Category Archives: College Football

College Football Bowl Predictions

By BJ

I know there are 35 bowl games and that bowl season effectively started a couple of weeks ago, but unlike ESPN, who has a broadcasting stake in the bowl season, we all know it really begins today with two BCS bowls and the first games with both teams ranked.

Ranked teams went 7-0 in their bowl games against unranked foes while Notre Dame and Tulsa, who I ranked 20 and 24, lost by a combined seven points, both in fourth-quarter comebacks.

Below are my picks for the top 10 bowls from the 2011-12 season (along with BCS rankings and comments).

Monday, January 2

No. 22 Penn State over No. 19 Houston – The Cougars have a shot to beat a weak ranked team and finish the season with 13 wins, but this is your typical choice to go with the major conference team. But Penn State is 0-3 against ranked teams this season. This is major record-holder Case Keenum‘s swan song.

No. 9 South Carolina over No. 20 Nebraska – The Gamecocks, who are the fifth-best team in the SEC, are better than the best team in the Big Ten. The Huskers are the fifth-best team in the Big Ten.

No. 16 Georgia over No. 17 Michigan State – QB Kirk Cousins leaves the Spartans with his first 3,000 yard season. He’s 0-3 in bowl games, including a 2008 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. It’ll be deja vu.

Ohio State over Florida – The only game on this list that’s not a battle of ranked opponents. Both finished with disappointing 6-6 seasons, both will be losing key players to the four-year maximum rule. For OSU: Dan Herron. For Florida: John Brantley, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

No. 5 Oregon over No. 10 Wisconsin – Arguably the biggest mismatch of the five BCS bowls, the Ducks should score points at a faster pace than the Badgers can keep up. LaMichael James and Montee Ball, who has 2,000 total yards and 38 total touchdowns, will likely forgo their senior season and enter the NFL draft. This is also the last game for Russell Wilson, who led the nation in QB rating with 31 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions.

No. 3 Oklahoma State over No. 4 Stanford – This will likely be the last game for Justin Blackmon, who is expected to enter the NFL draft early. Brandon Weeden, who threw for 1,158 more yards with a higher completion percentage than the likely-No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, will get the opportunity to cement his career as a winner against him.

Tuesday, January 3

No. 13 Michigan over No. 11 Virginia Tech

Wednesday, January 4

No. 15 Clemson over No. 23 West Virginia

Friday, January 6

No. 6 Arkansas over No. 8 Kansas State

Monday, January 9

No. 2 Alabama over No. 1 LSU – A rematch of November’s tilt in a game the Tide should’ve easily won based on missed field goals alone (4), this one is for all the marbles. The best game that no one wants to see again, the special teams might do in the Tide again in a game where every point matters. Tide kickers are just 2-for-11 from 40 yards or more this season. I can easily see the Tigers winning comfortably this time around, but I’ll go based on what I saw in their previous meeting.

This will be junior Trent Richardson‘s last game, who has had a tremendous 2011campaign. The last time an SEC running back ran for 1,583 yards was Trent’s teammate in 2009, Mark Ingram. The QB tandem of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson will both be graduating after the National Championship Game. Expect only Jefferson to play in it.

My College Football Final Rankings

By BJ

It’s been too long. I could’ve knocked up a chick, and she could’ve given birth in the time since the last posting. Birth, I tell you. Personally, I haven’t had a contribution for so many years that I can’t even find my last post, but my hope is to make this a regularly occasionally-updated blog again.

Here is the final BCS standings (and as with every week and every poll), I’d like to make some redactions. First, an exception. USC’s violations are pardoned in my books; it’s eligible for my rankings.

I try to be as objective as possible, and so my rankings aren’t based on who I think can beat all of the teams seeded lower than it. Although for the most part, I would go that route. Rather, they’re rewarded based on conference championships, conference/division records, head-to-head matchups and strength of schedule (record against Top 25 BCS teams), in order. And of course, no undefeateds will be lower than a 1-loss team, but that would’ve only applied here had Houston won its last game. Yes, I would’ve placed them No. 2 in the country. Don’t you love my system?

For the record, my system’s not completely flawed. When picking Boise State and Houston upsets this season, I went 2-1 based on my selection process. Where were my sports bets then, damnshit?

For tiebreakers, I didn’t want to go beyond researching opponents of opponents when there was no other way to link the two teams together, but I tried my best to be fair and consistent. Style points counted!

Biggest winner: I guess you could say USC for not even being in the BCS rankings, but we’ll just acknowledge them as a legitimate Top 10 team that should’ve gave Oregon a rematch in the Pac-12 title game for the rights to play in the Rose Bowl against a stupid opponent. Tulsa moved up the most spots (9) after receiving just two votes in the last AP Poll, but the big winner is TCU, who moved up eight spots and into the Top 10 after quietly completing a solid two-loss season.

Biggest loser: (23) West Virginia was the only team in all four major polls to not be in my Top 25 after a rather unimpressive season and not even nabbing their conference outright. But the biggest loser, or most overrated, is Virginia Tech, who’s No. 11 in the BCS but not ranked in mine. Its only Top 25 opponent was Clemson, and it lost to it twice. And badly…both times.

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN said at the beginning of the season his top three teams were Alabama, Oklahoma and Florida State. 2, 14 and unranked, respectively. As expected, SEC teams fared better due to the strength of schedule while the Big Ten didn’t do too hot.

My rankings for the 2011 college football regular season (along with BCS rankings, records and comments):

  1. (1) LSU (13-0) *SEC Champion
  2. (2) Alabama (11-1) – Out of all the 1-loss teams, it lost to the best team.
  3. (5) Oregon (11-2) *Pac-12 Champion – Higher than the ‘Hogs based on lower margin of defeat against LSU.
  4. (6) Arkansas (10-2) – Only losses against LSU and Alabama.
  5. (4) Stanford (11-1) – Beat the Cowboys based on margin of victory over Arizona.
  6. (3) Oklahoma State (11-1) *Big 12 Champion
  7. (8) Kansas State (10-2)
  8. (AP 5) USC (10-2) – Defeat against unranked Arizona State crucial.
  9. (12) Baylor (9-3)
  10. (18) TCU (10-2) *Mountain West Champion – Lost to Baylor in season opener.
  11. (14) Oklahoma (9-3) – Below TCU due to larger margin of defeat against Baylor.
  12. (7) Boise State (11-1) – Weak strength of schedule hurts the Broncos.
  13. (16) Georgia (10-3) – Lost to Boise in home opener.
  14. (9) South Carolina (10-2) – Worse division record than the Bulldogs.
  15. (10) Wisconsin (11-2) *Big Ten Champion – Had Ohio State been ranked, it still wouldn’t have been enough to move the Badgers up.
  16. (17) Michigan State (10-3) – It sits behind the Badgers after the conference title game loss to them.
  17. (15) Clemson (10-3) *ACC Champion – Two of three losses are to unranked teams.
  18. (25) Auburn (7-5) – Six of 12 games were against Top 16 teams.
  19. (13) Michigan (10-2) – Auburn’s victory at South Carolina, and the Wolverines’ loss to unranked Iowa were the difference-makers.
  20. (AP 26) Notre Dame (8-4) – Three of four losses against Top 13 teams.
  21. (20) Nebraska (9-3) – Below the Fighting Irish based on lower margin of victory against Michigan State.
  22. (21) Southern Miss (11-2) *Conference-USA Champion- Both losses to unranked teams hurt it.
  23. (19) Houston (12-1) – Conference title game upset ruins perfect season.
  24. (AP 33) Tulsa (8-4) – Four losses to Top 19 teams.
  25. (22) Penn State (9-3) – It’s a coin flip with Virginia Tech (11).

On deck: Bowl game predictions

In the hole: My player awards

Sills, 13, Commits to USC

By Chris Le

Strike while the iron is hot.  Or do you strike when it’s young?

USC coach Lane Kiffin asks: What’s the difference?

As Kiffin wrapped up the top-rated recruiting class of 2010, he got a head start on 2015.  Yes, 2015.  That’s five years—half a decade!—from now.

On Thursday, 13-year-old David Sills was offered and accepted to play under Kiffin and the USC Trojans.  It is the earliest commitment in school history.

The precocious quarterback has remarkably refined mechanics (see video), a supposedly keen ability to read the field (he studies NFL film like a mini-me Peyton Manning) and—already standing 6’0—is physically advanced.

But a lot can happen in five years.  We could have a new (and more productive) president.  Another Summer Olympics will come and go.  One, maybe two more additions to the Fast and Furious franchise.  Hell, Kiffin, with his nomadism and past failures, might not even be at USC (no guarantee the new coach reaffirms the offer).  And Sills, by then with bass in his voice and descended testicles, could fade to oblivion, crumbling under the pressure of his early commitment to football’s premiere college program.  Recruiting, more so even than drafting or playing the stock market, is a fool’s science.  It’s hard enough evaluating an 18-year-old—and there have been innumerable busts—but who can honestly project the potential of a child?  Sills, for all we know, could go down in flames in a needlessly public manner.

Steve Clarkson, famed quarterbacks coach-for-the-stars, will try to prevent just that.  Clarkson, who introduced Kiffin to Sills, will put Sills through the same regimen as past mentees like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart, Jimmy Clausen and current USC QB Matt Barkley.

Early recruitment isn’t revolutionary.  It’s not even exclusive to football.  Class of 2007 basketball phenom Taylor King committed to UCLA and coach Ben Howland before playing a single high school game.  Fast-forward four years and by signing day, King switched his commitment from UCLA to Duke.  King subsequently transferred to Villanova after one year—fickle isn’t he?

But that’s what kids are: capricious.  They have the attention span of a hot dog.  So Sills’ decision, I think, is far from solid and his recruitment isn’t done by a longshot.

Let’s not forget: Sills only has a verbal offer and commitment.  Which, like a wedding proposal, means nothing until you walk down the aisle and then sign the marriage license—just ask Richard Jefferson.  Colleges cannot send an official offer until a prospect’s junior season.  Or in Sills’ case, four years from now.

As a USC fan, I’m disappointed.  With the whole Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight ordeal, the NCAA is already checking under our fingernails.  Controversy is already ruling the campus.  Why bring more?  Lane Kiffin is like a high school girl—he can’t avoid drama to save his life.

And it’s just dirty.  It’s robbery in a sense.  Robbery of a kid’s childhood and innocence in exchange for 15 minutes of bright lights and an uncertain future.

But early recruitment is a trend in waiting, as courtship becomes more competitive—being the first to offer scholarship goes a long way—and coaches try to one-up each other.  As ludicrous as it is, we better get used to it.

CFB: Week 7

crash1a

By Chris Le

Power Rankings

1. Alabama – Looked mediocre for the first time.  But when mediocre results in beating a hardheaded South Carolina team by 14 points, with Mark Ingram running for 246 yards – uh, I think you’re pretty good.
2. Florida – Four fumbles.  The Gators were on their knees, pleading to lose against Arkansas.  But even great teams get lucky, and perhaps the Arkansas game will be the catalyst that engenders the Florida team we all forecasted.
3. USC – Number seven in the BCS rankings?  Eleven in the computers?!  Add that to the never-ending list of why the BCS sucks, and as the only reason computers suck.  With the ever precocious Matt Barkley nonchalantly throwing downfield, the Trojans are quickly erasing any  whiff of an Achilles heel.  Point to the Washington game — a game in which the Trojans played without Barkley, mind you — all you want.   I say: watch them today.  See how big and strong and fast and motivated they are at the present.  They’ll pass any eyeball test.  But unfortunately, last I checked, computers don’t have eyes.
4. Texas – Winning the Red River Rivalry is always cold-lemonade-on-a-hot-day satisfying.  But a victory over a Sam Bradford-less Sooners isn’t appreciable; this win won’t look better as the weeks go by.  And it’s hard to ignore the Longhorns’ infertile offense.  Good thing the defense likes to go Jack the Ripper on opponents, strangling them like they’re unsuspecting prostitutes.
5. Iowa – This year’s team of destiny.  No team is more opportunistic or more adept at making lemonade when football life gives them lemons (that’s two lemonade references in a 60-word span; must be a record).  No matter the circumstances, the Hawkeyes drag themselves through mud and on to victory.  And at the very least, their pluck is admirable.  But they’re a Big Ten team.  How good can they really be?  That’s not an intended knock on the conference; it’s an honest question.
6. Miami – The offensive line is porous and other positions frequently underperform.  But there’s talent on this Miami team.  It just has to be tapped.  Enter: Jacory Harris.  The kid is the truth.  He’s a type who can galvanize, with his words and his plays, an entire team.
7. Cincinnati – The 34-17 win over South Florida convinced me.  The Bearcats are legit, and so is Tony Pike.  But legitimacy doesn’t earn them an automatic BCS bowl birth, or even a win next week against Louisville, which may or may not be difficult with Pike on the sidelines.  It won’t.  Louisville is horrible.  But Pike better be 100 percent for West Virginia next month.
8. Boise State – The BCS has a love/hate relationship with the Men of the Blue Turf.  The computers underrate the Broncos when they’re deserving (ranked eighth in 2006 after a 12-0 season, and they go on to beat the Oklahoma Sooners in the memorable Fiesta Bowl).  But, currently, the computers have a hard-on for the Broncos and their shiny (but shallow) undefeated record.  The convoluted formula has the Broncos as the fourth-best team in the country.  But love is a fickle and cold-hearted bitch, and I see the computers backstabbing the Broncos at season’s end.
9. Oregon – Last week, I said it was possible to drop without losing.  Well, this week’s lesson is: you can rise without playing.  That’ll happen with a bye and three higher-ranked teams (Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Nebraska) losing.
10. TCU – The Horned Frogs probably feel a lot like the Little Engine That Could.  I think I canI think I can – go undefeated.  Well, I think they won’t.  First of all, their mascot is a Horned Frog.  How menacing can that be?  I’m more intimidated that it’s a Christian school.  Secondly, they approach the steepest point of the mountain this week in the form of BYU.  The Frogs are getting licked.

Heisman Watch

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida – Holds on to the pole position, but only by his finger tips, and it’s slipping.  The Gators’ lack of a downfield threat is hurting both Tebow and his teams’ style points.
2. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame – Clausen was one play away from being the favorite.  Had Clausen come back (i.e. had his receiver not slip on the last play) and beaten the Trojans, it would’ve been the signature win of the season — the kind of win that seals the Heisman.
3. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama –  With Greg McElroy impersonating Terrelle Pryor, going full-retard and tossing two interceptions, Ingram almost single handedly beat South Carolina.  Ingram has piled up 558 rushing yards the last three games.
4. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati – He would’ve jumped to two or three, but his injury against South Florida might hurt his stock as much as his wrist.
5. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas – McCoy has now thrown seven interceptions and at least one in every game.  But he wins.  And winning not only gets the chicks, but it’s also the most important part of the formula.
6. Jacory Harris, QB, Miami – Harris has that “it”-factor.  Other than Tebow, Harris is the only player who imposes his will.  He’ll do anything — interceptions be damned — to lift his team.

CFB: Week 6

By Chris Le

After six weeks of collegiate football, it seems as if no one wants to win the Heisman.  Expected excellence has given way to inconsistency, and for the preseason favorites, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford, injuries have been the highest hurdle.

All of it has made for a schizophrenic season, with its fluctuations mirroring the volatile stock market.  Up one day, down the next.  And this capriciousness begins with the players.  Colt McCoy, perhaps feeling the weight of so many preseason selections, has committed nearly as many interceptions, this year, (6 in five games) as he did in all of last (8).  And former front-runner Jahvid Best had all the pundits raving after scoring five touchdowns one week, but then goose egged it the next two in losing efforts, all but eliminating his candidacy.

The yearly race for the Heisman has turned into a battle of attrition.  But it shouldn’t be this way.  In the average fan’s ideal situation, someone steps up, differentiating themselves with plays, and takes the trophy by the legs.  It shouldn’t have to be handed to the least of five evils.  But with the way this season is shaping up, it’ll be awarded to the last man standing, and not the man on top.  Whether it’s a bum shoulder or the heaviness of hype, no one has strung together consecutive vote-worthy showings.

And, coincidentally, this year’s Heisman race, an individual contest, has been reflective of the overall landscape of team football.  Top squads, much like the top players, are faltering every week, and are plummeting in both the Heisman and AP polls.  Houston quarterback, Case Keenum, was once a dark horse contender, but a single bad performance compounded by a loss, and now he, like his Houston team, will never reach a top five ranking.  And with the aforementioned Jahvid Best, as he goes, so do the Cal Bears, and they’re both currently headed toward the undesirable recesses of the underachieving, which isn’t too far from the harsh habitat of the overrated.

But it’s not that these players are ill-equipped or unworthy of the Heisman.  They’ve just been victims of this football season’s overriding theme — defense — which explains the mercurial performances of so many leading contenders.  That’s why I find this erratic offensive play so fitting.

The Heisman race historically has been the providence of quarterbacks and halfbacks — football’s offensive stars.  But in the college game, this year, the headlines have been stolen by the collective defenses.  Scoring 50 points is so yesterday’s news.  Holding teams under 15 is what’s en vogue.

To better understand just gander at the polls.  The alpha programs — Florida, Alabama, Texas, Virginia Tech, USC — and even this year’s cinderella, TCU, are all in the top ten because of defense.  You could go as far as to say those teams are ranked where they are in spite of their quarterbacks.  Colt McCoy, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Barkley, all of whom are mistake prone this year, have all been put in favorable situations, if not outright saved, by their defenses.  Even my top Heisman candidate, Tim Tebow, has been overshadowed by his defense.

It just hasn’t been a Heisman-y type of year.  And in keeping with season’s theme, it’d be nice to see a defensive player hoist the trophy.  But that won’t happen.

Heisman Watch

1.  Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2.  Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
3.  Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
4.  Jacoby Harris, QB, Miami
5.  Tony Pike, QB, Cincinatti

Power Rankings

1.  Alabama – The Crimson Tide’s recipe for success: One part bulldozing rushing game, two parts immovable defense, and a pinch of competent quarterbacking.  Mmm.  Tastes like a BCS championship.
2.  Florida – Beat LSU in Baton Rouge, at night, with a conservative Tim Tebow.  That sounds like  a hallmark victory.  And yet questions remain, particularly of their receivers.  Can the Gators compete in a shoot-out if needed?  But at any rate, the Tebow legend continues to burgeon forth (despite an average yet intangible-filled performance) and Florida’s path toward the SEC championship is now as smooth as the greens of Augusta.
3.  Virginia Tech – The Hokies defense is legit perennially, and we’ve all heard the praises of “Beamer Ball” with that ball-sniffing special teams.  But Tyrod Taylor is beginning to connect the dots as a passer, adding to the Hokies game plan a years long missing component.  He doesn’t throw much, because freshman running back Ryan Williams is bearing the load, but Taylor’s improved arm has made the Hokies the top one-loss team.
4.  Texas – The Longhorns enter the toughest stretch of their schedule (Oklahoma, at Missouri, at Oklahoma State).  High stakes games.  Dominant victories and they could leapfrog Virginia Tech.  Good numbers and Colt McCoy jumps in the Heisman polls.
5.  USC – The offense receives a much needed shot of adrenaline with the return of wideout Ronald Johnson, the Trojan’s biggest downfield threat.  They’ll need more than the 22.0 points they’ve averaged the past four games if they want to beat Notre Dame’s prolific passing game.
6.  Iowa – The Hawkeyes just find ways to win.  All their games have been close, sometimes ugly, but resolve and perseverance can carry a team a long way — especially with a defense like that.
7.  Miami – In preseason, I looked at their schedule and feared the worst.  Another dreadful season, I thought.  But winning three of their first four games, all of which against ranked teams, is proof that the Hurricanes’ production is catching up to its immense talent.  Their potential is no longer latent; it’s realized.
8.  Ohio State – The Navy game, in which the Buckeyes gave up 27 points, was an aberration.  Opponents quickly realize that it’s really, really hard to score against this defense.  Ohio States’ weakness?  Terrelle Pryor.  Dude is sucking balls.  Against Wisconsin the preseason Big Ten player of the year threw for one touchdown, one INT, and 87 yards on 5 of 13.  And he’s only ran for three touchdowns so far, light years behind pace of my projected 15.  Still, I love the D-line and they’re still my pick to win the conference.
9.  Boise State – Lesson #3435 in polls: It’s possible to drop without losing.  The football season is a marathon not a sprint, and though Boise State’s inaugural win over Oregon was cute, subsequent performances against UC Davis and Bowling Green weren’t enough to fend off the major conference hounds.
10. Cincinnati – “Tony Pike to Mardy Gilyard for a touchdown” has been an oft repeated phrase, seven times in five games to be exact.  In case you didn’t know, that leads the nation in touchdown receptions.  But I’m still not completely sold.  Thursday night’s meeting against (21) South Florida should erase or justify my skepticism.

CFB: Week 4

By Chris Le

In the hit of the weekend, Tim Tebow was skewered in a 41-7 Florida victory over Kentucky.

In an initial moment of sadism, my overriding sentiment wasn’t concern for Tebow, who lay motionless for several minutes, but deep satisfaction.  Never do I wish for injury though.  It wasn’t the fact that Tebow got clocked that I enjoyed; that aspect of the equation is inconsequential.  But I felt satisfaction seeing the already legendary Tebow brought down from his pedestal — like seeing the straight-A prom king pee his pants, or in this case like seeing the heartbroken reaction of the hot girls who fawn over him.  I acknowledge the apparent injustice to Tebow himself, as he’s done nothing but represent his university and his family with class and integrity.  But my beef isn’t with Tebow.  It’s with the media infatuation and the fervent Tebow apologists who grate me.  From looping replays of “The Pledge” to the fan-perpetuated catalog of Tebow-isms (“Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas.”), I suffered from Tim Tebow-fatigue.  So ubiquitous were the hyperboles that, in a backfiring self-fulfilling prophecy, fans began to buy into his infallibility and immortality.  Their admiration turned into hubris.

But seeing Tebow lying half-conscious for what seemed an eternity, and with the cameras cutting to crestfallen Gator fans, hand over mouth, hoping for a sign of capacity, they now realize he is human after all — that the season is long and that the BCS Championship will not be handed to them.  It was pure sobriety.

Florida fans, however, weren’t the only ones to have a moment of clarity.  Perhaps it was the media blitz saturated with the Florida QB, but I’m starting to drink the Tebow Kool-Aid.  I always agreed that Tebow is one of the greatest — that is, one of the most decorated — players in college football history.  No one can deny the National Championships, the Heisman, or the gaudy stats (73 passing touchdowns, 48 rushing — just eye-opening).  That I never doubted.  What I questioned, however, was his skill.  Sure, he was accomplished, but would you pick him over the 2005 Vince Young, or the ’82 Herschel Walker, or O.J. Simpson in ’68?  If you asked me last year, I would’ve answered with a resounding, Hell no!

But the more I see Tebow on the field, as a passer and as the biggest short-yardage threat ever, and more importantly in the huddle and locker room, where you can almost physically see Tebow instill his will in teammates, I’m beginning to see Tebow in a different light.  “He’s just a system quarterback,” they say.  I say, “Who cares?”  I’m beginning to see Tebow as a transcendent talent and not just a workman who’s big on intangibles and short on ability.  If you ask me, he’s got a surfeit of both.

The look on Gator Nation with Tebow flat on his back said it all.  A team that possesses a championship defense, which returned all 22 players; an offense that fumes NFL talent and speed; a team with a backup quarterback, John Brantley, who some say is the third best pure passer in the SEC and the conference’s next great player — they all thought their season was gone with Tebow.  Even with all the remaining talent and a top coach, everything — Florida’s feeling of invincibility, their big dick mentality, their championship aspirations — hinged on Tebow.  I can’t think of a player who brings more physical skill and permeating mental toughness than this real life Superman.

Power Rankings

1. Alabama — Playing how everyone expected Florida to play.
2. Florida – Will Tebow be back in time for a nighttime road trip to LSU on October 10?
3. Virginia Tech — Proved Miami was a tease.  VaTech is the real class of the ACC.
4. Texas – Haven’t been overly impressive; I’m talking overall as a team and, surprisingly, of Colt McCoy’s play.
5. Boise State — The Oregon victory looks better each week.  They’re going undefeated.  Book it.
6. LSU — Sloppy.  Team isn’t gelling, but they have potential to turn the BCS on its head against Florida, who will possibly be Tebow-less.
7. Houston — Victories over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were huge attention grabbers.  But the season will tell if the Cowboys and Red Raiders suck or not, rendering the wins impressive or ultimately meaningless.
8. TCU — Their stout defense could lead them to a BCS bowl.
9. Cincinnati — Same as above, but replace “defense” with “passing game.”
10. Oklahoma — Pummeled poor Idaho State and Tulsa without Sam Bradford.  Will they need him against Miami?

Heisman Watch

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida — His to lose.  There’s a chasm between the one and two spot.
2. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame — Finally living up to his high school hype, performing like the best passer in the nation with 10 touchdowns to only one interception.
3. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas — Got out of his funk against UTEP, throwing 3 scores on 80 percent passing.
4. Case Keenum, QB, Houston — 366 passing yards against Oklahoma State, 435 against Texas Tech, but more importantly, both came in victories.
5. Jahvid Best, RB, California — Hit a real snag against Oregon, running for a mere 55 yards on 16 carries.  The supposed best running back in the nation shouldn’t be locked down like that — not to mention, the supposed sixth-best team in the nation shouldn’t be drubbed 42-3.
6. Tate Forcier, QB, Michigan – Premature?  Maybe.  And I’m expecting a stumble any week now.  Every true freshman sooner or later begins to look like a freshman.  But that moment has yet to come for Forcier.  What he has done so far grants Heisman consideration.
7. Who cares?  No one I haven’t already mentioned will be in New York at season’s end.  I must, however, give a shout out to Eric Berry — by far the best defensive player in the country.  And, please, if there was a debate between Berry and USC’s Taylor Mays, it’s over now.  Mays is a physical freak and will post video game stats at the NFL combine, but he makes coverage mistakes where Berry would make highlights.  But Berry won’t win it playing safety.

College Football, 2009 Edition

Team Rankings

1. Florida – Do I really need to explain?  Probably not, but too bad.  Bear with me.  Florida has seven players with legitimate arguments for being the best in the nation at their respective positions.  Read that sentence one more time and really soak it in.  Seven players, each perhaps the best in the nation.  I’m not talking All-Conference consideration; I’m talking All-American consideration, and Florida has seven of them.

Tim Tebow at quarterback
Carlos Dunlap at defensive end
Brandon Spikes at linebacker
Joe Haden at cornerback
Janoris Jenkins at cornerback
Anthony Hernandez at tight end
Brandon James at special teams returner

The remaining roster seems to be filled with All-SEC candidates, 4.3 speedsters, and freak athletes, all of whom are experienced; the dominant ’08 defense, which was the pothole to the prolific Oklahoma offense’s Ferrari, returns every single starter.  This team is more loaded than a baked potato.  And did I mention they have one of the best coaches in the country in Urban Meyer?  But if that weren’t enough, their road towards Pasadena is painted with gold.  Without having to face Alabama or Ole Miss, Florida’s schedule is as comfortable as can be expected in the SEC.  But be wary of October 10, Gator fans, when Florida travels to LSU for a night game.  After a lackluster ’08 campaign, the Tigers are gearing for a big season.  However, Florida has a bye just before, giving Urban Meyer two weeks to prepare for anything Les Miles has to offer.  I don’t expect Florida to lose, and if I were so brazen, I might even say they won’t be challenged in the regular season.

2. Texas – Colt McCoy may be the most indispensable player in the country.  No one, including Tim Tebow, does more for his team.  But this year, expect his running back committee to step up.  Them doing so would not only add another dimension opposing defenses must account for but would save McCoy from having to run so much himself.  So expect big passing numbers.  Wideout Quan Cosby will be missed, but that just gives opportunity to sophomore Malcolm Williams, a big and speedy receiver, who should emerge as a deep threat.

The schedule is manageable, not quite as daunting as last season’s slate.  Though away games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and especially Oklahoma State would worry even the most faithful, the Longhorns begin the season against comfy non-conference foes.  And Texas should be relieved to find Texas Tech and Oklahoma not as formidable as last year, and Oklahoma State’s explosive offense should be mitigated just enough by a defense led by senior DE Sergio Kindle, who will do his best Brian Orakpo impression.  A possible trap game comes late when Kansas comes into Austin.  Big things are expected of the Longhorns.  I believe they’ll meet these expectations.

3. USC – The Southern Cal roster has more collective talent than any team in the country, even Florida.  I’d give you a quarter for every three-star recruit you find on the first-team, and you wouldn’t have enough to eat off the McDonald’s Value Menu; USC is all four- and five-star blue chippers.  But as highly regarded as they are, many are under-experienced and unproven.  Matt Barkley will take the snaps as an 18-year-old, and as should be expected from a true freshman, especially a true freshman quarterback, mistakes will be made.  And an entirely new linebacker corp will be introduced.

History shows that the Trojans will trip up somewhere in conference play, and this year, they might stumble twice or thrice.  Their schedule is brutal, with perhaps the toughest non-conference games of any title contender (at Ohio State, at Notre Dame) and the conference lineup isn’t much of a rest either (at Cal, at Oregon, finishing off against improved Stanford, UCLA and Arizona).

Cal and perhaps Oregon will be breathing down USC’s neck in the conference race, but the Trojans will once more be Pac-10 champions.  I can’t see any other team winning it.  Not while Pete Carroll is coaching USC.  They boast the best offensive line and secondary (hello, Taylor Mays) in the country.  Their famed stable of running backs will relieve Barkley of pressure and defensive attention, and look out for Joe McKnight, now fully healthy, to finally have his breakout season.  What about the linebackers, you ask.  The faces may be new to the common fan, but they all have game experience, some even with starting experience.  And though they aren’t as rugged and punishing as the Maualuga-Cushing-Matthews triumvirate, coaches assure the current crop is faster and keener to creating turnovers.  Still, as history dictates, one Pac-10 loss will keep them from hoisting the crystal football.

Pryor: Hey, Colt.  Lets touch heads.  McCoy: Oh, you meant that head.

Pryor: "Hey, Colt. Let's touch heads." McCoy: "Oh, you meant that head."

4. Ohio State – As a true freshman Terrelle Pryor flashed Vince Young-level running ability, but for all the talk of rawness, he also displayed an adequate throwing game (1,311 yards with 12 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions, hitting 60.6 percent of throws).  With one year of games under his belt, I’m expecting a second-year improvement similar to what was seen in Tim Tebow.  That means immediate control of every facet of the offense: 25 passing touchdowns, plus 15 more on the ground.  He’s my dark horse for the Heisman.

The defensive line is deep and talented, particularly at the ends, and should be tops in the Big Ten.  But green linebackers attempting to replace James Laurinitis and Marcus Freeman will require an adjustment period.  Overall, however, this is a formidable defense.

Dare I say, I can see an undefeated regular season … if the Buckeyes get past USC.  That’s a big if, but not a huge one, considering USC must break in a new quarterback and an overhauled defense, not to mention the game is at the Horseshoe.  If USC quarterback Matt Barkley plays like his true freshman status, committing two or three costly turnovers, expect the Buckeyes to squeak by the Trojans and then run the table the rest of their schedule.

5. Oklahoma – Sam Bradford is the nation’s purest passer — 4,720 yards, 50 touchdowns (!) to 8 interceptions, on 67.9 percent passing — and because of this, he sits atop most NFL big boards.  But I don’t envision Bradford being as prolific with Oklahoma breaking the seal on a new offensive line.  Trent Williams is a stud at tackle, an All-American, but he alone can’t protect the quarterback.  In 2008, Bradford was untouchable behind an experienced line, possibly the best in college, allowing him ample time to dissect any coverage.  He won’t have that luxury this year.  And say goodbye to Bradford’s most reliable receiver, tight end Jermaine Gresham, who went down with a knee injury.

But, boy, are they talented.  The Sooners boast four, possibly five, future first-round draftees:

QB Sam Bradford
DT Gerald McCoy
TE Jermaine Gresham
OL Trent Williams
RB DeMarco Murray

And there are a slew of four-star prospects at every position.

With one of the best backfields in the nation and a murderous defensive line headlined by Gerald McCoy, I would normally have them in title contention.  But the schedule, laden with mines, just won’t allow it.  The season starts at home against BYU, a game the Sooners could lose, then away games at Miami, Texas, Kansas, Texas Tech, and finishing against volatile Oklahoma State in Norman.  The rough terrain in addition to the new O-line doesn’t foresee a good future.  My guess: 11-2 with losses to Texas and Oklahoma State, and a third place finish in the Big 12.

6. Oklahoma State – Spread, spread, spread.  Talent, talent, talent.  The Cowboys run a high-gear spread offense, which also atypically boasts production from the halfbacks.  With quarterback Zac Robinson, tailback Kendall Hunter and wideout Dez Bryant — perhaps the best scoring trio in the nation — Oklahoma State won’t often be kept below 45 points.  And there may not be a better tackle than senior Russell Okung.

Ultimately, no matter their drop-jaw offense, Oklahoma State’s success will depend on their experienced but unspectacular defenders.  They’ll be tested right off the bat against Georgia, setting the tone for the rest of their season.  With all but one tough game (versus Oklahoma) at home, however, the Cowboys will be in position to make national noise.

7. Alabama – Gone are competent quarterback John Parker Wilson, running back Glen Coffee and stud lineman Andre Smith.  Yikes.  Good thing they have the scariest defense this side of Gainesville.  Eight defensive starters return, most notably All-American nose tackle Terrence Cody and junior linebacker Rolando McClain.  I see no discernible weak spot on this front.

The Tide will miss this.

The Tide will miss this.

On the other side of the ball, Greg McElroy has only twenty career passes, but ‘Bama coaches are confident that his IQ and mental toughness will prove him to be a solid game manager.  And All-Nation wideout Julio Jones, CFB’s version of Calvin Johnson, may be the easiest target in the SEC.  Throw it anywhere in his vicinity, and there’s a good chance he scores.

The schedule needs to be tip-toed, as it’s daunting.  The first game is against ACC favorite Virginia Tech and with their usually stout defense, I expect the new Alabama line to struggle, eventually losing.  And conference games at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn and home games against South Carolina, Lane Kiffin’s Tennessee and LSU are difficult to navigate.  But I love that defense.  And, with apologies to Urban Meyer, Nick Saban is my choice for best coach in the SEC.  The Tide should take the SEC West once again.

8. LSU – After a disappointing 8-5 (3-5 in the SEC) season, the Tigers, this year, have the form of national contenders.  Charles Scott should be a finalist for the Doak Walker, which is awarded to the country’s best running back.  And a bundle of true freshman are waiting to make an instant impact.  Receiver Rueben Randle, the number-two overall prospect in last year’s class, and quarterback (sometimes wideout) Russell Shepard are too dynamic to warm the bench.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is serviceable, but Shepard could make a few cameos, if he doesn’t take the starting role outright.

As usual, LSU faces little challenge in non-conference play.  But with that SEC schedule, a lot of Tiger fans have slumped shoulders and bowed heads.  Away games at Alabama and Ole Miss would worry even the best of teams.  Speaking of which, LSU must also face Florida, Auburn, Arkansas and Georgia in Athens.

9. Penn State – QB Daryll Clark could be in the Heisman conversation if Penn State gets by Ohio State.  Not only that, they could have the inside track to the BCS championship.  That’s the beauty of playing in the Big Ten.  If you’re Penn State or Ohio State, you need only worry about the other.  Illinois and Michigan State are, come on, Illinois and Michigan State.  They never step up when needed.  Michigan is on the rise, but they had nowhere to go but up.  That leaves Ohio State and Penn State, both of whom can finish unscathed.  And an undefeated Big Ten team, despite the conference’s ailing prestige, will not be kept out of the championship game, unless an SEC and a Big 12 team go undefeated — which won’t happen.

Clark is possibly the conference’s best pure passer, and the fact that he’s a duel threat is icing on the cake.  The backfield is strong, but the receivers are depleted as well as the defensive secondary.  All other positions appear strong.

The fact that Ohio State comes to Happy Valley is a huge plus.  And traveling to Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State is a mere nuisance, not a backbreaker.

10. California – Jahvid Best is CFB’s Albert Pujols, a home run threat every time he suits up.  But quarterback Kevin Riley needs to show consistency and must learn how to not lose games.  That’s it.  No need to throw it deep or thread the needle.  His job is to check passes to the backs, hand it off to Best and not throw interceptions.  If Riley can do just that, and his receivers make a leap, the Bears will threaten USC for the conference title.  Cal returns one of the conference’s top secondaries, which had 24 goddamn interceptions in 2008.  Cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson is the Pac 10’s best.

11. Ole Miss
12. Georgia
13. Virginia Tech
14. Boise State
15. Georgia Tech

Predictions

Irish Resurgence

Notre Dame will go 10-2.  I want to be bold and say 11-1, but I don’t trust Charlie Weis or that sparse D-line.  The offense, aside from the running back position, is stacked.  Their passing game should make them look like a Big-12 team.  A lot of pundits are sporting wood over Jimmy Clausen, and with the threat of Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, perhaps the most formidable group of receivers in football, Clausen will be in the Heisman hunt.  But, Jimmy, whatever happens this year, please cut your hair.

Clausen (far right) is a Heisman contender

Clausen (far right) is a Heisman contender

Impact Freshmen

Matt Barkley, QB, USC: A quick study with pure mechanics and enough zip to perform all necessary throws, Barkley not only has the look of a first-string quarterback but a future number-one draft pick.  The size (6’3”, 230 pounds) and talent are there; Coach Pete Carroll has noted that neither John David Booty, Mark Sanchez nor Matt Leinart, the latter two being former first-round draftees, were as developed as Barkley at such a young age.  But it isn’t Barkley’s rocket arm or knowledge of the playbook alone that won the nation’s most glamorous position.  Barkley carries himself with aplomb and has a work ethic that garnered respect the moment he stepped onto campus last spring.  Already, as an 18-year-old, he commands the huddle, and upperclassmen take his orders without qualm.  He’s Tom Brady in cardinal and gold.  Barkley may or may not lead USC to a national title this year, but I guarantee he will in the future.

Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame — When it comes to football, Notre Dame doesn’t often beat USC.  But last winter, Coach Charlie Weis and company snatched presumed USC commit Manti Te’o (not to mention once-USC verbal commit WR Shaquelle Evans) from the Trojans’ grasp, with Weis snubbing his nose all the while.  The coup was a double-victory, not only adding to the Notre Dame roster a top shelf recruit on defense, which the Irish have lacked in recent years, but grating Pete Carroll in the process, robbing the Trojans of a body on their depleted linebacker depth chart.  Te’o’s nose for the ball and physicality might’ve earned him a starting spot on the vaunted USC defense as a true freshman, which is in itself unfathomable, but it also means the super recruit should already be a stalwart on an underwhelming Irish defense.  On the open field, he’s a sure tackler, a heat-seeking missile and he batters foes with the equivalent force — a true anchor around which a defense can build.  But Te’o has been hampered by injury this summer.  Still, he’s too talented to keep off the field.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, ASU — Speaking of supposed USC commits, it is believed Burfict would be wearing cardinal and gold were it not for his academics.  USC or not, however, Burfict’s grades are still haunting him, as he and ASU await his approval by the NCAA Clearing House.  If Burfict clears, he’ll make an immediate impact on the ASU defense, and not to mention on helpless receivers who dare come down the middle.  Burfict’s collisions are imprinted on opponents like a Southern grandmother’s discipline.  In other words, Burfict hits really, really hard.  But violent as his blows are, his greatest strength may be his coverage skills.  From what I’ve seen of Burfict in camp videos, he’s got the recovery speed and instincts to defend the pass, making him an invaluable three-down backer.  There aren’t many weaknesses in Burfict’s body or his game.

Hi, Im special.

Hi, I'm special.

Heisman Winner: Colt McCoy, QB, Texas

Improved running back production will take away some of McCoy’s numbers.  Will diminished rushing yards and touchdowns hurt McCoy’s Heisman chances?  My magic eight ball says no.  McCoy has enough ability as a passer to win on his arm alone.  In 2008, he ranked third nationally in quarterback rating (173.8) for 3,869 yards, with 34 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions, and an eye-bulging pass completion of 76.7 percent.

Ballot: 1. Colt McCoy 2. Tim Tebow 3. Terrelle Pryor 4. Zac Robinson 5. Jimmy Clausen

Damn, year of the quarterback, part II.

BCS Championship: Florida over Texas.

Florida makes it three BCS championships in four years.  Urban Meyer is recognized as the best coach in the country.  Florida is lauded as the team of the decade.  Tim Tebow becomes the greatest player ever.