Saturday, September 02, 2006

Last-minute predictions

So for Christmas THIS year, I wanna Auburn beating Wazzu on national TV, and a Georgia Tech upsetting Notre Dame, and a Tennessee vouching for the SEC with a win over Cal …

(Don’t lie. This feels like Christmas today and you know it.)

My long overdue feelings on the rest of the SEC and the national picture, in order of projected finish…

SEC East

6) Vandy

Boy, that Jay Cutler business was fun, wasn’t it? Still breaks my heart the ‘Dores could have gone bowling if they’d beaten friggin’ Middle Tennessee St. at home in midseason. But that’s why they’re Vandy. Oh, and this year? With Kentucky and Miss. St. improving, it’s back to the bottom of the league.

5) Kentucky

Really, the only news worth reporting here is that Jared Lorenzen is now the Giants’ backup, meaning we’re one cheap shot away from the Round Mound of Touchdown taking on the NFL. Oh, and Rafael Little will probably join J-Load in the League when he graduates … if Little played for Florida, he’d be a Heisman candidate, and the Gators might win the SEC

4) South Carolina

The trendy pick to win the whole division, mostly (far as I can tell) because there are abundant reasons to knock the Vols, Dawgs, and Gators. But there’s more reasons to knock the ‘Cocks, and not just because the punter/placekicker was their MVP Thursday night in Starkville. Why exactly should they be any better than last year, when the defense—the quiet strength of the 2005 team—lost 8 starters? Any offensive improvement should be offset by the defensive regression, meaning the other USC will end up exactly where they were last year. Although “exactly where they were last year” includes one big upset a la the Florida win last season … Auburn had best tread very carefully Sept. 28.

3) Georgia

The ‘Dawgs won’t be much worse than last season. Richt is, unfortunately for certain teams that play his every single season, arguably the nation’s most underrated coach (he’s the Bill Cowher of college football … one of these years, he’s going to get his big ring) and there’s won’t be much slippage. But with UGA stuck in one of those ugly “Do we play the hardworking-senior-who-bided-his-time-but-can’t-throw or the hotshot-freshman-who-hasn’t-earned-it-and-might-implode-at-any-time?” situations at QB, and those never, ever end prettily. Plus the Vols and Gators got better in the offseason.

2) Tennessee

I don’t think Cutcliffe is going to make that big a difference. What will make that big a difference is the sting of 5-6 and being expected to finish fourth in their division. Fulmer must be distantly related to Tubby—both their teams do much better when regarded lightly than when discussed in the national title picture. There’s enough talent here that hasn’t yet been arrested to challenge the Gators for the top of the division.

1) Florida

Yeah, I’m on the Meyer Kool-Aid. Everyone bitches and bitches about Leak not being the right fit for the system, but Leak was never the problem last season; he averaged more than six yards a carry. The problems were an offensive line that never wrapped its collective head around Meyer’s schemes and a nonexistent running game. Whether they find a tailback or not, the line should have its head screwed on straight, and Leak and the Gator wideouts should be able to give an outstanding D (20 bucks says Charlie Strong is the SEC’s next African-American head coach) more than enough points to work with.

SEC West

6) Mississippi St.

Croom will get there. Anyone who watched his defense terrorize the Gamecocks Thursday night ought to know that. If his team played in any other league in the country he’d probably corral a winning record this year. But this is the SEC, and as the offense is still a year away at minimum and everyone else in their division is getting better, too, it’s the SEC West cellar for 2006 again.

5) Ole Miss

I dunno, State might pip them for fifth. I’ll believe Orgeron can coach anything besides the defensive line when they actually look like beating anyone decent. But Schaeffer’s a good player and who am I to question the dozens of recruiting spreadsheets that say Orgeron pulled in the kind of class that can make a difference this season? A clear fifth at best, in either case.

4) Arkansas

Trust me: USC is going to smoke them tonight. I’m baffled as to why so many pundits (looking at you, Corso) have placed so much faith in an offensive coordinator who was coaching high school at this time last year and was hired solely in order to bring in a recruit. Sure, they should be able to run the ball, but McFadden's banged up ("banged" as in "the sound the gun made when it shot his foot") and what else will they be able to do? They simply weren’t that good last year, Nutt’s entire reputation is based on handful of big upsets that were years ago now (Auburn, Texas), and the road back to contention is longer than people are making it out to be.

3) Alabama

It’s not going to be a repeat of 2005, but it’s not going to be the collapse Auburn fans are hoping for, either. Croyle and Ryans are gone and Prothro may never come back, but Darby and Gilberry and some solid offensive linemen are still around and Shula’s a better coach than the guys helming the teams behind the Tide. Especially late in the season, when John Parker Wilson isn’t as distracted by seeing himself make cameos on “Two-a-Days” and knows what he’s doing, the Tide may be able to sneak up on someone (are you listening, Tigers?)

2) LSU

The second-best team in the conference, and it’s not even close. Russell’s so much better than people give him credit for, there’s still loads of depth on both lines, and the secondary might be the nation’s best. The problems? Well, Auburn standing in their way, for starters. But the schedule is killer: not just at Auburn, but at Tennessee and at Florida and at Arkansas, the Tigers’ long-time bogey team? Just too tough to win the division.

1) Auburn

Gone over this already.

The rest of the nation…

Big Ten: Ohio St. is almost the 2006 equivalent of that Oregon St. team that Sports Illustrated named their preseason No. 1 a few years ago and went like 7-5. Sure, Ohio St. has some amazing skill position guys, but they lost their entire defense … you can’t win a national title winning every game 38-35. In fact, you can’t even win your league when there’s a team as dangerous as Iowa lurking about. The Hawkeyes are another one of these teams that seem to make more noise when no one’s listening, and they have the conference’s best QB and best head coach. They should beat the Buckeyes at home and take the league title. In fact, they might take more than that …

Pac-10: Quietly the second-best conference in the country, but it’s still all about USC vs. Cal. USC is better than people are giving them credit for. And with the quarterback position solidified, Tedford should finally be able to gameplan the Golden Bears past the Trojans this season. Cal wins the Pac-10.

Big 12: Blecch. What it does it say when this is a two-team conference, and one of those teams (Oklahoma) is starting a wide receiver at quarterback? Plenty of pundits have gibbered on about how the Sooners are loaded everywhere besides QB, Paul Thompson has experience, Stoops won’t let them go 8-4, etc., but didn’t they say the same thing last season? Texas Tech will be their usual questionable 9-3 self, A&M will choke left and right again, and the entire North division is a wasteland. That leaves Texas. Freshman quarterbacks or not, I don’t see any reason Texas will be any weaker at QB than Oklahoma, and the Longhorns are even more loaded elsewhere than the Sooners. They’ll beat Oklahoma and they’ll win the Big 12.

Big East: West Virginia is very, very good. Louisville is even better. But I’ll believe either if teams can pull off an undefeated season when they do it. There’s plenty of teams on both schedules—South Florida, Connecticut, Pitt, even at Miss. St. for the Mountaineers—that could spring an upset, and after the Cardinals’ epic choke job against South Florida last year I have a hard seeing them dodge every bullet. Petrino’s bunch will beat Miami. And they’ll beat the Mountaineers. But they won’t make the BSC title game.

ACC: Remember when this was supposed to become the nation’s best conference? Instead we’re about to watch Florida St. hobble their way to another 8-5 “championship” season. No other conference in the country has more beat-anyone-one-week-lose-to-anyone-the-next teams: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State … could the league be any more schizophrenic? They should invite Michigan St. to join the league just on general principle.

Notre Dame: You know, I’ve already written about this team, so I’m just going to cut-and-paste: “Ohio St. Notre Dame is almost the 2006 equivalent of that Oregon St. team that Sports Illustrated named their preseason No. 1 a few years ago and went like 7-5. Sure, Ohio St. Notre Dame has some amazing skill position guys, but … you can’t win a national title winning every game 38-35.” Georgia Tech is going to shut down the hype machine tonight.

Mid-majors: The first annual BCS charity case should be Utah. Fresno St. is year-in-year-out the mid-majors’ best program, but the Bulldogs live for beating BCS teams and nothing else, and they’ll get “nothing else” in the WAC yet again.

And the winner is…

Have you seen Iowa’s schedule? There’s two games on it. One is the aforementioned home date with an Ohio St. defense Drew Tate and company should shred. The other is their only tough road game of note—at Michigan, only the country’s most overrated home venue and a team Ferentz has all but owned (OK, they lost in OT to the Wolverines last year, but that just means the Hawkeyes are due). They’ll finish the regular season undefeated.

But no one else will—the teams with the talent to manage it are in the SEC, which is simply too deep to let it happen. So who’ll join Iowa? Texas. The Longhorns’ inexperience at quarterback will cost them against Ohio St., but as McCoy (or Snead) comes along and the running game and defense dominate their well-water schedule, they won’t lose another game. Thanks to Texas’ having absorbed their loss earlier than any of what I expect to be a gaggle of one-loss teams (Louisville, Auburn, the Cal-USC winner), the Longhorns will be ranked second in the polls and will play—and beat—Iowa in the BSC title game. Once again, the national title will be disputed, once again the BCS will be compared to various diseases, and once again despite it all college football won’t get any closer to a playoff.

Weekly picks

I've been trying to figure out for a while how I would do if I was a college football gambler. So each week, as an experiment, I'm going to look at the spread and make three fake bets. I'll tally up the totals week-by-week and see if I'd make any money. This week's picks:

USC (-8) over Arkansas: USC has so much more talent all over the field it's unbelievable to me people are expecting the Hogs to even hang close in this game. The Trojans roll.

Utah (+3) over UCLA: UCLA lost a ton of people, Utah didn't, and Utah's Meyer-esque schemes work even better against teams that haven't seen it before (i.e. UCLA). Utah should win going away.

Bowling Green (+11) over Wisconsin: This game is essentially a home game for Bowling Green--it's being held in Cleveland. Bowling Green put up a great fight last season against a much better Wisky team than this year's version, and now they're at home? 11 points should be plenty.

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