Sorry, Lane, hello Chip: Revisiting 2017 predictions and making new ones for 2018

From ESPN - January 12, 2018

The 2017 college football season is in the books, and it's time to hold myself accountable for what I got right (not much) and what I got wrong (a lot) in my preseason predictions.

I predicted that Alabama and Ohio State would make the College Football Playoff, and the Buckeyes are still arguing that they should have been included. Unfortunately, I also picked Florida State and USC to make the playoff.

I correctly picked two of the Power 5 conference champions (Ohio State and USC) and six of the eight division winners. I incorrectly chose Florida State in the ACC, Alabama in the SEC and Oklahoma State in the Big 12.

I told you USF's Charlie Strong would win more games than Tom Herman, his replacement at Texas, which he did. I also told you the coaching carousel would start in October because of the new early signing period, and that Arizona State's Todd Graham, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, UCLA's Jim Mora, Tennessee's Butch Jones and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez were in trouble, which they were.

Perhaps my most egregious mistake, however, was guaranteeing that the hype surrounding Lane Kiffin would quiet down after Week 2. Kiffin and Florida Atlantic proved me wrong on that front. I will try to make up for it with another Kiffin prediction for 2018.

What's in store for 2018? Unfortunately, we will have to wait about eight months to find out.

Here are 10 early bold predictions for this upcoming season:

1. Alabama-Georgia Round II will decide the SEC championship (and a CFP spot)

Alabama won its fifth national title in nine seasons with Monday night's 26-23 victory over Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. Those teams seem to be on a collision course for the SEC championship game in 2018.

The scariest part for the Bulldogs and everyone else in the SEC: The Crimson Tide had five true freshmen playing on offense when they won the game. Sure, the Tide lose a boatload of underclassmen to the NFL draft again, including star receiver Calvin Ridley and safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, but there are plenty of young players ready to step in.

The Tide open the season against Louisville in Orlando, Florida, and they will play Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn at home.

The Bulldogs made tremendous strides in coach Kirby Smart's second season, and now they will have to replace many of the senior stars from a team that won its first SEC title since 2005. Replacing tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and linebackers Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith (if he turns pro) wo not be easy, but Smart and his staff have recruited exceptionally well.

Plus, Georgia's schedule in 2018 is probably less arduous than the one it navigated through this past season. The Bulldogs play nonconference games against FCS foe Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass and Georgia Tech, and they will play Tennessee and Auburn at home.

2. Freshman Trevor Lawrence will be Clemson's starting quarterback

Kelly Bryant did a lot of great things in his first season as Clemson's starting quarterback, throwing for 2,802 yards with 13 touchdowns and leading the Tigers to a 12-2 record. But the Tigers' 24-6 loss to Alabama in a CFP semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl also exposed some of his shortcomings as a passer.

Bryant, a rising senior, will have a difficult time holding off Lawrence, an incoming freshman and early enrollee, who is ranked the No. 1 pocket passer and No. 2 player overall in the ESPN 300. Lawrence, from Cartersville, Georgia, is 6-foot-6 and 209 pounds. He has been described as a "once-in-a-generation kind of player," kind of like the last Clemson quarterback from Georgia: Deshaun Watson.

Even with a freshman quarterback, Clemson will join Alabama in the CFP. Two other teams with first-year quarterbacks -- Oklahoma and Ohio State -- will also make the four-team field.

3. Chip Kelly will bring life to the Pac-12

There's no other way to say it: It was a very, very bad year for the Pac-12 in 2017. It was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback on the West Coast, but UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold did not even crack the top 10 in Heisman voting. Only two Pac-12 teams (Washington and USC) won 10 games or more, and the league's teams went a woeful 1-8 in bowl games (Utah was the only winner).

The Pac-12 really needs a boost, and former Oregon and NFL coach Chip Kelly might be the one to do it. Kelly probably could have had any opening in the country, but he chose to replace Jim Mora at UCLA. With Rosen and receiver Jordan Lasley entering the draft, and the Bruins having to replace three starting offensive linemen, there are going to be some growing pains on offense. Unfortunately, the Bruins also had the worst run defense in the FBS and school history in 2017.

But UCLA has enough talent on hand for Kelly to make an immediate impact. USC will still be heavy favorites in the Pac-12 South, but the Bruins should be as good as anyone else.

4. Jim Harbaugh's team will beat an opponent that matters

After winning 10 games in each of Harbaugh's first two seasons, Michigan took a step back at 8-5 in 2017. Maybe it should not have been such a surprise after the Wolverines lost so many players to the NFL.

But it was the way Michigan lost that was so alarming. Michigan threw nine touchdown passes, its fewest since 1975, when it attempted only 125 passes while running the triple option under Bo Schembechler. The Wolverines scored 13 points or fewer in losses to Michigan State Spartans, Penn State and Wisconsin and blew a 16-point lead in a 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.


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