2013 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 1

ncaa-football-betting-sitesAnd we’re back!! It is the second most glorious time of year, behind only the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s holiday season. After a long hiatus football has returned and it is time to dive into year two of the Pigskin Picks of Profundity. In the inaugural season of the PoPs I finished with a dismal record of 46-71-1 (a 39% winning percentage). I can absolutely guarantee that I won’t lose as much in 2013. Why?? Well…because instead of picking 7 games each week I am only picking 5. There are two reasons for this. First of all I kind of felt like things Zgot a bit repetitive at some point last year, as if I was picking the same teams week in & week out. So this year we’ll spread the love a bit. Secondly, as promised, my eldest nephew Zachary will be making his picks as well. We’ll be the Siskel & Ebert of football. And yes…I am well aware that anyone under the age of 30 is unlikely to get the reference. Deal with it. At any rate, the NFL is still in pre-season mode but college football begins during this long Labor Day Weekend and surprisingly I was able to find a handful of intriguing matchups. I should note that I have not looked at Zach’s picks and he does not know mine so this should be entertaining.

 

 

Georgia (-2)               at        Clemson

id_bulldog_logo_lBoth teams are ranked in the Top 10 of both pre-season polls. In my pre-season rankings I have bothclemson teams just outside the Top 10. Both offenses should put on a show, while no one really knows what to expect from either defense. I think that both teams are likely to finish highly ranked with 9 or 10 wins no matter what happens here, but whoever loses this one is almost immediately out of the national championship picture. Also the winning QB…either Georgia’s Aaron Murray or Clemson’s Taj Boyd…will become an early Heisman frontrunner while the loser is probably out of the race. It is certainly the highlight of the first week of action and should be a close, entertaining game. Zach likes Boyd & Clemson’s explosive offense and believes a breakout season starts with a huge home victory. I like Murray and Georgia’s defense just a bit more.

My Pick                      Georgia

Z’s Pick                       Clemson

 

LSU (-4)                       vs        TCU

Neither is a Top 10 team but both are generally considered Top 20. I have LSU ranked 23rd but didn’t put the Horned Frogs in lsu_logo-9547my Top 25. The Bayou Bengals lost a ton of talent to the NFL but do return senior QB Zach Mettenberger. Meanwhile, TCU will be led by either senior signal caller Casey Pachall or sophomore Trevone Boykin. Pachall led the team to a 4-0 record in 2012 before being arrested for DWI and going to rehab. Boykin stepped in and the team was 3-6 with him under center. This is technically a neutral site game that’ll be played in the massive Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, but it should be pointed out that the stadium is 17 miles from Fort Worth, TX (home base for TCU) and 450 miles from LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge. Maybe they define neutral differently down there in the heartland than we do in Appalachia. Anyway, Zach correctly recalls that it took TCU two overtimes in 2012 to defeat our WV Mountaineers and their 119th ranked defense. He predicts a blowout. I am a bit more reserved in my enthusiasm, but either way we agree on the pick.

My Pick                      LSU

Z’s Pick                       LSU

 

Nevada                       at        UCLA (-20)

I predicted big things for UCLA, but for them to have anything close to a Top 15 finish they must win the games that they are nwsupposed to win. I have no doubt that they’ll be victorious in this contest. However, what intrigues me is the point spread. This is exactly the reason I include the spread in these picks. Three touchdowns is a lot…especially in the first week of the season. Plus Nevada utilizes the pistol offense and scored nearly 38 points per game in 2012 while going 7-6. Will the Wolfpack defense improve in 2012?? Can UCLA’s offense, led by sophomore QB Brett Hundley, keep up?? Neither Zach nor myself believe Nevada will lose by 20 points.

My Pick                      Nevada

Z’s Pick                       Nevada

 

Mississippi St.           at        Oklahoma St. (-13)

Here we have another point spread game. I’d be shocked if the Cowboys lost, but can they cover the two touchdowns?? It isoklahoma_state_cowboys_iphone_wallpaper unknown who will start behind center for Oklahoma St. and it is likely that two quarterbacks will see action, but does it really matter?? This is always a high scoring team, averaging about 43 points per game in 2012…which was actually a dropoff from their jaw dropping 48 points per game in 2011. Zach & I both think Oklahoma St. wins this one easily.

My Pick                      Oklahoma St.

Z’s Pick                       Oklahoma St.

 

Boise St.                     at        Washington (-3.5)

I am a bit surprised that the Huskies are favored in this game. Boise St. is ranked 19th in both major pre-season polls and hasboise-state1 won 10+ games in each of the past 7 seasons (during which head coach Chris Petersen is 84-8). Meanwhile the Huskies have had three straight 7-6 seasons. I double checked the odds multiple times so there is no mistake. I suppose heavy consideration is being given to home field advantage, but it still seems strange…as if the folks in Vegas know something we don’t. However, taken at face value the situation actually makes the choice fairly easy. Though I don’t have the Broncos in my Top 25 it is only because I think they’ll have to win 11 or 12 games to be ranked at the end of the year and the novelty of their underdog status has kind of worn off for me. But I certainly don’t believe they’ll screw the pooch in their first game against a mediocre opponent. Zach isn’t buying it either.

My Pick                      Boise St.

Z’s Pick                       Boise St.

2013 NFL Preview & Prognostications

goodell-e1348946003302I strongly dislike Roger Goodell. He is by far the worst commissioner the NFL has had and maybe one of the worst suits in the history of organized sports at any level. I have been watching a lot of pre-season games A) because that’s just how I roll and B) because the NFL Network may be the greatest invention since the light bulb. It saddens me to see what Commissioner Fidel Goodell has done to the game of football. There’s a penalty on every other play. Defenders can’t hit a guy high, and now there’s a movement to ban hitting low due to knee injuries. What the heck is a defensive player supposed to do?? Most of the penalties I have seen called lately were, as recently as 2 or 3 years ago, just good solid football. And then there is the whole paralysis by analysis of what is and what isn’t a catch. When I was a kid a catch was a catch…but not anymore. Within 5-10 years pro football will be unwatchable and the destruction will be the fault of the evil Roger Goodell. The best thing for the NFL would be for Goodell to go away…one way or another…and for a new commissioner to simply say “Oh yeah…all that namby pamby “safety” crap…forget it. Let’s play fnflootball!!”. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime I suppose we’ll forge ahead with business as usual while the game still somewhat resembles the football we knew & loved. Each team’s 2012 record is in parentheses immediately followed by my prediction for this season’s outcome. As always I’ll remind you that your humble Potentate of Profundity does not condone gambling so if you wager your lunch money and lose don’t blame me. Enjoy!!

 

 

AFC

East

New England Patriots         

(12-4)  10-6

Miami Dolphins                    

(7-9)    8-8

Buffalo Bills                           

(6-10)  8-8

New York Jets                        

(6-10)  2-14

The Jets will be terrible and we all know it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Mark Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith starting at quarterback. Head coach Rex Ryan might be gone bypatriots the time the bye week rolls around midway thru the season. Buffalo is starting someone named Jeff Tuel at QB in Week 1 which pretty much tells one all they need to know about the Bills. A lot of folks seem to be cautiously jumping on the Dolphins bandwagon but quite frankly I just don’t get it. They’ll be mediocre at best. So there is no doubt that the Patriots will walk away with their 11th division title in the past 13 years…the question is just how quickly they can clinch. I do think New England has plateaued and might take a tiny step back, but in this horrible division it will hardly be noticeable.

 

West

Denver Broncos                    

(13-3)  11-5

Kansas City Chiefs                 

(2-14)  9-7

Oakland Raiders                   

(4-12)  6-10

San Diego Chargers              

(7-9)    5-11

You want proof positive that life is unfair?? Terrelle Pryor is now a starting quarterback in the NFL while his former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is broncos-4759basically unemployable as a head coach until 2017. Not that Pryor’s presence behind center will help the Oakland Raiders all that much. This is Denver’s division to lose, and though I am a bit concerned about their defense after losing pass rusher Elvis Dumervil to an idiotic clerical error there are no such worries about Peyton Manning and the offense, especially after the addition of receiver Wes Welker. This will be Manning’s best opportunity to add another Super Bowl ring to his collection and I think he’ll make hay while the sun is shining. The Chiefs might be one of the most improved teams in the NFL after hiring new head coach Andy Reid and trading for QB Alex Smith.

 

South

Indianapolis Colts                 

(11-5)  11-5

Houston Texans                    

(12-4)  9-7

Tennessee Titans                  

(6-10)  8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars              

(2-14)  5-11

Colts’ QB Andrew Luck acquitted himself pretty well in his rookie season and I don’t think we’ll see any kind of sophomore slump in 2013. Indianapolis is a Indianapolis_Colts_Helmetyoung team that should continue to grow & achieve, and I really like the addition of running back Ahmad Bradshaw so long as he can stay healthy. What most pundits would likely disagree with is my assertion that the Texans will take a step backward. I am not at all convinced that running back Arian Foster can remain upright thru the entire season and top wideout Andre Johnson is now 32 years old. If first round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver out of Clemson, can blossom early that might help. The other side of the ball features NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt so there are no worries there. This might be a make or break year for Titans’ quarterback Jake Locker and I am not convinced he’ll deliver. It’d be helpful if running back Chris Johnson could somehow return to his 2009 incarnation when he ran for 2000 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. The Jags are probably going to be bad again, though maybe not quite as bad as last year. When your quarterback competition involves Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne that’s not a good sign.

 

North

Cincinnati Bengals               

(10-6)  11-5

Baltimore Ravens                 

(10-6)  10-6

Pittsburgh Steelers               

(8-8)    9-7

Cleveland Browns                 

(5-11)  7-9

This could be the most competitive division in the NFL in 2013. Opinions vary wildly about the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Some sayCincinnati_Bengals_Helmet this year’s Ravens are even better than last year. I can see that logic. The loss of safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis won’t affect the team all that much on the field as both of those guys were old & slow. Baltimore added sack master Elvis Dumervil so theoretically the defense got younger & more athletic. But I just don’t think a team can go thru so many changes and not be affected. The loss of receiver Anquan Boldin…who was traded to San Francisco…is huge. Defending champs do generally make the playoffs but only 7 have ever repeated. The Bengals have quietly evolved from the Bungles to a nominal favorite to win the division. It is amazing what can be accomplished outside of a prison cell. The Browns are showing signs of life but aren’t quite ready to make a stir just yet. I actually read one fellow prognosticator who thinks the Steelers will win the division. Nothing would make me happier. However, I am very concerned about the offensive line (again), and as excited as I was when Pittsburgh drafted running back Le’veon Bell in the 2nd round that enthusiasm has been tempered by a pre-season foot injury that might keep the rookie off the field for the first couple of games.

 

Playoffs:                               

New England, Indianapolis, Denver, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Kansas City

AFC Championship:           Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos

 

 

NFC

East

Washington Redskins          

(10-6)  10-6

Dallas Cowboys                     

(8-8)    9-7

New York Giants                   

(9-7)    8-8

Philadelphia Eagles              

(4-12)  7-9

I said that the AFC North might be the NFL’s most competitive division. Well here is a worthy rival. The Redskins season likely rests entirely on quarterback Washington_Redskins_logoRGIII’s recovery from a knee injury suffered in a playoff game last season. Will he start in Week 1?? Will the powers-that-be proceed with caution and hold him out for the first few weeks of the season?? When he does see action will he be the same multi-talented threat he used to be?? The Cowboys…as usual…have lofty expectations that they won’t achieve. If I were head coach Jason Garrett I wouldn’t lose my real estate agent’s number just yet. I like the Eagles’ selection of Chip Kelly as their new head coach and I think he’ll do well in due time…but there’ll be some growing pains. I can never seem to get a good read on the NY Giants. When I think they’ll be good they fall apart and when I predict they’ll suck they win the Super Bowl. So it is entirely possible they’ll be a game or two better than my prediction. Or a lot worse. I don’t know.

 

West

Seattle Seahawks                 

(11-5)  12-4

San Francisco 49ers             

(11-4-1) 10-6              

St. Louis Rams                       

(7-8-1)9-7

Arizona Cardinals                 

(5-11)  3-13

I’ll make one bold prediction. There will NOT be another tie this season!! The 49ers have history going against them as 28 out of 42 Super Bowl losers since seattle-seahawks11970 haven’t won a playoff game the next season. Twelve of those teams missed the postseason and 16 lost their first playoff game. I do think ‘Frisco takes a tiny step backward this season simply because everyone will be gunning for them. It’ll be an interesting battle between San Francisco & Seattle. The two teams play each other on 9/15 (in Seattle) and 12/8 (in San Francisco) and my vibe is that Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson will lead his team to a division title. The Rams lost RB Steven Jackson in the offseason but are stacked at the position with younger fresher legs. Quarterback Sam Bradford is at a crossroads in his career but the addition of speedy receiver Tavon Austin will help a lot. The Cardinals are a mess even though Carson Palmer has stabilized the quarterback position just a bit. Arizona will have to rely on their defense to get the job done and I think they need another year or two to gel.

 

South

New Orleans Saints              

(7-9)    10-6

Atlanta Falcons                     

(13-3)  10-6

Carolina Panthers                 

(7-9)    8-8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers        

(7-9)    7-9

There’s not much to say about Carolina & Tampa. I don’t see either team making a positive jump in 2013. I think they’ll just be treading water. The real 10_new_orleans_saintsaction will be at the top of the division where I think the Saints rebound from the collateral damage of BountyGate and get back on the winning track with head coach Sean Payton returning to the sideline. I expect quarterback Drew Brees to once again throw for 4000+ yards & 30+ touchdowns and the defense is now being led by new coordinator Rob Ryan which is a very good thing. Many of those TDs thrown by Brees will be caught by tight end Jimmy Graham who might just be the best in the business. One of my more…risky…forecasts is a slight decline for the Atlanta Falcons who came oh so close to going to The Super Bowl last season. The Falcons added running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Usi Umenyiora in the offseason which would seem to indicate that they believe this year is their big chance to finally get over the hump. Maybe they will. But I just don’t think it’s going to be quite that simple. I’ve been wrong before though.

 

North

Green Bay Packers                

(11-5)  10-6

Chicago Bears                         

(10-6)  9-7

Minnesota Vikings                 

(10-6)  8-8

Detroit Lions                          

(4-12)  7-9

Last year I sang the praises of the Green Bay Packers and predicted that they’d beat New England in the highest scoring Super Bowl of all time. They Green_Bay_Packers_Helmetpromptly went out and lost 3 of their first 5 games and were beaten by the 49ers in the second round of the playoffs. So my expectations are somewhat cowed this time around though I still predict a division crown…they’ll just have to work for it. The Bears are another team like the NY Giants…difficult to read. I’m not a fan of quarterback Jay Cutler although if anyone can bring out his best it is probably new head coach Marc Trestman. The Vikings of course have running back Adrian Peterson, but as good as he is I don’t think he’ll get anywhere near 2000 yards again. For Minnesota to make another run at the playoffs quarterback Christian Ponder will have to show some significant growth and the defense…led by pass rusher Jared Allen…will have to be stellar. Minnesota ranked 2nd in rushing offense last season but 31st in passing offense. They’ll need to find some balance in 2013. The Lions…much like the Cleveland Browns…have shown some occasional signs of life but just aren’t there quite yet.

 

Playoffs:       

Washington, New Orleans, Seattle, Green Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta

NFC Championship:           New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers

 

SB

San Francisco 49ers                       30

Denver Broncos                              34

2013 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

football_goalIt’s been a weird summer. Temperatures here in West Virginia seemingly hovered in the 70’s much of the past few months and it has College-Football-Maprained every other day. The kids started back to school in mid-August so we’ve kind of been in autumn mode already. So be it. Fall means football and football has always been my favorite season, although to be honest I feel that changing ever-so-slightly. Watching NFL pre-season games has been an exercise in frustration the past two weeks for reasons that I’ll explain when we do the NFL preview soon. For now it is enough to say that I am glad that Roger Goodell hasn’t yet figured out a way to seize power of the NCAA and ruin the collegiate game the way he is bastardizing the pro game. Anyway, as always I must remind my dear citizens of The Manoverse that I do not encourage wagering and I am not really all that good at this so please don’t head to Vegas and risk your kids’ college fund on these predictions.

 

 

 

1              Oregon

Last Season:       12-1

Key Game:          10/26 vs. UCLA

The biggest loss the Ducks suffered after a stellar 2012 season was their head coach Chip Kelly to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Usually that’d be enough to dissuade Oregon-Ducksme from picking a team anywhere close to this high. However, my vibe is that new coach Mark Helfrich…the former offensive coordinator…will keep this train rolling forward just fine. Oregon has played in a big January bowl game the past 4 years and I believe they have a great chance to outlast the always stiff competition in the Pac 12 to make what will be the final BCS title game on January 6, 2014.

 

 

2              Ohio State

Last Season:       12-0

Key Games:        9/28 vs. Wisconsin, 11/30 at Michigan

The Buckeyes went undefeated last season but it didn’t matter because they were on probation and weren’t allowed to play in the post-season. With all of that osucraziness now in the rear view mirror head coach Urban Meyer can now get down to business. Is junior QB Braxton Miller the real deal?? Most people seem to think so. I see no reason why Ohio St. shouldn’t easily roll thru the early part of their schedule until running into Wisconsin…and that game will be in the friendly confines of The Horseshoe in Columbus. Whether or not the season ends in Pasadena on January 6th could very well be determined at the end of November when the Buckeyes travel to The Big House to face the Michigan Wolverines.

 

 

3              Alabama

Last Season:       13-1

Key Games:        9/14 at Texas A&M, 11/9 vs. LSU

The Tide has won back-to-back national titles and 3 out of the last 4. Most pre-season polls have them ranked #1. But since A) I am a non-conformist and B) I just AlabamaCrimsonTide2think the SEC is too tough to assume that anyone can go undefeated I can’t quite pull the trigger on ranking ‘Bama #1. Having said that a quick glance at their schedule doesn’t really raise any eyebrows. At this point who knows if Texas A&M will even have their Heisman winning, autograph signing, NCAA rules violating QB Johnny Manziel, and even if they do one has to logically believe that Alabama will be geared up to avenge last year’s 29-24 loss to the Aggies. Can LSU go into Tuscaloosa and pull off a November surprise?? Possibly. Or maybe the only thing standing between ‘Bama and yet another trip to the national title game is whoever they face in the SEC Championship game…likely either Georgia, Florida, or South Carolina. But one loss might be all it takes this year to knock the defending champs out of contention…and I am guessing some team will do just that at some point in 2013.

 

 

4              Texas

Last Season:       9-4

Key Games:        9/7 at BYU, 10/12 vs. Oklahoma, 11/16 vs. Oklahoma St.

After nine straight seasons of 10 or more victories the past three seasons have been somewhat…lean…in Austin. It seems odd that a 9-4 record in 2012 would be texasconsidered disappointing (especially after going 5-7 just two years earlier), but that’s just how these elite teams roll. I think the Longhorns are finally primed to re-ascend to the top of The Big 12 and possibly contend for a national championship. The conference is solid but not all that spectacular with only two other legit contenders for the crown. Texas has both of those games…against Oklahoma & Oklahoma St…at home. An early season contest in Provo against BYU might be interesting.

 

 

5              South Carolina

Last Season:       11-2

Key Games:        9/7 at Georgia, 11/16 vs. Florida, 11/30 vs. Clemson

The Gamecocks have a very good defensive end that you may have heard of named Jadeveon Clowney. Now I don’t know whether or not he’ll live up to the hype in Gamecocksthe NFL, but the fact that he’s seen as a combination of Lawrence Taylor & Reggie White makes him a singular collegiate talent…even in the elite SEC. An early season contest in Athens against the Bulldogs might go a long way in deciding the SEC East and become a significant factor in determining who will face Alabama for the conference championship. An in-state rivalry game against the ACC’s Clemson Tigers isn’t likely to decide anything except poll position and bowl placement but since those are kind of a big deal it’ll be a fun game to watch.

 

 

6              Louisville

Last Season:       11-2

Key Games:        12/5 at Cincinnati

The Big East is gone, replaced by the American Athletic Conference. Either way it’s a last hurrah and most likely the last time anyone outside of the top teams in the Louisville_Cardinalspower conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12, Big 10…oh…and Notre Dame) will have the opportunity to sniff a top tier bowl unless they buy a ticket. Not that it matters to the Cardinals since they are heading to the ACC in 2014 anyway. Fortunately for Louisville they just happen to have a junior QB who’s also a projected 1st round NFL talent. Serendipity indeed. Because of their current conference affiliation and the perceived lack of respect for it I believe that the Cardinals will have to go undefeated to finish this high in the rankings even if they can still go to a BCS bowl just by winning the conference, and I think they have a really good shot at doing just that.

 

 

7              Michigan

Last Season:       8-5

Key Games:        9/7 vs. Notre Dame, 11/2 at Michigan St., 11/9 vs. Nebraska, 11/30 vs. Ohio St.

Coach Brady Hoke is 19-7 in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor…but he is 14-0 at home. That bodes well for home contests against Notre Dame, Nebraska, & Ohio michigan_helmet-25004St. The Wolverines will probably need to win 2 of those 3 to have any shot at a Top 10 finish. QB Denard Robinson is gone and now trying to make the roster of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. However, Michigan still has junior Devin Gardner, who actually saw significant time at quarterback last season, and it might be a blessing in disguise. It always felt like there may have been too much of a concerted effort to put Robinson in the spotlight…sometimes at the expense of the team. In 2012 Michigan lost 2 of its first 4 games to Alabama & Notre Dame. I don’t think The Irish will be quite as good in 2013 so I’d be surprised if Michigan doesn’t go 7-0 pretty effortlessly before facing the Spartans in East Lansing at the beginning of November. The annual Michigan-Ohio St. rivalry battle is in Ann Arbor this season, and while I don’t think Michigan will be in contention for the national championship they’ll be jacked to have the chance to cost the Buckeyes a title opportunity.

 

 

8              Florida State

Last Season:       12-2

Key Games:        10/19 at Clemson, 11/30 at Florida

The ACC is on the verge of becoming the new Big East…still one of the big boys but certainly on the bottom rung of the ladder. That could change if newcomers (in FloridaStateSeminoles12014) Pitt, Syracuse, & Louisville emerge…or re-emerge…as legit football powers. At any rate, regardless of the mediocrity of teams like Boston College, Georgia Tech, NC St., & Maryland or the even worse ineptitude of Duke & Wake Forest, the Seminoles have long been college football royalty. And while the ghost of Bobby Bowden will never completely go away Coach Jimbo Fisher (a Clarksburg, WV native and fellow alumnus of the Liberty High School) seems to be settling in quite nicely at the beginning of his 4th season at the helm in Tallahassee. A mid-season clash at Clemson will probably decide who wins the Atlantic Division of the conference, while the annual in-state rivalry game against the Florida Gators at the end of the season may have broader implications.

 

 

9              Nebraska

Last Season:       10-4

Key Games:        9/14 vs. UCLA, 11/9 at Michigan, 11/16 vs. Michigan St.

The Cornhuskers transition from The Big 12 (which has ten teams) to The Big 10 (which has 12 teams) has been seamless the past two seasons and I see no reasonhuskers why 2013 should be any different. Two of their key games (one is a non-conference clash with UCLA) are in Lincoln and they do not play Ohio State at all (unless it’s in the conference title game…a distinct possibility). Games against the two Michigan schools will decide the division crown. QB Taylor Martinez returns for his senior year and has become a legit dual threat…a competent passer and a constant threat to run the ball. I’m not sure if he’ll be considered a big time NFL prospect, but at this level he’s a star.

 

 

10           Stanford

Last Season:       12-2

Key Games:        10/19 vs. UCLA, 11/7 vs. Oregon, 11/16 at USC, 11/30 at Notre Dame

Stanford fared just fine in 2012 without star QB Andrew Luck who had left for the NFL. A tough overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend aStanford-Logo-Treend an inexplicable defeat at the hands of the very average Washington Huskies were the only blemishes on their record. I foresee a very similar season in 2013. I think they’ll certainly lose to Oregon, and after that two questions arise. First, can they win atleast 2 out of 3 of their other key games against UCLA, USC, & Notre Dame?? Secondly, will there be another curious loss to a lesser yet not terrible team like Oregon St. or Arizona St.??

 

 

11           Georgia

Last Season:       12-2

Key Games:        8/31 at Clemson, 9/7 vs. South Carolina, 9/28 vs. LSU, 11/2 at Florida

Last year I overlooked the Bulldogs. My rationale was simply that in a tough SEC someone had to be the odd man out, and I chose to endorse the likes of Tennessee,id_bulldog_logo_l Auburn, & Arkansas (in addition to safe picks like Alabama & LSU) instead of Georgia. Oops. I will not make that same mistake this time, although I am a bit trepidatious because instead of starting out the season with 2 or 3 cupcakes like most teams seem to these days Georgia will begin 2013 against the likes of Clemson then South Carolina. If they can split those two contests they’ll get a one week break against an inferior opponent before hosting LSU. I don’t know who makes the schedule in Athens but I think they may need to be fired. That being said I think the worst case scenario for this team is 9 wins. 10 or more victories will almost certainly secure a Top 10 finish. Senior QB Aaron Murray will get an early Heisman push and is a solid NFL prospect.

 

 

12           Clemson

Last Season:       11-2

Key Games:        8/31 vs. Georgia, 10/19 vs. Florida St., 11/30 at South Carolina

Clemson returns both QB Taj Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins, which is a huge reason why they are getting so much pre-season love. On the flip side the offense did clemsonlose key contributors RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL. 2 of the 3 key games noted above will be at home. Opening the season against the Georgia Bulldogs is an undeniably tough mountain to climb and makes things a bit unpredictable because so much will depend on what each team has been able to accomplish in the spring and in the past few weeks of late summer practice. I don’t think the loser of that contest is necessarily toast for the remainder of the year, but they will be behind the proverbial 8-Ball. If the Tigers can steal 2 of those key games they are almost assured of a Top 10 finish.

 

 

13           Oklahoma

Last Season:       10-3

Key Games:        9/28 at Notre Dame, 10/5 vs. TCU, 10/12 vs. Texas, 12/7 at Oklahoma St.

The Sooners will be starting a freshman at QB which makes me just a little bit nervous. But I do like their schedule. This feels like another 10 win season for the oklahomaSooners. The question is where do the losses come?? An early season defeat at the hands of Notre Dame wouldn’t hurt nearly as much as losing at the end of the season to in-state rival Oklahoma St. I expect this year’s Red River Shootout (yes I still call it that…screw political correctness) against Texas will decide The Big 12 and possibly play a role in determining who plays for the national championship. QB Blake Bell…aka The Bell Dozer…may not have won the starting job but he’ll surely have an important part to play in the offense.

 

 

14           Cincinnati

Last Season:       10-3

Key Games:        12/5 vs. Louisville

The Bearcats season boils down to one game. Whoever wins that game on December 12 will represent the American Athletic Conference in the final round of BCS CincinnatiBearcatsbowls. The loser will be playing in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December even if they have 11 wins. A year from now Louisville will be another middle-of-the-road, largely forgotten about ACC team (see Miami, FL., Boston College, &, Georgia Tech), while Cincy remains on the deck of the Titanic hoping for a lifeboat. Former coach Butch Jones has moved on to Tennessee, but Cincinnati was…to the shock of many…able to lure new head coach Tommy Tuberville away from Texas Tech. Perhaps Tuberville knows something the rest of us don’t. At the moment it looks to be a two-headed monster situation at QB but personally I’m rooting for Munchie Legaux simply because that is a freakin’ awesome name.

 

 

15           UCLA

Last season:       9-5

Key Games:        9/14 at Nebraska, 10/19 at Stanford, 10/26 at Oregon, 11/30 at USC

USC gets all the love, but there’s another team in Los Angeles that folks need to pay attention to. Once upon a time the UCLA Bruins…admittedly a school betterucla_bruins2 known for its storied basketball team…had a fairly solid football tradition. Bruins alums include such names as Troy Aikman, Jonathan Ogden, Freeman McNeil, Floyd Reese, & Maurice Jones-Drew. They dominated the Pac 10 for much of the 1980s and have been to 12 Rose Bowls, the last being in 1998. However, they have been average at best for most of the past decade. That started to change last year with a 9-5 record under new head coach Jim Mora Jr.  Here is how I see this going down. There is a fairly good chance that this team loses all three of the initial key games I’ve selected. If we assume they win the other 8 then that means the season comes down to the rivalry showdown with USC, and it is completely with the realm of possibility that a division crown and an opportunity to play in the conference championship game (likely against Oregon or Stanford) will be on the line. It’ll be nice to have the Battle of L.A. mean something again.

 

 

16           Oklahoma State

Last Season:       8-5

Key Games:        10/19 vs. TCU, 11/16 at Texas, 12/7 vs. Oklahoma

I believe The Big 12 will be a three horse race and Oklahoma St. will be in that conversation. The Cowboys are almost always an offensive juggernaut. In 2012 they OkSt.logo_score 35+ points nine times. One of their five losses was in overtime to in-state rival Oklahoma and another was by just 5 points to Texas. The Cowboys replace offensive coordinators more often than Van Halen changes lead singers but it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. My biggest concern is the defense. In those 5 losses last year Oklahoma St.’s defense gave up over 47 points per game. That has to change this season and I think it will. The October matchup against TCU is huge. I have gone out on a limb and predicted that the Horned Frogs will not be the Top 25 team that most other polls say they are so the Cowboys need to justify my logic by winning that particular game. Even if they lose to both Texas & Oklahoma they’ll still be in the hunt as long as they win their other 10 games.

 

 

17           Texas A&M

Last Season:       11-2

Key Games:        9/14 vs. Alabama, 11/23 at LSU

The most important question for the Aggies might be how many victories they have to vacate down the road when the NCAA finds that Heisman winning WB Johnny a&mManziel got paid to autograph memorabilia. However, since that issue is a complete wildcard we’ll just have to let that all take care of itself when the time is right and deal with what we think we know about the team. If we take Manziel at face value as a legit player who won’t be disqualified for being a filthy cheater…well…there are still issues. First of all I am not at all sure that he was deserving of that Heisman. Secondly, since winning the award Johnny Football has seemed to be just a bit too enamored with himself and his celebrity status. How will this affect his play and the team chemistry in 2013?? Obviously I don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal. Can the Aggies upset Alabama a second consecutive year?? I highly doubt it although the game is in College Station. But even with a loss there they should reach the end of November with a 9-1 record before heading to Baton Rouge to face LSU. That’ll be a huge game.

 

 

18           Fresno State

Last Season:       9-4

Key Games:        9/20 vs. Boise St.

Traditionally I have a shot-in-the-dark pick in these rankings. It doesn’t take much skill to put a bunch of SEC & Big Ten teams in a Top 25…it’s just putting them in thefresno right order that’s tricky. But…contrary to what the TV people would have you believe…college football is more than just the 4 or 5 “power conferences”.  They play some pretty decent football in the MAC, Mountain West, & C-USA. I have been a Fresno St. fan for awhile now. Their games are always entertaining and they have been a bowl team in 12 of the past 13 seasons. Senior QB Derek Carr is the younger brother of David Carr, who may not have had much of an NFL career but was the NCAA’s most prolific passer in 2001. There’s got to be something in the genes, right?? Much like the Cincinnati Bearcats the season for Fresno St. boils down to one big game. My vibes have led me to jump off the Boise St. bandwagon this year and this game on September 20th will…in the words of Billy Joel…have me walking away a fool or a king.

 

 

19           Notre Dame

Last Season:       12-1

Key Games:        9/7 at Michigan, 9/21 vs. Michigan St., 9/28 vs. Oklahoma, 11/30 at Stanford

A year ago I reluctantly ranked the hated Irish #21 and said that they “will almost certainly lose atleast 3 of the 4” key games I’d selected. Instead they went NotreDameFightingIrishundefeated before screwing the pooch in the National Championship. Okay…so I am not always right. I’m honest about that fact. However, that being said I am once again ranking Notre Dame just a bit lower than most other polls. Sophomore Everett Golson is gone for the season after seemingly forgetting the “student” part of the student-athlete equation. Senior QB Tommy Rees isn’t a bad fallback option, but one has to believe that there is a reason he lost the starting gig to Golson a year ago. Oh yeah…now I remember. Rees was boozing it up at a party and got into a scuffle with the cops which led to a brief suspension therefore opening the door for Golson. Those Irish coaches sure can pick ‘em, huh?? At any rate, Rees now gets another opportunity. Linebacker Manti Te’o has moved on to the NFL (no word on the whereabouts of imaginary dead girlfriend Lennay Kekua), and RBs Theo Riddick & Cierre Wood are also gone. So why rank Notre Dame?? One reason…head coach Brian Kelly. He is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in college football and I believe in his football prowess & motivational skill. Notre Dame’s schedule is always always always brutal, but I still believe they’ll find a way to win 9 or 10 games.

 

 

20           Florida

Last Season:       11-2

Key Games:        10/12 at LSU, 11/2 vs. Georgia, 11/16 at South Carolina, 11/30 vs. Florida St.

The Gators are the 4th of 5 SEC teams in our countdown. Normally this would make me a bit skittish, but six SEC teams finished 2012 in the Top 25, and we all knowflorida gators image that the talking heads love to fawn all over the SEC. Can they split the 4 key games noted above?? Florida has played in a bowl game for 22 consecutive years so it is difficult to fathom that they could ever be anything less than atleast pretty good. These are not the Steve Spurrier/Urban Myer Gators of Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews, Chris Leak, or Rex Grossman. Head coach Will Muschamp likes to run the ball and was able to do so effectively in 2012 with RB Mike Gillislee who has moved on to the NFL. I expect junior QB Jeff Driskel to grow considerably in that role this season. The biggest question will be the defense. It was a top 5 group in 2012, but several players, including DT Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam, are now getting paid to play on Sunday. But Muschamp is a former defensive coordinator so he knows how to build a defense. The Gators will need to steal atleast 1 and preferably 2 of the key games noted above to secure a Top 25 ranking.

 

 

21           Northwestern

Last Season:       10-3

Key Games:        10/5 vs. Ohio St., 10/12 at Wisconsin, 11/2 at Nebraska, 11/6 vs. Michigan, 11/23 vs. Michigan St.

Northwestern is generally considered more of an academic school, but they have had some success on the football field, winning 8 or more games six times since Northwestern_Wildcats1995. I really like Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who I recall being a tough linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990’s when they won two consecutive Big Ten titles. Fitzgerald has led his team to 5 straight bowl games. If Northwestern can win just 2 of their 5 key games (easier said than done) and win the other 8 games that they should win this could very well be a 9 or 10 win team.

 

 

22           Michigan St.

Last Season:       7-6

Key Games:        9/21 at Notre Dame, 11/2 vs. Michigan, 11/16 at Nebraska, 11/23 at Northwestern

I know I have mentioned this before but I’m not at all fond of using multiple quarterbacks. You pick a guy and go with him until he gives you a reason to make a michiganchange. But as of this writing my intel says that there are 3 or 4 guys who could take snaps for the Spartans. I actually had this team ranked significantly higher until I read that. At any rate, games at Notre Dame and Nebraska could make or break the season for Michigan St. And of course the annual in-state rivalry clash with the Wolverines is always big…and in 2013 it’s in East Lansing. You may be intrigued that I consider Northwestern to be an important game. The way I see it The Big Ten (which has 12 teams) has the potential to have 5 or 6 pretty good teams. Ohio St., Michigan, & Nebraska are legit Top 10 programs. The second tier consists of Wisconsin, Michigan St., & Northwestern, making the Spartans-Wildcats late November matchup likely a deciding factor when it comes to poll position and bowl bids.

 

 

23           LSU

Last Season:       10-3

Key Games:        8/31 vs. TCU, 9/28 at Georgia, 10/12 vs. Florida, 11/9 at Alabama, 11/23 vs. Texas A&M

It won’t take long for us to find out exactly what the Bayou Bengals are made of in 2013. The TCU Horned Frogs are a team that I am overlooking, but most other lsu_logo-9547pre-season polls seem to believe they are a solid Top 25 team. I expect LSU to defeat them, but there’ll be more to it than simply who wins and who loses. If LSU handles their business and beats TCU effortlessly it could bode well for the remainder of the year. However, if LSU struggles mightily and merely ekes out a victory it could portend future doom in the stacked SEC. The best thing I can say about a murderous schedule is that atleast LSU gets two weeks to prepare for tough games against Alabama and Texas A&M. Winning just two of the 5 key games I’ve listed should mean a 9 win season and solidify a Top 25 ranking.

 

 

24           Tulsa

Last Season:       11-3

Key Games:        9/14 at Oklahoma, 11/14 vs. Marshall

The defending Conference USA Champions are unlikely to take anyone by surprise this year but that’s okay. I see no reason why they can’t again win a revamped tulsaconference (their last in C-USA before joining the American Athletic Conference in 2014). I don’t expect them to defeat Oklahoma in mid-September, but that game could tell us a lot. If Tulsa gets blown out by 50 points then they are unlikely to sniff the Top 25 even if they win the conference. However, if they can be somewhat competitive against the Sooners…maybe a 38-21 type of contest…and win the remainder of their games then maybe they can sneak into the rankings.

 

 

25           BYU

Last Season:       8-5

Key Games:        9/7 vs. Texas, 10/25 vs. Boise St., 11/9 at Wisconsin, 11/23 at Notre Dame

I seem to have an odd BYU fetish. For two straight years I have had them ranked #10 in this pre-season poll. In 2011 they won 10 games but finished unranked and BYU_Cougarsin 2012 they went 8-5. The schedule is undoubtedly brutal. Winning even one of the key games noted above will be a difficult task…winning 2+ will be darn near impossible. So let’s be generous and say the Cougars go 1-3 in these games and even go a step further by predicting that they won’t get completely destroyed in the losses. Then it becomes atleast within the realm of possibility that they could win 8 or 9 games. And any team that could achieve that level of success under such demanding circumstances would deserve to be ranked.

A Few Book Recommendations for Baseball Fans

Sometimes I surprise myself by the predilections that I develop seemingly out of the mist. I have always fancied myself somewhat of a renaissance man who is interested in a wide range of subjects, which I generally consider a positive though I have noticed over the years that truly successful people seem to have tunnel vision and a laser focus on their vocation of choice. At any rate, this “variety is the spice of life” attitude spreads to the bookshelves in The Bachelor Palace as well, where one can find biographies of Founding Fathers alongside the Harry Potter series, books about agricultural science & history on the same shelf as Hemingway, and Shakespeare sharing space with The Hunger Games.

 

bballAt any rate I have…somewhat to my bewilderment…amassed quite a collection of baseball biographies. This is surprising to me because my feelings about baseball have been tepid at best for quite awhile, although as simple as it sounds and as trivial as it may seem to some I think the success thus far of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates has me on the verge of falling in deep like with our national pastime once again. However, I also think it wise to look a bit deeper because you see my bookshelves are not filled with recent biographies about contemporary players like Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, John Smoltz, or RA Dickey. Cheating scandals & rampant drug use still cause me to be a bit jaded about the modern game of baseball. Instead what you’ll find lining the walls of The Bachelor Palace are tomes about hallowed names of yesteryear…Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Maris, Musial.

If I could hope in the ol’ DeLorean and go back in time I think one of the places I might like to visit would be the world of baseball during its golden age. I’d like to catch some games at places like Ebbets Field or The Polo Grounds, see teams like The Gashouse Gang & The Whiz Kids, and watch Hall of Famers like Dizzy Dean, Pie Traynor, & Pee Wee Reese. Why?? That’s an excellent question that I may address more in depth at some other time. For now it will suffice to say that our collective bromance with this bygone era and the quintessential American game that helped define it seems eternal and that’s okay with me.

Which is all a longwinded precursor to me endorsing three excellent baseball biographies that I have read in years past and that are likely to be enjoyed by any baseball fan. There will be sequels on this particular topic, but I think it best to just whet your appetite right now with a few recommendations:

 

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero

Unfortunately one of the most beloved Pittsburgh Pirates of all time died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 when I was just 2 months old. However, growing up as a Pirates fan and living just a couple of hours from Pittsburgh means that I have heard a lot about Roberto Clemente my entire life. The Pirates organization has done an excellent job of keeping his memory alive over the past 40 years and recognizing what a truly special talent he was. However, one need not be a Pirates fan to enjoy this first-rate biography about Clemente written by David rcMaraniss, whose biography about Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi called When Pride Still Mattered is still one of the best books of any genre I have ever read. That combined with my admiration for what I’d always heard about Clemente were what prompted me to purchase this book about 5 years ago. This is a well written & engrossing story that is reverent & respectful yet honest about its subject. Clemente was somewhat neurotic & sensitive and felt the weight of being a black latino superstar. He was often treated shabbily by the press but could give as good as he got. In other words Clemente was a flawed human being just like the rest of us. That being said, his nobility & kindness shines through as well. And the author doesn’t shortchange the baseball aspect of things. I sometimes feel as though Roberto Clemente is overlooked in discussions about the greats of the game, with only long time Pirates fans willing to reserve for him his proper place among the baseball immortals. The fact is that not only should Clemente rank right up there with the best that ever played game, but he could have been even better if not for various physical ailments that plagued him throughout life. This is a book that should be read not only by anyone who calls themselves a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, but also by everyone who loves the game of baseball.

 

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

When I was in college I had the opportunity to take a class about sports movies. Yes that really is a thing…and it was gehrigawesome. We watched Knute Rocke: All American (with future President Ronald Reagan as The Gipper), The Natural, and Rocky…among others. But I think my favorite may have been Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. Most people know two things about Gehrig. They know that he was baseball’s “Iron Man”, having played in 2130 consecutive games between 1925 & 1939 (a record that stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995), and they know that he died at age 37 from the debilitating muscle disease that now bears his name. But there is so much more to Gehrig and this book tells the story well. Many who have seen Pride of the Yankees may attribute the perception we have of Gehrig as a soft spoken, humble, down-to-earth guy to Gary Cooper’s wide-eyed, aw shucks, boy-next-door portrayal, but what the reader of Luckiest Man begins to understand is that Cooper’s portrayal was an extremely accurate representation of who Gehrig truly was. That’s not to say that Gehrig was perfect. He was a timid momma’s boy that didn’t mesh all that well with outgoing & gregarious teammate Babe Ruth and was caught in the middle of a lifelong tug-of-war between his mother and his wife that many more…forceful…men might have put the kibosh on pretty quick. But hey…we all have our issues, right?? The best endorsement I can give this book is that I am a lifelong hater of everything NY Yankees and because of the movie and this book I actually respect Lou Gehrig. You will too.

 

Joe DiMaggio : The Hero’s Life

dimaggio08_1_41Another Yankee?? Hmmm…maybe it’s just the modern day Yankees that I hate. If I had been around 60 years ago I might actually be a Yankee fan. Anyway, I remember when this biography came out about 13 years ago it was pretty controversial. Joltin’ Joe had always been a national treasure…a hero to Italian Americans, the apple of every girl’s eye, and the envy of every red-blooded male because of his graceful athletic skill and later his marriage to goddess Marilyn Monroe. Even in retirement he became the folksy pitchman for Mr. Coffee in the 1970’s & 80’s. But author Richard Ben Cramer lays waste to the DiMaggio mythos and exposes our hero as being yet another very flawed individual (I’m sensing a theme). The DiMaggio we read about here is an often petty, usually vain, sometimes bitter, frequently materialistic, largely unhappy man with an overinflated ego and a suspicious nature that had a negative impact on most of his personal relationships. The Hero’s Life is a stark reminder that just because someone can run fast, hit hard, or handle a ball with deft skill doesn’t mean they are a nice person. I suppose with guys like Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant, & Alex Rodriguez around we are all well aware of that fact, but it is interesting to realize that such phonies have been around for many many decades and fascinating to compare & contrast how joe-dimaggiotechnology doesn’t allow such individuals to hide their hypocrisy too well these days, whereas in DiMaggio’s time he & a complicit media were quite successful in creating a graceful, classy, refined image. Some may think Cramer’s book to be harsh or even malicious, but I generally found it to be insightful & fair. It is most definitely a page turner and a must read for every baseball fan.