Forecasting the season's second half

Take a breath, a lengthy one.

The first half of the 2014 college football season has come and gone, and even if you dig living life on the edge, the heart-pounding drama, surprises, controversy and upheaval have us all checking our blood pressure.

Maybe there's something to this whole playoff thing.

You name it, and we've seen it, even though we're still in the process of trying to make sure it's all real.

From game-ending Hail Mary touchdown passes, to the best player in the country being indefinitely suspended, to Mississippi State going from unranked to No. 1 in the polls, it has been a weekly whirlwind.

Let's hope the best is yet to come as we navigate our way to the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Here's a forecast of what to expect in the second half:

The winner of the Egg Bowl -- not the Iron Bowl -- will play for the SEC championship. Survival will be tough in the Wild, Wild West. That doesn't mean the SEC's Western Division will be shut out of the College Football Playoff. It just means that nobody in the West will make it through the season unbeaten. The division is ridiculously deep and talented, and Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the entire conference. It's no coincidence, either, that both of those teams have an experienced difference-maker at quarterback and defensive front sevens that are fast, disruptive and deep. It's a division that's going to beat up on each other even more during the second half of the season and will invariably come down to the final weekend of the regular season like it usually does. But the weekend will play out in college football's new hub, the Magnolia State -- not in Alabama.

Speaking of the Egg Bowl, it looks like you might have to take out a second mortgage to score tickets to that Nov. 29 game in Oxford. The who's who of Mississippi, or anybody remotely tied to that state, are sure to be out in force, too. We're talking Morgan Freeman, Oprah Winfrey, John Grisham, Archie Manning, Jerry Rice, Danica Patrick, Shepard Smith, Britney Spears and Jonathan Papelbon.

Michigan State won't lose again this season and will put itself squarely in the playoff picture. Yes, the Spartans looked shaky last week against Purdue, but they still have the kind of defense that will keep them in every game. They're also second nationally in turnover margin at plus-11, and that's a stat worth its weight in gold. Giving up 31 points to Purdue may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Spartans because you know they're hearing it right now in the film room and on the practice field from defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who has a colorful way of getting his point across. Ohio State is starting to find its groove and comes to East Lansing on Nov. 8, but there's a reason Michigan State has won 20 of its past 22 games with both losses coming on the road.

Duke is poised to make a postseason run again. And, no, we're not talking hoops. The Blue Devils won at Georgia Tech last weekend (after losing 10 in a row to the Yellow Jackets) and get Virginia at home this weekend. Duke avoids Clemson and Florida State this season and also gets Virginia Tech at home in November, the first of three straight home games to end the season. When the Blue Devils won the Coastal Division a year ago, it was big news. Well, what about two straight trips to the ACC championship game? Good coaches can win anywhere and so can good people. David Cutcliffe fits the bill on both counts.

Oregon won't lose again, which means it is going to finally figure out a way to beat Stanford. The Ducks are getting well at just the right time. Getting Jake Fisher back at left tackle has been huge. The Ducks haven't allowed any sacks in three of the four games that he has started. Keeping Marcus Mariota upright and healthy is Oregon's ticket to making the playoff. Fisher gives the Ducks a much better chance to do that now that he's back in the lineup.

There's a special playoff selection committee brewing in the state of Alabama. Fearful that their beloved Crimson Tide might be squeezed out, Phyllis from Mulga and Harvey Updyke are putting together their own committee. Anybody who disagrees with them might want to cover their ears ... and trees.

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will break the Big Ten single-season rushing record. Though Indiana's Tevin Coleman leads the nation in rushing, Gordon, too, is on a torrid pace. He has rushed for 175 yards or more in his past four games and has 1,046 yards through six games, which is remarkable considering he was held to 38 yards on 17 carries the second week of the season in a rout of Western Illinois. There won't be anything slowing him down in the second half of the season, putting him on track to break Ron Dayne's record of 2,109 yards, set in 1996.

Don't rub your eyes when you see Louisville among the defensive stats leaders at the end of the season. Looking for a defensive juggernaut? Check out what Louisville is doing under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham, who came in from Georgia and totally transformed that defense. When you think Bobby Petrino, you think offense. But it is Louisville's defense that's carrying that team right now. The Cardinals' defense leads the country in total D and rushing yards allowed and are third nationally in scoring defense. It hasn't given up a touchdown in 17 quarters and held Clemson to 229 yards of total offense last week in a 23-17 loss.

Kentucky's Mark Stoops won't win SEC Coach of the Year honors, but he will get the Wildcats into a bowl game. Stoops deserves consideration for the award, but beating out Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze will prove difficult this season. Either way, it doesn't diminish the job Stoops has done in his second season. The Wildcats had lost 17 straight SEC games, but they have now won two in a row and are one game away from being bowl-eligible. Their only loss was in triple-overtime on the road to Florida. Bob Stoops' little brother can coach, and he can recruit, too, and he's well on his way to making his own name in the head coaching ranks.

Washington's Shaq Thompson might not get to 10 touchdowns this season, but he'll establish himself as the top linebacker in the Pac-12. Coming into the season, UCLA's Myles Jack was getting all the pub, and he's a terrific player. Thompson, though, is putting together an unreal season. He already has five touchdowns, including four defensive touchdowns. And if you haven't noticed, the Huskies have some serious talent on defense. Here's another prediction: They will have four defenders taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft -- nose tackle Danny Shelton, outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, cornerback Marcus Peters and Thompson.

Somehow, some way, Jon Gruden's name will surface in a head coaching search, and that school's fans will swear that he was purposely wearing a tie with their colors on "Monday Night Football" to give them a subliminal sign.

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato will throw a touchdown pass in every game this season and lead the Thundering Herd to a 12-0 record. Cato will get a chance to break the FBS record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass this weekend against Florida International. He needs only one more after tossing a touchdown pass in 38 straight games, and is currently tied with former NC State and Wisconsin star Russell Wilson.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won't be among the Heisman finalists. Winston has an upcoming hearing to determine whether or not he violated the school's student conduct code. Regardless of that outcome, don't expect the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner to make a return trip to New York City.

And, finally, I unveil my picks for the four playoff teams. Save the drum roll because this could change about five more times between now and December, but I'm going with Florida State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Oregon. It was tempting to include a second team from the SEC West, but something says we'll see all conference champions in this first playoff.