As the college football offseason comes to a close, here’s my best guess at how the season will play out nationally, from bowl games to the Heisman Trophy. Specific conference predictions can be found in those individual previews: ACC, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC and Sun Belt. In addition, head to the main site for a Preseason Top 25 and a week-by-week guide to the schedule.
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Five BCS Bowl Picks
BCS National Championship, Jan. 6, Pasadena, Calif.
Alabama over Oregon
The matchup a lot of people, myself included, wanted last year. To be fair to Stanford, the Cardinal proved what’s possible when a physical defense matches up well with the Oregon offense — but an Alabama-Oregon clash of styles in the national title game would feel like a bigger version of Oregon-Stanford, a bigger version of Alabama-Texas A&M. Oregon travels to Stanford on Thursday, Nov. 7, but the pick here is that Oregon is the only team to finish the regular season undefeated. As the one-loss SEC champion, Alabama earns its fourth trip to the title game in five years, and unless the opponent is Utah, I don’t feel good betting against Nick Saban in a major bowl game.
Orange Bowl, Jan. 3, Miami
Clemson over Michigan
Michigan may be a stretch for a BCS at-large pick if it loses a third game in the Big Ten title game, but the Wolverines are always a big draw. Here, they get the ACC champion Tigers, who can’t possibly do worse in the Orange Bowl than last time they played there.
Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2, New Orleans
LSU over Florida State
For the third straight season, Georgia loses the SEC title game and doesn’t go to a BCS game. Instead, the hometown Tigers, at 10-2, play a de facto home game against Jameis Winston-led Florida State, which gets a rare second BCS bid for the ACC.
Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz.
Louisville over Baylor
For once, the Orange Bowl doesn’t get the least glamorous matchup. Perhaps I’ll regret my Baylor winning the Big 12 pick, but whatever. Over/under on this game might be 100.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.
Stanford over Ohio State
Despite dominating the Big Ten for most of the last decade, Ohio State has played in only one Rose Bowl since 1996. If this scenario comes to fruition, it means Pasadena would host the top four teams in my preseason Top 25, with the Cardinal and Buckeyes in sort of a national consolation game.
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Five Heisman Frontrunners Not Named Johnny Manziel
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
If Oregon goes undefeated, Mariota is a good bet to get to New York and maybe win the Heisman. He’s an accurate, efficient passer with breakaway speed as a runner, and a perfect fit to run the Ducks’ up-tempo attack.
2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
If Clemson wins the ACC, Boyd will undoubtedly be its most important player. He’s had two brilliant 3,800-yard seasons and should do it again for Dabo Swinney’s best Clemson team.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
No matter how good the supporting cast is, Heisman voters tend to like good quarterbacks on great teams that rarely lose. It’s hard to imagine McCarron going to a third national championship game as starting QB and not getting invited to New York once.
4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Miller isn’t as polished as the other top quarterbacks, but next to Manziel he makes the most breathtaking plays as a runner, and his passing is sure to improve in his third year as a starter.
5. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
It will be tough for Clowney to break through the wall of established star quarterbacks to win a quarterback’s award, but he deserves all the hype he gets. If anyone can carry the defensive momentum built by Ndamukong Suh and Manti Te’o forward, it’s Clowney.
Next: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville; Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia; Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor; T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama; Marqise Lee, WR, USC
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Five Sleeper Heisman Candidates
1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
A safe bet? Not at all. But Mettenberger proved in last year’s Alabama game that he has the talent to play well against the best of the best. If LSU exceeds expectations, Mettenberger’s progression will play a large role.
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
On one hand, it’s hard to call him a sleeper, given the amount of hype he’s gotten. On the other hand, any QB who has yet to take a snap is still a sleeper as a Heisman candidate.
3. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Gardner’s drawn rave reviews as Michigan moves toward Al Borges’ actual vision of a pro-style offense, and if he leads the Wolverines past Ohio State, he could end up in the mix.
4. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
UCLA is in a three-team toss-up for the Pac-12 South with Arizona State and USC, but he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. If UCLA can somehow win at Stanford or Oregon in October, he’ll start getting a lot more attention.
5. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
Tailback Duke Johnson is the best player on Miami’s offense, but Morris can take the Hurricanes to new heights if he starts to use all his tools more efficiently.
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30 Other Bowl Projections
New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 21, Albuquerque
San Jose State vs. Arizona
Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21
Boise State vs. Oregon State
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Dec. 21, Boise
Ohio vs. Colorado State
New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 21
Louisiana Tech vs. UL Lafayette
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, Dec. 23, St. Petersburg, Fla.
South Florida vs. Marshall
Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24, Honolulu
Rice vs. Nevada
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26, Detroit
Western Kentucky vs. Northern Illinois
Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 26, San Diego
San Diego State vs. Notre Dame
Military Bowl, Dec. 27, Annapolis, Md.
Ball State vs. Middle Tennessee
Texas Bowl, Dec. 27, Houston
Indiana vs. Texas Tech
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 27, San Francisco
BYU vs. Washington
Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 28, New York
UCF vs. Kansas State
Belk Bowl, Dec. 28, Charlotte, N.C.
Rutgers vs. N.C. State
Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 28, Orlando, Fla.
Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28, Tempe, Ariz.
Northwestern vs. Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 30, Fort Worth, Texas
Navy vs. Fresno State
Music City Bowl, Dec. 30, Nashville, Tenn.
Georgia Tech vs. Vanderbilt
Alamo Bowl, Dec. 30, San Antonio
Oklahoma State vs. USC
Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, San Diego
TCU vs. Arizona State
Independence Bowl, Dec. 31, Shreveport, La.
Maryland vs. Missouri
Sun Bowl, Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas
Virginia Tech vs. UCLA
Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31, Memphis, Tenn.
East Carolina vs. Arkansas
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31, Atlanta
Miami vs. South Carolina
Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla.
Michigan State vs. Ole Miss
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1
Minnesota vs. Tulsa
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.
Wisconsin vs. Georgia
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.
Nebraska vs. Florida
Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3, Arlington, Texas
Texas vs. Texas A&M
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4, Birmingham, Ala.
SMU vs. Auburn
GoDaddy Bowl, Jan. 5, Mobile, Ala.
Toledo vs. UL Monroe