Saturday, December 6, 2008

On Dominant Teams, Sunshine, and How There's No Easy Way to Save Texas

Sometimes playoffs take care of themselves. Alabama-Florida, like Ohio State-Michigan two years ago, is and deserves to be a national semifinal. If only Oklahoma and Texas were in different halves of the Big 12, we'd have our other one.

This season is interesting in that my favored playoff system—the top four conference champions go—fails this year for the first time since I started keeping track of it. I leave out top four teams all the time, but usually they already lost a "quarterfinal," meaning they lost directly to a conference opponent ahead of them. This is the first time the system would have left out a team who won a quarterfinal. Poor Texas.

For what it's worth, this year this system would invite the Florida/Alabama winner, Oklahoma, USC and Utah. If Oklahoma and/or USC lose today, Penn State would be first in line and probably Boise State second for their spots. The unhappiest person in the country would probably be that Texas DB who dropped the game-sealing INT on Texas Tech's final drive. Actually, that might be true under any system.

#1 Alabama vs. #4 Florida. Alabama is the only major conference unbeaten, the near-unanimous number one team in the country, and are coming off a statement rivalry game where they shut out Auburn, 36-0. They are also double digit underdogs.

The scary thing is, that's completely fair. Remember when 2005 USC was getting all that best-team-ever press until they lost to Texas? Well, even that team played three relatively close games against the good teams on their schedule. Yes, Florida has a loss, but they are much better than that USC team, and not just because they have a returning Heisman QB too.

Except Mississippi, Florida has beaten everyone on their schedule by over 20 points. They have allowed anyone within four touchdowns since September. Throwing out The Citadel, they have won seven straight games, against the SEC and at Florida State, by an average score of 49-11. This season, even with a loss, is almost as dominant as Meyer's 2004 Utes, only against arguably the best conference in college football. Florida is awesome. In my opinion, Alabama doesn't stand a chance. And neither will Oklahoma.

#2 Oklahoma vs. #20 Missouri. Kerry Meier, who my old roommate and I call "Sunshine" due to his resemblance to the Remember the Titans character, was one of the best QB recruits in Kansas history. Despite his talent, he lost his job last year to headier and more accurate Todd Reesing. So he moved to wide receiver, and he's done a great job. At Arrowhead last week against Mizzou, he had the game of his life, catching 14 passes, including the game-winner with 27 seconds remaining. It was great.

My point is this. I like Sunshine, but he's still a converted QB who went to Kansas to play football. If Missouri can't cover him, can they really expect to get any stops against Oklahoma, a team with 58, 62, 66, 65 and 61 points in their last five games? Of course not.

#17 Boston College vs. #25 Virginia Tech. It's just like last year's ACC Championship Game, only without Matt Ryan or VT's 8 NFL draft picks. Like last year, BC won the regular season version, but Tech has improved more in the meantime.

Picks: Florida (74/26), Oklahoma (84/16), Virginia Tech (50/50)

LW: No picks

LLW: 31-44

Overall Adj. WPct: 951-547, .635

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On The Heisman, the Rose Bowl, and the BCS Buster

Shortened post this week, as reporting is on-location from a not even close to top three Ohio State-Michigan game. The three games this week are pretty clear.

#2 Texas Tech at #5 Oklahoma. Definitely shaping up to be the biggest regular game all year. Texas Tech puts themselves in the Big 12 title game, and probably the national championship game, with a win. Oklahoma would create a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 South, although it's anybody's guess whether they'd take the tiebreaker away from Texas. For losing last, Texas Tech would probably be out.

As a side bonus, it might help decide the Heisman. If Oklahoma wins convincingly, Sam Bradford probably takes the lead. If Texas Tech wins, Harrell gains—although his top receiver Michael Crabtree could make a run if he gets a signature play against both Texas and Oklahoma. Style-wise, we already know they're both all about passing.

#14 BYU at #7 Utah. This decides the minor conference representative to the BCS. Win and in for Utah; lose and in for Boise State. Also, I have no idea who would win the three way tie in the Mountain West. Hopefully TCU, who I still think is the best team.

#15 Michigan State at #8 Penn State. Rose Bowl trip on the line for Penn State, and possibly Michigan State too, if Michigan upsets Ohio State earlier in the day. The key, as always for Michigan State, will be whether they can pass well enough to open space up for Javon Ringer. The Iowa game is the only one, including Ohio State, in which Penn State has really had a problem defending the pass.

Predictions: BYU is a good example of ranking inertia. They have played more close games than either of the other Mountain West elite, haven't beaten anyone close to a good team, and lost by 27 to TCU, but they're a team with tradition and a preseason ranking, so they're still ranked 14th. Utah has wins over TCU and Pac 10 leader Oregon State. I'm taking the Utes. The other two games are trickier. Oklahoma and Penn State are more talented and at home, so they should be favored, but I think both are bigger favorites than they ought to be. Go, upsets.

Picks: Texas Tech (30/70), Utah (69/31), Michigan State (14/86).

LW: 27-96

Overall Adj. WPct: 920-503, .647

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On The Pitiful ACC, and Technicalities

The first sentence of my last post is shamefully unclear. When I wrote "I didn't mean to leave this till now, but I might as well have," what I meant was "I forgot I was going to write about the Thursday game until half an hour before kickoff, but that has to do with the fact that neither this Thursday game nor the Saturday games this week are very exciting." And they're not. Nobody plays anybody. Except kind of in the ACC, where there are enough mediocre teams that half the conference is still in it, so it's almost impossible not to match some of them against each other. When College GameDay is broadcasting from unranked Boston College at #19 Florida State, and you can't really blame them, you know it's a bad week.

#16 North Carolina at Maryland. This is big because of tiebreakers. In one half of the ACC, Maryland is tied with Florida State and Wake Forest with two ACC losses. In the other half, UNC and Miami have two losses. But Maryland has beaten Wake, and UNC has beaten Miami. So the winner of this game controls their fate.

Another quick point I'd like to make about the ACC. One of my friends, a Virginia fan, and I had a serious discussion about whether winning the ACC title is even a good thing. Would you rather be a 20 point underdog in the Orange Bowl or drop to one you might actually win? We were on the verge of deciding it might be best to lose the ACC Championship Game or something until he said something like, "Who am I kidding? We'd get crushed in a reasonable bowl anyway." So the ACC may end up sending a team that wouldn't like their chances against someone like the SEC #5. Thank God it's finally basketball season.

#11 Ohio State at Illinois. I could have put another game here, but there's no unequivocally better one, and this gives me a chance to talk about a fun BCS technicality. Conventional wisdom is that only one small conference team has a chance of making the BCS, because no matter how worthy a second team is, they'll never be a draw on par with a comparable major conference team. But the BCS at-large teams must come from the Top 14, and no conference can send more than two teams.

This is currently Alabama, Texas Tech, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Utah, Penn State, Boise State, Georgia, Ohio State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Ball State. Assuming two of the four at large will come from the SEC and Big 12, the other two must be filled by some combination of Ohio State and small conference teams. The next five offer no help. There's Michigan State, who will drop if they lose to Penn State, North Carolina and Florida State, who will either lose and drop or win the ACC and be in automatically, and BYU and TCU, who are in the Mountain West.

So if Ohio State loses to Illinois or Michigan, the BCS may be forced to take two small conference teams. On the flip side, if they win out, they are almost guaranteed an at-large bid. So if you are a Boise State, Ball State, or Cinderella fan, you should root against the Buckeyes.

Predictions: North Carolina has lost to Virginia Tech when their QB got injured and the backup turned the game over, and to Virginia in overtime after giving up the tying score in the final minute. Maryland has lost to Middle Tennessee State, 31-10 to Virginia, and after being almost doubled up in yardage to Virginia Tech. I know who I'm taking. Illinois is dangerous, as one of those teams who should be much better than they are. But after losing last year, Ohio State can't take them lightly. Coupled with the Buckeyes' dismantling of Michigan State and Northwestern recently, it's hard to pick the upset. Besides, Ohio State-Michigan needs a good plot, and can the Wolverines knock Ohio State out of the BCS is a good one.

Picks: North Carolina (57/43), Ohio State (73/27)

LW: 81-51

Overall AdjWPct: 893-407, .687

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On the National Bye Week, Part I

I didn't mean to leave this till now, but I might as well have. VT/Miami is tonight, and both are 3-2 in the ACC Coastal. Embarrassingly, this makes it a huge game for ACC title implications. Since no top 24 teams play each other this week (25 South Carolina at 4 Florida is all we get), it's definitely top three. I'm not really excited about this week.

I don't really know much about these teams, except that my friend the VT alum says the Hokies haven't thrown a TD pass to a wide receiver all year. They're due, right?

Pick: VT (39/61)

LW Results, Real Post: Forthcoming.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Six Teams With Four Total Losses, Soon To Be Seven

There are several good games this week. But they start tonight, so this is going to be relatively short.

#9 Oklahoma State at #2 Texas Tech. By now, you know all about the Big 12, so I'm just going to add a couple of thoughts from the Texas/Texas Tech game. First, Texas Tech outgained the Longhorns by 200 yards, including 25 more rushing yards on the same number of attempts. TTU outrushing anyone is crazy enough, but Texas? Second, after their touchdown with :01 left, what possible reason did Tech have for kicking the extra point? You'd rather be up six for sure instead of going for seven? How do you possibly justify that? What if Texas had somehow scored? Coupled with the fact that the students had already rushed the field twice, that might have been up there with the most painful losses ever. Why kick? Why?

#1 Alabama at #16 LSU. Both of the top two have difficult games this week (and Penn State at Iowa's no freebie, either). Alabama hasn't been overwhelming since the first half of the Georgia game, playing close games against Kentucky and Mississippi before beating up on reeling Tennessee and hapless Arkansas State. Still, even in their close games they ran out to early leads. Alabama hasn't had to keep their composure in a tight road game, and the fiercely anti-Saban LSU crowd is one that could cause problems. LSU has struggled, but SEC teams, particularly ones with this much raw talent, are always dangerous.

#12 TCU at #8 Utah. For the second time this year, TCU matches up with a team from the Beehive State who has a perfect record and the inside track for a BCS bid. Unlike Brigham Young, Utah knows how good TCU is. The Utes have a very balanced team, with a solid offense and defense, both passing and running. However, unlike the 2004 version, who went unchallenged through the whole season including the bowl, they aren't great at anything. This has shown through in that four of their nine wins have been by one score. Still, they do consistently find a way to win, and they have home field. TCU is more one-dimensional on offense, but unlike Utah, they are great at something. They're only giving up 11 points a game, even counting Oklahoma's 35. They've held seven of ten opponents to a single score.

Predictions: Don't expect a letdown from Texas Tech. If you remember this is the matchup that resulted in 1328 total yards last year. Also remember, Harrell threw for 646 of those yards, but TTU lost anyway on a last-second drop by Crabtree. Those two will remember. This feels like a tough game for Alabama, but that assumes LSU is actually good. Before the Georgia game I argued they weren't, and their 52-38 home loss didn't really change my mind. And when Jarrett Lee makes up for his three picks that game, one of which was returned for a TD, by going 8/20 for 99 yards against Tulane, well, that doesn't inspire confidence. To pick tonight's game, ask yourself one simple question. If TCU had scheduled Weber State and Utah had scheduled Oklahoma on September 27 instead of the reverse, would anyone actually think Utah is nearly as good as TCU? Of course not, because TCU would be undefeated and outscoring teams by like 40-8, whereas Utah would have been considered to have been exposed by the only good team they've played so far, and be lucky to have just one loss.

Picks: Texas Tech (60/40), Alabama (59/41), TCU (51/49)

LW: 131-0

Overall Adj. WPct: 812-356, .695

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the BCS Picture, and Whether Texas Tech Can Do Anything About It

Regular readers (all four or five of you) should remember that the top three games discussed each week in this space are chosen with regard to BCS implications. Now that we're down to about a month of college football regular season, let's take a moment before starting to make a handy-dandy reference guide at how each team and conference's BCS prospects stack up. We'll start with the likely multi-bid leagues, who also include the top national title contenders, and work our way down.

Big 12: Almost certain for two bids. Texas is a title game lock if they win out, with whoever's standing from Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State looking strong for an at-large bid. If Texas Tech wins out, they might not pass Alabama and Penn State, but considering this would involve beating Texas and Oklahoma, they might. A three way tie at 7-1 in the Big 12 South would result in the highest coaches' poll team going, which would probably be Oklahoma. On the off chance the North champion wins the Big 12 title game, whoever of Oklahoma and Texas didn't play in that game will probably go.

SEC: Almost certain for two bids, also. This one's really simple. If Alabama goes undefeated, they'll go to the national championship. If they go undefeated until losing the SEC championship game but lose to the Florida/Georgia winner (hereafter FGW), they'll probably still get the at-large. If a one or two loss SEC West champ loses to FGW, then both FGW and FGL will go (unless FGL loses again in between). If the SEC West champ beats FGW, then FGL will probably jump them and go, which hardly seems fair. See? Simple.

Big Ten: Penn State needs to win their last three and get help, but I think as of right now they have a better chance of playing in the national title game than anyone. They only have to get past Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State to finish the regular season undefeated. If Texas or Alabama loses to any of Texas Tech/Big 12 Champ/LSU/Auburn/FGW/other, PSU is back in business. Also, Ohio State is probably win out and at-large. If they drop another game, the Big Ten might be out of luck.

Pac 10: USC is the clear conference favorite, and are probably second behind Oklahoma in the line of one loss teams. I don't think they should pass a potential one-loss Texas or Alabama, but they would. Oregon has an outside shot at an at-large birth, especially if USC were to sneak into the title game and the Rose Bowl wanted a Pac 10 replacement, but it's unlikely. This conference is really soft.

Big East/ACC: These conferences are disasters. There's not a BCS-worthy team in the bunch, which unfortunately won't keep them from sending two teams. The Big East is favoring West Virginia, Pitt and maybe Connecticut, with temporary favorite South Florida already 1-2 in conference. For the ACC, literally 10 of 12 teams are still in play for the conference title, with one of the other two being Clemson, who is the only team in the whole conference with BCS-level talent top to bottom. Terrible.

Others: There will almost certainly be someone from a minor conference involved in the title discussion. If the Utah/TCU winner wins out, they'll go. Boise State could go undefeated and miss out. Having beaten Oklahoma in the same situation two years ago, they'll complain, but maybe the WAC shouldn't suck so much. They could be bailed out if Utah beats TCU but drops the BYU finale. If all three stumble, Tulsa or, somehow, Ball State will sneak in. They're both way better than anyone they play, and could keep bubbling up the rankings if they keep winning.

If the season ended today, here's how the major bowls would most likely look:

BCS: Texas-Alabama

Rose: USC-Penn State

Sugar: Georgia-West Virginia

Fiesta: Oklahoma-Utah

Orange: Florida State-Ohio State

But it doesn't. So let's go to the games that can change it.

#1 Texas at #7 Texas Tech. We know all about Texas. They score points. Lots. Against everybody. And recently, they've always scored a lot of points against Texas Tech in particular, averaging 48 points in their last five matchups. The Red Raiders score in bunches too, most spectacularly recording touchdowns on eight straight drives (except one halted by halftime) to open the Kansas game last week. While Colt has been unstoppable, his last three opposite numbers have combined for 72% completions and 8 TDs against the Horns themselves, and Graham Harrell is more efficient then any of them. As usual, don't expect a lot of stops.

#6 Georgia vs. #8 Florida at Jacksonville. Two more teams I've said a lot about already. Since halftime of the Alabama game, the Bulldogs have been very good, holding down Tennessee and Vanderbilt with defense and putting up a whopping 52 points at LSU. For their own part, Florida has beaten Arkansas, LSU and Kentucky by 119 combined points since the Ole Miss loss. These teams also have a traditional rivalry beefed up by Georgia's full-team celebration early in a big win last year. Thanks to the talent and the emotion, this game, while featuring one-loss teams instead of undefeateds, will almost certainly be played at a higher level than Texas-Texas Tech.

West Virginia at #25 Connecticut. Yep, one of these games. Someone has to win the Big East, and this game's winner will be the new favorite. Both of these teams have been amazingly up and down. WVU was outgained by Syracuse in a 17-6 win; Connecticut both managed to beat Louisville while being nearly doubled up in yards and outgain North Carolina but lose 38-12. And that was in consecutive weeks. Bottom line: who knows which version of either of these teams will show up? And even if one brings their A-game, it might just lose it for them.

Predictions: Sorry, Colt. Texas Tech has the ability to execute on offense, the Longhorns are both mentally exhausted and have to feel like they're mostly out of the woods by now, and you know Mike Leach's team has saved every wrinkle they've ever practiced on both sides of the ball for just this occasion. It's time. In the SEC, you don't give up 500 yards and 38 points to LSU and expect to stop a rested, prepared and extremely motivated Florida the next week. It's that simple. For West Virginia, Noel Devine's Steve Slaton impression has been getting better by the week. They have no business losing to UConn.

Picks: Texas Tech (40/60), Florida (69/31), West Virginia (60/40)

LW: 121-0

Overall Adj. WPct: 681-356, .657

I didn't want to give away my picks on TT and Florida ahead of time, but here's my likeliest end of season scenario:

BCS: Penn State-Oklahoma

Rose: USC-Alabama

Sugar: Florida-West Virginia

Fiesta: Texas-TCU

Orange: Florida State-Ohio State

Friday, October 24, 2008

On the Top Games From the Top Conferences, and Fun with the BCS Rules

Here we go again. It seems like we've always got a Big 12 undefeated in a big game, either Ohio State or Penn State, and another pair of ranked Big 12 teams (this week, #8 Texas Tech-#23 Kansas) shunted off to the side. Got to love a season where a big SEC game barely makes the list, though.

Oh, before I start, a quick word about rankings. Originally, I was using the AP rankings because they're the ones quoted on ESPN. Then recently, I switched to the Coaches' Poll because it's in the BCS and the AP isn't. Starting this week, I will quote the BCS Top 25.

#6 Oklahoma State at #1 Texas. The Longhorns are up to their third of four consecutive games against top 12 teams (if Texas Tech wins this week), and they've looked awfully good twice so far. Against Oklahoma and Missouri, Texas has put up over 1000 yards, converted 64% of third downs, and committed no turnovers. Also, Colt completed 85% of his passes. Oklahoma State features a terrific offense themselves. Their best player is probably WR Dez Bryant, who has caught 45 of Oklahoma State's 97 completed passes and 11 of 14 passing touchdowns, but more importantly they average 283 yards rushing. That will be interesting, since Texas has held every opponent except UTEP under 50 yards rushing. Not that most of them have tried.

Not that it has anything to do with this game per se, but there's one more thing I just found out about. Suppose all the national title contenders except Texas take a loss between now and the end of the season, bringing Oklahoma back up to #2. Then suppose Texas loses a heartbreaker to multi-loss Missouri (or Kansas) in the Big 12 title game. They might not drop that far in the polls, and certainly with their brutal Big 12 South plus Kansas and Missouri plus the better one again schedule, the computers will still love them. If the final BCS puts Oklahoma 1st and Texas 2nd, that's the first priority. The Big 12 Champion would be barred from the BCS entirely. This won't happen, but it could.

#3 Penn State at #9 Ohio State. Both teams look pretty darn impressive now. Penn State has been good in every dimension. With only 2 INTs and 5 sacks, QB Daryll Clark has been taking care of the ball, and the balanced offense and D have done the rest. The run D has had some trouble against the mobility of Illinois and Michigan, which is a good sign for Ohio State: they have to be able to run. Pryor has still never had to throw 20 passes in a game.

#7 Georgia at #13 LSU. Both teams look to recover into the conference and national title races in the first of a pair of major games. Next week Georgia plays Florida, while the week after LSU hosts Alabama. These are balanced but not overwhelming squads, getting through the SEC efficiently but unspectacularly, except for tripping up against the other's big remaining hurdle.

It's also worth pointing out that while this is a national championship elimination game for both, Georgia but not LSU would still retain control of their own conference destiny with a loss. LSU would drop two games behind Alabama, whereas Georgia would only be one down to Florida, with a chance to win the head-to-head and get the tiebreaker.

Predictions: Texas has too much more talent than Oklahoma State to lose at home. Also, the Cowboys' defense hasn't shown a lot of evidence they're up to slowing Colt & Co. down. Penn State-Ohio State should be a great game, but I like PSU due to their demonstrated ability to make adjustments quickly. OSU is more limited in that regard simply due to personnel (i.e. Pryor). I also think Georgia will beat LSU, simply because LSU isn't that good. The Tigers haven't had a really convincing performance yet. Here's their resume: they've crushed a I-AA team and North Texas, both of which Sun Belt teams regularly do, beat 2-5 Mississippi State by 10, a team Georgia Tech and Tennessee both beat by 30, eked past Auburn and South Carolina, who are each 2-3 in SEC play, and got crushed by Florida. What's top 13 about that?

Picks: Texas (77/23), Penn State (54/46), Georgia (48/52)

LW: 119-0

Overall Adj. WPct: 560-356, .611

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Missouri, Michigan State and the Mountain West

Halfway through the season, we have ten teams left with a zero in the loss column. These break down nicely into three groups: five BCS busters (BYU, Utah, Boise State, Tulsa, Ball State), a pair of Cadillac programs (Alabama, Penn State), and half the Big 12 South (Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State). The fact that there's only five teams in the latter two groups has to give hope to the former, at least as far as finishing top 12 is concerned. Whether they can think bigger we'll get to in a little bit.

Meanwhile, this week's meaningful but "other" games, as usual, come in two types. There are battles of okay teams in the barely okay ACC, Wake-Maryland and VT-BC, and of better teams in much better conferences, Vanderbilt-Georgia and Kansas-Oklahoma.

#12 Missouri at #1 Texas. This is this week's game with the biggest national title implications by far. Texas is playing the second of an absurdly difficult four week stretch that ends with Oklahoma State and at Texas Tech. Even if they go 2-1 in these next three, three extra wins to close the season and a win in the Big 12 title game could still land them in the national championship game, as long as the loss doesn't keep them from winning the division. If they win all three, Colt will win the Heisman, and people will start anointing them as among the best ever. (Just so we're clear, this would be ridiculously premature. I'm just saying, people would). Missouri doesn't play Oklahoma or Texas Tech, so after the meltdown against Oklahoma State, this is their last regular season chance to prove themselves to voters. Knock off Texas, and Chase Daniel and the Tigers are back in the national picture. A second straight loss, and their hold on the Big 12 North gets shaky.

This is a tough matchup for Texas. The Longhorns are really good at stopping the run, which doesn't help all that much against Mizzou. Bradford and Oklahoma had 387 yards and 5 TDs last week, and Daniel, with targets Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, is almost equally dangerous. However, if Illinois and Oklahoma State are any indication, Missouri isn't much for getting stops themselves.

#11 Ohio State at #17 Michigan State. Besides PSU, these are the only two teams without a Big Ten loss. Since the USC disaster, Ohio State has gotten back on track, if not usually very prettily. QB Terrelle Pryor may be a future star, but for now the Buckeyes can't count on their passing game at all. Michigan State has been getting along similarly, recovering from an early Pac 10 loss (Cal) with a win streak keyed by defense and a star RB, with Javon Ringer playing the Beanie Wells role. Or maybe it's Wells playing the Ringer role, since the Michigan State senior already has over 1100 yards. Unbelievably, he's averaging over 35 carries a game. He's already over last season's total carries.

#8 BYU at #24 TCU. Brigham Young actually has an outside shot at reaching the national title game this year. Like Utah four years ago, they've reached the top 10 by midseason, but unlike those Utes, BYU has two conference games against ranked teams to prove themselves. Utah went 13-0 and got Alex Smith picked #1 without playing a team that got within two touchdowns of them, but none of their opponents really should've. With this game and the season finale against Utah, BYU has two worthy opponents to push them past one-loss BCS teams.

Of course, they have to win first. And what do we really know about BYU? They were an overzealous official's call away from overtime with 0-5 Washington. They made their reputation by dominating shutouts against UCLA and Wyoming in consecutive weeks, but in retrospect, so what? I know their strength is in the passing attack, but with the big leads they've gotten, you'd expect they might have outrushed Northern Iowa, Wyoming, Utah State or New Mexico. Nope. Still, they are outscoring opponents 37-10.

We know quite a bit about TCU. They're good, but not that good, as demonstrated by six easy wins over bad to mediocre teams and one big loss to Oklahoma. Offensively, they're about as run-heavy as BYU is the opposite. Still, they're outscoring opponents 34-11.

Predictions: Missouri-Texas is going to have a lot of points. Both this year and last, Missouri hasn't shown the defensive ability to stop good teams, which means Chase is going to have to be back to perfect. In Austin, that's a lot to ask. Ringer is going to have to run out of steam at some point, and Ohio State has the defense to make it soon. And tonight, I think BYU is going to be exposed. I'm not alone. The Horned Frogs are favored.

Picks: Texas (66/34), Ohio State (61/39), TCU (54/46)

LW: 133-0

Overall Adj. WPct: 441-356, .553

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On the Red River Shootout, and Everything Else

This week has a bunch of matchups that looked better on paper in the preseason than they do now, and one gem that has turned out to be even bigger.

It would have been reasonable to believe Arizona State-USC, Tennessee-Georgia, Purdue-Ohio State, UCLA-Oregon, Nebraska-Texas Tech or even the so far boring Clemson-Wake Forest game going on right now to feature two good teams instead of one. But they don't. On the other side, a recovering Notre Dame and suddenly decent North Carolina play probably the biggest game all season between two teams that combined for seven wins last year. Another of the lesser games that has grown even more in stature is the Saturday night game between Oklahoma State and Missouri. Overshadowed by the four Big 12 undefeateds in the top 8, the 5-0 Cowboys have posted 56, 57, 55 and 56 points in their last four games. Like the SEC matchups last week, this game could be one of the top three in quality. It just doesn't make the cut because as good as they are, does Okie State really have a shot at the Big 12 South? Along with Texas Tech, they'd have to get past:

#1 Oklahoma vs. #5 Texas. What's to say? This is the kind of matchup that make sports fun. A neutral site game between traditional rivals, both of whom are in the Top 5, outscore opponents by 36 points a game and have Heisman candidate quarterbacks with absurd numbers. Both teams even have the same potential weakness: rush offense. The Longhorns' leading rusher by far is QB Colt McCoy, which is fine for UTEP but not so much Oklahoma, and the Sooners were themselves held under two yards a carry in their one tough matchup against TCU.

#4 LSU at #11 Florida. The Red River Shootout must be big to overshadow this game, you know, the one where the national champs visit the Heisman winner? Both teams are ridiculously good, but neither has been quite as overwhelming as they'd like. Florida gave away the Mississippi game with three turnovers, 1-11 third down conversions, an 86 yard TD allowed in the fourth quarter, a big fourth down decision gone wrong and a blocked extra point. LSU survived Auburn on the road and struggled to put away Mississippi State last week. Both of those conference games saw the Tigers allow over twenty points. It won't be easier in the Swamp.

#6 Penn State at Wisconsin. This game gets the nod in this spot because it feels more urgent. Oklahoma State has three big chances at redemption if they lose this week, but with two straight conference losses in winnable games already, this could pretty much be Wisconsin's season. And while a Missouri loss would still leave them in the Big 12 North driver's seat, a loss here and Penn State would be facing a must-must-win situation two weeks from now in the Horseshoe. To win, the one-dimensional Badgers have to be able to run. Penn State has only faced one team so far with a shot at establishing a run game, and Illinois did. But they still shut down the Illini after the first quarter, and haven't had any problems except then. PSU has also been explosive on offense and special teams.

Predictions: Oklahoma-Texas should be a great game, but I like the Longhorns. That TCU game raised a couple of red flags. Oklahoma had 56 yards rushing, took 4 sacks and was only 19/34. They coasted through anyway with big gains and turnovers, but with Texas' athletes and ball protection, they can't count on that this time. And besides, like I was ever going to pick against Colt. Despite their records, Florida is better than LSU. They had more than their share of mistakes and bad luck in their loss, while LSU has been struggling for the simpler reason that something like seven of last year's starters are in the NFL now. Wisconsin seems like a natural choice here: they're always good at home (in fact Penn State has scored three points in each of their last two visits), they're by far the best defense Penn State has seen this year, and a desperate team is a dangerous team. Of course, the other relevant piece of history is that both teams are very similar to the ones that played Penn State's 38-7 win last year.

Picks: Texas (32/68), Florida (68/32), Penn State (67/33)

LW: 89-0

Overall Adj. WPct: 308-356, .464

Saturday, October 4, 2008

On A Week With a Lot of Okay Games

To this point in the season, most of the focus has been on which conferences are stronger than others. Now, five weeks in, teams have most of their byes and non-conference games out of the way, and we start really sorting teams within their conferences. An early loss still leaves you the chance to win your conference and get back up the rankings, but we're starting to get to the point where teams can knock themselves out of the BCS for good.

In my mind, there are nine really meaningful games this Saturday, and none of them are in the ACC or Big East. (The Big East's game was Pitt over South Florida Thursday night, which pretty much confirmed the four at-larges are indeed coming from the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and non-BCS highest ranked). Also, none of them are real headliners.

The six undercards come in three natural pairs. The first pair, Arizona State-Cal and Illinois-Michigan, are between talented and underachieving teams that can climb back into contention with a win. These teams, all with high hopes, are a combined 9-7 right now, but only one of those seven losses came in conference. And no one at the high end of these two conferences has looked invincible. The second pair, Penn State-Purdue and Texas Tech-Kansas State, put relatively untested teams with perfect records in their first real test on the road, against a team they should beat but is dangerous. The third pair, Auburn-Vanderbilt and Kentucky-Alabama, are games that would easily go in the top three if we were willing to believe Vandy and Kentucky, both undefeated, actually had a chance to finish ahead of Florida or Georgia. Also, since Auburn has a direct loss to LSU and visits Alabama in the season finale, every game for them is now do-or-die.

#23 Oregon at #9 USC. Thanks to Boise State and Oregon State, this probably isn't the best game of the week, but it's still the most important, for one simple reason: who can keep the winner out of the Rose Bowl? A second conference loss would (probably) finish USC, but since the Trojans would probably still beat everyone else, Oregon would have that much more of a cushion. On the other hand, if USC can win convincingly, it's the first step back into the national title game—Arizona State, California and Notre Dame are all at home as well, and the SEC and Big 12 have a ridiculous number of games between their top teams.

#14 Ohio State at #18 Wisconsin. Wisconsin had a masterpiece of failure last week, giving up 27 straight second half points to Michigan to lose in spite of forcing five turnovers and outgaining the Wolverines by almost 50%. They should be ready to make amends. Ohio State, though, thanks to promoting Pryor and getting Beanie Wells back, have a whole new offensive backfield than the one that got nowhere against USC. With a win, both teams would be able to set their sights on a home date with Penn State for the conference.

#4 Missouri at Nebraska. An upgraded version of the Texas Tech and Penn State games, this road trip is Missouri's biggest hurdle to winning the Big 12 North. Kansas is better than Nebraska, true, but the Jayhawks struggle running the ball and also have to play Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It's almost impossible to believe they can overcome that schedule. Nebraska may have trouble keeping up, but how much do we really know about the Tigers? Their only dangerous opponent so far, Illinois, put up over 500 yards. Bo Pelini, the Huskers' coach, came from the DC spot at LSU, and Nebraska hasn't lost to Mizzou in Lincoln in over 30 years.

Predictions: This could be a letdown for USC, except they just had one. They've got to be prepared; no way does USC get swept by the state of Oregon. Ohio State has to be worried that they're bringing a true freshman QB into Camp Randall Stadium, but fortunately Wisconsin hasn't shown a consistently two-dimensional offense either. Ohio State loves traditional football, and with a power RB and shaky dropback QB, Wisconsin fits the bill. Despite their shaky D, Missouri has Chase Daniel. Until Nebraska plays consistent defense against a good opponent, I'm going to remember that last year, Daniel and Kansas' Todd Reesing put up 71% completions, 765 passing yards and 117 points against the Cornhuskers last year.

Picks: USC (83/17), Ohio State (52/48), Missouri (76/24)

LW: 27-70

Overall Adj. WPct: 219-356, .381

A Note on How Bad My Picks Have Been, For John Six: One thing I have been doing that hurts me is picking the games before looking up the actual odds. The idea is that I didn't want to bias myself, but I also create an artifical correlation between favorites winning and how I look. Since picking all underdogs has been a winning strategy so far this year, it has pushed my winning percentage down. The way I've been picking, I don't think I should be making things harder on myself. From now on, I'm looking at the percentages before I pick. This week, I'm sticking with the favorites anyway, although the 83/17 made me at least look twice at Oregon.

Still, I don't want to give the impression that's my only problem. Looking back over it, there's only twice I would have switched to the underdog based on percentages: I thought Georgia would beat Alabama, but I would have taken Alabama at 70/30, and, as you can tell from what I wrote at the time, I thought the Ohio State-USC game was a lot closer than 80/20. If I'd picked the Tide and the Buckeyes, I would trade in a -70 and +20 for the reverse, which would leave me at 269-306. And .468, while not as bad, is still bad. I'll try to do better.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

On the Opening at #1

Since I'm writing this one Saturday, we already know what one of this week's biggest three games was. USC losing.

This makes the race pretty clear cut. If you win out in one of the two good leagues, you're definitely in. Next up would be an undefeated Big Ten champion, then (assuming no 12-0 from USF or Wake Forest) one-loss USC, then a one-loss SEC or Big 12 team. Then whoever.

So, the big games this week are SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten undefeated favorites playing ranked opponents.

#8 Alabama at #3 Georgia. Both of these teams have shown some vulnerabilities on offense. Georgia struggled to score at South Carolina, and Alabama didn't score an offensive TD against Tulane. However, both have played amazing defense, especially against the run. This is particularly troubling for Alabama, since QB John Parker Wilson hasn't proved he's able to beat someone on his own. But this would be a great place to start.

#22 Illinois at #12 Penn State. Illinois is one of those weird teams that hangs with Missouri then can barely put away Louisiana-Lafayette. Who knows what they're going to do week by week. Penn State is one of those teams that looks great but still hasn't played anybody yet. Well, I guess we have to count Oregon State as somebody now.

#24 TCU at #2 Oklahoma. Oklahoma better watch out. Like USC, they have often looked unstoppable right up to the point they lose a game they really shouldn't. For now, Sam Bradford doesn't look like he's going to let that happen. But TCU and their whole conference are red-hot. If the Horned Frogs win this, forget about whether the Mountain West champ can crash the BCS; it's whether their runner-up can grab an at-large.

Predictions: Oklahoma has the athletes to handle TCU's run game, and the Sooners have been playing against decent talent, so they're ready for a good D. Illinois hasn't shown they can put a full game together, so Penn State has to be favored. The SEC showdown is the most interesting. Wilson is capable of pulling it out, but it would have to be perfect. You can't count on perfect.

Picks: Georgia(70/30), Oklahoma(88/12), Penn State(85/15)

LY: 29-110

Overall Adj. WPct: 192-286

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the Real Opening Weekend for the SEC

The SEC has a couple big games this week, and we shouldn't doubt their quality. Along with the Big 12, they put some more distance between themselves and the other conferences last week. Those two conferences had nine teams in last week's top 12, and none of them were frauds. Five won easily, two won close games to lesser teams but in conference games, Kansas lost a heartbreaker to ranked South Florida on the road and Texas was postponed by a hurricane. Meanwhile out West, it's a good thing USC trounced Ohio State, because otherwise the Pac 10 would be back with the Big East and ACC. Cal lost to Maryland, Oregon squeezed past Purdue, and they went 0-4 against the Mountain West, with Arizona State losing a home game to UNLV and UCLA losing 59-0 at BYU. With such a strong performance by the MWC, we've got to imagine the BCS computers will like the BYU/Utah winner down the road.

This week's biggest matchups are in the Southeast, but the undercards are all over. Georgia goes cross-country to visit Arizona State, which would be a lot bigger if the Sun Devils hadn't choked last week. Still, Georgia's offense was shaky against South Carolina and they will be far from home. Virginia Tech-North Carolina is an intriguing early game in the ACC Coastal race, which is kind of sad. UNC is actually favored in that one. Most intriguing might be Boise State-Oregon. The Ducks' win over Purdue wasn't pretty, but it leaves them undefeated and USC's prime challenger. Boise hasn't played anyone good yet, but they've had two perfect regular seasons in the last four years, meaning that's a program which has talent and knows how to win.

#6 LSU at #10 Auburn. These are very similar teams, and it goes beyond that they're both Tigers. Both teams have dominating defenses and questionable pass offenses. LSU has put up 41 points twice, but against cupcakes and without a need for passing much. Auburn has played Southern Miss and at Mississippi State, winning the latter game 3-2. So they could have used a passing game, too. It's also worth pointing out the home team has won this game each time for several years, but it's almost always been close.

#18 Wake Forest at #24 Florida State. At 12-5 in conference, Wake Forest beats out BC, Clemson and, indeed, Florida State as the past two seasons' top team of the ACC Atlantic. This year, these two join North Carolina as the conference's only undefeateds through three weeks. Wake dominated Baylor and squeaked past Ole Miss; Florida State picked on two I-AA teams. Don't forget that last time Wake came to Tallahassee, they hung an embarrassing 30-0 on the Seminoles.

#3 Florida at Tennessee. Tennessee may have a loss, and Tebow may have a Heisman, but this is still a very dangerous game for UF. Tennessee blew the UCLA game but clearly outplayed the Bruins, and anyway rebounded with a convincing rout of UAB. On the other hand, Florida has had an extra week to prepare, their defense and special teams have scored nearly twice as many points as they've allowed and RB/WR Percy Harvin is apparently back to 100%. That's tough.

Predictions: Auburn-LSU should be a spiritual successor to two years ago's 7-3 game (in which, by the way, JaMarcus Russell played, fully healthy. Nice pick Oakland). I like Auburn's experience, early tests and home field to carry them. Wake has been playing over their heads and Florida State has great athletes, and may have finally found a QB. In the last matchup, it's impossible to pick against everything the Gators have going for them.

Picks: Auburn (45/55), Florida State (65/35), Florida (71/29)

LW: 65-41

Overall Adj WPct: 163-176, .481

Friday, September 12, 2008

On Week 3

The Big East is the new ACC. Thanks to East Carolina's vastly more impressive than last week's win, this time against supposed national title contender West Virginia, there are now two supposedly major conferences who can barely break their best team into the top 20. That loss drastically increased the chances that neither conference will receive an at-large BCS bid, meaning fans of contenders in the other four should be very happy. At worst, one such team will be left out in favor of whichever of East Carolina, Utah, BYU and Fresno State can steal a top 12 finish.

This week has a decent number of solid matchups. Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech is an early key matchup in the ACC, and the fact that an at large is already out makes it only more important. If you don't look past the jerseys, it's easy to get excited about Michigan-Notre Dame. UCLA-BYU gives UCLA a chance to pick up a second quality win, or else re-establish BYU as a legit BCS buster after their lucky, referee-assisted win at Washington. Untested and overrated Oregon visits Purdue, who might be the best team no one cares about yet. That game will go a long way to determine which conference becomes third in the pecking order behind the Big 12 and SEC. But not as much as this week's top game:

#5 Ohio State at #1 USC. Before the season, I thought the Buckeyes had a really good shot at this game, and I don't think I was alone. The Trojans would be breaking in a new QB and several new defenders, and OSU would show up more ready to play. Now they limped past Ohio, Beanie Wells is injured, and the trendy pick is USC in a blowout. But here's the thing: even without Wells, Ohio State has eighteen starters from the national runners-up. They still have two running backs who are 100 I-A teams would be happy to trade their backs for. They've allowed one offensive TD in two games, and they had a punt return to make up for it. They allowed Youngstown St. all of 74 yards and picked Ohio four times. They have no business getting blown out of this or any game, and USC better not expect them to be.

#10 Wisconsin at #21 Fresno State. The Battle of P Hill. Wisconsin RB PJ is a definite star and already has a 200 yard game under his belt this season. Fresno State coach Pat loves playing big-time opponents more than anything. Wisconsin tends to struggle in their road opener, and Fresno State has sufficient talent and experience to make things interesting, as evidenced by a fairly convincing opening win against Rutgers. A win for Fresno would put them at the forefront of the BCS buster pool, while a win for Wisconsin would give them a boost, and make the Buckeyes' October 4 visit to Madison all the more interesting.

#13 Kansas at #19 South Florida. This is the last chance for the Big East. If Kansas, who, even as highly ranked as they are, are only the fifth most highly rated team in the Big 12 takes down the new Big East favorite on the road, that's pretty much it. If South Florida can win, and keep winning, the loser of the USF-WV game could still sneak into the BCS.

Predictions: I really, really want to pick Ohio State here, but I can't actually justify it. The offense will have to play really well, and USC should be prepared. I'm not sure Fresno State really has the personnel to take Wisconsin. The Badgers are way more physically imposing than Rutgers, and while impressive the Bulldogs didn't really blow Rutgers away. In the early game, I think Kansas executes more consistently than South Florida. Todd Reesing makes the right play for the Jayhawks' offense, and KU's D has been extremely impressive so far. Meanwhile, South Florida was lucky to escape UCF last week.

Picks: USC (80/20), Wisconsin (55/45), Kansas (41/59)

LW: 13-73

Overall Adj WPct: 98-135, .421

Saturday, September 6, 2008

On Conference Strength

Early in the college football season, often the biggest thing going on is not sorting out specific teams but establishing the pecking order of conferences. This is especially important with the addition of an extra BCS bowl. When 3-4 major conferences get two bids instead of 1-2, there's a lot more room to use conference reputation to steal a spot.

This year, Week 1 did nothing to change the reputations of the SEC and Big 12 as top dogs; in the current rankings, both have five teams ranked higher than anyone else has more than two. The middle conferences are the Big Ten and Pac 10, with national title contenders Ohio State and USC being chased by not-quite top 10 Wisconsin/Penn State and Oregon/Arizona State. The Big East had a weak showing, with bad losses by middle class Pitt, Louisville and Rutgers. The ACC was even worse, with bad losses by supposedly high class Virginia Tech and Clemson. It was bad when 2007 ACC favorite VT lost 48-7 at LSU last year, but at least the Tigers went on to win the conference and national championships; 2008 ACC favorite Clemson lost 31-10 on a neutral field to Alabama, who at least for now is the fifth-ranked team in the SEC. And their lone TD was a kick return.

The reason I discuss this sorting is except for a possible big upset, this conference positioning is all we're getting out of Week 2. There's only one intriguing game all week, and that just barely. Other than that, there's nothing. No title contender facing a serious upset opportunity. No BCS busters with a real statement game opportunity. No major conference darkhorses facing each other. No early-season conference games with serious championship implications (no matter bad as the ACC looked, Georgia Tech-Boston College does not count). This week's results will affect the season through league strength in general, not the games below. With that endorsement:

#8 West Virginia at East Carolina. Here's the barely. ECU did outplay Virginia Tech, outgaining the Hokies by over 100 yards and Pickney completing 19 of 23 passes, but it took a blocked punt in the last two minutes for them to pull out the win anyhow. But if their pass defense plays well again, they could keep this one interesting, as West Virginia wasn't overwhelming either. Pat White threw well and often—about 60% of the time—against Villanova, but his receivers were ridiculously open most of the time. I'm still not sold on him as a passer. Defensively, West Virginia gave up 400 yards and 28 first downs to a I-AA team. Some of those were in the fourth quarter after the game was over, but still, if you're a top 10 team, that's never okay.

Cincinnati at #4 Oklahoma. For what it's worth, Oklahoma showed how a national title contender should play against a I-AA team: hold them into 3-17 passing, 36 total yards on 53 plays, two first downs and no points. On offense, score 50 points in the first half then shut it down, pull your starters, and only post seven in the second. Still heavy favorites, they shouldn't have it quite so easy this week. Cincinnati is coming off a blowout win of their own, and more importantly, last year they played four ranked teams and beat three of them. If Oklahoma can blow this game open, it will mean something.

Miami, FL at #5 Florida. In cruising to a 56-10 win over Hawaii, Florida showed off their athleticism: they scored on two interception returns, a punt return, and three offensive plays of more than 30 yards. Miami's blowout win was over much less impressive Charleston Southern, but their young team showed plenty of athleticism too, and the D looked solid under Bill Young, the guy largely responsible for putting together Kansas' defense last year. Miami collapsed down the stretch last year, and they are probably a year away, but they definitely have talent. Like Cincy, they aren't a pushover, and if they can even push the Gators, I'm sure the whole ACC would appreciate it.

Predictions: I don't know how East Carolina got two straight big opponents to play at their place, but I'm sure they'll be thrilled it got them a split. Expect West Virginia to go back to their rushing attack and score a lot of points. Cincy has a good defense, but they rely on pressuring the QB and Oklahoma has all five O-linemen back. Their spread offense always puts up points, but the Sooners will put up more. Miami fans may be talking themselves into the current edition of their team after Charleston Southern, but like Oklahoma last year, Florida will give them some perspective. That game will be over by halftime.

Picks: WV (73/27), Oklahoma (94/6), Florida (93/7)

LW: 85-62

Overall Adjusted WPct: 85-62, .578

What these numbers mean: This year, I'm going to keep track of my record, but I want some way of accounting for the fact that I'm picking three games straight up which may (like this week) not be all that balanced. So I'm using the money line to determine the oddsmakers' probabilities of winning the games, and awarding points based on that. Last week, Missouri was 74/26, Clemson was 62/38 and Utah was 41/59. So I gave myself +26 for Mizzou, +59 for Utah and -62 for Clemson. I can't find the exact results, but as I recall last year using this method I spent most of the season between .550 and .600.

Friday, August 29, 2008

On Week 1

Like last year, each week I’ll preview the three college football games with the most BCS implications. This doesn’t mean national title game per se, just the BCS picture in general.

In Week 1, there are generally only a few major games, and this year is no exception. A couple undercards of note are Virginia Tech-East Carolina, featuring an ACC contender visiting a C-USA favorite, and Tennessee-UCLA, who are both major conference darkhorses. But here are the big three:

#20 Illinois vs. #6 Missouri, at St. Louis. This was a shootout last year, but between two teams who were unranked at the time. In retrospect, it was one of the best games of the first month of the season. This year, we know that going in. Illinois will have to put pressure on Chase Daniel, who will look to get his Heisman candidacy going against two new safeties.

#24 Alabama vs. #9 Clemson, at Atlanta. This will be strength against strength and weakness against weakness. Alabama’s senior QB John Parker Wilson is up against a completely returning Clemson secondary, and on the other side of the ball Clemson will break in three new linemen against a defense replacing their all-conference DE and a couple of linebackers. If Clemson’s line does hold up, they’ve got a ton of great skill players.

Utah at Michigan. It’s not often a game where both teams are unranked makes the top three, but this one is special. Utah is one of the likeliest BCS crashers, and Michigan is Michigan. Utah is experienced and talented—as in their 44-6 win over UCLA last year. Michigan is installing a new offensive system and lost their four leading tacklers, but they have much more talent. And keep in mind that in the weeks before and after the UCLA game, Utah lost to Air Force and got shut out by UNLV.

Predictions: Missouri’s will be too good for the Illini. Illinois doesn’t have a replacement for Mendenhall, and Chase’s offense is almost impossible to stop. They broke 30 points in 13 of 14 games last year. In the same vein, Clemson has too many weapons for Alabama. Besides, don’t they usually play well early and then blow it at the end? In the third game, Utah will be more ready. Utah’s coach was Meyer’s DC, so it isn’t like his players won’t know how to defend the spread attack. Heck, they probably know it better than the Michigan offense. If this game were in November, Michigan would definitely have the edge. But it’s not.

Picks: Missouri, Clemson, Utah

On College Football 2008

And we’re back. College football kicked off last night with some boring games, as usual. With apologies to South Carolina and what’s left of Miami football, no one who played on opening Thursday has much of a chance of reaching the BCS. Let’s take a look ahead and preview the teams who do.


As usual, the SEC is the premier conference in college football. South Carolina, as noted above, isn’t a serious BCS contender, but that’s mostly because Florida and Georgia are both in the same division (Tennessee has the same problem). Those two are stacked.

Georgia brings back 17 starters from a team that won seven straight to end last year. Florida has 16 back, including Heisman winner Tebow. Aside from Tebow, what gives the Gators the edge is that Georgia’s schedule is absolutely brutal. The Jacksonville game against Florida counts as a home game this year, meaning they only have three SEC true home games. They get LSU, Auburn and Alabama, the good half of the SEC West. They even play at Arizona State, the best Pac 10 team outside of USC. In addition to getting beat up in general, the at LSU game is right before the Florida showdown, while Florida will have had three weeks to prepare after a bye and home Kentucky.

Auburn and LSU appear to be the class of the other half, and like Florida, Auburn has the kinder schedule. LSU travels to Auburn, as well as drawing Florida/SC/Georgia from the East, in three straight weeks no less. Auburn does have to play Georgia and Tennessee, but both at home. A sleeper team is Alabama, who lost six games last year by a TD or less each. Of course, they play at Georgia, Tennessee and LSU. They do have a bye before hosting Auburn in the final game of the season, though. What a brutal league.

Pick: Florida over Auburn

At-large BCS: Georgia

Big East

In contrast, here’s a soft conference. West Virginia still has Pat White and all five of his starting linemen, so they’ll put up points, but they lost seven defensive starters and their head coach, so they shouldn’t really be a national championship contender. On the other hand, who’s going to beat them?

The list pretty much starts and ends with the teams that managed it last year. South Florida was in the national title picture last year before dropping three straight close ones, and they have 17 returning starters. But they got exposed by Oregon in the Sun Bowl, and besides, they’re a warm weather team that has to travel to Morgantown in December. Probably won’t end well. Pitt has a veteran team and a home date. Whether they pull that upset or not, they’ll almost certainly have a few losses by then, so it won’t decide the conference.

Pick: West Virginia


If Tommy Bowden and Clemson don’t win the ACC this year, it will probably never happen. They have the talent, the experience, and almost no competition. Florida State has been in disarray for years. Boston College graduated all their key players. Wake Forest lost to Clemson by 34 last year, and the Deacs have less offensive firepower than ever. Even Virginia Tech is reloading after losing 5 NFL quality defenders, their RB and every major pass receiver. The Tigers two toughest games should be the bookends against SEC middleweights Alabama and South Carolina, and that’s just sad.

Pick: Clemson over Virginia Tech

Big Ten

Third time’s the charm or strike three for Ohio State. The national runners-up bring back 19 starters, including possibly the best player in college football, MLB James Laurinaitis. Not afraid to schedule big early games, the Buckeyes have a September 13 trip to USC.

But they won’t have it all their own way in conference either. Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois are all veteran teams with plenty of talent. The Badgers are dangerous since they play all of the other three at home. The Nittany Lions are dangerous because they have every starting lineman back on both sides of the ball and have a ridiculous amount of speed on offense. Illinois proved they’re dangerous by beating all three of the others last year. They probably won’t repeat that, but all of them—and Missouri in week 1—had better watch out.

Pick: Ohio State

At-large BCS: Wisconsin

Big 12

The Big 12 has two teams coming off Top 10 finishes and New Year’s Day bowl wins—and not only are they both from the North division, but they’re Missouri and Kansas. That’s just weird. Given that both teams are bringing back their star QBs and most of their defense, they could do it again.

At least Oklahoma and Texas have the South down, like usual, right? Maybe not. They have plenty of talent, but both are breaking in inexperienced defenses, including three new starters in the secondary. That leaves them open to Texas Tech, who brings back ten starters from the offense that dropped 77 combined points on those two. They also have eight starters from a defense that has had four straight solid years, after accounting for how many plays a Texas Tech game tends to have. If Sam Bradford has any issues transitioning from freshman surprise to expected star, as many young QBs do, and Texas stumbles against a difficult schedule that includes both strong North teams, a split against the big two might send Texas Tech into the conference title game. Which would be weird.

Pick: Texas Tech over Missouri

At-large BCS: Oklahoma

Pac 10

USC is the best team in the conference, as always, but they’re not that great for USC. They have issues at both QB and O-line, which is a dangerous combination, and while they only lost four starters on D, three of those guys were NFL first-rounders and the other went in the second. They get all their toughest games at home, but they probably aren’t going to be up for Ohio State in their second game.

Arizona State is the only threat. They had a lot of good wins last year, and only lost to USC, Oregon with Dixon, and Texas. 13 starters return, including most of the stars. They’ll be tested in the second quarter of the season, playing Georgia at home before traveling to Cal and USC. The other conference contenders have major flaws. California lost most of its offensive firepower, and Oregon never really looked good without Dixon. Everyone else seems a year away.

Pick: USC

At-large BCS: Arizona State

Other Contenders:

Mt. West

Utah gets an opening week shot at a presumably still disorganized Michigan, which could become one of those wins that feels more impressive as the season goes on. If they pull that out, they have a legitimate chance to win out, as they will get both TCU and BYU at home. It’s a stretch, and the dream could be over in August. But it’s possible.


Boise State? They’ve got the new QB new O-line problem, so the odds of them running the table are pretty slim. Fresno State is a little more exciting, with ten offensive starters returning, no bad losses last year, and an early home game against Wisconsin off a bye week to get themselves onto the map. I don’t think they’ll beat Wisconsin, but they are probably the best team outside the Big Six conferences.


Memphis? Oh wait, wrong sport.



Sun Belt

This is impossible.

Notre Dame

They’re probably good enough to make some bowl this year, but not one of the good ones.

Final Picks

It’s going to be another tough season for a team to go undefeated. West Virginia and Clemson have the weakest conferences, but neither of them are really all that good, and further they don’t have the sort of passing attack to come from behind if they get into trouble. The Big 12 is deep enough to probably get at least one loss out of everybody, and the SEC certainly is. USC lost to Stanford last year, so their seeming invulnerability is out. Besides, Ohio State should be favored over them. The Buckeyes have the best chance at an unbeaten year and should reach the national title game…where an SEC team will be waiting.

BCS Champ: Florida over Ohio State

Orange: Oklahoma over Clemson

Sugar: Georgia over West Virginia

Fiesta: Texas Tech over Arizona State

Rose: USC over Wisconsin