These aren't safe predictions, right?
No. It's the FootballScoop 2021 Bold Predictions feature, with four unique forecasts for greatness this fall in college football.
There's an ever-coveted head coach winning it all … and again turning down the NFL.
There's an older head coach showing you can go home again … and win even greater than the first time around.
And there's a guy at one of college football's last independent outposts who turns in an undefeated season – and doesn't crash the CFP but does wreck a couple of Power-5 teams and well-regarded Louisiana along the way.
Plus, there's a saving grace for the PAC-12 – just as that league most needs to fortify itself amidst these chaotic changing times.
Bold predictions? Yeah, we've got those.
DOUG SAMUELS: The ACC will have a team in the playoff … but it won't be Clemson.
North Carolina returns one of the country’s best offenses, and a Heisman hopeful at quarterback in Sam Howell. Combine that with the leadership of Mack Brown, who knows what it takes to win a national title, and Phil Longo calling the shots on offense, and I see a great situation brewing this season in Chapel Hill. Howell already has tied the school mark for most touchdowns through two seasons, and he continues his aerial assault on the Tar Heels' record books. Look for the Tar Heels to handle their business in the regular season, knock off Clemson to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title, and position themselves for the College Football Playoff with maybe one loss on the season.
ZACH BARNETT: Liberty goes undefeated
There was never any doubt Hugh Freeze could coach. The man led Lambuth to an undefeated regular season and the NAIA quarterfinals in his second season on the job, in 2009. In his one season at Arkansas State, Freeze guided Arkansas State to the 2011 Sun Belt title, their first outright league crown. That success led him to Ole Miss, where his Rebels teams beat Nick Saban in back-to-back years — to date, it’s the only time in Saban’s 14 years he's lost to the same opponent in consecutive years — and won the program’s first Sugar Bowl since 1969. He’s 18-6 in two seasons at Liberty, going 8-5 in 2019 and 10-1 last year, finishing with a No. 17 AP ranking, the first in school history.
Liberty won’t win a conference title this season, but they will win every one of their games. Quarterback Malik Willis will play like the first-round pick scouts expect him to be, and the Flames will roll through Campbell, Troy and Old Dominion to open the season. They’ll go to the Carrier Dome and torch Syracuse on Sept. 24, and the following week they’ll beat defending Conference USA champion UAB. Easy wins over Middle Tennessee, ULM, North Texas and UMass will follow, before one of the wildest scenes of the season unfolds on Nov. 6: Freeze’s return to Oxford.
Willis and Rebels quarterback Matt Coral will put on a show, but Willis will get the edge with 550 passing yards and six touchdowns in a 55-52 thriller. After a bye week, Liberty will close with two more difficult games: home against defending Sun Belt co-champion Louisiana, and then home against Army to close the regular season. The Louisiana game will require a comeback from a 14-point second quarter deficit and the Army game will take overtime, but eventually the Flames will engulf the Black Knights.
Their reward for that will be a trip to the ESPN-owned Myrtle Beach Bowl, where the Flames face Coastal Carolina and defend their overtime Cure Bowl win from 2020, closing 2021 at 13-0 and ranked No. 8 in the AP poll.
SCOTT ROUSSEL: IOWA STATE WINS THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF … AND MATT CAMPBELL STILL REJECTS THE NFL.
For all that Matt Campbell has done to elevate Iowa State in his tenure atop the Cyclones program, he hasn't yet defeated Iowa … or won the Big 12 … or completely closed the door on coaching in the NFL.
This season? Get ready. The Brock Purdy-Breece Hall quarterback-running back tandem both finish in the Top 6 in Heisman Trophy voting, but neither wins the award because of splitting votes.
Doesn't matter. ISU starts its historic quest with a win against bitter rival Iowa for the first time since 2014, and the Cyclones take advantage of an Oklahoma team that's still scoring in bunches but just doesn't quite have enough on both sides of the ball around Spencer Rattler.
When the Cyclones hoist the sharp-angled CFP trophy in January, it surprises no one when none other than America's Team – yes, the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones come calling on Campbell.
What does surprise? Campbell once again renews with the Cyclones – this time on a 10-year deal.
JOHN BRICE: OREGON GETS THE PAC-12 BACK IN THE CFP
The PAC-12 has been a bit of an afterthought in most of the College Football Playoff era. The league has only had two CFP entrants – the Ducks in 2014 and the Washington Huskies in 2015.
But, Mario Cristobal has plied the Oregon roster with an Southeastern Conference-like approach to recruiting, and borrowed from his old boss at Alabama, Nick Saban, the model of adding high-level assistants to his staff. Specifically, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead – who didn't last as Mississippi State's head coach but remains a gifted offensive play-callers.
Plus, like Iowa State, Oregon is one of the more experienced teams this fall in college football with 16 returning starters – including nine back on offense.
Yet it's Kayvon Thibodeaux who ignites his own Heisman Trophy campaign when the Ducks upset Ohio State in their early-season intersectional clash to set the table for a run into the CFP. The Oregon marketing machine, with its ever-staunch Nike backing and dazzling profile, super-charges Thibodeaux's quest.
Aside from the trip next weekend to The Horseshoe, Oregon's PAC-12 road slate should be fairly user friendly; the Ducks visit Stanford, UCLA and Washington.