

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: (2) Alabama vs (3) Oklahoma, Winner: Oklahoma

College Football Playoff National Championship: (1) Clemson vs (3) Oklahoma

Winner: Oklahoma Sooners

There is no doubt the Sooners will lose their spot of the top team in the Big 12 because of continuous improvement each year. Alabama transfer quarterback, Jalen Hurts will compete for the Heisman trophy, which in the last two years have been won by former Sooners (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray). With arguably the most explosive offense in college football and a Lincoln Riley system that screams big yardage, Oklahoma can compete without any doubt, learning from their previous mistakes. They now have a player in Hurts who has been to this stage and won a national title, where he can mentor the younger players and become a true leader. Similar to the 2017 Crimson Tide championship run with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, the Sooners are in good hands in case of emergency with freshman Spencer Rattler. Overall, Hurts and Ceedee Lamb outweigh the talent of Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross and the Tigers defense. This high-powered offense will be too difficult to dethrone, and Oklahoma will walk away with its first national championship of the playoff era. 

Currently, it is the beginning of Week 6, and this year has already been electrifying. Notre Dame is already overrated with a loss to Georgia, Clemson survived a one-point victory to North Carolina, and Tua Tagovailoa has been spotless for the Crimson Tide. If the season ended today, the playoffs would consist of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Georgia. There is still time for extremely underrated teams like Wake Forest and Baylor to tag at Top-10 finishes, and plenty of time for my forecasts to be right or wrong. 

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