Let the games begin! For the NCAA, those are the sweetest 4 words that can be uttered. After a tumultuous off-season off scandals, bribes, chicanery, payoffs, controversy and general lunacy, the on-field action will finally take centre stage. So no talk here about the problems that Ohio State, Miami, North Carolina, Auburn, Oregon and LSU are going through. (Well just a little because it will affect the on-field product)
Now I won’t preview every single Division 1-A side. It would take me 6 months for that and by then, the bowl season would be in full effect. And no I won’t make bowl projections either. At least not the smaller to mid-sized bowls. I will project a top 25 with a National Champion. Which I’ll be wrong about because my predictions are never right. But its fun to do so here it goes.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide: First things first. The last 5 National Champions have come from the SEC, so it makes sense to pick the best team from the SEC to win the National Championship. Why Alabama? First, they may have the best coach in the nation in Nick Saban. A master recruiter, motivator, and strategist, Saban always gets the best from his players. Secondly they have the best defence in the nation and defence wins championships. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower are studs who will terrorize offences. Thirdly they do a great job replacing the skill set. RB Mark Ingram and WR Julio Jones are both in the NFL now but Junior RB Trent Richardson could be All-American this year and WRs Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are solid players. Finally the schedule. Their toughest game is against LSU but its in Tuscaloosa. Roll Tide to the National Title.
2. Oklahoma Sooners: Just how mad are the Sooners? Well let’s see here. With all the talk about Texas A&M going to the SEC, long time rivals Nebraska moving to the Big 10 and hated Texas getting their own TV network, the Sooners feel left out. But they have the best team in the depleted Big 12 and they should run the table to the National Title game. QB Landry Jones still has top WR Ryan Broyles to throw to. While LB Corey Nelson is already developing into one of the nation’s best defenders, and he’s only a sophomore. Coach Bob Stoops knows how to win in the regular season and I can see the Sooners in New Orleans in January.
3. LSU Tigers: This pick is tricky. First the off-field issues surrounding QB Jordan Jefferson and two others who were involved in this bar fight recently. How this will affect the Bayou Bengals long-term will go a long way in determining what type of season they will have. Don’t get me wrong this is a good football team. WR Russell Shepherd is a scary deep threat and the defence is still ferocious even though CB Patrick Peterson is applying his trade in the NFL now. But can coach Les Miles aka The Mad Hatter squeeze an SEC title from all this controversy? We won’t know until the winter.
4. Stanford Cardinal: It begins and ends with Andrew Luck. The consensus first overall pick in next year’s NFL draft, and Heisman Trophy favourite, is the main reason why Stanford is highly thought of. Luck is a tremendous talent who has all the skills that a quarterback needs. They also have a huge break in the schedule has high-powered Oregon will visit Stanford Stadium this year, thus avoiding a trip to Eugene for Stanford. Luck carries them to a Pac 10 title and a Rose Bowl berth.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers: New conference, new rivals, same defence. At least the people in Lincoln hope so. The blackshirts are back and they still possess a punch. Granted they don’t have Ndamukong Suh anymore but this defence is still a beast. DT Jared Crick is being compared to Suh and if he lives up to that comparison, he’ll be the best DT in the country. The big question is can QB Taylor Martinez recover from nagging toe and ankle injuries? If so then expect Nebraska to represent the Big 10 in Pasadena in their first season in the Big 10.
6. Florida State Seminoles: It’s been a while since expectations were this high in Tallahassee. But with coach Jimbo Fisher changing the culture, the Seminoles are ready to make a run at the BCS. They’re not quite ready for a National Title, but should win the ACC. EJ Manuel replaces the departed Christian Ponder at quarterback and must continue the offence with the same efficiency as Ponder did last season. Manuel is helped with a three-headed running back attack consisting of Chris Thompson, Jermaine Thomas, and Ty Jones. With a solid defence and an excellent running game the Seminoles should play in the Orange Bowl this year.
7. Boise State Broncos: The little school that could. They never seem to go away this Boise State side. Sure they get ignored for having a weak schedule or they don’t play in a BCS power conference, (they should be in the Big 12 but I digress) but the Broncos are getting more respect. An opening week encounter against Georgia in Atlanta should quell the soft schedule critics, unless they lose of course. But once again Boise State will do enough to be in the National Championship picture, the flaw in the ointment that they are every year.
8. Oregon Ducks: Team Nike were oh so close to winning the National Championship last year. A heartbreaking loss to Auburn in the National Championship games broke the hearts of the people in the Pacific Northwest. But the Ducks are still going to be tough. QB Darron Thomas returns for his Junior season and his showing improvement every season. While RB LaMichael James is a Heisman candidate and a potential first round NFL draft pick. However a young offensive line, a defence with question marks, scandal surrounding James and an agent, plus a schedule that has the Ducks traveling to Stanford, Washington and a neutral site opener against LSU is too much to overcome for these Ducks to win that elusive National title.
9. Texas A&M Aggies: Its beginning to look like College Station is the new home of college football in The Lone Star State. With Texas Tech going through turmoil and Texas falling back, the Aggies are the team in football mad Texas. Coach Mike Sherman has done a splendid job turning around this once moribund program and made them winners. QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray and WR Jeff Fuller lead the offensive attack for the Aggies. If the defence can stop the opposition, the Aggies could surprise in the Big 12.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies: One thing you can count on from coach Frank Beamer’s squad. They will have terrific special teams. But the Hokies need more than that. They do have special athletes on offence. QB Logan Thomas is being compared to Cam Newton while RB David Wilson is an All-American track star. Together these two will lead a Hokies attack that has plenty of potential but little experience. However the defence wasn’t very good last year and must improve significantly in order for the Hokies to challenge for the ACC title. Not this year.
11. Oklahoma State Cowboys: There is plenty of excitement in Stillwater these days. No Barry Sanders isn’t coming back. Neither is Jimmy Johnson to coach the team. But the Cowboys think they have a team that can challenge state-rival Oklahoma in the Big 12. QB Brandon Weeden was all the Big 12 first team QB and scouts are starting to take notice. WR Justin Blackmon is a deep threat and could be playing on Sundays in 2012. However the defence is young and vulnerable. They have to play above expectations in order for the Cowboys to be successful. With the Sooners coming to Stillwater on December 3, this season could be very memorable for Oklahoma State.
12. Georgia Bulldogs: This is a make or break year for head coach Mark Richt. While his players love him, the alumni and media have been calling for Richt’s dismissal after a couple of mediocre seasons. The Dawgs have yet to replace Matthew Stafford at QB but they think they have a stud RB in freshman Isaiah Crowell. Georgia has a huge test right off the bat when they face Boise State at the Georgia Dome. A win can go a long way in restoring the lore of Georgia football. I say this team will be the surprise team in the SEC.
13. Wisconsin Badgers: This team is old-school. Run first power offence. A classic Big 10 team. The offence is led by the duo of Montee Ball and James White. The defence however will have to improve this year if the Badgers want to go to Pasadena. With Nebraska now in the Big 10 that will be easier said than done. Plus with road trips to East Lansing and Columbus on the itinerary the Badgers will be hard pressed to win the conference.
14. Arkansas Razorbacks: Another team that came oh so close last season. A heartbreaking loss to Alabama followed by a blowout loss to Auburn ended the Hogs National Championship dreams. With Ryan Mallet in the NFL, Arkansas will be hard pressed to do the same this year in the SEC. Can Tyler Wilson replace Mallet at QB? Can Dennis Johnson adjust to being an every down back? Can WR Greg Childs return to form following a knee injury which cut short his 2010 season? Can the Hogs overcome road games in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge? Too many questions for the Hogs to win the SEC.
15. TCU Horned Frogs: What a season it was for TCU last year. With now raised expectations, the Horned Frogs look to duplicate last year when they went undefeated and knocked off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. It won’t be easy. QB Andy Dalton is gone to the NFL and the Frogs will have to find a replacement fast. RB Ed Wesley and WR Josh Boyce are still productive weapons on offence but I don’t see TCU in a BCS bowl this season.
16. South Carolina Gamecocks: No surprise that head coach Steve Spurrier is confident in his team’s chances. Confidence is something Spurrier has never lacked. But will it translate on the field? Expectations are high in Columbia but the SEC is a minefield and many strange things happen. Road trips to Athens and Fayetteville will be tough tests for the Gamecocks. RB Marcus Lattimore is a star even though he’s just a sophomore but uncertainty at quarterback will set South Carolina back this season.
17. Florida Gators: Now that Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow are gone the Gators can focus on football for a change. New coach Will Muschamp is a defensive guru and should improve the Gators D. The Gators had a very disappointing season last year and it may take them a couple of years before they contend for a National Title. But Muschamp is a good hire and they will be an improved team this year. Sharrif Floyd is a rising star at DT and will fit into Muschamp’s system perfectly. A tough schedule with trips to Auburn, Baton Rouge and Columbia will hurt the win-loss record, but should provide valuable experience to the young Gators.
18. Michigan State Spartans: Its been a while since the Spartans won 11 games in a season…until last year. Yes Michigan State won 11 games last year and they thought they had arrived as a National power. However they were destroyed 49-7 by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl and now questions are being asked. Was last year a fluke? QB Kirk Cousins will lead the offence again while RB Edwin Baker had an outstanding year in 2010. The schedule is tough. Trips to South Bend, Columbus and Lincoln will definitely test the Spartans’ mettle.
19. Auburn Tigers: The defending National Champions. But no more Cam Newton. Yes he’s gone but the Tigers are still on the prowl. But the scandal involving Newton and his father will have an effect on Auburn. Add to that road games at Fayetteville, Baton Rouge, and Athens will also pose a problem for Auburn. They won’t repeat but they will be tough.
20. Ohio State Buckeyes: Scandal. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I hear about Ohio State. Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressell are both gone. But the dark cloud that hangs over Columbus remains. Yes this is still a good football team. John Simon is a force on the defensive front and centre Michael Brewster is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. But the Buckeyes and their scandals will struggle to remain in the Top 25 throughout the season.
21. West Virginia Mountaineers: Pass, pass and when all else fails pass again. That will be the theme for West Virginia this year. QB Geno Smith will be calling WR Tavon Austin’s number on many occasions. Austin is a potential All-American this season. If Smith can adjust to the spread offence, the Mountaineers should win the very weak Big East.
22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: While I don’t see them as National Championship threats, the Irish are headed in the right direction. Coach Brian Kelly has breathed life into the program and has the players believing. They ended a 10 year losing streak against USC last season and the Irish hope to build off that. The defence is the strength of the team led by enormous NT Louis Nix III and LB Manti Te’o. The Irish could sneak into a BCS bowl game this year. But the offence may not be good enough to reach that lofty goal.
23. Arizona State Sun Devils: A surprise team last year that lost some real heartbreakers, the Sun Devils are expected to contend for the Pac 12 title. Led by RB Cameron Marshall, the offence should be a well-oiled machine. This is an experienced team with 17 starters returning so they won’t be an easy team to beat. But treks to Eugene and Pasadena could make the road to the Rose Bowl treacherous.
24. Penn State Nittany Lions: Joe Paterno keeps on ticking. The 84-year-old continues to man the sidelines at State College and shows no signs of slowing down. And once again he will field a solid team. JoePa loves linebackers and he has another good one in Michael Mauti. Despite battling injuries, Mauti still recorded 67 tackles and should lead the defence this year. Penn State probably doesn’t have enough offence to win the Big 10, but they will be formidable opposition for anyone who crosses their path.
25. Utah Utes: Newcomers to the Pac 12 this season, Utah hopes that playing in a BCS conference will give them more respect and credibility to pollsters and voters. However it also poses challenges. Treks to USC , Tucson, plus a cross-country flight to Pittsburgh will be difficult for the Utes. QB Jordan Wynn will lead the offence while DT Star Lotulelei and LB Matt Martinez will lead an improved Utes defence. They will adjust and they do avoid Stanford and Oregon on the schedule. But the Utes won’t win the Pac 12 this season and will fight to stay ranked all year.
Alabama vs. Oklahoma is my pick for the National Championship. The Tide will roll to the title!