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College Football Mailbag: Brett McMurphy Answers Collin Wilson’s Questions on CFP, Top 25, Heisman & More

College Football Mailbag: Brett McMurphy Answers Collin Wilson’s Questions on CFP, Top 25, Heisman & More article feature image

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Bryce Young.

February marks the first month without college football games since last August.

Still, things have still stayed crazy in the world of college football with a number of coaching and transfer portal moves, including former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams announcing his intention to transfer to USC to reunite with head coach Lincoln Riley.

To make up for the lack of games, Action Network senior writer Collin Wilson compiled his top five questions to ask our college football insider, Brett McMurphy.

Wilson's questions have been bolded, while McMurphy's answers are included in a box below.

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CFP Predictions

What's your way-too-early prediction for the College Football Playoff?

No, it’s not Groundhog Day, but you’ve heard this before. My College Football Playoff picks are rather chalky: Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson.

The reasoning is simple. I don’t believe the Big 12 or Pac-12 will have a league champion with less than two losses. That means two teams from one league — most likely the SEC — will make the playoff, joined by the champions from the Big Ten (Ohio State) and ACC (Clemson).

After those four, some other teams that could make a playoff run include Texas A&M, Wisconsin, perhaps Utah (if it wins the season opener at Florida) or an ACC dark horse if it can go 12-1 (Pitt, Miami, NC State?).

Surprise Top 25 Teams?

What's one team in your Way-too-Early Top 25 that may surprise most?

I’ll go with three Group of Five teams in my Way-too-Early Top 25 that may not be in the AP preseason rankings in August but could end the year ranked: Houston, Fresno State and Air Force.

Houston is projected to return 12 starters, including quarterback Clayton Tune, and its schedule is extremely manageable: at UTSA, at Texas Tech and home vs. Kansas in the nonconference. Cincinnati is not on its AAC schedule.

Fresno State returns quarterback Jake Haener among 13 starters with Jeff Tedford back as the Bulldogs’ coach. If they can split consecutive September games vs. Oregon State and USC, they could make a run at the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl.

Air Force also could be a force with 15 returning starters and what could be one of Troy Calhoun’s best teams in Colorado Springs. Don’t sleep on the Falcons, who host Colorado, along with Boise State and Colorado State from the Mountain West.

Overrated Top 25 Teams

What is one team that should be in the initial Top 25 that's overrated?

The easy/obvious answer for me is Texas.

In each of the past three seasons, the Longhorns have finished the season in the final AP poll ranked lower than they were in the AP preseason poll.

In 2021, UT started No. 21 and finished unranked; in 2020, started No. 14 and finished No. 19; and in 2019, started No. 10 and finished No. 25.

I realize Collin — and most everyone else — will probably have Texas in their top 10 or top 15 of power ratings, but until the Longhorns prove differently, I think they’ll have a fourth consecutive season finishing lower than where they started the season.

Heisman Trophy Repeat?

If Caleb Williams, CJ Stroud and Bryce Young all lead undefeated seasons into the CFP, would Heisman voters be deterred from crowning Young a second straight time?

For those folks who didn’t listen to Collin and I on the “Big Bets on Campus: Sources Edition” weekly podcast last season, we forgive you. Just don’t let it happen this year.

About one-fourth of the way through the season, Bryce Young was our (my!) pick to win the Heisman Trophy based on two things happening: (A) Bama winning the SEC title and/or (B) making the College Football Playoff.

The odds on Young were better than you could get for Bama to win the national title, so that worked out well.

Now, Collin poses a fascinating question: what would the Heisman voters do with the quarterbacks of three undefeated teams?

If the stats are comparable, I would say it would be a toss-up between Williams and Stroud. I believe — generally speaking — Heisman voters will look for another alternative than Young.

All season, voters will compare Young’s 2022 numbers with what he did last year. There’s a reason we’ve only had one repeat winner.

Also, Heisman voters usually are attracted to good storylines. Williams leading USC from 4-8 to 12-0 in La La Land would be pretty compelling.

However, Stroud also would be hard to ignore if the Buckeyes go 12-0.

For betting purposes, I would recommend — if you believe USC can win the Pac-12 — taking whatever has the better odds: USC to win the Pac-12 or Williams to win the Heisman.

Williams won’t win the Heisman if USC doesn’t win the Pac-12.

I’d recommend the same for Stroud — if you believe Ohio State will win Big Ten — take whatever has better odds: Ohio State to win the Big Ten or Stroud to win the Heisman.

Young was atop my Heisman ballot last season, but I just think it will take an extraordinary season for him to repeat.

First-Year Head Coaches 

Which first-year head coach will have the most success?

There are certainly a number of candidates to choose from this year with 28 new coaches in 2022, meaning almost 25% of all FBS teams will have a new head coach.

Success can be measured by comparing where the program was before the new coach arrived or being the team’s ability to compete for a conference title.

My pick is Miami’s Mario Cristobal.

The Hurricanes looked to Cristobal, a UM alum, to turn around a program that has lost four consecutive bowl games and hasn’t finished ranked in the top 15 in nearly 20 years.

Cristobal was 31-9 at Oregon (excluding the 2020 COVID-19 season) and led the Ducks to a Rose Bowl title in only his second year. Cristobal’s no-nonsense style will work well with a program that Cristobal stresses won’t have any gimmicks — goodbye Turnover Chain? — and will be physical and work hard.

Cristobal also will benefit from a talented team, which returns 15 starters, including quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year.

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