Well, I might as well get this out of the way: I am picking Ohio State to win the national championship.
No suspense. No buildup. Just a pick that is very likely to be wrong, largely because college football is both beautiful and random.
Yes, I picked Georgia to win the national championship at this very time last year. My reasoning was simple: the talent and the recruiting would come together spectacularly at once, and boy did it ever.
Call that a humble brag, if you wish. I am rarely in a position to do so -- I was just thrilled to be right for the first time in a long time.
Now, back to Ohio State. All the pieces are in place. Despite losing two wideouts to the first round of the NFL draft, I expect the Ohio State offense to be better.
Quarterback C.J. Stroud, who looked iffy at times early on, will not look iffy this time around. Wideouts Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming will thrive. Running back TreVeyon Henderson -- who was superb as a true freshman -- will run wild behind an offensive line that will be very good (and perhaps much better than that).
Oh, and the defense added Jim Knowles, one of the best defensive minds in the sport. The defensive line is both young and loaded, and I could see defensive ends Zach Harrison and Jack Sawyer torment quarterbacks all year long.
And the schedule? It’s perfectly fine to make the playoff, which is all that matters. Ohio State is a 15.5-point favorite against Notre Dame, a preseason top 10 team, in Week 1. That speaks volumes.
Ohio State also plays Wisconsin at home, at Penn State and at Michigan State. Iowa and Michigan will also play in Columbus in 2022.
The Buckeyes are 3-1 to win the title, behind only one team. They are -215 to win the Big Ten, which is both chalky and somehow not as chalky as it should be.
To me, however, the question turns to the next step.
Can Ohio State beat Alabama if we get that far?
I certainly believe so. At the very least, the path to arrive to that potential point should be far more favorable.
Last year, we got one right. This year, we shall see – but Ohio State it is.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Sam Hartman will be out for an extended period of time, and that is bad news for Wake Forest and all of college football. First and foremost, I just want Hartman to be okay. The starting QB won’t play until further notice due to a “non-football injury,” which sounds far more significant than throwing touchdowns. His absence, however, is a massive one. Hartman accounted for 50 touchdowns last season, and he often tortured defenses with incredible read-option wizardry. Wake Forest, which was a feisty underdog to win the ACC, is now 55-1 to win the conference ahead of only Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Duke. The sport can be incredibly cruel.
2. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked on more than a handful of occasions to unearth this year’s Cincinnati, aka a Group of 5 team capable of sneaking into the College Football Playoff. Frankly, I would be shocked if it happens again. The Bearcats are 200-1 to win the CFP, ahead of every Power 5 school. Right below them is Houston at 250-1, and that would be my selection. The Cougars had a massive year in 2021, and having QB Clayton Tune back is an enormous lift. The offense has a ton of weapons, and the defense should be plenty capable. To make the playoff, however, Houston must be undefeated and then some. And the major issue, unlike Cincinnati a year ago, is that the schedule simply doesn’t have enough quality teams on it; specifically, it doesn’t have a Notre Dame. Tough assignment.
3. I am fascinated with the Big Ten’s strategy when it comes to media rights. I won’t bore you with a lot of media minutia, although the strategy of the conference is fascinating. For starters, not having any ties to ESPN moving forward is bold. Considering that ESPN essentially owns the College Football Playoff, well, you can connect the dots. On the flip side, I can visualize what the conference is trying to build. You begin the day with noon eastern game on FOX. You take in the afternoon game on CBS. You end the day in the primetime slate on NBC. Not a bad strategy to control the programming throughout the Saturday.
4. To the person who voted Texas No. 1 in the AFCA Coaches Poll, I appreciate you. The other teams to receive votes were Alabama (54), Ohio State (5) and Georgia. Texas, now 50-1 to win the national championship, received a single vote as well. Was it Nick Saban? Was it Lane Kiffin? Was it an intern subbing in for a coach wanting no part of this pointless vote? We will likely never know, although I love this person very much.
5. Mississippi State is allowing fans to bring their own fridges to football games. As a tailgate connoisseur, I adore this concept. I can bring my own beer, cool my own beer and drink my own beer. Outstanding. I also question the liability here. Specifically, I wonder how long we go before someone heaves a case full of domestics onto the field.
Five Under-the-Radar Football Games I Can’t Wait to See
In the VSiN CFB Betting Guide, I talked about the 10 biggest games of the year. (It was a tough list to make.)
As I made it, however, I realized just how many superb games I was leaving off. Better yet, I found an assortment of games that will be fun, weird and incredibly watchable despite not being overly celebrated.
Houston at UTSA, Sept. 3 (Week 1)
The Cougars are listed as a six-point road favorite, which is meaningful. Given the spunk that UTSA displayed throughout last year, however, this one won’t be a walk in the park. The more I look at Houston, as I mentioned above, the more I like. The Cougars won 11 straight games last season before falling to Cincinnati. This year, they feel like a Group of 5 team capable of making a big bowl. To do that, winning this game would certainly go a long way. With a total around 61, both teams are likely to have their moments.
Kansas State at Oklahoma, Sept. 24 (Week 4)
For starters, this football game is always weird. It doesn’t matter when it is, where it is, or who is playing quarterback; chances are things are going to unfold through a chaotic lens. In the last three seasons, the Wildcats have won two of these games. In that time, the two teams have been almost equal: Kansas State 117, Oklahoma 113. There are reasons to believe that this year will follow a similar formula; K-State running back Deuce Vaughn is one of the most explosive backs in the country. And although the game will be played in Norman, my guess is that we’ll see plenty of points, probably an over, and another game that’s closer than many expect it to be.
Utah State at BYU, Sept. 29 (Week 5)
The best part about this game? It’ll take place on a Thursday. While the NFL’s Thursday night takeover has largely slowed the CFB momentum on this night, that is not the case here. Both teams were exceptional last year, and both teams have double-digit win aspirations. Utah State has a win total of 7 (over + 100); BYU has a win total of 8.5 (over + 100). The outcome of this game could very well decide one or the other.
Purdue at Maryland, Oct. 8 (Week 6)
This game will be the equivalent of football explosions. It will take roughly five hours, and I see at least 80 points being scored. I am also intrigued to see both quarterbacks. Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell posted massive numbers last year when he got rolling; Taulia Tagovailoa also had some massive moments for Maryland, and he’ll be throwing to great wideouts (assuming they stay healthy). Will there be great stakes attached? That part is a bit more of a mystery. Purdue has a win total of 7.5 (over + 110); Maryland’s is 6 (over + 100). Results might be mixed, but this has fireworks written all over it.
Miami at Virginia, Oct. 29 (Week 9)
The Miami hype, of course, is reaching a steady boil. And to be honest, I could see it being a solid year. This particular spot certainly feels like one worth watching. Although we’re spent plenty of time talking about the Hurricanes, Clemson and NC State, we haven’t had much to see about Virginia. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong can ball. He had six 400-yard passing games last season, and this could be a very interesting road sport for Miami. Also, I don’t hate Virginia at 35-1 to win the ACC.
Next week, it’s finally go time. We will preview Week 0, get more picks out in the open and begin final preparations for the year. It’s football time.