2021 PIGSKIN PICKS OF PROFUNDITY…WEEK 1

Football season really snuck up on me!! There were actually a few college games last weekend, but I didn’t realize it until the night before. I suppose I’m a little out of practice since we took a break from these picks a year ago. Thankfully those games, which ESPN called Week Zero (seriously), weren’t anything…notable. But this week?? Folks, we have interesting matchups from Thursday to Sunday, which is great since our local Italian Heritage Festival…a northcentral WV tradition for over four decades…has been cancelled for the second straight year due to The Sickness and I suddenly find myself with no weekend plans other than watching football. A big shoutout to my nephew Zach who will once again be doing picks with me this season. Two years ago he ended the season with a .500 record of 52-52, while I was 61-43. Zach has already called his shot and predicted that he’ll best me this season. We’ll see.

Boise State at Central Florida (-5)

Neither team is really in the “Group of 5” spotlight anymore, and both are probably praying they’ll get invited to “move up” in the upcoming conference realignment chaos. The Broncos finished 5-2, skipped out on bowl season, and their head coach bolted for Auburn. New head coach Andy Avalos was a longtime Boise St. assistant before spending last season as the defensive coordinator at Oregon. After three straight 10+ win seasons (including going undefeated in 2017) UCF fell to 6-4 a year ago, including a bowl loss to BYU. UCF gets the home field bump in this Thursday night game, but I think Boise comes into town and steals a win for their new coach. Zach concurs, predicting a high scoring affair in which the Broncos’ ground game makes the difference.

My Pick: Boise St.

Z’s Pick: Boise St.

Ohio State (-13.5) at Minnesota

I have defending CFP runner-up Ohio St. as my preseason #1, while Zach despises them with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. The Gophers had won bowl games in 4 out of the previous 5 seasons before last year’s pedestrian 3-4 campaign. I’m not holding anything bad that happened a season ago against anyone, so there is reason to believe that they could be a winning team once again…but Minnesota isn’t beating the Buckeyes. The points make me a bit nervous, but I think the favorites roll big & cover easily. This is also a Thursday night game. Zach doesn’t think Ohio St. will have any issues replacing departed QB Justin Fields, and they may even get into the playoff again…but will choke once they arrive. As far as this game, he calls the Gophers scrappy and believes they could stay close for atleast a half, but at the end of the day the favorites will win.

My Pick: Ohio St.

Z’s Pick: Ohio St.

North Carolina (-5.5) at Virginia Tech

The Tar Heels are a Top 10 team according to some polls, but not mine. I think they’ll have a nice season, but they aren’t winning the ACC. The Hokies haven’t had a 10 win season since 2016, and a year ago they finished 5-6. How’s that move to the ACC working out for them?? I know Tech has the home field, and strange things happen at Lane Stadium after dark, but I foresee a blowout for the favorites on Friday night. Like myself, Zach has doubts about Carolina’s playoff worthiness, but thinks they’ll be pretty good. He believes this will be a closer game than I do, but still predicts the Heels will cover.

My Pick: UNC

Z’s Pick: UNC

Stanford at Kansas State (-2.5)

The Wildcats have been getting some pre-season love and should be in the top half of the Big 12 after finishing 4-6 a year ago. Meanwhile, Stanford feels like a forgotten team in the Pac 12, which seems unfair. Putting aside last year’s 4-8 finish, Stanford had won 9+ games eight of the previous nine seasons. Kansas St. has the home field, but I think it’ll be a comfortable win for the visitors. Zach recalls that Kansas St. oftentimes begins the season strong before fading away, but thinks Stanford’s size & strength will make the difference.

My Pick: Stanford

Z’s Pick: Stanford

Penn State at Wisconsin (-5.5)

This might end up being one of the best games of the (real) opening weekend. After winning 11 games in three of the previous four seasons the Nittany Lions were a pedestrian 4-5 in 2020, but I’m not concerned at all. The Badgers had won 10+ games in five of the previous six seasons until last year when they were 4-3. Both teams will be looking to put a forgettable season behind them, and I look for both to be successful in that endeavor. The loser here is behind the proverbial 8-Ball right out of the gate though, and I think that’ll be Penn St. Look for Wisconsin to run the ball a lot and their offensive line to wear out the opposing defense before surging to victory in the 4th quarter. Zach concurs.

My Pick: Wisconsin

Z’s Pick: Wisconsin

Fresno State at Oregon (-21)

The Ducks are my pre-season #3, and if they’re going to get the playoff committee’s attention a dominant victory in the season opener would be a good start. Fresno seems to have a solid team more often than not, but they’re not winning this game. Can Oregon cover the points?? I think so. Conversely, Zach foresees first game jitters for Oregon being just enough to allow Fresno to keep things closer than three TDs.

My Pick: Oregon

Z’s Pick: Fresno St.

Alabama (-18.5) vs. Miami (FL)

There was a time when this would have been the top matchup of the week. Unfortunately ‘Bama has simply gotten too good (and boring), while the ‘Canes aren’t the powerhouse they once were. Still though, given the storied history of both programs, if we close our eyes and use our imagination we might be able to fool ourselves into believing this is a game awash in nostalgia & greatness. The truth?? As decent as Miami has been lately they’ve only gotten to nine wins three times in the past decade and The Tide will roll in Atlanta. Can they cover the points?? Sure. I think Alabama wins by three TDs. Zach is a big Nick Saban fan and thinks the favorites pull away in the second half for a comfortable win.

My Pick: Alabama

Z’s Pick: Alabama

Georgia vs Clemson (-4)

This is the best game of the weekend. Both teams have legit playoff hopes. The Dawgs face a formidable schedule and will need to beat Alabama in the SEC title game. Conversely, this is the toughest game of the season for Clemson until they get to the ACC Championship. It won’t be easy, but I believe Georgia waltzes into Charlotte, NC and steals a late victory via turnover or some kind of special teams wackiness. Zach also thinks it will be close, but foresees Clemson winning by a touchdown in the last three minutes of game.

My Pick: Georgia

Z’s Pick: Clemson

Notre Dame (-7) at Florida State

Since the NFL doesn’t begin their season until next week this is a Sunday night game, which is cool. Can the Seminoles regain some semblance of their former glory after being a dumpster fire the past few years?? I’m not sure whether or not that’ll happen, but if so it won’t be in this game. The Irish have their eyes on another 10+ win season, something they have accomplished five out of the past eight years, including a playoff appearance a year ago. I predict more of the same in 2021, including an easy win in this one. Zach concurs.

My Pick: Notre Dame

Z’s Pick: Notre Dame

2021 NFL Preview & Prognostications

Just a few days ago I was pretty excited about the return of football with capacity crowds and business as usual, but now The Sickness has grabbed headlines again and it seems as though that sense of normalcy could be in jeopardy. At the moment no sweeping proclamations have been made, but stay tuned. In the meantime we shall proceed.

The biggest news outside of Covid related chaos is the NFL’s expansion to a 17 game regular season. To achieve that teams played one less pre-season game, so the only people really affected are the fringe players trying to make a team’s roster. There are always old faces in new places, teams with new coaches, and overhyped rookies looking to become the next Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Randy Moss, or Lawrence Taylor, and we’ll have a much better idea in a few months how all of that might shake out. For now it’s all guesswork, but atleast it’s fun, and I am glad that I feel encouraged enough to bring back this preview after a one year hiatus. As always the team’s record from the previous season is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. And remember…no wagering. I am not a professional and most of the time I’m not very good at this.

North

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) 10-7

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) 10-7

Cleveland Browns (11-5) 9-8

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) 8-9

I think Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow is the real deal, and he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The Browns might be a bit of a surprise too, but I don’t believe it will be in a good way. Everyone assuming they are the presumed division champs will likely be wrong. Am I undervaluing the Ravens?? Perhaps. But every team can’t have a winning record and make the playoffs, and in a highly competitive division my vibe is that Baltimore will run into some problems and fall short of expectations (actually those problems have already began with the loss of starting tailback JK Dobbins to a torn ACL).

East

Buffalo Bills (13-3) 11-6

New York Jets (2-14) 8-9

New England Patriots (7-9) 8-9

Miami Dolphins (10-6) 7-10

The Bills have to be considered amongst the favorites in the conference. To be honest I thought QB Josh Allen was a bad choice as the 7th overall pick in the draft a few years ago, but he’s doing a pretty good job of proving me wrong thus far. There’s no reason to believe Buffalo won’t dominate a division that is a mess otherwise. I think the Jets may have finally found a decent quarterback, and they also added some other pieces on both sides of the ball that make me think they won’t be the dumpster fire we’ve come to expect. The Patriots aren’t the same team without Tom Brady, and I’m not as confident in their rookie signal caller Mac Jones as I am in New York’s rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The Dolphins might take a step back this season, but I hope they aren’t dumb enough to give up on second year QB Tua Tagavailoa. I believe they are building a solid team around him and good things are ahead, but it might take another year to gel.

West

Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) 11-6

Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) 10-7

Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) 7-10

Denver Broncos (5-11) 7-10

No one has been talking about the Chargers this offseason, and that might be a good thing. I always prefer to sneak up on people rather than have the pressure of lofty expectations. QB Justin Herbert acquitted himself quite well in his rookie campaign and there’s no reason to expect anything less this year. The Raiders & Broncos aren’t going to be any better than they were a year ago. I expect both teams to utilize multiple quarterbacks and need their defense to lead them to some victories. The stunner here is the KC Chiefs. Most talking heads will consider them legit Super Bowl contenders, but I think they’ll lose a dogfight for the division, sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard, and be watching the Super Bowl at home like the rest of us.

South

Tennessee Titans (11-5) 12-5

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 11-6

Houston Texans (4-12) 5-12

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) 5-12

The Colts acquired QB Carson Wentz from Philly in the offseason, but will that do them any good?? Wentz can’t seem to stay healthy, and at the moment it’s a tossup as to whether he’ll be ready to go Week 1. That leaves the door open for Tennessee. RB Derrick Henry is a stud & receiver Julio Jones came over from Atlanta a few months ago. He’s 32 years old, but with AJ Brown in the lineup Jones won’t have the pressure of being the top wideout. Replacing tight end Jonnu Smith won’t be easy, and that may be the chink in the armor of the Titans’ offense. I’m not sure what to make of the Titans’ defense, although they did add former Steelers’ linebacker Bud Dupree. Watch time of possession in their games. I think they’ll dominate that and win a bunch of low scoring grinders. Everyone has heard more than enough about the Deshaun Watson situation in Houston and there are still a ton of questions. Will they trade him?? Will he be suspended for a big chunk of the season?? If Tyrod Taylor takes most of the snaps I think the Texans are in for a long season. I don’t have much faith in the Jags either, although I think new head coach Urban Meyer will build around rookie QB Trevor Lawrence and have his team in the playoff conversation a year or two from now, but losing first round draft pick Travis Etienne in the preseason doesn’t bode well for this season.

Playoff Teams: Bengals, Bills, Chargers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Steelers

AFC Champion: Tennessee Titans

East

Washington Redskins (7-9) 10-7

Dallas Cowboys (6-10) 9-8

New York Giants (6-10) 7-10

Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) 5-12

I’m still not buying the Cowboys as legit Super Bowl contenders, although I believe QB Dak Prescott will be just fine returning from the ankle injury that torpedoed his season last year. I suppose the Giants could surprise me and be much better than they were a season ago, but my vibe is that they are just kind of treading water. It blows my mind to see how far the Eagles have fallen since winning the Super Bowl less than five years ago. Can Jalen Hurts make the leap from excellent college quarterback to solid NFL starter?? I think Philadelphia has a bunch of very good players on both sides of the ball, but they have lacked cohesion the past few seasons and I’m not sure that’s going to change. That leaves Washington as the favorite. Is their enough FitzMagic left in the 38 year old signal caller now playing for his ninth NFL team?? Having an elite defense led by Chase Young, Montez Sweat, & Landon Collins will certainly help.

West

Arizona Cardinals (8-8) 11-6

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) 10-7

Seattle Seahawks (12-4) 9-8

San Francisco 49ers (6-10) 7-10

This race is going to be fun to watch. Arizona & the Rams both made moves this summer, and whether or not they work out well one has to give them credit for not standing pat. Los Angeles thinks they have a better chance of advancing in the playoffs with 33 year old veteran QB Matthew Stafford than with 2016 top overall pick Jared Goff, who they shipped to Detroit. I think it might be a positive chain of events (eventually) for both guys. The Rams lost starting RB Cam Akers to injury but traded for former Patriot Sony Michel so I don’t believe the team will be negatively affected all that much. The defense, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, should be stout. Having said that, I am giving a slight edge to the Cardinals, who added receivers DeAndre Hopkins & AJ Green and have a defensive unit featuring newly acquired defensive end JJ Watt, first round LB Zaven Collins, and a very talented secondary. Seattle has won 10+ games seven out of the past eight years and Russell Wilson is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but I feel like they’ll drop off just enough to miss the playoffs. ‘Frisco needs to decide on a quarterback, and once they do that I think they can get back on track, but that might be a couple of years from now.

North

Minnesota Vikings (7-9) 9-8

Green Bay Packers (13-3) 9-8

Chicago Bears (8-8) 6-11

Detroit Lions (5-11) 1-16

Or as ESPN’s Chris Berman used to call it, The Norris Division. I am sure I don’t have to rehash the Packers/Aaron Rodgers drama that has dominated offseason news, but I think it might be just enough of a distraction to cost them the division. The Lions have stunk most of my nearly five decades on the planet and I don’t think that will suddenly change in 2021. Much like the 49ers the Bears have a quarterback conundrum. Conventional wisdom says the smart thing to do is start either journeyman Andy Dalton or former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles under center, but we all know the pressure from fans & the media will lead to rookie Justin Fields being handed the keys to the kingdom. That decision will likely pay off down the road, but it creates chaos right now. So why am I so high on the Vikings?? I don’t know to be honest. Kirk Cousins isn’t spectacular, but he can be a very good quarterback at times and he has solid weapons at receiver & running back. The secondary could be one of the best in the NFL, and guys like Danielle Hunter & Anthony Barr should disrupt opposing offenses often. It won’t be pretty, but I think the Norris goes to the Vikes by a nose.


South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) 13-4

New Orleans Saints (12-4) 8-9

Atlanta Falcons (4-12) 6-11

Carolina Panthers (5-11) 5-12

I’ve stopped waiting for Tom Brady to fall of a cliff. That whole regimen of 25 glasses of water per day, fruit smoothies, fish, and lots of veggies apparently works because he proved a year ago that he deserves much more credit for the Patriots “dynasty” than Bill Belichick. I don’t expect much to change this season, and it helps that the rest of the division will probably struggle. New Orleans has named Jameis Winston as their new starting QB after the retirement of Drew Brees, and Winston is going to have to prove himself before I start to believe in him. I don’t anticipate much improvement by the Falcons or Panthers. Carolina must stop opposing defenses from stacking the box to stifle premier RB Christian McCaffery, and for that to happen former Jets first rounder Sam Darnold will need to finally live up to his potential. Atlanta got rid of receiver Julio Jones and I’m just not impressed by what remains.

Playoff Teams: Redskins, Cardinals, Vikings, Bucs, Cowboys, Rams, Packers

NFC Champion: Green Bay Packers

Tennessee Titans 24

Green Bay Packers 19

Top Five Picks in 2022 NFL Draft

1 Detroit Lions

2 Houston Texans

3 Jacksonville Jaguars

4 Carolina Panthers

5 Philadelphia Eagles

Connect or Disengage: Perspective on Social Media

By now most of us have developed a love/hate relationship with social media. What started out as a fun way to keep in touch with friends far & wide has somehow deteriorated into a dystopian experiment gone horribly awry, because that’s what humans too often do…we take something perfectly delightful and ruin it with greed, politics, envy, pettiness, & lack of self control. Some folks have the wherewithal to disengage completely, although oftentimes the people who leave are the ones with class, intelligence, good humor, & a moral compass. Isn’t it sad that the exact people who have something decent to offer to the medium, the ones who we really want to continue connecting with, are the ones we tend to run off??  Many that remain tread lightly because we sure don’t want to offend people who may disagree with our worldview, and God forbid we piss off the power behind the curtain that has suddenly become quite bold in censoring opposing views and using misguided algorithms to erroneously parse language deemed hurtful. 

Even considering all that, most of us choose to stay. Why?? Well, I think I may have the answer. I stumbled upon a post from an old high school acquaintance, and what she wrote pretty much hits the nail on the head, so much so that all I can do is second that emotion.

“Thank you for seeing me. I know people use Facebook for different things, and plenty of people might argue that the platform is unhealthy or biased or for ‘old people’.

I don’t love Facebook but I’d say the lot of you have provided more than half of my social need for human connection over the past decade, and moreso during this pandemic. So thank you for listening to my musings and sharing your majestic human stories with me. 

Thank you for the pictures and stories of your children, grandchildren, & dogs. Thank you for the videos of you roller skating, swimming in a river, twirling fire nunchucks, or jumping on a trampoline with your kid.  Thank you for sharing your moments of accomplishment, your railing rants, your art, your music, and your poetry. You guys are totally awesome as a digitally aggregated community that pretty much exists in my phone and my mind.” 

Can’t put it much better than that 🤷🏻‍♂️.

A few of you are friends, neighbors, & family that I see or talk to with some frequency, while many are former classmates or co-workers that I haven’t seen in person in decades. Some are acquaintances that I’ve met thru various social interactions and would enjoy getting to know better. Hell, there are atleast a half dozen people on my friends list who are dead, but it feels like as long as their Facebook page is still there they remain present in some intangibly tangible way. Regardless of how we met or how often we interact I hope you know that I’m glad for it. A year ago I expanded my social media presence to Instagram. All I do there is post memes. It’s less interactive than Facebook, but I find it oddly enjoyable. I peruse Twitter occasionally but it’s much less interesting. Ditto for Tik Tok. Sometimes I’ll run across a funny video or two, but overall it is overrated and God knows there’s little chance I will ever actually post a video myself. 

I suppose the point is that we have a choice when it comes to social media. Those that have left it in the dust have their reasons and I respect that. For those that remain, we can choose to get down into the muck and participate in meaningless arguments. We can choose to moan & whine about ‘FB Jail’, ‘fact’ checkers, community standards, and all the other associated negativity. Or, as my old classmate so eloquently states, we can be thankful for the connection, the stories, the photos, the music, the laughter, & the community. It’s up to you. 

2021 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

So…it took football to pull me out of the abyss. Y’all may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything here for about six months. There are reasons for that, but this isn’t the time for such a therapy session.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to college football. I am excited about its return, and so glad there will be crowded stadiums once again this season. Watching games just wasn’t the same a year ago, and it didn’t help that one never knew how things might be affected week to week by The Sickness. The chaos this offseason though hasn’t been virus related. There is talk of expanding the playoff. That’s not surprising, but I’m not a fan of a 16 team playoff…I like the idea of 6, or 8 at most. Players are also legally able to get paid now. I don’t know all the ins & outs so I’ll tread lightly and just say it is what it is and I’m not all that enthused about it. Conference realignment is back too, as Texas & Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 in a few years and heading the SEC. More dominoes will fall, and the landscape will change dramatically in the near future.

Having said all that, I am thrilled that football and the relative normalcy of enjoying it as a fan has come back into our lives. I’m happy to do this preseason poll, the upcoming NFL Preview, and weekly picks with my nephew. And I’m damn sure blessed to have this little corner of the info superhighway.

25 Liberty

Last Season: 10-1

Key Games:   9/24@ Syracuse, 11/6@ Ole Miss, 11/20 vs. Lousiana, 11/27 vs. Army

In just their second full season in the FBS division the Flames were 10-1, with road victories over Syracuse & Virginia Tech. Can they have similar success this year?? Maybe. They face the Orange again, then finish the regular season by traveling to Ole Miss then hosting Louisiana & Army. Liberty will need to win 10 games again to sneak into the rankings, but I think that’s doable if they split those four games.

24 West Virginia

Last Season:     6-4

Key Games:     9/18 vs. Virginia Tech, 9/25@ Oklahoma, 10/30 vs. Iowa St., 11/20 vs. Texas

Neal Brown enters his third season as the Mountaineers’ head coach, and it’s time to prove to fans that we really can “trust the climb”. As a lifelong resident of the Mountain State I’m looking for nine wins. As much as we’d love to be in the playoff conversation the truth is that most WVU fans are smart enough to not expect that on a regular basis, but winning 8 or 9 games and playing in a top tier bowl should never be out of reach. If Brown can pull off a couple of upsets and land in the rankings at the end we’ll be more inclined to give him our trust.

23 North Carolina

Last Season:     8-4

Key Games:  10/9 vs. Florida St., 10/16 vs. Miami (FL), 10/30@ Notre Dame

Most polls have the Tar Heels ranked much higher, but I’m just not buying it. I like head coach Mack Brown and I’m glad he’s re-energized his career after things fizzled out at Texas, but the ACC is sneaky tough. No one knows what to expect from Florida St. these days, but I’ll always consider that a tough game. UNC has the Hurricanes of Miami at home, which should be a great game, but I don’t believe they’ll beat the Irish in South Bend. This feels like another 8-ish win season. Not bad…but not elite.

22 Iowa

Last Season:     6-2

Key Games:    9/11@ Iowa St., 10/9 vs. Penn St., 10/30@ Wisconsin

I’m a big fan of good old fashioned smashmouth football, and we can usually count on Big Ten teams like the Hawkeyes to have a huge offensive line that makes that even more fun. While I do not believe that Iowa is a threat to win the conference I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull off an upset or two and win 8 or 9 games.

21 USC

Last Season:     5-1

Key Games:     10/9 vs. Utah, 11/6@ Arizona St., 11/27 vs. BYU

Southern Cal has been decent the past couple of years, but let’s face it…that’s not good enough for one of the premier programs in college football. Clay Helton enters his sixth season as the Trojans’ head coach, and I have to believe his seat might be getting a bit warm. The October game against Utah could make or break the season.

20 Coastal Carolina

Last Season:     11-1

Key Games:     9/10 vs. Kansas, 10/20@ Appalachian St.

A chanticleer, in case you’re curious, is a rooster. Why the powers-that-be have not booked a Coastal vs. South Carolina game is beyond me…I’ll let y’all figure out why that would be marketing nirvana. At any rate, Coastal was an overtime loss in the Cure Bowl against Liberty from going undefeated last season, and I don’t expect much of a dropoff. The Kansas Jayhawks are rarely very good in football, but a victory over a Big 12 team would be impressive for Coastal. If you’d have told me a few years ago that a Coastal Carolina/Appalachian State game would be intriguing I would not have believed it, but I have a feeling my eyes will be glued to the TV on October 20.

19 Miami (FL)

Last Season:    8-3

Key Games:     9/4 vs. Alabama, 9/18 vs. Michigan St., 10/16@ North Carolina

Much like USC the ‘Canes usually have higher goals than 8/9 wins and a Top 25 finish, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and after several lean years Miami is back to atleast being pretty good. Can they compete for an ACC title?? Ehhh…maybe, although I’d consider it a long shot. As much as I would love to see an upset of Alabama in the season opener I do not think that’ll happen, but wins over Michigan State & UNC are not out of the question.

18 Army

Last Season:     9-3

Key Games:     10/16@ Wisconsin, 11/27@ Liberty

I’ve always been a big fan of the service academies’ football games for a variety of reasons, and it has been fun to watch the Black Knights’ success, as they’ve won 9+ games three out of the past four years (I’m not sure what happened in 2019). Do I think they’ll go into Madison and upset the Badgers?? No. Do I think they can go into enemy territory and beat Liberty?? Absolutely. Another nine win season should assure an appearance in the final rankings, and I believe that’s exactly what we’ll see.

17 Arizona State

Last Season:     2-2

Key Games:     9/18@ BYU, 10/16@ Utah, 11/6 vs. USC, 11/13@ Washington

I have expressed my admiration for head coach Herm Edwards in the past. How can anyone not like Herm?? This will be his fourth year at the helm in Tempe, and they had winning records in the first two before last season’s weirdness. Can they kick it up a notch to the next level?? The Pac 12 is kind of a mystery. On paper the conference looks loaded, but inevitably someone is going to have a worse season than expected. If the Sun Devils lose all four of they key games noted above then…surprise…they are that team and the joke is on me, which is entirely possible. However, I’m betting on my man Herm to not let me down.

16 LSU

Last Season:     5-5

Key Games:   10/2 vs. Auburn, 10/16 vs. Florida, 11/6@ Alabama, 11/27 vs. Texas A&M

Which Bayou Bengals’ team will we see this year?? Will it be the one that won 10+ games six times in ten years and captured national championships in 2017 & 2019, or the one that finished .500 last season?? Since 2020 was such a strange year on multiple levels I’ll give LSU the benefit of the doubt and assume their season was an anomaly. However, I still don’t foresee them being in the conference title hunt or the playoff discussion. They will need to atleast split the key games noted to have a chance at a solid Top 25 finish.

15 Penn State

Last Season:    4-5

Key Games:     9/4@ Wisconsin, 9/18 vs. Auburn, 10/9@ Iowa, 10/30@ Ohio St.

Not only is the Big Ten stacked, but the Nittany Lions are coming off a losing season, so this prediction makes me a bit nervous. Before last year (which I won’t really take all that seriously given the circumstances) Penn St. had won 11 games in three out of the previous four seasons (they won nine in 2018), so there’s no reason to believe they’ll fall off a cliff. I don’t think they will beat Ohio St. at The Horseshoe, but if they can defeat Auburn at home then split road games at Wisconsin & Iowa they could be looking at a solid Top 25 finish.

14 Wisconsin

Last Season:     4-3

Key Games:     9/4 vs. Penn St., 9/25 vs. Notre Dame, 10/30 vs. Iowa

It’s not so much about including Wisconsin as much as the fact that I simply don’t see a way to leave them out. Other Big Ten teams will get more TV coverage and love from the talking heads, but the Badgers will still line up, ram the ball down opponents’ throats, and grind out ugly wins. That’s what they do, and at some point in late November folks will be looking at the polls and saying “Wisconsin?? Where’d they come from??”.

13 Texas

Last Season:     7-3

Key Games:     10/9 vs. Oklahoma, 11/6@ Iowa St.

The Longhorns still play in the Big 12 and they better enjoy it while they can because I believe they will be very average in the SEC. The winner of the Texas/Iowa St. game in early November will likely meet Oklahoma in the conference title game, although a Texas victory in the Red River Shootout could throw a monkey wrench into that scenario.

12 Cincinnati

Last Season:     9-1

Key Games:     9/18@ Indiana, 10/2@ Notre Dame

I get it, but then again I don’t. A year ago the Bearcats won nine games and finished as a Top 10 team. But that season included victories over Army, SMU, Tulsa, & Central Florida being considered the most impressive. A loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl was close, but still a loss. So armed with that information I have to believe that a similar season, including another AAC title, could land Cincy back in the same general vicinity. Indiana doesn’t appear in this poll because I think the Big Ten is just too tough and they won’t repeat the same level of success they enjoyed last season, but it’s an important game for Cincinnati. I do not believe a win over Notre Dame is possible, but if the road team can keep it respectably close they could actually gain respect.

11 Texas A&M

Last Season:     9-1

Key Games:     10/9 vs. Alabama, 11/27@ LSU

I will continue to opine that moving from the Big 12 to the SEC was an error in judgment for the Aggies, atleast from a football perspective. God knows they’re enjoying the financial windfall. However, I have also stated that I think head coach Jimbo Fisher (who graduated from the same high school as me, just a few years earlier) is building something in College Station. Will they contend for an SEC title with so many elite teams standing in their way?? I wouldn’t hold my breath for that, but I don’t think an upset or two and a 10 win season is out of reach.

10 Iowa State

Last Season:     9-3

Key Games:     9/11 vs. Iowa, 11/6 vs. Texas, 11/20@ Oklahoma

The Cyclones have been a dangerous team for awhile, and with QB Brock Purdy entering his senior season now seems like a great time to fulfill all that potential. An out of conference game against in state foe Iowa looks intriguing, especially since it’s in Ames, and I think they’ll beat Texas.

9 BYU

Last Season:     11-1

Key Games:     9/11 vs. Utah, 9/18 vs. Arizona St., 10/9 vs. Boise St., 10/16@ Baylor

The Cougars intrigue me. When the aforementioned conference realignment dominoes begin to fall I think BYU will end up with a new home. Pac 12?? Big 12?? Who knows?? Until then part of the fun of them being independent is the schedule, which quite literally all over the map. I am particularly fascinated by the October contest against Boise, who I chose to leave out of this poll though I’m sure they’ll be as competitive as usual. Ranking BYU this high has been a mistake before, but ignoring them has been equally as wrong. They are quite the football enigma, and I dig that.

8 Florida

Last Season:     8-4

Key Games:    9/18 vs. Alabama, 10/16@ LSU, 10/30 vs. Georgia

I’m sure football fans in the deep south enjoy the hell out of the SEC’s dominance, but for the rest of us it has become exhausting. That being said, when doing a poll like this one must decide which teams to include and which ones to leave out, and the fact is I cannot avoid ranking less than five deserving programs. The Gators host ‘Bama but have to go to Death Valley to face LSU. A game against Georgia comes after a bye week which could be advantageous. I expect Florida to lose two of those three games, but they should win everything else with relative ease.

7 Clemson

Last Season:     10-2

Key Games:     9/4 vs. Georgia

Could it be that the ACC is getting better just as the Tigers aren’t quite as elite as they have been?? A loss to the likes of UNC or Miami in the conference title game might be enough to cost them a playoff spot. Am I brave enough to lay money down on that prospect?? Of course not. But it’s a fun scenario to ponder.

6 Alabama

Last Season:     13-0

Key Games:    9/18@ Florida, 10/9@ Texas A&M, 11/6 vs. LSU

I know it’s wrong, but I cannot help myself. With all due respect to Nick Saban & The Tide I will once again opine that I’m simply tired of them. Their dynasty has become tedious. It is likely that this prediction is way off base, that ‘Bama will inevitably find themselves in the playoff even if they lose the SEC title game. The truth is that television (specifically ESPN) controls the college football narrative, and Alabama is good for business. But this is my poll, so indulge me in a little wish fulfillment in which the almighty defending champs stumble once or twice and finish on the outside looking in.

5 Oklahoma

Last Season:     9-2

Key Games:     10/9 vs. Texas, 11/20 vs. Iowa St.

A decade from now I believe the Sooners will regret jumping from the Big 12 to the SEC, but that hasn’t occurred quite yet. For now their path to the playoff doesn’t seem all that tough outside of implicit disrespect of the Big 12, and that may bite them in the ass, especially if Notre Dame takes a playoff spot. The schedule lines up in their favor, with out of conference games they should win easily and Iowa State coming to Norman. The Red River Shootout is, as usual, a neutral site game in Dallas.

4 Notre Dame

Last Season:     10-2

Key Games:     9/25 vs. Wisconsin, 10/23 vs. USC, 10/30 vs. North Carolina

The Irish will always be in the playoff conversation as long as the team is winning games. I don’t know how conference realignment will affect them, but for now the status quo tilts in their favor. All of their key games are in South Bend, and we’ll know by the time November rolls around if they are serious championship contenders.

3 Oregon

Last Season:     4-3

Key Games:     9/11@ Ohio St., 11/20@ Utah

The Pac 12 really messed up last year by preemptively cancelling their season then reconsidering and ultimately having an abbreviated season. I assume there are too many indoctrinated Californians at the top of the conference management food chain. Anyway, the Ducks seem to be headed in the right direction after a rough go of it in 2016 & 2017. This will be the fourth year under head coach Mario Cristobal, and I foresee good things ahead, even assuming a season opening loss in Columbus.

2 Georgia

Last Season:     8-2

Key Games:     9/4 vs. Clemson, 10/30 vs. Florida

Can the Bulldogs upset the Crimson Tide and roll into the playoff themselves?? It won’t be easy. The SEC is stacked and that season opener against Clemson is brutal. That’s a neutral site game in Charlotte, and the winner certainly has a leg up on the competition. Having said that, I think it is entirely plausible that Georgia could lose that game, win every game afterward, defeat Alabama in the SEC title game, and still end up in the playoff.

1 Ohio State

Last Season:     7-1

Key Games:     9/11 vs. Oregon, 10/30 vs. Penn St., 11/27@ Michigan

Let me be clear…I didn’t think the Buckeyes should have been anywhere near the playoff last season. They only played six regular season games. Regardless of the circumstances I believe an eight game minimum threshold should have been in place to get into the Final Four. That did not happen, and I can’t blame them for taking full advantage. Every indication seems to point to another wildly successful campaign, as I don’t see any other Big Ten team capable of stopping them, unless Michigan shocks the world.