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The good, the bad, the ugly: Revisiting Matt Baker’s preseason college football picks

The Florida Gators finished about where I thought. But about Willie Taggart’s job security ...
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) gets emotional after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against Miami in the season opener. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

Now that the 2019 college football season is over, it’s time to revisit my preseason predictions and midseason thoughts. Here are the highlights of my annual tradition examining what I got right, what I got wrong and what deserves partial credit.

What I got right

Boise State linebacker Curtis Weaver (99) hops up after sacking Florida State quarterback James Blackman (1) during the fourth quarter of the season opener. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

From Jan. 9, 2019: Florida State loses its opener… beginning Year 2 of the Willie Taggart era with a defeat to Boise State in Jacksonville. Final score: Boise 36, FSU 31.

Also from last January: At least two state head coaches enter the offseason coaching carousel. One of them is Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin. Three schools changed coaches, and the Lane Train pulled into Ole Miss.

My preseason AP Top 25 ballot isn’t meant to be purely predictive, but Florida started the season eighth in my rankings and finished seventh. The top eight teams on my preseason ballot all finished in my top 12. And for the second year in a row, I listed four of the eventual Power Five champs as the top team in their respective conference (Clemson in the ACC, Oklahoma in the Big 12, Oregon in the Pac-12 and Ohio State in the Big Ten).

I was higher on LSU in August than most (although my top-six prediction wasn’t quite bold enough). I was also lower than many of my peers on Texas, which is obviously still not back after going 8-5.

Partial credit

Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (92) celebrates after tackling Miami quarterback Jarren Williams (15) during the season opener. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

I was right to pump the brakes on Miami, but I also wrote that the Hurricanes wouldn’t be “as good as they were in 2017 or as bad as they were in 2018.” They underachieved more than I expected.

Florida edges Miami in the opener, beats FSU and earns another-10 win season. But Georgia runs away with the SEC East (again). It was more of a slog than a runaway, and UF finished 11-2. But still, pretty close.

I called for a “return to mediocrity” for Mississippi State in July before foolishly ranking the Bulldogs 17th in the preseason. Should have stuck with my first thought; they finished 6-7 and canned coach Joe Moorhead.

My headline from September: Comparing Tennessee football to the Titanic isn’t fair. To the ship. The Volunteers sank that weekend in Gainesville in a 34-3 blowout and against Georgia after that. But Jeremy Pruitt turned the ship around, finishing on a six-game winning streak to go 8-5.

What I got wrong

Florida State coach Willie Taggart didn't last the entire season of Year 2 in Tallahassee. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

The biggie, from the summer: No, coach Willie Taggart’s job isn’t in jeopardy heading into Year 2. It can’t be. The money isn’t there. Although I included some caveats in my story, FSU’s bar for dismissing Taggart ended up being lower than I anticipated, in part because of how attendance and booster contributions fell during the season. I wrote after the Wake Forest loss that the calculus was shifting. I intentionally and immediately explained Taggart’s firing through the financial lens to show what changed between the summer and November. Regardless, I whiffed.

I went against the grain by thinking Georgia would beat Alabama to win the SEC. The Crimson Tide didn’t make it there, and the Bulldogs were a mere four touchdowns away from winning the title over LSU.

This isn’t a hot (or even lukewarm) take, but the national champion will be either ’Bama, Clemson or the Bulldogs. Or LSU. Definitely one of those four.

I picked Virginia Tech to win the ACC Coastal. Wrong Virginia team. That’s what I get for undervaluing Coastal Chaos, which provided its seventh different division champion in seven years.

In January, I predicted Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies would finish in the top 10. By July, I talked myself down to 8-4. Closer but still wrong. Texas A&M went 8-5.

Prediction: I think Chad Morris gets things turned around in Fayetteville. Morris didn’t even make it through the end of Arkansas’ 2-10 disaster.