Our annual Memorial Day Pigskin Pickin’ begins with the question uppermost in every mind: Yes, Urban Meyer will be coaching USC — the one in L.A., not Columbia, S.C. — by year’s end. As good as ol’ Urb is at coaching, he’s terrible at staying retired. And now we move to those who will be involved in actual games this fall, offering our annual disclaimer: Everyone will find reason to be irked. So: Enjoy!
• Georgia will go 11-1 for the third year running. For the first time in three seasons, it will not win the SEC East. (More about this soon.) It will, however, make the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 seed, and it will, at merciful last, beat Alabama and play for the national championship. That semifinal, incidentally, will not be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of Georgia’s two most recent come-from-ahead losses to Bama. It will be played in Glendale, Ariz., owing to the CFP’s practice of not handing the lower seed a geographical edge.
• Georgia will not win the national title. For the third time in four years, Clemson will. Many have tried, but only Dabo Swinney has managed to out-Bama Bama. SEC zealots can gripe all they like about the weakness of the ACC — and the ACC beyond Clemson shapes up as lousy — but you could stick the orange Tigers in the It-Just-Means-More league, and they’d win it, too.
• Alabama looked like the greatest team ever until it fell 14 points behind Georgia and Tua Tagovailoa got hurt and the forgotten Jalen Hurts saved Nick Saban’s bacon. Tua wound up not winning the Heisman Trophy that was his to lose; Alabama would up getting annihilated by Clemson. The winter saw another exodus of assistant coaches, whispers holding that many/most were urged to leave by the head coach, who’d decided they weren’t up to Saban snuff. (To be fair, Alabama was nothing special on defense last year.) There’s no way Bama won’t win the SEC West, but it won’t go 12-0. It will lose at Texas A&M on Oct. 12.
• Florida will win the East. It will go 11-1, losing at LSU on Oct. 12 — that Saturday looms large, huh? —but shading Georgia in Jacksonville to take the division on the head-to-head tiebreaker. I wasn’t sure about the Dan Mullen hire, but the weakest bunch of Gators he’s apt to have led Georgia in the third quarter last October. Besides, Georgia has beaten Florida twice running. The only time over the past 30 years the Bulldogs have won three in a row in this bitter series was when the Gators were coached by UGA alum Will Muschamp.
• Remember how many claimed Georgia was penalized unduly by the CFP committee for losing the SEC Championship game last season? The Bulldogs will have no such gripe this time. At 11-1, they’ll make the playoffs ahead of 11-2 Florida and Big Ten champ Michigan.
• That’s correct: Big Ten champ MEESH-igan. Last season ended horribly for Jim Harbaugh’s gang, which yielded 103 points to Ohio State and Florida. This is a put-up-or-shut-up year for this coach, and the Big Ten is unsettled enough that his Wolverines are set to rise. Ohio State has a rookie head coach in Ryan Day and a transfer quarterback who hasn’t played much football lately. The world expects much from Justin Fields, but his final two seasons at Harrison High were truncated by injury, and he saw spot duty as a Georgia freshman. Of note: The Buckeyes finish their regular season in Ann Arbor.
• Oklahoma’s past two seasons have tracked the same course — win the Big 12, make the playoff and lose in the semis behind a Heisman-winning quarterback. It’s testimony to Lincoln Riley that he turned two transfers into Heisman holders. His latest import is Hurts, who’s a fine fellow – not many collegians would have stuck around Tuscaloosa after losing the No. 1 job — but who isn’t the passer Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were. Which is why Oklahoma will finish second in the Big 12 to …
• Texas. The Longhorns are a lot like Florida. (And Georgia, come to think of it.) With the program’s inherent resources in the hands of the right coach, mountains can be moved. Tom Herman is the right man in Austin. His team split with Oklahoma last season, and its Sugar Bowl dissection of Georgia gave Herman two program-building victories in Year 2. Year 3 will end with Texas in the playoff.
• Had the playoff field been expanded to eight last season, Georgia would have made it. Central Florida would have made it. The Pac-12 still would have been shut out. It’s hard to know exactly where this conference went wrong – Oregon played for the first CFP title – but there’s not much here. (Unless you’re still a Chip Kelly believer, which I am not.) This remains the least powerful of the Power 5 by some distance. Washington will wind up in the Rose Bowl, behind finally-eligible Jacob Eason, who didn’t think to ask for a waiver when he left Athens.
• Georgia Tech has long been problematic to project, but knowing how these Yellow Jackets will fare seems beyond human ken. They have a new coach in Geoff Collins, who has junked Paul Johnson’s offense but inherited many of PJ’s players. Recruiting never being high on the former coach’s to-do list, Tech’s talent isn’t nearly what Johnson inherited from Chan Gailey. On the other hand, the always-in-flux Coastal Division could be won by a tepid team, as happened last year with 7-5 Pittsburgh. I’m not sure Tech can get to 7-5, though. I’d say 6-6 sounds about right, though I do so with every expectation of being wrong.
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