by Derek Franks
1) Alabama will win out
Ok, so this is not exactly groundbreaking but come on, when’s the last time a team like this came around? One that was favored in every game on its schedule, all of which but two by more than 17 points? One that won a championship three years in a row? It’s been a while and the possibilities are high. Unbeaten in the regular season for Alabama? Bet on it. I’ll say the SEC championship will be the first place they’re tested other than maybe Texas A&M on the road.
2) SEC East Battle will be a showdown
Georgia is my early favorite for the SEC east and a team that could also very well go undefeated and face (and challenge) Alabama. Give QB Aaron Murray props for returning for a fifth season despite the NFL beckoning after last season’s success. He’ll be another year seasoned and ready for revenge with a stacked lineup in front of him. As for the rest? South Carolina is going to be right there, making everyone in Athens nervous. Give the Gamecocks a chance to spoil the Bulldogs party. They will after all meet right off the bat in the second week of the season. After that, I think this will be a neck and neck finish right down to the wire that will make for some sure excitement over there in the East. Heck, keep Florida in this talk as well. The obviously overrated Gators tripped up in their BCS game last year (to the surprise of no one). But they could be right there with the other two, making the Southeastern Conference, despite Alabama’s dominant presence, still one of the more interesting battles in football.
3) Notre Dame “NOT-RE-peating” this year
Don’t get suckered in by last year’s Fighting Irish. Their fluke of an undefeated regular season that culminated in a National Championship appearance was a one-time thing. No, the easy-bake-oven that cooked up their “no conference” schedule allowed them to finish without a blemish last year. But the shellacking they mercilessly suffered at the hands of Alabama was a show of their true colors (are they blue or green and gold? I just don’t know!). After they failed to produce offensively and got annihilated on the defensive side by Alabama, they were exposed for what they really were, and really will be this year: a middle of the pack unranked team that will likely qualify—at best—for the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Now, try and say that ten times fast. It will probably go better than the Irish season will.
4) Neutral Site Games!
We’ve got an onslaught of neutral site matches this season. One I’m really looking forward to is LSU and TCU when they meet in Dallas on opening week. Think about it. The Mad Hatter facing off in a battle of wits with Gary Patterson and his ingeniously-run defense. Essentially a home game for the Horned Frogs, they actually stand a chance against the favored Tigers. Alabama and Virginia Tech will meet in Atlanta that weekend as well, although not even Frank Beamer will slow down Bama—just a hunch. One really interesting game might be Mississippi State and Oklahoma State, also on opening weekend. Explosive offense from Okie State and a mysteriously good Mississippi State team make this a toss up. Arizona State vs. Notre Dame on October 5th in Dallas is weird. Not only does this match up, and its location, not make sense at all, but I don’t think either team will be all that exciting to watch really. Lastly, Oklahoma and Texas will be big, as always, in what could be the last chance for Longhorns’ coach Mac Brown to beat the Sooners for a change and salvage his job.
5) Ohio State has the easiest schedule of all time. And it may still slip.
Well, we can’t exactly confirm the “easiest all time” stuff, but hey take a look at that schedule. I think I could assemble a football team by going out on the street and randomly asking people to join then go and play the Buckeyes’ schedule this year and come away at least at .500. And that’s why I’m just giddy with excitement because I just know that a Urban Meyer team who has national-championship potential—as we saw with last year’s success— and questionable star players will take a schedule like this and just completely trip all over its own feet at least once. Oh, who will it be? Florida A&M? Illinois? Iowa? San Diego State? Perhaps Buffalo at the beginning of the season or maybe a really lousy Indiana squad when they’ll be looking ahead to the Michigan game—all of these have no business beating the Buckeyes. And that’s why I think one of them will sneak up on them.
6) The American Athletic Conference: the “blah” conference.
Hey, did you know that there is no more Big East conference in football? You may have missed it, but all the teams you knew from your days growing up fighting for east coast supremacy- Miami, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse? Their departure over the years has completed the slow-dissolve of the Big East, which has been on a 10-year path to self-destruction. Finally, it is no more. So what replaces it? The American Athletic Conference. Did you even know this was in existence? Perhaps not, but don’t be afraid. We have ventured into the unknown for sure. But that unknown is one in which prestigious programs like SMU, Tulane, Memphis, Central Florida, South Florida, Tulsa and East Carolina will be competing for a chance at a BCS game! Wait, really? Oh dear, let’s not discuss this topic and say we did. Hopefully, Louisville or Cincinnati, the “powerhouse” programs of the conference, won’t allow that to happen.
7) These coaches will blast into the spotlight and onto your radar, if they’re not there already
There are number of coaches, some of them in new places, whose names will be seen and heard a lot this year. You may or may not be familiar with Art Briles, the wizard who has somehow made Baylor relevant (well, he had some help a couple of years ago by someone who goes by RGIII). But make no mistake, Briles is a mastermind that has secretly been hiding out in the shadows of players like Robert Griffin. He’ll have Baylor competing this season once more and his name will be in Big 12 Coach of the Year considerations. So will Texas Tech’s newcomer, Kliff Kingsburry, for the shear fact that if the Red Raiders do anything better than sub-par, he’ll have well exceeded expectations. You’ll hear his name a lot, for better or for worse for Tech. Kevin Sumlin earned a lot of street-cred in his first season directing Texas A&M. This year’s Aggies are a complete mystery. Will they continue to build on last year’s success? Or will they hit the “sophomore slump.” If the former is the case, keep in mind that Bob Stoops won it all with Oklahoma in his second season. Another name you might hear is Sonny Dykes, who made Louisiana Tech relevant last season before they very cleverly declined a lousy bowl bid (for the success they had last year, it was a perfectly fitting cold shoulder to the BCS). Unfortunately for the LaTech, he bolted after that to be the new coach at Cal. I expect the Golden Bears to turn things around this year and be bowl-bound, so watch for him. Skip Holz takes over for Dykes in Shreveport. Gary Andersen has his work cut out for him replacing Bret Bielema. I expect the microscope to be planted firmly on him for most of the season. Also, if Miami continues to build on last season’s surprising success, Al Golden might get some recognition as well. Stay tuned for a later article when we break down the wild coaching carousel and rate how we think the coaches will do in their new homes.
8) 5 Teams that made a bowl last year that won’t this year
Texas– The Horns’ season could go either way this year. They have so much talent. It is a crime that they aren’t in competition for a Big 12 title this year. But the engineering of Mac Brown has worn thin. They can’t decide the type of offense they are, the defense which physically looks like an NFL team flopped last year. And they just don’t have a reliable quarterback in—I guess—David Ash who spent much of last year being swapped with that other McCoy kid back and forth all season long. I see this year failing and Brown exiting at the end of the year. But like I said, it could go either way with this bunch.
Syracuse– Being extremely mediocre in a crumbling Big East does not bode well for a school who moves to the ACC. Superior competition plus a loss of much talent from last year means the Orange are likely to take up fishing rather than bowling for a holiday hobby.
Pittsburgh– For the same reason Syracuse won’t make it. Pitt was perhaps even more mediocre than its ACC newcomer companion.
Purdue– Shocked the world when they went bowling last year, even at 6-6. Let’s just say it won’t happen this year.
Virginia Tech- Gained little over the offseason after finishing last year with a losing record once the bowl season was all said and done. Frank Beamer may have finally lost his touch.
9) 5 Teams that didn’t make a bowl last year that will this year
New Mexico State– Arriving into Independence are the Aggies who decided not to join a conference after the WAC dissolved this offseason. They have a favorable schedule, a lot of returning starters including at QB. They’ll go bowling this year.
Wake Forest– Well they won’t be competing for ACC championship contention but they have some opponents they can handle and face the toughest tests of their schedule at home. They just needed another win last year to make it and gone is Notre Dame from their schedule. They also returned a healthy dose of starters from last season and compete in the easier of the two divisions of the conference.
Auburn– After a disaster of a season in 2012, the Tigers are the most likely of the five teams to miss a bowl from the SEC to go bowling this year. They have plenty of returning starters and a QB who, while failing under terrible coaching last season, was still the best in his state in high school.
Louisiana Tech– This is probably obvious. They made some splashes last year and challenged teams that were in superior leagues, finishing at 9-3. Declining the bowl game probably won’t happen this year.
California– Under direction of new head coach Sonny Dykes, this is a team loaded with returning talent but that often kicks itself in the foot. Cal will return to at least 7-5 with and a bowl birth in 2013.
*Ohio State is for sure going to a bowl game, perhaps the national championship if they prove me wrong from my above prediction.
10) This year’s most likely mid-major BCS buster will be…
Boise State. It’s an obvious choice, thanks to head coach Chris Peterson and a score of returning players. But let’s say they don’t make it. Watch out for Utah State, who had its most successful season in its history last year and joins the Mountain West—where Boise is—this season. Keep a look out for them to shake things up. In the last year of the BCS, we’d love to see someone really bust it this season!