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Five bold predictions for college football

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 at 9:43 pm

The middle of summer can only mean one thing when it comes to college football—everyone’s predictions are flying rampant.
Perhaps that’s even more the case in the summer of 2024, given the massive changes to the postseason format with the expansion of the college football playoffs from four teams to 12 teams.
While college football officially makes its triumphant return next month, rumors, predictions and preseason drama will continue to fly over the next eight to nine weeks.
Here are five bold predictions for the upcoming college football season:
1. A Cinderella team makes a run to the semifinals
Every march, sports fans are delighted to one of the most, if not the most exciting postseason format in major sports with the NCAA March Madness tournament.
The field of 68 teams has something for everyone from blue blood programs, to mid-majors, to Cinderella runs.
It stands to reason with college football expanding to 12 playoff teams, there could and should be a team that makes a Cinderella run.
For decades, Division I, Power Conference football’s format has never allowed for this. Teams have had to basically play for the right conference or be the right blue blood program, in order to have a shot at a national title.
Just last season, Alabama squeezed into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, over unbeaten Florida State because of the all-important “eye test.”
Since the 2013 season when football made the transition from the BCS format to the four-team College Football Playoff, the final four teams were decided by a playoff committee.
No longer.
The format’s change gives the four highest-ranked conference champions a first-round bye, with seeds 5-12 playing at the higher seed’s home field.
With the transfer portal and NIL money playing such a major factor in big college football these days, talent has no longer been concentrated among Power Conference schools.
With players finding other avenues to play, and the talent spreading out to mid-major programs, there stands to reason the opportunity exists for a Cinderella run, even in Year 1 of the new format.
Given the opportunity, one of the lower seeds will make a run and prove the new format’s validity right out of the gates.

2. Ohio State misses the playoffs
Ohio State has been one of the best college football programs for decades. Since the last round of conference realignment took place in the early 2010’s, it’s essentially been a two-horse race in the Big Ten, and for eight of those years, Ohio State has been the dominant program that’s become a national championship contender, essentially year in and year out.
After winning 15-of-16 games against arch-rival Michigan, including the vacated 2010 win, the Buckeyes have lost three-straight to the Wolverines.
That’s not to discredit Ohio State, which has been a top-10 program over the past several seasons, but former Wolverine coach Jim Harbaugh has owned the rivalry against the Buckeyes—and that’s created pressure for Ryan Day.
The expectation in Columbus, Ohio is to win a championship each year.
With Michigan fresh off a national title from a season ago, Penn State’s continual impact in the Big Ten’s standings, and the conference expansion that brought in Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, the path to the college football playoffs have gotten even more difficult for Ohio State.
In addition to facing Penn State and Michigan, Ohio State also has to face Oregon, and all three teams should not only be ranked, but ranked in the top 10.
For three-straight years, Ohio State has finished 11-2, which is certainly a respectable benchmark for any program, but the heat is building on Day’s seat to do something and do something fast.

3. Dramatic shift in number of players not opting out
About eight years ago, if a team was eliminated from the playoffs, players began opting out of bowl game appearances, with the notion those bowl games were “meaningless.”
While in terms of national championships, that statement is absolutely true.
What’s not true is how important bowl games are for giving teams a full month to practice and prepare, while playing toward a season-ending win.
College football was a rare sport in which more than one team could finish the season with a win.
Two things contributed to this: 1. the playoff format only featuring four teams and 2. the over-saturation on the number of college football bowl games.
The money flooding college programs by TV programing made it a no-brainer for more bowl games to happen, but when 5-7 teams are being rewarded with a bowl appearance and for certain games, fan attendance is in the hundreds, there’s a problem.
With there being so many bowls and so few teams in the playoffs, it made sense for players to opt out of those games and prepare for their professional careers.
With the expansion of the playoff format to 12 teams, more teams will see players stick together without opt-outs because of the number of meaningful bowl games.
Another component is the impact of NIL money and how it retains players for a guaranteed source of revenue, compared to the unknown of embarking into professional football.

4. Bowl games see massive drop off in viewership
Piggybacking off the number of bowl games, and the expansion of playoff games, there’s going to be a shockwave through the broadcast of college football bowl games this season.
One thing is certain, football is king in the United States and from August until February, football dominates the TV ratings, particularly college football.
From 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings with pregame shows, to the very last West Coast games that end after midnight, people watch football.
While the regular season viewership is likely not to dip, what is going to see a dip is the viewership in non-championship bowl games.
For every team playing in a bowl game that’s not part of the playoffs, will likely see massive ratings decline due to the same reason players will opt out of playing.
There will be more teams with average to bad records playing in games that people just don’t care about.
The playoffs themselves will likely see some of the highest ratings in football in programming history.
For everyone else, there will be a steep decline.

5. Quinn Ewers wins the Heisman Trophy
The running joke for years has been “Texas is back,” as in returning to national prominence as one of the biggest brands in college football.
For the better part of the 2010s, Texas was simply irrelevant in the national discussion.
After Mack Brown was fired at the conclusion of the 2013 season, Texas had three-straight seven-loss seasons under Charlie Strong, the continual underperformance under Tom Herman until he was eventually fired after the 2020 season.
While 2021 was a rough rebound for current Longhorn head coach Steve Sarkisian, there’s zero question he’s turned the program the right direction, which led to a playoff berth last season and a 37-31 loss to No. 2 unbeaten Washington in the semifinals.
For the better part of the last 15 years, the Heisman has become a quarterback award.
Of the winners since 2010, 12 have been quarterbacks and entering the 2024 season, Longhorn quarterback Quinn Ewers is poised to be one of the best names in football this season.
Although impacted by a collarbone injury that kept him sidelined for three games in 2022, Ewers cemented his legacy last season for the Longhorns.
He completed 69% of his passes for 3,479 yards and had a 22-6 touchdown-interception ratio as he led Texas to the playoffs.
One of the biggest names that could threaten a Quinn Ewers Heisman this season is Dillon Gabriel, who played the past two seasons at Oklahoma.
Gabriel was equally as efficient as Ewers, completing 69% of his passes and tossing 30 touchdowns against six interceptions.
But in the end, Texas will not only see a potential national championship this season, but will also see Ewers hoist the Heisman trophy as well.