Given what has transpired in college football over the past month, the start of the 2018 season can't get here soon enough. Fortunately, the first big weekend is only five days away, when a handful of matchups between nationally ranked teams will start providing some clues about which squads might be in contention for the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
On Saturday, No. 6 Washington, a big favorite to win the Pac-12, plays No. 9 Auburn at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). On Saturday night, No. 14 Michigan visits No. 12 Notre Dame to renew their storied rivalry (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC), and No. 1 Alabama begins its defense of its national title against Louisville at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
Labor Day weekend closes with two more games: No. 8 Miami takes its Turnover Chain to play No. 25 LSU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), then No. 20 Virginia Tech plays at No. 19 Florida State (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Seminoles coach Willie Taggart's debut on Monday.
As we prepare for Week 1, here's a look into my crystal ball. Last season, I correctly picked six of eight division winners in the Power 5 conferences and two of five league champions overall.
Here are the projected records and predictions for each of the Power 5 conferences:
Offensive player of the year: AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Defensive player of the year: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Coach of the year: Steve Addazio, Boston College
Freshman of the year: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Comeback player of the year: Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
Coach on the hot seat: Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Coordinator on the rise: Tony Elliott, co-offensive coordinator, Clemson
Team most likely to rise: Florida State
Team most likely to fall: Louisville
Nonconference game of the year: Clemson at Texas A&M, Sept. 8
Conference game of the year: Clemson at Florida State, Oct. 27
Biggest potential upset: Georgia Tech over Clemson, Sept. 22
Three bold predictions for the ACC
1. Florida State vs. Miami will matter: It's going to feel like the 1980s and 1990s again when the Seminoles play the Hurricanes on the road on Oct. 6. Both teams are going to be 5-0 when they play, after FSU knocks off Virginia Tech and Miami beats LSU in tight games on opening weekend and then both win their next four. FSU will beat Miami on a late field goal to improve to 6-0.
2. Trevor Lawrence will be Clemson's starting quarterback by October: It's hard not to cheer for Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant, who overcame health problems and had the unenviable task of replacing Deshaun Watson last year. Bryant went 12-2 as a starter in 2017, throwing for 2,802 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Both quarterbacks will play early, but Lawrence -- the No. 2 player in the 2018 class -- will wrestle away the starting job early in the season. He'll be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate by season's end.
3. Boston College will beat Miami, Clemson or FSU: Addazio has quietly built a very competitive team at Boston College, and Dillon might end up being the ACC's best Heisman Trophy candidate. Dillon ran for 1,589 yards with 14 touchdowns as a true freshman last season, and he didn't really hit his stride until October. If the Eagles feed him the rock like they did at the end of the 2017 season, Dillon might even flirt with 2,000 rushing yards.
Offensive player of the year: Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Defensive player of the year: Ben Banogu, DE, TCU
Coach of the year: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Freshman of the year: Brendan Radley-Hiles, DB, Oklahoma
Comeback player of the year: Kenny Bigelow Jr., DT, West Virginia
Coach on the hot seat: David Beaty, Kansas
Coordinator on the rise: Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Texas
Team most likely to rise: West Virginia
Team most likely to fall: Oklahoma State
Nonconference game of the year: TCU vs. Ohio State, Sept. 15 (Arlington, Texas)
Conference game of the year: Oklahoma at West Virginia, Nov. 23
Biggest potential upset: Iowa State over West Virginia, Oct. 13
Three bold predictions for the Big 12
1. The Sooners and Mountaineers will each lose once before their regular-season finale: Oklahoma will fall at TCU; West Virginia will lose at Texas. OU will knock off the Mountaineers 42-38 in Morgantown in the regular season, then do it again the next week in the Big 12 championship game. The teams will combine for more than 2,500 yards of offense in the two games.
2. Texas will start fast: The Longhorns will win their first three nonconference games, including a nationally televised home win over USC on Sept. 15, which will have fans across the country screaming, "Texas is back!" Alas, the Longhorns will drop their next three contests, including the Red River Rivalry game against Oklahoma on Oct. 6. The Longhorns will recover to win five of their final six games, as coach Tom Herman's team takes another step in the right direction behind quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
3. Kansas will start 3-0 (maybe 4-0!): Beaty is firmly on the hot seat with a 3-33 record in three seasons, including a woeful 1-26 mark in Big 12 games. But the Jayhawks will give new athletic director Jeff Long hope when they start the season with three straight victories over FCS foe Nicholls State, Central Michigan and Rutgers. They'll have a good chance to go 4-0 when they travel to Baylor on Sept. 22 for their Big 12 opener.
Offensive player of the year: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Defensive player of the year: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Coach of the year: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Freshman of the year: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Comeback player of the year: Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern
Coach on the hot seat: Lovie Smith, Illinois
Coordinator on the rise: Jim Leonhard, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Team most likely to rise: Michigan
Team most likely to fall: Iowa
Nonconference game of the year: Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 1
Conference game of the year: Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 24
Biggest potential upset: Arizona State over Michigan State, Sept. 8
Three bold predictions for the Big Ten
1. Michigan-Ohio State going to decide the Big Ten East title in The Game: While both teams could lose in the first three weeks (Michigan at Notre Dame in the opener and Ohio State against TCU in Week 3), I have a sneaking suspicion they're both going to be in the CFP hunt heading into their Nov. 24 showdown at the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes are loaded on both sides of the ball, and the Wolverines are going to be better on offense with Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson under center. Michigan's defense was extremely young last season, but it is very talented and a year older. Michigan will find a way to defeat OSU, because let's face it: Harbaugh's team has to beat somebody that matters eventually.
2. Wisconsin is going to win the Big Ten title and reach the College Football Playoff: The Badgers have all of the ingredients for a championship: a much-improved quarterback, a Heisman Trophy-caliber tailback, a Wisconsin-like offensive line and one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. The Badgers' schedule is a little bit more difficult than the previous couple of seasons, but they'll lose only once -- at Michigan on Oct. 13 -- and then they'll get revenge against the Wolverines in the Big Ten championship game to punch their CFP tickets.
3. Scott Frost won't be able to run for governor of Nebraska just yet: The Cornhuskers are going to be better than they were under former coach Mike Riley, but Frost isn't pulling off a UCF miracle in his first season at his alma mater. Nebraska will start 3-0 but will then lose road games at Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Ohio State. The Cornhuskers will knock off Michigan State and Iowa late to salvage a solid campaign.
Offensive player of the year: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Defensive player of the year: Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
Coach of the year: Chris Petersen, Washington
Freshman of the year: JT Daniels, QB, USC
Comeback player of the year: Trey Adams, OT, Washington
Coach on the hot seat: Mike Leach, Washington State
Coordinator on the rise: Tee Martin, offensive coordinator, USC
Team most likely to rise: Arizona
Team most likely to fall: Washington State
Nonconference game of the year: Washington vs. Auburn, Sept. 1 (Atlanta)
Conference game of the year: Stanford at Washington, Nov. 3
Biggest potential upset: Utah over Washington, Sept. 15
Three bold predictions for the Pac-12
1. Washington will finish undefeated and make the CFP: If the Huskies get past Auburn in a very tough opener in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, they'll have a realistic chance to finish the regular season with an unblemished record. Washington's most difficult Pac-12 game will be played at home (against Stanford on Nov. 3), and it doesn't play Arizona or USC during the regular season. With quarterback Jake Browning, tailback Myles Gaskin and Adams returning, the Huskies might be a legitimate national title contender.
2. Stanford will have another Heisman Trophy winner -- finally: After former Stanford stars Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart and Christian McCaffrey finished second in Heisman voting in previous seasons, Love will win in a close vote over West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor. The only other Cardinal player to win the Heisman was quarterback Jim Plunkett in 1970.
3. Kevin Sumlin will be the Pac-12's best first-year coach: While UCLA's Chip Kelly and Arizona State's Herm Edwards might have garnered more offseason headlines, Sumlin inherited the best situation at Arizona, even if he didn't get the job until mid-January. With quarterback Khalil Tate running his offense, the Wildcats are going to put up a bunch of points. Sumlin will have a chance to win 10 games in his first season, and the $12.4 million buyout he received from Texas A&M will still be earning interest.
Offensive player of the year: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Defensive player of the year: Devin White, LB, LSU
Coach of the year: Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
Freshman of the year: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Comeback player of the year: Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Coach on the hot seat: Ed Orgeron, LSU
Coordinator on the rise: Pete Golding, co-defensive coordinator, Alabama
Team most likely to rise: Florida
Team most likely to fall: LSU
Nonconference game of the year: Auburn vs. Washington, Sept. 1
Conference game of the year: Alabama vs. Auburn, Nov. 24
Biggest potential upset: Texas A&M over Clemson, Sept. 8
Three bold predictions for the SEC
1. Alabama wins another SEC title: It has been 632 days since the Crimson Tide last won an SEC championship, which probably seems like an eternity to coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide will roll through their first 11 games, and they won't really be tested until their Nov. 24 home game against Auburn. The Tide will avenge last year's 26-14 loss to the Tigers, then knock off Georgia in the SEC championship game, with Jalen Hurts coming off the bench to replace an injured Tua Tagovailoa.
2. Texas A&M will pay Jimbo Fisher more than $1 million per victory: While Texas A&M's president and its fan base might already be dreaming about SEC titles and national championships under Fisher, who was lured away from Florida State with a 10-year, $75 million contract, the Aggies first have to finish higher than fourth in the SEC West, which they've done only once since joining the league in 2012. The Aggies won't do it this season, as they'll lose to Clemson at home in Week 2 and drop each of their four SEC road games.
3. Georgia will have two 1,000-yard rushers: There's no question the Bulldogs are going to miss departed stars Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who ran for more yards than any running back teammates in FBS history. But sophomore D'Andre Swift and junior Elijah Holyfield will step in and give the Bulldogs a powerful one-two punch, along with freshman James Cook. Georgia will be tested in road games against South Carolina and LSU, but the Bulldogs will run the table until the SEC title game, where they'll lose to Alabama.