As I write this I am suffering from a hacking cough reminiscent of the coal miners in that black lung commercial from a few years back. I’ll be just fine after a lovely steroid shot from my local neighborhood health care provider, but feeling this way just emphasizes the point that summer is nearly over and we are on the cusp of cooler temperatures, falling leaves, and the sweet scents of pumpkin, apples, cinnamon, & cloves filling the air. As much as I love summertime and hate to see it go, one thing that totally rocks about autumn is the return of football. It is time once again to look into the ol’ crystal ball and see what the college football season may have in store. Once again let me remind readers that I am far from an expert. I am not compensated for my expertise and have never claimed to be very good at this, so wager with caution if your choices are based on what you read here.
Key games…10/13 vs. Texas, 10/27 vs. Notre Dame, 11/24 vs. Oklahoma St.
I just feel like the team who wins the super tough Big 12 has to be in the national championship conversation, and I think that team will be the Sooners. It is interesting to note that all three of the crucial games noted above will be played in Norman, which will be vital to the team’s title aspirations.
Key games…9/1 vs. Alabama, 9/22 at Notre Dame, 11/24 at Ohio State
Michigan football is back on track following the debacle that was The Fraudriguez Era. One must give much respect to the powers-that-be in Ann Arbor, because this schedule is brutal, especially starting the season against defending national champion Alabama when most other teams will be playing cupcakes. QB Denard Robinson has to be considered a leading Heisman contender and is a threat to take it in for 6 everytime he touches the ball.
3 South Carolina
Key games…10/6 vs. Georgia, 10/13 at LSU
The Gamecocks season likely rests largely on how well junior RB Marcus Lattimore comes back from a torn knee ligament suffered last October. If he’s as good as he was before the injury bright things might be ahead in Columbia. The October 13th contest at LSU is huge, and I would not at all be surprised if we see an upset.
Key games…11/3 vs. Oregon, 11/24 vs. Notre Dame
The Trojans are back in the championship mix after suffering thru 2 years of probation and a post-season ban. Most talking heads are handing them the #1 ranking to start the season, but I think that in the long term other teams from tougher conferences will pass them up. QB Matt Barkley decided to come back for his senior year rather than enter the NFL Draft, which will be an immense help. Barkley will be prominent in the Heisman discussion.
Key games…9/29 at Nebraska, 11/17 vs. Ohio State
The Badgers are my kind of football team…smashmouth running, tough defense, concentrate on the fundamentals. Are they exciting to watch?? Probably not for most folks. But they get the job done and always seem to be in the midst of the battle for the Big 10 title. RB Montee Ball is back for his senior season and is the highest returning Heisman vote getter from last year (he finished 4th). Last season the Badgers were led by transfer QB Russell Wilson, and in 2012 they will start another transfer behind center, former Maryland signal caller Danny O’Brien. The formula certainly worked before and I see no reason why it can’t again.
6 Florida St.
Key games…9/22 vs. Clemson, 11/8 vs. Virginia Tech, 11/24 vs. Florida.
Coach Jimbo Fisher enters his 3rd season as head coach and is slowly but surely moving from underneath the considerable shadow of legendary former coach Bobby Bowden. QB EJ Manuel returns for his senior season, and though no one would likely put Manuel on the same level as fabled former Seminole signal callers like Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, or Chris Weinke (2 of those 3 won the Heisman Trophy), one cannot underestimate the value of an experienced veteran field general. I’ve never had a ton of respect for the ACC, and I see no reason why this team shouldn’t blow thru their schedule with relative ease, especially with the two big games noted above being played in Tallahassee.
Key games…9/1 vs. Michigan, 9/15 at Arkansas, 11/3 at LSU
It’s not that I don’t think the defending national champions won’t be good, it’s just that I think their schedule is so tough that it is going to be nearly impossible to maintain the heights that they have achieved the past few years, especially with RB Trent Richardson now plying his trade in the NFL. I’m predicting an upset loss to Michigan in the season opener, which will quickly all but end the dream of a repeat for the Tide. I still think this is a team that’ll secure 9 or 10 wins, which wouldn’t be bad considering their fierce schedule.
Key games…9/29 vs. Wisconsin, 10/27 vs. Michigan
The Cornhuskers acquitted themselves quite nicely in their inaugural Big 10 season, just as your humble Potentate of Profundity predicted. Now that all the hype is over and the novelty has worn off they can get down to business. This is another team, like the previously mentioned Wisconsin Badgers, that tends to stick with straight ahead, no frills, fundamentally sound football…and it works. I like that their two biggest games are both at home, and that should go a long way in helping to ensure another 9 win season.
Key games…11/3 at USC
Don’t let the 384 flashy uniform combinations fool you…the Ducks are a formidable football foe for any opponent. Their season essentially boils down to one game versus the mighty Trojans in Los Angeles. Whoever wins that game likely wins the Pac-12 and will be in the hunt for a national championship.
Key games…9/20 at Boise St., 10/20 at Notre Dame, 10/27 at Georgia Tech
The Cougars enter their 2nd season as an independent, which I am not so sure is a good thing. Eventually they will have to get back into a conference in order to survive the ever changing college football landscape. However, for now it looks like they are having no problems putting together an interesting & competitive schedule, which should earn them respect if they are able to win some big games. It’s a tall order for sure, but I am betting that they’ll pull off an upset or two or three. It must be noted that I put this team in the same exact position in last year’s pre-season poll, but despite finishing with 10 wins they just missed being ranked the Top 25, settling for the top “others receiving votes” spot. That would seem to indicate that they might need to finish undefeated to receive any type of recognition.
Key games…9/29 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/26 at Louisville
As I said last year, someone’s got to win the Big East, right?? The conference is depleted this season due to the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12, and next season it will go thru a major overhaul when Pitt & Syracuse flee to the ACC and Central Florida, Memphis, Houston, & SMU join. For 2012 though the race looks to be wide open, and I am picking the Bearcats in a coin flip to emerge at the top of the pack.
Key games…9/15 vs. Florida, 9/29 at Georgia, 10/20 vs. Alabama, 10/27 at South Carolina
My first real shot in the dark for 2012. When I think of the Volunteers I think of Rocky Top, Peyton Manning, and 102k fans rockin’ the checkered end zones at Neyland Stadium. However, the past few years have been a struggle in Knoxville, where the Vols have finished 7-6, 6-7, and 5-7. 2012 is head coach Derek Dooley’s 3rd season and his team will be lead on the field by junior QB Tyler Bray, who is already being touted as a top NFL prospect. I realize that this team plays in the SEC, the toughest conference in America. Logic would dictate that there are atleast 7 teams just in the conference better than Tennessee on paper. But I just don’t believe that a team with so much tradition and history will stay down forever. Dooley is the son of legendary former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, so there’s got to be something in the genes, right??
Key games…9/15 vs. Alabama, 11/10 at South Carolina, 11/23 vs. LSU
It has been a tumultuous offseason in Fayetteville, with the scandalous departure of former coach Bobby Petrino and the hiring of journeyman coach John L. Smith. Normally I wouldn’t have much faith in a team that has undergone such turmoil, but the return of senior QB Tyler Wilson as well as the re-emergence of junior stud RB Knile Davis should provide much needed stability.
14 Northern Illinois
Key games…9/1 vs. Iowa, 9/22 vs. Kansas
I really enjoyed watching MAC games last year, and the Huskies were the cream of the crop in that conference. A few years ago my alma mater Marshall left the MAC for C-USA, and I contend to this day that it was a shortsighted decision. Out of conference victories against teams from more respected leagues will be vital to this team’s success.
Key games…9/22 at West Virginia, 11/10 at Clemson, 11/17 vs. Florida St.
Head coach Randy Edsall enters his 2nd year at the helm in College Park looking to rebound from a horrible 2011. My pick is based solely on my vibes, not on any concrete evidence that the Terrapins have improved in any significant way. Edsall is simply too good of a coach to have another putrid season.
16 Central Florida
Key games…9/8 at Ohio State, 9/29 vs. Missouri, 10/13 vs. Southern Miss.
Did you know that UCF is the largest university in the state of Florida and the 2nd largest in the United States?? Obviously that doesn’t automatically translate into football supremacy, but it should count for something. This will be the Knights last season in C-USA before joining the Big East in 2013, and I am predicting that they’ll go out with a bang. I do not believe that they’ll beat Ohio St., and would be surprised if they defeat Missouri, but those games can provide valuable seasoning before this team gets into the meat of their conference schedule.
Key games…10/13 vs. South Carolina, 11/3 at Alabama, 11/23 at Arkansas
A year ago I predicted that the Bayou Bengals would suffer losses “to out-of-conference foes West Virginia & Oregon and atleast two fellow SEC teams.” I was wrong. Way wrong. So now I find myself again in the position of predicting a finish for LSU far lower than what the “experts” are envisioning. The SEC is just too competitive for the same two teams…the Tigers and ‘Bama…to continue to dominate every year. Other teams will rise. They will be hellbent & determined to defeat the perceived top two and prove their worth. One cannot have a huge target on one’s back for long without eventually being taken down. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
18 East Carolina
Key games…9/8 at South Carolina, 9/15 at Southern Miss., 10/4 at UCF
I’ve had the opportunity to watch the Pirates play for many years against both the West Virginia Mountaineers and my Marshall Thundering Herd, and I’ve always liked what I see. It would be surprising to see two C-USA teams sneak into the Top 25, but it could happen. This will be head coach Ruffin McNeil’s third season in the captain’s seat, and it is very important that he get his team over the hump. I am betting he will.
Key games…9/1 vs. Clemson, 9/22 vs. LSU, 10/6 vs. Arkansas, 11/10 vs. Georgia, 11/24 at Alabama
The Tigers went from being the undefeated national champions in 2010 to an 8 win season last year after losing Heisman Trophy winning QB Cam Newton to the NFL. That’s really not that bad of a drop off all things considered. 4 of the 5 key contests noted above will be played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium, and I think it quite conceivable that the War Eagles could win 3 out of the 5. An 8 or 9 win season in the SEC should be enough to merit Top 25 consideration.
Key games…10/26 vs. Cincinnati, 11/10 at Syracuse
I picked Cincinnati to win the Big East in a coin flip. The loser of that toss up?? The Cardinals. But that doesn’t mean I believe they’ll be bad, just that their conference title hopes will boil down to one game that I think they’ll lose. I like what head coach Charlie Strong has done at The ‘Ville the past couple of seasons, and think their trajectory is still heading upward. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is only going to get better, which is bad news for the rest of the conference.
21 Notre Dame
Key games…9/15 at Michigan State, 9/22 vs. Michigan, 10/27 at Oklahoma, 11/24 at USC
Here’s the thing about the Irish…they can lose 3 or 4 games and still sneak into the Top 25 because the media just fawns all over them like they do our current President. So even though they have a murderous schedule and will almost certainly lose atleast 3 of the 4 matchups noted above it won’t matter as long as they take care of business against teams they should beat easily like Navy, Purdue, Pitt, and Wake Forest. The big question right now is at QB, where redshirt freshman Everett Golson has been named the starter due to the one game suspension of junior Tommy Rees. One has to wonder how short of a leash coach Brian Kelly will have on Golson as the season progresses. In 2011 Kelly vacillated between Rees and Dayne Crist, and that instability was likely atleast partially to blame for a couple of losses. If Kelly pulls Golson at halftime of game 2 or 3 it could once again torpedo the entire season.
Key games…9/29 at Oklahoma State, 10/13 vs. Oklahoma
The once mighty Longhorns bottomed out in 2010 with a 5-7 record. Last season they rebounded a bit, but still didn’t rise to the heights to which they are accustomed. Sure they beat the teams they were supposed to, but fell flat against ranked opponents. Will that change in 2012?? I think it just might. Coach Mack Brown must choose a quarterback…either sophomore David Ash or junior Case McCoy…and stick with him. At the moment it looks like Ash will begin the season as the top signal caller, but it seems likely that McCoy will also see action. I have never been a fan of utilizing a two QB system, so we’ll see how it all shakes out. All indications are that this is a loaded team at most other positions, but nothing will drag a team down faster than poor play at the game’s most important position.
Key games…9/8 vs. USC, 11/3 at Cincinnati, 11/10 vs. Louisville
Am I hedging my bets?? I suppose. I mentioned previously that the Big East looks to be a wide open race, but would be surprised if three teams make it into the Top 25. And while I believe that Cincinnati & Louisville will wage a head-to-head battle for the title I won’t be totally shocked if another club inserts itself into the mix. The once mighty Orange…alma mater of running backs Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, & Larry Csonka, quarterback Donovan McNabb, and wide receiver Art Monk…have fallen on hard times recently, posting only one winning record in the past decade, and have lost the respect of most fans & pundits. This will be their last season in the Big East before going to the ACC, and I think they’ll want to go out with their heads held high. Coach Doug Marrone is entering his 4th year, and he will have senior QB Ryan Nassib to lead the offense. No one is going to confuse Nassib with John Elway, but I put a lot of value in a veteran presence behind center. Don’t be surprised if the Orange win 8 or 9 games and sneak into the rankings. Remember…you heard it here first.
24 Oklahoma St.
Key games…9/29 vs. Texas, 11/10 vs. West Virginia, 11/24 at Oklahoma
The Cowboys came within a whisper of playing for the national championship in 2011 and probably should have received the opportunity. That being said, in 2012 they face the daunting task of replacing star QB Brandon Weeden and all-world WR Justin Blackmon…no easy task. The Big 12 may be the best football conference top to bottom outside the SEC, so wins won’t come easy, but I feel comfortable giving this team 8 or 9 victories which should be enough to sneak into the Top 25.
25 Boise St.
Key games…12/31 at Michigan State, 9/20 vs. BYU
The Broncos will join the Big East next year, and as maligned as that conference is it’ll still be a better situation than this team has been in for awhile. They have achieved double digit wins 5 years in a row but haven’t been in legitimate national title contention because of the weakness of their schedule. That won’t change much this season, and they’ll probably have to win atleast 11 games to be taken seriously. Complicating matters is the need to replace former quarterback Kellen Moore, a 4 year starter who led the team to 50 victories and threw for nearly 15k yards and over 140 touchdowns. However, while a weak schedule won’t get a team much love in regards to playing for a championship it should help with keeping them ranked.
- Michigan Football: Most Important Matchups for Denard Robinson’s Heisman Hopes (bleacherreport.com)
- College Football: Heisman Trophy Is One Area the SEC Does Not Dominate (bleacherreport.com)
- Notre Dame Football: Previewing the 2012 Season (isportsweb.com)
- Notre Dame Reportedly Will Announce Everett Golson as Starting QB (bleacherreport.com)
- Golson named Notre Dame’s starting quarterback for opener (myrtlebeachonline.com)
- USC sits atop AP preseason poll; ‘Bama No. 2 (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- What sanctions? USC No. 1 (nbcsports.msnbc.com)
- USC brushes off sanctions to be No. 1 in AP Top 25 (thehimalayantimes.com)
- USC No. 1 in AP Top 25, K-State 22nd (kansascity.com)
- Look who’s No. 1|USC brushes off sanctions; 1 Big East team in Top 25 (rep-am.com)