25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

Wisconsin and Penn State met in the 2016 Big Ten Championship game. Could they meet again in 2017? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

The 2017 College Football season is starting this weekend and that means it is time to finish up predictions for the upcoming season. Despite what Nick Saban says about predictions, they are fun to make and see how they play out over an entire season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This is the fifth edition and we will finish predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 5 Through 1

5. (SEC) A 2nd year head coach will win the SEC East – To be clear, this prediction is referring to a coach in his second year at his current school. Three coaches actually fall under this one with Kirby Smart at Georgia, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, and Barry Odom at Missouri. We mentioned Missouri in our last article (we really like their offense going into 2017) so our main focus will be on Georgia and South Carolina.

Georgia went 8-5 last year in Smart’s first season. This year he is armed with seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. One would expect improvements on both sides of the ball, but more so on defense given Smart’s background. The Bulldogs gave up 24 points and 327 yards per game, which is respectable, but another step forward would make them an even tougher opponent. It is very difficult to see this group getting worse.

On offense, Georgia has Jacob Eason (2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) back at quarterback. Also returning are Nick Chubb (1,130 yards and 8 TDs) and Sony Michel (840 yards and 4 TDs) to form a formidable backfield duo. The offense put up 24.5 points and 385 yards per game in 2016 and those numbers are likely to climb this season.

The key is the schedule and Georgia’s toughest games are versus Tennessee (away), Florida (in Jacksonville), South Carolina (home), and Auburn (away). Yes, three games are away from home, but this team can win all of those and claim the East.

South Carolina is interesting heading into 2017. Muschamp has been around the SEC a long time and his second season in charge at Florida resulted in his best result with the Gators. They went 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC as Florida tied Georgia for the SEC East crown, but lost the head-to-head matchup to the Bulldogs. Things went downhill quickly for the Gators after that season, but one thing that remained was a very good defense.

Like Smart at Georgia, Muschamp has a strong defensive background. South Carolina allowed 26.5 points and 412 yards per game in his first season. Six starters return on that side of the ball and a step forward is expected from this unit.

On offense, the Gamecocks put up 20.8 points and 348 yards per game in 2016 with a quarterback carousel. 2017 sees 10 starters return including sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley (1,420 yards with 9 TDs and 4 interceptions after playing only 7 games). The top two running backs and top five receivers return, which should mean a vast improve in the performance of the offense. Of course, the big concern is if the offense does improve given some of the struggles Muschamp had at times in Gainesville.

South Carolina’s toughest SEC games are against Texas A&M (away), Arkansas (home), Tennessee (away), Georgia (away), and Florida (home). They too can win both games versus West opponents and a 2-1 split of the other games would go a long way to being the surprise in the East.

Both Georgia and South Carolina are set up for big moves in 2017 though Georgia looks a bit more ready to make the jump thanks to their offense. However, sometimes an excellent defense can carry a team, which may be what South Carolina needs in 2017.

4. (SEC) Auburn will win the SEC West – Let’s start by saying that Alabama is the team to beat in the West and entire SEC, but why make a prediction like that? We take a shot with the Auburn Tigers.

On offense, Auburn returns 8 starters though one of them will not be at quarterback. That will go to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham who won the starting role earlier this month. He will have the luxury of Kamryn Pettway (1,224 yards and 7 TDs) and Kerryon Johnson (895 yards and 11 TDs) to run the ball. The passing attack should improve on the numbers of the last two seasons of 169 yards per game in 2016 and 174 yards per game in 2015. Stidham give this offense a boost and makes them even more potent.

The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed 17.1 points and 362 yards per game. The top three tacklers and six of the top seven tacklers return to lead the defense. Keep in mind that 2016 was only the first year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. In theory, the second season should be even better if the schemes are truly cemented into the players’ heads. Overall, this unit should allow similar numbers to the 2016 squad.

As usual in the SEC West, the schedule is tough with three straight road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. There is a bye between the Razorbacks and Aggies, but that is still a brutal stretch when you consider that Georgia comes to town after the game versus Texas A&M. The final game is the Iron Bowl against Alabama and that comes at home, which should help the Tigers. It will be difficult for Auburn to defeat Alabama as well as win the West, but the Tigers are more than capable of doing both.

3. (Big 10) Northwestern will win at least 9 games – 2017 will mark the 12th season of Pat Fitzgerald in charge at Northwestern. In that time he has posted three seasons of nine or more wins (two of those were 10 win seasons). This year’s squad is loaded to give the Wildcats a shot at one of their big 9+ win seasons.

The offense will rely heavily on Justin Jackson and rightfully so. Jackson has 4,129 yards rushing in his career, which is already second best in Northwestern history. A 1,500 yard season would put Jackson at #2 all time in the Big 10. Also returning with Jackson are 7 other starters including quarterback Clayton Thorson (3,182 yards with 22 TDs and 9 interceptions). Thorson has come a long way since his 2015 season when he struggled at times. He will be missing his top target from last year in Austin Carr (90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs). The one to watch out for in 2017 is Jalen Brown, a former Oregon Duck.

The defense also returns 8 starters and this group did well in 2016 as they allowed 22.2 points and 404 yards per game. The front four and secondary return seven of the eight starters, which makes for a weaker linebacking group. Good thing they have a head coach in Fitzgerald who knows a thing or two about that position. In 2015 when Northwestern had 8 starters back they allowed 18.6 points and 319 yards per game. An improvement to those numbers in 2017 would make this team very dangerous.

Northwestern opens with three games they should win: Nevada (home), Duke (away), and Bowling Green (home). After a bye week, the Cats face Wisconsin (away) and Penn State (home) to start Big 10 play. The rest of the Big 10 schedule could result in wins: Maryland (away), Iowa (home), Michigan State (home), Nebraska (away), Purdue (home), Minnesota (home), and Illinois (away). Nebraska is the toughest of those games especially away from home, but 9 or 10 wins is definitely realistic.

2. (Big 10) Michigan State will miss a second straight bowl game – Between 2013 and 2015, the Spartans won the Rose Bowl and played in two Cotton Bowls, winning one. Then 2016 happened when they slumped to 3-9 winning just one game in the Big 10. The defense allowed 27.8 points per game, the most under Mark Dantonio. 

2017 sees four starters return on each side of the ball. Th offense loses quarterback Tyler O’Connor and top receiver RJ Shelton. LJ Scott does return after rushing for 994 yards and 6 TDs last year. Scott may burden a big load early in the season as new starters all over the field go through the learning curve. In 2016, the offense also had four returning starters and put up 24.1 points and 395 yards per game.

The defense has four starters back from a group that allowed 27.8 points and 365 yards per game. The biggest concern is the defensive line that allowed 159 yards rushing per game in 2016 and have just one returning starter after off the field issues saw two others dismissed. Similar numbers are expected, but with Dantonio the defense could surprise to the good side.

The schedule for the Spartans is filled with tough games. After a bye on September 16, they will face Notre Dame (home), Iowa (home), and Michigan (away) in three straight games. The end of October and beginning of November is another brutal stretch: Northwestern (away), Penn State (home), and Ohio State (away). The margin for error is small this year for Michigan State especially with the inexperience and off-season turmoil.

We will be honest, 2018 looks like it could be an exceptional season for Michigan State. Assuming that all the 2017 non-senior starters return, there would be 20 starters back in 2018 (10 on each side of the ball). That could be a team to watch next season.

1. (Big 10) The Big 10 will win the National Championship – There are three main contenders to win the Big 10: Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. And as we saw in 2016, you do not need to win your conference to make the Playoffs.

Ohio State had just 6 starters back in 2016 yet went 11-2 and made the Playoffs. Now they have 15 starters back and once again are the Big 10 favorites with all the firepower returning on offense an defense. Ohio State has three tough games in 2017: Oklahoma at in week two, Penn State at home at the end of October, and at Michigan to end the regular season. Expect the Buckeyes to be favored in all their games in 2017 barring some serious trouble.

Penn State is another contender to win the Big 10 after their awesome 2016 season. They went 11-3 while winning the Big 10 and made numerous comebacks in the second half of games throughout the season. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley make a dangerous backfield combination that is up there with any other backfield QB/RB duo in the country. Just imagine how good the Nittany Lions might be if they decide to not spot their opponents points in the first half.

Penn State has a brutal four game stretch over a five week span: Northwestern (away), Michigan (home), Ohio State (away), and Michigan State (away). The Spartans should not pose a serious threat, but given the game is after back-to-back games against the Wolverines and Buckeyes, there is the slight chance for a let down.

The third top contender is Wisconsin, who has an incredibly friendly Big 10 schedule. They do face BYU on the road September 16 before a bye week. The Big 10 schedules opens with Northwestern at home and Nebraska on the road. In November, they welcome both Iowa and Michigan to Madison while playing Minnesota in the finale. The Badgers have a good shot of going undefeated where they will probably meet up with either Ohio State or Penn State.

There are two dark horse contenders in Michigan and Northwestern. We discussed the Wildcats two predictions above and concede that they are a very long shot to even reach the Big 10 title game. Michigan will be in year three under Jim Harbaugh, but the losses are severe. Just four starters are back on offense and only one starter returns on defense. They have a brutal schedule of Florida (in Arlington, Texas), Penn State (away), Wisconsin (away), and Ohio State (home). The Wolverines are capable of getting to the Big 10 Championship and even the Playoffs, but it does not look likely in 2017.

It it tough to project the four teams in the College Football due to the multitude of matchup possibilities. Ohio State is probably the best of the trio mentioned above and loom as the Big 10’s best chance to win the National Championship. However, do not underestimate Penn State or Wisconsin from reaching the Playoffs where anything can happen.

That concludes our 25 predictions for the 2017 season, however, we will give one bonus prediction below.

Bonus: At least 10 FCS teams will defeat FBS teams – Does it seem like FCS teams upsetting FBS teams is happening more often? If so, that is because it is happening more often. Between 2004 and 2009, FCS teams averaged 4.3 wins per year against FBS teams with a high of 9 in 2007. Since 2010, that average has more than doubled to an average of 9.6 wins per season. 2013 saw the most FCS upsets with 16 and each of the last five seasons have produced at least 8 FCS wins against the FBS.

Here is a link to all the FCS versus FBS matchups in 2017. There are 98 matchups featuring FCS against FBS teams, which means roughly 10% of the games will require an upset for this prediction to be correct. With FCS teams becoming more and more competitive, it makes sense they would defeat FBS teams more often. Let’s hope that is the case in 2017 as well.

You have reached the end of our predictions. We hope you enjoyed reading them and hope you follow along  to see how they turn out for the 2017 season. Enjoy the start of the 2017 season!

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 10 Through 6

Lamar Jackson won the coveted Heisman Trophy in 2016. Will he do so again in 2017? (Michael Reaves/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 10 Through 6

The 2017 College Football season is starting in less than two weeks and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This is the fourth edition and we will continue predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 10 Through 6

10. (Pac-12) Washington will win the Pac-12 – Last year we said Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, we were way wrong and felt like the 2017 would be the breakout season for Washington. The Huskies arrived a year earlier than we expected, but we still like them in 2017.

The offense has seven starters back led by Jake Browning (43 touchdowns against 9 interceptions) and running backs Myles Gaskin (1,371 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Lavon Coleman (852 yards and 7 TDs). The offense loses John Ross (leading receiver with 1,150 yards and 17 TDs), but there are a ton of weapons on offense to ease the burden. After putting up 41.8 points and 457 yards per game in 2016, the offense should be just as powerful.

The defense has done very well the past two seasons. 2015 saw the unit allow 18.8 points and 352 yards per game with four starters back. In 2016, the defense did even better allowing 17.7 points and 317 yards per game. Six starters are back including four in the front six and four of the top five tacklers. They may not match last season’s numbers, but they will still be one of best in the Pac-12.

The Huskies have a very favorable schedule to make a second straight Pac-12 Championship game. They have road games at Colorado, Oregon State, and Arizona State in the front half of their conference schedule. Their final five games include four at home with their one road game at Stanford. They also avoid USC out of the South, a team they could easily face for the Pac-12 title. The Huskies are primed for another big season.

9. (ACC) Lamar Jackson will not win the Heisman – Let’s start by saying this: Lamar Jackson is more than capable of winning a second straight Heisman. He is an electrifying athlete, but he lost a lot of pieces around him and the expectations are sky high.

Louisville’s offense averaged 42.5 points and 533 yards per game in 2016, but loses its top three receivers and top running back. Jackson was easily the top rusher with 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. The loses along the offensive line (three starters) will hurt as well. Overall, the offense will be potent, but will be hard-pressed to equal their output in 2017.

The other part of the equation is expectations. Archie Griffin is the only two time winner of the Heisman (1974-75) and the 9 returning Heisman winners since have largely seen a drop off in stats. The link here shows the stats for each returning Heisman winner going back to 1945. That is probably the biggest hurdle to winning a second straight Heisman and the supporting cast does not look as strong this year (though still very good).

8. (ACC) North Carolina State will win at least 10 games – 2017 is the best season to date for Dave Doeren to breakthrough with North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have 17 starters back and their opponents have some serious concerns.

On offense, the Wolfpack return nine starters led by Ryan Finley at quarterback (3,059 yards with 18 TDs and 8 interceptions). The biggest question is at running back after the loss of Matthew Dayes (1,155 yards and 10 TDs). The offensive line returns four starters, which should help cushion the loss of Dayes. The top four receivers return and this unit should eclipse the 2016 numbers of 27 points and 417 yards per game.

The defense returns 8 starters from a group that allowed 22.8 points and 353 yards per game. Three of the top five and six of the top eight tacklers are back including the front six that allowed just 109 rushing yards per game. That group will need to be just as good and the defense overall should put up similar numbers to 2016.

The schedule starts with South Carolina in Charlotte followed by back-to-back home games against Marshall and Furman. The next four games are all against ACC foes: Florida State (away), Syracuse (home), Louisville (home), and Pittsburgh (away).

The season closes out against Notre Dame (away), Clemson (home), Boston College (away), Wake Forest (away), and North Carolina (home). It will not be easy to reach 10 wins, but with both Louisville and Clemson at home, they might sneak in an upset to give them confidence and put 10 wins in reach.

7. (ACC) Florida State will win the ACC – The Seminoles look like the standout team in 2017. The offense has six starters back from a unit that put up 35.1 points and 466 yards per game. They lost Dalvin Cook (1,765 yard and 19 TDs) as well as the top two receivers. However, they return quarterback Deondre Francois and three starters on the line. The running back spot will be key to develop, but the talent is immense on depth chart for that position.

The defense took a step back in 2016 giving up 25 points and 349 yards per game. Compare that to 2015 when they allowed 17.5 points and 337 yards per game. Nine starters are back including eight of the top nine tacklers. This group should get closer to 2015 numbers and will be the key to how far the Seminoles go.

Florida State opens with the massive game against Alabama in Atlanta. Their ACC schedule is very kind as they face Miami, NC State, and Louisville at home. They face Clemson away in their last conference game of the season. Florida State looks set for another big season, which we think will culminate in an ACC Championship at the very least.

6. (SEC) Missouri will have the SEC’s highest scoring offense – This prediction will be based on the points per game over the entire season. Missouri made a gigantic improvement from 2015 to 2016 on offense. The Tigers put up a horrid 13.6 points and 281 yards per game in 2015, which ended up being Gary Pinkel’s final season in Columbia.  2016 saw them go up to 31.4 points and 501 yards per game and that happened with a new head coach (Barry Odom) and only three returning starters.

2017 will see 10 starters return on offense and their lone loss was at tight end. Drew Lock is back to lead the offense after throwing for 3,399 yards with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Damarea Crockett (1,062 yards and 10 TDs) and Ish Witter (750 yards and 6 TDs) are also returning in the backfield with Lock. The top four receivers also return: J’Mon Moore (1,012 yards and 8 TDs), Dimetrios Mason (587 and 3 TDs), Johnathon Johnson (435 and 2 TDs), and Emanuel Hall (307 and 2 TDs).

The offense looks wonderful on paper and they open with four straight home games versus Missouri State, South Carolina, Purdue, and Auburn. The offense may need to be even better because the defense was very porous last year (31.5 points and 480 yards per game). In addition, the Tigers averaged only 22.6 points per game in SEC play, a mark that will need to go up if the Tigers want to contend for a bowl game.

Teams like Alabama (38.8 PPG in 2016), Texas A&M (34.8), Auburn (31.2), Arkansas (30.3), and even Kentucky (30) pose a threat to score more (especially the Tide with their main pieces returning). However, Missouri’s offense returns nearly intact and should fare even better in the second year under Odom.

That concludes the fourth set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for the final five predictions, which will include two predictions for the SEC and three for the Big 10.

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 15 Through 11

Colorado had a great season in 2016 going 10-4 and played in the Pac-12 Championship. How will they fare in 2017? (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 15 Through 11

The 2017 College Football season is starting later this month and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the third and we will start predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 15 Through 11

15. (Big 12) Oklahoma State will lead the Big 12 in points scored – The Cowboys have 7 starters back on offense including the key skill positions. Quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards (63.4%) with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Three of his top four targets from 2016 return led by James Washington. Washington had 71 catches for 1,380 yards with 10 touchdowns while Jalen McCleskey had 73 receptions for 812 yards and 7 touchdowns. There is also the threat of Justice Hill in the backfield with Rudolph as he had 1,142 yards and 6 touchdowns. With three starters back on the line, this team should eclipse 2016’s numbers of 38.6 points and 495 yards per game.

The Big 12 is full of potent offenses starting with Oklahoma. The Sooners had 43.9 points per game in 2016 and lost four big names: head coach Bob Stoops, receiver Dede Westbrook, and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Even with Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield back, the Sooners could see a slight step back on offense.

Another potent team is TCU who returns 10 starters from a group that underachieved in 2016 when only 2 starters returned. Every top skill position player returns for the Horned Frogs and they will easily eclipse the 31 points per game they averaged in 2016.

Both Texas and Baylor welcome new coaches. Texas has Tom Herman and his offense though there will probably be a few hiccups as it is installed. Baylor is typically one of the highest scoring offenses (over 44 points per game from 2011 through 2015) but Matt Rhule has a more pro-style system.

The other big threat to the scoring title is Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury’s high flying offense. The Red Raiders lose quarterback Patrick Mahomes and top receiver Jonathan Giles, but most other key pieces return. They will still put up points, but with a new starter might lead to a drop off in points (43.7 per game in 2016).

14. (Big 12) TCU will win the Big 12 Championship – 2017 sees the return of the Big 12 Championship Game ostensibly to help the conference from getting left out of the College Football Playoffs. We will see if the re-introduction has the intended effect. As for the return of the game, we like TCU to win the 2017 edition.

There is no doubt that 2016 was a subpar season for the Horned Frogs when they finished 6-7. The offense had only 2 starters back and averaged just 31 points per game (down 11 points per game from 2015). The biggest disappointment was defense, which actually got worse with 8 starters back. In 2016, they allowed 28 points and 427 yards per game (about 1 point and 30 yards per game worse than 2015).

2017 sees a much more experienced offense with 10 starters back. Kenny Hill had an up and down season with 17 touchdowns and 13 picks, but he returns all of the key position players. After putting up 31 points and 463 yards per game in 2016, they should get close or even go beyond 40 points per contest.

On defense, 7 starters are back including 5 of the top 6 tacklers. Travin Howard (130 tackles) and Ty Summers (121 tackles) will command the secondary and linebackers respectively. Even in a high scoring league like the Big 12, the defense should improve from the 28 points and 427 yards per game they allowed in 2016.

The Horned Frogs have five Big 12 road games including some tough ones at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and even a potentially tricky game at Iowa State. The Oklahoma State game is in week four and could end up deciding one of the participants for the Big 12 Championship Game. TCU is flying under the radar and this team is in a very good position to win the Big 12.

13. (Big 12) Iowa State will reach a bowl game – The Cyclones have not been to a bowl game since 2012 when they played in the Liberty Bowl, but lost to Tulsa 31-17. Matt Campbell was hired in late 2015, just a day after former coach Paul Rhoads coached his final game. Iowa State went 3-9 in 2016 and the biggest highlight was their dismantling of Texas Tech 66-10 in the penultimate game of the year.

The second year should see improvements on both sides of the ball. The offense had a respectable 27.7 points per game in 2016 with just three starters back, a new coach, and constant quarterback shuffling. Jacob Park is the man now after throwing for 1,791 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The top two receivers and running backs return including Allen Lazard. Lazard had 69 catches for 1,118 yards with 7 touchdowns and needs 678 yards to become the school’s all-time leading receiver. The offense should top 30 points per game with more quarterback stability and more experience and knowledge of the offense.

The defense did okay in 2016 with a new coach and 7 starters back. They allowed 31.3 points and 453 yards per game, which was actually 1.4 points per game less. Six starters are back and a slight improvement would go along way for this team.

The schedule starts with Northern Iowa and Iowa at home before a road trip to Akron. The Cyclones need a 2-1 at worst to give them any shot of reaching a bowl. They only get four home games in the Big 12 (Texas, Kansas, TCU, and Oklahoma State) and will probably need to win at least two of those. The five road games are at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas State. There is no margin for error given their schedule, but the Cyclones have the pieces to get 6 wins in Matt Campbell’s second year.

12. (Pac-12) Washington State will reach double digit wins – We are very bullish on the Cougars this year thanks to 16 returning starters (7 on offense and 9 on defense) and schedule (not easy, but manageable).

Mike Leach will be in year 6 at Wazzu with a very experienced Luke Falk. Falk is a senior in 2017 and he loses two of his top three wideouts (Gabe Marks and River Cracraft). Despite those two, Falk distributing the ball will help absorb the losses. Also returning are the top three running backs who averaged 120 yards per game in 2016. That was the highest amount for the offense under Leach at Washington State.

One of the bigger surprises the last two seasons has been the defense. In 2015 they allowed 27.7 points and 417 yards per game while 2016 was small improvements to 26.4 points and 406 yards per game. Those have been the best numbers under Leach and coincides with the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. With 9 starters back in 2017, there could be even more improvement in the numbers.

The schedule is not easy, but the Cougars do not play a road game until October. They open with five straight at home against Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State, Nevada, and USC. The Broncos and Trojans will be tough contests, but being in Pullman will give them a better chance to win both games.

October is road stretch with Oregon (away), California (away), Colorado (home), and Arizona (away). All four are winnable though a resurgent Oregon team might be the trickiest. The schedule closes with Stanford (home), Utah (away), and Washington (away) after a bye week.

The Pac-12 North looks very competitive, but the Cougars are set up for success on offense and defense. Washington State is a dark horse to win the North so long as they take care of USC and Washington, but those would both be big upsets.

11. (Pac-12) Colorado will reach a second straight bowl game – Colorado surprised many in 2016 when they made the Pac-12 Championship Game as the South division winners. A repeat of that in 2017 would be just as surprising, but they still have a great chance at reaching a second straight bowl.

The offense returns mostly intact with 9 starters back, however, they lose quarterback Sefo Liufau. His replacement is Steven Montez and he did get some playing time in 2016 when Liufau was injured so the drop off may not be as severe. All the top receivers return as does running back Phillip Lindsay (1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns). The offense put up 31.1 points and 437 yards per game in 2016 and should get close or top those numbers again this season.

Defense is a major concern with only three starters back from a group that allowed 21.7 points and 343 yards per game. Three of the top five tacklers are back with two of those in the secondary. There are quite a few upperclassmen as projected starters, but the numbers will still get worse.

The Buffs will start with four games within the state of Colorado: Colorado State (in Denver), Texas State, Northern Colorado, and Washington with the latter three at home. The CSU game may not be the walk in the park as expected because the Rams will have already played one game and look like a contender in the Mountain West.

Three of the next four are away: UCLA, Arizona (home), Oregon State, and Washington State. The season concludes with California (home), Arizona State (away), USC (home), and Utah (away). There are enough wins on the schedule (both home and away) for the Buffs to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2004-05.

That concludes the third set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 10 through 6, which will be one more prediction for the Pac-12, three for the ACC, and one for the SEC.

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

Quinton Flowers (#9 above) and South Florida might run away with the AAC East Division. (Jason Behnken/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

The 2017 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the second and we once again will focus on the mid-majors conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 20 Through 16

20. (MAC) Akron will win the MAC EastTerry Bowden will be in his 6th year at Akron and this team looks poised for a big season. 8 starters are back from an offense that put up 27.4 points and 387 yards per game. The 2016 offense had only 3 starters back and now the top quarterback and running backs return. The offense has to contend with the loss of the top 2 receivers, but do have talent to replace them.

The defense has 7 starters back from a group that allowed 33.6 points and 466 yards per game. The 2016 version had four starters back while 2017 will see much more experience and add in Miami (FL) transfer James King. The defense should be closer to 2014 numbers of 23.1 points and 371 yards per game allowed.

Akron has a potentially difficult conference schedule with all 8 games packed into 8 weeks. They start with Bowling Green (away) and Ball State (home) before back-to-back road games at MAC West contenders Western Michigan and Toledo. Even a split of those two games would be huge for the Zips. Akron ends the conference season Buffalo (home), Miami (away), Ohio (home), and Kent State (home). The run in is favorable for them to steal the MAC East from Miami and Ohio.

19. (MWC) Boise State will lose at least three games – This does not seem like much of a prediction, but let’s provide some historical context. Since the Broncos have moved from the FCS to FBS, they have only 1 stretch of three or more seasons when they lost at least three games: 1996-1999. That coincided with their move to the top level of collegiate football. Boise State has shown a great pattern of bouncing back when they have a multi-loss season.

The 2017 Boise State team has five starters back on offense and four on defense, which will hurt the Broncos. The duo of Jeremy McNichols (RB) and Thomas Sperbeck (WR) depart for veteran quarterback Brett Rypien, but Rypien still has a lot of talent around him. They will need to step up to help him and the team. The defense loses the top four tacklers and six of the top seven from 2016. Again, there is talent on both sides of the ball to help absorb some of the departures, but that lone does not mean success.

The schedule is difficult for Boise State. They take on Troy (home), Washington State (away), Virginia (home), and BYU (away) in the non-conference portion. In the Mountain West, they have to play San Diego State (away), Wyoming (home), Nevada (home), Colorado State (away), and pesky Air Force (home). The Falcons have beaten Boise State three straight seasons although they look weaker this season.

There is no doubt Boise State is talented enough to win double digit games and even the Mountain West, but it looks like they will see a third straight 3+ loss season for the first time in nearly two decades. That is still impressive given their relatively short history in the FBS.

18. (MWC) Air Force will reach a bowl game – In 10 seasons under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have only failed to reach a bowl game once. The non-bowl season was in 2013 when they went 2-10 going winless in conference play.

A 10th bowl game in 11 seasons is not a slam dunk for Air Force. They have six starters back on offense led by experienced quarterbacks Arion Worthman and Nate Romine. Top receiver Jalen Robinette has moved on, which may lead to more rushing plays. That will put extra pressure on Worthman and Romine as well as Tim McVey, who is the top returning running back by a wide margin. The pieces are there for Air Force to do well on offense.

The real worry on paper is the defense, which returns just one starter and loses 12 of the top 13 tacklers. Grant Ross is back at linebacker and he was the third leading tackler in 2016. The defense allowed 26.2 points and 365 yards per game in 2016 with 9 starters back so on paper it looks like they will take sizable a step back. The last time Air Force had only a few starters back on defense was in 2012 when they had 2. That group did well enough to allow only 29 points and 409 yards per game, which represented marginal increases of .6 points and 23 yards from the 2011 numbers.

Air Force will need a few upsets to reach 6 wins and a bowl game, but the path is there. Air Force takes on VMI (home), Michigan (away), Navy (away), and Army (home) in a non-conference schedule sprinkled throughout the first 9 weeks. From the West division they will play San Diego State (home), UNLV (home), and Nevada (away). Their best chances are the latter two though a porous defense will hurt their opportunity to reach 6 wins.

The Falcons have to deal with a contentious Mountain division of New Mexico (away), Colorado State (away), Wyoming (home), Boise State (away), and Utah State (home). The Falcons could win 3 of those games, which would give them a great chance to get to a bowl.

17. (AAC) 9 teams will make a bowl game – The American Athletic Conference has been on an upward swing since the start of the chaotic conference realignment that began 7 years ago. 2013 was the first season of AAC football and they sent 5 of their 10 members to a bowl game.

2014 saw 5 of 11 teams go to bowl game followed by their best season when 8 of 12 teams went to a bowl game. 2016 finished with 7 teams going to a bowl game and a lot of preseason hype around Houston.

This year looks like a great opportunity for the AAC to put 75% of its members into a bowl game. The AAC has 7 bowl tie ins and the oversupply of bowl games make it easier for teams to participate than ever before. (Side note: there is actually one less bowl game than 2016 with the cessation of the Poinsettia Bowl).

In 2017, South Florida is the clear favorite for the East division, but Temple (10-4 in 2016, but a new coach this year) and Central Florida (6-7 in 2016) also look likely to get back to a bowl game. The bottom half of the East looks like a conundrum between Cincinnati, Connecticut, and East Carolina. The Bearcats underachieved in 2016 and now have Luke Fickell in his first season. They could improve enough to get a bowl bid.

Connecticut welcomes Randy Edsall back to Storrs after a six year absence. Edsall made a bowl game in each of his last four seasons and has 7 starters on both offense and defense to work with. He could steal a bowl bid though the offense will need a lot more than 14.8 points per game. East Carolina is the weakest team in the East and they will be in year two of Scottie Montgomery’s reign. They have a tough schedule out of conference (West Virginia, Virginia Tech, BYU) and will probably struggle to top the 3 win total they put up in 2016.

The West looks very competitive between Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, and Navy. Any of those four could win the division and even SMU and Tulane look capable of getting a bowl bid.

SMU will be in year three with Chad Morris and he has 9 starters back on offense and 5 on defense. They should open 4-1 to give them great confidence to grab the last 2 needed wins. Tulane has a bit more work to do in the second season of Willie Fritz. He has 8 starters on both offense and defense, which looks like a good thing. The offense improved 4.4 points on offense and 8.6 on defense in his first season. Another improvement like that in 2017 and Tulane will be bowling.

To summarize, we like South Florida, Temple, Central Florida, and Cincinnati from the East division to make a bowl game. From the West, we like Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, Navy, and SMU to make a bowl game. Those are the 9 we like to make a bowl, but any 9 will do for this prediction.

16. (AAC) – South Florida and Memphis will play in the AAC Championship GameSouth Florida is in year one under Charlie Strong and has a great situation on his hands. He walks into 7 returning starters on offense and 9 on defense. Quinton Flowers will lead the offense that put up 43.8 points. Flowers led the team in both passing and rushing last year and could have an even better year.

The 2016 defense actually allowed quite a few points at 31.6 per game and 482 yards per game. Now 9 starters are back for Charlie Strong, which should mean a big improvement on that side of the ball. Their toughest games all come at home against Temple, Houston, and Tulsa.

The West division is wide open and we will go with Memphis to win it. All the pieces are back on offense for Mike Norvell between quarterback Riley Ferguson, running back Doroland Dorceus, and receivers Phil Mayhue and Anthony Miller. An offense that put up 38.8 points per game in 2016 now has 9 starters back and looks set to put up over 40 points per game.

The defense for Memphis has 6 starters back from a group that allowed 28.8 points and 455 yards per game. The top two tacklers, Jonathan Cook (88) and Genard Avery (81), are both back as are 5 of the front 7. The main concern is the secondary, but they do have 2 Oklahoma transfers in the mix.

Memphis will have tough road games at Central Florida, Houston, and Tulsa, but winning two of those games would put them in a great position to make their first AAC Championship Game.

That concludes the second set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 15 through 11.