CODY STOOTS

A look at all things college football as the season begins

A bold prediction about Kliff Kingsbury... Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

I don't know if there is a sport in the world that offers such dominating greatness which can see its quest derailed on one Saturday night. College football has the best regular season in sports. The champions have to be near perfect. Others can call a 6-6 season a success with one December win. It's beautiful and it's played by boys who act like men on the field and then get to return to boys when the clock strikes zero. 

Enough of me waxing poetic on the greatness of college football. Inside this article, you will find my Heisman preview, playoff selections, and various predictions for the 2018 season. Good luck to your favorite school, alma mater, or however you select your rooting interest. 

Heisman preview

This will be my sixth year voting on the Heisman trophy and it is one of my favorite things I am lucky enough to be a part of in my career. I have voted the eventual winner at the top of my ballot every year with the exception of 2015 when I believed Deshaun Watson was the Heisman winner over Derrick Henry. It's an honor to do this each season. I will tell you the few contenders, and a few bonus players, and how they can win the illustrious trophy. 

Bryce Love (RB Stanford)

Love starts as the favorite though he has some built-in disadvantages that hinder him greatly. He will play a lot of games on the West Coast and thus many Heisman voters will miss his amazing PAC-12 After Dark feats of awesomeness. He doesn't have a championship team around him, at least not yet but maybe they play into it. He will have to best what Christian McCaffrey did in breaking Barry Sanders' all-purpose yardage record in 2015. Oh, and McCaffrey's performance was good enough for runner-up in the Heisman voting. 

Tua Tagovailoa (QB Alabama)

The best chance someone who has never started a college football game has ever had at winning the Heisman is where this young man starts his journey. His remarkable performance to help the Crimson Tide win the national championship last year is legendary. This would be a remarkable accomplishment if he wins because of Nick Saban. Saban doesn't like wildcards; he likes players who don't make mistakes and stay within themselves. Tagovailoa wins if he warms Saban's cold heart to a dynamic and risk-taking style of offense and leads the Tide to the SEC Championship. 

Jonathan Taylor (RB Wisconsin)

This is going to sound hard but Taylor wins if he is the best running back in the country. Now, while it may sound hard, it isn't as difficult as you may think. Wisconsin has a monster offensive line, returning every starter from last year. Their extremely favorable schedule has two truly tough games with road affairs against Penn State and Michigan. Taylor was third in rush yards last year as an 18-year-old freshman. This sophomore could see 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns and some great hardware on his mantle in December. 

Trace McSorley (QB Penn State)

Saquon Barkley is gone and the third-year starter takes over as the potential star of the Nittany Lions. He is at a slight disadvantage though with his offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead departing to coach Mississippi State. Penn State has plenty of big matchups on their schedule and it presents plenty of opportunities for McSorley to shine. He won't get this done with stats; how he wins it with remarkable moments in big games and leading Penn State to the Big Ten title game. He's a longshot but can make it happen. 

Khalil Tate (QB Arizona)

The stat monster is here. He is exciting and dynamic. His head coach, Kevin Sumlin, has coached a Heisman winner before. Though the numbers aren't eye-popping as a passer, he was the 17th leading rusher in the nation last year. Tate fully unleashed and seasoned should be something close to Lamar Jackson the year he won the trophy. Now is it likely Tate replicates and rips off 51 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards? No. Can he do something incredible like 40 touchdowns and 4,000 yards? You bet. 

Will Grier (QB West Virginia)

I don't see it with Grier but he can win the trophy. He was pretty much the third-best quarterback in the Big 12 in most categories behind Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph last year. Without a significant improvement from some other quarterback in the conference, Grier will be top of the class. If West Virginia is truly the team poised to take the next step and reign supreme they will be led by him. Challenging for the conference title and slight bump could have him headed to New York. 

Trevor Lawrence (QB Clemson)

You're probably asking who the heck this guy is and that is a worthwhile question. Let me describe him to you. Imagine if Sunshine from Remember the Titans grew six inches, his hair grew three inches, and suddenly had the arm talent to make any throw and even on the run could make those throws. That's Lawrence in a nutshell. The incumbent starter Kelly Bryant couldn't climb out of Deshaun Watson's shadow and he failed to wow or show consistency. If Bryant struggles in Clemson's second game at Texas A&M the Tigers could turn to Lawrence. From there, Lawrence just has to guide the Tigers to a playoff berth. Simple enough. 

Sam Ehlinger (QB Texas)

If Texas is back and there is only one starting quarterback all year then the quarterback of Texas will be in the race. Tom Herman can coach offense and the thought of him elevating Ehlinger should make him a longshot for the trophy. If Herman could craft a 2015 Greg Ward campaign with a little more passing and a little less rushing you could see Ehlinger in the neighborhood of 35 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards. Now, if the Longhorns are good on top of that, he's in the hunt. 

Kellen Mond (QB Texas A&M)

Don't you dare laugh at this one. The last time Jimbo Fisher coached a player as highly touted as Mond he went number one overall in the NFL Draft and the year before that won the Heisman. That's right, despite Mond's lackluster first season he is a talented athlete. He, like Jameis Winston, was the number one quarterback in the nation on the Rivals recruiting service. Fisher is a quarterback whisperer and the Aggies play in the best division of any conference. Showing off there with the national attention and surprising people with what he can do after a disappointing start last year could earn him the trophy. 

Nick Bosa (DL Ohio State)

The sack record. That's how Bosa could win. It's really the only way a defender could win the award. Just be a transcendent menace on a great team. Ohio State could be great and 21 sacks would blow people away and get him in the conversation. It can't be just the sacks though. Elvis Dumervil has the most single-season sacks ever and he finished 10th in the voting. The next three highest totals have zero Heisman votes. He has to turn some of those sacks into scores, via fumble or safety, and really show-off against the run. It was a joke Manti Te'o was in consideration into 2012 looking back. A legendary season from Bosa wouldn't be looked back on foolishly. 

Ed Oliver (DL Houston)

In the last five years, one defensive lineman has earned Heisman votes and it was Jonathan Allen in 2016. He rattled off 69 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, and scored two touchdowns. Oliver comes in with a real chance to go number one overall in the draft so he has the eyes already on him. People will be paying very close attention to Houston's stud defensive lineman. Should he stay healthy and dominate like he is expected to, really up the sack numbers, he will be in the mix.

Playoff prediction

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Wisconsin

I love Clemson this year. They have a more dynamic option at quarterback than last year and have the best defensive line in college football. Their big non-conference game gives them the nod over Alabama (at Texas A&M is better than neutral against Louisville) when the dust clears on their two conferences. Alabama has a dynamic quarterback the likes of which they haven't before and if he isn't good the backup is still really good. Oklahoma has a nice enough non-conference schedule to survive one Big 12 loss and despite me not believing in their quarterbacks Rodney Anderson is that dude. Wisconsin has three big games this year which are two tough road games at Michigan and at Penn State and the Big Ten championship. They should mash in their other ones with almost their entire offense back. 

Bold Predictions (Excuse me. Once more with feeling. *clears throat*) BOLD PREDICTIONS

Texas loses to Oklahoma in a Red River Big 12 Championship game. 

Kyler Murray starts less than five games for the Sooners. 

Kansas wins three games matching their win total from the three previous years combined. 

Baylor wins six games this season. 

Oklahoma State and Mike Gundy finally call it quits on each other. 

LSU calls it quits on Ed Orgeron midway through a disappointing season. 

Lane Kiffin is the new head coach of LSU after his FAU team rattles off a double-digit win season. 

Texas A&M wins nine games in Jimbo Fisher's debut year but it won't be easy on the Aggies hearts. 

Florida wins 10 games because Dan Mullen is one of the best coaches in the country. 

Someone has something better than the turnover chain this year. Sorry, Miami. 

Michigan State wins the Big Ten East. 

Michigan and Jim Harbaugh part ways. 

Ohio State and Urban Meyer part ways. 

Jeff Brohm leaves Purdue for one of the above open jobs. 

Herm Edwards and his Arizona State Sun Devils win four games. It's a disaster. 

Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins have the sixth-best record in the Pac-12. Doesn't sound like much but Chip makes noise. 

Boise State plays in a New Year's Day Bowl. 

And I finish with my Texas Tech prediction. My alma mater wins seven games and win their bowl game meaning the best result in Kliff Kingsbury's tenure since his first year at the head of the program. Led by a defense returning a ton of experience, which sounds so strange to say about Texas Tech, the Red Raiders are poised to surprise. Let's say Dakota Allen even challenges for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Yes, I am drinking the red and black kool-aid. 8-5 here we come!

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Which pitcher should start Game 2 for Houston? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Another magnificent Astros’ regular season is complete, all 106 wins worth. The 162 game marathon truly determines the best teams in a given year. Now it’s the postseason sprint where a really good four weeks is what it takes for any of the twelve teams hoping for autumn glory. The path is notably easier for the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves who earned byes past the new best-of-three Wild Card series. Since the first Wild Card was introduced in 1995 there have been 27 postseasons, so that makes 54 World Series spots over those 27 years. Only 35 percent of the time (19 of 54) has the team with the best record in its league advanced to the World Series. In only seven of the 27 years of the Wild Card era has the team with the best record in the Major Leagues gone on to win the tournament. This year the Astros are obviously the best team in the American League. The Dodgers obviously are the class of the National League. The likelihood that we get another Astros-Dodgers World Series matchup five years after the first? Definitely less than 50-50. Maybe not even 30-70.

Should Framber Valdez start Game 2?

After getting rocked in consecutive starts following his record 25 consecutive “quality starts” streak, Framber Valdez had a strong peace of mind five innings no runs 10 strikeouts showing in the season finale Wednesday. For most of the season it was quite evident that Framber would/should slot behind Justin Verlander as the Astros’ number two playoff starter. But should he? Things have recently changed. On season body of work Framber is an easy call, but as the Astros can attest to from two of the last three World Series outcomes, teams don’t win in October (and early November) based on their body of work. They win on what they do in October (and early November). Cristian Javier has been much better down the stretch. He’s been darn near untouchable, firing 23 shutout innings with just six hits allowed over his last four starts. Lance McCullers also factors into the equation.

Game two is at Minute Maid Park. For his career McCullers has been excellent at MMP (2.67 earned run average) and not at all trustworthy on the road (4.43 ERA). He made only eight starts this season but the form chart held: 1.50 ERA at home, 3.57 away. Framber meanwhile was notably better on the road. 3.54 ERA in Houston, a sparkling 2.27 everywhere else. Javier had the most even splits, 2.26 home, 2.84 road.

Remember that with the TV-dictated schedule, if the series goes to a game four (on the road) Verlander would have four days rest if the choice was to use him trying to closeout if up two-one, or stay alive if down 2-1. Using Verlander in game four would mean if a decisive game five (at Minute Maid Park) was necessary the fourth different starting pitcher would be needed.

So…there is no definitive right answer, but I’d go Javier at home in game two, Framber on the road in game three. Then if up 2-1, McCullers in game four hoping to win then and have Verlander set for game one of the League Championship Series. If Verlander went in game four or five of the Division Series he’d be unavailable until game three of the LCS, and that would be his only LCS start unless brought back on three days rest if there was a game seven. Verlander in game four would have McCullers ready for game five, at home.

Path of least resistance

The Astros await the Blue Jays-Mariners survivor. There is no huge gap between the two but if the Astros I slightly lean toward preferring to face the Mariners. The Blue Jays’ batting order is way more potent than what the M’s put forth, it’s a better lineup than the Astros have. On the other hand, the Mariners have the better pitching and defense. Tiebreaker? No customs to deal with in Seattle!

Some of this is on Dusty Baker

Ultimately it falls on players to perform when called upon, but it seems reasonable to cast some blame Dusty Baker’s way for the generally lousy production of trade deadline acquisitions Christian Vazquez and Trey Mancini. Upon arrival Vazquez was having a substantially better season than Martin Maldonado, Mancini notably better relative to the tumbled over the hill Yuli Gurriel. Baker opted to ride the incumbents more than use the newbies. That could not have helped Vazquez and Mancini. Mancini looks broken at the plate, hitting into more double plays than he has hits over his last 45 at bats (six GIDP, four hits). With Maldonado and Gurriel obviously to be used as the primary if not every game starters, the most notable lineup decision to be made is who is the designated hitter (or plays left field if Yordan Alvarez is DHing). Aledmys Diaz looked to be making the best case, but went one for 19 to finish the season.

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