College Football Preview: 9 Bold Predictions
The SEC’s Reign Will (Finally) End
Considering how dominant the SEC and USC have been during the past decade (from 2003-2011 either USC or an SEC team was featured in college football’s finale), it is incredible that they have never met to decide the national championship. The truth is, the recent absence of USC has aided the SEC in their rise to national dominance. USC is the one program in the country built similarly to a SEC team, possessing incredible team speed as well as tremendous athleticism on the offensive and defensive lines. The one area that USC has always carried an advantage over their SEC counterparts is quarterback play. With Silas Redd joining the Trojans, and Matt Barkley returning with a stable of talented receivers, expect them to return to roll through the Pac 12 and return to the BCS Championship Game. And whether they are playing LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia or some dark-horse from the SEC, expect the Trojans to be victorious.
But Ball, Not Barkley, Will Win The Heisman
Assuming Ball can avoid any more late-night assaults on the streets of Madison the way he eludes opposing defenders, I expect the Wisconsin tailback to capture the award he should have won a year ago. Without Russell Wilson under center, Ball could see even more touches a year after scoring 38 total touchdowns. Barkley will put up incredible numbers this year, but the Trojans are more likely to spread the wealth among their multitude of playmakers.
Ohio State Will “Win” The Big 10 Leaders Division
As a lifelong Ohio State fan, I will always remember 2011 as the year of Murphy’s Law. I equate it to the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” where everything goes horribly wrong for Elaine as George falls into unexpected fortune; Ohio State being Elaine and Michigan, George. Much like with Elaine, who opens the episode by getting a raise from Pendent Publishing and planning to move in with her boyfriend Jake Jarmel, the 2011 season was surrounded by optimism. We had our fourth-year starter, Heisman-hopeful quarterback Terrelle Pyror who was finally showing signs that he understood how to be a quarterback instead of just an athlete. We had all-conference players like Devier Posey and the always underrated Boom Herron. We had the rest of a senior class known as “The Brew Crew”, a collection of once-talented prospects that earned Ohio State the top spot in the class of 2009 recruiting rankings. We had Tressel. And much like with Elaine in one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes of all-time, everything unraveled at the seams. Instead of Pryor, it was Joe Bauserman at quarterback, whose progression chart read “throw to opponent, chuck it out of bounds, rifle a pass to open receiver’s feet, hold onto ball and take sack,” and eventually a thrown-into-the-fire freshman, Braxton Miller. Instead of Posey, who had 12 catches in the three games he played, we had a collection of young receivers, none of whom caught more than 14 passes ALL SEASON. Instead of Tressel wearing his all-too-familiar vest, we had Fickell wearing his all-too-familiar “deer in headlights” look. Meanwhile, Michigan fell ass-backwards into a win over Notre Dame, and against Virginia Tech in a BCS game they never should have been in. By the end of the season, Ohio State fans were sitting together, painfully realizing that they had become George.
But don’t expect Ohio State’s fall from grace to be anything more than an aberration, a change of pace episode. Instead of watching Braxton Miller run Jim Bollman’s lethargic offense, we get Urban Meyer’s. The differnce between Miller running those two systems is equivalent to Steve Nash playing with eleven bench players in Phoenix, and then being traded to L.A. to run an offense with Kobe, Pau and Dwight Howard. Honestly, go watch tape from any game that Braxton Miller played in (particularly the Purdue and Michigan games). On nearly every play that resulted in a positive gain, Ohio State would spread the field, Miller would step up to the line and check to a new play, snap the ball, take one step back and then burst forward on a draw. Every. Single. Time. The defense knew it was coming. The crowd knew it was coming. Hell, people not even watching the game knew it was coming. Jim Bollman wasn’t just a bad offensive coordinator, he was incompetent. Now he is being replaced by the inventor of the spread-option, in tow with a top offensive coordinator in Tom Herman. Meanwhile, the defense will be as good, if not better than usual, featuring one of the best defensive lines in the nation and four returning starters in the secondary. There are three “toss-up” games on the schedule this year for OSU. At Michigan State, at Wisconsin, Michigan. I just don’t see a scenario where they lose more than one of those, and that should be enough to win the division. It’s just too bad it won’t count for anything.
While we are on the topic of this bowl ban, let me express how ridiculous it is that five knuckleheads (who are no longer on the team), who purchased tattoos (that they couldn’t otherwise afford despite making millions for the University), with money they made from selling memorabilia (that they rightfully earned), eliminate a team’s chances at a national title. If you want to vacate wins, fine. Take away scholarships, fair game. But to strip an innocent team of their right to go to a bowl game and render their season, at a program where only Big Ten and National Championships matter, meaningless….who are you punishing here? And before I am accused of being an over-the-top homer, I felt the same way about USC’s bowl-ban (and to a lesser extent Penn State’s).
And Michigan Will Fall Off
I know, I know…I might be letting my scarlet-and-grey colors show through here, but count me in as someone not buying stock in Brady Hoke quite yet. As I indicated above, there wasn’t a more fortunate team in college football last year. Their win over Notre Dame was more of an Irish-collapse. It took three Braxton Miller overthrows (seriously he overthrew three WIDE OPEN receivers for would-be touchdowns) to beat the worst-coached and least motivated Buckeye team in a decade. Then they weaseled their way into a BCS game, instead of the Michigan State team that handled them earlier in the season, which they won despite being utterly outplayed. They once again dodge Wisconsin this year, but their 2012 schedule is considerably more difficult. The Wolverines open against Alabama, and travel to Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State in what will be a de facto bowl game for the Buckeyes. They host Michigan State, but the Spartans might be the most talented team in the conference this season. That team + that schedule screams 8-4.
Boise State Isn’t Going Anywhere
It is time for people to accept Boise State as a legitimate program, not a pretender propelled by the play of one exceptional star (See: Hawaii 2007). Boise State will replace Kellen Moore, the winningest quarterback in FBS history, with either Joe Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea or Nick Patti. I know, right now you are scratching your head saying “who the hell…?” But don’t pretend that three years ago, when star Bronco quarterback Jared Zabranski graduated, you weren’t sitting at home thinking “Boise State is done, I mean who the hell is Kellen Moore!” Here’s a stat for you. Since 2003, in the years that Boise State has inserted a new quarterback, they went 33-2 in the regular season, including a win over a very good Oregon team. It doesn’t matter who’s lining up under center, the Broncos are led by one of the nation’s top coaches in Chris Petersen and benefit from a weak schedule. Sorry college football purists, but Boise State is here to stay.
The Big East Will Be Absolutely Miserable
Maybe less of a prediction, and more of a fact of life. . . This was supposed to be an exciting year for college football’s weakest power conference, with the planned expansion and addition of TCU. Instead, TCU jumped to greener pastures, joining the Big 12. West Virginia, the conference’s one true legitimate contender, did the same. Now they are stuck with a collection of basketball schools, without a team that will even sniff the national title. A four-loss team could easily win the Big East this year, as they collectively continue to make the case that they don’t deserve their automatic qualifier status.
Watch Out For Central Florida
Central Florida isn’t eligible for post season play, but they can make a serious splash in their out of conference schedule. UCF returns their leading rusher, receiver and several key players from a defensive squad that ranked ninth nationally in points allowed last season. The Knights travel to Columbus to take on an Ohio State squad that will still be adjusting to Urban Meyer’s new offense, and their defense could give the Buckeyes trouble, but the game to watch for is their Week 5 matchup against Missouri. The Tigers travel to Central Florida a week after hitting the road against one of the nation’s top teams in South Carolina, and then dive right back into their first season of SEC play the following weeks against Vanderbilt and Alabama. Circle September 29 on your calendars, it has all the makings of a trap game.
Notre Dame Will Overcome Their Schedule
In all my years of following college football, I’m not sure if I can recall a schedule as brutal as Notre Dame’s. They travel to Michigan State and then host Michigan in consecutive weeks. They hit the road to play Oklahoma and USC, two top 5 teams. The middle of their schedule, which is one of the weakest parts, still contains teams with considerable talent in Miami, Stanford and BYU. Out of the twelve teams on their schedule, the one that isn’t from a power-6 conference is Navy, who generally plays them tough. Despite all of this, I think Brian Kelly will have his team motivated and ready for a 9-3 season, including an upset win in Norman against the Sooners.
We Will Long For 2014
Leave it to college football to (finally) give fans a playoff system, but make them wait two years before it’s implemented. The looming four-team system only spells controversy for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In the final years of a system that seldom got it right, it would only be fitting if 3-to-4 teams have a legitimate case of being in the title game. I can hardly wait to watch ESPN show segment after segment using the Ford Touch Screen, showing us what the playoffs would look like if they had been implemented this year. I suppose it’s better than Tebow coverage.