Forde-Yard Dash: 6 weird predictions and 4 picks for the playoff

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (where the Heisman Trophy has been renamed the HeisManly Trophy for one week only, in honor of Hawaii’s hustling Week Zero hero, Manly Williams):

[More Dash: 10 key coordinators | 10 worrisome games | 5 bets to make]

IF 2019 IS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS …

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The infamous Week Zero start to the season contained multitudes, all within two hysterically sloppy games. There were 40 penalties and 13 turnovers and enough missed tackles to make defensive coordinators reach for the bourbon, but good Lord it was at least wildly unpredictable.

Miami and Florida played one of the worst final stretches of football in recorded history, then Arizona and Hawaii staged a final play for the ages. Khalil Tate’s daring attempt at a 35-yard scramble for the win on the final play was stopped less than a yard short of fruition, putting some lipstick on an eight-turnover pig that went well into Sunday morning East Coast time.

Perhaps the strangest thing to come out of this dizzying doubleheader was the fact that the winning teams were a minus-3 (Florida) and a minus-4 (Hawaii) in turnover margin. You get into that territory of turnover deficit and almost always lose — in 2018, in fact, teams that were minus-4 turnovers went 4-39, and two of those victories were over FCS opponents.

For a Mountain West Conference team punching above its weight class at a Pac-12 opponent to win while having six giveaways, that’s the stuff of freak shows. (And continued Pac-12 nightmares. But we’ll get to that.) Per sports-reference.com, a non-Power Five team hasn’t beaten a Power Five team while committing six turnovers this century.

So The Dash is going to take Week Zero as an omen, a grand harbinger of a season ready to launch off the rails and into the great wide open. (Well, with one giant exception. Which we’ll get to.)

Jim Harbaugh won't have to worry about Urban Meyer this season. (Getty Images)
Jim Harbaugh won't have to worry about Urban Meyer this season. (Getty Images)

Six suitably weird predictions for 2019 season

Michigan (1) will finally beat Ohio State. And still will lose three games and not win the Big Ten East and the fan base won’t know what the hell to do with Jim Harbaugh. It’ll want his head on a pike after a stunning upset loss in Week 2 to Army, of course. And when the Wolverines lose at Penn State on Oct. 19. And they’ll really be hostile after a home upset loss to Michigan State on Nov. 16. But when Michigan finally gets over on the opponent it hates the most — releasing a spasm of Buckeye anger directed at Ryan Day and Justin Fields and Urban Meyer for leaving — Big Blue and Harbaugh will have to decide whether they can do a sixth year together.

Minnesota, Iowa State and Missouri (2) will all be undefeated going into November. The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released on Nov. 5. Are you ready for the Gophers, Cyclones and Tigers to all be in the top 10, and perhaps even one or two of them in the top five? Because it says right here that’s going to happen, before reality arrives like a fence post swung by Buford Pusser the following Saturday.

Minnesota, with an abundance of returning experience, will be 8-0 after playing South Dakota State, at Fresno State, Georgia Southern, at Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, at Rutgers and Maryland. Then comes a visit from Penn State that will draw a lot of attention.

Missouri will be 8-0 after playing at Wyoming, West Virginia, Southeast Missouri, South Carolina, Troy, Mississippi (all at home), at Vanderbilt and at Kentucky. The last of those games is no lock, since Mizzou has lost four straight to the Wildcats, but karma will circle back around after last year’s robbery in Columbia. The Tigers will then lose by four touchdowns at Georgia on Nov. 9.

Iowa State will be 8-0 after playing Northern Iowa, Iowa, Louisiana-Monroe, at Baylor, TCU, at West Virginia, at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Then comes a trip to Oklahoma. But you heard it here first: The Cyclones are going to the Big 12 championship game.

The Pac-12 will continue to stink, but Oregon (3) is going to the playoff. Arizona’s loss to Hawaii is another season-opening gut punch for the league, and there could be more August losses to come. But the Ducks will score the Pac-12’s biggest win in a while by beating Auburn in Arlington, on their way to a 13-0 record. Road wins over Stanford, Washington, USC and Arizona State will persuade the College Football Playoff selection committee that Oregon has a deserving résumé — and if that doesn’t work, committee chair Rob Mullens will work on his buddies over ice cream between sessions.

Notre Dame (4) will lose twice in November to unranked opponents. The Dash previously wrote about the difficulty the Fighting Irish have awaiting them with six games at an open-date disadvantage. That will catch up with them late in the season, when healthy and rested bodies are at a premium. Notre Dame has four straight November games at a rest/prep disadvantage: Virginia Tech, at Duke, Navy and Boston College. They’ll lose two of them — or perhaps one and the season finale at Stanford.

The once-great state of Florida (5) will have a combined nine losses before November for its big three of Florida, Florida State and Miami. The old adage is that teams make their greatest strides between their first and second games, and goodness gracious that had better be true for the Gators and Hurricanes. The offensive lines are in acute need of improvement, with tackling and quarterback play not far behind. The schedules are just tricky enough that if these teams are as shaky as our last glimpse of them showed, Central Florida may once again be carrying the Sunshine State banner.

Clay Helton will be out at USC after six games, but interim head coach Clancy Pendergast will have a 5-1 finish and be the latest interim Trojans leader to tempt the administration into making a terrible decision to hire him full-time after Urban Meyer (6) turns down the job when his wife says hell no, she won’t go to Los Angeles. In the end, Matt Leinart is Option Two out of the Fox broadcast studio as the new coach, and he hires Ryan Kalil (offensive coordinator) and Troy Polamalu (defensive coordinator) to complete the latest USC Nostalgia Binge.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, right, respond to questions during a news conference after their CFP semifinal win in 2018. (Getty)
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, right, respond to questions during a news conference after their CFP semifinal win in 2018. (Getty)

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

Ah, yeah. This is where the season becomes more formful after the above excursion through surrealism. If you’ve had enough of the same old teams in the CFP, condolences. They’re running it back again this year.

Clemson (7). There are legitimate reasons to believe this will be one of the finest offensive teams in college football history. The defensive front is being rebuilt, but who on the Tigers’ schedule is going to outscore them?

Alabama (8). Speaking of glorious offenses: last year was the best in Crimson Tide history, and many of the key parts are back, starting with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Plug some holes on the offensive line and hope that Steve Sarkisian doesn’t screw it up, and ‘Bama is going to average 40-plus per game again this year. And the defense could be better than last year’s occasionally suspect unit. Heck, they may even have a kicker for once in Tuscaloosa.

Georgia (9). The Bulldogs have been a play away from beating Alabama each of the past two seasons. They should get another shot at it come December in the Southeastern Conference championship game. And if it’s another close game, the committee might get it right this year by putting them both in the playoff.

Oregon. See above. Justin Herbert and Co. save an entire floundering conference.

Playing the role of UCF as this year’s Group of Five outlier is Cincinnati (10). If the Bearcats can beat UCLA at home Thursday (which seems entirely likely) and somehow upset Ohio State in the Horseshoe the following week (more of a stretch), look out. They could get the shot the Knights did not either of the previous two seasons.

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