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Forde-Yard Dash: 6 fearless predictions and 4 College Football Playoff picks

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (men’s spider enhancer thong sold separately via Amazon, see Zach  Smith for details):

[More Dash: Predictions | Alabama’s run | Who’s in pressure cooker?]

This is the 15th season of the Forde-Yard Dash, which means you all should have enough places to eat meat and drink beer to last a lifetime. But if not, don’t worry. The Dash has more.

A lot has changed since the column began in 2004.

At that point, Adrian Peterson hadn’t rushed for a single yard at Oklahoma, much less 12,000-plus in the NFL. California was about to unveil a JUCO transfer quarterback named Aaron Rodgers. Tim Tebow was 17 years old. Charlie Weis had not yet bilked millions of dollars out of the college game.

The Big East conference played football. There was no earthly idea that West Virginia would end up in the same league as Texas Tech.

Ron Zook, noted intellectual, was the coach at Florida. Seven men have led the Gators since then, if you count interims: Charlie Strong, Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, D.J. Durkin, Jim McElwain, Randy Shannon and now Dan Mullen. Three firings and one case of burnout later, the place has made the San Andreas fault seem stable.

And there was a lot of pie-in-the-sky wishing for a playoff. With four undefeated teams — USC, Oklahoma, Auburn and Meyer-coached Utah — it would have been a great year for one. Instead we had the BCS, which everyone hated. USC won the national title by crushing Oklahoma, then had to give it back a few years later because Reggie Bush was on the take. (The scandal cycle hasn’t changed much.)

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talk before the Sugar Bowl semi-final playoff game for the NCAA college football national championship, in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (AP)

Thanks for all who have read over the previous 14 seasons, and to those who will read this year. Happy football to all.

CALLED SHOTS

Six fearless Dash predictions for 2018 that will come true, or your money back.

New Most Popular Team in America: First team that beats Ohio State (1). Leading candidates: TCU, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan. Let’s face it, not a lot of people outside Ohio will be embracing the Buckeyes this season. First opponent to dent their playoff hopes will probably welcome a lot of new fans on its bandwagon.

The Horned Frogs are the best team that gets to play the Buckeyes while Urban Meyer is on his three-game suspension — but they have some rebuilding to do after last year’s 11-3 season. A Happy Valley whiteout will be a test — the last two meetings there have gone to the wire, with each team winning once. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has given Meyer all he’s wanted several times (though not last year). And what should be a decidedly improved Michigan program desperately needs to beat the Buckeyes for the first time in the Meyer Era.

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First-Year Coach Who Will Most Dramatically Improve the Product: Scott Frost (2), Nebraska. The biggest thing Frost will do to upgrade his alma mater is fielding a defense not coached by Bob Diaco. The Cornhuskers were inexcusably soft on that side of the ball in 2017, allowing 36.4 points and 436 yards per game. Step two: turn around a minus-seven turnover margin — Frost’s Central Florida team was plus-17 last year. Step three — returning some physical punch to the offense — may take a while. But expect Nebraska to turn last year’s 4-8 into 7-5 or better this season.

Top 10 Team That Won’t Stay There: Miami (3). The Hurricanes were a great story last year, but returned to Earth with a thud late — a 10-1 start was followed by a three-game losing streak. The mighty Turnover Chain helped mask a defense that was just sixth in the ACC and an offense that was seventh. The schedule is navigable and the division is mediocre, but it says here Miami will lose three or four times before postseason play.

Surprise Power Five Division Winner: Arizona (4). Kevin Sumlin steps into a sweet situation, inheriting a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Kahlil Tate and nine returning starters on defense. He also avoids crossover games against Washington and Stanford, and draws USC at home early (the Trojans have gotten better as the season has gone on the last two years). The opportunity is there for Arizona to at least play for the Pac-12 title that has eluded it for all 40 years of its league membership.

November Reality Check Recipient: West Virginia (5). Here’s your scenario: Will Grier throws for a gazillion yards and leads all Heisman straw polls while getting the Mountaineers off to a 7-1 or 8-0 start through September and October. Opening opponent Tennessee isn’t ready for the challenge. Week three opponent North Carolina State is rebuilding its defense. The first five Big 12 opponents went a combined 14-31 in the league last year. … And then comes Texas on the road, TCU, Oklahoma State on the road and Oklahoma. Check, please. West Virginia fades from contention.

Most Aggrieved Party of 2018: Georgia (6). The Bulldogs are plenty good enough to return to the College Football Playoff — especially if Kirby Smart doesn’t get too cute with his quarterback position while trying to keep Jake Fromm and Justin Fields both happy. The schedule presents few serious obstacles. But it says here that when Alabama beats Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game, backlash against a second consecutive playoff featuring two SEC schools will keep the ‘Dawgs out. Let the pre-emptive playoff complaining commence.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

The quartet of title contenders The Dash foresees, by matchup and location:

Top seed Clemson (7) vs. fourth seed Washington (8) in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers storm through the season undefeated behind their ridiculous defensive line and hotshot freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Huskies draw heavily debated inclusion over Georgia after beating Auburn by three points more in September than the Bulldogs beat Auburn in November. Orange Bowl winner: Clemson.

Second seed Alabama (9) vs. third seed Wisconsin (10) in the Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide’s young defense is vulnerable early but better late, and when one-loss ‘Bama beats Georgia for the SEC title, Nick Saban has his fifth straight CFP bid. The Badgers overcome a road loss to Michigan by beating the Wolverines in a Big Ten championship rematch. Cotton Bowl winner: Alabama.

CFP title game: Clemson over Alabama. Sorry if that sounds repetitious, but this is the college football world we live in.




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