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