2014 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

football-introducing-the-science_1The time has finally come!! After decades of mythical national champions and BCS (emphasis on the BS) silliness college football finally gets a playoff. Is the system perfect?? I don’t know…probably not. But I will reserve judgment until I see exactly how it works out. One thing we know for sure…there is no longer a race to be #1 or even the runner-up. Four teams will earn an opportunity to be in the playoff mix, so as long as a team is amongst those final four they’ll get their shot. Any “controversy” will be a debate as to which team deserves that 4th spot, and I am sure there will be a few teams staking a claim. But at the end of the day my vibe is that the argument will be rather muted & somewhat trivial and that fans will be mostly satisfied with the outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Florida State
Last Season: 14-0
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Oklahoma St., 9/20 vs. Clemson, 10/18 vs. Notre Dame
Defending national champions. Returning Heisman winning quarterback. Former wrestling champion Ric Flair used to say “To be the man you have to beat the man”FloridaStateSeminoles1 and until a team comes along and knocks the Seminoles off their perch I think they have to be given this top spot. Two out-of-conference games against Oklahoma St. & Notre Dame as well as the always entertaining ACC clash against Clemson are all in Tallahassee. I’d be stunned if this team isn’t in that final four.

 

 

 

2 Oregon
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 9/6 vs. Michigan St., 10/11 at UCLA, 11/1 vs. Stanford
Quarterback Marcus Mariotta likely could have been a first round pick in the NFL Draft but chose to return to Eugene for a shot at the national title and a run at the Oregon-DucksHeisman Trophy. I think he has a strong chance to snag both. Head coach Mark Helfrich didn’t miss a beat after taking the helm last season when Chip Kelly moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles. The PAC 12 is one of the toughest conferences in the land, but I think we’ll see the Ducks overcome both UCLA and Stanford to once again be in the national championship conversation.

 

 

 

3 Alabama
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 11/8 at LSU, 11/29 vs. Auburn
Let’s be clear…the inaugural 4 team playoff will, come hell or high water, include the Crimson Tide. The major players in the SEC are probably going to spend the AlabamaCrimsonTide2season beating up on each other, but that’ll just endear them all to the lapdog media even more. ‘Bama must replace quarterback AJ McCarron who is now patiently awaiting the inevitable implosion of fellow signal caller Andy Dalton as a Cincinnati Bengal. I don’t think it matters who ends up with the job for the Tide. Their calling card is a tenacious defense and a virtually unstoppable running game.

 

 

 

4 South Carolina
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 8/28 vs. Texas A&M, 9/13 vs. Georgia, 10/25 at Auburn, 11/29 at Clemson
Do not be surprised if the powers-that-be contort themselves into a pretzel trying to get two SEC teams into the playoff. How does that happen?? Simple. First of all,Gamecocks the Gamecocks don’t play Alabama during the regular season. It is entirely conceivable that both teams go into the SEC title game undefeated. Maybe ‘Bama is #1 and South Carolina is a Top 10 team. South Carolina wins a close game and rightfully ascends into the top 4. The collective hard-on the masses have for Alabama means they tumble…but not much. It’s possible. You heard it here first.

 

 

 

5 UCLA
Last Season: 10-3
Key Games: 10/11 vs. Oregon, 11/22 vs. USC, 11/28 vs. Stanford
I really like the PAC 12, but in the scenario described above it could be their runner-up that gets left out in the cold. Let’s imagine this. Oregon beats the ucla_bruins2Bruins on October 11th and goes undefeated. UCLA overcomes the loss and doesn’t lose the rest of the regular season. The two meet again in the conference title game and the Ducks prevail in an epic contest. There is no way that UCLA beats out the SEC runner-up to get into the playoff.

 

 

 

6 Oklahoma
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 11/8 vs. Baylor, 12/6 vs. Oklahoma St.
The Big 12 only has ten teams and no championship game. That really hurts their chances of having a playoff team. It doesn’t help that the conference is relatively weak. oklahomaEntertaining?? Sure. But the Sooners defeating the likes of TCU, Iowa St., West Virginia, & Kansas by three or more touchdowns won’t impress anybody. It is more than possible that Oklahoma could run the table and still not even be in the playoff discussion. If they drop a game to Baylor or in-state rival Oklahoma St. then they’re toast.

 

 

 

7 Wisconsin
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 8/30 vs. LSU, 11/15 vs. Nebraska
Other pundits may be picking a different Big Ten (which now has 14 teams) team to prevail, but I think the Badgers will pound their way to the conference WisconsinBadgerschampionship behind 6ft.1 207lb. junior running back Melvin Gordon. Whether or not they win their season opening out-of-conference matchup with the LSU Tigers is irrelevant, although that game being in Madison certainly helps. A mid-November clash with Nebraska is also at home and will likely decide who represents the division in the conference title game.

 

 

 

8 Baylor
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 11/8 at Oklahoma
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty returns to lead what was a prolific and dominating offense in 2013. The Bears have the same issue as any other Big 12 contender inbaylor that they are unlikely to receive as much respect on a national scale as teams from the SEC or PAC 12. An out-of-conference schedule that includes SMU, Northwestern St., & Buffalo isn’t going to help. Basically the whole season comes down to an early November clash with the Sooners in Norman. The winner of that game probably plays in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. The loser will end up in something depressing like the Advocare Texas Bowl.

 

 

 

9 Boise State
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 8/28 vs. Ole Miss, 10/24 vs. BYU
They’re baaaccckkk. The Broncos have long been college football’s Little Engine That Could. They have consistently been a double digit win team over the past 15 boise-state-logoyears. After a lot of rumors and flirting with other gigs in the past decade former head coach Chris Petersen moved on to Washington and has been replaced in Boise by Bryan Harsin, a former Broncos offensive coordinator who also spent some time coaching under Mack Brown at Texas. After going 8-5 in 2013 no one is really talking about Boise St., which will make it all the sweeter when they win 10 or 11 games. Their season opener is an out-of-conference contest against an Ole Miss team that seems to be getting much love this pre-season despite the fact that they play a murderous SEC schedule. I’m betting people will remember Boise St. is still around afterward.

 

 

 

10 Michigan State
Last Season: 13-1
Key Games: 9/6 at Oregon, 10/4 vs. Nebraska, 11/8 vs. Ohio St.
The Spartans all too often get lost in the Big Ten (which has 14 teams) shuffle. But if you look at their success over the past few seasons they have been remarkablyMichigan_State_Spartans consistent, winning 11+ games three out of the past four years. This is another team that wins with good old-fashioned smashmouth football and a tough defense. Even if they lose 2 out of 3 key games and finish 10-2 they could have a legitimate opportunity to be in the conference title mix.

 

 

 

11 Ohio State
Last Season: 12-2
Key Games: 11/8 at Michigan St.
Losing QB Braxton Miller for the season virtually eliminates the Buckeyes from the championship picture. They have an unimpressive & weak schedule with neither Ohio_State_BuckeyesNebraska nor Wisconsin anywhere in sight. All it will take is a loss to Michigan St. to end the dream. And let’s be honest…if they were to somehow make it to the playoff they’d get beaten like a government mule.

 

 

 

12 Nebraska
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 10/4 at Michigan St., 11/15 at Wisconsin
I fully expect a logjam at the top of the Big Ten (which has 14 teams). There will probably be 3 or 4 teams finishing somewhere around the 9-3/10-2 mark. The nebraskaCornhuskers’ out-of-conference schedule, which includes Miami, FL & Fresno St., isn’t bad. If they can split their two key games they will almost certainly be a solid Top 25 team.

 

 

 

13 Marshall
Last Season: 10-4
Key Games: all of them and none of them
Marshall is my alma mater. I know that expectations are high in my old stomping grounds in Huntington, WV. Here is what I expect. I expect an undefeated season. I herdexpect QB Rakeem Cato to be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony though he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Arizona of actually winning. I expect that undefeated season to mean diddly squat as far as the national playoff. And I expect that if…if…the Herd screws the pooch in any game…including a C-USA championship game…they will tumble very quickly from the rankings.

 

 

 

14 Iowa
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 11/22 vs. Wisconsin, 11/28 vs. Nebraska
The Hawkeyes are another team that can always be dangerous even in a down year. Head coach Kirk Ferentz is one of those names that always gets mentioned iowafor “better” jobs, whether in the NFL or elsewhere in college. At age 59 and going into his 16th year at the helm in Iowa City it looks less & less likely that he will ever actually make the jump and will instead be one of those lifers like Bobby Bowden or Frank Beamer that sticks around for three decades. Having said that, a close examination of Iowa’s “success” under Ferentz shows that they’ve only had four double digit win seasons during his tenure. If they can split the two key games above…both of which are at home…they could add another in 2014.

 

 

 

15 Bowling Green
Last Season: 10-4
Key Games: I have no idea
Someone’s got to win the MAC, right?? Actually I like watching MAC football. Their games are usually quite entertaining. The problem is that they are all kind of just bowling greenrandom teams from Ohio (and a couple of other midwestern states). It reminds me of eating at McDonald’s…you know there are better options available and you aren’t quite sure exactly what you’re consuming, but in the moment it is sort of tasty and mostly satisfying. At any rate, the Falcons won the conference title game in 2013, upsetting a Northern Illinois team that was ranked in the Top 20. They seem to be getting some “others receiving votes” love in other polls, and since the entire Top 25 can’t be SEC, PAC 12, & Big Ten (which has 14 teams) I’ll give this team a fighting chance to win 10 or 11 games (they’ll get mauled at Wisconsin), win the conference, and earn this spot.

 

 

 

16 LSU
Last Season: 10-3
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Wisconsin, 10/4 at Auburn, 11/8 vs. Alabama, 11/27 at Texas A&M
The Bayou Bengals seem to be one of those teams that just reload and have tremendous success year after year. However, I am a bit nervous about their chances lsu_logo-9547in 2014. First of all they have to replace a quarterback, running back, & wide receiver (as well as about a half dozen other players) that were all taken in the NFL Draft. Secondly their out-of-conference schedule includes the season opener…a neutral site clash against Wisconsin. And of course the biggest issue…they play in the SEC. I realize that the wet dream of the powers-that-be is probably an all-SEC four team playoff for the national title, but that ain’t gonna happen. Someone will be on the outside looking in. If LSU can overcome all of that and still have a Top 20 team it will be a remarkable feat.

 

 

 

17 Stanford
Last Season: 11-3
Key Games: 9/6 vs. USC, 10/4 at Notre Dame, 11/1 at Oregon, 11/28 at UCLA
Stanford has the same issue as LSU. They play in a tough conference where the law of averages dictates that not everybody can be a Top 10 national photo.stanfordtreechampionship contender. The schedule is brutal. If this team can somehow get to 9 wins they will deserve a solid ranking.

 

 

 

18 Navy
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Ohio St., 11/1 vs. Notre Dame
Call me crazy, but I think the Midshipmen have a puncher’s chance in their season opening neutral site game against Ohio St. Okay okay…I’m not going to rush to navyVegas or Atlantic City and actually put money on that, but the rest of the season looks pretty decent. There is a November contest against Notre Dame that is also winnable. But even if Navy loses those two games they could still end up in this spot by going 10-2 and being very competitive (within two TDs) against the Buckeyes and Irish.

 

 

 

19 Oklahoma State
Last Season: 10-3
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Florida St., 11/22 at Baylor, 12/6 at Oklahoma
The Cowboys open their season at the Palace in Dallas against #1 Florida St. Ouch. If they pull the upset it’ll turn college football on its collective ear on the very firstoklahoma_state_cowboys_iphone_wallpaper weekend of the season. However, even though that is unlikely, the truth is that the whole season comes down to the final two games against Baylor and Oklahoma. Split those two games and this ranking looks golden. But even if Oklahoma St. loses all three of their key games they can still get here by being very competitive in those games and beating their other nine opponents into oblivion.

 

 

 

20 Central Florida
Last Season: 12-1
Key Games: 8/30 at Penn St., 9/13 at Missouri
Quick…tell me what conference UCF plays in. Now tell me three other teams in that conference. Give up?? The American Athletic Conference is the very definition 2007-UCF-Knight-headof mediocrity, comprised of refugees from C-USA and the old Big East that just didn’t have enough to offer for a more well-respected conference to invite them to play with the big boys. It is somewhat surprising that UCF finds itself in such a hot mess given that they are the 2nd largest university in the country. Let that sink in for a minute. UCF is bigger than Florida, Florida St., & Miami, FL…all of whom have had tremendous success on the gridiron. Will such success eventually occur for the Knights?? Maybe. Until that happens though they will be satisfied to win their conference and be a solid Top 20 team. I am a bit concerned that they must replace QB Blake Bortles who is now plying his trade in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But at the end of the day I think this is a team that will overcome adversity, win 9 or 10 games, and secure another conference title.

 

 

 

21 Arizona
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 10/2 at Oregon, 10/11 vs. USC, 11/1 at UCLA,
There are a handful of other PAC 12 teams that get all the love, but don’t forget about the Wildcats. Head coach Rich Fraudriguez seems to be much more college_arizona_90comfortable in Tucson than he ever was in Ann Arbor, MI. I think lower expectations and staying off the beaten path suits him well. If Arizona can pull off just one big upset and win 9 or 10 games they are a solid choice to sneak into the rankings.

 

 

 

22 Notre Dame
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 10/4 vs. Stanford, 10/18 at Florida St., 11/29 at USC
The Fighting Irish can’t cheat as much on the football field as they apparently do in the classroom because…well…television cameras. The question is can theyNotreDameFightingIrish recover from the loss of atleast 4 players (and who knows what other shoes may drop) and meet always lofty expectations?? I assume they’ll hang around and be good enough to be a solid 8/9 win bowl team. Brian Kelly is a good coach and QB Everett Golson returns from his 2013…hiatus…which means the offense should be decent. Pulling an upset in any one of the three key games would almost assure sneaking into the final rankings.

 

 

 

23 Virginia Tech
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 9/6 at Ohio St., 10/4 at North Carolina, 10/23 vs. Miami, FL
Florida St. will win the ACC. But who will win the other division and be chum for the Seminoles in the conference title game?? Most “experts” are picking North Virginia_Tech_Hokies2Carolina or Miami to fill that role. I’m playing a hunch and going against the grain. Head coach Frank Beamer has a ton of experience and his team plays in a relatively mediocre conference. I don’t think they’ll beat Ohio St., but that isn’t where the focus should be anyway. It’s a three horse race for the Coastal Division and it’ll all come down to October contests against the Tar Heels and Hurricanes.

 

 

24 Auburn
Last Season: 12-2
Key Games: 10/4 vs. LSU, 10/25 vs. South Carolina, 11/8 vs. Texas A&M, 11/15 at Georgia, 11/29 at Alabama
An old saying tells us that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Tigers were very very very lucky last season. Oh they were good too…but being lucky auburntook them from going 9-3 and playing in the Cotton Bowl to going 12-1 and coming up short in the national championship. They won’t be as fortunate this season. I’m not concerned about players lost to the NFL. Teams like Auburn just reload, and QB Nick Marshall returns for his senior year as a viable Heisman candidate. But the schedule is ridiculously difficult and I don’t think this team will win more than a couple of the key games noted above.

 

 

 

25 Georgia
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Clemson, 9/13 at South Carolina
A 8/9 win season and a Top 25 ranking might not seem good enough for an upper echelon SEC team, but I say it’d be a pretty decent finish all things considered.georgia The Bulldogs must replace QB Aaron Murray, but they still have junior RB Todd Gurley, a 6ft.1 232lb. brute with 4.2/40 speed. He’ll be a legitimate Heisman candidate, but the defense will have to step up and new signal caller Hutson Mason…a senior who has sat behind Murray for four years…will have to become comfortable really quickly. I won’t be a bit surprised if 4 or 5 SEC teams end the season ranked, but logic dictates that they all can’t finish in the Top 10.

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.

2012 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 5

 

Well…atleast last week I upgraded back to mediocrity from the depths of ineptitude that plagued my previous effort. That’s my lame effort to polish another turd anyway. I went 4-5. I suppose the good news is that at this point some trends in both college football & the NFL are beginning to emerge, and we are starting to get a better idea of which teams are truly good and which ones aren’t likely to cut the mustard in 2012. I am confident that this knowledge will help me significantly improve my 11-19 record, as long as I can minimize my propensity for making off-the-wall choices. The fact is that my vibes are about as accurate as a Tim Tebow pass across the middle, and I am man enough to admit it. At any rate, let’s talk football and make some picks!!

 

 

 

Tennessee          at            Georgia (-15.5)

Now the real season begins. The Vols come into this game 3-1, but like a lot of other college teams they haven’t played anybody. Ditto for the Bulldogs, who are 4-0 and ranked #5 in the polls. In my pre-season rankings I put Tennessee at #12 and left Georgia unranked. Was I right, or am I insane?? This game might decide that. To be honest, I’d be very surprised if Tennessee actually won. Georgia is as good as most of the pundits said they would be before the season began. My supposition that there are such a plethora of good teams in the SEC that someone has to be left on the outside looking in is very likely true, but it looks like the Bulldogs won’t be that team. However, I find the spread on this game interesting. The only legitimate piece of evidence we have to examine is Tennessee’s loss to Florida a couple of weeks ago, in which they were beaten by 17 points, and that isn’t really any help. So do I go with the experts, or do I go with my unreliable vibes?? There is an element of pride here wherein I just cannot bring myself to abandon what was a risky pre-season pick. The Vols may not win this game, but I have the backs of my boys from Rocky Top and will assume they have enough testicular fortitude to be competitive and cover the spread.

 

 

Ohio State          at            Michigan State (-1)

Ohio St. is 4-0 and ranked among the top 20, even though they are ineligible for post-season play. The Spartans are 3-1, having defeated Boise St. and two cupcakes while falling to the hated Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The Buckeyes have looked less than impressive in narrow victories over Cal & UAB the past two weeks, so they are going to have to wake up and realize they are playing a real opponent now. Michigan St. is a slight favorite only because of the home field advantage. I really like young OSU signal caller Braxton Miller, but I’m not impressed with their defense. Michigan St. RB Le’veon Bell is a native of a small Columbus, OH suburb but wasn’t recruited by Ohio St. One thing I love about college football is that little things like that can be important. Bell is averaging 150 yards/game, and though I don’t expect he’ll be quite that successful this week I do believe he’ll make an impact. That’s enough for me to pick Michigan St.

 

 

Virginia Tech (-6)             vs.          Cincinnati

The Hokies come into this contest 3-1 and giving off mixed signals. They defeated Georgia Tech in overtime but inexplicably lost to the horrible Pitt Panthers a couple weeks ago. I picked the Bearcats #11 in my pre-season poll  with the logic that someone has to win The Big East, and thus far they are 2-0 and coming off a rather early bye week. Cincinnati, by the way, beat the same Pitt team that defeated Virginia Tech. I would really love to pick Cincinnati here, not only because I put them in my Top 25 but also because I have always had a robust disdain for Virginia Tech. However, the game is in Blacksburg and I find it difficult to believe that they’ll lose two games in a row. Coming out of a bye should mean the Bearcats are healthy, well rested, and full of energy. If the game was in Cincy or the spread was larger I’d go with my heart, but neither of things is true so I am forced to hold my nose and pick the hated Hokies.

 

 

Texas (-2)            at            Oklahoma State

West Virginia Mountaineer fans might be fully focused on their inaugural Big 12 game against Baylor, but they should take note of this matchup of two future foes. One team will move forward in its quest for the conference title, while the loser of this game is very likely out of the running pretty darn quickly. Texas is trying to rebound from two straight subpar seasons and thus far have looked more like the old successful Longhorns that we are all used to rather than whoever those impostors were the past couple of years. Oklahoma St. has beaten two cupcakes and lost to Arizona, leading the nation in points scored along the way. I picked both teams to sneak into the Top 25 in my pre-season poll, and that could still happen, but the winner here will certainly have a leg up. I am mildly surprised that the visitors are the favorites, even though it is only a 2 point spread. I almost always go with the home team in these situations, and there is a huge question as to whether or not Texas is truly “back” after the way they have played in recent years. That question may not be fully answered this week, but we’ll get a good idea. The vibes are literally having an argument in my head about this one and I really feel like it’s a tossup. But hey, I have to pick someone, right?? I guess I will play it safe and choose the Longhorns, but no outcome will surprise me all that much.

 

 

Minnesota          at            Detroit (-4.5)

I know the NFL values parity, but this season has been ridiculous. At this point I wouldn’t be shocked if the playoffs are chock full of 8-8 teams. I don’t think anyone foresaw the Vikings upset of San Francisco last week, which made Minnesota 2-1. Meanwhile, the evolution of the Lions from pretenders to contenders seems to have stalled a bit, as they come into this game 1-2, although to be fair they barely lost last week to Tennessee in overtime. Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson is kinda sorta back from a knee injury, but he has yet to break 100 yards in a game this season. Detroit might have found its answer at RB with the long awaited debut of Mikel Leshoure, who gained 100 yards in his first NFL game last week. In my mind this matchup comes down to one thing: Matthew Stafford & Calvin Johnson vs. Christian Ponder & Percy Harvin. Whoever hits the big plays will win. I don’t think the Vikings can duplicate their tremendous effort from last week, so I’ll go with the home team favorites.

 

 

Chicago                at            Dallas (-3.5)

This is the Monday night game this week. Both teams are 2-1 and haven’t given fans any inclination one way or another who they really are. Bears’ QB Jay Cutler is a mediocre headcase with loads of unrealized potential. The entire Cowboys franchise is a mediocre headcase with loads of unrealized potential. Seriously…every single year multiple talking heads pick both of these teams to do great things, and every year both teams fall way short of expectations. At this point I’m not sure why anyone cares. Both of these teams are teams that people watch their games to see whoever their opponent is. A game pitting the two of them against each other is like two second-rate and largely disappointing worlds colliding. It’s like watching a movie with a bunch of character actors and no leading men. But I guess I have to pick someone. Honestly I’d have more fun skipping this choice and watching The Weather Channel. In my NFL preview I predicted the Bears to go 9-7 and miss the playoffs, while I said the Cowboys would go 10-6 and be a wildcard. I suppose that one game difference is this one, so I’ll pick Dallas.

 

 

San Diego (1.5)                 at            Kansas City

The Chargers come into this game 2-1, while the Chiefs are 1-2. I would have thought it’d be the other way around. Kansas City leads the NFL in rushing, but that statistic is misleading since it is largely based on RB Jamaal Charles gaining a whopping 233 yards last week in a huge overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints. San Diego is 4th in the NFL in rushing defense, so something will have to give here. This is the Sunday night game on NBC, which in recent years has become a much more entertaining product than ESPN’s Monday night offering. That obviously has nothing to do with the actual game, although I am guessing that teams might get energized by being the prime time center of attention. At any rate, the winner here will gain a small advantage in the race for the AFC West division crown, so it is far from a meaningless game. In my NFL preview I said the Chargers would go 6-10 and head coach Norv Turner would soon be unemployed, while I picked Kansas City to sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard. I guess I should stand behind my own predictions, so I’ll go with the underdog Chiefs.