Schlabach's crystal ball: Here's how the 2016 CFB season will play out

Rinaldi: College football kicks off with a bang (2:17)

Tom Rinaldi explains why there ain't nothin' weak about Week 1 in college football, as 12 of the top 23 teams in the land will play against each other. (2:17)

It's hard to believe it has been 232 days since Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T on Jan. 11.

We've waited 33 weeks for the Crimson Tide and Tigers -- and everyone else -- to take the field again, and Kickoff Week for the 2016 season is finally here.

Never before has college football offered so many delightful appetizers to what figures to be a drama-filled, 14-week race for the four spots in the College Football Playoff. No. 9 Tennessee and No. 19 Louisville play in games on Thursday night, and No. 8 Stanford, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 23 Baylor play on Friday night.

Then it really gets serious on Saturday, when No. 3 Oklahoma plays No. 15 Houston (noon ET, ABC), No. 5 LSU plays Wisconsin at Lambeau Field! (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) Texas A&M hosts No. 16 UCLA (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), No. 18 Georgia plays No. 22 North Carolina in Atlanta (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), No. 1 Alabama plays No. 20 USC in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. ET, ABC), and Auburn hosts No. 2 Clemson (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

On Sunday night, No. 10 Notre Dame plays at Texas (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), and then No. 4 Florida State and No. 11 Ole Miss square off in Orlando on Labor Day night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Regardless of the outcomes, remember: It's only the first game!

With the college football season kicking off in two days, here are my predictions for how the Power Five Conferences will stack up this season:


Champion: Clemson

Offensive player of the year: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Defensive player of the year: Derwin James, S, Florida State
Coach of the year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Freshman of the year: Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
Comeback player of the year: James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Coach on the hot seat: Steve Addazio, Boston College
Coordinator on the rise: Tony Elliott, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Team most likely to rise: Pittsburgh
Team most likely to fall: Duke
Nonconference game of the year: Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 3
Conference game of the year: Clemson at Florida State, Oct. 29
Biggest potential upset: Louisville over Florida State, Sept. 17

Three bold predictions for the ACC

1. Pitt running back James Conner will run for 1,500 yards: There won't be a better story in college football this season than Conner, who beat Hodgkin's lymphoma after being diagnosed last winter. If that wasn't enough, he's coming back from a knee injury that caused him to miss nearly all of the 2015 season.

2. Two ACC teams will make the College Football Playoff: The winner of the Clemson-FSU game in Tallahassee, Florida, will have the inside track at winning the ACC and earning a spot in the playoff. But the loser won't be entirely out of the CFP race and might grab one of the four spots, especially if teams from the Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC devour each other during conference play.

3. Wake Forest will go bowling: After back-to-back 3-9 seasons, coach Dave Clawson finally has depth in the trenches and the right guys at quarterback to run his offense. If Wake Forest can go at least 3-1 in nonconference play (home games against Tulane, FCS foe Delaware and Army and a road game at Indiana), it will have a chance to finish 6-6 and play in its first bowl since 2011.

Big 12

Champion: Oklahoma

Offensive player of the year: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Defensive player of the year: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Coach of the year: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Freshman of the year: Shane Buechele, QB, Texas
Comeback player of the year: Kenny Hill, QB, TCU
Coach on the hot seat: Charlie Strong, Texas
Coordinator on the rise: Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma
Team most likely to rise: Texas Tech
Team most likely to fall: Baylor
Nonconference game of the year: Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17
Conference game of the year: Oklahoma at TCU, Oct. 1
Biggest potential upset: Texas over Notre Dame, Sept. 4

Three bold predictions for the Big 12

1. The Big 12 will expand to 12 teams: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby interviewed representatives of 20 -- 20! -- schools earlier this month about possibly joining his league. By mid-October, the Big 12 will indeed add two more schools for next season -- Cincinnati and Houston.

2. Texas will start 3-0: Slow starts doomed the Longhorns in coach Charlie Strong's first two seasons. In 2014, the Longhorns started 2-4 and finished 6-7. Last season, UT started 1-4 and finished 5-7. This year, UT is going to start 3-0 with home victories over Notre Dame and UTEP and a road win at rebuilding Cal. Then they'll return to Earth with back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

3. Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will throw 50 touchdowns: The Red Raiders have had plenty of strong-armed quarterbacks come through their quarterback-friendly system. But Mahomes might be the best one yet. He'll throw for more than 5,500 yards with 50 touchdowns to lead Tech to a winning record in Big 12 play for the first time since 2009.

Big Ten

Champion: Michigan

Offensive player of the year: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Defensive player of the year: Malik McDowell, DE, Michigan State
Coach of the year: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Freshman of the year: Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan
Comeback player of the year: Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Coach on the hot seat: Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Coordinator on the rise: Tim Drevno, offensive coordinator, Michigan
Team most likely to rise: Nebraska
Team most likely to fall: Wisconsin
Nonconference game of the year: Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17
Conference game of the year: Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26
Biggest potential upset: Michigan State over Michigan, Oct. 29

Three bold predictions for the Big Ten

1. Michigan wins the Big Ten and makes the CFP: If the Wolverines make the CFP in Year 2 under coach Jim Harbaugh, they'll certainly earn it. They'll probably have to win two of three road games at Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State. But Harbaugh has built a dominant defense, and he'll get enough from his quarterback to finish 11-1.

2. Iowa will be undefeated in November again: The Hawkeyes are sort of flying under the radar, much like last season, when they finished the regular season 12-0 before losing in the Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. This season, Iowa will win its first nine games before falling to Michigan twice, once in the regular season on Nov. 12, and again in the Big Ten championship game.

3. Wisconsin will start 2-5 but still make a bowl: After winning 10 games in coach Paul Chryst's first season, the Badgers are probably going to take a step back in Year 2. They open the season against LSU at Lambeau Field and then play Michigan State (road), Michigan (road), Ohio State (home) and Iowa (road) to open Big Ten play. After starting 2-5, the Badgers will win four of their last five games to finish 6-6.


Champion: Stanford

Offensive player of the year: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Defensive player of the year: Budda Baker, S, Washington
Coach of the year: Chris Petersen, Washington
Freshman of the year: Theo Howard, WR, UCLA
Comeback player of the year: Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
Coach on the hot seat: Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Coordinator on the rise: Tee Martin, offensive coordinator, USC
Team most likely to rise: Washington
Team most likely to fall: California
Nonconference game of the year: USC vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas), Sept. 3
Conference game of the year: Stanford at Washington, Sept. 30
Biggest potential upset: Utah over Washington, Oct. 29

Three bold predictions for the Pac-12

1. The Pac-12 will be left out of the CFP: For the second straight season, the Pac-12 won't have a team in the CFP. Last year, Stanford won the league and finished 12-2. Only one other Pac-12 squad -- 10-3 Utah -- finished with fewer than four losses. Stanford will win the league again in 2016 with two losses, falling at UCLA and Washington in back-to-back games in September before finishing the season with a nine-game winning streak.

2. Washington State quarterback Luke Falk will throw for more than 5,000 yards: Falk, a junior from Logan, Utah, threw for 4,561 yards in 12 games last season and this year he's poised to become the 15th FBS player to eclipse 5,000. He threw for only 289 yards in the Cougars' rain-soaked 24-17 loss to FCS foe Portland State in last year's opener and didn't play in a 45-10 loss at Washington in the regular-season finale because of a concussion. He attempted at least 50 passes in eight games last season and should be even more efficient.

3. The UCLA-USC game will decide the Pac-12 South: The Bruins and Trojans look like the teams to beat in the Pac-12 South. The Bruins have quarterback Josh Rosen, while the Trojans might have more overall talent. UCLA will fall at Texas A&M and Washington State, but will defeat the Trojans at the Rose Bowl to win the division.


Champion: Alabama

Offensive player of the year: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Defensive player of the year: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Coach of the year: Nick Saban, Alabama
Freshman of the year: Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
Comeback player of the year: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Coach on the hot seat: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Coordinator on the rise: Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, LSU
Team most likely to rise: Tennessee
Team most likely to fall: Mississippi State
Nonconference game of the year: USC vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas), Sept. 3
Conference game of the year: Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5
Biggest potential upset: Texas A&M over LSU, Nov. 24

Three bold predictions for the SEC

1. LSU coach Les Miles will survive another Alabama loss: Once again, the Tigers will roll through September and October before meeting a familiar stumbling block in November: Alabama. The Tigers will fall to the Crimson Tide, 21-20, at Tiger Stadium on Nov. 5, which will be their sixth straight loss in the series. This season, though, LSU will recover to win its last three games and will finish 11-1. Alabama will win the SEC West, but the Tigers will be the second-highest ranked SEC team and will be invited to the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

2. Nick Chubb will run for more than 1,000 yards: Chubb hasn't played since tearing knee ligaments in a 38-31 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 10. To a man, his teammates say he's 100 percent healthy and faster than he was before the injury. With a freshman quarterback possibly lining up under center, Chubb will again carry the Bulldogs on his back. He'll start slowly, but will emerge as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate by season's end.

3. If Auburn doesn't beat Texas A&M or LSU at home, it's going to get ugly on the Plains: Auburn opens the season against Clemson and starts SEC play with home games against Texas A&M and LSU. If Auburn doesn't win one of those games, it might be staring at a 1-3 start. And it's not any easier late in the schedule with road games at Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.