The Christmas holiday and the New Year are right around the corner, meaning there's a chance to reboot on 2016 and get a fresh start in 2017. And few need that restart quite like some of the folks in the college football media.
Before the season starts, we’re full of bold proclamations … only to find out that none of us know anything about the sport we cover for a living. The sad thing, though, is that many in the media are afraid to admit what they got wrong.
No worries, I’m not one of those guys. I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong and plead for mercy from the college football community as a whole. Which is exactly what I’m doing today. Here are 11 preseason college football predictions that I got totally wrong:
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LSU would win the national championship
The prediction: Technically, the prediction was that the Tigers would “move past Alabama and win the SEC.” But at this point, “winning the SEC and competing for a title” are basically one in the same. And in my defense, it made sense: The Tigers returned a boat load of talent (including Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette), the schedule played out in their favor, and the team would have extra motivation while playing for Les Miles’ job. Right?
What actually happened: Within about a quarter and a half of LSU’s opener against Wisconsin, it was obvious this prediction was destined to go wildly off the rails. It was also obvious that despite sitting on the hot seat, Miles hadn’t evolved as a coach one bit. Three week after the Wisconsin loss, LSU fell to Auburn in a game that cost Miles his job -- and LSU a shot at the title.
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Lamar Jackson wasn’t one of the Top 100 players in college football
The prediction: Prior to the season, my colleague Dieter Kurtenbach and I put together a list of the Top 100 players in college football. He pushed hard for a raw but hyper-talented quarterback named Lamar Jackson to make the list, but I refused. How could we possibly rank a guy who had completed just 54 percent of his passes and had a completely average 12-8 TD-INT ratio in 2015, as one of the Top 100 players in the country?
What actually happened: Uhh, what happened was Jackson went on to win the Heisman, while doubling as one of the most dynamic players in the sport in recent history. Given Jackson's 51 total touchdowns – including three separate games of seven or more touchdowns – this was by far, my worst preseason prediction.
Alabama shouldn’t be ranked No. 1 in the preseason
The prediction: This kind of plays with the LSU prediction above, but when the first AP poll was released I was adamant: Alabama shouldn’t be ranked No. 1. The Tide were breaking in their third straight first-year starter at quarterback, and had lost a Heisman Trophy winner and most of their defensive coaching staff. I even had the audacity to write the following: “The Tide should be in the Top 5, but being ranked No. 1 is based more on merit from last year than this year.”
What actually happened: Alabama wentundefeated -- winning all but one game by double digits -- and could go down as the greatest team of all time when it’s all said and done. As it turns out, that whole “being ranked No. 1 is based more merit from last year than this year” comment should – and probably will - end up on my tombstone.
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Tennessee was a national championship contender
The prediction: Prior to the season, FOX Sports analyzed 10 teams that we believed could win the national championship. Tennessee was one of them. And how could the Vols not be? Coming off a nine-win season with a veteran roster built for 2016 in the watered-down SEC East, it seemed like everything was lining up for a huge season from the Vols.
What actually happened: Within about two quarters of Tennessee's opener against Appalachian State, this prediction began to look bad. And despite their 5-0 start, the Vols never felt like true title contenders. Eventually, they lost three straight games at midseason, including an inexcusable defeat to South Carolina after a bye. A loss to Vanderbilt on the final night of the season not only cost Tennessee a shot at the Sugar Bowl, it also put Butch Jones clearly on the hot seat to begin 2017.
Houston also was a title contender
The prediction: We also included Houston in that same series about title contenders. Sure, all the stars would have to align for the Cougars to make the playoff (let alone win the title). But after a 13-1 season in 2015 and with coach Tom Herman back, they had to be in the conversation, right?
What actually happened: The Cougars started out hot with a win over Oklahoma, but fizzled shortly thereafter with two losses in a three-week stretch to Navy and SMU (with a near-loss to Tulsa sandwiched in between). Houston went on to beat Louisville late in the year, proving that when healthy and rested, it could play with anyone. But during the grind of the season, the Cougars simply didn’t have the depth to consistently beat good teams, let alone the best.
Iowa was under-ranked at No. 15 in the first AP Poll
The prediction: In the same spot where I had Alabama over-ranked at No. 1, I had Iowa under ranked at No. 15. The Hawkeyes were coming off a Big Ten West title in 2015, with another easy-breezy schedule that included no Ohio State and a bunch of their biggest games at home. I even wrote that if Kirk Ferentz won “anything less than nine games he should be fired.”
What actually happened: Well Ferentz wasn’t fired, but the Hawkeyes' 8-4 season certainly didn’t meet preseason expectations. A loss to FCS school North Dakota State was certainly the lowlight of the season in Iowa City, and even a late push that included a win over Michigan couldn’t get the Hawkeyes in the Top 25 of the final playoff rankings.
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Baylor was also underrated at No. 24 in the preseason poll
The prediction: Yes, we all agreed that what happened at Baylor under Art Briles’ watch was deplorable. But in strictly a football sense, it seemed like everything was lining up for the Bears to have another big season. Even with Briles’ departure, the rest of his staff remained in place and Seth Russell was back to lead the offense. Back in August, it felt like this was a team that still could win the Big 12.
What actually happened: An off-the-field grease-fire bled onto the field. After a 6-0 start, the Bears finished the regular season at 6-6. Jim Grobe (who I dubbed “Substitute Teacher Grobe" at midseason) was an all-out disaster and seemingly had no control over his players or assistant coaches all season. We’ll see if new head coach Matt Rhule has better luck cleaning up the mess in Waco than Grobe did.
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Charlie Strong would coach himself off the hot seat
The prediction: The rest of the bullet points on this list aren’t from the preseason, but from various points throughout the year. But frankly, they’re too funny not to revisit. And let’s start with the proclamation following Texas’ loss to Oklahoma State in Week 5 that Charlie Strong would keep his job when it was all said and done.
What actually happened: Woah, boy, do I have egg on my face. After that Oklahoma State game, things never really got better for Strong. He finished the year 5-7, with an embarrassing loss to Kansas that unofficially sealed his fate. From the beginning, it never seemed like the marriage between Strong and Texas was going to work, and it came to an unceremonious end just a day after the Longhorns’ season ended.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY SpoMichael C. Johnson
Ed Orgeron had no chance of getting the LSU head coaching job full-time
The prediction: On the opposite spectrum of “coaching predictions gone horribly wrong,” there was the proclamation that Ed Orgeron would not end up with the LSU full-time head coaching gig. How much of an inspiration could Orgeron provide when the Tigers had played themselves out of the national championship race just four weeks into the season?
What actually happened: Within one game, this prediction was proven wrong -- LSU set an offensive school record in Orgeron’s debut. The Tigers never really looked back and finished 6-2 overall under the interim coach’s watch, and Orgeron was named LSU’s permanent head coach two days after the Tigers’ season-finale against Texas A&M.
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Les Miles would be the hottest name on the coaching carousel
The prediction: Just one slide below the Orgeron proclamation was a note about his former boss, Les Miles, who seemed destined to get serious consideration for a new job in the offseason. With a resume that included a national championship, two SEC titles and a .721 career win percentage, Miles would have his choice of jobs at the end of the season.
What actually happened: As it turns out, the market for a 63-year-old head coach who hasn’t evolved offensively in 15 years isn’t as strong as anyone thought. Miles did get an interview at Houston, but the market was otherwise surprisingly quiet for The Mad Hatter. Most schools went with younger, more dynamic offensive guys like Major Applewhite and Jeff Brohm, meaning that if Miles is ever to coach again – and it seems uncertain – it won’t be until at least 2018.
Notre Dame would bounce back from an opening-night loss to Texas and make a New Year’s Six Bowl
The prediction: Notre Dame’s season-opening loss to Texas raised eyebrows for some, just not this guy. The Irish had a manageable schedule that would allow them to finish 10-2 at worst, and play in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
What actually happened: Not only did the Irish not get into a New Year’s Six bowl, they didn’t get into any bowl in what turned out to be a disastrous 4-8 season. Now DeShone Kizer is off to the pros and Brian Kelly enters a make-or-break 2017 season without a quarterback.