Irish Illustrateds 100 hunches: 80-71

80. Georgia will defeat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl – The Bulldogs’ success’ under 14th-year head coach Mark Richt can be rather cyclical. This year, despite the loss of quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia has the goods with eight starters returning on a rather porous 2013 defense (29.0 points per game) and a bevy of running backs, led by Todd Gurley. The schedule comfortably allows the Bulldogs to land a playoff rotation bowl spot, where they slow down the Bryce Petty-led Baylor attack and knock off the Bears.
79. Oklahoma will defeat UCLA in the Cotton Bowl – Due to a home loss to Baylor in early November, the Sooners – under the direction of 16th-year head coach Bob Stoops – fall short of landing a playoff spot. But Oklahoma puts together another 11-victory season, capped off by a thrilling, high-scoring victory over the Bruins in the Sooner’s second Cotton Bowl appearance in three seasons.
78. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will win the Heisman Trophy – The soft-spoken leader of the Ducks’ offensive attack could have left for the NFL and likely would have been a high draft pick. But he chose to return to Eugene following a brilliant ’13 season when he threw for 3,665 yards, 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions while rushing for 715 yards and nine touchdowns. The combination of his run-pass success, plus Oregon’s coveted spot in college football’s first playoff, lands him the Heisman Trophy. Others invited to the prestigious event are Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
77. No. 1 seed Alabama defeats No. 4 seed Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl – The Crimson Tide is particularly dangerous the year after falling short of their goal, which is always to win a national championship. With revenge on their minds at home against Auburn the last weekend of November, Alabama defeats Auburn, then knocks off South Carolina to secure a spot as the top seed in the first-ever college football playoff. Ohio State runs into a buzz saw and the Crimson Tide advances to the national championship game.
76. No. 3 seed Oregon defeats No. 2 seed Florida State in the Rose Bowl – A mid-season loss at UCLA temporarily derails the Ducks. But they win all six of their remaining regular-season games, including a home victory over Stanford, and then knock of UCLA in a rematch in the Pac 12 championship game. With a banged up Jameis Winston, the Seminoles can’t keep pace with Oregon’s high-speed, non-stop attack.
75. No. 1 seed Alabama defeats No. 3 seed Oregon for the national title – After winning the battle with Blake Sims for the starting job at quarterback, transfer Jake Coker leads the Crimson Tide into the national championship game. Alabama’s physicality and depth of talent prove too much for the Ducks as the Crimson Tide claims their fourth national title in six seasons.
74. TCU will go from four victories to nine victories in the regular season – The move from the Mountain West to the Big East (where they never played a game) to the Big 12 has been, not surprisingly, a bit rocky for the Horned Frogs and head coach Gary Patterson. They were 11-14 overall and 6-12 in Big 12 play the last two seasons combined, including an unsightly 2-7 Big 12 mark in 2013. But now in their third season in the conference, TCU returns eight starters on each side of the football. The quarterback depth is substantial with the transfer of Texas A&M’s Matt Joeckel, and the defense looks more like the Horned Frog stop units of old.
73. Texas A&M falls to the back of the pack – Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews are gone, and so is quite a bit of the magic that surrounded the Aggies the last couple of years when they won 11 games in 2012 and Manziel claimed the Heisman Trophy. Nine starters return on a defense that allowed 32.2 points per game, an abominable 222 yards rushing, and an unfathomable 5.4 yards per carry. Freshman Kyle Allen takes over at quarterback, and in time, he has the tools be a great one. But the growing pains post-Manziel are considerable. The Aggies go 6-6 during the regular season.
72. Tennessee records its first winning season since 2009 – Vol Nation is starved for a winner after the disastrous Lane Kiffin-to-Derek Dooley era that lasted four seasons and resulted in 23 victories and 27 losses. Enter Butch Jones, who added a fourth straight seven-loss season to the ledger in Knoxville. Turning things around in the SEC can be a slow and difficult process, and taking on Oklahoma in Norman in a September non-conference game doesn’t make things any easier. Tons of youth still dots the lineup, especially along both lines, and trips to Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina make it that much more difficult. But when the Vols win their final three games against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt, they qualify for a bowl and conclude the season with a fourth straight win and a 7-6 record.
71. Chuck Martin/Bob Diaco – Martin’s experience as a head coach will prove to be a plus as he takes over a Miami (Ohio) program that lost all 12 games a year ago and currently is riding a 16-game losing streak. He’ll need to pull all of his coaching experiences to the forefront to get through what will be a painful first year. Miami averaged, get this, 9.8 points per game last year. The Redhawks avenge last year’s road loss to Massachusetts and avoid the cellar in the MAC East. In fact, Martin notches two victories with a Sept. 6 non-conference victory over FCS Eastern Kentucky.
Diaco, on the other hand, takes over the Connecticut job with the Huskies completing the 2013 season with three straight victories (at Temple, Rutgers and Memphis) after losing their first nine. UConn came within three points of Michigan and South Florida last year, and despite allowing 30.3 points per game, surrendered just 3.7 yards per carry with more than half (six) of the defensive starters returning. The offensive line is under reconstruction, although QB Casey Cochran showed promise as a freshman. The non-conference slate includes BYU in the opener and Boise State, but both games are in Storrs. In a watered-down AAC, there are several opportunities for success. Diaco wins four games…if the Huskies defeat Army in Yankee Stadium.