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College Football: New Year’s Six Bowl Game Predictions

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1.   Alabama Crimson Tide  13-0  8-0  SEC Champions    

The Crimson Tide roll into the 2017 season with revenge on its mind. Just one second came between perfection and Alabama’s fourth national championship in six years last season. Jalen Hurts put on a show as a freshman by passing for 2,780 yards, rushing for 954 yards and accounting for 36 total touchdowns. The All-SEC quarterback must rely heavily on wide receiver Calvin Ridley through the air with the talent it lost, but will have arguably the best backfield in the country with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.

Alabama returns six starters to a defense that led the nation in total defense (261.8 ypg) and scoring (13.0 ppg). Third-team All-American safety Minkah Fitzpatrick headlines a talented secondary, while the Crimson Tide look to reload upfront.

Nick Saban’s bunch get their toughest test of the season in Week 1 against Florida State in Atlanta. If they get by the Noles, their biggest challenge will be a regular season finale at Auburn (Nov. 25). The Crimson Tide will make their fourth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff and compete for another national championship.

2.   Florida State Seminoles  12-1  8-0  ACC Champions

The Noles are expected to run the table in the ACC this year with Deshaun Watson no longer at Clemson. Besides getting embarrassed at Louisville and losing heartbreakers to North Carolina and Clemson by a combined five points last year, Florida State had a successful 2016 campaign. A last second Orange Bowl win over Michigan helped give the program its fifth straight 10-plus win season.

ACC Rookie Player of the Year Deondre Francois is back to command the offense after passing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016. While Francois needs to get the ball out quicker, he must get better blocking after getting hit way too many times last season. Florida State loses its all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook and top wide receiver Travis Rudolph. The means new playmakers must step up with one of those potentially being junior wide receiver Nyqwan Murray.

The defensive line, which will be anchored by All-ACC tackle Derrick Nnadi, returns three starters and will be a force to be reckoned with. Even better, the secondary will be heavily loaded with All-American cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and safety Derwin James. James returns after missing almost all of last season with a meniscus injury. A win over No. 1 Alabama to open the season in Atlanta would be key moving forward. Even if the Noles lose, they can move back up in the rankings with a challenging schedule consisting of Miami (FL), Louisville, Clemson and Florida. It would be a big disappointment if Jimbo Fisher doesn’t get his team into the College Football Playoff this year.

3.   Ohio State Buckeyes   12-1  8-1  Big Ten Champions

It’s had to be frustrating for Urban Meyer the past two seasons. Losses have happened at the worst possible time with the worst being a 31-0 shutout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff Semifinal last season. Fifth-year senior J.T. Barrett, who accounted for 2,555 passing yards and 33 total touchdowns in 2016, will be in the Heisman Trophy conversation again. Barrett will lean on 1,000-yard rusher Mike Weber in the backfield and an experienced offensive line.

The Buckeyes surrendered only 15.5 points per game (third in the nation) last season. The defensive line, led by senior Tyquan Lewis, is heavily loaded with everyone back. Chris Worley and top returning tackler Jerome Baker headline the linebacking unit, while the secondary must rebuild with the loss of three starters.

Ohio State looks to knock off Big 12 favorite Oklahoma for a second straight year at “the Shoe” on Sept. 9th. If the Buckeyes expect to get back to the CFP again, it comes down to beating Penn State (Oct. 28) and Michigan (Nov. 25). There is high hopes in Columbus that the Buckeyes will win their second national championship in four years.

4.  USC Trojans  12-1  8-1  Pac-12 Champions 

The Trojans have become one of the most-hyped teams heading into the 2017 season following a 10-win season that concluded with a last second 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. USC’s new golden boy, quarterback Sam Darnold, helped the Trojans reel off nine straight wins to end the year and is a Heisman Trophy favorite heading into the season.

Darnold, who was named to the Freshman All-American team, passed for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns with nine interceptions. The receiving corps loses playmakers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, which means junior Deontay Burnett is the go-to guy through the air now. 1,000-yard rusher Ronald Jones II should make a bigger impact in the Trojan ground attack this year, as he won’t have to share carries with Justin Davis anymore.

The Trojans hope to be stronger on defense with seven returning starters back. Junior linebacker Cameron Smith is an All-American pick heading into the 2017 season after leading USC with 83 tackles last year. While Smith anchors the linebacking unit, team sack-leader Rasheem Green is back to head the Trojan line. The secondary stays basically intact, but will be without the nation’s best defensive back from 2016 Adoree’ Jackson.

USC will have its work cut out for it early with home contests against Stanford and Texas. Stanford has beaten the Trojans in the past three meetings. The schedule sets up nicely, but if there is a game that Clay Helton’s squad could get upset in it might be on the road at Washington State (Sept. 29). The Trojans should claim its first Pac-12 title since 2008 and finally live up to the hype.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS 

Monday, Jan 1: Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA)

No. 1 Alabama  vs.  No. 4 USC

Monday, Jan. 1: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA) 

No. 2 Florida State  vs.  No. 3 Ohio State

CFP Championship Game (Atlanta, GA)

No. 1 Alabama  over  No. 3 Ohio State

 

SELECTION COMMITTEE BOWL GAMES     

Friday, Dec. 29: Cotton Bowl (Arlington, TX)

Oklahoma  vs.  Penn State

Saturday, Dec. 30: Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, FL)

Clemson  vs.  LSU

Saturday, Dec. 30: Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ)

Washington  vs.  Wisconsin

Monday, Jan. 1: Peach Bowl (Atlanta, GA)

Auburn  vs.  USF

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