NCAAF Teams
Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer 422d

Here's a 15-part spoiler alert for the second half of the season

College Football, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oregon Ducks, Eastern Michigan Eagles, Western Michigan Broncos, Central Michigan Chippewas, Clemson Tigers, Texas Longhorns, Baylor Bears, USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, LSU Tigers, Louisville Cardinals, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars

I told you in August that Alabama would repeat as college football's national champion. I haven't changed my mind.

I told you Clemson, Michigan and Oklahoma would join the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff. I still might get three out of four correct.

I told you Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson would win the Heisman Trophy. It's likely to end up with another ACC quarterback, Lamar Jackson of Louisville, although Watson's chances aren't dead yet.

I told you the Pac-12 would be left out of the CFP for the second straight season. Now I'm guessing it's probably the Big 12.

How will the second half of the season shape up? I'm standing firm with some of my original predictions and flipping on others. (I'm literally flipping a coin as to whether Michigan or Ohio State is going to win at the Horseshoe on Nov. 26.)

Here are 15 predictions for what will happen the rest of the way:

1. The Tide will roll -- there's just no stopping this Alabama dynasty

Nick Saban's 10th Alabama team is beginning to look like his best one yet, even better than the four previous teams that won national titles. This is his fastest and most athletic defense; how else to explain 11 non-offensive touchdowns in seven games? And freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has transformed the way Alabama plays offensively. The scariest part: I think Alabama is just now starting to heat up.

The Crimson Tide will win each of their next five regular-season games by 10 points or more -- sweeping aside several ranked teams along the way -- and will rout Tennessee in the SEC championship game. Then Alabama will win a close game against Clemson in the CFP semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, before defeating Ohio State in another close game in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 9.

After guiding Alabama to its fifth national championship, Oct. 31 (Saban's birthday) will be declared a state holiday in Alabama (except at Auburn, of course).

2. Once again, Michigan-Ohio State will be the epicenter of college football

The brewing rivalry between Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State's Urban Meyer is only getting started. It might even be a second edition of the "Ten Year War," when legendary coaches Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes battled each other every season from 1969 to '78.

Meyer took Round 1 in resounding fashion last season, as the Buckeyes routed the Wolverines 42-13 at the Big House. This season's game will be at the Horseshoe in Columbus on Nov. 26. Both teams will be undefeated, and both will be ranked in the top three. The Big Ten East title, a spot in the Big Ten championship game and one of the four berths in the CFP will be on the line.

Get used to the high stakes. I have a feeling it's going to be like this every season, as long as Harbaugh and Meyer are coaching in the Big Ten.

3. Apple Cup win will propel Washington to the playoff

I've already given you three of the teams that will make the playoff: Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. That leaves only one more spot, and it will be decided after what is shaping up to be one of the greatest regular-season weekends in history.

On Nov. 25, No. 5 Washington plays at Washington State in the Apple Cup. The next day, No. 21 Auburn plays at No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and No. 3 Michigan plays at No. 2 Ohio State.

Along with the Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes, Huskies and Wolverines will each be undefeated entering their regular-season finales. Alabama will beat Auburn, and Ohio State will defeat Michigan. The Wolverines will finish 11-1 and will be left out of the playoff because Washington will have toppled Washington State in the Apple Cup the day before to finish 12-0. The Huskies will then defeat Utah in the Pac-12 championship game to punch their ticket to the CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.

It will mark a rapid rebuilding job for Huskies coach Chris Petersen. So far this season, Washington has outscored its opponents by 212 points through six games. That marks the Huskies' biggest point differential since 1991, when they won a share of the national championship.

4. You can hand out the Heisman Trophy today

Jackson will be the winner of the September Heisman -- and October, November and December. He'll join previous Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow (Florida, 2007), Cam Newton (Auburn, 2010) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M, 2012) as the only FBS players to score more than 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in a season.  

Watson, Washington quarterback Jake Browning, San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett will be the other finalists invited to New York. But Jackson will win in a landslide.

5. Texas will finish 5-7 and coach Charlie Strong will lose his job

After losing three games in a row, Texas righted its ship with a 27-6 victory over Iowa State. The Longhorns are three-point underdogs at Kansas State on Saturday, and they might be favored in only one of their remaining six games (at Kansas on Nov. 19). For Texas to even finish 6-6, the Longhorns are going to have to win at least one of two road games -- at Kansas State and Texas Tech -- or upset No. 9 Baylor, No. 12 West Virginia or TCU at home. It's not going to happen.

After missing the postseason for the second year in a row, Texas will fire Strong, which might be the best thing for both sides. Strong is a good coach with a good track record and probably deserves more time to turn around UT. But that's not the way college football works anymore. Whoever replaces Strong will reap the benefits of the positive things he did in three seasons, such as playing freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, reloading the roster and instilling discipline.

6. The Longhorns win the Tom Herman sweepstakes

It's actually not going to be much of a sweepstakes because other attractive jobs such as Auburn, Notre Dame and USC aren't going to open. The Longhorns will land Herman, the hottest name in the coaching carousel, by luring him to Austin with an annual salary of more than $6 million and a promise that he'll have some input in the hiring of Texas' new athletic director.

After guiding Houston to 23 victories in two seasons, Herman will be the obvious choice to replace Strong, and Herman will prefer Texas over LSU because of its brand and his already-established relationships with Texas high school recruits and coaches. Plus, it's a heck of a lot easier to win the Big 12 than the SEC West as long as Saban is still coaching.

7. Ed Orgeron will ace his LSU interview

After missing out on Herman and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, the Tigers will hire Orgeron. Many LSU insiders say this is what athletics director Joe Alleva has wanted to do since the day he fired former coach Les Miles.

Orgeron won't be judged as much by LSU's final record as its improvement on the field. In only two games, the Tigers have shown dramatic improvement on offense. After setting a school record for total offense in an SEC game with 634 yards in a 42-7 rout of Missouri, the Tigers averaged 10.9 yards per play in a 45-10 win over Southern Miss, their highest in a game since at least 1960. That's called progress.

If the Tigers can keep defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and bring in a high-profile offensive coordinator, Orgeron might be in line to get the job. He's a Louisiana native and a relentless recruiter who is well-liked by high school coaches in the state. Plus, he'd probably come cheap compared to more established coaches, and finances have to be a concern for a cash-strapped university, especially after Miles was paid a buyout of at least $10 million.

8. Baylor will finish with one loss -- to Big 12 champion Oklahoma

Given everything that has transpired at Baylor in the wake of the university's sexual assault scandal, acting coach Jim Grobe and his staff have done a remarkable job guiding the Bears to a 6-0 record. But Baylor's fast start might not be as good as it looks on paper. The Bears have beaten only one FBS opponent with a winning record (Oklahoma State), and three of the teams they defeated are a combined 2-17.

The Bears will win at Texas on Oct. 29 and will survive a shootout at home against TCU on Nov. 5, but they won't win at No. 16 Oklahoma the next week. The Sooners, who were left for dead after early losses to Houston and Ohio State, are going to finish the regular season with a nine-game winning streak to claim a Big 12 title.

9. Art Briles will coach again next season -- in the NFL

Briles, who was fired after the scathing findings of the Pepper Hamilton report, might coach in college football again, but it won't be next season. There's too much left unresolved in what actually transpired during his watch at Baylor, and I don't think there's an athletic director or university president who would be willing to take a chance in hiring him after this season.

Briles is currently working as a guest coach for the Cleveland Browns, and I'm betting an NFL team is probably willing to hire him in some capacity for the 2017 season.

10. Brian Kelly will get a chance to redeem himself after this season

Notre Dame, which was considered a potential dark horse to make the CFP in some preseason predictions, has lost four of its past five games to drop to 2-5. There aren't many winnable games left on the schedule, but I'm guessing the Fighting Irish will find a way to win at least two more to finish 4-8. That would be Notre Dame's second-worst finish since 1963; it went 3-9 under Charlie Weis in 2007.

Since Notre Dame only recently finished making the payments on Weis' $18.9 million buyout, I'm pretty sure it won't have a quick trigger in ending Kelly's tenure. Kelly signed a six-year contract extension in January through the 2021 season, but he needs to hire a quality defensive coordinator after firing Brian VanGorder four games into the season.

Kelly might want to consider polishing up his demeanor on the sideline and his interaction with his players. A little more personal accountability wouldn't hurt, either.

11. Western Michigan will row its boats to the Cotton Bowl

No. 11 Houston is the highest-rated team from a Group of 5 conference, but the Cougars might not be the best bet to be invited to a New Year's Six bowl. Unless Navy loses two of its remaining AAC games, the Midshipmen will win the AAC West because of their 46-40 upset of Houston. The automatic invite to a New Year's Six bowl goes to the highest-rated champion from a Group of 5 league, and Houston might not even get an opportunity to play in the AAC championship game.

That puts No. 14 Boise State in the best position, but it has a pretty difficult stretch left to play. The Broncos host BYU on Thursday night and play road games at Wyoming on Oct. 29 and at Air Force on Nov. 25. Plus, the Broncos might have to face San Diego State in the MWC championship game.

ESPN's Football Power Index gives No. 20 Western Michigan the best chance among FBS teams to enter the bowl games undefeated. The Broncos' most difficult remaining games -- against Eastern Michigan (yeah, you read that correctly) and Toledo -- will be played at home. WMU will probably play Akron or Ohio in the MAC championship game. I'm betting the Broncos will finish undefeated and finish as the highest-rated Group of 5 champion after Houston finishes second behind Navy in the AAC East and Boise State loses at least once.

12. Clay Helton won't have the hottest seat in Los Angeles

After a horrific start, which included a 46-point loss to Alabama in the opener, it seemed as if Helton might not make it through his first full season as USC's coach. Since switching to freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, the Trojans have won three of four games and are suddenly the hottest team in the Pac-12 South.

While USC seems to be getting better every week, crosstown rival UCLA seems to be getting worse. The Bruins have dropped three of their past four games, and the bleeding probably won't stop unless quarterback Josh Rosen returns from injury soon. Even with Rosen, UCLA's offense hasn't been nearly as potent without former coordinator Noel Mazzone, who left for Texas A&M after the 2015 season. If UCLA doesn't turn things around, coach Jim Mora might be under a lot of pressure to win in 2017.

13. All three Michigan directional schools will go bowling (and Michigan State won't)

Western Michigan won't be the only directional school from the Great Lakes State to play in the postseason. Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan are both 5-2 and seemingly on the way to the postseason. Like the Broncos, the Chippewas would be playing in their third consecutive bowl game. But the Eagles' only previous postseason appearance was in 1987. The three Directional U programs have never played in a bowl game in the same season.

Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, who seems to be in line for the Purdue job or another Power 5 opening, isn't the only rising star in the MAC. At 53, Central Michigan's John Bonamego probably won't be leaving his alma mater anytime soon. But Eastern Michigan's Chris Creighton, who built winners at Wabash College in Indiana and Drake University in Iowa, might be a coach to keep an eye on.

14. Lane Kiffin will get a head-coaching job

In three seasons as Alabama's offensive coordinator, Kiffin has transformed himself from being college football's biggest villain to one of its greatest offensive minds. He might be doing his best work this season with Hurts starting at quarterback. The Crimson Tide are averaging 504.7 yards, 7 yards per play and 45.4 points per game. Hurts has eclipsed 100 yards rushing twice this season, which is something no Alabama quarterback under Saban had ever done.

Kiffin went 7-6 in his only season as Tennessee's coach in 2009 and 28-15 in three-plus seasons at USC. His record as a head coach wasn't spectacular, but he wasn't exactly a failure, either. He has spent the past three seasons largely in the background, running the offense and learning how to operate a program under Saban. Kiffin might not be at the top of the list for Power 5 jobs such as Baylor or LSU, but he might be in play at Group of 5 programs such as Houston (if Herman leaves) or USF (if Willie Taggart lands another job).

Kiffin can't be choosy. He has done an admirable job rehabilitating his image, and he might have to be willing to take a springboard job to a bigger program to prove how much he has matured.

15. What's happening at Oregon? Your guess is as good as mine.

It was only two years ago that Mark Helfrich guided Oregon to the College Football Playoff; the Ducks crushed Florida State 59-20 in a semifinal at the Rose Bowl and lost to Ohio State 42-20 in the CFP National Championship. Oregon went 9-4 last season, but what is mostly remembered is its second-half collapse in the Alamo Bowl, in which the Ducks blew a 31-point lead in a 47-41 loss to TCU in three overtimes.

This season, the Ducks are 2-4 and have lost four straight games going into Friday night's trip to California. They've been historically bad on defense, allowing 121 points in their past two losses against Washington State and Washington. There's no easy fix and there's no guarantee Oregon will win again this season.

Helfrich is an Oregon native who is largely well-liked. He was Chip Kelly's offensive coordinator and seemed like a logical replacement when Kelly left for the NFL. But many Ducks fans are beginning to wonder whether Helfrich is their version of Frank Solich, the former Nebraska assistant who was promoted to head coach after legendary Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne retired following the 1997 season. For many Nebraska fans, Solich was regarded as a great assistant and mediocre head coach.

As Oregon's brass ponders what to do with Helfrich, Solich should serve as a cautionary tale. He guided the Cornhuskers to three seasons with double-digit wins and won nine games in two other seasons from 1998 to 2003. After Solich was fired, Nebraska didn't win 10 games again until 2009.

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