Who Will Win The 2013 BCS National Championship?

Image via Oakley Foxtrot/Flickr
Image via Oakley Foxtrot/Flickr

What do you look for in your National Championship contender?  Is it a veteran QB?  Is it an elite defense?  What is it about a team that leads you to believe they can go undefeated and play for all the marbles?

For me, I look for patterns in things.  While I understand that past performance doesn’t indicate future success, I think there is something to be said for trends.  When it comes to National Champions, one thing I look for is teams who have “big game pedigree”.  More specifically, almost everyone who has won the national championship in the BCS era has recently played in a BCS game within the previous two seasons.  Here’s what I mean:

Year Champion Coach HC Year BCS within
previous 2 years
1998 Tennessee Fullmer 7 yes (1997 and 1996)
1999 Florida St Bowden 24 yes (1998 and 1997)
2000 Oklahoma Stoops 2 no
2001 Miami FL Coker 1 yes (2000)
2002 Ohio St Tressel 2 no
2003 LSU Saban 4 yes (2001)
2004 USC Carroll 4 yes (2003 and 2002)
2005 Texas Brown 8 yes (2004)
2006 Florida Meyer 2 no
2007 LSU Miles 3 yes (2006)
2008 Florida Meyer 4 yes (2006)
2009 Alabama Saban 3 yes (2008)
2010 Auburn Chizik 2 no
2011 Alabama Saban 5 yes (2009)
2012 Alabama Saban 6 yes (2011)

Of the 15 national champions of the BCS era, 11 have played in a BCS game within the previous two seasons of their title run.  In short, they know what it takes to reach that level and their veteran leadership knows what it takes to get back.

Speaking of leadership, notice the coaching experience of the teams who the championship.  It’s interesting to see that of the 4 teams who didn’t have recent BCS success, all had second year coaches.  Let’s explore that for a second.  If you think about it, when a new coach gets hired everyone gets excited.  There’s a new burst of energy.  Every position is up for grabs.  Teams are hungry again.  In certain instances, it seems possible that the new-coach energy can continue through year two and, in the case of four teams, carry them to a national championship.  Let’s see if we can find any more trends in addition to the BCS history and/or the 2nd year coach.

Year Champion Previous Season Bowl Starting QB Age onDec 31 of Season
1998 Tennessee yes (orange) Jan2 20.4
1999 Florida St yes (fiesta) Jan4 27.4
2000 Oklahoma yes (independence) dec31 22.8
2001 Miami FL yes (sugar) Jan2 20.7
2002 Ohio St yes (outback) Jan1 21.5
2003 LSU yes (cotton) Jan1 24.9
2004 USC yes (rose) Jan1 21.8
2005 Texas yes (rose) Jan1 22.6
2006 Florida yes (outback) Jan 2 21.7
2007 LSU yes (sugar) Jan3 22.5
2008 Florida yes (capital one) Jan1 21.4
2009 Alabama yes (sugar) Jan2 21.6
2010 Auburn yes (outback) Jan1 21.6
2011 Alabama yes (capital one) Jan1 21.3
2012 Alabama yes (bcs champ) Jan9 22.3

Every team that has won the National Championship of the BCS era played in a bowl game on December 31st or later in the previous season.  This takes things one step further than just the BCS pedigree.  It indicates that there has been sustained success.

Additionally, notice the QB ages as of that bowl game date.  As you have seen at RotoViz, I believe that quarterback age matters for prospect development.  In this case, it matters for national championship projections too.  13 of 15 champion QBs have been older than 21, including the last 11 winners.  After they won the championship, they were legally able to drink the champagne.

Looking ahead to the 2013 season, there appear to be two recipes for playing for a national championship.  First and foremost, everyone has been from a BCS conference.  From there, two “tracks” exist that seem to be qualifiers for teams to make a title run.

Track #1)  Played in a BCS bowl game within last two seasons > Played in bowl game later than Dec. 31 in the previous season > Had  a starting QB who will be 21 years old on Dec. 31 of the upcoming season.

Let’s meet the teams who pass those criteria for the 2013 college football season and should be on our National Champion watch list:

Alabama

Stanford

Clemson

Louisville

Florida

LSU

Oklahoma State

Notre Dame

Michigan

Wisconsin

Track #2) Second year head coach > Played in bowl game later than Dec. 31 in the previous season > Had  a starting QB who will be 21 years old on Dec. 31 of the upcoming season.

Ohio State–Note that Ohio State didn’t play in a 2012-13 bowl game because of NCAA sanctions.  I was tempted to omit them, except for the fact that they WOULD HAVE played in the BCS championship game.  Plus their coach is Urban Meyer, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Texas A&M

Ole Miss

Pitt

Just as important as who meets those criteria, it’s important to note who DOESN’T pass the test.  Amazingly, 13 of the preseason top 25 are “eliminated” right off the bat.  Sorry about your luck:

Oregon

Georgia

South Carolina

Florida State

Texas

Oklahoma

Nebraska

Boise

TCU

UCLA

Northwestern

USC

Oregon State

Using the system, we’ve narrowed 124 college football teams down to 14 teams who are in prime position to win the National Championship. From here, feel free to apply whatever criteria you want to pick your winner.  I like to look at close wins/losses from last season, turnover margins, and returning defensive talent.  Oh, and I might like to look at Vegas’ odds too, just in case anything catches my interest.

Being the gambling man that I am, I have landed on LSU (12-1) and Oklahoma State (30-1) as two teams that I think can make a run.  Consequently, I’ve put a few dollars on both just to see what happens.  A younger me would have put  money on Ole Miss at 100-1 or whatever it is now, but I backed away from that ledge begrudgingly.

In 2009, this led me to winning some money off a friend when I picked Alabama over the Tebow led Gators to win the SEC and National Championship.  Again in 2010, I won $400 after picking Auburn at 40-1 preseason.  Last year, Florida came within a Jordan Reed-fumble of putting my 50-1 Florida ticket into the SEC title game and possibly the National Championship game.

I’m not saying that you should make these same plays.  Instead, I’m just putting myself on record so that we can revisit this conversation throughout the season.

Who to watch: Louisville v. Florida (Sugar Bowl)

Sugar Bowl

Wednesday, January 2, 8:00pm EST

ESPN

The ACTUAL best quarterback of the 2012 season

Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater, #5, Sophomore, QB

Is it Barkley?  Is it Murray?  Is it Glennon?  Is it Bray?  Is it Geno?  While the debate rages on about who the best QB in the 2013 NFL Draft will be, Teddy Bridgewater (a draft ineligible sophomore) has quietly become… wait for it… the best passer in college football.

Bridewater’s 2012 season graded at a 116 (anything above 95 signifies a potential elite prospect).  This is the highest score of the 2012 season and the 11th highest score I have in my database of 300+ quarterback seasons.  For perspective, this performance checks in just below the final college season for guys named Sam Bradford, Russell Wilson, and RG3.  Further, he checks in JUST AHEAD– I’m about to blaspheme– of guys named Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, and Andrew Luck.

Do I have your attention?

One of two things will happen tonight.  First, Louisville will get roughed up by a Florida Gators team that boasts one of the best three defenses in college football.  Bridgewater will struggle against the increased speed and depth, which will ignite a fire under him to be even better in 2013.  Or, Bridgewater’s star will shine and people across the country will start the Bridgewater for Heisman and #1 pick in the 2013-14 season.  Either way, this guy isn’t going away.

(Side note: I think the Louisville Cardinals are an under-the-radar 2013 National Championship contender.  See what you think).

Florida

Mike Gillislee, #23, Senior, RB

Before the season started I took the Florida Gators at 50-1 to win the National Championship.  Although I came up a Jordan Reed fumble away from having something to root for next  Monday, I did enjoy watching the Gators throughout the season.  The person who became my undisputed man-crush of the 2012 season was Mike Gillislee.

The Gators were going to have an all-world defense from day 1; the trick for them was going to be finding offense.  Early and often, the Gators leaned on Gillislee while the quarterback situation worked itself out.  In the first five games of the season, Gillislee posted an average stat line of 20 carries–109 yards– 1.4 touchdowns, highlighted by 34/146/2 performance in the Gators win over LSU which catapulted them into the national spotlight.  As the season wore on, MG continued to play well, albeit hurt, and was the offensive MVP of the Gators.

For the season, consider that Gillislee faced the 3rd toughest schedule out of more than 50 RBs studied when looking at premier games.  His average stat line in those games:  25-118-1.5

Expect tonight’s game to be a slugfest, with two hungry and capable teams, and two outstanding & hard-hitting defenses.  Gillislee will hear his named called plenty.  Looking ahead to the NFL draft, expect him to be drafted in the middle rounds, but will quickly endear himself to an NFL team with his quiet leadership, tough running, and pass blocking (see 13 second mark of this video vs LSU)

Week 3 recap

Logan Thomas and self doubt

As you have probably seen by now, the Virginia Tech Hokies lost @ Pitt on Saturday by a score of 17-35.  On one hand, this loss was miserable for the Hokies because of how terrible Pitt looked in the first two weeks, losing to both YOUNGSTOWN STATE and Cincinnati.  But, on the other hand, this loss was miserable because of how awful Logan Thomas played.  Many draft ‘experts’ consider Thomas to be one of the five best QB prospects in America.  Having just released my own QB rankings of draft eligible quarterbacks, I couldn’t help but feel a little self doubt with having Logan Thomas ranked so low.  Screw that.  I don’t care how big, athletic, or promising Thomas is, in this game he threw three first half interceptions, played like a total bonehead and was able to lead the Hokies on ONE drive of more than eight plays.  He has a LONG WAY to go as a passer.  Don’t buy the hype (at least not at this point)  Pathetic.

In related news, the Big East showed some life this week.  Pitt, UConn, and Louisville notched solid wins, with Louisville looking especially mean for three quarters.  I guess I’ll have to wait another week to bad mouth the crumbling Big East conference.

So this is a Harvard bar?  I thought there’d be equations and shit on the wall.

Let’s give it up for the smart kids: Stanford, Northwestern, and Cal.

Maybe the biggest story of the day was the Stanford win over USC, knocking off golden boy Matt Barkley and dashing USC’s national championship hopes.  In 2006, the last season pre-Harbaugh, Stanford went 1-11.  The Pac 10 was a high flying conference with an improving national profile on the shoulders of USC, CAL, and Oregon.  The league was perceived to be pass heavy, defense light, and soft.  So what did Jim Harbaugh do?  Look at the direction everyone else was going and do the exact opposite.

First things first, Stanford is an incredible school with elite admission standards.  So?  So my point is that right off the bat, Stanford is playing with a different deck of cards.  They’re going to be limited as to the type of players they can recruit.  Otherworldly athletes who may, or may not, have gotten pushed through life because of their out of classroom abilities aren’t going to cut it in Palo Alto.  So, what does Harbaugh do?  He says “screw the speed game.  Screw finesse and speed and flash.  We are going to be tough.”  He went out and got big, tough, smart players.  Yes, Andrew Luck didn’t hurt, but if you think this is about Andrew Luck then you’re missing the point.  Even WITH Luck they perpetually ran a variation of the goal line offense on EVERY PLAY.  They lined up with two running backs, two or three tight ends, and said “if you’re going to be stupid enough to leave your scrawny, punk cornerbacks on the field, then we’re going to run off-tackle right at them all game every game.  We’re going to outblock you, outtackle you, and out-execute you, and if you can stop it, hats off to you.”

Yea, we’re smarter than you AND we just beat you on the field (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

Contrast this with USC.  The Trojans drops a game like this every year.  Honestly, I think the NFL-like-hype and big city lights go to the heads of these So Cal kids.  If ‘talent’ was all that mattered, few teams in college football would belong on the same field with USC.

There are currently ten teams in BCS conferences who are undefeated and have all three wins against FBS opponents.  Stanford is one of them.  Northwestern is another.  The Cardiac Cats have defeated a Big East team, and SEC team, and an ACC team.  Coach Fitzgerald’s team has now been to four straight bowl games and looks well on their way to a fifth.  At a time when the B1G Ten is taking its lumps and losses, it’s good to see the Northwestern Wildcats doing their part to carry the conference’s banner.

And, finally, the Cal Bears deserve a tip of the cap.  They were 17 point underdogs and went into Columbus for a 9am PST game, and played the Buckeyes right down to the wire.  If not for a missed field goal in the final minutes, the Bears could have pulled a colossal upset.

Speaking of Ohio State

Braxton Miller is not a good QUARTERBACK.  He is a nice football player.  Dare I say, a good halfterback?  Yes, a halfterback.  Part halfback.  Part quarterback.  I have been infinitely amused by Ohio State fans this season who insist on him being a good quarterback.  At first I got annoyed by this, then I took a sort of pity on these Ohio State fans.  The following list represents their idea of a ‘good quarterback’:

  • Terrelle Pryor
  • Troy Smith
  • Craig Krenzel

How are those guys doing in the NFL?  Oh?  Really?  Okay, glad we’re on the same page now.  Braxton Miller is a nice football player in an outstanding scheme.  (see:Denard Robinson)  He should thank his lucky stars that Urban Meyer is his coach and that he has the talent around him that he does.  The sad thing is that I’m not sure who in the B1G Ten has the personnel to slow them down.  The conference is looking more and more like a trainwreck every day.  Is Michigan State going to slow them down?  Maybe, but they’re offense is brutal.  Nebraska?  Meh.  Looks like we’re going to keep hearing the Braxton hype.  Ok, fine.  But, please, don’t call him a “good quarterback.”

Bret Bielema and Gene Chizik are frauds

While we’re on the topic of actual, real-life, outstanding players, let’s talk about two coaches who are getting exposed this season.

Imagine being Gene Chizik.  You lead Iowa State to a resounding 5-19 record in two seasons.  Somehow you career into being named a head coach in the SEC after having failed miserably in the Big12.  You inherit a team that went 5-7 in 2008 with a poor turnover ratio and a bottom feeding offense.  You hire Gus Malzahn, acquire Cam Newton as a JUCO transfer, win three bowls and a national championship and everyone loves you.  Your a genius!  Or are you?  It’s one thing to be a solid 8-5 SEC team.  It’s another thing to hitch your cart to arguably THE BEST offensive mind in college football (Malzahn) and have a once-in-a-generation lightning-in-a-bottle season from Cam Newton.  Now, what is going on?  Newton leaves after 2010 and you slip back to 8-5.  Malzahn leaves after 2011 and your offense putters out of the gate to the tune of 29 points in two games.  In game 3 you get taken to overtime by UL-Monroe.  Now you’re 1-2, have a new offensive scheme (mistake) and are embarking on this schedule: LSU, Arkansas, @ Ole Miss, @ Vandy.  Nobody would be surprised if you are 2-5 in mid-October.  The question is how are you going to pull another rabbit out of your hat?  Or better yet, how much longer can you ride on others’ coattails before people realize what you really are?

“I thought I told you not to share how big of a fraud I am!” (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

Elsewhere, the Downtown Athletic Club has retroactively awarded Russell Wilson the 2011 Heisman trophy.  So far in 2012, sans Wilson, the Badgers have scored 26 points to defeat Northern Iowa by five, 7 points to lose to Oregon State by three, and 16 points to defeat Utah State by two. Yes, Bielema has won 10 games per year in Madison, but in big games–especially ones on the road– the Badgers continue to come up short.  This is a program that grows first round NFL lineman in their back yard.  Yet, this team continues to fatten up at home and run it down everyone’s throat (sorta).  Away from home, they are just 22-17.  If Wisconsin ever wants to truly take their seat at the big boy table, they need to cure their road woes or find a new coach who can.

The Muschamp Connection

Has anyone else noticed how eerily similar Will Muschamp’s current team, the Florida Gators, and Will Muschamp’s old team, the Texas Longhorns are?  Both teams have played for a National Championship in the past five seasons.  However, after sub-par seasons by both in 2010 and 2011 (Florida: 15-11, Texas: 13-12) these teams were waaaay under the radar this season.  In reality, both programs have struggled to find their identity after losing all-time greats Tebow and McCoy after the `09 season.  In 2012, these teams have found their way.  Both teams have elite defenses, anchored by their outstanding defensive lines.  Both teams have sophomore quarterbacks who have struggled to find their way, but look to be on track now.  Both teams have the capability to make a run for the national title. It will be interesting to watch them lean on their defenses and let their young offenses come along.  The true benchmarks will come in the next few weeks.  Florida hosts Kentucky before having a bye week and then hosting LSU.  Texas is off this week then plays @OK State, WVU, then vs Oklahoma at the Red River shootout.  Come October 13, we will have our answer.

In defense of defense.

While watching the Miami RedHawks play Boise State yesterday, it occurred to me how much defensive line play and tackling matter.  The RedHawks repeatedly missed tackles on the edge and got ZERO push with their defensive line.  With Boise, the first defender nearly always made the tackle and the defensive line dictated when on the field.

TAAAACKLEEE!!!

Fastforward to Alabama beating Arkansas 52-0.  For as much as college football has become a score-score-score fest with an ever-increasing love affair with offense, to play championship football still means to dictate with your defensive line and to tackle well.  When I think about Alabama, I continue to be amazed at how their defense keeps them in EVERY GAME.  I got to thinking “how often does their defense allow 10 pts or less?”  So, I went back and looked up the numbers.  Only looking at games played within the confines of the SEC conference since 2007 (Saban’s first year), what follows are the percentage of games in which the defense for these teams held their opponents to 10 or fewer points:

 

  • Alabama (47.7%)  `09 and `11 national champ
  • LSU (27.9%)   `07 national champ… LSU more than doubled their percentage with 2011’s defensive dominance
  • Florida (23.8%)  `08 national champ
  • South Carolina (19.5%)
  • Auburn (14.6%)  `10 national champ
  • Georgia (14.6%)
  • Tennessee (12.2%)
  • Arkansas (7.5%)
  • Mississippi St (7.5%)
  • Vanderbilt (7.5%)
  • Ole Miss (7.5%)
  • Kentucky (2.5%)

Yes, there is more to the picture, like being able to sustain drives, prevent turnovers, and play good special teams.  However, I can’t help but wonder what this means for other teams in the league.  When I think about Arkansas (moreso in the Petrino era) and the new Hugh Freeze era in Oxford, MS, I can’t help but wonder if the fans of these teams falsely put their hopes in high-flying offenses.  After all, it’s the defenses that are winning championships.

New Rule:

I ALMOST understand playing FCS teams in week 1.  However, to be playing FCS teams in week 3 is embarrassing.  Arizona, Clemson, West Virginia, and Oregon, I’m looking at you.  No more than one FCS school per year (ahem, florida state) and you have to play them in week 1 or not at all.

Quarterbacks I love:

Geno Smith (season):  66-75 (88%)  734 yards, 9 TDs, 0 int

Casey Pachall (season): 33-39 (84.6%) 536 yards, 5 TDs, 0 int

Can you hear me now? Good. So you don’t forget who I play for, I shaved it into my head.

Week 2 recap

John L. Smith, perpetual train wreck

At the end of last season Arkansas was a hot team with an emerging star QB and the potential to contend for an SEC and National Title in 2012.  Then, John L. Smith happened.  In the wake of former coach Bobby Petrino’s motor cycle accident and discovery of an extramarital affair, Smith was promoted to head coach as the Razorbacks had few other options in April.  Long time college football fans will remember Smith as the Michigan State head coach from 2003-2006.  His teams were notorious for their late season collapses and after three straight losing seasons, Smith was dismissed in 2006.

So what was my first clue that he IS NOT made to coach in big games and pressure filled environments? Check out his teams’ records in games played after November 1:

2003: 1-4

2004: 1-3

2005: 0-3

2006: 0-3

Total:  2-13

On Saturday night the #8 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks lost AT HOME to Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in overtime  34-31.  In the last two seasons, Arkansas won 21 games compared to only 5 losses, one of the best records in America.  By comparison, ULM has gone 9-15 in the past two seasons.  Before pulling this upset, ULM had the following results against BCS teams in Coach Berry’s two seasons:

2010:  24 pt loss to Arkansas

2010: 49 pt loss to Auburn

2010:  51 pt loss to LSU

2011: 34 pt loss to FSU

2011: 21 pt loss to TCU*

2011: 28 pt loss to Iowa

POOF!  Out of nowhere, after having not been within three touchdowns of a BCS conference team before, they pull the outright upset.  Is Bobby Petrino that amazing of a coach?  Maybe.  Probably.  But, on this night, the story was about a national champion hopeful losing a game, losing their edge, and further proving the incompetence of John L. Smith.

The Florida Gators would like your attention

Some years the national champion is a team that is highly regarded from week 1 and dominates throughout the season en route to their title.  Other years the eventual champion strings together wins, has timely clutch plays, and seems to have a magical way of getting the job done.  (See: 2010 Auburn.  2002 Ohio St.)  I get the sense that this 2012 Florida Gators team just might fall into that category of teams that find a way to win.

Last weekend in College Station the Gators crashed Texas A&M’s SEC-welcome-party.  After falling behind 17-7 in the first half, Florida grinded their way to a 20-17 win, playing excellent defense and making pointed half time adjustments.  They have settled on a quarterback and will be able to rely on their defense to keep them in games.  If they can get past an emerging Tennessee team on Rocky Top this weekend, the Gators have only one true road game between games 4-11.  This is an early story to keep an eye on.

Hear that?

That’s the sound of Texas and Iowa State off to solid (and eerily quiet) 2-0 starts.  For the Longhorns, the early success is expected and yawned about.  However, after going a combined 13-12 in the last two seasons, it’s encouraging to see them win like their supposed to against two respectable mountain west foes.  In eight quarters of football played, Texas has pitched a shutout in six of them.  They’ve turned the ball over only once and have run the ball well.  This week they play @ Ole Miss  (9:15pm ESPN) in what should be a solid opportunity for them to truly demonstrate their progress.

Iowa State on the other hand… (wait, seriously am I writing about Iowa State?)  The Cyclones are off to a 2-0 start with solid wins over Tulsa and Iowa.  Yes, those two programs might not be up to past performance, but they are two teams that I think Iowa State would have been thrilled to beat in recent years.  With those two wins under their belt, they get Western Illinois and Texas Tech at home (sandwiched around a bye week) to close out September, meaning that the Cyclones could enter October at 4-0.  The strong start coupled with two bowl games in the past three seasons and last year’s upset of OK State leads me to believe that Coach Rhoads has this program quietly going in the right direction.

The B1G Ten’s black eye

Penn State loses at Virginia… and boy did they ever LOSE that one

Iowa loses at home to Iowa State

Purdue loses at Notre Dame

Wisconsin loses at Oregon State

Nebraska loses at UCLA

Illinois loses at Arizona State

Ohio State lets Central Florida hang around

Michigan darn near loses to Air Force

Pretty brutal weekend for the B1G Ten, I’d say… But, hey, at least Northwestern beat Vanderbilt!  The conference isn’t doing itself any favors to shake the perception that the B1G Ten is behind the times.

PAC12 up and PAC12 down

HOORAY!  Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon State all pulled off big time wins against strong non-conference foes!  The PAC12 is king!  Call your friends!  Post to your facebook!  The PAC12 is back!!!!

Actually… hold on a second… what’s that?… everything isn’t peachy in the Pacific?

The  Colorado Buffaloes got beat at home by Sacramento State.  (The same Sac. State team that lost by 30 at NEW MEXICO STATE in week 1.  NEW MEXICO STATE!)  How?

The Utah Utes saw their 12 game win streak against Utah State come to an end over the weekend.

The Cal Bears held a measly 20-17 lead over FCS Southern Utah entering the fourth quarter of their game.  Hey, Bears, good luck with that noon EST kickoff next week against Ohio State.

Finally, the Washington Huskies got annihilated by 38 against LSU.  No shame in losing on the bayou.  Lots of shame in losing by more points than North Texas did in week 1.

That void in your college football weekend?

Geno Smith had a bye week.  Don’t worry.  When he plays, you will hear about it.

That’s what caught my eye in week 2!  What about you?

Bandwagons I’m driving in 2012

Part 1 of my 2012 preview focused on three of the most interesting story lines for the 2012 season.  In this article, I’ll dig into the bandwagons I’m driving for the 2012 season.

Georgia Tech will be sneaky good

In eight of the last nine seasons Paul Johnson teams have won 8+ games.  Last year the Ramblin Wreck jumped out to a 6-0 start before losing five games down the stretch, including two games by a field goal.  The good news about 2011 is that their offense was the best of the Paul Johnson era, averaging 34.3 points and 459 yards per game.  In 2012, things should only be better with 4/5 offensive lineman, their quarterback, and their top two running backs all returning.  The defense has been headed in the right direction the last two seasons under DC Al Groh and if year 3 can show another improvement, the Yellow Jackets could contend.  The keys to the season will be Sep-3 @ VT and Nov-10 @ UNC.  Win one of those games and they’ll likely be playing for the ACC crown.  LOVE THE TRIPLE OPTION!

The Florida Gators are underrated

From 2005 to 2009 the Florida Gators had this pretty nifty guy coach their team.  I think he won two national championships with quarterbacks like Chris Leak and…. what’s his name? That guy that prayed a lot… at the helm.  Gosh, whatever happened to that coach?  You know, the one with the two last names?  In any case, whoever he was, he was a good recruiter.  From 2007 to 2010, the Gators recruiting classes were ranked 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 3rd.  Translation: the Gators have talent!  But what else?  Second year coach Will Muschamp was at one time so highly regarded as to be named the heir to the Mack Brown/Texas throne.  Instead, he ended up with the head coaching gig at Florida.  Year 1 was a mess of turnovers and a revolving door of quarterbacks.  Meanwhile, the defense was fifth best in the conference and returns nearly their entire 2-deep.  If newly acquired offensive coordinator (Brent Pease who was at Boise State last year) can develop one of their two excellent QB prospects, the Gators have the upside to win the SEC East and contend for the national title.

The Ohio Bobcats could go 13-0

The Fighting Frank Solichs have won at least 8 games in each of the last three seasons.  Last season they broke through two meaningful ceilings; winning their first bowl game and winning 10 games.  Looking at this year’s squad, they’re led by JR QB Tyler Tettleton whose stature, athleticism, and passing ability will remind you of Russell Wilson.  He graded out very highly in my system.

(pardon the idiotic voiceover, but there are a few nice clips to show his style of play)

On defense they get 10 of their top 12 tacklers back.     Keep a close eye as this team travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State on September 1st.  If they can pull the upset there, the next biggest road block would be their October 27th in Oxford, Ohio against the Miami Redhawks and….

Zac Dysert, Senior QB, Miami University, will become a hot NFL prospect

Dysert, who is just 2,300 yards from becoming Miami’s all-time passing leader, has great potential.  In 2011, he carried the Redhawks in their toughest games, averaging more than 40 pass attempts per game while maintaining a lofty 91.6 rating in my system (a 95 rating would indicate an elite NFL prospect).  Through a historical lens, the small group of players who threw ~40 passes per games in their toughest games and posted a rating in the 90+ range would include Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and, you guessed it, Zac Dysert.  Yea… I went there.  The last few years the Miami offensive line has been a disaster, allowing 47 sacks per season.  The offensive line returns 4/5 starters this year and we should see Dysert’s star continue to rise if they can give him more time to operate.  He will face Ohio State right out of the gate, so it will be interesting to see what he’s got.

Geno Smith will win the Heisman trophy.

My admiration for Geno Smith is well documented by now.  To use a baseball analogy, Geno has five ‘tools’ or factors working for him.  He has great pocket presence.  He completes a lot of passes.  He can throw it deep.  He can run.  And, finally, he has media upside.  Here’s what I mean.  With West Virginia moving the the Big 12, Geno will have a much bigger stage on which to display his talents.  To that same end, the quality of the Big 12 will lend itself to WVU playing in high scoring back-and-forth games.  Unlike the Big East where the Mountaineers can run and hide from teams, the Big 12 will bring out his best every week.  Another bright spot is the fact that Geno is in year two of Dana Holgorsen’s air raid offense, which means that last season was only a sneak preview.  If things can be better than they were in 2011, Geno will be the star of the 2012 season and walk away with the Heisman.

Year 3 of the Derek Dooley era

It’s strange to think that TENNESSEE has won 5, 7, 6, and 5 games in the past four seasons.  Don’t they realize that… they’re TENNESSEE.  So here we are in 2012, which is year three of the Derek Dooley era.  I’m expecting that this is the year that either cements Dooley as the long term head coach of the future for Tennessee, or makes people around Knoxville do some major soul searching.  Here’s why I’ll count on the Vols having success.  1)  Tyler Bray, when healthy, was great in his first two seasons.  As a junior, Bray should continue his ascent toward top NFL QB Prospect.  His chances of staying healthy and productive are dramatically improved considering that the O-Line has 105 career starts and returns intact.  The defense, which ranked 7th in the SEC last season, returns 13/15 top tacklers.  The two games to watch will be when Tennessee hosts Florida (Sep-15) and Alabama (Oct-20).  Look for the Vols to return to relevance, if not prominence, in 2012.

Casey Pachall is really good…. and straight out of a 90s football movie

In 2010 the TCU Horned Frogs won the Rose Bowl behind great play from Andy Dalton.  Dalton, one of the ten best QB prospects in the past 15 years according to my system, was going to be really hard to replace, right?  Not so fast my friend.  In stepped Casey Pachall, who led TCU to an 11-2 season with their two losses coming by a combined 9 points.  Pachall’s 2011 season graded at 107.7 (a score above 95 indicates an elite QB prospect) which places him a fraction above Matt Barkley in my system.  So the guy can pass, no doubt.   But here’s where things get interesting.

Pachall seems like a character straight out of the 1990’s college football movie “The Program.”  Over the offseason, Pachall failed a drug test and admitted to trying ecstasy and cocaine.  He has tattoos covering his body.  His hair hangs out the back of his helmet.  He seems like something straight off a Hollywood set.  Because of his transgressions, his image has been taken off everything associated with TCU’s athletic department advertising.  Here’s the thing, though, if Pachall can keep his demons under wraps, and use this embarrassment as motivation to succeed, he literally could be the best QB in the country and a new star of the Big 12 conference.  Either way, he will be an interesting story to follow.

(pardon the first 30 seconds.  He lights up Boise for 473 yards after the ugly start)

Oklahoma State is an elite program

Honestly, I don’t care that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon graduated.  Yes, they were quite good, but it’s time for us to collectively realize that OK State deserves a seat at the big boy table.  After going 23-3 in the last two seasons, do you really think they’re just going to snooze through the season?  They return 17 of their top 20 tacklers and, strangely, should be carried by their defense in the early going.  The schedule sets up nicely for true freshman QB Wes Lunt to get acclimated before Big 12 play starts on Sep-29.  To make matters better, the run game should be strong behind 1200 yard- 24 TD man Joseph Randle.  Ultimately, as long as Mike Gundy is at the helm, I believe the OK State program will be a fixture in the national top 20.  Don’t be surprised if another 10 win season is in the offering.

Texas Tech is going to get somebody.  

Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas all play in Lubbock this year.  At least one of them will be upset.  You’ve been warned.

Shhhh.  Be quiet.  Everybody is sleeping (on Nebraska).

If I asked you about the most significant newsworthy events in the B1G 10 over the last year, you might say:  Russell Wilson stole the show in Madison.  Urban Meyer was hired by Ohio State.  Penn State went up in smoke.  Michigan is back under Brady Hoke.  Michigan State won the two of the most exciting games of the 2011 college football season.  And, honestly, you would have every right to bring up these things because they really DID matter.  So if those are all the reasons why nobody is talking about Nebraska, here are the reasons why they should be… For starters, they’re Nebraska, you know, one of the greatest programs of all time.  They won nine games in their first year in a tough conference and have won at least nine in all four seasons under Pelini.  Everyone of note returns on offense.  The defense is senior laden and should  fare better after seeing so many schemes for the first time last season.  Their special teams are annually among the best in the country.  Oh, and they should be ultra-motivated by the fact that two of their last three games were blowout losses.  The schedule is tough, but doable and if things break I could see them going 11-1 in the regular season.

Pac-12 cannibalism will prevent either frontrunner from playing in the National Championship.

USC, of the Pac-12 South, starts the season ranked #1.  Oregon, of the Pac-12 North, starts the season ranked #5.  Got it? K, good.

Oregon has lost SIX games in three years under Chip Kelly.  FOUR of those loses came when their opponent had significant time to prepare and/or the Ducks had significant time to acquire rust– Season Openers of 2009 and 2011 and Bowl Games in 2009 and 2010.  I interpret this to mean that it is damn near impossible to beat Oregon between games 2 and 13, a feat that USC would have to accomplish in 2012 if they want to play for the national championship.  Ain’t gonna happen, folks!  The Ducks have a veteran offensive line and several outstanding playmakers on offense highlights by the black mamba, DeAnthony Thomas.  The defense should be at least as good as last year and the special teams will be fantastic.  Seeing as they are not going to lose to Arkansas St in the season opener, the Ducks should be 8-0 when the play at the Coliseum zon Nov-3.

The Trojans return everyone on offense from a squad that scored 36 points per game last season.  Oh and they add 1200 yard rusher Silas Redd from Penn State.  The defense returns 14 of their top 18 tacklers.  This team went 10-2 last year, won @ Oregon and were one of the hottest teams in America come bowl season.  One problem, NCAA sanctions kept them out of a bowl game.  So in 2012 they are hungry to get back to the postseason, ready to dominate, and are capable of doing so.  So what’s the problem?  For starters, USC has a tradition of laying eggs in Pac 12 road games.  2011 they lost at Arizona State.  2010 they were crushed in Corvallis.  2009 they were upset in Seattle.  You get the idea.  This season they go on the road at Utah, at Washington, and UCLA.

(highlights from 2011 USC @ Oregon, one of the best games of the year)

So here’s how this is going to play out.  The Ducks and Trojans are going to split the regular season matchup and the Pac-12 championship game, where they will almost assuredly represent their divisions.  If I HAD to pick one team to win both potential matchups, I’d actually go with the Ducks.  I’ll guess they offset each other and both have at least one loss, which means they’ll get passed over for the BCS Championship game by…

The Oklahoma Sooners will go undefeated and play in the National Championship.

Imagine being Landy Jones.  You get thrown to the wolves in 2009 after Sam Bradford’s injury.  In 2010, your first full year as a starter, you come within 3 passing yards of breaking Bradford’s passing record.  In 2011, you play phenomenally for 9 games, lose your all-time-NCAA-leading WR Ryan Broyles to injury,  lose two out of three games to close the regular season, get doubted, and then passed for preseason 1st team honors.  If I’m Landy Jones, I have a colossal chip on my shoulder.  So, besides an ultra motivated Landy Jones, what else do the Sooners have?  All five of their offensive lineman returning.  The top three running backs from 2011 returning.  A defense that is perennially loaded with NFL talent.  And most importantly, a BCS grade pedigree, having played in four BCS games in the past six seasons.  Outside the annual Red River shootout, the schedule is fantastic.  The November games @ WVU and @ TCU could be landmines, but both those teams will probably be running on fumes by then.  Put me down for a 12-0 season for the Sooners and a trip to the BCS National Championship game.

The Georgia Bulldogs will win the National Championship.

The Bulldogs are an interesting team.  In 2011 they opened with back to back losses and fell off everyone’s radar.  After that, they won 10 straight games and by the time everyone realized “this Georgia team might be pretty good” they lost the SEC championship by a wide margin and then lost their bowl game.  Two straight losses to end a season?  Sounds like motivation to me.

The obvious story is Junior Quarterback Aaron Murray who is in his third year as a starter.  Last year, the offense sped things up and led the SEC in plays run, running more than 120 more plays than the next highest team.  In year two of this fast-paced system, things should be better for everyone.  Murray’s 2011 season grades similarly to Matt Stafford’s final season at Georgia, which is a scary thought considering that he should only be BETTER this year.

The defense is another good indicator.  Under DC Todd Grantham, the defense has made two strong improvements between 2009 & 2010 and then 2010 & 2011.  Can they make another jump in 2012?  They return 12/13 top tacklers from a defense that ranked in the top 10 in America last year.

(an AWESOME defensive highlight real, for a change, and a killer soundtrack)

Add it all together and you’ve got an outstanding QB leading a talented, fast-paced offense who will build leads, and a frighteningly good defense who will be more than capable of creating havoc for opposing offenses.  The cherry on top?  The won’t have to play LSU or Alabama until the SEC title game.

Book it:  the 2012-13 College Football National Champion will be the Georgia Bulldogs.

Check back throughout the season for more CFT articles.  Enjoy!

Storylines of 2012

It’s been 234 days since the Alabama Crimson Tide smothered LSU in the National Championship game.  234 days of wondering, debating, and hope that THIS year will be the year and here we sit on day 1 of the 2012 season.  Before things kick off tonight, it’s time to look at the story lines that will define the season.

The new conference alignments

Changing conferences isn’t easy.  In 2004, three teams made the move from the Big East to the ACC:  Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech.  After going 11-2 in 2003, highlighted by an Orange Bowl victory, Miami had high expectations of playing Alpha Dog in the ACC.  Eight seasons in the history books and Miami has never won an ACC title.  Heck, they haven’t even played in an ACC Championship game.  Boston College has been a middle-of-the-pack program.  Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has acclimated beautifully, winning four ACC crowns in eight seasons.

Last year saw Nebraska move from the Big 12 North to the B1G 10.  In 2010, the Huskers won their division and seemed poise to become a B1G Ten bully.  However, year 1 of their new conference saw them finish with the fifth best record in conference play.

Similarly, the Utah Utes were coming of three straight 10+ win seasons in the Mountain West before last season’s move to the Pac-12.  They too were slow to acclimate, finishing in sixth place in the conference.

So, what does it all mean?  As the SEC welcomes Missouri and Texas A&M, I don’t think anyone has high expectations for either of those programs.  For Missouri, a team that is accustomed to win 8+ games every year, I’m interested to see if they can even be bowl eligible this year.  For a team that went 1-5 against Texas and Oklahoma over the past five seasons, what are they going to do when EVERY WEEK it feels like Texas or Oklahoma on the other side?  For Texas A&M, who I think is one of the mentally weakest programs in college football, how are they going to respond in year one with a new coach, new system, new conference, and a VERY real possibility of opening the season 2-5?

Of greater interest to me is the remade Big 12.  As I wrote about yesterday, the Big 12 Conference looks to be on the rise.

Based on my 2011 passer grades, Geno Smith (WVU) and Casey Pachall (TCU) are the two best returning quarterbacks in America (more to come on those grades).  For two programs unaccustomed to facing Big 12 offensive firepower every week, these defenses should be in trouble.  That’s good news for us, though, as Geno and Casey will be pushed every week to put points on the board.  This conference will be fun fun fun, but not as much fun as….

The Pac 12 is going to get REALLY fun this year.

Everyone knows about Oregon and USC.

For a generation intrigued by shiny objects, devoid of an attention span, and with an affinity for ‘swag,’  the Oregon Ducks have consistently put a product on the field that caters to all three needs.

Shiny objects? The Ducks have a multi-colored field, uniforms from outer-space, and playmakers named LaMichael, Jeremiah, or DeAnthony.

Short attention span?  Don’t worry, their high powered, point-a-minute offense snaps the ball every 18 seconds.  You don’t even have time to check the guide button without missing a play.

2009 game at Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks.

In short, the Oregon Ducks are the kings of college football cool.

Oh yea, and this USC program has some things going for it.  Star quarterback? Check.  Controversial coach?  Check.  2nd biggest media market?  Check.  Ed Orgeron?  Check.  Tranfer star running back?  Check.  You’re smart people.  You’ve seen the buzz.  Now, let’s talk about the fun.

Remove:  Paul Wulff.  Insert:  Mike Leach.  (Washington St)

You’re probably wondering who Paul Wulff even is.  It’s okay.  He went 9-40 in four seasons as Wazzu’s head coach.  You may know the name Mike Leach.  He’s the former Texas Tech head coach, offensive mastermind, lover of pirates, bestselling author, shamer of Adam James by locking him in a closet, purveyor of Michael Crabtree’s fame, and all-around champion of life.  He takes his quirkiness to Pullman, WA. where things should get very interesting with stud WR Marquess Wilson. (By the way, remember when those guys with the Washington State Cougars flags were at EVERY episode of College Gameday for multiple seasons?)

Remove:  Mike Stoops.  Insert:  Rich Rodriguez.  (University of Arizona)

The Mike Stoops thing was okay for a while.  The program was consistently in the middle of the Pac-12 and pulled the occasional upset. But they were never anything special.  (Obligatory Nick-Foles-is-awesome comment)  In steps Rich Rodriguez, the man who ran Michigan’s program into the ground, but did an incredible job at West Virginia.  I honestly think the stage was too big for him at Michigan with too much scrutiny for the system he wanted to implement and the amount of screaming he did at his players.  But, at Arizona he gets back to an offense-happy league.  He’s out of the spotlight.  He inherits a lot of useful pieces.  Most importantly, he brings BCS upside to Tuscon and will certainly keep things interesting.

Besides these two big additions, they add Todd Graham, who had had great success at Rice and  Tulsa, before making a one year pit stop at Pitt.  His teams have always put points on the board.  They also get Jim More Jr. who was the former Falcons head coach before accepting the UCLA job this past offseason.  Overall, you should expect a lot of points, a lot of personality, and a lot of fun out of the Pac 12 over the next few years.

The emerging coaches

They say it takes two or three seasons to really turn a program around.  For the following coaches, there are question marks that need to be answered:

Brian Kelly, year 3, Notre Dame:  At CMU you won 10 games in year 3.  At Cincinnati you won 12 games in year 3.  Show me that you can win double digits in year 3 at Notre Dame and that you have cleansed that program of its Charlie Weis-era softness.

Will Muschamp, year 2, Florida:  Show me why people thought so highly as to make you coach in waiting at Texas.  Show me that you can take that LOADED cupboard that Urban Meyer left for you and do something great with it.

Brady Hoke, year 2, Michigan:  You were the perfect hire;  Michigan roots and a strong coaching record, but enough of a question mark to have a chip on your shoulder.  Show me that Michigan really is back and that your team can hang with the Alabamas of the world.  Show me that you’re going to have the staying power and that the Hoke-Meyer era is going to be my generation’s Bo-Woody rivalry.

Dana Holgorsen, year 2, West Virginia:  Show me how great a coach you are and how great Geno Smith can be.  I’ve already proclaimed Geno to be THE signature player of the 2012 season.  Prove me right.

Derek Dooley, year 3, Tennessee:  Prove to me that you’re going to have staying power and success at Tennessee.  Show me where I can buy some of those awesome orange pants.

Jimbo Fisher, year 3, Florida State:  Show me that you can contend for a national championship with a full, healthy season from EJ Manuel.  Show me that the top of the ACC really can produce a National Champion for the first time since 2001.  Prove to me that I was just a year early with my prediction of your return to dominance.

Lane Kiffin, year 3, USC:  Show me that you can be a great front runner like Pete Carroll.  Show me that this team is as good as everyone says it is.

Skip Holtz, year 3, South Florida:  Show me that South Florida can be mentally and physically tough and that the programs history of mental softness is behind it after last year’s 1-6 finish to the regular season.

David Shaw, year 2, Stanford:  Prove it to me that you are more than just a rider of Luck’s (and Harbaugh’s) coattails.  Prove to me that the offensive  scheme can work without Luck under center.

Don Treadwell, year 2, Miami University:  Show me how good Zac Dysert can be.  Show me that my alma mater can be an annual contender.

Al Golden, year 2, The U:  Moreso than swagger, prove to me that The U still has some game.  Your program has been 0-8 on ACC titles since the conference jump.  Show me something, man!

Tommy Tuberville, year 3, Texas Tech:  Show me that Texas Tech can stay relevant without the offensive gimmicks.  Show me that, with your team returning in tact, that you can be a contender in the Big 12.

Live from Lubbock, Texas!

Stay tuned for my ‘2012 Bandwagons’ article!