Flipping the Field: Biggest surprise of the 2015 college football season?

Welcome to Flipping the Field, the column formerly known as Big Man On Campus. Gene Wojciechowski is now the Big Man On College GameDay and is busy jetting around doing awesome TV stories. So someone on the college football floor in Bristol, Connecticut, said, "Hey, that McGee guy who writes The Bottom 10, he's also a dude with glasses who also went to Tennessee a really long time ago ... like Geno ... wonder if he would do it?"

I said, "Sure."

So, you ask, "Why is it called Flipping the Field?" We're calling it Flipping the Field because this is the place where, once the games (finally) start, we'll take a Monday morning look back at what happened over the weekend and start the spin forward to how the results reshaped the playoff landscape for the upcoming weekend. See, it's like we're changing field position. See, it's like we're a punter blasting a kick so far it turns our eyes toward the other half of the stadium. See, it's like ... oh, c'mon, you get it, right?

Now that the first week of games is (finally) upon us, and everyone is so certain that Ohio State will repeat, we're flipping the field by taking a glance back at recent seasons, pondering what those surprises might portend about 2015.

Not to spoil the spirit of preseason watch lists, polls, all-conference teams or even the AP Top 25, but the stories that have dominated the sport over the past half decade are ones that none of us saw coming.

2010: No one saw Auburn coming.

2011: No one saw RG III coming ... or Oklahoma going.

2012: No one saw Johnny Football coming ... or Notre Dame ... or Lennay Kekua.

2013: No one saw Auburn coming ... again ... or the guy who beat it, Famous Jameis.

2014: No one saw Ohio State coming ... or its College Football Playoff-winning quarterback(s).

So, over the past couple of weeks, as the season-opening South Carolina-North Carolina game (finally) drew closer, I polled college football folks throughout ESPN, and a few beyond our walls, with one simple question: What's the one thing we don't see coming that's definitely coming in 2015?

For the record, my vote is Vernon Adams Jr., the quarterback who just went from final exams at Eastern Washington to Marcus Mariota's vacated spot behind center at Oregon in less than two weeks. I'm not saying he'll be invited to New York in December ... but I'm not saying he won't. And if that happens, we might be staring at the makings of a rough-hewn, unofficial FCS-to-FBS farm system. Hey, it's already working with jucos ...

But enough about what I think. What about Geno? I felt like it was only fair that he be my first call. After all, the man filled this spot with his keen eye and deft words for 15 years. His reply was quick.

"Stanford reaches the playoff."

Really? No return from Oregon with my guy Adams? No run from USC, which, despite last week's strange Steve Sarkisian drama, likely fields the most talented group of starters in the Pac-12?

"Nope," Geno said confidently. "Stanford. Wait ... did you say you were writing the Monday column now? But I thought I ..."

"Sorry, Geno, you're breaking up ..." Click.

With the Pac-12 still ringing in my head, I buzzed Kevin Carter down in Tampa, Florida. He was either throwing out the first pitch at a Rays game or polishing his Super Bowl ring ... or actually both at once. Turns out he had his eyes on the West Coast, too. Actually, on the desert.

"Anu Solomon will explode in his sophomore campaign."

Really? The same Anu Solomon who beat out a senior to become Arizona's starter? The same freshman who threw 14 touchdown passes during a 5-0 start and ended up tying the Wildcats' record for TD passes in a season (28, shared with Nick Foles and Willie Tuitama)? The same Anu who nearly broke the school record for passing yards in a season with 3,793?

OK, once I said all that aloud, I realized it was a pretty heady call by KC. But he wasn't done.

"His performance wins Arizona the Pac-12 and a berth in the College Football Playoff."

So, two conversations into our "Won't see it coming" poll, and we already had two Pac-12 teams not named Oregon, USC, UCLA or even Arizona State playing on New Year's Eve. I was digging this.

But wait, New Year's Eve?

"Actually, I think New Year's Eve will be the big thing coming that some people don't believe is coming, that we will establish a new New Year's Eve tradition for America, watching the College Football Playoff semifinal games."

That's what Bill Hancock, executive director of the CFP, told me when he overheard my column idea at ESPN's preseason college football meetings down in Charlotte, North Carolina. I shook his hand, thanked him for chiming in and asked if he'd mind calling my wife to explain why we wouldn't be going out this New Year's Eve ... unless she was up for a romantic night in the press box at Joe Robbie, er, Sun Life Stadium.

"Anyway, good to see ya, Bill!"

Then I caught Tom Luginbill, my ESPNU cohort, at the buffet line sneaking dinner rolls into his pockets. He had an answer before I could even finish the question. "Oklahoma will win the Big 12. They're the best team in the country when expectations are low."

Really? Wouldn't that be something? All those years of the Sooners being tabbed for great expectations, only to tumble into the backseat behind Oklahoma State, Kansas State and most recently TCU and Baylor ... and now they could return the ruination favor?

"Oklahoma? That would be awesome," said Jimmie Johnson. "You know, my wife went to Oklahoma."

That's when I realized that there are two Jimmie Johnsons in my phone, and I had called the wrong one for this poll. (Hey, I do cover auto racing, too. Not above a shameless plug.)

After a handful of convos, I couldn't help but notice that no one had mentioned the SEC. So, I turned to some guys with twangs, like mine. Like Chris Low, who said, "The SEC will beat up on each other and get left out of the playoff." Yikes, that's not likely to earn him any nice looks at the Piggly Wiggly back home (though I totally agree with him). Mark Schlabach countered with near-Dawg blasphemy, saying, "Nick Chubb will break Herschel Walker's SEC single-season record of 1,891 yards by eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark." And even GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit, who doesn't have a Southern accent, but will if he lives in Nashville, Tennessee, long enough, got in on the SEC action by saying, "LSU will win the West and go to the playoff."

But wait ... what about Herbie's alma mater?

"This will be a tough year for the Ohio State quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones will both go down," predicted Mike Bellotti, ESPNU's newly minted College Football Hall of Famer, who followed his doom with a boom. "But Braxton [Miller] will come back to save the day."

I love that storyline. But, last Thursday, my Championship Drive podcast pals weren't as optimistic about the Block O.

"Ohio State misses the playoff," said Insider Travis Haney.

"Yeah, I think they could lose a couple of games," agreed CFP reporter Heather Dinich, pointing to a possible season-ending, three-game gantlet of Michigan State, Michigan and the Big Ten title game.

And then she reminded everyone that going to Blacksburg, Virginia, is still going to Blacksburg, Virginia, especially to meet the one team the Bucks lost to last season. And especially with practically zero receiving threats (other than their old QB) and their best defensive player sitting on the bench.

Speaking of the Hokies ...

"Virginia Tech will go 9-5," predicted Ivan Maisel, the final person on my hit list who chose to respond. "And Frank Beamer will not retire."

"I like that one," Coach Beamer said when I told him about Ivan's forecast. "I'm gonna stick around for a little while yet. That's my plan anyway. I can't go away now. College football is the greatest it's ever been. I want to stick around because I love it. You never know what's going to happen next."

Exactly. (And don't forget I was the one who called Vernon Adams!)