Fauber: Forecasting the college football season

College football season is here and it’s one of my favorite times of the year, right up there with Opening Day, the college bowl season and March Madness. To celebrate, I decided I would make a few predictions for this season. Take these as seriously as you would like, but keep in mind that this is purely for my enjoyment and I am almost always wrong about these things.

That being said, let’s get to it.

THE ACC CHAMP: Miami has gotten most of the love during the offseason as the favorite to win the Coastal Division in the ACC. Senior quarterback Stephen Morris and sophomore running back Duke Johnson are back, as is a ton of returning experience on the defensive side of the ball. The Hurricanes are also clear of NCAA sanctions — for now — which is a plus.

But I don’t see “The U” winning the division this season. For starters, Miami is the only division-title contender who plays Florida State (a game that is also on the road), and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that the ACC is wildly unpredictable. I think the Coastal champion will have multiple conference losses, and I can easily see Miami losing out in a tiebreaker.

I like UNC to win the Coastal, even after the beat down the Tar Heels suffered at the hands of South Carolina on Thursday night. UNC will not see another defense like the one it saw against the Gamecocks, and the Tar Heels’ offense, which averaged 40 points per game last season, should thrive in ACC play, even with the departure of former running back Giovani Bernard. Bryn Renner is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and his experience alone should help the Tar Heels win games.

The picture is a little clearer in the Atlantic Division, as the division title is almost guaranteed to go to either Clemson or Florida State. I always have a hard time picking Clemson to win anything just for the simple fact that it is, well, Clemson, but I like the Tigers this season.

Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd — last season’s ACC Player of the Year — returns for his senior season, and Clemson’s toughest conference test this season is against the Seminoles, a game that is in Death Valley. The Tigers won’t be in the national championship picture, but they should top UNC for the conference crown.

NATIONAL CHAMPION: I always cheer for the underdog, but it’s really tough to pick against Alabama winning its third straight national title this season. The Crimson Tide is just too good.

Between quarterback A.J. McCarron (2,933 passing yards, 30 TDs, 3 INTs in 2012), running back T.J. Yeldon (1,108 yards, 12 TDs) and a stout defensive front, the Tide are in as good a position as any for a three-peat. Alabama has two real shots at losing during the regular season — Sept. 14 at Texas A&M and Nov. 9 against LSU — but I don’t envision this team losing either of those.

The real question is who the Tide will beat in the final installment of the BCS National Championship game. Ohio State begins the season as the second-ranked team in the AP top 25 poll, and the Buckeyes could certainly run the table in the Big 10 again this season. Other SEC teams like Texas A&M, Georgia and South Carolina could all be in the mix, although one of the latter two teams would likely face Alabama in the SEC championship game. Stanford could make its case as the best team in the Pac-12, and keep an eye on Oklahoma State in the Big 12 this season.

I like Oregon to make it to the national title game under new head coach and former Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Oregon’s high-powered offense shouldn’t miss a beat this season with quarterback Marcus Mariota returning, and running back De’Anthony Thomas could emerge as a Heisman candidate this year. The Ducks also have a favorable schedule outside of a trip to Stanford on Nov. 7, as Oregon dodges both USC and Arizona State this year.

HEISMAN WINNER: Will South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney become the first strictly defensive player to win the Heisman, or will Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel take home the honor for the second straight year? Neither.

Thursday night’s UNC-South Carolina game showed why it’s nearly impossible for a defensive player to win the Heisman — it’s simply too easy to game plan around one player. In case you missed it, Clowney ended the game with a whopping three tackles.

As for Manziel, it remains to be seen how well he will handle all of the off-field distractions that Johnny Football has forced upon himself.

I’m going out on a bit of a limb and say this year’s Heisman is going to Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. The junior quarterback threw for 3,718 yards on nearly 70-percent passing last season while also tossing 27 touchdowns. Bridgewater should have no problem building on those numbers against a weak American Athletic Conference schedule, and Louisville should go undefeated, bringing plenty attention to Bridgewater and company.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD