The 2018 college football season finally kicks off this weekend. That means it is time for my 2018 Power Five conference and College Football Playoff predictions.

For each conference, I will focus on the teams I believe have a legitimate shot at winning their division. Some conferences will have as low as two teams discussed, and others as high as five. After the conferences are completed, we will move on to the College Football Playoff. Let’s get it started.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division
Clemson Tigers

Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Losses: at Wake Forest
Key Wins: at Texas A&M, at Florida State, vs South Carolina
Summary: Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers are not going anywhere anytime soon. I expect them to drop a regular season game somewhere along the line. The last two seasons, those losses have come to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Wake Forest is coming off of an 8-5 season and returning eight starters on offense. The Tigers will face the Demon Deacons the week before the bye. Expect Trevor Lawrence to earn the starting job and light it up in his freshman season. 

Coastal Division
Miami Hurricanes

Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Losses: at Virginia Tech
Key Wins: vs LSU (neutral), vs Florida State
Summary: The Hurricanes return seven starters on both offense and defense after going 10-3 a year ago. Miami was well within the talk for the College Football Playoff before suffering a 38-3 loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship. 2018 may field the best Miami team we have seen in a long time. They are a legitimate playoff contender.

ACC Championship Game

Clemson def. Miami. Clemson improves to 12-1 (7-1). Miami falls to 11-2 (7-1). Once again, Clemson will prove to be too much for Richt’s Hurricanes. Though, expect the score to be much closer this year.

Southeastern Conference

East Division
Georgia Bulldogs

Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Losses: @ LSU
Key Wins: at South Carolina, vs Florida (neutral), vs Auburn
Summary: Though the East should be much improved this season, it will still likely take some chaos to knock Georgia off of its throne. The Bulldogs lose six on defense, but should be ready to reload and make a national title run. LSU in Death Valley is a nightmare, and I think the Bulldogs trip up before hopping back on the road to the SEC title game.

West Division
Auburn Tigers

Record: 10-2 (6-2)
Losses: at Georgia, at Alabama
Key Wins: vs Washington (neutral), vs LSU, at Mississippi State, vs Texas A&M
Summary: It is not an easy road for Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers in this coming season. The Tigers catch Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama all on the road. Not to mention College Football Playoff contender Washington in the out-of-conference. Nonetheless, this is a very talented team that returns Heisman hopeful quarterback, Jarrett Stidham.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 12-0 (8-0)
Losses: None
Key Wins: vs Texas A&M, at LSU, vs Mississippi State, vs Auburn
Summary: Death Valley at night and the Iron Bowl provide two of the toughest games in college football. However, the real matchup for the Tide comes against The Citadel in late November. I do not like picking undefeated regular seasons, but I do not see a loss for the Tide in their first 12 games.

SEC Championship Game

Alabama def. Georgia. Alabama improves to 13-0 (8-0). Georgia falls to 11-2 (7-1). This Alabama team will be better than their national title team a year ago. The Tide have yet to miss a College Football Playoff, and that streak will not come to an end in 2018.

Big 12 Conference

West Virginia Mountaineers

Record: 9-3 (6-3)
Losses: at Iowa State, at Texas, vs TCU
Key Wins: vs Oklahoma State, vs Oklahoma
Summary: One game in particular sticks out to me when looking at West Virginia. The Week 13 home game against the Oklahoma Sooners. Though Will Grier is not my Heisman pick, I do think that he will have his own Heisman moment in the final week against the Sooners. This is the marquee win for the Mountaineers’ season.

TCU Horned Frogs

Record: 10-2 (7-2)
Losses: at Texas, vs Oklahoma
Key Wins: vs Ohio State (neutral), at West Virginia, vs Oklahoma State
Summary: Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs are always ready for a fight when it comes to facing the blue bloods of college football. This year, they play three of the most tradition heavy teams in the country: Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma. Though the Horned Frogs boast the best defense in the Big 12, I think they drop two of three of the aforementioned games. Nonetheless, TCU finishes the Big 12 tied for second.

Texas Longhorns

Record: 10-2 (7-2)
Losses: at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State
Key Wins: vs USC, vs TCU, vs Oklahoma (neutral), vs West Virginia
Summary: You are darn right I am drinking the Burnt Orange Kool-Aid coming out of Austin. Texas has 14 returning starters from a team that was much better than their record a year ago. I am not big on two-quarterback systems, but both Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele have what it takes to make this a special season for the Longhorns.

Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 10-2 (7-2)
Losses: vs Texas (neutral), at West Virginia
Key Wins: at TCU, vs Oklahoma State
Summary: Make no mistake, Kyler Murray has what it takes to be a great college football quarterback. That being said, it is hard to imagine that the Sooners avoid a drop-off after losing potentially the best quarterback in school history. The Red River Rivalry rarely fails to produce thrilling matchups, and I think the Longhorns steal one from Lincoln Riley’s team.

Big 12 Championship Game

Oklahoma def. Texas. Oklahoma improves to 11-2 (7-2). Texas falls to 10-3 (7-2). Oklahoma exacts their revenge from the mid-season loss to Texas come December. It might just be enough to put the Sooners in the conversation for the College Football Playoff, despite two losses.

PAC-12 Conference

North Division
Stanford Cardinal

Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Losses: at Notre Dame, at Washington
Key Wins: vs USC, at Oregon, vs Utah
Summary: Seemingly every year, I tend to be higher on Stanford than the rest of the country. David Shaw is an excellent coach, and you can always count on good things from the Cardinal. Bryce Love may be the most electric player in college football, but him alone will not be enough to carry Stanford to a PAC-12 title appearance. The offense returns nine starters, but the defense should take a significant step back in 2018.

Washington Huskies

Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Losses: vs Auburn (neutral site), at Oregon
Key Wins: at Utah, vs Stanford
Summary: It is clear that the Huskies have the talent and the coach to make the College Football Playoff. The question is: do they have the schedule? Washington’s playoff hopes may reside on their first game of the season against the Auburn Tigers. If they can get out of Atlanta with a win, they are well on their way to the playoff.

South Division
Utah Utes

Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: vs Washington, at Stanford, vs Oregon
Key Wins: vs Arizona, vs USC
Summary: Despite going 7-6 a year ago, the Utes have a legitimate shot at coming out of a wide open PAC-12 South. They return 14 starters, including running back Zack Moss and quarterback Tyler Huntley. The Utes get a crucial win over USC, but fall one game short of the PAC-12 Championship.

USC Trojans

Record: 9-3 (6-2)
Losses: at Stanford, at Texas, at Utah
Key Wins: at Arizona, vs Notre Dame
Summary: Picking one of the most talented teams in the country to go 9-3 is not something that I would normally consider. However, losing Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones does not bode well for Clay Helton and the Trojans to match their win total from 2017. USC should still make it to the PAC-12 Championship, but this will be a relatively down year.

PAC-12 Championship

Washington def. USC. Washington improves to 11-2 (7-1). USC falls to 9-4 (6-2). The Huskies behind senior Jake Browning will be one of the best teams in the country. Chris Petersen will collect another PAC-12 title in Seattle, and Washington will be right on the cusp of the CFP discussion.

Big Ten Conference

East Division
Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 9-3 (6-3)
Losses: vs Ohio State, at Michigan, vs Wisconsin
Key Wins: vs Michigan State
Summary: Stating the obvious here, but Penn State lost a lot of production to graduation and the NFL Draft. Saquon Barkley, DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki are all gone. Not to mention, the Nittany Lions return just three defensive starters. It is not unreasonable to think that James Franklin’s team drops one more game than they did in 2017.

Michigan State Spartans

Record: 10-2 (7-2)
Losses: at Penn State, vs Michigan
Key Wins: vs Ohio State
Summary: Dantonio’s Spartans return a whopping 19 starters from last year’s 10 win team. In almost any other division, they would be the favorite to win. Unfortunately for the green and white, they reside in the toughest division in college football. MSU has not beaten Ohio State in East Lansing since 1999, but I think they get the job done.

Michigan Wolverines

Record: 11-1 (8-1)
Losses: at Ohio State
Key Wins: at Notre Dame, vs Wisconsin, at Michigan State, vs Penn State
Summary: So, you know how I said I was drinking the Burnt Orange Kool-Aid? Well I think I might have had a little too much of the Maize and Blue mix. Picking the Wolverines to go 11-1 with possibly the most brutal schedule in college football is rather bold. But, there is reason to do so. No matter what the headlines say, Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the country. Combine that with the best Michigan team in a decade and a five-star rated quarterback, and you have a recipe for a College Football Playoff contender. Michigan returns nine on the best defense in college football. I have the Wolverines knocking off rival Sparty on the road, but Michigan has not beaten Ohio State in Columbus in almost 20 years. It will stay that way.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 10-2 (8-1)
Losses: vs TCU (neutral), at Michigan State
Key Wins: at Penn State, vs Michigan
Summary: Ah, yes. The team whose predictions I am least confident about. It has been a tumultuous offseason, to say the least, for the Buckeyes. As I am writing this, we still do not know if Urban Meyer will be the head coach in 2018. Co-Offensive Coordinator and QB coach Ryan Day is the acting interim head coach for Ohio State. Before all of this went down, I was confident in the Buckeyes dropping one game and making it to the National Championship. Now? Well, now I don’t really know what to expect. Still, the Buckeyes are set to field one of the most talented teams in school history. Even without Urban Meyer, this coaching staff is elite. Everything will depend on how the team handles controversy and distractions.

West Division
Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 11-1 (8-1)
Losses: at Michigan
Key Wins: at Iowa, at Penn State
Summary: The Wisconsin Badgers are no longer being under-appreciated by the national media. Paul Chryst’s squad comes in at fourth (with a first place vote!) in the pre-season AP Top 25. The offense returns nine starters, including quarterback Alex Hornibrook and Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers should secure another trip to the Big Ten Championship.

Big Ten Championship Game

Ohio State def. Wisconsin. Ohio State improves to 11-2 (8-1). Wisconsin falls to 11-2 (8-1). There have been a lot of incredible games between the Buckeyes and Badgers over the last decade. This Big Ten title could set up to be the best one yet. I think the talent at Ohio State is just a tad too much for Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes repeat as Big Ten Champions.

Heisman Trophy

1. Jonathan Taylor – RB, University of Wisconsin
2. Bryce Love – RB, Stanford University
3. Jake Browning – QB, University of Washington

College Football Playoff

Per my predictions, only two conference champions will have one loss or less in 2018. That leaves room for one, or maybe two, multiple loss teams. Here is my projected final top six.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0)
2. Clemson Tigers (12-1)
3. Michigan Wolverines (11-1)
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2)
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5. Washington Huskies (11-2)
6. Oklahoma Sooners (11-2)

This was a difficult top four to pick. Three Power 5 conference champions with two losses, and a one loss team that did not win its division. This would surely make for the strangest CFP to date. However, everything we have seen over the last couple of months has been pointing to this being a strange college football season. Why should the Playoff be any different?

Michigan having one loss with wins over Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State would make them a no-brainer for a spot in the Playoff. That fourth and final spot is where things get a bit trickier. Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington would all be conference champions with two losses. What puts Ohio State over the edge would be strength of conference. The Buckeyes will have won the best division and conference in the country with wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin.

College Football Playoff Semifinal – Orange Bowl

Alabama def. Ohio State. In a rematch of the 2015 Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide prove to be too much for Urban Meyer’s(?) Buckeyes. It is on to another national title appearance for Nick Saban.

College Football Playoff Semifinal – Cotton Bowl

Clemson def. Michigan. Michigan’s most glaring weakness this year will be its offensive line. Unfortunately for the Wolverines in my predictions, they face the two best defensive lines in college football throughout the season.

College Football Playoff National Championship Game – Santa Clara, Cal.

Clemson def. Alabama. I know, I know. Everyone is tired of Alabama-Clemson. But, if I’m right, it looks like we are well on our way to another installment of this budding rivalry. This time, I have the Tigers preventing the Tide from a repeat performance. Clemson captures their second national title of the Dabo Swinney era.

That will do it for my 2018-2019 Power Five and College Football Playoff predictions; and I eagerly look forward to ending up on the Freezing Cold Takes Twitter. After all, that is where most predictions are meant to be. So kick back, relax, and enjoy the season.

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My name is Collin Ginnan and I am majoring in Journalism and Spanish at The Ohio State University. I grew up playing baseball year-round from t-ball through high school and am a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. Coming from a family of Buckeyes, I was raised living and breathing Ohio State football. To the best of my memory, I have not missed a single game to date. Ohio State vs. Penn State during Homecoming? That’s what the Watch ESPN app is for. Besides the Buckeyes and Reds, I follow the Blue Jackets, Browns, Cavaliers, FC Cincinnati, and Liverpool FC.
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My name is Collin Ginnan and I am majoring in Journalism and Spanish at The Ohio State University. I grew up playing baseball year-round from t-ball through high school and am a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. Coming from a family of Buckeyes, I was raised living and breathing Ohio State football. To the best of my memory, I have not missed a single game to date. Ohio State vs. Penn State during Homecoming? That’s what the Watch ESPN app is for. Besides the Buckeyes and Reds, I follow the Blue Jackets, Browns, Cavaliers, FC Cincinnati, and Liverpool FC.

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