Published: Aug. 24, 2017 at 12:06 p.m.
Updated: Aug. 24, 2017 at 02:05 p.m.

College football preview: Fearless predictions for NFL prospects

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With the college football season set to kick off on Saturday, and a full slate of games on the schedule next week, we asked our experts to make fearless 2017 predictions for prospects. Here are their responses.

Lamar Jackson will become LJ2K
Lamar Jackson will be the first 4,000/2,000 player in FBS history. He will pass for 4,000 yards while topping the 2,000-yard mark as a rusher. Although Bobby Petrino is attempting to curb his running in an effort to make Jackson a better NFL prospect, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will continue to torment defenses with his spectacular skills as a dual-threat playmaker.
True freshman will be No. 1 in sacks
Ok, I'm going to go pretty bold with this one -- UCLA freshman Jaelan Phillips will lead the country in sacks. I have only seen Phillips play against high school competition, but it was pretty easy to project his ability to be successful at the collegiate level. He has outstanding length, explosiveness and the ability to bend. UCLA has done a nice job of producing front-seven defenders since Jim Mora arrived on campus and Phillips could end up being the best of the bunch.
Heisman will go to PSU RB
A few seasons ago, I told everyone that would listen (and shouted at those who would not) that the "Running Back Renaissance" was real, and it was happening! The proliferation of spread offenses in college football did not simply mean more teams were throwing the ball. It meant the good spread-offense teams had made running the ball a priority, as well. How about recent first-round RBs like Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey? Heisman Trophy winners like Derrick Henry? Yep, the renaissance is real, and it's spectacular!

The "RB Renaissance" continues in the 2017 season. The runner I believe in most plays for Penn State, and his name is Saquon Barkley. He puts the time in at the weight room (see his record-breaking lifts), and is supremely conditioned. He runs with power, speed and excellent vision. He can be a factor in the passing game, but he's at his best when he "eats" carries, and wears defenses down. My fearless prediction for him? He runs his way to postseason All-America status, powers his Nittany Lions to another successful season, and he's my choice to walk away with this year's Heisman Trophy, and a bunch of other hardware.
Guice will show he's better than Fournette
Derrius Guice is completely out of Leonard Fournette's shadow now that Fournette is in the NFL, and I think Guice will prove he's a better player than Fournette. Guice has more wiggle than Fournette, who's more of a straight-line runner, and Guice can stay on the field for all three downs. He can catch the ball and pass protect. I think he'll be a very good kick returner, too.
Stidham will be QB everyone's talking about
While there is considerable buzz surrounding quarterbacks like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, the quarterback who will rise to the forefront of draft discussions will be Auburn's Jarrett Stidham. Stidham has decent size as well as excellent football intelligence, mobility and accuracy. Stidham should thrive in Auburn's offense.
Georgia OLB will join elite ranks
Many believe LSU edge rusher Arden Key will be the next pass rusher from the SEC who'll be a top selection in the NFL draft. He's certainly capable of reaching those heights. However, I believe another edge player from the SEC will end up being selected very high, as well: Georgia's Lorenzo Carter. One of the top high school recruits in the country when he signed with the Bulldogs, Carter has not yet made himself a consistent enough threat to quarterbacks to earn all-conference honors. This is the year he puts it all together to become one of the top linebackers in the country -- and an elite NFL prospect.
No 1,000-yard rusher for 'Bama
The Crimson Tide offense produces a 1,000-yard rusher on a fairly routine basis, and this year it has one of the nation's top prospects at the position in Bo Scarbrough. But there won't be enough footballs to go around in a backfield with three proven performers (Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs), plus a dynamic freshman in Najee Harris, who should carve out a role of his own. As well, QB Jalen Hurts led the team in rushing attempts last year (191) and will get his share of rushing yards once again. Scarbrough figures to have a fine year, but there's too much diversity in the UA backfield for any one player to carry the offense.

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