As Labor Day weekend crawls upon us at a snail’s pace, many people are still holding on to that last sunset and final days of summer. Others are the planning type, and are buying clothes and supplies for the upcoming school year. There are two types of people; The ones who love the summer, and the ones who love the end of summer. The end of summer means many different things to people. To me it signifies the beginning of a new season. Not fall, but football.
On August 30th, 34 teams will kick off the 2012-2013 NCAA football season. The following three days, 61 additional teams will finish the week undefeated, while 61 more will be regrouping in the film room trying to figure out why they came up short. For a few schools the season will be a few days old and they may already have had their national championship hopes diminished. Teams like Michigan, Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, Michigan State, and Boise State face one of their toughest tests right from the first snap. Others schedule less formidable teams with the hopes of working out any kinks and ensuring a 0 in the loss column before conference play. What we can be sure of is there will be surprises, upsets, and legends born.
Looking back on last year, I almost had it right. I even had the correct two teams in the BCS title game. Although LSU came up short they had one of the best regular seasons in the history of college football. But all credit goes to Alabama and the adjustments that the defense made. They truly were deserving of the national championship. Now on to this year…
I have certain rules I follow when I try and figure how an entire season may play out. Without knowing any key injuries, suspensions etc this is about as unpredictable a reach as one can try and make. The facts are there will be things that happen out of the ordinary that I just cannot control. Unlike most of the “experts” who I am telling you if you taped them on a weekly basis you would see what frauds they are, I stand behind everything I say win or lose.
I absolutely love the pregame show on ESPN every Saturday but never have four guys got things wrong so much and held their jobs. That show is truly more for entertainment then information. If you look at it through those glasses, it is really an enjoyable show. A cardinal rule I have is I read no other predictions. In fact I was shocked after I finished mine to see how many different teams’ people had winning the BCS this year. After doing around 200 hours of due diligence I can see why. This year there are a few teams that have more then favorable schedules that could result in multiple undefeated seasons. That means that there is a higher probability that the best teams may not in fact play for the title. I know the immediate reaction is “how can you say a team with one or even two losses is better then a team who has an unblemished record?” That is a fair and legitimate question. My thoughts are this: you may have a team like Alabama who plays at LSU and at Arkansas; two very difficult teams to play on the road. Due to scheduling LSU and Alabama must meet before any playoff. There must be a loser. Now look at it this way. A team like Clemson goes undefeated in the ACC. If you gave Alabama Clemson’s schedule they would most likely go undefeated as well and if Clemson had to play LSU it would be they with the loss. That’s why the new playoff system in 2014 will help this problem. You can’t control the schedule. So when trying to predict who will be standing at the end you have to go over everyone’s schedules where there could be a loss. After studying this I believe that the national champion can be found by the winner of five or six key games during the year. The beauty of the sport is if you take the title out of the equation there is still something to play for almost every week. Conference games, rivalries, homecoming all are such a huge part of the college football season. A lot of teams can go 1-10 as long as that win comes against their rival. Bragging rights are everything.
Circle the date November 3rd. That day could have huge implications on the BCS champion. Oregon will visit USC and Alabama will visit LSU. If you have an undefeated team from another conference at years end that day two teams will loose their chance to play in the game. This game is so wonderful because a game in August is as important as a game in December. Lets get on to my top teams and see where I see the season going.
I could sit here and write about 10,20, or 50 teams. I know pretty much every roster of the top 30 teams. That is great knowledge if you are doing a full season preview. But this is about finding the winner in JULY. After breaking everything down there are only six teams that have a chance to win the championship. As soon as I said this that opened the door to a team on the fringe that could surprise everyone. And there are quite a few of them. There is the 2nd tier where chances are one team will get six games in and everyone will say here is the dark horse. You may even have two of these teams start out 7-0 but in the end they will fall short. A team like Wisconsin has even a larger advantage due to Ohio State being ineligible for a Bowl or even to play in the conference championship this year. The rest of the top 20 and that 2nd tier would include the following teams: Michigan, Michigan State, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas and Georgia. All top notch programs that “could’ be around in December. But this isn’t about taking the field. This is about eliminating the pretenders from the contenders. For me, they all fell a little short. Now on to the top six and in my opinion the only teams that have a legitimate chance at winning the BCS championship.
6) Florida State — I understand why many respected people have the Seminoles playing for the title but I just cannot back a team when the largest factor they will is their schedule. It’s true that Florida State’s two toughest games this year (Florida and Clemson) are at home. They also boast one of the best defenses in all the land. They are tied for the most preseason All ACC 1st team selections. The defense is led by All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins. Jenkins has NFL scouts salivating, as he is one of the very best bookends in the country. Safety Lamarcus Joyner joins Jenkins from the defensive side of the ball as 1st team all ACC . Most impressive is fifth year senior Greg Reid edged out Clemson’s Sammy Watkins as a return man on the all ACC team which was rounded out by the selection of kicker Dustin Hopkins. Throw in quarterback EJ Manuel ( 6”5 238 jr) who is on everyone’s Heisman Watch list and you have a team that could be a legitimate BCS contender.
Why they wont: Although their defense is as quick sideline to sideline as anyone in the game the offensive line is a weakness and that will impact the running game. There will be a game in which they need to move the sticks or get the extra yard where this will let them down. This is an educated guess because with that schedule they could run the table. I expect them to be the favorite in every game they play so this prediction is against many. But I stand by it.
5) Oregon — Talk about a team loaded with talent? The Ducks feature a player on almost every major watch list in the country. Carson York (Outland, nations best interior lineman), John Boyett and Dion Jordan (Nagurski, nations top defensive player), Kenjon Barner (Doak Walker, nations top running back) and De’Anthony Thomas (Walter Camp, national player of the year award ). This is the most talented team that coach Chip Kelly has since he moved to the spread offense in 2005. There aren’t many reasons why this team will not make the BCS final, but I dug deep and found what I think will be the difference. Although they have two very young talented quarterbacks there is no clear number one yet. Sophomore Bryan Bennett and Red shirt Freshman Marcus Mariota are literally in a dead heat when camp opens on August 6th. The question is will the loser of the battle transfer? Winning the job in camp will distract the eventual winner from focusing on getting ready for the season. The second weakness and is the schedule. They most likely have to play USC twice. In the end the difference between winning the Pac 12 and playing for the BCS championship sits at the QB position. But put this team in the Big East, Big Ten ?Undefeated and playing on mid January. It was a very tough decision between the two teams.
4) Alabama— Most teams would be thrilled to be in any top 5 before the season starts. But could this actually be a disappointment? Not when you consider what the Crimson Tide lost to the NFL and also their upcoming schedule this year. With trips scheduled to Arkansas, Tennessee, and Baton Rouge coming through perfect I think is too much to ask. Factor in the LSU game will be their third road game in four weeks with LSU coming off a bye. Bama returns seven starters on offense including quarterback A.J. McCarron who played the most complete game of his career in the BCS game last year. Eddie Lacy returns after post season surgery for turf toe but I believe he is s significant step down from the two backs (Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson) who preceded him. Remember this name T.J Yeldon, A five-star recruit at running back who I think will get more and more playing time as the year moves on. The Tide is not extremely skilled or deep at the receiver position. Projected starters Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood are adequate but they do not possess the big time playmaking skills as Marquis Maze and Julio Jones did in recent years. On defense they return four starters from a defense that was as hard as a brick wall to run through. Keep in mind they only had four retuning starters last year and they ended up the best defense in the country. They will need special years from linebackers Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosely to remain at the top of the SEC. Where they continue to be weak is special teams. Adam Griffith will handle Field goals but you don’t have to think back too far to remember the game against LSU where the kicking game was a circus. I’ll put my name on this. Not one loss but two for Alabama this year. But they still are one of the most talented teams in the country.
3) LSU— Again a very difficult decision to have them at #3.This team is stacked. The key to LSU winning a national championship relies in my opinion on one thing. Can quarterback Zach Mettenberger stretch the field enough to keep defenses honest so they will not have eight men in the box on most downs? LSU has not one or two but SIX running backs that could start anywhere else in the country. But it doesn’t matter if you have them, Jim Brown, or Barry Sanders in the backfield. If you do not have the vertical threat it makes the running game obsolete. I do believe Mettenberger will have success. It will not take much to improve on Jordan Jefferson and Jarett Lee’s performances last year but I believe he will have success beyond that.The other thing I noticed is the schedule. Not a team like Oregon this year to open up with. In fact they wont even be tested until October 6th when the play Florida . Defensively they don’t have much to complain about. What I will be watching is how the replacements (Tahj Jones, Luke Muncie) for the two departed linebackers (Ryan Baker, Stefon Francois) perform. The defense will be led by All-American and Heisman & Doak Walker candidate Tyrann Mathieu. He is also one of the most exciting return men in the collegiate game. At the end of the year the Tigers will get stiff test from Alabama and they finish up against Arkansas which will be an absolute war. This team has probably the best argument to be #1, but in the end I am saying Mettenberger will make maybe one or two mistakes that could hurt. That said there is still a chance this team runs the table.
2) Oklahoma— I am going to begin the discussion about the Sooners with this disclaimer. I do not believe Oklahoma is the second best team in the country. But this is not about the best teams; this is about predicting who will play for the BCS National Championship. If I go purely X and O’s if Oklahoma played the other five teams in my six here, they may only be favored in one game. If any of the other five teams played their schedule they as well could run the table. I do not want that to diminish the fact that Oklahoma is a very good football team. They have a Heisman Trophy Candidate in Landry Jones at Quarterback, an excellent group of wide receivers led by Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills. Jones is an outstanding college quarterback. His numbers did tail off toward the end of 2011 which is a concern for some. But Jones has thrown for over 9,000 yards the past two seasons and has accumulated 93 touchdowns already during his career. I don’t see that slowing down this year as every starting lineman from 2011 returns. As good as that line was I didn’t see the results in the running game which for me is a concern. The defense again may not look as pretty on the stat sheet but keep in mind at the rate Oklahoma scores and they will be on the field more then most. This is where everything takes a left turn with me on the Sooners.The lack of a running game to move the sticks and eat some clock to give that defense a breather is where I think they fall short of a #1 Ranking. Oklahoma never ducks competition their schedule is full of some potentially great match ups. October 24th they will entertain the Irish as well as games against West Virginia and TCU in November. You can also throw the records out the window when Texas comes calling in one of the best rivalries in college football. Texas will not be a push over. Although not ranked they will be much improved and will shock a lot of people. I will stand alone on this and say I do expect Oklahoma to run the table and play for the BCS championship January 7th in Miami. A trip I plan on making in person.
1) USC— When I started this process to get down to the last team standing more factors go into it then one would think. With USC it came down to this: they were reduced with 10 fewer scholarships per year the past few seasons. Doesn’t seem like much until a few key people go down with an injury. I had to go over the roster and see the overall depth. Was a bit concerning but other then the Quarterback position if there is a major injury I think the team could still play at the same high level. The entire football community was shocked when Matt Barkley walked away from millions of dollars to stay and play for a championship with his teammates. Barkley is coming off an outstanding year where he threw for 3528 Yards and a 69% completion rate; all of this without a Pac 12 playoff game and a very young offensive line. When I separate the offense and defense I get the best starting 11 on both sides of the ball in the entire country. Barkley is joined by two outstanding backs in senior Curtis McNeal ( 5’7 190 ) and junior Silas Redd ( 5’10 209 ). The duo rushed for 2250 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. In my opinion this is the best backfield in the country. Wide outs Robert Woods and Marquise Lee are will be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses to stop. Woods could very well be the best possession receiver in college and Lee would be a number one receiver on almost any other team. The Trojans have three unknown but very good backup receivers in George Farmer, De’von Flounroy and Victor Blackwell. The offensive line is a year older and this unit will put up a lot of points. What separates them from Oklahoma is the ability to control the clock if necessary and give the defense a rest. On defense Monte Kiffin’s Tampa Two scheme is stacked with strength, size and speed. You wont see a better trio of linebackers then Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson anywhere in the game. The defensive backfield can stick and cover and has two potential all Americans in safety TJ Macdonald and cornerback Nickell Robey. The schedule has a few potential land mines. Several people close to the game feel October 4th is a potential trap when the Trojans visit Utah. Utah Is not an easy place to play but throw in it’s a Thursday night and the game will be televised nationally and you have all of the potential for an upset. They also play road games at Stanford and UCLA as well as facing Notre Dame at home in the final regular season game. The most difficult test will be November 3rd against Oregon. The ducks as you read earlier are a very solid football team. This is one of the two most important games on the entire schedule of D-1 football in 2012-13.( The other being Alabama at LSU ) It is safe to say this game may decide the eventual BCS champion. If and when USC gets through the Ducks they may get the bonus of facing them all over again on the PAC 12 Championship Game. The difference between the Pac 12 and all of the other conferences is the Championship game Is played on the home field of the regular season winner. So as difficult as it is to beat them once, the Trojans will most likely barring any upsets have to beat Oregon twice to reach Miami in January. All that being said and with all of the hurdles, potential injuries and upsets that will definitely happen I have the USC Trojans making and winning the BCS Championship this year.
NCAA D-1 football has 124 teams. Sixty-eight of them have a coach in his first, second, or third year at his school. That shows the game has become a win now and at all cost sport. The game has its problems and scandals like most, but it is still the greatest sport we have. We will never have it the way generations did before. Gone are the fixtures on the sidelines that are as recognizable as the logo on the helmets. I doubt there will ever be another Woddy Hayes, Eddie Robinson, or Bo Schembechler. When I was growing up, most years we would have to wait until New Years Day to see a team like UCLA, Washington or Colorado. Now if you have the desire and the time you could watch almost every game played in real time. Someone asked me a while ago which do I like better ; The time growing up when we did not have access to all of games and off-field stories or the ability to see it all ? I remember Sunday morning with my father watching the Penn State Story which was a one hour telecast condensing the Penn state game from the day before. There was no ESPN, Fox Sports, there was no fantasy league or internet which left us craving for more information and more action. There was a certain mystery to the team from the Midwest or Southeast that traveled up North to play our teams. I don’t know which way is better. What I do know is I would be rather be on a field playing, coaching or watching then anywhere else. I love the game and I hope you continue reading my thoughts, rants, and predictions as this season moves along. I can tell you there are some very knowledgeable people covering this sport. I think that is great to have as many as possible. I just want to be one step better, one step more intuitive, and gain the respect of the people reading so they walk away feeling they learned something they weren’t aware of before they picked up the piece. I hope everyone has a great season and the team you are rooting for does as well!
Next week I will talk about my top 15 players this coming year.