“There’s no basis at all for any predictions.” — Nick Saban
“If he didn’t say it, he should have.” — Unknown College Football Writer
Hallelujah, college football begins in earnest Thursday. With the above quotes in mind, let’s take a run through the top storylines and predictions. Or, what could happen — and what will.
» Storyline: Predictions for Nebraska are all over the map.
Prediction: Warning, I’m going to attempt logic. Nebraska won nine games last year. The schedule is tougher with games at Oregon and Penn State. But I expect NU to be better at quarterback, offensive line and special teams. The new 3-4 defense will have growing pains, but will improve as the year progresses and be stingier against the run in Big Ten games. Nebraska goes 9-3, with home W’s over Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa.
» Storyline: Alabama vs. Florida State is the greatest opener in college football history.
Prediction: I’m not feeling it, mainly because a loss this early doesn’t count you out of the College Football Playoff. Either team can recover, but there’s more pressure on FSU Saturday night in Atlanta. The Seminoles still play at Clemson and Florida late in the year and might have to beat Miami twice. ’Bama goes to Stark Vegas and Auburn, not exactly the same.
» Storyline: The Big Ten has a conference game to open the season — on a Thursday night.
Prediction: Love it. I think this will be the beginning of more league games early in the year and in the opening week. It’s a great promotional tool for the Big Ten, which has had an awkward time balancing promotion with tradition. Still, there’s a big difference between the effects locally of Thursday and Friday night football. Ohio State playing Thursday validates the idea for other Big Ten teams.
» Storyline: This fall is Urban Meyer’s Revenge Tour.
Prediction: Yes, with an assist from new offensive play- caller Kevin Wilson. The Buckeyes will have it all: talent, skill, size, brains and motivation. Well, almost. They’ll get revenge on Penn State at home, but there’s a little matter of a trip to Ann Arbor. The Fighting Harbaughs take down the Bucks, who still win the East and the Big Ten and make the playoffs.
» Storyline: Jim Harbaugh is all khakis and no ring.
Prediction: See above prediction. Harbaugh gets his Buckeye pelt and the critics take a breath.
» Storyline: This is Bill Snyder’s last dance in Aggieville. The Kansas State legend has battled cancer this year, he’s 77 and he’s made it clear he would like his son, Sean, to take over one day. He’s also got one of his best teams returning, which leads to the notion that Coach Snyder would use this season as a perfect walk-off. There are also theories that Snyder could use a retirement later in the season to leverage the job for Sean.
Prediction: Cancer is a tough hombre, but so is Snyder. This is a different breed of cat. Theories and politics don’t apply to him. I say Snyder coaches forever. Why would you think otherwise?
» Storyline: The Big 12 championship game will keep the Big 12 out of the CFP — instead of helping it get in.
Prediction: Parity and the lack of a big nonconference win will likely do that. The Big 12 could be a mess come December. Oklahoma State is at Texas and West Virginia. OU plays at OSU. Texas coach Tom Herman could help make things muddier. Then there will be a league title game that will be a rematch. It’s hard to see any Big 12 team going undefeated, and that’s where schedule strength comes in. Other than Oklahoma at Ohio State and Texas at USC, Big 12 résumés will be a little light.
» Storyline: Wisconsin is the Big Ten West favorite.
Prediction: The Badgers’ history of solid football leans that way. So does their schedule. Nebraska has closed the gap on Bucky the past two years, with both games coming down to the last play. I think NU finishes the job this year at home. But Wisconsin still waves the West flag.
» Storyline: Tanner Lee has to carry a Husker offense without a lot of star power or strengths.
Prediction: Lee won’t have to be great, just efficient. Jerald Foster will be All-Big Ten and become a future Outland Trophy candidate. De’Mornay Pierson-El (remember him?) will have a big year as a receiver. The screen pass and the tight end will be stars in this offense.
» Storyline: This is the 40th anniversary of the Iowa vs. Iowa State series since it was revived in 1977. There has been talk about Iowa dropping the series so it could schedule more juicy nonconference games, but the series is set through 2023.
Prediction: You can play both Iowa State and have a neutral-site game against another Power Five team. Of course, given the Big Ten’s nine-game league schedule, don’t count on that. Still, this series means too much to the state — it will be around for a long time — and the offseason banter between the staffs hasn’t hurt interest. Iowa State has to do its share on the field. The Cyclones will win a wild one in overtime this year in Ames.
» Storyline: Reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson isn’t getting a lot of love as a Heisman Trophy favorite.
Prediction: Jackson won’t repeat as the Heisman winner. Heck, he barely held on last year as Louisville lost its last three games, including a 29-9 clunker in the bowl game. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett will win the Heisman this season just ahead of USC flamethrower Sam Darnold.
» Storyline: The College Football Playoff is on a roll coming off last year’s title game, but needs to be expanded. There are too many worthy candidates for a four-team format.
Prediction: It’s not going to eight teams anytime soon. The current format works — look at all the terrific early nonconference matchups. Playing big early matters.
It also puts some buzz into conference championship weekend.
» Storyline: Saban goes for a six-pack of national championships this year. Does he get it?
Prediction: I’ve got Ohio State vs. USC in the Rose Bowl semifinal and Alabama vs. Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. ’Bama gets revenge, but Urban and the Buckeyes hoist the trophy in the championship game in Atlanta.
Don’t sweat it, Nick. It’s only a prediction.
Tom Shatel predicts NU will finish 9-3 for a second straight regular season. Do you agree?
Tom has Nebraska finishing 9-3, with home wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. Do you think the Huskers win 9 games?
How the cookie crumbles: Nebraska's 2017 football schedule
A week-by-week breakdown of Nebraska's schedule with final predictions for each game. Predictions were made before the season started. Broken cookies are predicted Husker wins, whole cookies are predicted losses. Text by Sam McKewon and Evan Bland. Photos by Kent Sievers. Cookies by Sugar Chic Design.