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.





2019-20 College Football Bowl-a-Palooza

The old adage is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Political pundit Steven Crowder has a frequent feature on his podcast called “Change My Mind”, in which he engages in polite debate with those who disagree with whatever opinion he is presenting at that moment. I’m old-ish & stuck in my ways, so I tend to agree with the notion of not being able to teach old dog new tricks, and I have very strong beliefs about many things so it is difficult for others to change my mind about much. But friends…today I have evolved. I have changed my mind. It’s a freakin’ miracle!! For years I have been a proponent of fewer bowl games and railed against the evil of pedestrian teams being rewarded for their mediocrity, while others have promoted the idea of “the more the merrier” because watching an unexceptional football game is still a pleasant way to spend a few hours. Friends, I have seen the light. I have broken on thru to the other side. Perhaps it’s because there are so few entertaining options on television these days. Or maybe I’ve become even more of a couch potato than ever. A girlfriend might be nice too, but that’s not happening anytime soon. I don’t know why, but I say bring on the bowl games!! Show me your 6-6 teams. Beguile me with games featuring teams from the Sun Belt, MAC, & C-USA whose existence the talking heads don’t even acknowledge. Give me games at 2pm on a Tuesday for no apparent reason. Offer me an alternative to Christmas movies I’ve seen a thousand times. Cause me to question whether I really want to go out on New Year’s Eve or if I’d prefer to stay home and watch football. Allow me the opportunity to become invested in a tie game late in the 4th quarter featuring two teams I know absolutely nothing about. Just bring it!! As always these games do not count toward our season long Pigskin Picks of Profundity, we don’t bother with point spreads, & we understand that a variety of elements that we may know nothing about can have an effect on the outcome. Zach has beaten me in these picks the last three years. I usually start off strong then fade when the “big & important” games roll around, which basically means that I’m better at guessing about games that I don’t know anything about than informed analysis of games about which I think I have some knowledge. We’ll see if I can change that this year. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/20/19

Bahamas Bowl (2pm on ESPN)

Buffalo Bulls (7-5)                vs.              Charlotte 49ers (7-5)

I don’t get the opportunity to travel much. I spent a big chunk of last summer in two hospitals in different counties, and that’s about as far as I’ve gone in awhile. Therefore, I think it’s pretty damn cool that football provides a bunch of youngsters a chance to visit a tropical paradise like The Bahamas. The game itself should be entertaining. Buffalo has sent a few players to the NFL in recent years, most notably Bears LB Khalil Mack & former Chargers RB Branden Oliver. Charlotte is an up & coming team, but this is their first ever bowl game so I have to give the edge to the Bulls. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Buffalo

Z’s Pick:     Buffalo

 

 

Frisco Bowl (Frisco, TX – 7:30pm on ESPN2)

Kent State Golden Flashes         (6-6)            vs.    Utah State Aggies (7-5)

The Frisco Bowl (which takes place in Texas and not California) enters its third season looking for a competitive game since the first two have been lopsided blowouts. Utah St. has gone bowling 8 out of the past 9 seasons, winning 4-3 in the previous games, while this will only be Kent St.’s fourth bowl game ever and their first since 2012. They’ve not won the previous three so I think they’re about due. Conversely, Zach thinks the Aggies have an advantage on the offensive line and will utilize the running game to snag a victory.

My Pick:     Kent St.

Z’s Pick:     Utah St.

 

 

Saturday 12/21

 

Celebration Bowl (Atlanta, GA) – Noon on ABC)

Alcorn State Braves (9-3)   vs.    North Carolina A&T Aggies (8-3)

This game serves as a de facto championship among historically black colleges and is the only current bowl game to feature teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (everyone else has a full blown playoff system. This will be A&T’s third straight appearance, while the Braves were also in it a year ago. In that contest the Aggies scored a two point victory, so I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the Braves earn a measure of revenge this year. Zach is picking A&T to repeat.

My Pick:     Alcorn State

Z’s Pick:     North Carolina A&T

 

 

New Mexico Bowl (2pm on ESPN)

Central Michigan Chippewas (8-5)      vs.    San Diego State Aztecs (9-3)

The Vibes are telling me that this might be a high scoring shootout, although the Aztecs have only exceeded 30 points once this season while the Chippewas have exceeded 40 points six times. I say they meet somewhere in the middle, with San Diego St. pulling out a 34-31 victory. Zach points out that…troubled…NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown is a Central Michigan product, and since we Steeler fans are no longer in the AB business that’s enough for him to choose San Diego St. I must admit that I was thinking along the same lines but chose not to go there. I’m kind of glad he did though.

My Pick:     San Diego St.

Z’s Pick:     San Diego St.

 

 

Cure Bowl (Orlando, FL – 2:30pm on CBS Sports Network)

Liberty Flames (7-5)            vs.              Georgia Southern Eagles (7-5)

Proceeds from this game go to help the fight against breast cancer, which is nice. Liberty is in its first full season in Division1-A/FBS, while Georgia Southern has been playing in the Sun Belt Conference since 2014. They are 2-0 in previous bowl appearances in addition to winning six 1-AA national titles, second only to North Dakota St. The Flames are off to a good start, but I think they’ll fall to a team that has post-season winning in their DNA. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Georgia Southern

Z’s Pick:     Georgia Southern

 

 

Boca Raton Bowl (3:30pm on ABC)

Florida Atlantic Owls (10-3)         vs.    Southern Methodist Mustangs (10-2)

Lane Kiffin has already left FAU behind and headed to Old Miss, so the Owls will be playing for an interim coach until Willie Taggart takes the reins. FAU comes into the game riding a six game winning streak, while things have been a bit bumpier for the Mustangs. After starting the season 8-0 SMU has lost 2 out of their last 4. This is a home game for the Owls, which is an issue the NCAA really needs to address. No team should be allowed to play a bowl game in their own stadium. But that’s not the case at the moment, so given the situation I think it’ll be an easy win for FAU. Zach thinks it might be a close game but also likes the Owls to win.

My Pick:     FAU

Z’s Pick:     FAU

 

 

Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, AL – 5:30pm on ESPN)

Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-5)        vs.    Florida International Panthers (6-6)

This is your annual reminder that a camellia is a lovely flower that some may recall being mentioned in the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird. As far as the matchup is concerned, FIU’s season has been a real roller coaster, while Arkansas St. had won four straight before losing their season ending game at South Alabama.  I’m going to ride with the Panthers because in the wild I feel like a panther would kick a wolf’s ass. Zach likes FIU to win a low scoring defensive battle.

My Pick:     FIU

Z’s Pick:     FIU

 

 

Las Vegas Bowl (7:30pm on ABC)

Boise State Broncos (12-1)         vs.              Washington Huskies (7-5)

It may not be a New Year’s game against a Top 10 team, but Boise has another opportunity to go toe to toe with a “power” conference team and give some folks (maybe the Big 12) something to think about when the next round of upheaval rolls around. The Huskies have fallen off a bit after three straight 10+ win seasons, but that’s just college football; most teams aren’t football factories that reload every year…they are actually affected by graduations & players moving on to the NFL. I’m far too lazy to do actual research, but it’s safe to assume that Washington probably has a size & athleticism advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball where games are often won & lost in the 4th quarter. That means that logically one should lean that way, but I’m not always logical. The Broncos have overcome the numbers before and I think they’ll do it again. Zach, on the other hand, likes Huskies’ QB Jacob Eason to lead his team to victory.

My Pick:     Boise St.

Z’s Pick:     Washington

 

 

New Orleans Bowl (9pm on ESPN)

Appalachian State Mountaineers (12-1)      vs.     Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (9-4)  

Well, atleast one team named Mountaineers is playing in a bowl game. App. St. is a solid Top 25 team, but UAB has had a nice season as well. The Mountaineers will have a new head coach…their third in three years because it’s that type of program; successful, but a launchpad to allegedly bigger & better stuff. The positive thing is that their new coach has been their offensive line coach for a few years so there shouldn’t be much upheaval. UAB has fared rather well since reviving their football program a few years ago, amassing a 28-12 record since 2017, but I think they’ll fall short in this game, and so does Zach.

My Pick:     Appalachian St.

Z’s Pick:     Appalachian St.

 

 

Monday 12/23

 

Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa, FL – 2:30pm on ESPN)

Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4)           vs.    Central Florida Knights (9-3)

I make no effort to hide my bias when it comes to my alma mater, so I’ll definitely be pulling for the Herd, but I am legit intrigued. UCF claimed to be an uncrowned national champion after going undefeated in 2017, then followed that up with a 12-1 record a year ago (with the loss being to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl). They may have fallen off just a bit this year, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good. Marshall will need to play a damn near perfect four quarters to get the upset. Zach foresees a high scoring affair and doesn’t think MU has the horses to get the job done.

My Pick:     Marshall

Z’s Pick:     UCF

 

 

Christmas Eve

Hawaii Bowl (8pm on ESPN)

BYU Cougars (7-5)              vs.    Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (9-5)

Did you know about the Hawaii Exemption?? It’s an NCAA rule that allows the Rainbows and any team on their schedule that travels to the islands to either play an extra game to help nullify travel expenses or have an extra bye week during the season. That’s why Hawaii has played 14 games. However, though that is a pretty neat rule I still think it is unfair for Hawaii or any other team to play a bowl game on their home turf, even if it is cool for the BYU folks to get to be in paradise for Christmas. This will be Hawaii’s fifth appearance since 2008 and they are 1-4 in that timeframe. I think they’ll be successful this year. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Hawaii

Z’s Pick:     Hawaii

 

Thursday 12/26

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, LA – 4pm on ESPN)

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (9-3)             vs.    Miami (FL) Hurricanes (6-6)

After going a combined 19-7 in Mark Richt’s first two seasons as head coach it kind of felt like the ‘Canes were recapturing a wee bit of the glory that made them one of the preeminent college football teams of the 1990’s. But they fell off dramatically a year ago Richt retired and now the program is trying to get things revved up again. However, even though Miami now obviously isn’t the Miami of old I have to believe that everyone associated with La. Tech is considering this a huge opportunity for a program defining victory. Will it happen?? It’s going to be tough, but I think the Bulldogs will outscore their opponents and come away with a hard fought win. Zach thinks Miami will be ready to go and get a comfortable win.

My Pick:     Louisiana Tech

Z’s Pick:     Miami (FL)

 

 

Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, MI – 8pm on ESPN)

Eastern Michigan Eagles (6-6)   vs.    Pitt Panthers (7-5)

On one hand I’m tempted to lampoon sPitt for being the very definition  if a mediocre football program, but I’m sure that their fans would point out that atleast that team is playing in a bowl game, whereas their rivals in the now dormant Backyard Brawl…my West Virginia Mountaineers…are not. Having said that, I think the Eagles will score the upset and leave the Panthers wondering where it all went so wrong. Zach thinks Pitt is probably the better team.

My Pick:     Eastern Michigan

Z’s Pick:     Pitt

 

Friday 12/27

Military Bowl (Annapolis, MD – Noon on ESPN)

North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6)             vs.    Temple Owls (8-4)

Did y’all see the late September game where the Tar Heels darn near beat Clemson?? Of course I need to be fair and point out losses to Wake Forest & Pitt. So the question is whether a middle-of-the-pack ACC team is better than the middle-of-the-pack team from the America Athletic Conference, and I think the answer is “yes”, especially when a rejuvenated Mack Brown is the head coach. Zach likes Temple’s defense to play well enough to score a close win.

My Pick:     North Carolina

Z’s Pick:     Temple

 

Pinstripe Bowl (NY, NY – 3:20pm on ESPN)

Michigan State Spartans (6-6)             vs.    Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8-4)

Is there a more confusing team in college football than Michigan St.?? From 2013-15 they were 36-5, fell to 3-9 in 2016, rebounded to 10-3 in 2017, a year later went 7-6, and now need a win to match that record in 2019. I have no idea what to make of them. Meanwhile, this is Wake’s fourth straight 7+ win season after being abysmal for about eight years. The arrow is pointing up for the Demon Deacons, while the arrow is drunk for the Spartans. I like consistency and think this will be a nice victory for the relatively weak ACC. Zach thinks it’ll be a low scoring defensive struggle and likes the Spartans to get a close win.

My Pick:     Wake Forest

Z’s Pick:     Michigan St.

 

 

Texas Bowl (Houston, TX – 6:45pm on ESPN)

Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-4)           vs.    Texas A&M Aggies (7-5)

One can choose to look at A&M’s season in one of two ways. Either their brutally difficult schedule has prepared them for battle and laid the groundwork for future success, or they’ve got to be exhausted & beaten up after playing five Top 10 teams. I’m a glass half full kind of guy so I choose the former viewpoint. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been completely overlooked while having a solid season, beating everyone they should have and losing only to the best teams in the Big 12 (well, except for Texas Tech…no idea what happened there). OK St. has running back Chuba Hubbard, who finished as the nation’s leading rusher with over 1900 yards and 8th in Heisman voting, but the Aggies have a more complete team and bright future. Zach believes that A&M’s season has prepared them for this moment and they’ll outscore their opponents in a tough game.

My Pick:     Texas A&M

Z’s Pick:    Texas A&M

 

 

Holiday Bowl (San Diego, CA – 8pm on FS1)

Iowa Hawkeyes (9-3)           vs.    Southern California Trojans (8-4)

Friday nights are rough for me since I have to be at work at 6:30am on Saturdays, but I might have to stay up a bit late to watch this one. I expected better things for USC this year, but injuries pretty much torpedoed their season. The Hawkeyes started the season 4-0 but two straight losses in October ended any hopes of competing in a loaded Big Ten. The Trojans are riding a three game winning streak, but I think Iowa will dedicate the game to recently deceased legendary coach Hayden Fry and score an emotional victory. Zach thinks this game might be somewhat boring, but he believes Southern Cal is a more balanced & complete team that’ll get the close victory.

My Pick:     Iowa

Z’s Pick:     USC

 

 

Cheez-It Bowl (Phoenix, AZ – 10:15pm on ESPN)

Air Force Falcons (10-2)    vs.    Washington State Cougars (6-6)

No, I won’t be staying up to watch this one…I have my limits. I do enjoy watching the military academies play, although it seems like prepping for a bowl game gives opponents ample time to figure out the quirks. The Falcons are 4-3 in the past decade of post-season games, and the Cougars won’t be an easy out. I expect plenty of offense and would certainly take the over, whatever that may be. The Cheez-It Bowl has had a variety of names…Copper Bowl, Cactus Bowl, Insight Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl…but it’s usually a fun game no matter what it’s called. I think the Cougars probably have a depth & size advantage up & down the lines and that will enable them to take command in the 4th quarter for a comfortable win. Zach isn’t sure either defense will have much success and likes the Cougars’ ability to put up points.

My Pick:     Washington St.

Z’s Pick:     Washington St.

 

 

Saturday 12/28

Camping World Bowl (Orlando, FL – Noon on ABC)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2)                   vs.    Iowa State Cyclones (7-5)

I haven’t heard much about Notre Dame this season. Perhaps that is because their ten win season comes against a relatively unimpressive schedule. They lost to Georgia & Michigan, although in fairness I suppose wins against Virginia, Virginia Tech, USC, & Navy deserve mild kudos since those are all bowl teams. I really thought the Cyclones would challenge for the Big 12 title, but Baylor was better than anyone thought and a season ending loss to Kansas St. was something I wouldn’t have predicted. I’m sure most of the talking heads will be in the tank for the Irish, but I believe they’re going to find themselves in a tougher battle than expected. Zach likes Notre Dame’s defense and believes that’ll make the difference in a close game.

My Pick:     Iowa St.

Z’s Pick:     Notre Dame

 

 

Cotton Bowl (Dallas, TX – Noon on ESPN)

Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2)           vs.    Memphis Tigers (12-1)

So this is the…ummm…reward…for winning the AAC & being the highest ranked “Group of Five” team?? I could go off on a tirade about the structure of college football and how I’d change everything if I had the power, but let’s save it for another time. Much like Notre Dame the Nittany Lions haven’t received much love in 2019 despite winning ten games. That’s what happens when you play not only in the same conference as Ohio St. but also the same division. A loss to Minnesota that no one would have predicted four months ago didn’t help. Having said that, I have to believe that Penn St. has vastly superior athleticism & depth over Memphis, and this game won’t be all that close. It won’t help the Tigers that former head coach Mike Norvell has already moved on to Florida St. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Penn St.

Z’s Pick:     Penn St.

 

 

Peach Bowl (Atlanta, GA – 4pm on ESPN)

College Football Playoff Semifinal

LSU Tigers (13-0)                vs.              Oklahoma Sooners (12-1)

They really had no choice. The playoff committee was hamstrung by Utah’s loss in the Pac 12 title game & Georgia’s poor performance in the SEC title game. I was sincerely hoping for a more interesting alternative, but Baylor failed miserably so here we are with the Sooners getting a crack at solving the playoff puzzle, the Big 12’s first appearance in this format. Do I think they have a shot?? No. LSU is a well-oiled machine with a Heisman winning QB and a powerful offense that more than makes up for their 32nd ranked defense. There are NFL prospects up & down both rosters, but the Tigers are clearly the better team and I don’t even think it’s close. Zach likes Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, but doesn’t feel like Oklahoma’s defense is up to the task of stopping Joe Burrow & the Tigers’ offense.

My Pick:     LSU

Z’s Pick:     LSU

 

 

Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ – 8pm on ESPN)

College Football Playoff Semifinal

Ohio State Buckeyes          (13-0)         vs.    Clemson Tigers (13-0)

I get it. I understand why Clemson is here. They’re undefeated and the defending national champions. They’ve been in the playoff three previous times. Dabo Swinney is one of the best coaches in college football and he’s a fun interview (much more entertaining than Nick Saban). But when one really looks at THIS season and examines their weak schedule it just feels like they shouldn’t be a playoff team. Conversely, the Buckeyes have faced some real challenges and faced every single one. They had three players in the top 6 in Heisman voting, which negatively impacted those players’ chances to win but certainly speaks well of the program. Chase Young is the best defensive player in the nation and will be a very high NFL draft choice whenever he decides to move on. Will this be a good game?? Probably. I have no doubt that Swinney will have his troops ready to play and they’ll be psyched to play a legit opponent. But I just don’t see any way that Clemson can overcome the odds and defeat a better team. For Zach it comes down to coaching, and he believes Swinney will find a way to lead his team to a hard fought victory.

My Pick:     Ohio St.

Z’s Pick:     Clemson

 

 

Monday 12/30

First Responder Bowl (Dallas, TX – 12:30pm on ESPN)

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-4)    vs.    Western Michigan Broncos (7-5)

I’m glad they changed the name of this game from the weird sounding Heart of Dallas Bowl. Y’all know how neurotic I can be about corporate sponsorship and bowl names, but I suppose a game honoring our nation’s first responders is a nice idea. As for the game itself, I’m a little more familiar with the Hilltoppers since they’ve competed against my Thundering Herd in C-USA for several years, while I haven’t followed the Broncos at all. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Western Kentucky

Z’s Pick:     Western Kentucky

 

 

Music City Bowl (Nashville, TN – 4pm on ESPN)

Louisville Cardinals (7-5)            vs.    Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6)

Mediocre teams…one from a mediocre conference and the other that gets lost in the SEC shuffle. I think the Bulldogs probably have better athletes on their roster and most certainly have played tougher opponents this season, which should have them well prepared. Zach likes Louisville to win a shootout.

My Pick:     Mississippi St.

Z’s Pick:     Louisville

 

 

Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, CA – 4pm on Fox)

California Golden Bears (7-5)     vs.    Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6)

Is Redbox still a thing?? Doesn’t everyone stream movies now?? Do they even still make DVDs?? These questions interest me far more than the game itself. Illinois did score one big win over Wisconsin, so there’s that. Plus you just have to dig Illini head coach Lovie Smith, who probably should get another opportunity in the NFL someday. Cal will probably have a bit of a “home field” advantage since the game is being played less than two hours from their campus, but I like Lovie to lead his team to victory. Zach thinks Cal will go up early, Illinois will make a spirited comeback, but that effort will fall short.

My Pick:     Illinois

Z’s Pick:     California

 

 

Orange Bowl (Miami, FL – 8pm on ESPN)

Florida Gators (10-2)           vs.              Virginia Cavaliers (9-4)

I’m just going to go ahead and say it…Virginia is vastly overrated. If one peeks at their schedule you’ll see that they lost to four bowl teams (Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville, & Clemson), while padding their resume with wins over William & Mary, Old Dominion, and the train wreck that Florida St. has become. Sorry, but I’m not buying the Cavaliers hype. Conversely, the Gators did quite well in the nation’s toughest conference and fell short against LSU & Georgia, which isn’t anything to feel bad about. I’m forecasting a blowout win for Florida. Zach thinks it’ll be a close game but also believes the Gators will win.

My Pick:     Florida

Z’s Pick:     Florida

 

 

New Year’s Eve

 

Belk Bowl (Charlotte, NC – Noon on ESPN)

Kentucky Wildcats (7-5)               vs.              Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4)

I ranked the Hokies 25th in my pre-season poll and had a feeling they’d turn things around from last season’s 6-7 abomination. Tough losses to Notre Dame & Virginia doomed their conference title ambitions, but progress is progress. This will be defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s final game in that role after more than three decades in Blacksburg. He says he’s retiring, but we know how those stories go and since he’s only 60 years old I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on a sideline somewhere in a year or two, but his departure will certainly have a negative impact on Tech. Under Foster’s guidance Tech has had one of the top defenses in the nation for many years and I suspect they’ll be amped up to send him out on a high note. Long known as a basketball school, Kentucky has had a football renaissance the past few years, but I don’t think they stand a chance in this game. Zach has a little more faith in UK to keep things close but also believes Tech’s defense will lead them to victory.

My Pick:     Virginia Tech

Z’s Pick:     Virginia Tech

 

 

 Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX – 2pm on CBS)

Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5)   vs.    Florida State Seminoles (6-6)

Okay okay…the Seminoles are a train wreck, but they are a bowl eligible train wreck, so atleast they got that going for them, which is nice. Willie Taggart was fired mid-season and Mike Norvell will be coming down from Memphis to take over, so they are playing under an interim coach for the time being. Conversely, my man Herm Edwards is firmly entrenched at Arizona St. and has what it takes to build a winning program. A signature win over Florida St….even this version of Florida St….would be a real boost. I always enjoy watching the Sun Bowl. There’s nothing better to do on New Year’s Eve afternoon since the…festivities…don’t start until later, and it’s fun to wonder what it’d be like to live in a sunshine filled delight like El Paso instead of the grey, cold, depressing winter of Appalachia. At any rate, I think the Sun Devils will get the job done by a comfortable margin. The Seminoles will be back near the top someday, but that day is not now. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Arizona St.

Z’s Pick:     Arizona St.

  

 

Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN – 3:45pm on ESPN)

Kansas State Wildcats (8-4)                 vs.              Navy Midshipmen (10-2)

I’m glad to see one of the service academies playing in the Liberty Bowl. It just makes sense. K St. gets lost in the Big 12 shuffle while everyone fawns all over Oklahoma & Texas and this year Baylor, but they have quietly put together a solid yet wildly inconsistent program. This has been a good year for them. Unfortunately for the Wildcats their opponents are having their best season since 2016 and I think the Midshipmen will get the easy win. Zach thinks Navy’s triple option spells doom for the Wildcats.

My Pick:     Navy

Z’s Pick:     Navy

 

 

Arizona Bowl (4:30pm on CBS Sports Network)

Georgia State Panthers (7-5)                vs.              Wyoming Cowboys (7-5)

I have a vague recollection of Wyoming having a really good football team back in the late 1980’s & early 90’s. Unfortunately we east coasters don’t get much of an opportunity to watch their games. The Panthers have only had a football program since 2010 and moved up to Division 1-A/FBS in 2013. This will be their third bowl game in five years. I am intrigued by this game simply because I know very little about either team. I suppose I’ll pull for Georgia St. because I assume they’ll be considered underdogs. Zach likes Wyoming.

My Pick:     Georgia St.

Z’s Pick:     Wyoming

 

 

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX – 7:30pm on ESPN)

Utah Utes (11-2)                             vs.              Texas Longhorns (7-5)

Oh wow…another “woulda, coulda, shoulda” matchup. Utah had to win the Pac 12 title and almost certainly would have been in the playoff, but they laid an egg against Oregon. The college football world has been waiting for awhile for Texas to climb back on top, but after a stellar 10-4 record a year ago they fell flat in 2019. The Utes have a really good defense, but Texas probably has the deeper & more athletic team. This one could be a dogfight that goes right down to the wire, and I’d be fine with that. In the end I believe in the old philosophy that defense wins championships and I think Utah’s physicality makes the difference. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Utah

Z’s Pick:     Utah

 

 

New Year’s Day

Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL – 1pm on ABC)

Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2)               vs.              Michigan Wolverines (9-3)

This is not where these two teams would prefer to be on New Year’s Day. As we all know, ‘Bama is usually in the playoff whether they win the SEC title or not, but losing the Iron Bowl to archrival Auburn spelled doom. Meanwhile, the folks in Ann Arbor may or may not be growing a little impatient with head coach Jim Harbaugh. 47-15 over the course of five years would get buildings named after a coach at most universities, but Michigan has extremely high…maybe impossible…expectations. However, putting all expectations aside this is a pretty darn entertaining matchup for the fans and both schools. I expect the mind games and verbal sparring between Harbaugh & Nick Saban to be delightful fun in the next few weeks. Unless a bunch of their players decide to sit out to protect their NFL Draft status I think the Tide has superior talent right now, so I think they’ll win comfortably. Zach reluctantly agrees.

My Pick:     Alabama

Z’s Pick:     Alabama

 

Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL – 1pm on ESPN)

Auburn Tigers (9-3)             vs.              Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-2)

Underrated vs. overrated. Auburn’s lineup is stacked with NFL level talent and I believe they can compete for a playoff berth in the near future. Losing to Florida, LSU, & Georgia is nothing to be ashamed of and doesn’t truly represent how good Auburn is, but that’s life in the SEC…the difference between winning & losing such games is the thin line between competing for a national title and playing in this bowl game. Conversely, I just don’t buy what Minnesota is selling. Other than upsetting Penn St. I just haven’t been overwhelmingly impressed. I think Auburn will put up a lot of points, play stellar defense, win easily. Once again Zach believes it’ll be a lot closer, but he likes Auburn as well.

My Pick:     Auburn

Z’s Pick:     Auburn

 

 

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA – 5pm on ESPN)

Oregon Ducks (11-2)           vs.              Wisconsin Badgers (10-3)

Both teams might have been playoff contenders, but a November loss to Arizona St. doomed the Ducks, while Wisconsin’s October loss to Illinois might be the head scratcher of the year. Nevertheless these are two really talented football teams, and my expectations are unreasonably high. Badgers’ RB Jonathan Taylor has something to prove after not being invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, while the Ducks need to defend the honor of the Pac 12, whose champion has only made the playoff twice since 2014. I’m a big fan of smashmouth football and generally lean in that direction, but I think Oregon might just be too fast and have too many weapons for Wisconsin to stop. If they get behind early and have to abandon the run it’d be disastrous. Once upon a time Ducks’ QB Justin Herbert was thought to be a potential #1 overall NFL draft pick, but he stayed in college long enough for the talking heads to become enamored with other signal callers. Don’t be surprised if Herbert puts on a show in this game and goes on to have a better pro career than every quarterback drafted ahead of him. Despite predicting a big day for Taylor Zach also feels like Oregon is the better overall team.

My Pick:     Oregon

Z’s Pick:     Oregon

 

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA – 8:45pm on ESPN)

Georgia Bulldogs (11-2)               vs.              Baylor Bears (11-2)

The playoff would have looked vastly different if either one (or both) of these teams had been successful in their conference title games. Unfortunately for Georgia the LSU Tigers have been a beast in 2019 and weren’t going to be stopped. Baylor is a bit different. They had two cracks at Oklahoma and fell short both times. I don’t believe in moral victories when it comes to sports, and when you have a team like the Sooners on the ropes you have to go in for the kill. I hope this is another really fun game, and I’ll be rooting for the Bears to find a way to get over the hump…but I’m not sure I’d put any money on them. Zach has zero faith in Baylor and thinks the Bulldogs will cruise to victory.

My Pick:     Baylor

Z’s Pick:     Georgia

 

 

Friday 1/3

Birmingham Bowl (3pm on ESPN)

Cincinnati Bearcats (10-3)           vs.              Boston College Eagles (6-6)

As noted in the opening I take no issue with the existence of these next several games. I’ll watch some of them and probably be entertained to varying degrees. However, I find the placement odd. Once we get to New Year’s fans want to see the best teams face off. Throwaway games should be played in December. By January 3rd we’re finished with the holidays, have returned to work, and have a bit of football fatigue. Our remaining energy is reserved for the National Championship and the NFL playoffs. At any rate, the Bearcats have had a much better season and I think they’ll cap it off with a victory. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Cincinnati

Z’s Pick:     Cincinnati

 

 

Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL – 7pm on ESPN)

Indiana Hoosiers (8-4)                  vs.              Tennessee Volunteers (7-5)

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, how far has the Gator Bowl fallen?? It used to be one of the big games played on New Year’s Eve or Day, and now it’s here with these two teams?? I don’t know who’s running things behind the scenes for the bowl organization, but they might need to be replaced. Secondly, when did Indiana become good at football?? Wins over Northwestern, Nebraska, & Purdue are mildly impressive. Conversely, the Vols are still trying to recapture the glory they enjoyed back when Peyton Manning played quarterback. Far from being meaningless, I have to believe that a win for either team could be a harbinger of positive things to come. I give Tennessee the slight edge, but this could be a really close contest. Zach also thinks it’ll  be close but likes the Hoosiers to get the win.

My Pick:     Tennessee

Z’s Pick:     Indiana

 

 

Potato Bowl (Boise, ID- 3:30pm on ESPN)

Nevada Wolfpack (7-5)                 vs.              Ohio Bobcats (6-6)

Hey, atleast Boise St. isn’t playing in this game, so that’s a step in the right direction. I used to have an odd fascination with the Wolfpack and recall watching some of their really fun late night games. However, one of reasons they came to prominence about a decade ago was the play of QB Colin Kaepernick…you may have heard of him. I cannot in good conscience bring myself to support anything connected to Kaepernick, so I’ll be pulling for the Bobcats. Conversely, Zach’s irrational disdain is reserved for the entire state of Ohio.

My Pick:     Ohio

Z’s Pick:     Nevada

 

 

Saturday 1/4

 

Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth, TX – 11:30am on ESPN)

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (7-5)              vs.              Tulane Green Wave (6-6)

I’d love to see the television ratings for all of these games, and if we did my guess is this would be among the least watched of all of them. I mean no disrespect to either team…it’s not about them. Well okay…it’s not completely about them. The timing is just atrocious. The first weekend of the new year. Everyone is still in a post-holiday haze. Before noon on a Saturday. I assume there will be NFL playoff games on later in the day. I’m sure both fanbases are psyched and that’s cool, but I have a feeling most of the rest of us will be skipping out. I’m not familiar with either team, so I’ll go with The Vibes and choose Southern Miss. Zach is going in the opposite direction and picking he Green Wave to get a close win.

My Pick:     Southern Miss

Z’s Pick:     Tulane

 

 

Monday 1/6

 

LendingTree Bowl (Mobile, AL – 7:30pm on ESPN)

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (10-3)   vs.    Miami (OH) RedHawks (8-5)

Monday night is wrasslin’ night at The Bachelor Palace so I probably won’t be watching the game, but football fans are pre-conditioned to watch on Monday nights, so the ratings might be marginally better. Once again my knowledge (and my level of giving a damn) is rather low, so I’m going with the Cajuns because I like their food & their accent. Zach is picking Louisiana because…well…you know.

My Pick:     Louisiana-Lafayette

Z’s Pick:     Louisiana-Lafayette

 

 

Monday 1/13

College Football Playoff National Championship Game

New Orleans, LA – 8pm on ESPN

Ohio St. Buckeyes / Clemson Tigers vs.    LSU Tigers / Oklahoma Sooners

I’m predicting an LSU vs. Ohio St. matchup, while Zach is leaning toward LSU vs. Clemson. If I’m right it’ll be The Irresistible Force vs. The Immovable Object…the two most complete teams in college football. I think the offenses are fairly even, while I’d give a slight edge to the Buckeyes defense. Both lineups are loaded with NFL talent, and I don’t think either team has a distinct coaching advantage. If Ohio St. can control the clock with JK Dobbins & the running game it gives them a leg up. This will come down to the little things…special teams, field position, turnovers. I don’t foresee a shootout (the defenses are too good), but neither do I think it’ll be a low scoring affair. I’m looking at something like 24-21, with the outcome hanging in the balance late in the 4th quarter. The TV folks will love it, and I have a feeling the folks in Columbus will too. Conversely, Zach is all in on Dabo Swinney and has really high expectations for this game.

My Pick:     Ohio State

Z’s Pick:     Clemson

2019 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

First things first…I am indeed aware that the college football season begins tonight when the Miami Hurricanes visit the Florida Gators. I usually get these rankings published earlier in August, but…well, that didn’t happen. You’re not interested in my excuses and I’m not really into making any, so we’ll just go with the flow. I don’t think the Canes’ nor the Gators will factor significantly into how things play out, so it’s all good. We know that out of 130 FBS football teams only 65 “power” conference teams (including “independent” Notre Dame) have any shot at the national title, and this season it feels like it’s a ten team race at best. As a fan I am still entertained by watching games, but I have to admit that the foregone conclusion that the playoff has become sort of harshes my football buzz. I need underdogs. I need upsets. I need some semblance of parity. I need a little variety from year to year. One of the charms of college football has always been that each season players graduate and new players come in, which means that every year is different…except nowadays its seems like nothing much changes. There have always been dominant programs, but there were still cycles wherein some teams would rise for a couple of years while others fell off a bit. That yin & yang was part of the fun. I hope that happens this season. I hope a team or two that everyone expects to win a lot of games unexpectedly loses a few. I hope a few teams that no one sees coming win 10+ games and challenge for conference titles. I hope…but I won’t hold my breath. Still, it’s nice to have football back.

 

 

 

25        Virginia Tech

Last Season:     6-7

Key Games:     10/5 @Miami, 11/2 @Notre Dame, 11/23 vs. Pitt

This season will go one of two ways for the Hokies. Either they’ll have another miserable losing season and head coach Justin Fuentes will be on the hot seat…or they’ll rebound with 8 or 9 wins and have a legit shot to win a conference title in a rather weak ACC. Obviously I lean toward the latter scenario.

 

 

24        Auburn

Last Season:     8-5

Key Games:     8/31 vs. Oregon, 9/21 @Texas A&M, 11/16 vs. Georgia, 11/30 vs. Alabama

Here’s the thing about the SEC. Atleast half the conference is going to get some attention from the talking heads early in the season because…well, that’s just how it is. Heck, I have five SEC teams in these rankings, and that’s me being conservative. But logic dictates that only a couple of those teams will really be elite. The rest will either fall flat & have disappointing seasons or fall short a few times and end up with a solid 8 or 9 win season. I think the Tigers will land in the latter category. The season opener against Oregon should be a good barometer of what we can expect.

 

 

23        Michigan State

Last Season:     7-6

Key Games:     9/14 vs. Arizona St., 10/5 @Ohio St., 10/12 @Wisconsin, 10/26 vs. Penn St., 11/16 @Michigan

Trips to Columbus & Ann Arbor don’t bode well for the Spartans Big Ten title hopes, but I believe they’ll rebound from a subpar 2018 and win nine games.

 

 

22        Central Florida

Last Season:     12-1

Key Games:     9/14 vs. Stanford, 9/21 @Pitt

The Knights hadn’t lost a game in two years until they ran into the LSU Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. Do I expect more of the same this year?? Maybe. Out-of-conference games against Stanford & Pitt are important and could make a huge difference. It’s probably too much to ask UCF to go undefeated again, but I think a ten win season deserves some respect.

 

 

21        Army

Last Season:     11-2

Key Games:     9/7 @Michigan, 12/14 vs. Navy

Very few football fans pay attention to the Black Knights until the very end of the season when the Army-Navy Game has the spotlight all to itself, but Army has gone 21-5 in the past two years, which is quite impressive. I don’t think they’ll go into Ann Arbor and pull off an upset, but I don’t believe another ten win season is far-fetched.

 

 

20        Northwestern

Last Season:             9-5                             

Key Games:              8/31 @Stanford, 9/21 vs. Michigan St., 9/28 @Wisconsin, 10/5 @Nebraska, 10/18 vs. Ohio St., 10/26 vs. Iowa

Perhaps it’s the purple uniforms, or maybe it’s the fact that they were perennial underdogs when I was growing up but ten win seasons have now become fairly normal in Evanston. It might be the tenacity of former linebacker & current head coach Pat Fitzgerald. For some reason I have a soft spot for the Wildcats. This prediction could be an epic disaster since they’ve got to travel to Palo Alto to begin the season and also have road trips to Madison & Lincoln. However, if Northwestern can gut out a few upsets and win eight games I may be onto something.

 

 

19        Fresno State

Last Season:     12-2

Key Games:     8/31 @USC, 9/7 @Minnesota, 10/26 vs. Colorado St.

I’m a bit sad because my work schedule has changed yet again and I have to be in bed super early on Friday & Saturday nights so I can get up at 5am. That means that for the first time in many years I won’t get to watch hardly any late night west coast games. The Pac 12 gets all of the attention, but don’t forget about the Mountain West. It has become standard for Boise St. to get the infinitesimal amount of love left over for the MWC, but I believe the Bulldogs will emerge as the better team this year.

 

 

18        Michigan

Last Season:     10-3

Key Games:     9/21 @Wisconsin, 10/5 vs. Iowa, 10/19 @Penn St., 10/26 vs. Notre Dame, 11/16 vs. Michigan St., 11/0 vs. Ohio St.

Are patience wearing thin where Jim Harbaugh is concerned?? Possibly, but I still think he’ll ditch Michigan before Michigan cans him…and neither scenario may ever happen. This isn’t the early 20th century anymore…everyone outside of the state of Alabama understands how difficult it is to win a national championship and knows it isn’t the only barometer for success. Harbaugh has won ten games in 3 out of 4 seasons leading the maize & Blue, which is pretty darn good. The one thing he has to do to quell any sort of rebellion: beat Ohio St. Now is the time. This is the year. The Wolverines could lose 3 or 4 other games and it won’t matter if they defeat the Buckeyes in The Big House in November.

 

 

17        Arizona State

Last Season:     7-6

Key Games:     9/14 @Michigan St., 10/19 @Utah, 11/9 vs. USC, 11/23 vs. Oregon

I’m a big fan of Sun Devils’ head coach Herm Edwards. He might be a better talking head than head coach, but I saw some flashes a year ago that leads me to believe that this is a team that could pull off a couple of upsets and sneak into the rankings.

 

 

16        Texas A&M

Last Season:     9-4

Key Games:     9/7@Clemson, 9/21 vs. Auburn, 10/12 vs. Alabama, 11/23 @Georgia, 11/30 @LSU

No team has more chances to affect the National Championship picture than the Aggies. All five key games noted above involve potential playoff contenders, so A&M has a unique opportunity to be the ultimate spoiler…or be embarrassingly inept. Entering Year 2 of the Jimbo Fisher era I believe they’ll continue to build a solid foundation that will eventually lead to playoff appearances in the near future.

 

 

15        Stanford

Last Season:     9-4

Key Games:     9/21 vs. Oregon, 10/5 vs. Washington, 11/16 @Washington St., 11/30 vs. Notre Dame

The Pac 12 is stacked, and it’ll be really interesting to see which team(s) emerge to lead the pack. Stanford has its biggest games at home, and that could lead to good things.

 

 

14        Nebraska

Last Season:     4-8

Key Games:     9/28 vs. Ohio St., 11/16 vs. Wisconsin, 11/29 vs. Iowa

I’m really going out on a limb. After back to back four win seasons the Cornhuskers enter Year 2 of the Scott Frost era, which means that noticeable improvement is expected.  So does that mean going from losing seasons to bowl eligibility?? Or does it mean bursting back onto the scene with 8-10 wins?? The biggest games are at home, and just one upset might mean a huge turnaround for the program.

 

 

13        LSU

Last Season:     10-3

Key Games:     9/7 @Texas, 10/12 vs. Florida, 10/26 vs. Auburn, 11/9 @Alabama, 11/30 vs. Texas A&M

Ed Orgeron now seems to be firmly entrenched as the Bayou Bengals’ head coach, and that kind of stability provides a real sense of freedom for a program. A split against the four noted conference foes would be fantastic, but an early season non-conference battle at Texas could be the key to LSU’s entire season.

 

 

12        Utah

Last Season:     9-5

Key Games:     8/29 @BYU, 9/20 @USC, 9/28 vs. Washington St., 10/19 vs. Arizona St., 11/2 @Washington

Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out the Pac 12, but the Utes seem to be getting a lot of love. Anyone who has spent any time reading sports related content here at The Manofesto will recall my affection for BYU, which is why I consider that an important in-state contest for Utah even though BYU has only won eleven total games the past two years. I’m not sure what to think about Southern Cal or the two Washington teams…all three could make these rankings look silly a few months from now. One thing is for sure…the Utes are going to need to have some big road wins to have a successful season.

 

 

11        Iowa State

Last Season:     8-5

Key Games:     9/14 vs. Iowa, 11/9 @Oklahoma, 11/16 vs. Texas

Everybody loves to yap about Oklahoma & Texas, but Big 12 fans know not to sleep on the Cyclones. They’ve won eight games in each of the last two seasons, and with QB Brock Purdy entering his sophomore year I think bigger things await. I am predicting that they’ll upset either the Sooners or the Longhorns and finish third in the conference.

 

 

10        Wisconsin

Last Season:     8-5

Key Games:     9/21 vs. Michigan, 10/12 vs. Michigan St., 10/26 @Ohio St.

The bottom line is this…the Badgers have to upset one of the two Michigan teams because going into The Horseshoe & beating Ohio St. in October might be too much to expect. Otherwise, I expect a solid 8-10 win season, which is par for the course.

 

 

9          Southern California

Last Season:     5-7

Key Games:     9/7 vs. Stanford, 9/20 vs. Utah, 9/28 @Washington, 10/12 @Notre Dame, 11/2 vs. Oregon

I’m doing it…I’m rolling the dice on the Trojans!! I’m not sure what the heck happened a year ago, but it was USC’s first losing season in eighteen years. Was it an anomaly?? Or was 2018 indicative of a backward slide that will continue for the foreseeable future?? Obviously I’m betting on the former, and in the words of Billy Joel I’ll walk away a fool or a king.

 

 

8          Texas

Last Season:     10-4

Key Games:     9/7 vs. LSU, 10/12 vs. Oklahoma, 11/16 @Iowa St.

The long road back to relevancy is about as complete as one can expect nowadays…all they need to do now is maintain consistency. A losing or even mediocre season now would be disastrous for a program that’s taken almost a decade to rebuild. Most “experts” expect the Big 12 to come down to Texas & Oklahoma, so the Red River Shootout in mid-October will be a huge game, but the Longhorns shouldn’t overlook Iowa St. just a month later.

 

 

7          Notre Dame

Last Season:     12-1

Key Games:     9/21 @Georgia, 10/12 vs. USC, 10/26 @Michigan, 11/30 @Stanford

Coming off a playoff season expectations are high in South Bend, but the schedule is brutal. One slip will knock them out of contention, and with big road games at Georgia, Michigan, & Stanford I’d be stunned to see the Irish go undefeated.

 

 

6          Ohio State

Last Season:    13-1

Key Games:     9/28 @Nebraska, 10/5 vs. Michigan St., 10/26 vs. Wisconsin, 11/23 vs. Penn St., 11/30 @ Michigan

Ohio St. is a football factory that recruits elite athletes and churns out winning seasons as easily as you & I change socks in the morning. However, the dividing line for such teams is whether they win 9/10 games and finish highly ranked or go undefeated and contend for a playoff spot. I don’t think there will be a significant dropoff under new head coach Ryan Day, and perhaps it is even positive for the program to be rid of the various distractions that accompanied former coach Urban Meyer. However, I don’t think you’ll see the Buckeyes in the playoff, and they might even suffer a loss to Michigan.

 

 

5             Oregon

Last Season:     9-4

Key Games:     8/31 @Auburn, 9/21 @Stanford, 10/19 @Washington, 11/2 @USC

Mario Cristobal started his reign as the Ducks’ head coach with a nine win season, so now anticipation is at a fever pitch in Eugene. A non-conference battle with Auburn to kick things off is a neutral site game at The Palace in Dallas. I don’t necessarily think that game will make or break either team’s season, but the winner will certainly be headed on an upward trajectory. I’m not sure what to make of the Pac 12 quite yet, but if Oregon can emerge from the pack they just might find themselves in playoff contention.

 

 

4             Alabama

Last Season:     14-1

Key Games:     10/12 @Texas A&M, 11/9 vs. LSU, 11/30 @Auburn

I don’t know about y’all, but ‘Bama has become a team I love to see lose. I’m just really over the whole thing. I know I should root for fellow West Virginian Nick Saban, but I just can’t. I’m an underdog kind of guy and The Tide has evolved into The Evil Empire. However, a year ago I opined that Alabama might have to lose as many as three games for the powers-that-be to leave them out of the playoff. We know for sure that they don’t need to win the SEC or even play in the title game. So here is how I see it going down. I think A&M and LSU will both provide legit tests for ‘Bama, but they’ll go into the SEC Championship ranked #1 or #2 in the country, lose the title game to Georgia, and still make the playoff.

 

 

3          Oklahoma

Last Season:     12-2

Key Games:     10-12 vs. Texas, 11/9 vs. Iowa St., 11/30 @Oklahoma St.

Sooners’ head coach Lincoln Riley…at just 35 years old…has made a believer out of me. Two straight 12 win seasons. Two consecutive Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks. With former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts transferring in to lead the offense I see no reason to believe that Oklahoma won’t win the Red River Shootout and claim another conference title. The Big 12 doesn’t get as much respect as the other “power” conferences, and it would probably be easy for the playoff committee to squeeze the Sooners out…but I don’t believe that’ll happen this season.

 

 

2          Georgia

Last Season:     11-3

Key Games:     9/21 vs. Notre Dame, 11/2 vs. Florida, 11/16 @Auburn, 11/23 vs. Texas A&M

Beating Notre Dame in September is an absolute must for the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes, but fortunately it’s a home game. I’m not buying into any Florida hype, and by late November I think tough schedules will have taken their toll on Auburn and A&M. I also believe Georgia will win the SEC Championship. I would much rather see a Clemson-Georgia National Championship versus any matchup involving Alabama.

 

 

1          Clemson

Last Season:     15-0

Key Games:     9/7 vs. Texas A&M

Champion wrestler Ric Flair used to say “to be The Man you’ve got to beat The Man”, and until someone steps up & knocks the Tigers from their perch there’s no other choice for the #1 spot. When I look at the schedule it looks like A&M is the only legit threat they face in the regular season, and the playoff committee hasn’t penalized Clemson in the past for the relative weakness of the ACC so it would be inconsistent to do so now. Most “experts” seem to recognize that Clemson is on a whole other level at the moment, and QB Trevor Lawrence is special. He’s my favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

2018-19 College Football Bowl-a-Palooza

So…college football’s bowl season kind of snuck up on me y’all!! The games actually begin today. At the moment I am hoping I get this up on the website in time, but rest assured that even if I’m running a little late these picks were made in advance…no shenanigans. I’m feeling a little more ambivalent than usual about these games…for a variety of reasons. However, I will try to refrain from my normal kvetching about stupid (i.e. corporate) bowl names, teams with only six wins being bowl eligible, & the schedule containing far too many pointless games. There are those that embrace the idea of as many bowl games as possible because a bad football game is like bad sex…still not a bad way to spend some downtime, and I suppose I see their point. At any rate, as always these games do not count toward our season long Pigskin Picks of Profundity, we don’t bother with point spreads, & for the most part we understand that a variety of elements that we may know nothing about can have an effect on the outcomes. I’ve decided not to break everything down into tiers this year, so we’ll just go in chronological order. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cure

Orlando, FL

Saturday 12/15 at 1:30pm on CBS Sports Network

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (7–6)   vs.    Tulane Green Wave (6–6)

The proceeds from the game are donated to breast cancer research, which is nice. I suppose the NCAA wouldn’t have approved of naming it the Boobies Bowl. Having no real knowledge about either team I’m going with the Green Wave because I like waves & the color green. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Tulane

Z’s Pick:     Tulane

 

 

New Mexico

Albuquerque, NM

Saturday 12/15 at 2pm on ESPN

Utah State Aggies (10–2)   vs.    North Texas Mean Green (9–3)

This might actually be a fun game. Both teams have obviously had a successful season and are well deserving of a bowl bid. Sticking with a theme I’m picking North Texas because their green is mean. Conversely, Zach likes the rushing attack for the Aggies.

My Pick:     North Texas

Z’s Pick:     Utah St.

 

 

Las Vegas

Las Vegas, NV

Saturday 12/15 at 3:30pm on ABC

Arizona State Sun Devils (7–5)  vs.    Fresno State Bulldogs (11–2)   

Vegas baby!! Vegas!!!! I envy these kids for getting to spend a few days in Sin City. I am sure that, despite all the potential distractions, Herm Edwards will have his Sun Devils ready to play. The Bulldogs defeated Boise St. to win the Mountain West title game, and this is their reward. It should be another fun game, and I gotta go with my man Herm to score the upset. Zach likes ol’ Herm well enough, but he just can’t be all in on the Sun Devils at this point.

My Pick:     Arizona St.

Z’s Pick:     Fresno St.

 

 

Camellia

Montgomery, AL

Saturday 12/15 at 5:30pm on ESPN

Eastern Michigan Eagles (7–5)  vs.    Georgia Southern Eagles (9–3)

A camellia is a type of flower. Fans of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird might recognize it as the flower grown by mean old Mrs. Dubose that was destroyed by an angry Jem Finch. I know zero about the teams involved, so I’m just going with the favorites. Zach believes it’ll be an easy win for Georgia Southern.

My Pick:     Georgia Southern

Z’s Pick:     Georgia Southern

 

 

New Orleans

New Orleans, LA

Saturday 12/15 at 9pm on ESPN

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8–5)         vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers (10–2)       

It’s a great location for a bowl game, but I have to wonder how many folks from Murfreesboro, TN (located about 30 miles from Nashville) & Boone, NC (named for pioneer Daniel Boone) will be making the trek to The Big Easy. The Blue Raiders beat my Marshall Thundering Herd back in October (on my birthday!!), so I’ve got to root against them. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Appalachian St.

Z’s Pick:     Appalachian St.

 

 

Boca Raton       

Boca Raton, FL

Tuesday 12/18 at 7pm on ESPN

Northern Illinois Huskies (8–5)  vs.    UAB Blazers (10–3)  

UAB shut down their football program for a couple of seasons awhile back, so it’s great to see the team revived & successful.  Northern Illinois played Florida St. in the Orange Bowl back in 2012, so they’ve had their share of success over the years. I really like UAB’s comeback story so I always cheer for the Blazers. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     UAB

Z’s Pick:     UAB

 

 

Frisco

Frisco, TX

Wednesday 12/19 at 8pm on ESPN

San Diego State Aztecs (7–5)              vs.              Ohio Bobcats (8–4)  

No, the game is not in San Francisco…it’s in Frisco, TX, a Dallas suburb. I think the Aztecs have too much speed & firepower for the Bobcats to overcome, so I’m looking for a fairly comfortable victory for SD State. Zach likes State’s rushing attack to lead the way.

My Pick:     San Diego St.

Z’s Pick:     San Diego St.

 

 

Gasparilla 

Tampa, FL

Thursday 12/20 at 8pm on ESPN

South Florida Bulls (7–5)            vs.              Marshall Thundering Herd (8–4)         

This is how you name a bowl game. At first glance you might think that gasparilla is some kind of flower or plant along the lines of a camellia, but the game is actually named in honor of José Gaspar, an apocryphal Spanish pirate. As the story goes, The Last of the Buccaneers allegedly lived in the Tampa area, plundering & pirating across The Caribbean & The Gulf of Mexico during the late 18th to early 19th century. It’s a cool story even if it is probably fictional. Anyway, I can’t pick against my alma mater, even though I did rank their opponent 12th in my pre-season poll. I’m happy this game is on a non-work night for me because I think it’ll be fun to watch. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Marshall

Z’s Pick:     Marshall

 

 

Bahamas  

Nassau, Bahamas

Friday 12/21 at 12:30pm on ESPN

FIU Panthers (8–4)              vs.              Toledo Rockets (7–5)         

I’m not sure how many fans of either team will be making the trip, but for those able to afford it and for the players, coaches, & staff of each program going to The Bahamas seems like a rather splendid Christmas gift.  I think this is another game where speed & athleticism will make a huge difference. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Florida International

Z’s Pick:     Florida International

 

 

Potato       

Boise, ID

Friday 12/21 at 4pm on        ESPN

Western Michigan Broncos (7–5)                 vs.              BYU Cougars (6–6)  

I will be eternally bemused that Boise was deemed by somebody somewhere as an appropriate bowl location. Perhaps the folks at The Mothership in Bristol, CT thought the blue turf would mesmerize television viewers. The Cougars come into the game having been battle tested against opponents like Arizona, Wisconsin, Washington, & Utah. Conversely, the Broncos have played…well okay, Syracuse & Michigan. Gotta give them credit for playing two legit out-of-conference opponents. I think this will be a high scoring affair…something like 42-35…and I’m picking BYU to come out on top. Zach thinks BYU’s rushing attack will lead them to victory.

My Pick:     BYU

Z’s Pick:     BYU

 

 

Birmingham

Birmingham, AL

Saturday 12/22 at Noon on ESPN

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6–6)            vs.              Memphis Tigers (8–5)         

Memphis beat Houston a few weeks ago then played UCF tough in the AAC title game before losing, so I think they are a pretty decent team. Zach likes Memphis to win a shootout.

My Pick:     Memphis

Z’s Pick:     Memphis

 

 

Armed Forces   

Fort Worth, TX

Saturday 12/22 at 3:30pm on ESPN

Army Black Knights (9–2)           vs.              Houston Cougars (8–4)    

I’m actually looking forward to this game and believe it could be sneaky good. There are always a few of those this time of year. I’d love to pick Army, but I think Houston will have a size advantage in the trenches and wear down their opponent by the fourth quarter. Zach sees things the opposite way. He believes that Army’s offense will wear out the Houston defense and win in the final quarter.

My Pick:     Houston

Z’s Pick:     Army

 

Dollar General

Mobile, AL

Saturday 12/22 at 7pm on ESPN

Buffalo Bulls (10–3)            vs.              Troy Trojans (9–3)    

I’m tempted to call this another sneaky good game, but if y’all have been sleeping on these two teams that’s your own fault. Buffalo beat Temple & Rutgers, and Troy played Nebraska tough, so they are both pretty good. Obviously neither team is going to walk into a “power” conference and compete on a weekly basis with Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio St., etc., but on their own level they have both built respectable programs. I’ve been really impressed with the Bulls when I’ve watched them play, so I’ll lean in that direction. Zach has a gut feeling, and he’s picking Troy.

My Pick:     Buffalo

Z’s Pick:     Troy

 

 

 

Hawaii

Honolulu, HI

Saturday 12/22 at 10:30pm on ESPN

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (7–5)           vs.              Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (8–5)

Everything I said about the Bahamas Bowl applies to this game as well. I don’t know how much Tech support the Bulldogs will have (sorry…I just couldn’t resist) but for those who do make the trip it’ll surely be a fun vacation. It is basically another home game for the Rainbow Warriors, so I think that gives them a big edge. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Hawaii

Z’s Pick:     Hawaii

 

 


First Responder

Dallas, TX

Wednesday 12/26 at 1:30pm on ESPN

Boston College Eagles (7–5)               vs.              Boise State Broncos (10–3)       

This was known the past few years as the Heart of Dallas Bowl, so kudos for the name change. It may not be a New Year’s Bowl against a traditional football elite, but this is still an opportunity for Boise to prove that they can compete with “power” conference foes, and I’d like to see them take advantage of it. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Boise St.

Z’s Pick:     Boise St.

 

 

Quick Lane        

Detroit, MI

Wednesday 12/26 at 5:15pm on ESPN

Minnesota Golden Gophers (6–6)       vs.    Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7–5) 

On paper this is one of the least appealing games being played. I probably won’t watch. You probably won’t watch. I’m going to pick Minnesota just because I think gophers are cooler than yellow jackets. Zach doesn’t think Minnesota can deal with Tech’s triple option.

My Pick:     Minnesota

Z’s Pick:     Georgia Tech

 

 

Cheez-It    

Phoenix, AZ

Wednesday 12/26 at 9pm on ESPN

TCU Horned Frogs (6–6)             vs.              California Golden Bears (7–5)   

Back in the day it was the Copper Bowl, then the Insight.com Bowl, then the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and finally the Cactus Bowl for a few years until now. I like to dip Cheez-its in chicken salad for a tasty snack. I like these west coast games on non-work nights, so I suppose I’ll watch & hope for a fun contest. TCU was apre-season playoff team for me, but obviously they fell far short of that goal. Cal beat Washington, USC, & Colorado during the season, so they can be randomly good. The Vibes are telling me to go with the Golden Bears, and so I shall. Zach has picked against Cal four times this season and is 0-4, so now he’s coming on over to the other side.

My Pick:     California

Z’s Pick:     California

 

 

Independence

Shreveport, LA

Thursday 12/27 at 1:30pm on ESPN

Temple Owls (8–4)              vs.              Duke Blue Devils (7–5)      

The Independence Bowl has been around since 1976, and has grown from one of the lesser games to being respected as one of the old guard traditional games. Unfortunately it still doesn’t get many great matchups, and I don’t believe this will be a pleasantly surprising exception. I have a soft spot for the Owls since I fondly recall them as a Big East doormat when I was a kid (although at the time they had a highly touted basketball program). Duke is still a basketball school for the most part, but the football program has been pretty good for several years. My expectations are low, and Temple is the pick. Conversely, Zach likes Duke to get a close win.

My Pick:     Temple

Z’s Pick:     Duke

 

 

Pinstripe   

NY, NY

Thursday 12/27 at 5:15pm on ESPN

Wisconsin Badgers (7–5)            vs.              Miami Hurricanes (7–5)     

The Badgers were my pre-season #1 because…well, I’m sure my reasons seemed perfectly valid at the time. Needless to say, things didn’t quite work out as I had envisioned. The Hurricanes underperformed as well, falling off steeply from their 10-3 record a year ago. However, in spite of both squads having disappointing seasons I think this might be an entertaining game, and I am riding with my top team. I’m loyal like that. Zach feels like Miami has been too inconsistent offensively this season, and likes Wisconsin to use old-fashioned smashmouth football to score the victory.

My Pick:     Wisconsin

Z’s Pick:      Wisconsin

 

 

 

Texas       

Houston, TX

Thursday 12/27 at 9pm on ESPN

Baylor Bears (6–6)              vs.              Vanderbilt Commodores (6–6)   

Ehhh. I can’t imagine that anyone outside the two fanbases will have any interest in this game. I’ll pick Vanderbilt because the school is known as The Harvard of The South and I really like smart people. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Vanderbilt

Z’s Pick:     Vanderbilt

 

 

Music City

Nashville, TN

Friday 12/28 at 1:30pm on ESPN

Auburn Tigers (7–5)            vs.              Purdue Boilermakers (6–6)        

The Auburn folks might be disappointed in their season, but I’m not totally shocked that they went from a ten win team a year ago to where they find themselves currently. The SEC is tough anyway, and Tennessee, Kentucky, & LSU were all better than expected, so someone is going to fall thru the cracks and this year it was Auburn. The highlight of Purdue’s season was a beatdown of Ohio St. in October, which ultimately cost the Buckeyes a playoff spot. Otherwise there hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer about for Boilermaker fans. This will be portrayed as important for bragging rights between the SEC and Big Ten, and I think we all know who usually draws the short straw in that competition. Zach doesn’t think Auburn will be into the game on an emotional level, so that tips the scales to Purdue.

My Pick:     Auburn

Z’s Pick:     Purdue

 

 

Camping World

Orlando, FL

Friday 12/28 at 5:15pm on ESPN

Syracuse Orange (9–3)                vs.              West Virginia Mountaineers (8–3)      

As a Mountaineers fan I am beyond disappointed by this game. There were such high hopes coming into the season, but poor coaching and other bad decisions doomed the team to just another run-of-the-mill record, ending up in a run-of-the-mill bowl game against a run-of-the-mill opponent. I have no issue with WVU QB Will Grier’s decision to skip the game and get a head start in preparing for the NFL Draft. The dude is a potential first round draft pick…why should he risk injury is this meaningless game?? Credit where it is due to ‘Cuse for a nice season, but I’m sorry…the ‘Eers were expecting better than this. I suppose the smart money is on WVU not being all that motivated to be in the game and a bit behind the eight ball with their starting quarterback not playing. I get it…but I just can’t pick against them. Given Grier’s absence and WVU’s poor bowl record over the years Zach is going in the opposite direction.

My Pick:     West Virginia

Z’s Pick:     Syracuse

 

 

Alamo       

San Antonio, TX

Friday 12/28 at 9pm on ESPN

Iowa State Cyclones (8–4)          vs.              Washington State Cougars (10–2)      

This is the game West Virginia should be playing in, but since they didn’t bother to show up during a road loss to the Cyclones in October and probably because the games organizers can read a map and know that Iowa is a skosh closer than West Virginia to San Antonio this is how things ended up. Cougars’ QB Gardner Minshew will be looking to improve his draft stock, but he’ll be facing a tough defense. On paper the Cougars look like a heavy favorite…but they better not take the opponent lightly. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Washington St.

Z’s Pick:     Washington St.

 

 

Belk

Charlotte, NC

Saturday 12/29 at Noon on ABC

South Carolina Gamecocks (7–5)                vs.              Virginia Cavaliers (7–5)      

Could it be a sneaky good game?? Maybe, but no one is expecting much from two middle-of-the-road teams playing in a middle-of-the-road bowl game. The Vibes are telling me to pick Virginia, and I always listen to The Vibes. Zach likes the Cocks.

My Pick:     Virginia

Z’s Pick:     South Carolina

 

 

Arizona     

Tucson, AZ

Saturday 12/29 at 1:15pm on CBS Sports Network

Nevada Wolf Pack (7–5)              vs.              Arkansas State Red Wolves (8–4)     

I actually have CBSSN on my channel lineup, so I guess I’ll check in to see if this game is worth watching. I won’t hold my breath though. The Wolfpack have been on my radar for several years and have been known to play in some entertaining games. Zach is going in the opposite direction and picking the Red Wolves.

My Pick:     Nevada

Z’s Pick:     Arkansas St.

 

 

 

Peach       

Atlanta, GA

Saturday 12/29 at Noon on ESPN

Florida Gators (9–3)            vs.              Michigan Wolverines (10–2)      

Oh what might have been. Both teams had opportunities during the season to end up in a better spot, but the Gators fell to Kentucky & Missouri…two teams they’d beat in any “normal” year…and the Wolverines once again couldn’t get past archrival Ohio St. I suppose this is a rather decent consolation prize, especially for fans who can probably look forward to a competitive & engaging contest. I expect Jim Harbaugh will have his team ready, and I look for Michigan to prevail. Zach is worried about Michigan’s offense and thinks they may fall short.

My Pick:     Michigan

Z’s Pick:     Florida

 

 

 

Cotton (Playoff Semifinal Game)

Arlington, TX

Saturday 12/29 4pm on ESPN

Clemson Tigers (13–0)                          vs.              Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12–0)          

I wish I could get more excited about the playoff, but since ¾ of the field has pretty much been a foregone conclusion for weeks the whole thing has lost much of its charm. This is why the NCAA basketball tournament…aka March Madness…is a superior postseason show, because even if we think we know who the top teams are there are always upsets and surprises along the way. If we end up with the teams we perceived all along as the best battling for the title that’s okay because there has been some excitement leading up to it. With football the playoff just feels…anticlimactic. At any rate, of the two semifinal games I guess this is the one I’m most interested in. A few months ago I thought Clemson may get left out in the cold due to a rather weak schedule, but Syracuse, Boston College, & Pitt all ended up being better than anticipated, or atleast good enough for the powers-that-be to overlook Clemson’s out-of-conference games against Furman & Georgia Southern. It doesn’t hurt that the Tigers are loaded with NFL caliber talent, especially on defense. The Irish had a relatively soft schedule as well in my humble opinion, but both teams deserve credit for mowing down whatever competition was put in front of them and finishing undefeated. I think Clemson’s defense is just too damn good, so I look for them to pull out a close victory. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Clemson

Z’s Pick:     Clemson

 

 

 

Orange (Playoff Semifinal Game)

Miami, FL

Saturday 12/29 at 8pm on ESPN

Alabama Crimson Tide (13–0)             vs.              Oklahoma Sooners (12–1)         

I know Nick Saban is from West Virginia. I know that means I’m supposed to root for him. But Charles Manson was born in WV too, and no one was cheering him on. No, I’m not comparing Saban to Manson, but I’m just tired of Alabama. As awesome as college football is it needs some parity. It needs for some great teams to have a few bad years and a few bad teams to challenge for championships. That’s one reason why we love the NFL…it isn’t uncommon for a team to finish at the bottom of their division one year and make the playoffs the following season. That kind of unpredictability is good. I would have rather seen Ohio St. get the final spot instead of the Sooners, but I understand why it worked out the way it did. As far this game is concerned, I think ‘Bama’s defense is good enough to slow down Heisman winning QB Kyler Murray just a little, and their offense can go toe to toe with Oklahoma. Zach thinks the score might top 100 points collectively, and he likes Saban to make the right moves at the right time to lead his team to victory.

My Pick:     Alabama

Z’s Pick:     Alabama

 

 

Military

Annapolis, MD

New Year’s Eve at Noon on ESPN

Virginia Tech Hokies (6–6)                             vs.                        Cincinnati Bearcats (10–2)       

The Hokies owe a huge thank you to my Marshall Thundering Herd for sacrificing themselves so that Tech could become bowl eligible. I think that’s where the good news ends for them though because for possibly the first & only time Cincinnati is clearly the better team. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Cincinnati

Z’s Pick:     Cincinnati

 

 

Sun  

El Paso, TX

New Year’s Eve at 2pm on CBS

Stanford Cardinal (8–4)               vs.              Pittsburgh Panthers (7–6)          

The Sun Bowl is one of the oldest bowl games, and one of the few that doesn’t air on the ESPN “family of networks”. This could be a decent game, although in my humble opinion Pitt isn’t as good as some seem to think. Zach foresees a low scoring defensive battle.

My Pick:     Stanford

Z’s Pick:     Stanford

 

 

Redbox     

Santa Clara, CA

New Year’s Eve at 3pm on Fox

Michigan State Spartans (7–5)            vs.                        Oregon Ducks (8–4)

This game has had a few names over the years…the Walnut Bowl, the Emerald Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Foster Farms Bowl. It’s amusing to me that Redbox has obtained naming rights because Redbox is about as outdated as Blockbuster. Does anyone actually go out and rent DVDs anymore?? My money is on this game becoming the Roku Bowl or the Amazon Firestick bowl within a year or two. The matchup is mildly compelling…two teams who probably had higher expectations but who probably ended up about where they should’ve given the competitiveness of their conferences. I think the crowd will be significantly in Oregon’s corner, and I like the Ducks’ offense to get the job done. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Oregon

Z’s Pick:     Oregon

 

 

Liberty       

Memphis, TN

New Year’s Eve at 3:45pm on ESPN

Oklahoma State Cowboys (6–6)                   vs.              Missouri Tigers (8–4)         

I wouldn’t have minded seeing my Mountaineers play in this game, but they screwed the pooch against the Cowboys in November. Missouri should have never left the Big 12…they are a forgotten team in the SEC. Tigers’ QB Drew Lock is a potential first round draft pick, so this could be a great opportunity for him to solidify that status. Conversely, Zach likes OK State.

My Pick:     Missouri

Z’s Pick:     Oklahoma St.

 

 

Holiday     

San Diego, CA

New Year’s Eve at 7pm on FS1

Northwestern Wildcats (8–5)                vs.              Utah Utes (9–4)          

I’m going to climb out on a limb and predict that this will be one of the best bowl games of the entire schedule. Both teams fell short in their conference title games, so this is an opportunity for redemption. I really like Northwestern, and I think they’ll grind out a hard fought, low scoring defensive battle and snag the win. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Northwestern

Z’s Pick:     Northwestern

 

 

Gator  

Jacksonville, FL

New Year’s Eve at 7:30pm on ESPN

Texas A&M Aggies (8–4)             vs.              NC State Wolfpack (9–3) 

The Aggies are another team that should still be in the Big 12 instead of the SEC. That move never made much sense to me. Having said that, there’s no doubt that Jimbo Fisher is building something special there, and I just don’t see the Wolfpack being able to compete. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Texas A&M

Z’s Pick:     Texas A&M

 

 

Outback

Tampa, FL

New Year’s Day at Noon on          ESPN2

Mississippi State Bulldogs (8–4)                  vs.                        Iowa Hawkeyes (8–4)          

Both teams are overlooked in conferences that are loaded with great teams. This is a chance for them to shine and hog the spotlight for once. I like the Hawkeyes to win another low scoring defensive battle, with turnovers & special teams playing a key role in the outcome. Zach is predicting a big game from Iowa tight end Noah Fant, who might be a first round draft pick next spring.

My Pick:     Iowa

Z’s Pick:     Iowa

 

 

Citrus        

Orlando, FL

New Year’s Day at 1pm on ABC

Penn State Nittany Lions (9–3)            vs.                        Kentucky Wildcats (9–3)    

I never would have predicted a few months ago that the Wildcats would be playing football on New Year’s Day. They’ve had an outstanding season and deserve praise for their accomplishments. However, the Nittany Lions have been here before and are used to success. I think Kentucky can hang tough for three quarters, but Penn St. will pull away and win comfortably. Zach agrees.

My Pick:     Penn St.

Z’s Pick:     Penn St.

 

Fiesta        

Glendale, AZ

New Year’s Day at 1pm on ESPN

LSU Tigers (9–3)                           vs.                        UCF Knights (12–0)  

I didn’t think either team would be as good as they’ve been this season, despite past success. UCF hasn’t lost a game in two years, which is amazing, and they proved a year ago that they can hang with the big boys when they defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Can they do the same thing without injured starting QB McKenzie Milton?? I’d love to see it. Zach thinks UCF might win in a blowout.

My Pick:     Central Florida

Z’s Pick:     Central Florida.

 

 

Rose

Pasadena, CA

New Year’s Day at 5pm on ESPN

Washington Huskies (10–3)                 vs.              Ohio State Buckeyes (12–1)       

I know both teams wanted to be in the playoff, and I thought the Buckeyes might have been able to sneak in, but I suppose the Rose Bowl is one hell of a fallback option. This is the last hurrah for Ohio St. head coach Urban Meyer before he “retires” (for now), and I expect his team to use his departure and anger about being left out of the playoff as fuel to spark a big win. Conversely…and to absolutely no one’s surprise…Zach is picking Washington.

My Pick:     Ohio St.

Z’s Pick:     Washington

 

 

Sugar        

New Orleans, LA

New Year’s Day at 8:45pm on ESPN

Texas Longhorns (9–4)               vs.              Georgia Bulldogs (11–2)    

I knew Texas would be back in the spotlight eventually, and I expect that they’ll be huge favorites to win the Big 12 next season. Georgia is probably disappointed about not making the playoff, but they received a fair shot and couldn’t overcome Alabama in the SEC title game. Both squads have their fair share of NFL caliber talent, so this will probably be a really good game to watch. Going forward I think you’ll see the Longhorns ascending and the Bulldogs descending, but in this game I’m looking for Georgia to score a tight victory. Zach actually likes Georgia to win big.

My Pick:     Georgia

Z’s Pick:     Georgia

 

 

 

College Football Playoff National Championship

Santa Clara, CA

Monday, January 7 at 8pm on ESPN

Alabama/Oklahoma              vs.              Clemson/Notre Dame

We both have predicted an Alabama vs. Clemson title game. I think Clemson is the only team good enough on both sides of the ball to give ‘Bama a fight. If this is the matchup the focus will be on QB Tua Tagovailoa & the Tide offense versus a Clemson defense that is stacked with NFL talent. But what about the other side of the coin?? Can Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence & RB Travis Etienne overcome ‘Bama’s stout defense??       It might just be wishful thinking on my part, but I really like Dabo Swinney, and I think he can lead his team to another title. Zach just can’t go against saban, and he believes Alabama will win yet another championship.

My Pick:     Clemson

Z’s Pick:     Alabama

2018 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh got some attention from the sports media recently when he pontificated about the College Football Playoff eventually expanding from four to eight teams and ultimately ending up at sixteen. Obviously it isn’t a new debate and Harbaugh’s comments were simply convenient fodder on a slow news day. However, what always strikes me about the discussion is the fact that everyone talks about the idea of expanding to eight or sixteen teams, but no one ever mentions the solution that I prefer, which is a six team playoff. In this format the top two teams would get a bye, which incentivizes trying to snag one of those two spots versus merely sneaking into the playoff. All five “power” conference champions would qualify, making conference title games de facto playoff games and actually meaningful instead of the needless money grabs that they are right now. One wildcard would be chosen which would likely spark a few heated arguments. Most of the time one of the “power” conference runners-up would get the nod (like Alabama anytime they happen to falter), but when you occasionally have an undefeated contender from one of the “other” conferences…for example, the 2017 Central Florida Knights…then they could very easily slide into that spot.

 

Anyway, all of that is just a mildly interesting preamble for our true purpose today. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

25     Oregon

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/22 vs. Stanford, 10/13 vs. Washington, 10/27 at Arizona

Former Florida International head coach & Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal takes over in Eugene after the Ducks have gone 20-18 the past three years following seven seasons of 10 or more victories. The PAC 12 is really competitive, and I don’t expect Oregon to be in the conference title mix, but a pre-Halloween clash at Arizona could be the deciding factor in getting to eight wins and securing a spot in the rankings.

 

 

24     LSU 

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/2 vs. Miami (FL), 9/15 at Auburn, 10/13 vs. Georgia, 11/3 vs. Alabama

I don’t think anyone is getting out of the SEC with less than two losses. They’re all going to spend the next few months beating each other up, playing a game of Last Man Standing. The non-conference season opener against Miami is a neutral site game at the Palace in Dallas, and it’ll set a tone right off the bat. The Bayou Bengals are probably going to have to upset Auburn or Georgia…perhaps both…to get to eight wins and slip into the bottom of the Top 25.

 

 

23     Michigan

Last Season:      8-5

Key Games:       9/1 at Notre Dame, 10/13 vs. Wisconsin, 10/20 at Michigan St., 11/3 vs. Penn St., 11/24 at Ohio St.

I’ve slowed my roll on enthusiasm for the Harbaugh Era in Ann Arbor after initially thinking that he might have the Wolverines back in the national title conversation within a few years. The truth is that the Big Ten is so tough that winning a conference title would be a major accomplishment. The schedule is vicious, including a season opening non-conference clash against the Irish in South Bend, a rivalry that had been on hiatus for a few years. Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will start at QB, and he’ll need to spice up an offense that has really been holding the team back. 8 or 9 wins feels like the ceiling again, but if those victories include a couple of big upsets it should be enough to sneak into the rankings.

 

 

22     West Virginia

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Tennessee, 9/15 at NC St., 9/22 vs. Kansas St., 11/3 at Texas, 11/10 vs. TCU, 11/23 vs. Oklahoma

Mountaineers QB Will Grier will be a legit Heisman candidate and converted quarterback David Sills has become a solid receiver, so I am not at all concerned about the offense. It’s been a lack of defense that has held WVU back the past few seasons, but a couple of transfers will allegedly bolster that side of the ball this year. I don’t expect the ‘Eers to beat TCU or Oklahoma (though both opponents are visiting Morgantown), so I think games against K-State and Texas will be the difference between 7 or 8 wins versus 9 or 10 wins.

 

 

21     Penn State        

Last Season:      11-2

Key Games:       9/29 vs. Ohio St., 10/13 vs. Michigan St., 11/3 at Michigan, 11/10 vs. Wisconsin

Happy Valley might be somewhat less happy in 2018 since Saquon Barkley is now toting the rock for the NY Giants. That doesn’t mean that the Nittany Lions will fall completely off the map, but for me it does take them out of the conference title discussion. QB Trace McSorely will be a Heisman contender, and whether this team wins 9+ games or falls into mediocrity looks to be squarely on his shoulders.

 

 

20     Texas       

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/15 vs. USC, 9/22 vs. TCU, 10/6 vs. Oklahoma, 11/3 vs. West Virginia

We’ve been waiting for the Longhorns to get back to their former glory for nearly a decade. Head coach Mack Brown was forced into retirement in 2013, and Charlie Strong couldn’t get it done in his three years in Austin. Tom Herman’s inaugural season at the helm was a slight improvement, but still underwhelming. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that they’ll win more games this year than last, but an upset or two will be necessary to achieve that goal.

 

 

19     Florida State                       

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/6 at Miami (FL), 10/27 vs. Clemson, 11/10 at Notre Dame

The Seminoles’ season was torpedoed right out of the gate in 2017 when starting QB Deondre Francois suffered a tear of his patellar tendon and freshman James Blackman stepped in to fill the void. After the season head coach Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M (and a ten year $75 million contract), which took a lot of folks by surprise. Former South Florida & Oregon head coach Willie Taggart has taken the helm, which also came as a bit of a surprise. Francois & Blackman are both in the mix at quarterback, and redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman might get some reps as well. RB Cam Akers will be be a huge help to whomever is under center. The schedule is brutal, and I understand that this isn’t the 1990’s anymore. One shouldn’t assume that Florida St. will sit near the top of the college football mountain like they used to, especially in an increasingly deep & competitive ACC. However, I think eight wins is doable, and anything more would really thrill the folks in Tallahassee

 

 

18     Florida Atlantic

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/1 at Oklahoma, 9/21 at UCF

The talking heads love to fawn all over the glamor teams in the power conferences, but a) when two such teams play each other someone is going to lose, and b) there will be teams winning the “other” conferences. Owls’ head coach Lane Kiffin will undoubtedly move on to another high profile job in the future, but for now he’ll be focused on building on last year’s 11 win season. I don’t expect FAU to travel to Norman and beat the Sooners, but I am predicting an upset of Central Florida in Orlando a month into the season. Another 10+ win season should be recognized with a spot in the Top 25, which will help score a big payday for Kiffin…eventually.

 

 

17     Stanford

Last Season:      9-5

Key Games:       9/8 vs. USC, 9/22 at Oregon, 9/29 at Notre Dame, 11/3 at Washington

RB Bryce Love has to be considered the Heisman frontrunner early on, especially since he was the runner-up a year ago. That’s enough for me to consider Stanford a Top 25 team, but the PAC 12 is so loaded that it’s going to take an upset or two for them to get over the hump.

 

 

16     Oklahoma

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       10/6 vs. Texas, 10/20 at TCU, 11/23 at West Virginia

I am not buying any pre-season hype that puts the Sooners back in the playoff conversation or even has them in the Top 10. A team just doesn’t replace a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback that easily. It helps that former Texas A&M starter Kyler Murray will be stepping into that role though, and the defense will be counted on to win some close games. A Big 12 title isn’t out of the question, but I believe the road is going to be bumpier than it has been in recent years for Oklahoma.

 

 

15     Ohio State         

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       9/15 vs. TCU, 11/29 at Penn St., 11/10 at Michigan St., 11/24 vs. Michigan

No one can convince me that this Urban Meyer kerfuffle won’t cause a disturbance in The Force in Columbus. Whether the coach’s “paid leave” ends tomorrow or he is ultimately terminated damage has already been done, especially as it relates to a very tough early game against TCU. The talent level is indisputably elite on the field, although replacing JT Barrett at quarterback won’t be easy. The Big Ten is just too competitive to expect more than a couple of teams to still be standing in November, and this year I think it’ll be the Buckeyes who are left out in the cold.

 

 

14     Auburn              

Last Season:      10-4

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Washington, 9/15 vs. LSU, 11/10 at Georgia, 11/24 at Alabama

Auburn is in much the same situation as Ohio St. as far as probably being the 3rd  or 4th best team in a deep conference. QB Jarrett Stidham will be an early Heisman contender, but a neutral site season opener against Washington in Atlanta could put the kibosh on everything very quickly. I think the Tigers are looking at atleast three losses, but if they balance those out with an upset or two the season could still be rather successful.

 

 

13     Notre Dame     

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Michigan, 9/29 vs. Stanford, 10/6 at Virginia Tech, 11/10 vs. Florida St., 11/24 at USC

Brian Kelly probably saved his job last year with a 10 win season following a dismal 2016. The schedule is daunting to say the least, but if the Irish can get a couple of big upsets at home pollsters may be lenient.

 

 

12     South Florida

Last Season:      10-2

Key Games:       10/27 at Houston, 11/23 vs. UCF

A year ago I predicted a Top Ten finish for the Bulls in Charlie Strong’s first year at the helm in Tampa. Instead they finished somewhere around #21 in most polls, in part because of intrastate and AAC rival Central Florida, who went undefeated and snagged that Top Ten spot. UCF is still getting much of the “non-power” love from talking heads this pre-season, but I’m not buying it since Scott Frost bolted to coach at his alma mater Nebraska. Can USF steal the spotlight in 2018?? Can they win the AAC and maybe even go undefeated?? I think it’s possible.

 

 

11     Boise State                

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/15 at Oklahoma St.

The Broncos are once again defending Mountain West champions and ended last season on a high note by defeating Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. The issue was their early non-conference schedule, which accounted for two out of three losses. I don’t have Oklahoma St. in this Top 25 because they are replacing a quarterback as well as one of the nation’s best wide receivers, so I think it is possible that Boise could go into Stillwater in mid-September and score an upset. That combined with another conference title could have them hovering near the Top Ten by season’s end.

 

 

10     Southern Cal   

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/8 at Stanford, 9/15 at Texas, 9/29 at Arizona, 11/24 vs. Notre Dame

Sam Darnold is gone, off to a doomed future quarterbacking the NY Jets. With a true freshman probably stepping into that role it’ll be up to the Trojan defense to keep scores low and grind out some close victories. A non-conference tilt at Texas won’t be a picnic, and the rest of the schedule looks a bit intimidating as well, but The Voices are telling me to go big or go home on this one.

 

 

9       Michigan State 

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       10/13 at Penn St., 10/20 vs. Michigan, 11/10 vs., Ohio St.

The Spartans rebounded quite nicely a year ago from a miserable 2016 during which they only won three games. QB Brian Lewerke is said to have NFL potential along the lines of former Michigan St. signal callers Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, Connor Cook,& Drew Stanton, which I’m sure is meant as a compliment. The Big Ten is going to be a grind, but both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have to come to East Lansing, so an upset or two could really boost the chances of a Top Ten finish and an appearance in the conference title game.

 

 

8       Virginia Tech    

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/3 at Florida St., 10/6 vs. Notre Dame, 11/17 vs. Miami (FL)

Who said the ACC was a basketball conference?? Okay okay…I’m sure I’ve probably said that in the past, but this season the football side of things could be quite impressive, atleast at the top. The Hokies are always a tough opponent, and after a few lean years they got back to double digit victories last year. I don’t believe that they’ll win the conference title or be a serious playoff contender, but an upset or two could vault them into the Top Ten.

 

 

7       Georgia

Last Season:      13-2

Key Games:       10/13 at LSU, 11/10 vs. Auburn

The Bulldogs played for the National Championship last season and came very close to winning it all before an Alabama comeback that we all knew was coming. I don’t foresee another playoff appearance this year, but they are the clear favorites in their division and should get another crack at ‘Bama in the SEC title game.

 

 

6       Miami (FL)

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/2 vs. LSU, 10/6 vs. Florida St.

Break out the Turnover Chain!! I have my opinions about that particular “tradition”, but it was an undeniably unique motivational tool last season. I don’t think Florida St. will be an easy out this year, but that might not matter all that much since they play in the other ACC division. An appearance in the conference title game should be expected. The only questions are a) can they get past LSU in the neutral site season opener in Dallas, b) can they stand toe to toe with Clemson in the ACC Championship game, & c) will winning the conference title translate into a playoff berth??

 

 

5       Clemson  

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       10/27 at Florida St.

A lot of people are picking Clemson as the favorites to win it all, but as a certain ESPN personality is fond of saying…not so fast my friends. Yes, the Tigers are loaded. They have NFL talent throughout their roster, especially on the defense. Dabo Swinney is a legit great coach and unlike some of his peers he seems like a genuinely good dude. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they even have a chance to go undefeated. But…but…what if they go into Tallahassee at the end of October and get beat?? Look at the rest of their schedule. Might a one loss ACC Champion with victories on their resume against the likes of Furman, Georgia Southern, Wake Forest, & Syracuse get left on the outside looking in?? I not only believe it is possible…I think it might be probable.

 

 

4       Washington      

Last Season:      10-3 

Key Games:       9/1 vs. Auburn, 10/13 at Oregon, 11/3 vs. Stanford

Speaking of being left out, after a playoff appearance two years ago the Huskies fell short last season because of tough road losses to Arizona St. & Stanford. Trust me y’all, if you can stay awake ‘til about 1am on Saturday nights in the fall PAC 12 football is usually worth watching. Not only does Washington have the best defense in the conference, they also return QB Jake Browning & RB Myles Gaskin. I’m calling it right now…they will beat down Auburn in the non-conference neutral field season opener in Atlanta, which should put the rest of the country on notice that Washington is back and they are for real.

 

 

3       TCU 

Last Season:      11-3

Key Games:       9/15 vs. Ohio St., 9/22 at Texas, 10/20 vs. Oklahoma, 11/10 at West Virginia

Most “experts” are predicting a solid Top 25 season for the Horned Frogs, but I’m taking things a step further. I think they’ll upset Ohio St. in an early season non-conference “neutral site” game at The Palace in Dallas. I parenthesize that because let’s be honest…it isn’t exactly neutral since Dallas is only a half hour from TCU’s campus in Fort Worth. The Buckeyes have had too many distractions this summer and are ripe for the picking. That game is a major reason that I have Ohio St. ranked 15th and TCU in playoff position instead of the other way around. Other than that I look at the fact that Oklahoma has to come to Fort Worth, Texas is rising but not quite there yet, and my Mountaineers tend to screw the pooch in huge home games against top flight opponents. Everything seems to be breaking in TCU’s favor, and if they can take advantage there just might be a national championship opportunity waiting.

 

 

2       Alabama                               

Last Season:      13-1

Key Games:       11/3 at LSU, 11/24 vs. Auburn

Okay okay okay…I give. Uncle!! Uncle!! It has become abundantly clear to me that the playoff committee will twist themselves in knots to roll the Tide into the Final Four. It doesn’t matter if they have a loss or two. It doesn’t matter if they don’t win the SEC Championship. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if they don’t make it to the SEC title game. The powers-that-be rendered conference championship games totally meaningless the minute ‘Bama was awarded a playoff spot last season. They might remedy that someday, but under the current rules I assume Alabama would have to lose atleast three games to be left out of the playoff, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. An early November clash in Baton Rouge will probably be low scoring and a complete snoozefest which will be counterbalanced by an exciting Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa just a few weeks later. If…if…if ‘Bama were to drop both games they MIGHT get left out of the playoff…but maybe not. The biggest offseason news story has been the quarterback battle between last year’s starter Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, who came into the second half of the National Championship Game in January and won the Tide another trophy. Both guys will probably see their fair share of action this season, and I don’t foresee it being an issue. Nick Saban will go with the hot hand and use his special brand of Jedi mind tricks to soothe egos.

 

 

1       Wisconsin        

Last Season:      13-1

Key Games:       10/13 at Michigan, 11/10 at Penn St.

Last season it was Wisconsin’s loss to Ohio St. in the Big Ten title game (combined with the Buckeyes’ inexplicable regular season loss at Iowa) that left a crack in the door that Alabama walked thru all the way to a national championship. Since the Badgers don’t have Michigan St. or Ohio St. on the schedule this year and open the season with games against Western Kentucky, New Mexico, and BYU I expect a fairly clear path to another conference title game…probably against Michigan St….and I don’t think they’ll blow another opportunity. I suppose it’s possible that they could find themselves in the same boat as Clemson, with people questioning their strength of schedule. The easy way to take care of that is to go undefeated. It won’t be easy with trips to The Big House and Happy Valley, but I’m predicting that they’ll get the job done.

2017-18 College Football Bowl-a-Palooza

Bowl season has arrived. It’s a month long college football smorgasbord, and just like any other buffet there are some really tasty vittles, a few offerings that you might be kind of curious about but are somewhat hesitant to sample, and some things that most everyone looks at with an expression of nauseous antipathy. There are two schools of thought when it comes to bowl games. Many of us feel like there are too many of them and are troubled by the idea of rewarding mediocrity. Others opine that even bad football games are good entertainment and have no issue with having as many meaningless post-season games as possible. Regardless of one’s outlook it is undeniable that the next few weeks will be fun. Some games will live up to high expectations, while others will be just as boring as anticipated. The best games are the ones that no one thinks will be at all remarkable, but then all the sudden you find yourself glued to the television watching the 4th quarter of an epic battle involving two teams you know nothing about and now you are strangely invested in the outcome. That’s why bowl season concurrently matters yet doesn’t matter. It’s very odd.

 

Picking these games is pretty much a crapshoot. There are just so many wildcards. Injuries. Coaching changes. Neutral sites. Last year I was 18-23 with these picks, while Zach was 21-20. The whole idea of a bowl game is to pit two unfamiliar opponents against one another, so I assume much goes into scouting & film study. For Zach & I there are many teams that we know virtually nothing about outside of their record, and since we have lives and aren’t paid to spend time doing research most of our picks are semi-educated guesses based on the general knowledge we have as fans. We don’t do point spreads for these picks, and no money is on the line. We’re just having fun, which is what football fans should do this time of year. As usual I have broken down the games into three tiers. Tier 1 are the games that hold very little interest for me. Two .500 teams from a bottom dweller conference playing in a bowl game on a weekday afternoon in December is kind of like watching an Adam Sandler movie…I have very low expectations and if the result is even mildly entertaining I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Tier 2 games come with somewhat higher hopes. I might not go out of my way to watch them, but if I happen to be home and flipping thru the channels I’ll probably check out such a game if it is on. Tier 3 are the games that I’m really looking forward to and have the potential to be tremendous fun.

 

 

 

Tier 1

 

New Orleans     

12/16 at 1pm.

Troy (10-2)                   vs.    North Texas (9-4)

I’ll give credit where it is due…these two teams have won their fair share of games and actually earned a post-season reward (unlike the plethora of bowl bound 6-6 teams). Having said that, they are teams that very few outside their respective fan bases pay any attention to, so it’s difficult to be excited about the matchup. I’m feeling generous, so allow me to suggest…free of charge…some ideas to the game’s organizers for a name with a bit more pizzazz: Bayou Bowl, Cajun Bowl, Creole Bowl, Lagniappe Bowl, Jazz Bowl, Crawfish Bowl, Beignet Bowl, Big Easy Bowl, Gumbo Bowl, Jambalaya Bowl. See, it’s not that hard. You’re welcome.

My Pick:     Troy

Zach’s Pick:        Troy

 

Cure (Orlando, FL)

12/16 at 2:30pm

Georgia State (6-5)    vs.   Western Kentucky (6-6)

Proceeds from the game go to breast cancer awareness, which is admittedly quite charitable. Still though, it’s a dull name for a game featuring two prosaic opponents.

My Pick:     Georgia St.

Zach’s Pick:        Western Kentucky

 

Camellia (Montgomery, AL)

12/16 at 8pm               

Middle Tennessee (6-6)     vs.    Arkansas State (7-4)

A camellia is a type of flower. Fans of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird might recognize it as the flower grown by mean old Mrs. Dubose that was destroyed by an angry Jem Finch. The game itself holds zero interest for me. Zach has actually watched an Arkansas St. game, so he knows more about what’s going on here than me.

My Pick:     Middle Tennessee

Zach’s Pick:        Arkansas St.

 

Boca Raton       

12/19 at 7pm     

Florida Atlantic (10-3)                   vs.    Akron (7-6)

I’m surprised FAU head coach Lane Kiffin hasn’t been mentioned as a serious candidate for one of the many jobs that have been open recently. Perhaps the football community feels like he needs another season of being humbled?? Anyway, I don’t expect this to be much of a game. Zach likes FAU’s offense to make it look easy.

My Pick:     FAU

Zach’s Pick:        FAU

 

Frisco (Frisco, TX)      

12/20 at 8pm               

Southern Methodist (7-5)   vs.   Louisiana Tech (6-6)

Point of clarification: this game does not take place in San Francisco, CA. Frisco, TX is a suburb of Dallas and has been amongst the fastest growing cities in America for over a decade. So essentially this is a home game for the SMU Mustangs, whose coach just left for Arkansas.

My Pick:     SMU

Zach’s Pick:        SMU

 

Pinstripe (New York City)

12/27 at 5:15pm          

Boston College          (7-5)           vs.              Iowa (7-5)

The draw here is that the game is contested at Yankee Stadium, which I guess is supposed to be cool. Unfortunately for players & fans it’ll also be cold, but I suppose spending Christmas in The Big Apple will be fun for all involved. Zach isn’t a fan of playing a football game in a baseball stadium.

My Pick:     Iowa

Zach’s Pick:        Iowa

 

Foster Farms (Santa Clara, CA)

12/27 at 8:30pm          

Arizona (7-5)               vs.              Purdue (6-6)

In the past this game was known as the Fight Hunger Bowl and the Emerald Bowl. Foster Farms is a California poultry company, which means that they really should call this the Turkey Bowl. The matchup involves middle-of-the-road teams from the Pac 12 & Big Ten, so I suppose one could think of it as a really mediocre version of a Rose Bowl.

My Pick:     Arizona

Zach’s Pick:        Arizona

 

Texas       

12/27 at 9pm

Texas (6-6)                  vs.              Missouri (7-5)

If it were up to me I’d call it the Lone Star Bowl, but no one asked for my opinion. These two teams are better than their record shows, but playing in a competitive conference and having a little bad luck tends to have a negative impact on the numbers. It might end up being a more entertaining game than I’m giving it credit for, which would be fine with me. Zach expects a relatively low scoring defensive struggle.

My Pick:     Texas

Zach’s Pick:        Missouri

 

Military (Annapolis, MD)

12/28 at 1:30pm          

Virginia (6-6)               vs.              Navy (6-6)

I like the idea of a bowl game to honor the military, but it’s probably a bit unfair to have the Midshipmen be playing a home game.

My Pick:     Navy

Zach’s Pick:        Navy

 

Belk (Charlotte, NC)

12/29 at 1pm               

Wake Forest (7-5)                vs.              Texas A&M (7-5)

I’m praying that fans show up to this game with bells that they ring throughout the entire contest. If you don’t know why I’ll point you in the right direction to find the answer. A&M recently fired head coach Kevin Sumlin and hired Jimbo Fisher away from Florida St. That news made quite the splash, but really has no bearing here except for the fact that the Aggies…I assume…will be led by an interim coach. Wake Forest fans should have an easy time traveling 80 miles to cheer their team, and it might be their best opportunity to get a victory over a (perceived) top tier SEC opponent. Zach thinks A&M will have the game in the bag by halftime.

My Pick:     Wake Forest

Zach’s Pick:        Texas A&M

 

Sun (El Paso, TX)

12/29 at 2pm               

NC State (8-4)             vs.              Arizona State (7-5)

The Sun Bowl is the third oldest bowl game and one of the few not telecast by Disney (ESPN/ABC). The Sun Devils will also be playing for an interim coach as former NFL head coach & ESPN commentator Herm Edwards prepares to take the reins in 2018.

My Pick:     NC St.

Zach’s Pick:        Arizona St.

 

Music City (Nashville, TN)

12/29 at 4:30pm         

Kentucky (7-5)            vs.              Northwestern (9-3)

Hey, what do you know…they can do something besides play basketball & race horses in Kentucky!! Unfortunately for fans in the Bluegrass State Northwestern has been an above average program for awhile. One thing is for sure…the Wildcats will win this game.

My Pick:     Northwestern

Zach’s Pick:        Northwestern

 

Arizona

12/29 at 5:30pm         

New Mexico State (6-6)                vs.              Utah State (6-6)

Part of me wants to suggest better names for this game like I did for the New Orleans Bowl, but sadly my creativity is zapped for the moment. All I know is that this is a second-rate game with subpar teams being played at 5:30pm on a Friday. Perhaps they could call it the Who Cares Bowl.

My Pick:     Utah St.

Zach’s Pick:        Utah St.

 

 

 

Tier 2

 

Las Vegas         

12/16 at 3:30pm

Boise State (10-3)      vs.    Oregon (7-5)

Okay NOW we’re getting somewhere!! I’m guessing the players won’t be permitted to roam free thru the plethora of casinos in Sin City, but I am confident that they’ll have plenty of fun. Boise has had the kind of season they usually have…ten wins & the Mountain West title. However, due to the success of Central Florida the Broncos aren’t playing on New Year’s Eve/Day like they’ve become accustomed to doing. The Ducks have fallen off a bit from the days when they were winning 10+ games and competing for the national championship, but were a few games better this year than last. Unfortunately head coach Willie Taggert has already bolted after just one season to take over at Florida St. Zach likes Boise’s defense to make the difference in a close game.

My Pick:     Boise St.

Zach’s Pick:        Boise St.

 

New Mexico       

12/16 at 3:30pm

Marshall (7-5)    vs.    Colorado State (7-5)

Marshall University is my alma mater so I freely admit my bias toward the Thundering Herd. It’s nice to have them back in the post-season after the debacle of 2016. I believe the Rams usually have a high octane offense that scores a lot of points, so this game might be pretty fun to watch. Zach has doubts about Marshall’s ability to win big games.

My Pick:     Marshall

Zach’s Pick:        Colorado St.

 

Gasparilla (St. Petersburg, FL)

12/21 at 8pm               

Temple (6-6)      vs.   Florida International (8-4)

This game was formerly known as the St. Petersburg Bowl and the Beef o’ Brady’s Bowl, so atleast we’re making progress with the name. Gasparilla was an 18th century Spanish pirate that may or may not have actually existed, but apparently he is infamous in the Tampa, FL area and in fact inspired the nickname of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That story alone makes it a much cooler game than the New Orleans, Boca Raton, & Texas Bowls.

My Pick:     FIU

Zach’s Pick:        FIU

 

Bahamas  

12/22 at 12:30pm       

Alabama-Birmingham (8-4)                  vs.    Ohio (8-4)

I’m 45 years old and the closest I’ve ever gotten or likely ever will get to the Bahamas is when I occasionally got snockered on rum back in college, so congrats to these teams for scoring one of the cooler post-season destinations. UAB’s football program has actually been shut down the past couple of years due to financial concerns, but public outcry persuaded the powers-that be to resurrect it, so this is a pretty neat story. I’m sure most fans will be rooting for a positive outcome. So are we.

My Pick:     UAB

Zach’s Pick:        UAB

 

Potato       

12/22 at 4pm (Boise, ID)

Wyoming (7-5)            vs.              Central Michigan (8-4)

The story here will be Cowboys’ quarterback Josh Allen, who is expected to be a first round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. One would think that if he is that talented he’d be able to lead his team to victory in a bowl game, but Zach doesn’t think that’ll happen.

My Pick:     Wyoming

Zach’s Pick:        Central Michigan

 

Birmingham       

12/23 at Noon             

South Florida (9-2)              vs.              Texas Tech (6-6)

In my pre-season poll I ranked the Bulls 7th and thought they might have an opportunity to go undefeated. That didn’t happen and they aren’t a Top 10 team…but they could still finish in the Top 25 by defeating a team from a “power” conference. Zach never bought into the USF hype, but he thinks their defense can make a difference in this game.

My Pick:     USF

Zach’s Pick:        USF

 

Armed Forces (Fort Worth, TX)

12/23 at 3:30pm          

Army (9-3)          vs.   San Diego State (10-2)

Okay, so we have an Armed Forces Bowl AND a Military Bowl. Seems a bit redundant, but it could be worse. I love the military academies, but I think the Aztecs might have a little too much offense. Zach believes Army’s ground game can dominate time of possession and make the difference in a victory.

My Pick:     San Diego St.

Zach’s Pick:        Army

 

Dollar General (Mobile, AL)

12/23 at 7pm               

Appalachian State (8-4)     vs.   Toledo (11-2)

Atleast Dollar General is a step above former title sponsor Go Daddy.

My Pick:     Toledo

Zach’s Pick:        Toledo

 

 

Hawai’i      

Christmas Eve at 8:30pm

Fresno State (9-4)      vs.   Houston (7-4)

Right up there with The Bahamas as a desirable bowl location is the lovely island of Honolulu. Mele Kalikimaka indeed!!

My Pick:     Houston

Zach’s Pick:        Fresno St.

 

 

Heart of Dallas  

12/26 at 1:30pm

West Virginia (7-5)     vs.    Utah (6-6)

As with my Marshall Thundering Herd I am completely biased when it comes to the Mountaineers. If quarterback Will Greer is able to come back from injury in time to play in this game I think he’ll lead the ‘Eers to an exciting victory. Without Greer it’s going to be tough sledding. I choose to think positively. Zach’s outlook is a bit more pessimistic. He doesn’t believe Greer will be healthy enough to play, and he has no faith in WVU’s defense.

My Pick:     West Virginia

Zach’s Pick:        Utah

 

Quick Lane (Detroit, MI)

12/26 at 5:15pm

Duke (6-6)          vs.             Northern Illinois (8-4)

Every single year, whether it’s called the Motor City Bowl, Little Caesar’s Bowl, or now the Quick Lane Bowl I poke fun at the fact that, while other teams get to go to cool places like Hawaii, The Bahamas, or Las Vegas, there are two teams that are rewarded for allegedly successful seasons with a trip to Detroit. I’ve never been there to be honest though. Perhaps it is nicer than I think?? Feedback is always welcome.

My Pick:     Northern Illinois

Zach’s Pick:        Duke

 

 

Cactus (Phoenix, AZ)

12/26 at 10pm             

UCLA (6-6)         vs.             Kansas State (7-5)

WVU fans were kind of hoping for another trip out west to this game, especially with an opportunity to face Bruins’ quarterback Josh Rosen, who could be the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Alas, K-State gets that chance. Zach points out that Rosen can be somewhat inconsistent, but thinks he’ll play well in what is basically an NFL audition.

My Pick:     UCLA

Zach’s Pick:        UCLA

 

 

Independence (Shreveport, LA)

12/27 at 1:30pm          

Florida State (6-6)      vs.    Southern Mississippi (8-4)

The Seminoles have been bowl eligible for 36 straight seasons, which I’m pretty sure is some sort of record. However, head coach Jimbo Fisher has already left for Texas A&M, and All-American defensive back Derwin James will not play in the bowl game to protect his NFL Draft status. Despite all of that I have to think that the Golden Eagles would count beating Florida St. in a bowl game amongst their biggest all-time victories. Zach believes the upheaval in Tallahassee may serve as motivation for the team.

My Pick:     Southern Miss

Zach’s Pick:        Florida St.

 

 

Holiday (San Diego, CA)

12/28 at 9pm               

Michigan State (         9-3)            vs.              Washington State (9-3)

The Holiday Bowl has become one of my favorites over the years. Not only has it stubbornly held onto its cool & festive name, but it’s a west coast game which means late night football here in the east. What can I say…I’m easily amused. The Spartans have rebounded nicely from an abysmal 9-3 season in 2016, but the Cougars have top NFL prospect Luke Falk at quarterback. Zach likes Michigan St.’s defense better than he likes Falk.

My Pick:     Washington St.

Zach’s Pick:        Michigan St.

 

 

Gator (Jacksonville, FL)

12/30 at Noon             

Louisville (8-4)            vs.              Mississippi State (8-4)

As has become tradition I refuse to call this game by its corporate name. The Gator Bowl was just dandy for nearly seven decades, and I see no reason to change. 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson had, in my opinion, a fairly quiet season under center for the Cardinals, but he still managed another invite to the Downtown Athletic Club and finished a distant third in this year’s voting. The Bulldogs will be playing for an interim coach after Dan Mullen bounced to Gainesville, FL to helm the Gators.

My Pick:     Louisville

Zach’s Pick:        Louisville

 

Liberty (Memphis, TN)

12/30 at 12:30pm                 

Iowa State (7-5)          vs.              Memphis (10-2)

This is where most Mountaineer fans here in West Virginia wanted their team to play since it would’ve been a fairly easy drive, but the Cyclones got the nod instead. The Tigers have won atleast eight games in four straight seasons, and this is really a home game for them. Zach has high expectations for this to be a really good game.

My Pick:     Memphis

Zach’s Pick:        Memphis

 

Outback (Tampa, FL)

New Year’s Day at Noon              

Michigan (8-4)             vs.              South Carolina (8-4)

For its first eight years this was called the Hall of Fame Bowl, but for the past couple of decades it’s taken on the name of its sponsor Outback Steakhouse. As I’ve made clear I am not a fan of such things, but in this case I can atleast imagine that the game is an homage to Crocodile Dundee or kangaroos & koalas. The Wolverines & Spartans have been participants more than any other teams, so if the matchup seems familiar there’s a reason for that. Surprisingly Zach is picking against his beloved Wolverines because he just doesn’t feel like their offense is good enough.

My Pick:     Michigan

Zach’s Pick:        South Carolina

 

Peach (Atlanta, GA)

New Year’s Day at 12:30pm                  

Auburn (10-3)             vs.              Central Florida (12-0)

I was very tempted to bump this game up to Tier 3. The Tigers were just a whisper away from making the playoff until losing the SEC title game. The Knights are undefeated but getting very little respect because they play in one of those “other” conferences. I’ve been wondering aloud for years why Central Florida hasn’t become more of a collegiate sports powerhouse since the school itself is the largest university in the United States. Perhaps in the next round of conference realignment (you know it’s going to happen) they’ll be invited into the inner sanctum. The question is, despite their spotless record, can UCF compete on a big stage against an athletically superior opponent?? Head coach Scott Frost is leaving for his alma mater Nebraska, where he was a great quarterback in the mid-90’s, but it is my understanding that he might coach UCF one last time in the bowl game. I’d love to pick UCF, and I hope it turns out to be a really fantastic game, but I’m just not sure that’s the way this is going to go. Like me Zach loves what UCF has accomplished but doesn’t think this is a good matchup for them.

My Pick:     Auburn

Zach’s Pick:        Auburn

 

Citrus (Orlando, FL)

New Year’s Day at 1pm                

Notre Dame (9-3)        vs.              LSU (9-3)

The Irish really turned things around this season, improving tremendously from a 4-8 record last year. But let’s not forget the 2016 turmoil for the Bayou Bengals when they were 8-4 but fired their coach just a third of the way thru. Both programs seem to be on more familiar solid ground nowadays, which means that this might be a better game than expected.

My Pick:     LSU

Zach’s Pick:        LSU

 

 

 

Tier 3

 

Camping World (Orlando, FL)

12/28 at 5:15pm

Oklahoma State (9-3)          vs.    Virginia Tech (9-3)

This game was formerly known as the Blockbuster Bowl, Carquest Bowl, Micron PC Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, & Russell Athletic Bowl. It’s had as many corporate sponsors as the Kardashians have had pro athlete boy toys. Despite my hatred for bowls with such names I cannot deny that the matchup is terrific. In my pre-season poll I ranked the Hokies 18th and had the Cowboys in the playoff conversation at 3rd. OK St. fell far short of my expectations, while VA Tech isn’t too far from where I predicted. My Mountaineers were a common opponent, unfortunately losing to both teams. The Hokies began the season by beating WVU by a touchdown, while the Cowboys won a high scoring shootout over the ‘Eers. I’d take the over on this one…if I was a gambling man.

My Pick:     Oklahoma St.

Zach’s Pick:        Oklahoma St.

 

Alamo (San Antonio, TX)

Dec. 28 at 9pm

Stanford (9-4)              vs.              TCU (10-3)

While neither team was ever a serious playoff contender they both played in their conference title games, where they came up short. Stanford running back Bryce Love has burst onto the scene and finished second in the Heisman race, which deserves props. This game is on at the same time as the Holiday Bowl, so I foresee a fun night of channel flipping in my future. Maybe I should buy some batteries. Zach thinks Love will have a big game.

My Pick:     Stanford

Zach’s Pick:        Stanford

 

Cotton (Arlington, TX)

12/29 at 8:30pm

Ohio State (11-2)                  vs.              USC (11-2)

I am shamelessly old-fashioned, and when I was a kid New Year’s Day meant the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, & Fiesta bowls were on. Those were the five best bowls then, and that’s what they remain in my mind. But with the playoff and a bunch of other factors all bets are off and nothing is like it once was. Progress?? I don’t know. Anyway, it weirds me out that this game is being played three days earlier than what I perceive as normal, but I’m sure no one important gives a rat’s petoot about my opinion. Did Ohio St. get screwed out of a playoff spot?? Well, on one hand I find it troubling that conference titles mean nothing to the committee. By definition one of the “power” conference champs will always be left on the outside looking in, and this year two of them didn’t make it, which feels wrong. On the other hand, the Buckeyes didn’t do themselves any favors when they got beat down by 30 points at Iowa last month. The committee could have overlooked the early season loss to Oklahoma, but such a resounding defeat to a mediocre opponent apparently made a huge difference, and wins against Army & UNLV didn’t help. The powers-that-be in Columbus have to do better when putting together the schedule. The Trojans, despite winning the Pac 12 title, weren’t serious playoff contenders due to a 35 point loss at Notre Dame in October. However, they’re riding a five game winning streak and QB Sam Darnold could be a first round pick if he declares for the NFL Draft. I expect this to be a moderately high scoring game…something with both teams hovering around 28-35 point range…with turnovers and (sadly) officiating making a difference. Zach is just thrilled that Ohio St. didn’t make the playoff.

My Pick:     Ohio St.

Zach’s Pick:        USC

 

Fiesta (Glendale, AZ)

12/30 at 4pm

Washington (10-2)     vs.              Penn State (10-2)

I bumped this game up to Tier 3 specifically because of the presence of Nittany Lions’ running back Saquon Barkley. At one point he was the clear leader for the Heisman Trophy, and I took it for granted that he’d atleast be invited to New York. However, the Heisman is a numbers award, and Barkley only topped 100 yards rushing in four games. I still believe he’s the best running back in college football, and I’ll be interested to see what he can do in the NFL behind a legit offensive line, but I understand why he fell out of favor with the talking heads. The Huskies are a pretty darn good team too, so this game could be a lot of fun. Zach isn’t nearly as enthusiastic as me because he feels like both teams have been vastly overrated.

My Pick:     Penn St.

Zach’s Pick:        Penn St.

 

Orange (Miami, FL)

12/30 at 8pm

Miami (10-2)                vs.              Wisconsin (12-1)

Both teams fell short in their conference title games, so this is essentially a consolation game for just missing the playoff. The Badgers haven’t gotten much respect all season, but with early season victories over Utah St., Florida Atlantic, & BYU (teams with a combined total record of 20-18) I understand why folks have been hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Still, if they would have beaten Ohio St. for the Big Ten championship and finished undefeated they would have probably made the playoff. The ‘Canes finished the season by dropping two games, including the ACC championship. But before that they vaguely resembled The U of the 80’s & 90’s. Miami is flash & speed, Wisconsin is old fashioned smashmouth football…a definite clash of styles. Both of us think size will outlast speed.

My Pick:     Wisconsin

Zach’s Pick:        Wisconsin

 

Rose (Pasadena, CA)

Playoff Semi-Final

New Year’s Day at 5 p.m.

Oklahoma          (12-1)         vs.              Georgia (12-1)

The first playoff semi features Heisman Trophy winning QB Baker Mayfield versus the SEC Champions. I’ve seen no shortage of people comparing Mayfield to former Heisman winner and NFL bust Johnny Manziel. However, as much as it pains me to say it since he does seem like kind of a prick, in my opinion Mayfield has a Bret Favre vibe. Keep in mind that Favre was a 2nd round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons before being traded to the Green Bay Packers, and you know the rest. Mayfield obviously has a higher profile than Favre did coming out of Southern Mississippi, but there are doubts about how his talent may fit into the NFL. At any rate, casual fans are probably more familiar with Oklahoma than Georgia because, despite spending some time at #1 this season, the Bulldogs have kind of flown under the radar a bit. I expect this game to be really enjoyable and very close, with turnovers & special teams making the difference. Zach believes in the old maxim that defense wins championships, and he thinks Georgia has a better defense.

My Pick:     Oklahoma

Zach’s Pick:        Georgia

 

Sugar (New Orleans, LA)

Playoff Semi-Final

New Year’s Day at 8:45 p.m.

Clemson (12-1)           vs.              Alabama (11-1)

In case you may have forgotten, this is a rematch of the past two national championship games. ‘Bama beat Clemson by five points a couple of years ago, and Clemson won with a last second touchdown a year ago. Does Alabama even deserve to be in this game?? It’s an interesting debate. I don’t like how the playoff committee has essentially rendered conference titles meaningless. The Tide didn’t lose the SEC championship game…they didn’t even play in it. But Ohio St,’s incomprehensible mid-season loss to Iowa was deemed to be a bigger faux pas than Alabama’s fairly close loss to Auburn. I don’t totally agree with the logic, but I understand it. I honestly thought that Clemson would decline just a little after QB Deshaun Watson moved on to the NFL, but the defending national champions have looked even more impressive this year. I’m not sure what happened at Syracuse back in mid-October, but that game was definitely an anomaly. I’m kind of tired of the Alabama hype myself, although I recognize that’s a fringe viewpoint. Conversely, I really like Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who seems like a genuinely good dude. Zach feels like ‘Bama has had some extra time to get healthy, and he just can’t go against Coach Saban.

My Pick:     Clemson

Zach’s Pick:        Alabama

 

 

National Championship (Atlanta GA)

January 8 at 8pm

My title game is Clemson vs. Oklahoma. Zach has Georgia vs. Alabama. ‘Bama has been there before (many times), and Saban’s experience in big games is the difference maker in Zach’s opinion. I also think coaching is a huge factor. I never thought Oklahoma would be so successful under first year head coach Lincoln Riley. The future is bright in Norman, OK if they can find a solid replacement at quarterback next season, but in this game I can’t overlook that this is Clemson’s third straight appearance and I think that experience is the deciding factor.

My Pick:     Clemson

Zach’s Pick:        Alabama

2017 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

With the exception of the Thanksgiving-Christmas corridor this might be my favorite time of year. Anticipation is at its zenith and the possibilities are endless. Just looking at the schedules has me amped up, especially for two or three weekends when the lineup looks to be especially loaded. Whenever I begin this process I almost always get The Vibes, and the word that keeps popping into my head at the moment is parity. It is unlikely that any team gets thru their season unbeaten, and it’s entirely possible that a team with 2 or 3 losses sneaks into the playoff. Saturdays are going to be as glorious as usual this autumn, if only I can stay awake to watch the games. 16 of the 25 teams I have ranked here had 10 or more victories last season, and a few more won 9 games. Who will shockingly fall off the map?? Who will do a complete turnaround and climb out of the abyss of losing seasons into the Top 25?? Only time will tell, and what follows represents my best guess based solely on minimal research & decades as a dedicated fan, not any sort of insider knowledge. Perhaps we’ll look back in a few months and laugh at my foolishness, or maybe…just maybe…I will prove my worth as a bona fide guru. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

1          USC

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Stanford, 10/21 at Notre Dame, 11/18 vs. UCLA

Honestly, the schedule doesn’t look all that daunting for a top tier team, and with Heisman Trophy contender Sam Darnold behind center I don’t think we’ll see the Trojans go backward. Clay Helton is firmly entrenched as the head coach, providing consistency that the program has been lacking in recent years. If any big time powerhouse has a legit chance to go undefeated this is the one, and at the very least anything short of a playoff appearance will be a huge disappointment.

 

 

2          Penn State

Last Season:             11-3

Key Games:              10/21 vs. Michigan, 10/28 at Ohio St.

Last season’s Rose Bowl was probably the best post-season game other than the national championship. USC bested the Nittany Lions 52-49 on a last second field goal, and in many people’s minds it was a harbinger of fantastic things to come for both teams. The Sandusky/Paterno kerfuffle seems to be in the rear view mirror for Penn St., and while we could engage in endless sociopolitical commentary about all of that there is no doubt that moving past the fallout is good for the football program. There are two Heisman contenders in Happy Valley…QB Trace McSorely & RB Saquon Barkley…and, while I’m no expert, I have to believe that bodes well for the team’s chances of success. They’ll have to face the Buckeyes in Columbus, but Michigan will be a home game. If the Lions can split those two huge games I think they just might be national title contenders.

 

 

3          Oklahoma State

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              10/21 at Texas, 11/4 vs. Oklahoma

Surprise!! While the other team in Oklahoma usually gets all of the attention (and still will this year) the Cowboys have been pretty successful, racking up 10 or more wins in five of the past seven seasons. QB Mason Rudolph returns for his senior season, and it feels like he may be flying under the radar just like his team. That’s probably fine with the folks in Stillwater. Don’t be surprised if this is the team that comes out on the positive end of Bedlam, and I think they might even have an outside shot at perfection.

 

 

4          Florida State

Last Season:             10-3   

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Alabama, 9/16 vs. Miami (FL), 11/11 at Clemson

The season opener against Alabama will obviously set a tone for the season. That game is a neutral site contest in Atlanta and is the highlight of college football’s first weekend. A win would set the Seminoles on a course for a playoff appearance, but I don’t think a loss would be fatal. They’re still the favorites to win the ACC.

 

 

5          Ohio State

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Oklahoma, 10/28 vs. Penn St., 11/25 at Michigan

The Buckeyes still have JT Barrett behind center, and that gives them an immediate advantage. They did lose seven players to the NFL, but that’s nothing to an elite program. The second weekend of games will be highlighted by Ohio St. against Oklahoma, but it’s in Columbus and, while the talking heads will do their best to pump up the hype machine, I really don’t think it’ll be much of a contest. Penn St. will visit Columbus right before Halloween & a showdown in The Big House wraps up the regular season, and it is in one of these games that I expect Ohio St.’s playoff dreams to be dashed.

 

 

6          Alabama

Last Season:             14-1

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Florida St., 11/4 vs. LSU, 11/25 at Auburn

I’m a non-conformist so I rarely do what everybody else does…rank ‘Bama #1. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. They may win or they may lose the season opener against Florida St., but The Voices are telling me that the true waterloo for the Tide will come in November against an archrival…either LSU or Auburn. Maybe both. A one or two loss Alabama would almost certainly still be in the playoff conversation, but I think they’ll fall short of the goal.

 

 

7          South Florida

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/15 vs. Illinois, 11/4 vs. Houston

Charlie Strong wasn’t deemed good enough to get the job done for Texas, but he’s moved on and found himself in a good situation. The American Athletic Conference doesn’t get much respect, but someone’s going to win it and the Bulls seem to be receiving all the buzz despite a coaching change that would normally be cause for apprehension. They’ll need to go undefeated to rank this high, and I don’t believe that to be an unreasonable expectation.

 

 

8          Georgia

Last Season:             8-5

Key Games:              9/9 at Notre Dame, 9/30 at Tennessee, 10/28 vs. Florida

It’s season 2 for Kirby Smart as the head coach in Athens, and I think his team will be more successful than they were last year. Obviously the SEC is extremely competitive, but if the Bulldogs can win a couple of the noted key games a Top 10 finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Running back Nick Chubb passed up being a likely first round NFL Draft pick to return for his senior season, a huge positive. A Georgia-Alabama conference title game could be really fun.

 

 

9          Wisconsin

Last Season:             11-3

Key Games:              10/7 at Nebraska, 11/18 vs. Michigan

I’m a little nervous about this one because the Big Ten is so tough. Can they really land three teams in the Top 10? And if so, is this the right third team?? I’ve left Nebraska, Northwestern, & Iowa out of this Top 25 altogether, but they’re always dangerous opponents. I’m betting that the Badgers get by all of them, meaning that a mid-November clash with Michigan…in Wisconsin…might decide a spot in the conference title game.

 

 

10        Auburn

Last Season:             8-5

Key Games:              9/9 at Clemson, 10/14 at LSU, 11/11 vs. Georgia, 11/25 vs. Alabama

The Tigers have been a bit off the radar the past few years since winning the national championship in 2010 and losing the title game in 2013. They are 23-16 over the past three seasons. Not bad, but not remarkable either. Exceeding mediocrity will be a tall order this season. They’ll need to pull off upsets in a couple of the games I have noted, but doing so would surely make them a solid Top 10 team.

 

 

11        Oklahoma

Last Season:             11-2

Key Games:              9/9 at Ohio St., 10/14 vs. Texas, 11/4 at Oklahoma St.

QB Baker Mayfield will get a lot of Heisman hype early in the season, but I’m just a bit uneasy about the sudden departure of head coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners will have superior talent on the field as they always do, and all indications are that new coach Lincoln Riley is a bright young mind who probably would’ve been a head coach somewhere sooner rather than later anyway, but I just don’t foresee a team undergoing such a coaching change contending for a national championship, especially with a daunting early season battle on the road in Columbus, OH. There’s also the fact that the Big 12 is expected to be as competitive this season as it’s been in awhile. Oklahoma will be a good team, but I think they’ll be on the losing end of one or two games that most wouldn’t expect them to lose.

 

 

12        Washington

Last Season:             12-2

Key Games:              9/23 at Colorado, 10/28 vs. UCLA, 11/25 vs. Washington St.

The Huskies were a playoff team last season and QB Jake Browning returns for his junior year. That’s good enough for me to take this team seriously. Barring any surprising losses it feels like Washington should be the favorite in their division to get a shot at the Pac 12 title, but I think that’s the ceiling. Any unexpected stumbles along the way could cause a rapid tumble down the rankings.

 

 

13        Louisville

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/16 vs. Clemson, 10/21 at Florida St.

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns under center, and while there’s no denying that he’s a dynamic player the fact is that he’s not going to sneak up on anyone this year. Even going back to last season it seems like opponents began to figure him out since the Cardinals lost three straight to end the year, including a beatdown in the Citrus Bowl at the hands of LSU. Having said all of that, I think a 9 win season is possible. Keep an eye on the games against Clemson & Florida State. I expect both to be losses, but if they’re competitive contests it’ll go a long way toward earning Louisville respect.

 

 

14        Clemson

Last Season:             14-1

Key Games:              11/11 vs. Florida St.

Replacing a starting quarterback might be just as daunting as rebooting things under a new head coach. I am a huge fan of Deshaun Watson, who is now plying his trade in the NFL with the Houston Texans, and I don’t believe he’ll be easily forgotten (he should’ve won the Heisman Trophy last year). I have no doubt that the defending national champions will just reload at most positions, and head coach Dabo Sweeney is the real deal, but I think the Tigers will taste bitter defeat at the hands of archrival Florida St., and will probably be upset in atleast one other game.

 

 

15        Michigan

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Florida, 10/21 at Penn St., 11/25 vs. Ohio St.

When Jim Harbaugh was hired as the Wolverines’ head coach back in 2015 I predicted that they’d be “legitimate national championship contenders within three years”. However, faced with the task of replacing about 75% of the starting rotations on both sides of the ball I think it might be wise to dial back expectations just a bit. They have Ohio St. at The Big House in Ann Arbor, but must travel to Happy Valley to face Penn St. Another 10 win season would be phenomenal in a stacked Big Ten…anything more than that is probably wishful thinking.

 

 

16        West Virginia

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/3 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/28 vs. Oklahoma St., 11/18 vs. Texas, 11/25 at Oklahoma

Expectations are high for the Mountaineers, atleast here in West Virginia. The long awaited debut of QB Will Grier, a transfer from Florida who had to sit out last season, is imminent, and he’ll have no shortage of weapons, including RBs Kennedy McCoy & Justin Crawford and WRs Juvon Durante & KaRaun White. The X factor is the defense, which must replace the entire front line and cornerback Rasul Douglas, who has moved on to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. The optimism probably doesn’t spread too far outside the Mountain State, but that’s alright…we’re used to everyone underestimating us in all walks of life. West Virginia MUST beat archrival Virginia Tech in the season opener, and then pull off atleast one upset in big games against celebrated conference rivals.

 

 

17        Boise St.

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              10/6 at BYU, 11/11 at Colorado St.

The Broncos are what they are. They’ll win 9 or 10 games, play for the conference title, and try to surprise everyone by upsetting a team from a “power” conference in a bowl game. But wait…Boise HASN’T played for the Mountain West championship or in a bowl game that people actually watch since 2014. Can they rebound this year?? I think so.

 

 

18        Virginia Tech

Last Season:             10-4

Key Games:              9/3 vs. West Virginia, 9/30 vs. Clemson, 11/4 at Miami (FL)

In his first season as the Hokies’ head coach Justin Fuente led his team to 10 wins and spot in the conference title game. Can that success be duplicated in 2017?? Maybe. The ACC isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch, and a neutral site season opener against my WV Mountaineers won’t be an automatic win. The difference in Tech’s season will be whether they win 7/8 games or 9/10 games. Either is possible.

 

 

19        Florida

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/2 vs. Michigan, 10/7 vs. LSU, 10/28 vs. Georgia, 11/25 vs. Florida St.

It wasn’t that long ago that almost every team would open the season with a couple of easy games against cupcake opponents, the result usually being a 65-10 snoozefest that accomplished nothing except filling the coffers of the overmatched losing team. However, with the advent of the four team playoff strength of schedule has become a point of emphasis. One wouldn’t think that teams from the heralded SEC would need to concern themselves with such matters, but it looks like they’re not taking any chances. The Gators begin their season at The Palace in Dallas against Michigan. The winner will probably be vaulted into the Top 10, the loser will have to battle back. Either way Florida will have a tough road after that first game, and they’ll need to upset a couple of conference opponents to finish as a ranked team.

 

 

20        Texas

Last Season:             5-7

Key Games:              9/16 at USC, 10/14 vs. Oklahoma, 10/21 vs. Oklahoma St.

Here’s what I find interesting. IF the South Florida Bulls do as well as most are predicting in Charlie Strong’s first year as head coach there, what does it say about his ability?? And IF the Longhorns bounce back from a long stretch of mediocrity as well, does credit have to be given to new head coach Tom Herman, or will it be because Strong recruited well and the suits in Austin pulled the plug on him too soon?? It’s a conversation I’ll be looking forward to throughout the season. I don’t think Texas is going to suddenly be a threat to win 10 games or compete for the Big 12 title, but if they can pull off an upset or two, play Southern Cal tough in the opener, and ultimately win 8 games I think this spot would be well earned.

 

 

21        Stanford

Last Season:             10-3

Key Games:              9/9 at USC, 9/23 vs. UCLA, 11/10 vs. Washington, 11/25 vs. Notre Dame

Contrary to what the folks in SEC territory would have us believe I happen to think that the Big Ten & Pac 12 are the toughest football conferences in America. Stanford always seems to be in the mix near the top, and I have no reason to foresee anything different this season. They’ll need to score a couple of big upsets, and the fact that 3 of the 4 key games I have noted are being played in Palo Alto should certainly help the cause. Look for an 8 or 9 win season and a ranking somewhere in the lower portion of the Top 25.

 

 

22        LSU

Last Season:             8-4

Key Games:              10/7 at Florida, 10/14 vs. Auburn, 11/4 at Alabama

Allow me to say something controversial. I think Leonard Fournette was an overrated college running back that will have a relatively short and very average NFL career. There…I said it!! At any rate, I don’t believe Fournette’s departure will have that much of an impact on the Bayou Bengals. Actually it may help not having him as a distraction. What doesn’t help is a schedule that includes trips to The Swamp and Tuscaloosa. 9 wins and a 3rd place finish in their division looks like the ceiling, and that’d be good enough to finish as a ranked team. Head coach Ed Orgeron is firmly entrenched as the head coach for now, but I have to believe that he’s on a short leash. He’ll get two seasons to prove his worth, and probably needs to win 8 or 9 games each year.

 

 

23        Miami (FL)

Last Season:             9-4

Key Games:              9/16 at Florida St., 11/4 vs. Virginia Tech, 11/11 vs. Notre Dame

Head coach Mark Richt acquitted himself quite nicely in his first season in Coral Gables, as the ‘Canes continue to hover on the fringes of their former glory. With the ACC raising the bar and being one of the better conferences I have a difficult time seeing them making any kind of significant leap in 2017. However, if they can win a couple of key games and beat all of the teams they’re supposed to defeat I don’t think equaling last year’s success is an unreasonable expectation.

 

 

24        UCLA

Last Season:             4-8    

Key Games:              9/23 at Stanford, 10/28 at Washington, 11/18 at USC

Despite recent comments that “football and school don’t go together” (a statement that might contain a kernel of truth but should never be verbalized) I like QB Josh Rosen. He’ll be a first round NFL draft pick next spring, and his importance became clear when the Bruins lost 4 out of their final 5 games when Rosen suffered a season ending shoulder injury last year. The Pac 12 is super tough, but I think UCLA flips the script and wins 8 games.

 

 

25          Notre Dame

Last Season:             4-8

Key Games:              9/9 vs. Georgia, 10/21 vs. USC, 11/11 at Miami (FL), 11/25 at Stanford

Surely the beloved Fighting Irish won’t finish with a losing record two years in a row?? If they could pull off one…or two…upsets sneaking into the rankings seems like a solid possibility. Conversely, another bad year might mean the end of the road for head coach Brian Kelly.

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2016-17 College Football Bowl-A-Palooza

football_goalMy guys Greeny & Golic on ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning have espoused the opinion that “too many bowl games” isn’t a problem, that the plethora of games isn’t hurting anyone so the more the merrier. On the surface I understand their point. Bowl games are fun for players, beneficial for coaches, & entertaining for fans whether they are traveling to see them in person or just vegging out at home and watching on TV. I get it…I really do. The problem is I just can’t completely agree. There are a multitude of issues with the current bowl system, from unimaginative & overly corporate names to mundane matchups to the fact that mediocrity (and worse) is rewarded. There are 18 teams playing in this post-season with a 6-6 record. Three teams with LOSING records received bowl bids because there weren’t enough eligible teams to fill all the slots. As much as I love watching football, in my humble opinion that means there are atleast ten pointless bowl games. In the near future I will be offering some modest solutions to this problem, as well as addressing other issues facing college football. Having said all of that, now is not the time. Our current task is to take a peek at all of these bowl games…appealing or not…and do that prognostication thing that we do.

 

A couple of reminders…

These picks are not part of our weekly Pigskin Picks of Profundity & we do not utilize point spreads. Neither Zach nor I know much about some of these teams, and even if we did there are just too many variables involved. I have broken the schedule down into three tiers. Tier 1 contains the more unappetizing games that even the most ardent football fans will probably choose to skip. Tier 2 games have potential to be enjoyable and we’ll certainly hope for the best. Tier 3 games are the ones that I’m really looking forward to and have the best chance to entertain the masses. Bowl location is noted unless it is otherwise obvious.

 

 

 

Tier 1

 

New Mexico

12/17 at 2pm

New Mexico (8-4)       vs.    Texas-San Antonio (6-6)

This will be the fourth appearance for the Lobos in this unimaginatively named game since its inception in 2006. They are 1-2 thus far. I believe this will be the first ever bowl game for the Roadrunners, so congrats to them.

My Pick:     New Mexico

Z’s Pick:     New Mexico

 

Cure

12/17 at 5:30pm (Orlando, FL)

Arkansas St. (7-5)                vs.              Central Florida (6-6)

In case you’re wondering it is breast cancer they want to cure. Proceeds from this game go toward that cause, which is nice, although it is still a completely unnecessary game. I keep wondering why Central Florida, which is actually the largest university in the United States, hasn’t accomplished more in collegiate athletics. One would tend to think they are a sleeping giant, but nothing impressive has ever materialized.

My Pick:     UCF

Z’s Pick:     UCF

 

New Orleans     

12/17 at 9pm

Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)   vs.    Southern Mississippi (6-6)

Oh look…another testament to the ineptitude of poor marketing. Seriously…with all the cool things one could think of about New Orleans not a single person involved with running this game could think of a better name than the New Orleans Bowl?? It’s mind boggling.

My Pick:     Southern Miss

Z’s Pick:     Southern Miss

 

Miami Beach     

12/19 at 2:30pm                   

Central Michigan (6-6)                  vs.              Tulsa (9-3)

Nothing says success like playing in the mid-afternoon on a Monday. Is the game even being televised?? Ehhh…I’m sure it is. ESPN doesn’t hesitate to whore itself out for craptastic spectacles. Well hey, atleast these teams & their fans get to enjoy some warm weather in December.

My Pick:     Tulsa

Z’s Pick:     Tulsa


Potato

12/22 at 7pm (Boise, ID)     

Colorado St. (7-5)                vs.              Idaho (8-4)

I might actually be undervaluing this game. It could end up being fun. I kind of feel sorry for the Vandals because one would think that part of the reward for a successful season at Idaho would be getting to leave Idaho for a few days. The joke is on them.

My Pick:     Idaho

Z’s Pick:     Colorado St.

 

Bahamas  

12/23 at 1pm

Eastern Michigan (7-5)                 vs.              Old Dominion (9-3)

Kudos to all involved with these two teams. Players, coaches, & fans know that they have zero opportunity to compete on the highest level, so in the making lemonade from lemons department I think turning a pedestrian season in a subpar conference into Christmas in the Bahamas is a really neat trick.

My Pick:     Eastern Michigan

Z’s Pick:     Eastern Michigan

 

Hawaii       

Christmas Eve at 8pm         

Hawaii (6-7)                 vs.              Middle Tennessee (8-4)

Remember what I said about Christmas in the Bahamas?? Same thing here. Well, except for the fact that the Rainbows are already there, so basically they aren’t getting any kind of trip. It’s actually a really interesting question. Where do people who live in Hawaii or at the beach go on vacation?? To be honest I think it’s kind of a cop out for the powers-that-be to choose the home team for this game. I realize that it helps with ticket sales, but let’s be honest…I don’t think there’d be a huge problem enticing fans from the mainland to make the trek to paradise for Christmas. A bigger issue is the fact that Hawaii has a losing record and is undeserving of a bowl bid, but I’ll refrain from a rant.

My Pick:     Middle Tennessee

Z’s Pick:     Middle Tennessee

 

St. Petersburg   

12/26 at 11am             

Miami (OH) (6-6)                   vs.              Mississippi St. (5-7)

The game is in Florida, not Russia…in case the question had popped into your mind. The Bulldogs are another team that should be at home watching bowl games on television instead of playing in one. Zach is being sucked into the SEC vortex.

My Pick:     Miami (OH)

Z’s Pick:     Mississippi St.

 

Quick Lane        

12/26 at 2:30pm (Detroit, MI)        

Boston College (6-6)           vs.              Maryland (6-6)

On the opposite end of the spectrum from spending the holidays in Hawaii or the Bahamas is getting “rewarded” with a trip to Detroit. These teams were ACC foes for a very brief time until Maryland bolted for the erroneously named Big Ten, although if the NCAA had any cahonas both would be playing in a very strong Big East. Neither team should have been given a bowl bid this season.

My Pick:     Maryland

Z’s Pick:     Boston College

 

Independence   

12/26 at 5pm (Shreveport, LA)     

NC State (6-6)             vs.              Vanderbilt (6-6)

Mediocre teams that will always be overshadowed by superior competition both within their conferences and their home states. I suppose a lot of people will have the Monday after Christmas off from work and be in a post-holiday couch potato haze, so this game might actually get some eyeballs.

My Pick:     Vanderbilt

Z’s Pick:     NC State

 

Heart of Dallas  

12/27 at Noon             

Army (7-5)          vs.              North Texas (5-7)

Ugh. It’s not even the Dallas Bowl. It’s the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which sounds like it should be televised on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime (Television for Women). To make it worse one of the teams has a losing record, and it’s not even one of those situations where reputation trumps a bad year, as in “Yeah, I know they’re 5-7, but it’s (insert notable team with an impressive pedigree)”. No…it’s freakin’ North Texas. Really?? If this is the best your suits can do then maybe…just maybe…this bowl game needs to be discarded.

My Pick:     Army

Z’s Pick:     Army

 

Military      

12/27 at 3:30pm (Annapolis, MD)

Temple (10-3)              vs.              Wake Forest (6-6)

Allow me to clear up any confusion…there is the Military Bowl and there is an Armed Forces Bowl. As much as I respect our folks in uniform I think that is a little redundant. At any rate, atleast for this year this is the lesser of those two games. Ten win Temple has to be wondering who hates them so much to match them up against an opponent that, on paper, they should dominate with one hand tied behind their back. It doesn’t seem like much of a reward for a pretty solid season. Even with their head coach having bolted for Baylor I think Temple will win easily.

My Pick:     Temple

Z’s Pick:     Temple

 

Birmingham       

12/29 at 2pm

South Carolina (6-6)            vs.              South Florida (10-2)

There are so many bowl games that the state of Alabama hosts three of them. When did Alabama become a desirable vacation destination?? The Bulls have the better record, but the Gamecocks play a tougher schedule. South Florida is also playing for an interim coach after Oregon poached Willie Taggart to be their new head coach. Former Texas coach Charlie Strong is on his way to Tampa to take the gig, but obviously that won’t matter for this game.

My Pick:     South Florida

Z’s Pick:     South Carolina

 

Arizona     

12/30 at 5:30pm

Air Force (9-3)             vs.              South Alabama (6-6)

To be fair the moniker Cactus Bowl was already taken, but this is still a horribly named game. South Alabama has only had a football program since 2009 and just moved to the FBS level in 2013. This will be their second ever bowl game, having lost the 2014 Camellia Bowl to Bowling Green. I almost always cheer for the military academies when they field a solid team.

My Pick:     Air Force

Z’s Pick:     Air Force

 

Gator

New Year’s Eve at 11am (Jacksonville, FL)

Georgia Tech (8-4)              vs.              Kentucky (7-5)

As always I refuse to use this game’s obnoxious corporate name…it’ll always be the Gator Bowl to me. I am probably undervaluing the matchup a little bit…it might actually be watchable. Or maybe I’m just feeling generous today. Much like the Independence Bowl here we also have two teams in good conferences that will always be buried on the proverbial depth chart by more glamorous competitors. This is probably the best they could ever hope to achieve…that alone might stimulate the competitive spirit.

My Pick:     Kentucky

Z’s Pick:     Kentucky

 

Outback    

1/2 at 1pm (Tampa, FL)       

Florida (8-4)                 vs.              Iowa (8-4)

Perhaps they should call this the Close-But-No-Cigar Bowl. Both teams had opportunities…the Gators against Tennessee & Florida St., the Hawkeyes against North Dakota St., Northwestern, & Wisconsin…to improve their fate, but they finished with solid records instead of really impressive ones. But at the end of the day this is still a pretty decent outcome. Florida will likely have a strong fan advantage, but The Vibes are telling me that really won’t matter all that much.

My Pick:     Iowa

Z’s Pick:     Iowa

 

 

Tier 2

 

Las Vegas

12/17 at 3:30 p.m.

Houston (9-3)              vs.              San Diego St. (10-3)

Now we’re getting things revved up. The Cougars came into the season with much potential and no shortage of expectations, but inexplicably dropped games to Navy, SMU, & Memphis after an impressive season opening victory over Oklahoma. Now their (former) head coach, Tom Herman, has bolted for the greener pastures of Texas. Ironically former Longhorns QB and coach-on-the-rise Major Applewhite has been tapped to take over the job. The Aztecs are almost always a tough out, and I think they’ll pull off the mild upset. Zach has some concerns due to Houston’s coaching situation, but he likes the fact that they have played a tough schedule and should be prepared for this battle.

My Pick:     San Diego St.

Z’s Pick:     Houston

 

Camellia   

12/17 at 5:30pm (Montgomery, AL)

Appalachian St. (9-3)          vs.              Toledo (9-3)

Neither team plays in a sexy conference or has an eye-catching schedule, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good within their own strata. Any bowl game pitting two 9 win teams against one another has the potential to be quite competitive & entertaining.

My Pick:     Toledo

Z’s Pick:     Appalachian St.

 

Boca Raton

12/20 at 7pm

Western Kentucky (10-3)                      vs.              Memphis (8-4)

As a Marshall alum & a Thundering Herd fan I hate to say it, but the Hilltoppers are usually pretty fun to watch. They average 45 points per game, but the Tigers score almost 40 PPG themselves, so definitely take the over on this one…if you are into that sort of thing. Tuesday nights are usually rather boring at The Bachelor Palace, so I’m really looking forward to this game.

My Pick:     Memphis

Z’s Pick:     Memphis

 

Poinsettia

12/21 at 9pm (San Diego, CA)

BYU (8-4)           vs.              Wyoming (8-5)

The Cougars are independent right now, and they play a pretty tough schedule. Losing to Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, & Boise St. is nothing to be ashamed of. You know the term I love in these situations…battle tested. I expect a high scoring affair, but BYU will find a way to get the job done.

My Pick:     BYU

Z’s Pick:     BYU

 

Armed Forces

12/23 at 4:30pm (Fort Worth, TX)

Louisiana Tech          (8-5)           vs.              Navy (9-4)

I expect this game to be a lot more fun than the Military Bowl. Navy ended its season with a surprising loss to archrival Army, while the Bulldogs finished with a two game losing streak. I had Tech at #18 in my pre-season poll, and though they fell short of those lofty expectations they still had a solid season. I’d like to pull for the Midshipmen, but The Vibes are debating me on the point.

My Pick:     Louisiana Tech

Z’s Pick:     Navy

 

Dollar General   

12/23 at 8pm (Mobile, AL)

Ohio          (8-5)           vs.              Troy (9-3)

This is the former GoDaddy Bowl, so I suppose the name is a slight improvement. It’s still too corporate for my taste though. The matchup might look unattractive at first glance, but I think it might just be an enjoyable game.

My Pick:     Ohio

Z’s Pick:     Ohio

 

Holiday     

12/27 at 7pm (San Diego, CA)

Minnesota (8-4)          vs.              Washington St. (8-4)

The Gophers have to be psyched about escaping the freezing temperatures of Minnesota in late December to spend a few days in sunny San Diego. They may refuse to go home after the game is over. Having said that, I think the Cougars are probably the better team.

My Pick:     Washington St.

Z’s Pick:     Washington St.

 

Cactus      

12/27 at 10:15pm (Phoenix, AZ)

Baylor (6-6)                  vs.              Boise St. (10-2)

Is a mediocre major conference team equal to a good “lesser” conference team?? I suppose this game might provide an answer. The Broncos were probably hoping for the Cotton Bowl bid that went to undefeated Western Michigan so playing in this game might be a little bit of a disappointment. Meanwhile, the Bears have endured a tumultuous year and can now look forward to a fresh start next season under new head coach Matt Rhule. I’m sure Baylor will give it their best effort, but I just don’t think this one will be close.

My Pick:     Boise St.

Z’s Pick:     Boise St.

 

Pinstripe   

12/28 at 2pm (New York, NY)       

Northwestern (6-6)              vs.              Pitt (8-4)

I’m not sure if very many people will be watching a bowl game at 2 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun for those that do happen to catch it. The Wildcats, in my humble opinion, underachieved this season, while the Panthers exceeded expectations. Imagine how different the landscape might look if Pitt hadn’t upset both Penn St. & Clemson, or if Northwestern would have held onto a 4th quarter lead at Ohio St. The hook for this game is the fact that it is played at Yankee Stadium, which is admittedly cool.

My Pick:     Northwestern

Z’s Pick:     Pitt

 

Russell Athletic

12/28 at 5:30pm (Orlando, FL)

Miami (FL) (8-4)          vs.              West Virginia (10-2)

In the past this game has been known by many names…Blockbuster Bowl, Carquest Bowl, Micron PC Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl. If they could just come up with a fun, non-corporate name it would actually be a cool game. This matchup features two former Big East foes, but that was back when the Hurricanes were an elite program. They’ve been climbing back up the mountain after some hard times, and new coach Mark Richt is off to a solid start. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers are the most invisible ten win team in the country. Longtime readers know my bias, as I am a lifelong WVU fan and live less than an hour from the campus. I am being completely honest though when I say that these Hurricanes don’t strike fear into their opposition like they did two decades ago, so I have confidence that the ‘Eers can get the job done.

My Pick:     West Virginia

Z’s Pick:     West Virginia

 

Foster Farms     

12/28 at 8:30pm (Santa Clara, CA)       

Indiana (6-6)                vs.              Utah (8-4)

This game was previously known as the Fight Hunger Bowl and the Emerald Bowl. Foster Farms is apparently a California poultry company, which means that they really should call this the Turkey Bowl. Anyway, the Utes have had a tough second half. They had an early season victory over USC, but lost 3 out of 4 games at the end of their schedule. The Hoosiers are the very essence of mediocrity, but have occasionally shown flashes of…something. Maybe this game will be surprisingly competitive, but y’all might want to refrain from putting any money on that.

My Pick:     Utah

Z’s Pick:     Utah

 

Texas       

Dec. 28 at 9pm

Kansas St. (8-4)                   vs.             Texas A&M (8-4)

In the grand tradition of the Arizona, New Mexico, New Orleans, & Las Vegas Bowls we have another really humdrum name. Fortunately the matchup looks like it could be entertaining. I’m sure the powers-that-be in College Station really enjoy cashing those SEC checks, but from a purely competitive & aesthetic standpoint it sure would be nice to see A&M back in the Big 12. There has been some chatter that Aggies’ coach Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat. My question to anyone doubting Sumlin would be “What did you expect??”. I think 8 or 9 wins and finishing behind Alabama, Auburn, & LSU in the SEC West is about as good as any coach could do.

My Pick:     Texas A&M

Z’s Pick:     Texas A&M

 

Liberty       

12/30 at Noon (Memphis, TN)      

Georgia (7-5)               vs.              TCU (6-6)

These teams occasionally have great seasons, so they aren’t always overlooked in favor of more highly regarded conference rivals, but this just so happens to have been a pedestrian year for both. The Bulldogs are still finding their way under rookie head coach Kirby Smart and I’m sure they’ll be better next year. The Horned Frogs are probably only a good recruiting class away from getting back to 9 or 10 wins. So throw out the mediocre records and just enjoy the game. I think it’ll be a dandy.

My Pick:     TCU

Z’s Pick:     Georgia

 

Peach (Playoff Semifinal)

New Year’s Eve at 3pm (Atlanta, GA)

Alabama (13-0)           vs.              Washington (12-1)

I wish I could get more excited about a playoff semifinal. I do think that the Huskies deserve to be in this spot, but I’m not confident that they can stop the Tide from rolling. ‘Bama has barely broken a sweat this season, and quite honestly it’s become tedious. I don’t think that’ll change in this game.

My Pick:     Alabama

Z’s Pick:     Alabama

 

Cotton       

1/2 at 1pm (Arlington, TX)

Western Michigan (13-0)             vs.              Wisconsin (10-3)

The Broncos earned this spot by being the highest ranked non-power conference team, and I think they’re legit. They are fortunate to have retained their head coach for this game because it seemed like a slam dunk that he’d get one of the many “better” jobs that were available, but for some reason that didn’t happen. As much as I like to pull for the underdog, the difference between power conference teams and lower tier opponents usually shows up in the trenches. Top level teams recruit linemen that are 6ft4, 300 lbs. Second level teams sign the guys that are a few inches shorter, 20 lbs. lighter, & just a step slower. That disparity tends to take its toll in the 4th quarter. And that’s exactly what I expect here. The Badgers will just wear Western Michigan down and take over at some point in the second half of the game.

My Pick:     Wisconsin

Z’s Pick:     Wisconsin

 

Sugar        

1/2 at 8:30pm (New Orleans, LA)

Auburn (8-4)                vs.              Oklahoma (10-2)

You may have noticed that several of the elite bowl games are being played on January 2nd instead of New Year’s Day. That’s because the first day of the new year falls on a Sunday, which means you’ll be seeing NFL action that day. Anyway, this should be a really good game between two teams that were on the periphery of the playoff conversation at various times this season, although neither were ever serious contenders. The Sooners stubbed their toe right out of the gate back on Labor Day Weekend with a loss to Houston, a defeat that looked worse as the season went forward and the Cougars lost their shine. A couple of weeks later Ohio St. took care of Oklahoma, an outcome that ended the losers’ national championship dream and would prove to be vital for the winners. Other than those two losses Oklahoma has been impressive throughout the rest of the season. Auburn has rode the roller coaster, with big wins over LSU & Arkansas being balanced out with close losses to Clemson & Georgia. I suppose this is a decent reward for solid seasons that likely reflect a maximum output versus really tough schedules. A victory in this game might get the winner a Top 3 pre-season ranking in 2017.

My Pick:     Oklahoma

Z’s Pick:     Oklahoma

 

 

Tier 3

 

Belk

12/29 at 5:30pm (Charlotte, NC)

Arkansas (7-5)            vs.              Virginia Tech (9-4)

I’m not quite sure why I am so intrigued by this game. Perhaps it is because Arkansas’ resume includes big wins over TCU, Mississippi, & Florida, while first year head coach Justin Fuente began the post-Beamer era in Blacksburg with victories over North Carolina & Pitt and the Hokies played tough in losses to Tennessee & Clemson. In other words, I think both teams are better than their records. Perhaps a victory in this game will be a harbinger of better things to come next year.

My Pick:     Arkansas

Z’s Pick:     Virginia Tech

 

Alamo       

12/29 at 9pm (San Antonio, TX)

Colorado (10-3)          vs.              Oklahoma St. (9-3)

Colorado had an outside shot at sneaking into the playoff, although I’m pretty sure a victory over Washington in the Pac 12 title game would’ve only cost the Huskies their spot and opened the door for Penn St. or Michigan, not the Buffaloes. The Cowboys are actually a ten win team since an alleged “loss” to Central Michigan is bogus and never should’ve happened, but I’m not sure it would’ve made much of a difference. The Buffs probably should be playing in the Rose Bowl, but the powers-that-be used a head-to-head loss against USC to justify choosing the Trojans for the “better” game even though Colorado has a better record. Both teams should come into this game with a chip on their shoulder looking to prove the doubters wrong, which means it should be a really fun game for the fans.

My Pick:     Oklahoma St.

Z’s Pick:     Oklahoma St.

 

Sun  

12/30 at 2pm (El Paso, TX) 

North Carolina (8-4)            vs.              Stanford (9-3)

Did you know that the Sun Bowl is tied for the second oldest bowl game?? The Rose Bowl began in 1902, and the Sugar, Orange, & Sun Bowls were all created in 1935. This is one of the few bowl games not monopolized by ESPN, having been broadcast on CBS since 1968. The matchup itself features two marquee names…kind of…that will be plying their trade on Sundays next year. Stanford RB/WR/KR Christian McCaffrey was the early season Heisman frontrunner, but despite leading the nation in all-purpose yards didn’t even end up getting invited to the ceremony. Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky is being talked about as potentially the first quarterback taken in the 2017 NFL Draft.

My Pick:     North Carolina

Z’s Pick:     North Carolina


Music City          

12/30 at 3:30pm (Nashville, TN)

Nebraska (9-3)            vs.              Tennessee (8-4)

Both teams had high hopes early in the season, but the Vols suffered thru three straight October losses and the Cornhuskers fell off their perch during a tough November. It’s always nice to see a competitive contest featuring two evenly matched teams during bowl season.

My Pick:     Tennessee

Z’s Pick:     Tennessee

 

Orange     

12/30 at 8pm (Miami, FL)

Florida St. (9-3)           vs.              Michigan (10-2)

This might end up being the best game of them all. I don’t feel bad for the Wolverines for having missed the playoff field. They had an opportunity to beat Ohio St. and stay in the mix but blew their chance. Those are the breaks. It may be of little consolation, but I think the winner here probably ends up being next season’s pre-season #1, or atleast in the top three. Zach has left me stunned by picking against his beloved Wolverines. He has concerns about Michigan’s run defense and thinks Seminoles’ RB Dalvin Cook might have a big day.

My Pick:     Michigan

Z’s Pick:     Florida St.

 

Fiesta (Playoff Semifinal)

New Year’s Eve at 7pm (Glendale, AZ)

Clemson (12-1)           vs.              Ohio St. (11-1)

Some have opined that the Buckeyes aren’t deserving of their spot in the playoff. However, while I am a bit uncomfortable with the marginalization of both head to head results and conference championships I do not have an issue with the way things turned out. Its seems as though Clemson has been teetering on the brink all season long, and I think that’ll come to fruition in this game. Zach has an irrational disdain for Ohio St. We’ll see if it bites him in the ass.

My Pick:     Ohio St.

Z’s Pick:     Clemson

 

Citrus        

New Year’s Eve at 11am (Orlando, FL)

Louisville (9-3)            vs.              LSU (7-4)

The full throttle hype for Cardinals’ QB Lamar Jackson reached its zenith when he was awarded the Heisman Trophy despite his team losing its last two games. Conversely, the Bayou Bengals have fought thru adversity all season and arrived at a nicer location than they probably deserve. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron was given the permanent LSU gig, and though I hope he does well I’m not going to hold my breath. Unreasonably high expectations will probably doom his tenure within 2 or 3 years. The big picture is that Louisville is an overrated team riding the wave of their talented & fun to watch quarterback, while LSU is being overlooked because of coaching turmoil & a roller coaster season. At the end of the day I think LSU just has too much talent & athleticism to be denied victory. In his note to me about this game Zach said “LSU stuns Louisville”. I’m not sure why anyone would consider an LSU victory stunning.

My Pick:     LSU

Z’s Pick:     LSU

 

Rose

1/2 at          5pm (Pasadena, CA)

Penn State (11-2)                 vs.              Southern Cal (9-3)

The Nittany Lions might have a legitimate beef with being left out of the national championship playoff, but I can’t muster up much sympathy for a team that lost to Pitt. The Trojans are getting a lot of love from the talking heads. They’re riding an eight game winning streak after starting the season 1-3. It’s interesting to me that the haughty suits that run the playoff & talking heads at ESPN like to yap about a team’s “entire body of work” when crafting playoff scenarios, but because USC is USC and everyone has fallen in love with their quarterback that early season nadir doesn’t seem to matter. Despite those issues this will undoubtedly be a great game. If Penn St.’s coaches are smart they’ll harness resentment about being left out of the playoff into a fury that’ll result in victory.

My Pick:     Penn St.

Z’s Pick:     Penn St.

 

 

National Championship Game

1/9    Time TBD (Tampa, FL)

Alabama/Washington                  vs.              Ohio St./Clemson

This is it. This is the big one. I think it’ll end up being Alabama vs. Ohio St., and despite the Tide looking invincible all season long and the Buckeyes having the validity of their spot in the playoff questioned the fact is that this is the best case scenario for fans who would like to enjoy a competitive football game with a little drama instead of a three touchdown beatdown that is essentially over by halftime or a contest featuring two solid yet unspectacular conference champions. ‘Bama vs. the Buckeyes is a marketing dream, and Ohio St. is probably the only team in America right now that can actually be competitive against the Tide. I can’t bring myself to pick against Alabama, but to be honest I wouldn’t mind seeing an upset. Zach is predicting a ‘Bama/Clemson finale, but with the same outcome.

My Pick:     Alabama

Z’s Pick:     Alabama

2016 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 8

kickoff_footballFirst, a few random thoughts.

  • I was wrong…the Carolina Panthers have indeed fallen victim to the Super Bowl curse. I honestly never saw it coming.
  • I am perfectly aware that my WV Mountaineers have virtually no shot to make the college football playoff, even if they go undefeated, something that I don’t think is going to happen anyway. However, recent comments by former NY Giants DB turned talking head Jason Sehorn were unprofessional & unnecessary.
  • Alabama is such a machine that I’ve grown bored with them.
  • I’m not surprised that the New England Patriots are that damn good…I’m just not happy about it.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is the starting QB on my fantasy dynasty team. Thank God Derek Carr is my backup.
  • What the hell is wrong with the Big 12?? The number “12” is in the name…they should be compelled to add two members!!
  • I’m really surprised about how much Notre Dame & Michigan St. have fallen since last season.

Okay, so last week Zach was 3-4, while I went 5-2. Yay…I’m above .500!! Let’s see how it goes this week.

My Season:        21-20

Z’s Season:        14-28

 

 

 

 

BYU                 at             Boise St. (-7)

byuThe Broncos are 6-0 and ranked 14th in the country, having defeated some pretty solid competition. However, let’s BOISE-ST-LOGOnot overlook the 4-3 Cougars, who lost those three games by a total of 7 points. They’ve got a RB named Jamaal Williams who will be playing on Sundays next year. I’m going to roll the dice and pick the upset. Conversely, Zach has concerns about BYU’s defense and thinks Boise will win in a blowout.

My Pick:   BYU

Z’s Pick:   Boise St.

 

Miami, FL                at             Virginia Tech (-6)

miamiu2Ahhhh…it’s a battle of former Big East foes, both of whom abandoned the conference for the ACC and killed the Big East. At Virginia_Tech_Hokies2any rate, both programs seem to be on the cusp of relevance again. I know the Hurricanes have lost two in a row and the Hokies were beaten by Syracuse last week, but I still think both can win 9 or 10 games and get a major bowl bid. Obviously the winner of this game will be in better shape. Tech is getting the home field bump, but I believe Miami is the better team. Zach can’t overlook the home field advantage and likes the favored Hokies.

My Pick:   Miami, FL

Z’s Pick:   Virginia Tech

 

 

Arkansas                at             Auburn (-10)

Okay…so, neither of these teams have a snowball’s chance in Brazil of winning the SEC or even their division. But the Razorbacks, at 5-2, and the arkansas-razorback-logoTigers, at 4-2, can both still have great seasons. A victory here would certainly help. Auburn is getting a big home field bump, but that seems odd. The points are a bit much and I’m not buying it. Zach concurs.

My Pick:   Arkansas

Z’s Pick:   Arkansas

 

 

NY Giants (-2.5)      vs.   L.A. Rams

laramsBefore the season I predicted that the Rams would go 3-13. They’ve already gotten three wins and we aren’t even to the Giants Logomidpoint of the season. More surprising than that is the fact that they’re doing well with Case Keenum under center and #1 overall draft pick Jared Goff hasn’t even smelled the field. Imagine what they could be doing if they’d chosen Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch. Meanwhile, the always unpredictable Giants are also 3-3. They really need to find a better running back, but as long as Odell Beckham is around being an elite receiver they have a fighting chance. This game is being played in London and will start at 9:30am here in America. In other words no one will be watching. I’m going to walk on the wild side and pick the upset…for no apparent reason. Zach likes OBJ to have another big day and lead the Giants to victory.

My Pick:   LA Rams

Z’s Pick:   NY Giants

 

Minnesota (-2.5)     at     Philadelphia

Everybody has been impressed with rookie QB Wentz, but after a 3-0 start the Eagles have lost two straight. Meanwhile, Sam Bradford, who was vikingstraded to Minnesota from Philly a couple of months ago, has led the Vikings to a 5-0 record. When QB Teddy Bridgewater was lost to injury I assumed Minnesota’s playoff hopes had ended, but I was wrong. Really wrong. I suppose they’ll lose at some point, but I don’t think it’ll be this week, even in enemy territory. Zach likes the Vikings’ defense and believes that will be the difference.

My Pick:   Minnesota

Z’s Pick:   Minnesota

2016 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

cfoot1It’s time!! Glorious football is back!! A bunch of stuffed shirts & bean counters have done their darndest the past several years to ruin the game…conference realignment, draconian rules in the name of “safety”, a long awaited playoff system that is flawed and makes the stark contrast between the haves & have nots even more apparent. Nevertheless, for the next few months weekends will be even sweeter as fans will have several hours of couch potato worthy entertainment available at their fingertips. One positive change that has emerged in the wake of the four team playoff is a focus on strength of schedule, meaning that there are more competitive games in the first few weeks of the season than ever before. Oh sure there are still cupcake games, but their value is so diminished under the playoff system that coaches & athletic directors have been forced to up the ante just a bit. In Week 1 alone I am seeing over a dozen matchups that probably wouldn’t have been on the schedule just a few years ago. And you know who the winners are?? That’s right…you & me…the fans. As far as my methodology in putting together these rankings…well, I really can’t say I have much of a method. I do know a few things. I know that everyone can’t finish undefeated. I know that “power” conference teams cannibalize each other, with big wins sometimes cancelling out big losses…and vice versa. Teams from “lesser” conferences certainly aren’t going to make it to the playoff, and just one or two losses can significantly impact their ranking. I don’t do a ton of research for this because it’s supposed to be fun not work, but I do try to pay attention to things like coaching changes, substantial personnel losses from players moving on to the NFL or simply graduating, and any other turmoil that may have affected a program in the offseason. It is difficult for more than a few teams from a single conference…even the big boys…to end up ranked, so one basically cfoot2must develop a hierarchy. Which teams will be in the hunt for the conference crown and possibly a playoff spot?? Which ones will be good, but lose a couple of games and end up in the lower tier of the poll?? Which teams…despite their talent and vast praise from the talking heads…will finish on the outside looking in?? I’m not an expert so for me it’s just a guessing game based on my vibes & minimal data, but that’s okay. I’d still put my “expertise” up against many members of the sports media who don’t know half as much as they’d like us to believe they do. At any rate, let’s dive in.

 

 

 

 

 

1       Clemson

Last Season:      14-1

Key Games:       9/3 at Auburn, 10/1 vs. Louisville, 10/29 at Florida St.

The Tigers fell just short of winning the national championship last season, but they return QB DeShaun Watson, who looks like the second coming ofclemson Cam Newton. That’s good enough for me to put them in this spot, although they’ll need to overcome a hostile crowd in Tallahassee right before Halloween and take down the Seminoles.

 

 

2       Oklahoma

Last Season:      11-2

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Houston, 9/17 vs. Ohio St., 10/8 vs. Texas, 12/3 vs. Oklahoma St.

I’m predicting that the Big 12 (which has 10 teams) will be a little down this season, leaving the Sooners as the clear favorites. They have tough oklahomanon-conference games against Houston and Ohio State, but both are in the friendly environment of Norman, OK. QB Baker Mayfield & RB Samaje Perine return, and both could be in the Heisman discussion.

 

 

3       Alabama

Last Season:      14-1

Key Games:       9/3 vs. USC, 10/15 at Tennessee, 11/5 at LSU, 11/26 vs. Auburn

Putting The Tide at #1 would be too easy & predictable and that’s not how I roll. The SEC is just too darn tough…I’d AlabamaCrimsonTide2be shocked if anyone came thru it unscathed. The season opener against Southern Cal is a neutral site game at the Palace in Dallas and it won’t be easy. Then ‘Bama has to travel to Knoxville & Baton Rouge. It would surprise me less if this team actually lost 3 or 4 games than it would if they’d go undefeated.

 

 

4       Ohio State

Last Season:      12-1

Key Games:       9/17 at Oklahoma, 11/5 vs. Nebraska, 11/19 at Michigan St., 11/26 vs. Michigan

Remember last year when the Buckeyes had three legit QBs and no one knew how playing time would be distributed?? It’s a way different story this Ohio_State_Buckeyesseason, as both Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller (who switched to WR) are plying their trade in the NFL. That means it’s JT Barrett’s show, and that’s a good thing. Now the question becomes how to replace RB Ezekiel Elliott & defensive standout Joey Bosa. It’s also worth noting that the Big Ten (which has 14 teams) looks like it could be even stronger than usual. I might be ranking this team a little too high given all the obstacles they face, but until someone knocks them off the pedestal I have to give them benefit of the doubt. The opener at Oklahoma will be super tough, but even if Ohio St. loses that game they could still win 10 games and end up in this spot.

 

 

5       LSU

Last Season:      9-3

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Wisconsin, 10/8 at Florida, 11/5 vs. Alabama

We’ve been waiting a few years for the Bayou Bengals to climb back into legit national title contention, and many seem to believe this is the season. lsu_logo-9547RB Leonard Fournette will be in the thick of the Heisman debate. A 31 yard effort against Alabama killed the young man’s momentum last year so it’ll be really interesting to watch that early November contest to see if he can do better.

 

 

6       Florida State

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/5 at Ole Miss, 10/8 at Miami FL, 10/29 vs. Clemson, 11/26 vs. Florida

The Seminoles have enjoyed a relatively smooth ride thru the ACC over the years, winning 15 conference Florida_State_Seminolestitles since 1992. However, I think things might be a little tougher than usual this season. Clemson visits Tallahassee, so that helps. That game could very well decide not only the conference but also a spot in the national title playoff. I also expect the early October tilt at Miami to be more like it was back in the old days when both teams were elite.

 

 

7       Tennessee

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/24 vs. Florida, 10/1 at Georgia, 10/15 vs. Alabama

Could this finally be the year that the Volunteers return to national prominence and actually contend for the SEC title?? A lot of people seem to think 10015tenn_vols_w_helmetso. They haven’t won 10 games in a season since 2007 and are on their 3rd head coach since Phillip Fulmer’s departure after the 2008 season. However I think Butch Jones is finally the one. They’ve improved every year under his guidance and if that upward trend continues the Vols might get to 10 wins this year. They host Alabama in Knoxville which is advantageous.

 

 

8       Houston

Last Season:      13-1

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Oklahoma, 11/25 at Memphis

Everyone fawns over the “power” conference darlings, but there are five “other” conferences and someone’s got to win them, right?? The Cougars houstoneasily won the American Athletic Conference last season and upset Florida St. in the Peach Bowl. They finished in this very spot in the final poll despite an inexplicable loss at Connecticut. I don’t believe they’ll beat Oklahoma in the season opener, but if they can atleast keep that game respectable then run the table they will have the opportunity for another big post-season victory and a Top 10 finish.

 

 

9       Iowa

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       10/1 vs. Northwestern, 10/22 vs. Wisconsin, 11/12 vs. Michigan, 11/25 vs. Nebraska

Two Big Ten teams finishing in the Top 10 wouldn’t surprise anyone…but which two teams do you prefer?? The Hawkeyes got off to a hot start last iowaseason before ending the year with two losses…a close call against Michigan St. and a beatdown by Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The toughest games on the schedule all happen to be at home this year, so that’s positive. Being overlooked is nothing new for Iowa, but objectively speaking I think another 10 win season is easily within their grasp.

 

 

10     Temple

Last Season:      10-4

Key Games:       9/17 at Penn St., 10/6 at Memphis, 10/29 vs. Cincinnati

I suppose I’m hedging my bets a bit with two AAC teams in the Top 10. That probably won’t happen. Back in the day when my WV Mountaineers templeplayed the Owls annually they were pretty much the doormats of the now defunct Big East and their home games were usually poorly attended snoozefests. But last year something clicked. They beat Penn St. in the opener, lost a close one to Notre Dame, & made it to the conference title game. The Irish aren’t on the schedule this season, so it isn’t unreasonable to think that they could be even more successful, and if they find a way to go into Happy Valley and take down the Nittany Lions again that’d be the cherry on top. Could an AAC title game rematch against Houston actually be a highly anticipated, eminently entertaining contest?? Whoa…that’s crazy talk!!

 

 

11     Michigan

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       10/1 vs. Wisconsin, 10/29 at Michigan St., 11/12 at Iowa, 11/26 at Ohio St.

Let’s pump the brakes a bit on the Wolverines, okay?? I just finished reading a rather interesting book called End Zone, about the slow implosion of michthe Michigan athletic department & football team over the past several years. Of course all of those issues seemed to fade away into the ether the minute Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach last season, and now all the talking heads are throwing Michigan out there as a potential playoff contender. Upon his hiring I did say that Harbaugh would have this team in national title contention within three years, and one thing I Iearned from the aforementioned book is that former coach Brady Hoke, while probably not ready for prime time as far as game management goes, was well liked, highly respected, & a good recruiter. Harbaugh took the talent that was already there last season and won ten games, up from five victories in 2014. An impressive turnaround indeed. However I am just not ready to put them in the playoff hunt quite yet. They have to go on the road for their three biggest games, and I think they could lose atleast two of them. Jim Harbaugh will get Michigan into the playoff eventually…but not yet.

 

 

12     Boise State

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       10/20 vs. BYU, 11/25 at Air Force

The Broncos did their usual last season…9 wins, an impressive bowl victory…except that they didn’t compete for the conference championship. I thinkboise-state1 they can do better this year. Non-conference games against BYU, Washington St., & Oregon St. are important but not vital. They’ll be out for revenge against Air Force, with the winner of that game likely making it to the Mountain West title game. That’s the goal for Boise, and I think meeting those expectations combined with the attrition of various powerhouses beating each other up might propel the Broncos solidly into the Top 20.

 

 

13     Utah

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/23 vs. USC, 10/8 vs. Arizona, 11/19 vs. Oregon

The Pac 12 really should end up having a team ranked much higher than this, but it’s a tough conference and I think it’s possible that they all utahcannibalize each other into 9-3 records requiring tiebreakers to see who ends up in the title game. The Utes have their biggest games at home so I’m giving them a slight advantage.

 

 

14     Notre Dame

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       9/4 at Texas, 9/17 at Michigan St., 10/15 at Stanford, 11/26 at USC

Looking at the schedule I am not at all sure that the Irish will win enough games to climb this high. It’s going to be really tough. Is Texas back to being NotreDame1Texas?? Can Michigan St. find a new QB?? Is Stanford being overrated by the talking heads or underrated by me?? Is Southern Cal ready to take back the spotlight?? The answers to all of these questions affect Notre Dame. I’d be shocked if they’re anywhere near the playoff conversation, yet they always seem to find a way to be competitive and win big games. And they ended the Michigan rivalry (for now) just in the nick of time.

 

 

15     Oklahoma State

Last Season:      10-3

Key Games:       11/24 at Baylor, 10/1 vs. Texas, 12/3 at Oklahoma

While I think Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the Big 12 (which has ten teams) I am picking their in-state rivals from Stillwater to be a respectable oklahoma_state_cowboys_iphone_wallpaperrunner-up. Texas may or may not be up to par quite yet, and unlike many “experts” I believe too much has transpired at Baylor in the off season for them to be serious contenders. That leaves the Cowboys, who could conceivably come into that first weekend in December undefeated to face the also undefeated Sooners. That really would be Bedlam.

 

 

16     Northern Illinois

Last Season:      8-6

Key Games:       11/9 vs. Toledo

Much like the AAC the MAC gets overlooked in the substantial shadow of the “power” conferences. MAC games get huskiesrelegated to Tuesday or Wednesday nights on ESPN, but that’s just fine with me. I rather enjoy the brand of football their teams play. The Huskies won the conference title in 2014 but fell off just a bit last season, losing their last three games, including a shellacking by Boise St. in the Poinsettia Bowl. I’m venturing out on a limb and predicting that they’ll get back to 10 wins, a feat they achieved five straight seasons before last year.

 

 

17     BYU

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Arizona, 9/10 vs. Utah, 9/17 vs. UCLA, 10/8 at Michigan St.

The Cougars used to be a mainstay in this pre-season poll, but they kept disappointing me so I left them off the last couple of years. I’m like my father BYU_Cougarsthough…I can’t stay mad at anyone for long. The great & awful thing about BYU being independent is that they have freedom in scheduling. Freedom is cool, but also a little daunting when the powers-that-be fill the calendar with tough games against top flight opponents. They could start the season 3-0…or 0-3. Most likely it’ll be somewhere in the middle. But things don’t get much easier from there, with October games against Michigan St. & Boise St. If I had money on it or a weapon being held in my face I’d say 7-5 would be a solid record for such a difficult schedule. However since I’m just having some fun I’m going to hope for a couple of upsets. 9 wins against this imposing lineup of opponents would be quite impressive.

 

 

18     Louisiana Tech

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/3 at Arkansas, 9/17 at Texas Tech, 10/6 vs. Western Kentucky

Someone’s going to win C-USA. My heart belongs to the ol’ alma mater…my Marshall Thundering Herd. Nothing would make me happier than to see louisianatechthem end up in this spot, but I’m trying to be objective or something. I don’t know. The season opener against SEC foe Arkansas is a bit daunting, but an upset wouldn’t be shocking. Can the Bulldogs run the table after that even if they don’t get the win in that first game?? It’s possible. I feel like a lot of talking heads and opposing coaches might overlook this team due to RB Kenneth Dixon moving on to the NFL. That might be perfectly valid…or a huge mistake.

 

 

19     USC

Last Season:      8-6

Key Games:       9/3 vs. Alabama, 9/23 at Utah, 11/19 at UCLA, 11/26 vs. Notre Dame

The Trojans have only won 27 games the past three seasons. That would be great for most teams, but this is not most teams. Finishing outside the USC_Trojans2national title conversation and playing in a December bowl game is not good enough for the folks in Southern California. Head coach Clay Helton was given the job last year after the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian, and one must assume that he has a very short leash. Finishing with 8 or 9 wins against a challenging schedule would go a long way toward some job security.

 

 

20     Michigan State

Last Season:      12-2

Key Games:       9/17 at Notre Dame, 9/24 vs. Wisconsin, 10/29 vs. Michigan, 11/19 vs. Ohio St.

The Spartans looked great last season, with only a controversial loss in the waning seconds against Nebraska as a blemish. But then they ran into a michstbuzzsaw in the playoff semifinal, getting rolled by the Tide. Because they have to replace QB Connor Cook and O-Lineman Jack Conklin I foresee just a little dropoff. Not much. They’ll still be a good team…just not winning a conference title or in the playoff conversation.

 

 

21     Texas

Last Season:      5-7

Key Games:       9/4 vs. Notre Dame, 10/1 at Oklahoma St., 10/8 vs Oklahoma, 10/29 vs. Baylor

This is it. In Charlie Strong’s first two seasons as head coach he has an 11-14 record. I think this is a make or break year for him. Either he wins 8+ texasgames or he’s unemployed. The pre-Halloween game against Baylor might be a critical contest. If the Longhorns can’t beat the Bears in Austin after everything that has occurred in Waco the past several months then perhaps Strong deserves to be shown the door.

 

 

22     Arizona

Last Season:      7-6

Key Games:       9/3 vs. BYU, 10/1 at UCLA, 10/8 at Utah

Did I mention that the Pac 12 is a really competitive conference?? I’m kind of sad actually, because my current job entails me leaving for work at about ArizonaWildcats10pm on Saturday nights, which means I will miss out on the pleasure of staying up til 1am watching those last few west coast games that are oftentimes a lot of fun. Ah well…c’est la vie. Anyway, the Wildcats fell off last season after winning 10 games in 2014. Can they get back on track?? Both RB Nick Wilson (725 yards rushing, 8 TDs) and QB Anu Solomon (2600+ yards passing, 20 TDs) return, although the defense must replace linebacker Scooby Wright who has moved on to the NFL. I think improving to 8 or 9 wins in a tough Pac 12 will be good enough to sneak into the rankings.

 

 

23     Miami, FL

Last Season:      8-5

Key Games:       10/8 vs. Florida St., 10/29 at Notre Dame

After being one of the elite teams of the 1980’s & 90’s the Hurricanes have endured some struggles the past decade, not winning 10 games since 2003.miamiu2 But there’s a new sheriff in town. Head coach Mark Richt won 74% of his games in 15 seasons at Georgia, and now he returns to his alma mater to help them achieve the success that eluded the past 2 or 3 coaches. Miami has shown flashes of their former glory the past few years but couldn’t quite get over the hump. I don’t expect them to compete for a conference title, especially with Clemson & Florida St. standing in the way, but 8 or 9 wins doesn’t seem like an unreasonable goal.

 

 

24     Nebraska

Last Season:      6-7

Key Games:       9/17 vs. Oregon, 10/29 at Wisconsin, 11/5 at Ohio St., 11/25 at Iowa

I might regret this pick, but I’m going to take a chance anyway. Back in the day when I was growing up Nebraska was one of the cornerstone programs nebraskaof college football. I don’t know if it is location, bad management, poor coaching, or a move to the Big Ten a few years ago, but the Cornhuskers seem like a forgotten team nowadays. They are 24-15 over the past three seasons, including last year’s disaster under first year coach Mike Riley. They have been completely eclipsed in the news cycle by Ohio St., Michigan, Iowa, Michigan St., and even Wisconsin & Northwestern. If Riley has another subpar season he might be another guy on the chopping block, but if he can guide his team to a couple of upsets and get to that 8/9 win level then he’ll live to coach another season in Lincoln.

 

 

25     Oregon

Last Season:      9-4

Key Games:       9/17 at Nebraska, 11/5 at USC, 11/12 vs. Stanford, 11/19 at Utah

The Ducks have won atleast 9 games in each of the past nine seasons. That’s impressive. I honestly couldn’t name one member of the team without oregonusing Google, but I know that Oregon seems like one of those programs that just reloads instead of rebuilding, and while they certainly won’t be in the national title conversation or probably be a legit threat to win the conference I think it is likely that they win 8 games and score an upset or two along the way.