2021 PIGSKIN PICKS OF PROFUNDITY…WEEK 1

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

Boise State at Central Florida (-5)

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

My Pick: Boise St.

Z’s Pick: Boise St.

Ohio State (-13.5) at Minnesota

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

My Pick: Ohio St.

Z’s Pick: Ohio St.

North Carolina (-5.5) at Virginia Tech

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

My Pick: UNC

Z’s Pick: UNC

Stanford at Kansas State (-2.5)

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

My Pick: Stanford

Z’s Pick: Stanford

Penn State at Wisconsin (-5.5)

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

My Pick: Wisconsin

Z’s Pick: Wisconsin

Fresno State at Oregon (-21)

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

My Pick: Oregon

Z’s Pick: Fresno St.

Alabama (-18.5) vs. Miami (FL)

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

My Pick: Alabama

Z’s Pick: Alabama

Georgia vs Clemson (-4)

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

My Pick: Georgia

Z’s Pick: Clemson

Notre Dame (-7) at Florida State

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

My Pick: Notre Dame

Z’s Pick: Notre Dame

2021 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 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 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 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 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 9

pfootIt wasn’t my intention to do bonus picks again so soon, but both the college & NFL schedules are chockful of intriguing matchups and I just can’t resist. Last week was a rough one for yours truly, as I could only muster a record of 1-4, while Zach fared a little better at 2-3. Obviously neither of us have a bright future in the prognostication arts, but we’ll have fun trying.

My Season:        22-24

Z’s Season:        16-31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California                     at                USC (-15.5)

The Bears come into this game 4-3, but it must be noted that two of those losses were by 5 points or less, and they’ve split the last two games in overtime. Meanwhile,cal the Trojans have an identical 4-3 record but are riding a three game winning streak. This is a Thursday night contest, and while it is a home game for Southern Cal the 2 TD+ spread seems a bit much. I think it’ll be closer and Zach agrees.

My Pick:     California

Z’s Pick:     California

 

 

Michigan (-24)             at                Michigan St.

A year ago the Spartans escaped with a thrilling last second victory after a touchdown on a fumbled punt. But that team was undefeated and would go on to play in the national Michigan_State_Spartansplayoff semifinal. In 2016 the tables have been turned. The Wolverines are undefeated and ranked #2 in the country while State has lost five straight to stand at 2-5. I am not quite sure what has happened in East Lansing outside of the normal ebb & flow of players graduating & new ones stepping up take those spots, but obviously things have taken a bad turn. Conversely, Jim Harbaugh has coached his alma mater back to relevancy much quicker than I anticipated, although few are really shocked that they have been successful. I’d be surprised if the favorites lost, but I’d be almost as surprised if Sparty didn’t show some pride in defending their home field. Zach is a big Michigan fan but he agrees.

My Pick:     Michigan St.

Z’s Pick:     Michigan St.

 

 

Baylor (-3)          at                Texas

I thought that it’d be Baylor having a rough year given their…eventful…offseason, while Texas would show some life with Charlie Strong’s job on the line. However the bayloropposite has happened thus far. The Bears are 6-0 and have barely been tested. The Longhorns are 3-4 and probably already have a list of candidates to replace Strong. I’d LOVE to pick the upset…but I just can’t pull the trigger, even with the game being played in Austin. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Baylor

Z’s Pick:     Baylor

 

 

Washington (-10)       at                Utah

utah2The Huskies are a very quiet 7-0, ranked 4th in the polls, & look like a solid playoff team unless they stumble down the stretch. Could that washington2misstep come against the 7-1 Utes in Salt Lake City?? I think it is possible. At the very least I am uncomfortable with a double digit point spread.  Zach has no issues with the spread. He thinks it’ll be close for three quarters but Washington will take over in the end.

My Pick:     Utah

Z’s Pick:     Washington

 

 

Nebraska           at                Wisconsin (-8.5)

nebraskaThis is the prime time game on ESPN Saturday night. The Huskers have rather quietly amassed a perfect 7-0 record, while the Badgers have lost WisconsinBadgerstwice…to Michigan & Ohio St….nothing to be ashamed about. Wisconsin gets the home field bump, which is understandable. But are the points too much?? I think they might be. Zach thinks Nebraska is overrated and he likes Wisconsin’s defense.

My Pick:     Nebraska

Z’s Pick:     Wisconsin

 

 

Clemson (-4.5)            at                Florida St.

Florida_State_SeminolesBefore the season began this game looked like it could decide a playoff spot. Unfortunately the Seminoles have dropped a couple of games and clemsonare unlikely to re-enter the playoff conversation. However the Tigers, despite a few close shaves, remain undefeated and very much in the playoff hunt. As much as I’d love to stick with my pre-season choice and pick Clemson The Vibes are reminding me that this game is in Tallahassee, that Florida St. is still a very good team, & that Clemson has been on the cusp of losing a couple of times and their luck can’t run on forever. Zach believes the Seminoles will put up a good fight but Clemson will be too much in the 4th quarter.

My Pick:     Florida St.

Z’s Pick:     Clemson

 

 

Kansas City (-2.5)      at                Indianapolis

The Chiefs were one of my pre-season Super Bowl picks, but thus far they are an underwhelming 4-2 and trailing both the Raiders & Broncos in the AFC West. The kc-chiefs-logoColts aren’t much better. At 3-4 they still have a chance to win their division as I predicted only because the Texans aren’t very good. It is interesting that Indy is a home underdog. If the folks in Vegas aren’t going to respect them why should I?? Zach likes the Chiefs to outcoach the opponent and snag a victory.

My Pick:     Kansas City

Z’s Pick:     Kansas City

 

 

Oakland             at                Tampa Bay (-1.5)

The Raiders have been fairly impressive in what seems to be the culmination of a decade long rebuild, leading their division at 5-2. The Bucs have been…alright. They raidersare 3-3 and occasionally show flashes of…something. Whatever it is they aren’t there yet and Oakland is ahead of their progress by a country mile. Zach notes that Tampa has suffered some key injuries and thinks the Raiders will be a playoff team.

My Pick:     Oakland

Z’s Pick:     Oakland

 

 

Arizona               at                Carolina (-2.5)

Many pundits thought the Cards were a Super Bowl favorite this season, but so far they’ve looked rather mediocre. The Panthers have been even worse, following in the footsteps of other Super Bowl losers of the past by stinking up the joint the following year. I have no idea what the problem is, but it is irrefutable that a problem exists.nflarizonacardinals Carolina is probably already out of playoff contention, but Arizona can still recover and win their division. This looks like a tossup on paper, but I’m gonna go with the visiting underdogs. Zach agrees. He likes the Cardinals’ defense to lead them to victory.

My Pick:     Arizona

Z’s Pick:     Arizona

2016 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 7

cfoot2As I sit here writing this there is an NFL game, hockey’s opening night, the MLB playoffs, & a college football game all on at the same time. It’s the most stimulating experience I’ve had in many moons. At any rate, bonus picks didn’t really work out so well for either one of us last week, but I’m nothing if not persistent so we’re going to try again. Zach was 3-5, while I broke even at 4-4. We picked LSU/Florida, but they didn’t play because of Hurricane Matthew. That game has been rescheduled for mid-November. As of right now Alabama, Clemson, Washington, & the winner of Ohio St./Michigan look like the favorites to get into the NCAA playoff, while the NFL is being dominated by the Vikings, Cowboys, Broncos, & Falcons. Of course the cool thing about sports is that all of that could change in a single day.

My Season:        16-18

Z’s Season:        11-24

 

 

 

 

 

Alabama (-13)              at      Tennessee

tennessee_volunteers_football_iphone_wallpaperThe Tide hasn’t really been challenged much this season, winning every game by atleast 19 points with the exception of a 5 AlabamaCrimsonTide2point thriller against Ole Miss. The Vols were on a roll until they ran up against Texas A&M last weekend. Perhaps they were looking ahead to this game. When revealing my pre-season Top 25 I opined that “it would surprise me less if this team actually lost 3 or 4 games than it would if they’d go undefeated”. Of course I also had Oklahoma & LSU in my Top 5, so what do I know?? As a fan I am hoping for a great game, and that would necessitate something closer than 13 points. I’m not all that confident about it, but that’s the direction I’ll go. Conversely, Zach has faith in ‘Bama’s defense and believes they’ll win by a comfortable margin.

My Pick:     Tennessee

Z’s Pick:     Alabama

 

 

Northwestern              at      Michigan St. (-4.5)

Northwestern_WildcatsNeither team is going to win the Big Ten (which has 14 teams), but with identical 2-3 records this is a game that could swing Michigan_State_Spartansthe momentum one way or the other and lead to a season to either feel alright about or flush completely from the memory. I’m no psychologist, but I assume that the rocky start isn’t a shock for the Wildcats, and a win here would be a giant boost to their morale. Conversely, the Spartans have been very successful in recent years, especially last season when they were in the playoffs. Recent events have to be rather disconcerting to them. I think Northwestern comes into this contest hyped up and ready to turn things around, while Michigan St.’s spirit may have already been broken. Zach thinks Northwestern is too inconsistent and believes Michigan St.’s defense will get the job done.

My Pick:     Northwestern

Z’s Pick:     Michigan St.

 

 

Stanford                       at      Notre Dame (-3)

photo.stanfordtreeUsually this is an important game between two highly ranked teams. This year…not so much. The Irish lost half their team to NotreDame1the NFL and are currently 2-4. Stanford has seen the Heisman buzz for RB/WR Christian McCaffrey virtually disappear in the throes of a two game losing streak that has them at 3-2. Part of me believes that Notre Dame HAS to win this game, since pride & defending their home turf are about the only worthy goals remaining, but I can’t fight this feeling that Stanford…atleast for this season…is the better team. Zach likes Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer and thinks he’ll lead the Irish to victory.

My Pick:     Stanford

Z’s Pick:     Notre Dame

 

 

Ohio St. (-10)               at      Wisconsin

I didn’t have the Badgers anywhere near my pre-season Top 25. I just didn’t see any room for them to succeed in the loaded Big Ten. However, they WisconsinBadgersare capably filling the Top 10 spot I thought would be held by the faltering Iowa Hawkeyes. Of course no one is surprised by the 5-0 Buckeyes, who’ve barely broken a sweat thus far. That’ll change this week. I’d be surprised if Ohio St. lost, but I don’t think they’ll win by double digits on the road. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     Wisconsin

Z’s Pick:     Wisconsin

 

 

Philadelphia (-2.5)      at      Washington

Washington_Redskins_logoThe NFC East might be the best, most competitive division in the NFL. Dallas is better than I thought they’d be, and the NY philadelphia_eagles-3715Giants are hanging around. This is an important game for Philly & the Redskins since the winner would stay on pace with the Cowboys. Rookie QB Carson Wentz has been impressive for the 3-1 Eagles, while the 3-2 Redskins don’t have much of a running attack and have relied completely on QB Kirk Cousins. It’s interesting that Washington isn’t getting the usual home field bump. The oddsmakers clearly have an opinion on which is the better team, but I’m going to go against the grain and pick the upset. Zach literally flipped a coin…I think…and is going with the favorites.

My Pick:     Washington

Z’s Pick:     Philadelphia

 

 

Carolina (-3)                 at      New Orleans

New-Orleans-Saints-Logo-244x300In my NFL Preview I stated that I didn’t think the Panthers would fall prey the usual foibles of Super Bowl losers. That assessment CarolinaPanthersmay have been wrong. Not only is Carolina 1-4, but QB Cam Newton has been concussed and missed last week’s game. It looks like he’ll be back this week, and fortunately for he & his struggling team they face the equally dismal 1-3 Saints. Or is it fortunate?? The Superdome will be rockin’, and what better way to right the ship then for Drew Brees to lead his troops past the defending NFC champs?? I’m not sure either team can catch the Atlanta Falcons in the division, but a win here could conceivably catapult the victor into wildcard contention. Zach is looking for a high scoring game and thinks Newton will lead his team to a win.

My Pick:     New Orleans

Z’s Pick:     Carolina

 

 

Dallas                           at      Green Bay (-4.5)

Green_Bay_Packers_HelmetThis should be a really good game. Rookie QB Dak Prescott has been better than Cowboys fans could have ever expected in thedallas-cowboys-logo2 absence of Tony Romo, and fellow rookie Zeke Elliot might be the best running back in the NFL at the moment. I am not among those that think that Romo has already lost his starting gig, but I’m sure he’ll be on a short leash upon his return. For the powers-that-be in Dallas it’s a nice problem to have. Meanwhile, the Packers seem like a forgotten team, lost in the shadow of division foe Minnesota. If Prescott can go into the unfriendly environment of The Frozen Tundra and snag a victory I’ll be more than impressed…but I don’t believe that’s going to happen. Zach, on the other hand, likes the Cowboys’ offensive line a lot and thinks they are a legit title contender.

My Pick:     Green Bay

Z’s Pick:     Dallas

Winning & Musing…..Volume 3.15

Don’t you just love the ebb & flow of sports?? It’s almost magical how the baseball season opened on the same day that the championship game wrapped up college basketball. Or how Nascar pops back into our lives just as we are starting to miss football. The Nascar folks are even nice enough to take the day off when they know that between The Final Four and Easter Sunday our weekend is jam packed. Okay okay…I am smart enough to realize that there are people who make lots of money to carefully coordinate the well-timed ebb & flow, but in my heart I still believe in magic. Anyway, today we have a good mix of things to contemplate, so let’s do that.

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to the 2015 NCAA basketball national champion Duke Blue Devils. I Duke_Blue_Devilshave no issue with them winning even though they certainly aren’t the kind of underdog that I typically cheer for. I thought the game itself as well as the tournament in general was poorly officiated, but that can’t be held up as the single reason Duke prevailed. Coach K seems like a genuinely decent dude, although I can’t go so far as to say he has eclipsed legendary UCLA coach John Wooden.

 

 

 

Baseball season is underway and I am mildly excited about that. It’s a long season so ppiratesone has to modulate enthusiasm throughout the next few months so that interest doesn’t wane during the dog days of summer. I expect my Pittsburgh Pirates to be in the midst of the pennant race again, although I do have some misgivings about their bullpen and whether or not that weakness will cost them a division title.

 

 

 

There’s been a lot of discussion during March Madness about what’s wrong with college basketball and what should be done to fix it. Most agree that the tournament is just dandy, but it’s the 3 or 4 months that precede it that has issues. One thing that is constantly mentioned is the 35 second shot clock and how it should be lowered to 24 seconds “just like the NBA”. Decreasing the shot clock is a valid debate, but what is with this compulsion to copy the NBA?? College & pro basketball are two similar yet basketballdifferent games and I think I prefer it that way. Contrary to popular opinion I find the collegiate game much more entertaining. It’s raw. It’s genuine. And yes, it’s got lumps, just like tasty homemade gravy, which has so much more flavor than the mass produced stuff one finds in a jar at the grocery store. College athletes are extremely talented, but there’s a wide range of skill and, at the end of the day, they are still a bunch of somewhat capricious & undeveloped 18-22 year old youngsters. There are highs. There are lows. There are flashes of dramatic, heroic triumph, and moments of inexplicable disappointment. Yes the NBA has that stuff too because the players are still human beings, but the game is undeniably more refined, less dramatic, more predictable, and too often as bland as store bought gravy. So revise & improve college basketball. Go for it. Nothing is perfect and tinkering can be fun. But be innovative. Be practical. Don’t focus on replicating the NBA. It’s lazy, redundant, & lacks imagination.

 

 

 

$100 for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight?? I don’t think so. I’m not really a boxing fan and won’t be brokenhearted if I miss it altogether, although I may look around and see boxing_2_lgif I can catch it for free. There are ways. I’m a huge pro wrestling fan and haven’t paid for a PPV in a few years. Technology is a good thing…most of the time.

 

 

 

wrestling-clip-art-PSS0166Speaking of pro wrestling, it has caused a rift in my relationship with ESPN talking head Colin Cowherd. I had been a fan of Cowherd’s daily radio show that is simulcast on ESPNU…until a few weeks ago. Colin’s buddy and fellow ESPN personality Bill Simmons is a fellow wrestling fan and had appeared on WWE Raw. Cowherd was reviewing Simmons’ performance on the show and had some rather demeaning & unprofessional comments about wrestling fans, saying that we all live in our parents’ basements and everyone who had attended that particular event outside of Simmons had probably been driven there and dropped off by their mother. And his comments weren’t said in a good-natured, joking manner. He was intentionally being an insulting jackass. I happened to have some free time that day so I tweeted #boycottCowherd and got much more of a response than expected. It was the most interaction I’ve ever had on Twitter. Some folks were supportive while some tried to match their hero Colin in the abuse department. Cowherd himself replied to me stating that his show had the best ratings on ESPNU, as if that is a noteworthy accomplishment when the truth is that better & more popular shows like Mike & Mike, Pardon the Interruption, & First Take air on ESPN or ESPN2. My God, even Dan Lebatard & his Papi are shown on ESPN2. Cowherd apparently doesn’t understand that his show airing on ESPNU indicates just how insignificant it is in the eyes of his bosses. At any rate, I’m not crazy enough to think that one man can take down an entire TV show or colincowherdthat my feelings matter to a self-important blowhard like Colin Cowherd, but I’ll damn sure never watch him again. I realize that professional wrestling isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea. That’s fine. But to those of us who enjoy that sort of thing it is as valid a form of entertainment as anything else. There are any number of television shows…Game of Thrones, Scandal, The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey…that the masses love but I’m not interested in, yet I don’t go around bullying & verbally assaulting fans of those shows. The idea that all wrestling fans are a bunch of toothless hillbillies or socially inept psychos who are unemployed and live with their parents is a tired cliché that is no longer funny. Wrestling fans are male & female, black, white, & Hispanic, affluent & poor, young & old, urban & rural…just like the fan bases of any other kind of entertainment. Does Cowherd really think the backward recluses he trumpets as the typical wrestling fan could even afford to go to the shows, purchase the merchandise, or buy the pay-per-views?? Maybe someone should call EMS to bring the jaws of life to ESPN and extricated Colin Cowherd’s pea brain from his anal cavity before he suffocates and becomes an even bigger moron than he has already proven himself to be.

 

 

 

It’s still a little bit surprising to me that the Kentucky Wildcats didn’t make it to the national title game. I know I’m not the only one who felt like them winning it all was a foregone conclusion. But it seems like in the process of obliterating my WV Kentucky-BasketballMountaineers in the Sweet 16 the ‘Cats fired all their bullets and didn’t have much left in the tank. They barely got by Notre Dame in the Elite 8, and then finally were beaten in the Final Four by Wisconsin. Now I will grant you that the Badgers are an extremely talented team and had the added revenge factor (after UK beat them in last year’s Final Four) as motivation, but I sincerely believe that Kentucky would defeat Wisconsin in 9 out of 10 games. In a single elimination tournament though anything can happen (and no…I don’t think that format should change…for now).

 

 

 

The argument over trying to get NCAA basketball to mirror the NBA made me think of baseball’s designated hitter rule. Upon further ponderation I think I like things the way they are, with the American League having the DH and the National League not utilizing it. It makes each league unique, which is something we’ve begun to lose in the United States. We’re all about homogenization. I’m not as well traveled as I’d prefer, baseball drawingbut I know that every city & town in this country has a lot of the same stuff. The same restaurants. The same retail outlets. The same radio & TV stations that play the same music & shows day after day, week after week, year after year. Every mall has the same stores. Every movie theater is essentially the same. Every automaker makes the same kinds of vehicles that aren’t nearly as singular & cool as cars back in the 40’s & 50’s. This uniformity is comforting on some level, but it is also bland & uninspiring. Just like college basketball shouldn’t try so hard to emulate the NBA I hope the American & National Leagues will always remain similar yet distinctive.

2014 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 1

Football is back!! It kind of snuck up on me. I have been watching NFL pre-season games, but had no idea that real football_goalcollege games that actually count started tonight. Then when I found out that information a few days ago I wasn’t feeling well. So I am kind of under the gun here and will make this quick & dirty. That’s okay because I am still not quite up to par.

This is the third season for these picks and the second where I am going head-to-head with my nephew Zach. In 2013 I went 45-46, while Zach was 41-49 in his inaugural campaign. I am sure both of us will do better this season. We pick 5 games each week and use point spreads just to make it challenging. I do NOT condone gambling. I don’t think it is the epitome of evil or anything like that, I just believe that there are many many many other things…better things…on which folks should spend their hard earned money. These picks are just a fun way for two diehard fans to entertain ourselves and hopefully others as well. So…onto the picks. Y’all get a bonus pick this week since I am so excited for the return of football and there happens to be an unusual amount of intriguing games for the first week of the college season.

 

 

 

 
Texas A&M at South Carolina (-10.5)
gamecocks-logoThe Aggies begin life without Johnny Football. He’s the Cleveland Browns’ problem now. A&M suffered other losses as well that leaves them texas_am_01in rebuilding mode. The Gamecocks will be starting a new quarterback, but I expect big things from them under the leadership of head coach Steve Spurrier as he enters his 10th year at the helm in Columbia. Zach thinks replacing Jadeveon Clowney will be atleast as difficult for South Carolina as replacing Manziel will be for A&M. He is predicting a very close South Carolina win…close enough for A&M to cover the points.

My Pick: South Carolina
Z’s Pick: Texas A&M

 

 

 

Ohio St. (-16.5) vs. Navy
I have no doubt that the Buckeyes will win this game. Until recently they were thought to be legit national title contenders, but the loss of QB Braxton Miller to a navyshoulder injury has cooled that talk. Meanwhile I think the Midshipmen are a solid team that can hang tough and cover the spread. Zach concurs.

My Pick: Navy
Z’s Pick: Navy

 

 

 

Clemson at Georgia (-7.5)
georgiaThese look like two solid 7-9 win teams that will hang around the lower tier of the Top 25 most of the season but won’t be in the national titleclemson conversation. Georgia has the home field and their defense is probably a little bit better. Zach likes Clemson’s speed & passing game. He’s predicting big things for the Tigers.

My Pick: Georgia
Z’s Pick: Clemson

 

 

 

Florida St. (-17.5) at Oklahoma St.
The Seminoles are the pre-season #1 in most polls and return Heisman winning QB Jameis Winston. I have no doubt that Oklahoma St. will be athletic, fast, andFlorida_State_Seminoles prolific on offense…but they aren’t beating Florida St. However the point spread gives me pause. Can the defending national champions cover the points?? If they don’t will people begin to doubt them?? Zach apparently has so little interest in this game that he doesn’t even care to make a pick *lol*.

My Pick: Florida St.
Z’s Pick: none

 

 

 

Ole Miss (-10.5) vs Boise St.
boise-state1The Rebels are getting some pre-season attention. I am sure there are legitimate reasons for that, though I am far too lazy to find out what theyole miss are. I just think the SEC is too stacked for a team that has finished 21-29 over the course of the past four seasons to all the sudden be title contenders. Meanwhile everyone seems to have forgotten about Boise St. after they won “only” 8 games last season and head coach Chris Petersen left for the Washington Huskies. My vibes…unreliable as they may be…are telling me that Boise St. is better than people think and Ole Miss won’t live up to expectations. Zach isn’t at all excited about this game but thinks Ole Miss will use defense to win easily.

My Pick: Boise St.
Z’s Pick: Ole Miss

 

 

 

LSU (-4.5) at Wisconsin
I fully expect this to be one of the best games of the opening weekend. The Tigers are nominal favorites despite Wisconsin having the home field. That surprises WisconsinBadgersme. I just think that LSU having to break in a new QB is enough of a disadvantage that the Badgers’ brand of smashmouth football will prevail. It may not be pretty but it can be effective. Look for RB Melvin Gordon to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 yards and atleast a couple of touchdowns. Zach concurs.

My Pick: Wisconsin
Z’s Pick: Wisconsin

 

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2012 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

As I write this I am suffering from a hacking cough reminiscent of the coal miners in that black lung commercial from a few years back. I’ll be just fine after a lovely steroid shot from my local neighborhood health care provider, but feeling this way just emphasizes the point that summer is nearly over and we are on the cusp of cooler temperatures, falling leaves, and the sweet scents of pumpkin, apples, cinnamon, & cloves filling the air. As much as I love summertime and hate to see it go, one thing that totally rocks about autumn is the return of football. It is time once again to look into the ol’ crystal ball and see what the college football season may have in store. Once again let me remind readers that I am far from an expert. I am not compensated for my expertise and have never claimed to be very good at this, so wager with caution if your choices are based on what you read here.

 

 

 

1          Oklahoma

Last season…10-3

Key games…10/13 vs. Texas, 10/27 vs. Notre Dame, 11/24 vs. Oklahoma St.

I just feel like the team who wins the super tough Big 12 has to be in the national championship conversation, and I think that team will be the Sooners. It is interesting to note that all three of the crucial games noted above will be played in Norman, which will be vital to the team’s title aspirations.

 

2          Michigan

Last season…11-2

Key games…9/1 vs. Alabama, 9/22 at Notre Dame, 11/24 at Ohio State

Michigan football is back on track following the debacle that was The Fraudriguez Era. One must give much respect to the powers-that-be in Ann Arbor, because this schedule is brutal, especially starting the season against defending national champion Alabama when most other teams will be playing cupcakes. QB Denard Robinson has to be considered a leading Heisman contender and is a threat to take it in for 6 everytime he touches the ball.

 

3          South Carolina

Last season…11-2

Key games…10/6 vs. Georgia, 10/13 at LSU

The Gamecocks season likely rests largely on how well junior RB Marcus Lattimore comes back from a torn knee ligament suffered last October. If he’s as good as he was before the injury bright things might be ahead in Columbia. The October 13th contest at LSU is huge, and I would not at all be surprised if we see an upset.

 

4          USC

Last season…10-2

Key games…11/3 vs. Oregon, 11/24 vs. Notre Dame

The Trojans are back in the championship mix after suffering thru 2 years of probation and a post-season ban. Most talking heads are handing them the #1 ranking to start the season, but I think that in the long term other teams from tougher conferences will pass them up. QB Matt Barkley decided to come back for his senior year rather than enter the NFL Draft, which will be an immense help. Barkley will be prominent in the Heisman discussion.

 

5          Wisconsin

Last season…11-3

Key games…9/29 at Nebraska, 11/17 vs. Ohio State

The Badgers are my kind of football team…smashmouth running, tough defense, concentrate on the fundamentals. Are they exciting to watch?? Probably not for most folks. But they get the job done and always seem to be in the midst of the battle for the Big 10 title. RB Montee Ball is back for his senior season and is the highest returning Heisman vote getter from last year (he finished 4th). Last season the Badgers were led by transfer QB Russell Wilson, and in 2012 they will start another transfer behind center, former Maryland signal caller Danny O’Brien. The formula certainly worked before and I see no reason why it can’t again.

 

6          Florida St.

Last season…9-4

Key games…9/22 vs. Clemson, 11/8 vs. Virginia Tech, 11/24 vs. Florida.

Coach Jimbo Fisher enters his 3rd season as head coach and is slowly but surely moving from underneath the considerable shadow of legendary former coach Bobby Bowden. QB EJ Manuel returns for his senior season, and though no one would likely put Manuel on the same level as fabled former Seminole signal callers like Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, or Chris Weinke (2 of those 3 won the Heisman Trophy), one cannot underestimate the value of an experienced veteran field general. I’ve never had a ton of respect for the ACC, and I see no reason why this team shouldn’t blow thru their schedule with relative ease, especially with the two big games noted above being played in Tallahassee.

 

7          Alabama

Last season…12-1

Key games…9/1 vs. Michigan, 9/15 at Arkansas, 11/3 at LSU

It’s not that I don’t think the defending national champions won’t be good, it’s just that I think their schedule is so tough that it is going to be nearly impossible to maintain the heights that they have achieved the past few years, especially with RB Trent Richardson now plying his trade in the NFL. I’m predicting an upset loss to Michigan in the season opener, which will quickly all but end the dream of a repeat for the Tide. I still think this is a team that’ll secure 9 or 10 wins, which wouldn’t be bad considering their fierce schedule.

 

8          Nebraska

Last season…9-4

Key games…9/29 vs. Wisconsin, 10/27 vs. Michigan

The Cornhuskers acquitted themselves quite nicely in their inaugural Big 10 season, just as your humble Potentate of Profundity predicted. Now that all the hype is over and the novelty has worn off they can get down to business. This is another team, like the previously mentioned Wisconsin Badgers, that tends to stick with straight ahead, no frills, fundamentally sound football…and it works. I like that their two biggest games are both at home, and that should go a long way in helping to ensure another 9 win season.

 

9          Oregon

Last year…12-2

Key games…11/3 at USC

Don’t let the 384 flashy uniform combinations fool you…the Ducks are a formidable football foe for any opponent. Their season essentially boils down to one game versus the mighty Trojans in Los Angeles. Whoever wins that game likely wins the Pac-12 and will be in the hunt for a national championship.

 

10       BYU

Last year…10-3

Key games…9/20 at Boise St., 10/20 at Notre Dame, 10/27 at Georgia Tech

The Cougars enter their 2nd season as an independent, which I am not so sure is a good thing. Eventually they will have to get back into a conference in order to survive the ever changing college football landscape. However, for now it looks like they are having no problems putting together an interesting & competitive schedule, which should earn them respect if they are able to win some big games. It’s a tall order for sure, but I am betting that they’ll pull off an upset or two or three. It must be noted that I put this team in the same exact position in last year’s pre-season poll, but despite finishing with 10 wins they just missed being ranked the Top 25, settling for the top “others receiving votes” spot. That would seem to indicate that they might need to finish undefeated to receive any type of recognition.

 

11       Cincinnati

Last year…10-3

Key games…9/29 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/26 at Louisville

As I said last year, someone’s got to win the Big East, right?? The conference is depleted this season due to the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12, and next season it will go thru a major overhaul when Pitt & Syracuse flee to the ACC and Central Florida, Memphis, Houston, & SMU join. For 2012 though the race looks to be wide open, and I am picking the Bearcats in a coin flip to emerge at the top of the pack.

 

12         Tennessee

Last year…5-7

Key games…9/15 vs. Florida, 9/29 at Georgia, 10/20 vs. Alabama, 10/27 at South Carolina

My first real shot in the dark for 2012. When I think of the Volunteers I think of Rocky Top, Peyton Manning, and 102k fans rockin’ the checkered end zones at Neyland Stadium. However, the past few years have been a struggle in Knoxville, where the Vols have finished 7-6, 6-7, and 5-7. 2012 is head coach Derek Dooley’s 3rd season and his team will be lead on the field by junior QB Tyler Bray, who is already being touted as a top NFL prospect. I realize that this team plays in the SEC, the toughest conference in America. Logic would dictate that there are atleast 7 teams just in the conference better than Tennessee on paper. But I just don’t believe that a team with so much tradition and history will stay down forever. Dooley is the son of legendary former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, so there’s got to be something in the genes, right??

 

13       Arkansas

Last season…11-2

Key games…9/15 vs. Alabama, 11/10 at South Carolina, 11/23 vs. LSU

It has been a tumultuous offseason in Fayetteville, with the scandalous departure of former coach Bobby Petrino and the hiring of journeyman coach John L. Smith. Normally I wouldn’t have much faith in a team that has undergone such turmoil, but the return of senior QB Tyler Wilson as well as the re-emergence of junior stud RB Knile Davis should provide much needed stability.

 

14       Northern Illinois

Last season…11-3

Key games…9/1 vs. Iowa, 9/22 vs. Kansas

I really enjoyed watching MAC games last year, and the Huskies were the cream of the crop in that conference. A few years ago my alma mater Marshall left the MAC for C-USA, and I contend to this day that it was a shortsighted decision. Out of conference victories against teams from more respected leagues will be vital to this team’s success.

 

15       Maryland

Last season…2-10

Key games…9/22 at West Virginia, 11/10 at Clemson, 11/17 vs. Florida St.

Head coach Randy Edsall enters his 2nd year at the helm in College Park looking to rebound from a horrible 2011. My pick is based solely on my vibes, not on any concrete evidence that the Terrapins have improved in any significant way. Edsall is simply too good of a coach to have another putrid season.

 

16       Central Florida

Last season…5-7

Key games…9/8 at Ohio State, 9/29 vs. Missouri, 10/13 vs. Southern Miss.

Did you know that UCF is the largest university in the state of Florida and the 2nd largest in the United States?? Obviously that doesn’t automatically translate into football supremacy, but it should count for something. This will be the Knights last season in C-USA before joining the Big East in 2013, and I am predicting that they’ll go out with a bang. I do not believe that they’ll beat Ohio St., and would be surprised if they defeat Missouri, but those games can provide valuable seasoning before this team gets into the meat of their conference schedule.

 

17       LSU

Last season…13-1

Key games…10/13 vs. South Carolina, 11/3 at Alabama, 11/23 at Arkansas

A year ago I predicted that the Bayou Bengals would suffer losses “to out-of-conference foes West Virginia & Oregon and atleast two fellow SEC teams.” I was wrong. Way wrong. So now I find myself again in the position of predicting a finish for LSU far lower than what the “experts” are envisioning. The SEC is just too competitive for the same two teams…the Tigers and ‘Bama…to continue to dominate every year. Other teams will rise. They will be hellbent & determined to defeat the perceived top two and prove their worth. One cannot have a huge target on one’s back for long without eventually being taken down. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

18       East Carolina

Last season…5-7

Key games…9/8 at South Carolina, 9/15 at Southern Miss., 10/4 at UCF

I’ve had the opportunity to watch the Pirates play for many years against both the West Virginia Mountaineers and my Marshall Thundering Herd, and I’ve always liked what I see. It would be surprising to see two C-USA teams sneak into the Top 25, but it could happen. This will be head coach Ruffin McNeil’s third season in the captain’s seat, and it is very important that he get his team over the hump. I am betting he will.

 

19       Auburn

Last season…8-5

Key games…9/1 vs. Clemson, 9/22 vs. LSU, 10/6 vs. Arkansas, 11/10 vs. Georgia, 11/24 at Alabama

The Tigers went from being the undefeated national champions in 2010 to an 8 win season last year after losing Heisman Trophy winning QB Cam Newton to the NFL. That’s really not that bad of a drop off all things considered. 4 of the 5 key contests noted above will be played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium, and I think it quite conceivable that the War Eagles could win 3 out of the 5. An 8 or 9 win season in the SEC should be enough to merit Top 25 consideration.

 

20       Louisville

Last season…7-6

Key games…10/26 vs. Cincinnati, 11/10 at Syracuse

I picked Cincinnati to win the Big East in a coin flip. The loser of that toss up?? The Cardinals. But that doesn’t mean I believe they’ll be bad, just that their conference title hopes will boil down to one game that I think they’ll lose. I like what head coach Charlie Strong has done at The ‘Ville the past couple of seasons, and think their trajectory is still heading upward. Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is only going to get better, which is bad news for the rest of the conference.

 

21       Notre Dame

Last season…8-5

Key games…9/15 at Michigan State, 9/22 vs. Michigan, 10/27 at Oklahoma, 11/24 at USC

Here’s the thing about the Irish…they can lose 3 or 4 games and still sneak into the Top 25 because the media just fawns all over them like they do our current President. So even though they have a murderous schedule and will almost certainly lose atleast 3 of the 4 matchups noted above it won’t matter as long as they take care of business against teams they should beat easily like Navy, Purdue, Pitt, and Wake Forest. The big question right now is at QB, where redshirt freshman Everett Golson has been named the starter due to the one game suspension of junior Tommy Rees. One has to wonder how short of a leash coach Brian Kelly will have on Golson as the season progresses. In 2011 Kelly vacillated between Rees and Dayne Crist, and that instability was likely atleast partially to blame for a couple of losses. If Kelly pulls Golson at halftime of game 2 or 3 it could once again torpedo the entire season.

 

22       Texas

Last season…8-5

Key games…9/29 at Oklahoma State, 10/13 vs. Oklahoma

The once mighty Longhorns bottomed out in 2010 with a 5-7 record. Last season they rebounded a bit, but still didn’t rise to the heights to which they are accustomed. Sure they beat the teams they were supposed to, but fell flat against ranked opponents. Will that change in 2012?? I think it just might. Coach Mack Brown must choose a quarterback…either sophomore David Ash or junior Case McCoy…and stick with him. At the moment it looks like Ash will begin the season as the top signal caller, but it seems likely that McCoy will also see action. I have never been a fan of utilizing a two QB system, so we’ll see how it all shakes out. All indications are that this is a loaded team at most other positions, but nothing will drag a team down faster than poor play at the game’s most important position.

 

23       Syracuse

Last season…5-7

Key games…9/8 vs. USC, 11/3 at Cincinnati, 11/10 vs. Louisville

Am I hedging my bets?? I suppose. I mentioned previously that the Big East looks to be a wide open race, but would be surprised if three teams make it into the Top 25. And while I believe that Cincinnati & Louisville will wage a head-to-head battle for the title I won’t be totally shocked if another club inserts itself into the mix. The once mighty Orange…alma mater of running backs Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, & Larry Csonka, quarterback Donovan McNabb, and wide receiver Art Monk…have fallen on hard times recently, posting only one winning record in the past decade, and have lost the respect of most fans & pundits. This will be their last season in the Big East before going to the ACC, and I think they’ll want to go out with their heads held high. Coach Doug Marrone is entering his 4th year, and he will have senior QB Ryan Nassib to lead the offense. No one is going to confuse Nassib with John Elway, but I put a lot of value in a veteran presence behind center. Don’t be surprised if the Orange win 8 or 9 games and sneak into the rankings. Remember…you heard it here first.

 

24       Oklahoma St.

Last season…12-1

Key games…9/29 vs. Texas, 11/10 vs. West Virginia, 11/24 at Oklahoma

The Cowboys came within a whisper of playing for the national championship in 2011 and probably should have received the opportunity. That being said, in 2012 they face the daunting task of replacing star QB Brandon Weeden and all-world WR Justin Blackmon…no easy task. The Big 12 may be the best football conference top to bottom outside the SEC, so wins won’t come easy, but I feel comfortable giving this team 8 or 9 victories which should be enough to sneak into the Top 25.

 

25     Boise St.

Last season…12-1

Key games…12/31 at Michigan State, 9/20 vs. BYU

The Broncos will join the Big East next year, and as maligned as that conference is it’ll still be a better situation than this team has been in for awhile. They have achieved double digit wins 5 years in a row but haven’t been in legitimate national title contention because of the weakness of their schedule. That won’t change much this season, and they’ll probably have to win atleast 11 games to be taken seriously. Complicating matters is the need to replace former quarterback Kellen Moore, a 4 year starter who led the team to 50 victories and threw for nearly 15k yards and over 140 touchdowns. However, while a weak schedule won’t get a team much love in regards to playing for a championship it should help with keeping them ranked.