2015 in Preview: Mariota, John John and other big winners set to emerge

It’s time for that annual tradition that comes along every Dec. 31 – making predictions for the coming year that will almost certainly be incorrect. It’s mandatory for anyone with a sports column to participate in said tradition, so who am I to buck the trend? Here are things I truly believe will occur in the next 365 days. Read it, enjoy it, then burn it so it can’t be proven how wrong I was a year from now.

Oregon will win the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship. Not only will Marcus Mariota lead the second-ranked Ducks to wins over No. 3 Florida State and No. 1 Alabama, he’ll then be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, becoming just the second player since 1950 to win the Heisman Trophy, the national championship and be the No. 1 pick in the same year (Cam Newton, 2010).

The Green Bay Packers will win the Super Bowl. Despite the calf injury, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will lead the Packers to his second Super Bowl victory. Their road will include a trip to Seattle for the NFC Championship Game, but the defensive changes Green Bay made midseason and the level at which the offense is playing will be enough to overcome all adversaries.

Kentucky will win the NCAA men’s basketball championship. There aren’t many safe bets when it comes to college hoops, but this seems to be the safest in quite some time. Despite losing two players in the first 17 picks of last year’s NBA Draft, the Wildcats are the deepest and most talented team in the country. They’re currently about even money to win the title against the rest of the entire NCAA field, according to Vegas odds.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will NOT reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite LeBron James’ homecoming and acquiring Kevin Love, it won’t be a fairy tale ending for the Cavs. They’ll win one playoff series, max. Right now, I’m picking the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls to face off in the East and the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers in the West. It would be the first time since 2006 that the NBA Finals would not include either James or Kobe Bryant. (Keep dreaming, Laker fans.)

The Kapaa Warriors will repeat as KIF football champions. Both Waimea and Kauai High have had long football dynasties over the past few decades, but Kapaa has not experienced the same type of extended success. I don’t know if the type of dominance the Menehune enjoyed in the 90s and the Red Raiders in the 2000s can be duplicated any time soon, but Kapaa will at least get its first step in that direction with its third KIF title in five years.

2015 will NOT be Norm Chow’s last year as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors. Heading into the 2014 season, I thought it would be Coach Chow’s final as the Hawaii head coach. I wasn’t hoping for that, I was just expecting it. I like Coach Chow, as do his players. Whether he can be the guy to create a highly competitive Division I program is certainly questionable. But we already know he’ll be back for 2015 with just one more season on his five-year contract to follow. The team showed improvement this past season, specifically offensively. Unless next year is a complete disaster, I think UH allows Chow to finish out his contract in 2016.

The Detroit Tigers will win the World Series. Okay, so maybe I also predicted this last year. And maybe the Tigers got swept in the first round by the Orioles. But if at first you don’t succeed, blame the manager. Yeah, thats it. It was Brad Ausmus’ first year as a Major League manager. He’ll be more seasoned this time around. If Detroit re-signs Max Scherzer, I’ll be much more confident in this prediction, but the free agent buzz around the former Cy Young winner has been zilch. Go figure.

Both Kauai women will finish in the World Championship Tour’s top 10. With Tatiana Weston-Webb joining Malia Manuel on the World Surf League (formerly ASP) WCT, both wahine will be consistently reaching quarterfinals and each will earn automatic re-qualification. Tati will have tough draws all season, but she’ll be up to the task and will find a way to sneak into the top 10. Manuel, coming off a career year in 2014, should be back around that No. 5 ranking, hopefully nudging her way closer to the top four.

John John Florence will win the WSL world title. I’m trying to write WSL as much as I can since the ASP is no more. Despite the league’s name change, the men’s WCT should still be as fierce and competitive as ever. Gabriel Medina will be the man to beat, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow and Julian Wilson are just some of the Aussies eyeing the top spot and Dusty Payne will be back and healthy. The major question is will Kelly Slater, 43, return to go for his 12th world title? I know what I’m hoping for, but that’s something I can’t predict just yet. Either way, Florence is ready to take his spot. He’s still just 22, but the John John era will be officially upon us in 2015.

Johnny Manziel will cause trouble. Duh.

Stay safe tonight and have a wonderful New Year!

David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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