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20 Bold Predictions For The 2013 College Football Season

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20 Bold Predictions For 2013 College Football Season

BCS Trophy
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

With the 2012 college football season officially behind us, it’s time to look ahead to 2013. After an unpredictable and wild ride this year, what could be in store for us next fall?

This season gave us plenty of surprises. A freshman won the Heisman Trophy, a “pure” defensive player had a serious shot at the Heisman, a preseason No. 1 USC Trojans lost six games and an unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish team in August played for the BCS National Championship in January. 2012 was also the year of the “nerds,” with the Stanford Cardinal, Duke Blue Devils and Northwestern Wildcats all making a bowl game (Duke’s first in 18 years) and Northwestern actually won (their first bowl win since 1949).

Of course, there were the things that didn’t surprise us either. The SEC was still very good, winning their seventh straight BCS title as the Alabama Crimson Tide rolled to their second straight title and third in four years. Chip Kelly once again flirted with the NFL before returning to the Oregon Ducks, Lane Kiffin put his foot in his mouth a whole bunch and the Big East didn’t get any respect.

So what lies ahead for college football fans in 2013? What stud freshman is waiting in the wings to take the country by storm? Which coaches will take their team to the next level? Who is going to be looking for work next January? How will the BCS go out, with a whimper or a shout (of frustration from some fanbase who gets shafted most likely)? Will the Kansas Jayhawks beat an FBS opponent?

Crazier things have happened, so let’s make 20 bold predictions for the 2013 season.

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20. The Big East will go the way of the WAC and dissolve

Big East trophy
Jim O'Connor - USA TODAY Sports

There’s a reason the Big East didn’t get any respect and that’s because the conference isn’t very good. Not necessarily in terms of on the field play, as the conference did bring home some big wins this bowl season, but just in general, the Big East is bad.

The conference can’t keep teams, even founding members, from bolting for greener pastures in the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12. Their conference champion who represented the league in the BCS, the Louisville Cardinals, pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season when they shocked the Florida Gators. Only problem is they’ll be taking their Sugar Bowl trophy and heading to the ACC in 2014.

So too will the Syracuse Orange who beat the West Virginia Mountaineers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. WVU, of course, bolted the Big East for the Big 12 after the 2011 season and the Orange are now ACC bound. Add in the defection of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and pullout of the Boise State Broncos (not to mention the chaos of the Catholic Seven in college basketball), and things look bleak for the future of the Big East.

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19. The ACC will be the first conference to 20 teams

John Swofford
Sam Sharpe - USA TODAY Sports

The race to form the first “Super Conference” is heating up and it looks like a race between the Big Ten and ACC at this point. Both will expand to 14 teams next season, the same number as the SEC but with a less strenuous screening process for new applicants. Neither has shown any hesitation to pick the bones of the Big East.

The ACC, however, appears to be in a better position to poach the remaining members if the Big East finally bites the dust. They are already getting Syracuse, Louisville and the Pitt Panthers from the Big East and the Cincinnati Bearcats and Connecticut Huskies have openly campaigned for an invitation. That would leave the Temple Owls and South Florida Bulls, which would both fit nicely into the geography of the ACC.

That would but the ACC up to 18 teams. If they were somehow able to convince the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to drop the “partial” football member tag and join up full-time (unlikely without HUGE concessions by the conference), they would just one short of the 20-team plateau. Perhaps new Big East members such as the Navy Midshipmen or the Central Florida Knights could be persuaded and make the first super-conference complete.

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18. The Mountain West Conference will be the best non-BCS conference

Boise State
Brian Losness - USA TODAY Sports

With the return of Boise State and the possible return of the San Diego State Aztecs, this prediction may not be so bold. While the conference suffered a bit of a letdown this bowl season, going just 1-4, they return a lot of talent to the conference next season. That continuity, plus possible expansion, could put them over as the best non-BCS conference in the land.

Boise State had a down year by their standards, but they were playing with a woefully inexperienced offense. With a year of experience under their belt, they should return even better than this season (when they finished 11-2, BTW). The Fresno State Bulldogs, co-champs of the MWC, get another year with their 4,000-yard passing quarterback Derek Carr. The Aztecs offense returns Adam Muema at running back, who should carry the offense to new heights next year. The Nevada Wolfpack will also be better with Cody Fajardo returning with a little more experience under his belt.

While the MAC reigned supreme over the mid-major conferences this season, the Mountain West looks poised to take back the title next year. Their depth and toughness should get well-represented in their non-conference schedules and in next year’s bowl season, which could include one last BCS buster.

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17. 2013 will be Lane Kiffin's last season with USC Trojans

Lane Kiffin
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of alumni who with 2012 had been his last year with USC. Kiffin burned bridge after bridge this year as he became the first to coach a preseason No. 1 team and lose six games. The Trojans were also the first preseason No. 1 to finish the season unranked since 1964. And his antics away from the field didn’t endear him to many people either.

Kiffin has built his career being brash, but it’s starting to wear without wins to back it up. This year’s Trojans squad was considered one of the most talented in the country, which Kiffin then squandered (though a lack of depth due to NCAA sanctions probably had a hand in it as well). Snafu after snafu haunted Kiffin this season and by the end of it, the USC faithful had enough of it.

But athletic director Pat Haden is giving Kiffin another year at the helm. Whether he is just waiting out the scholarship reductions with the guy he’s got or genuinely believes Kiffin is the best man for the job remains to be seen. Either way, another season even close to the one they just suffered and no amount of charm will save Kiffin’s job.

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16. A defensive player will be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy

Jadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

It already happened in 2012 with Manti Te’o and he made a strong push as a very vocal anti-offense movement started up. Their reasoning: if the award is supposed to go to the “most outstanding” player, then a defensive player should win it. The Irish linebacker fell short, but the movement has started, and all they need is a new defensive star to rally around.

Enter South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Gamecocks defensive standout had a ridiculous season in 2012, making 23.5 tackles for loss with 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. He was up for almost every major defensive award (which he lost out on to Te’o), so he has some nice momentum built up from the regular season.

Then he said he wanted to win it, so he’s going to put in the PR work for it. It also helps that he kicked off his 2013 campaign with a Heisman moment this bowl season when he exploded into the Michigan Wolverines backfield and hit a running back so hard it looked like he had exploded. The Wolverines’ back lost his helmet (which flew about 10 yards), the football (which Clowney snatched up with one hand) and set the internet on fire. For that, he should at least get to come with Clowney to New York City for the Heisman presentation. Only seems fair.

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15. Louisville Cardinals will win the Big East ... again

Louisville Cardinals
Derick Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

The Louisville Cardinals come back for their farewell tour of the Big East in 2013 and they’re going to run roughshod through it, taking the championship trophy and the BCS bid with them to the ACC in 2014. Teddy Bridgewater returns after turning everyone’s head in the Sugar Bowl and he has all the tools to carve up the Big East one last time on his way out the door.

Add in the no-nonsense Charlie Strong leading the way, and Louisville is going to put their best foot forward as they make the move to a new conference. They showed just what they could do against Florida as they played tough, physical and disciplined to take down the No. 2 team out of the vaunted SEC.

And if the Gators couldn’t hang, what chance do you give Temple?

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14. The Michigan Wolverines will win the Big Ten

Devin Gardner
Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Michigan Wolverines lose Denard Robinson, who holds just about every record Michigan has and yes they have to go through a tough Ohio State Buckeyes team to get there. But the Wolverines will be better next year, especially on offense, because of their new quarterback Devin Gardner.

Gardner is a better passer than Robinson was and has enough athletic ability to keep that aspect in the offense without it continuing to be the focus. Brady Hoke’s offense isn’t catered to a running quarterback the way that former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez’s did. He will be helped out immensely by Robinson’s departure because he will be able to get back to an offense that he is more comfortable running.

Just for comparison, Denard Robinson played eight games at quarterback this season, three more than Gardner. Despite the three fewer games, though, Gardner threw just 41 fewer passes, 100 fewer yards, and two more touchdowns than Robinson did. Given a full offseason as the man in Ann Arbor, Gardner will have a huge 2013 and take Michigan all the way back to a Rose Bowl.

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13. Chip Kelly will leave Oregon Ducks for the NFL

Chip Kelly
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

After back-to-back seasons of flirting with the NFL, next year will finally be the year that Chip Kelly takes the leap and leaves the Oregon Ducks. There’s a combination of reasons for it: 1) he’s running out of accomplishments to achieve in college, 2) he’s running out of good will with the NFL front offices he keeps teasing and 3) the right opportunity for him will finally come available.

The best place for Kelly to land and have some success is somewhere with a mobile quarterback who can throw the ball and running backs with speed who can also run inside the tackles, a.k.a. the Carolina Panthers. Jerry Richardson was on the fence about keeping Ron Rivera this offseason and another sub-.500 season could prompt change for the Panthers.

Change for the Panthers means change for Kelly. He would be able to use the talents of Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams to create a dynamic running attack that would help the Panthers find success early and often. Oregon’s loss will be Carolina’s gain.

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12. Aaron Murray will be a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft

Aaron Murray
Kevin Liles - USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray decided to return to school for his senior season and lead UGA hopefully back to the SEC title game, but with better results this time. His return should help out Murray on an individual level as well as he raises up his stock heading into the 2014 NFL draft.

Murray has a lot of the tools that makes a successful signal caller at the next level. He has a great arm, throws with accuracy and can attack the field laterally to stretch defenses. Despite all of that, he is graded exceptionally low due to his size (6-foot-1), small hand-size and propensity for taking risks with the football.

The size thing he won’t be able to change, but his production on the field could make NFL scouts reconsider their stance on him. If he can continue the trend of taking care of the football he had from sophomore to junior year (14 interceptions to 10 interceptions) while also upping his production on it again (3,149 yards/59.1 CMP%/35 TD in 2011 to 3,893/64.5/36) then Murray is going to push his way into the top of the next NFL draft.

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11. Marqise Lee will be a Heisman Trophy finalist

Marqise Lee
Matt Kartozian - USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest snubs in 2012, Marqise Lee put together one of the best seasons statistically for a wide receiver in history, yet somehow couldn’t swing an invite to NYC. Part of it was USC’s free-fall at the end of the season, but Lee was still worthy of invitation. Next year as a junior, Lee promises to be even better.

This season, Lee set Pac 12 records for receptions (118) and yards (1,721) while catching 14 touchdown passes. He was also a dynamic weapon in the return game on kickoffs, taking one all the way back for a 100-yard touchdown. However, Lee’s youth hurt him in places and he had at least one huge drop in almost every game. Lee recognized those shortcomings and has dedicated himself this offseason to eradicating them.

There is some question about who Lee will be receiving the ball from, as heir-apparent Max Wittek flopped in his two starts this season in place of the injured Matt Barkley. But one thing is sure in a Lane Kiffin offense, he’s going to feed his stars the ball, even to the detriment of the team if comments from some Trojans are to be believed. While that may not bode well for the Trojans’ chances in 2013, it will certainly help Lee’s chances at bringing home some individual hardware.

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10. The Ohio State Buckeyes will not go undefeated

Braxton Miller
Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

In conjunction with bold prediction No. 14, this one is a no-brainer. If Michigan wins the Big Ten, they’ll have to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes to get there. But the Buckeyes will be blemished even before the Big Game this year as they will not be able to replicate their perfect run they achieved in 2012.

One of the reasons is the pressure and expectations will be ratcheted way up next season. Braxton Miller was excellent this season, but showed some limitations in the passing game. He’ll be asked to take on even more of the offense in Urban Meyer’s second season and defenses are going to be preparing themselves to take away Miller’s running ability from games.

And let’s not forget, the Buckeyes were incredibly fortunate to win several of their games this season. Half of their wins this season came by seven points or fewer with two of them coming in overtime. Good fortune rarely comes twice as college football karma always seems to balance out. You can’t continue to get into close games with the likes of the Wisconsin Badgers (7-point OT win), Indiana Hoosiers (3-point win), Purdue Boilermakers (7-point OT win) and Michigan (5-point win) and get away with it forever.

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9. The Clemson Tigers will win the ACC

Tajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey - USA TODAY Sports

The ACC is quickly becoming a two-team race between the Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles. This season, the Tigers came up short against FSU in a shootout which ended up costing them a chance at the ACC championship. With Tajh Boyd returning for his senior year, things look to be different in 2013.

Clemson has an early test before conference play begins with the Georgia Bulldogs coming to Death Valley to open the season. That will give them a good barometer of how elite the team can be and get the home crowd amped up for a big game atmosphere that they’ll try and take to the next level when the Seminoles come to town. With key players leaving Tallahassee this year, the time is now for Clemson to rise up and take control of the conference.

They have plenty of offensive firepower to do it too, even without DeAndre Hopkins coming back. Sammy Watkins will be back for his junior season, where he’ll look to improve on an inconsistent, injury-plagued 2012 that included a suspension. He’ll have an opportunity to shine in 2013 and remind the country just how talented he is, and Clemson will benefit greatly from it.

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8. The Oregon State Beavers will win the Pac 12

Storm Woods
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

One of the surprise teams of the college football season in 2012, expectations are going to be raised for the Oregon State Beavers in 2013 and they have the tools to step up. They will return 15 starters next season (8 offense, 7 defense) and many of the key contributors that made this team so good this season.

While leading receiver Markus Wheaton and top cover-man Jordan Poyer both leave Corvallis, the team has guys returning at most every other position. The other member of the dynamic duo of receivers with Wheaton, Brandin Cooks, will be back to step into the No. 1 receiver role. Leading rushing and true freshman in 2012 Storm Woods comes back, looking to build off his 940 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. Both quarterbacks, Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, will be back and if one of them can win the starting job and stay healthy, things will be looking up for Mike Riley’s offense.

More importantly, that stingy defense is staying largely together. Leading sack-man Scott Crichton, who finished the year with 9.0 sacks, is back along with D.J. Alexander, who came on late this season. They will anchor what was the No. 30 overall defense this season (No. 3 in the Pac 12) and No. 27 rush defense (No. 3 in Pac 12) in 2012. With these pieces back and another year to improve, Mike Riley could just sneak his way into a Pac 12 Championship trophy presentation.

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7. A quarterback will not win the Heisman Trophy

Heisman Trophy
Jerry Lai - USA TODAY Sports

There is a sense of “quarterback fatigue” it seems growing with college football fans and the Heisman Trophy voters in general. It wasn’t reflected in the final tally of the 2012 Heisman (two QBs in the top three), but there is a sense that voters will be looking at other positions to break up the dominance of the quarterback position, which has won the Heisman in 11 of the last 12 years.

And voters will have plenty of options to choose from. If the defensive movement continues to pick up steam and Jadeveon Clowney continues his dominant play, he could be a serious contender. There’s also Marqise Lee of USC, who promises to build on an exceptional 2012 to fuel a Heisman campaign of his own. Then there’s a litany of running backs who could take it home, like DeAnthony Thomas of the Oregon Ducks who was a preseason favorite in 2012, Ka’Deem Carey of the Arizona Wildcats who led the nation in rushing, or Lache Seastrunk who exploded in the last month of the season and guaranteed a Heisman Trophy in 2013.

They will have to have exceptional years to do it, but the field looks strong enough that someone other than a quarterback could take it home. The quarterback class isn’t going to be a pushover, though, with reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel in the running again along with Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Braxton Miller, just to name a few. But a quarterback can’t win it every year…can they?

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6. The Georgia Bulldogs will win the SEC

Georgia Bulldogs
Brad Barr - USA TODAY Sports

After coming within a better executed two-minute drill of winning it this year, the Georgia Bulldogs will take the next step and take home the SEC championship in 2013. They’ll be helped by their continuity as nearly every offensive starter returns to Athens for next season, minus receiver Taverres King, who graduates this year.

The Bulldogs were one of the best offense in the country, ranking No. 21 in the nation. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will both return as sophomores in 2013 after combining for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. The offensive line remains intact and is playing better than expected. With another year together, they could become one of the best units in the country. The Dawgs also get back their top receivers from this season along with Michael Bennett returning from an ACL injury.

The defense will have to replace a number of seniors, but the Bulldogs always find great playmakers to plug into their defense. They get two of their toughest tests, the South Carolina Gamecocks and LSU Tigers, at home next season and avoid Alabama in the regular season. That puts them in a great position to roll through the regular season and right into the SEC championship, where they’ll build off their near-success from this season to take home the title.

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5. The Fresno State Bulldogs will bust the BCS

Fresno State
Cary Edmondson - USA TODAY Sports

The Mountain West looks like it will be the strongest non-BCS conference in college football next season (see bold prediction No. 18), and one of their teams will take advantage of that to bust up the BCS. The best bet will be the Fresno State Bulldogs.

Fresno returns it’s quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for over 4,000 yards this season with 37 passing touchdowns. He’ll look to get even better as a senior next year and the Bulldogs benefit from not having their head coach poached by a bigger program. That continuity will help them transition seamlessly into 2013 and build off their success in 2012 as co-champions of the MWC.

Also helping them is their schedule. This year, their non-conference schedule looked brutal with a trip to Autzen Stadium to take on the Oregon Ducks where they were blown out. They also had to travel to Boise to take on the Broncos on their blue turf, losing 20-10. Next year, their toughest non-conference game looks to be Rutgers and they’ll likely get Boise State at home. Everything lines up for the Bulldogs to make a run to the BCS.

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4. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will not win 10 games

Notre Dame
Eileen Blass - USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly stirred the echoes of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this season, guiding them to a perfect 12-0 regular season record before getting pushed all over the field in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama. While they fell short of their ultimate goal of a title, they succeeded in getting the Irish back into the national conversation of college football elite.

However, he’ll have an uphill battle doing it again next year. The Notre Dame schedule is always pretty tough, but next season it gets absolutely brutal with trips to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan, Palo Alto to face Stanford and a neutral site game in Dallas against the Arizona State Sun Devils (who should be very good in 2013). They also have the Michigan State Spartans, Oklahoma Sooners, USC Trojans and BYU Cougars coming into South Bend, which will test their home-field advantage.

And all without several pieces of their dominant defense that carried them this season. Manti Te’o is the most notable departure, but he isn’t alone and the Irish will be hard pressed to field a defense as stout as the one that took the field in 2012 (up until Alabama of course). Without a top-tier defense, they’ll likely lose a couple of their tough games, and fall short of 10 wins in 2013.

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3. Teddy Bridgewater will be the best quarterback in the country

Teddy Bridgewater
Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

The Louisville Cardinals quarterback burst onto the scene with his breakout performance against the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl. But Teddy Bridgewater had been playing phenomenally all season long with intelligent, tough quarterback play that will only get better in the signal caller’s junior season.

Bridgewater’s game will only improve because he has displayed phenomenal fundamentals, excellent accuracy and good decision making that points to more upward growth in 2013. This season, he completed over 68 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. His toughness was on display as well at the end of the year when he came in the game against Rutgers with a broken hand and led the Cardinals to the Big East championship.

He followed that up with a surgical performance against one of the best defenses in the country, even after taking a vicious hit to the head that knocked his helmet clean off on the first play of the game. His grit and quarterback ability will take him a long way next season, all the way to the top of the quarterback class.

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2. Alabama Crimson Tide, LSU Tigers will not win the SEC West

Johnnyn Manziel
John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

Alabama and LSU have become the cream of the crop in the SEC and their West division in particular. That dominance, however, will come to an end next season as one of the other very good teams in that division sneaks past them into the SEC championship (looking at you Texas A&M).

For LSU, the issue will be replacing all their talent. Since their season ended in a Chik-fil-A Bowl loss to Clemson, players have been announcing their departure for the NFL like Baton Rouge is sinking into the Gulf. As of now, LSU will have 10 underclassmen leaving school to enter the draft, including: defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan, running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and punter Brad Wing. Alabama will be losing plenty of key pieces as well to graduation and early-entry into the NFL, including All-American center Barrett Jones, right tackle D.J. Fluker, left guard Chance Warmack, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner just to name a few.

The SEC West is getting some new blood in it that will revitalize the rest of the division and push Bama and LSU out of their usual perch on top. Most notably, the Texas A&M Aggies with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and their high-powered offense. They have already proven they can win in hostile SEC territory, giving Alabama their only loss of the season in Tuscaloosa. Look for Manziel to get even better in his second run through the SEC and take the Aggies all the way to the SEC title game.

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1. The SEC will not win the BCS National Championship

Alabama celebration
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

No matter who comes out of the SEC, though, the conference that has won the last seven national titles will not make it eight. While the SEC continued its reign as the best conference in college football, the distance between them and the rest of the country isn’t nearly as far as it seems. Losses by LSU and Florida this bowl season prove the SEC can be beat, now they just have to get matched up with someone who could do it.

Who that will be next season is left to be seen. The Oregon Ducks ended 2012 on a high note and return a lot of elite playmakers to continue Chip Kelly’s high-octane offensive attack. The Stanford Cardinal have proven their ability to reload and come back stronger year after year and their defense is one of the best in the country. Ohio State proved capable of running the table, and the elusive Braxton Miller could be the bane to the SEC stranglehold on the college football world. Or Clemson could rise up and play up to their fullest potential, unleashing their high-powered offense to carry them all the way to a national title.

Or it could be the SEC once again. To be the best, you have to beat the best, so whoever takes the crown will likely have to rip it out of the SEC champion’s hands and good luck to them when they try. It won’t be easy and the SEC is still going to be extremely talented, but when picking the SEC or the field, I’m taking the field, at least for next season.

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