2013-08-29

FBS Week 1 - Preview

The next season is here.
It's the last season with a single BCS Championship game.
Next season comes the playoff system with four teams, selected by some voodoo rules. I will try to explain them to you in one of my future blog entries.
For the first gameday I can only say that it is the regular smash-the-cupcake-opponents-gameday with some exceptions.

I will not give you a big article this week, those previews did basically took all the time away for such a thing.
I hope you enjoyed the previews and you are of cause welcome to give feedback and suggestions for further topics to explore.

It might happen that some topics are too big to discuss in full depth, but normally those topics can be explained in a few sentences at least for the start.
Let's get to the exception games of this gameday, they are really nice.

Here are the BLOCK OF GRANITE TOP GAMES FOR WEEK 1of the new Season

Thursday, August 29
North Carolina @ #6 South Carolina
South Carolina has basically one goal this season, to win the SEC. Of cause that should be the goal every season for them, but every coach does look into the mirror and knows his team’s strength and weaknesses and Steve Spurrier knew he had to catch up a bit to get his team in competitive mode. The last few seasons they had some bad luck or maybe the team was just not THAT good, but this season it should be the best available shot.
On the other hand we have Larry Fedora with his team on the rise. By anyone’s best guesses, this Tar Heels team should never be a match for that Gamecocks team. If you let them play 100 games, SC should win at least 60 to 70 times. Which leave those 30 to 40 wins to the Tar Heels.
An upset is possible, but unlikely. The Heels do play against a stronger opponent on the road ...
The only chance they have is that the Heels might be better prepared, but that's very unlikely with Spurrier at the helm in SC.
So my Tip is that the Gamecocks will win.

Saturday, August 31
Mississippi State vs. #13 Oklahoma State @ Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
This will probably be a walk in the park for Oklahoma State, but with Mississippi State it's hard to tell. All signs are pointing in the worst case down for the Bulldogs and Up for the Cowboys.
The big question is, if the Bulldogs really got worse or if some players just step up and the other question is, if the Cowboys did find anyone willing to stop the opponent from gaining yards and points.
I'm expecting a nice shootout but with some more points scored by Oklahoma State than Mississippi State can put on the board.
The Cowboys will win this one.

Saturday, August 31
#1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech @ Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Unfortunately the Hokies are not in shape to be a threat for the big fat elephant out of Alabama.
I'm not sure why Frank Beamer did let his team slide that far down the quality level, but I would have loved to see a VT team win full strength battling it out against the Crimson Tide.
That brutal strong offense and defense of Alabama would for sure be challenge by a very fast Virginia Tech team. But this won't happen this year, unless Beamer was able to develop his players further than expected.
It's very likely the Tide will dominate the game from the kickoff on and will win this the same way they won last year against Michigan (where it was very clear to see the difference between a national title contender and a team which is only contending for a conference title, but not even as the favourite.
I go with the Crimson Tide.

Saturday, August 31
#5 Georgia @ #8 Clemson
This is the most open and biggest game this week. Georgia is expected to compete again for the SEC championship and Clemson is expected to get over that inconsistency and compete for the ACC. The winner here will stay in the race for the national championship for at least another week, the loser will drop at least 10 spots in the ranking and if the gods of football do have mercy will need only the rest of the season to climb up again.
This is played at Clemson, so Georgia will visit a hostile environment.
As written, everything is possible. I'm leaning for Georgia here, since I expect them to be better suited all around.
I think Clemsons offense will be the key for the Tigers, but I doubt it will be able to score more points than the Clemson defense will let happen.
My tip is a close Bulldogs win.

Saturday, August 31
#12 LSU vs. #20 TCU @ Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
I would rank this game second on the hottest games of the week list. Granted, it does not sound that sexy and seems to be a clear win for LSU, but that very good TCU defense might be one or two levels to tough for the LSU offense. I don't underestimate Les Miles skills as coach; only that this LSU offense will need some games to get in sync, games they did not have on the first gameday. Only question for me is, if TCU will be able to score against LSU. It might come down to a single field goal.
No upset alarm does ring for me here, but this will get close and LSU will survive this first week with one or two scars.

Saturday, August 31
#19 Boise State @ Washington
Season openers for Boise State are always fun to watch. They just are the regular spoiler for bigger programs. This season the opponent is not THAT big as it was the last few seasons. That spoils my fun a bit. But honestly the Broncos are not ready to fight a Stanford or Oregon team on the first gameday. At least I think they are not. But these are just the Huskies. They are inconsistent and any team can win against them if they are lucky. If the Huskies are in good shape THEY can win against any team. So ... what will happen?
I expect the Huskies not be that ready to really stop a wild Bronco attack. And I expect that undersized Bronco defense to keep Washington long enough in check to win this game. Washington was never that high scoring team, so if they don't come up with a perfect defense, they will lose just by scoring drives.
Perfect defense on the first gameday?
Never.
Broncos will win.

‘Til next time
Jack6 on BLOCK OF GRANITE

2013-08-27

FBS - Preview - SEC

And now the last and, since almost a decade, the strongest conference.

Southeastern Conference
The SEC did win the BCS Championship game the last ... 7 seasons.
That game exists since ... 7 seasons. Before that the final was played in one of the BCS Bowls and it is just coincidence that right at the time this extra final game was created, the SEC began their reigning era of dominance.
(Before that the SEC had won the BCS championship 2 times in all those years back to 1998 when the BCS championship was created)
Reigning National Champ is Alabama, again.
The Crimson Tide did win the trophy 3 times in the last 4 seasons (2010, 2012 and 2013)
This season all eyes are again set on this strong Alabama team, which realistically has a chance of winning it a 3rd time in a row.

Of cause before that they have to play almost perfect in the SEC, better win the conference and hope for some struggles by Stanford, Ohio State and a few other big name teams.
Last season, if Kansas State and Oregon wouldn't have stumbled almost right before season end, the SEC wouldn't even be invited to the final.
Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame were perfect and Alabama was right behind them with 1 loss.
Once #1 and #2 did lose, those teams did drop in the rankings and Alabama did get the #2 spot and Notre Dame got the #1 spot.
They wouldn't have jumped to #2 by just winning; they needed those Wildcats and Ducks losses.

And beside the threats from outside the conference there are lots of threats from the inside.
LSU is not dead, Texas A&M still has its Heisman-QB which did deliver the only loss for Alabama last season, there is Georgia and Florida and there are several teams with new coaches from last season or this season, willing to deliver some upsets.

The SEC is far from being decided and it might happen that in the last season of the BCS Championship game (next season is playoff time) the series of SEC dominance might end.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

I'm not sure if the SEC will ever expend to a 16 team conference, so far there seems to be no indication.
And since they got Texas and Missouri as new TV markets with the last expansion, the next new teams would have to be chosen wisely.
I doubt a further expansion in the near future.

The 14 teams are:

Eastern Division:
University of Florida Gators
University of Georgia Bulldogs
University of Kentucky Wildcats
University of Missouri Tigers
University of South Carolina Gamecocks
University of Tennessee Volunteers
Vanderbilt University Commodores

Western Division:
University of Alabama Crimson Tide
University of Arkansas Razorbacks
Auburn University Tigers
Louisiana State University Fighting Tigers
University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
Mississippi State University Bulldogs
Texas A&M University Aggies

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Eastern Division

Florida Gators
The Gators did stumble a bit (well they won 11 games, 8 games and 7 games), after Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow did win a few National Championships with them.
When Meyer went away after the 2010 season, Will Muschamp took over and won 7 games in his first season.
Last season he won 11 (and a tie on the division champ) and all signs are pointing for a repeating division championship.
But the fans do for sure want to see Florida in the Championship game and not Georgia like last season.
So they have to win against Georgia (and probably South Carolina) this season.
Not that this will come easy ....

Non-Conference games are against: Toledo, @Miami (FL), Georgia Southern (FCS) and Florida State
Toledo and the FCS games are just wins not happened yet.
But both other Florida schools are rivalries which might give them trouble.
Miami is not in a slump anymore and the Seminoles are weaker than last season, but never underestimate that game.
I expect the Gators to win both, but they might get close ones and an upset is possible.

Now let's have a look at the conference games.
First the western teams, since they are crucial for an easier or tougher schedule.
They got Arkansas at home and LSU on the road, which is a bit of bad luck.
You don't walk into that LSU stadium and win easy.
In fact not many teams win at LSU.
So this is already one bigger stone to stumble over.
The other away games are quite nice, except the South Carolina road trip.
Next bigger stone on the path to a division championship.
The Georgia game is as always on neutral site in Jacksonville, and it will probably decide the season for the Gators.

It doesn't look that good for a division championship or more.
They might get lucky and get LSU on a down year, they might get lucky and Georgia is not that strong.
Question marks on offense do also not help.

I don't see the Gators as the favourite for the division, but they do for sure contend.
They will battle it out with the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks and from 1st to 3rd everything is possible.

Georgia Bulldogs
I love UGA. And by that I mean that living mascot they have at Georgia. What a sweet little Bulldog it is.
He even bites from time to time the opponents’ mascots in the butt.
That's a message.
You don't come to Athens and win easily.
Mark Richt is in his 13th season and he did keep the program on a very high level.
Only problem with that is, he didn't win it all.
Since a few years they basically suck every time they have to deliver.
2011 and 2012 they were in the SEC Championship game and lost against LSU and Alabama.
If they wouldn't have lost against Alabama last season, they would have been in the BCS championship game.
Expectations are high in Athens and Richt should be able to deliver at least a season with many wins.

Non-Conference games are against: @Clemson, North Texas, Appalachian State (FCS) and @Georgia Tech
If you are aiming for a national title, this is a nice schedule, if all other teams do play up their expectations.
Clemson is supposed to be big this season, so this will be a killer game for the start.
Win it and you stay high in the rankings, lose it and you might drop a bit, but if other teams struggle, the quality of that opponent might give you enough credit to stay in the mix.
North Texas and the FCS game should be wins (if they struggle there, you can forget any dreams) and the Clean, old-fashioned hate rivalry against GT should be a bit interesting, but a win for the Bulldogs.
Georgia has won 4 in a row, which shows how the programs are on different levels.
GT is always good for an upset, but I doubt one this season.

So, let's see how the SEC championship road is paved...
Western teams are LSU at home and Auburn on the road. Not perfect, since LSU is always a threat, but if you want to WIN the SEC championship game, a home game against LSU has to be won, period.
Auburn should be winnable against a rebuilding team. But they might give more trouble than wanted.

Inside the Eastern Division they have South Carolina at home and Florida traditionally on neutral site.
Best conditions for a trip back to the championship game.

They will fight for the TOP, for sure.
It's a tough and much more open SEC than in recent years, so it might happen that they drop even 1 or 2 SEC games and are still in the mix for the championship game.
I see them as favourite for the division, but they might drop to 3rd.

Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats have a new headcoach with Mark Stoops.
He is the brother of Oklahomas HC Bob Stoops and until now he was a defense assistant or defensive coordinator.
Last job was DC at Florida State.
So we will probably see a Kentucky team with a much better defense.
But I doubt a big turnaround in one season.
Last year they dropped all conference games and finished with only 2 wins. So no wonder the coach was let go.
There is no easy way back to the mid field the Wildcats are familiar with (Kentucky is a basketball school and they were never well known for dominant football, once Bear Bryant did leave in the 50s).
They will battle it out with the lower 1 to 2 other teams in the Eastern Division which would be Mizzou and the Vols.

Non-Conference games are against: Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Louisville and Alabama State (FCS).
The Governor's Cup against rival Louisville will be a loss, since the Cardinals are really good this season.
The rest should be wins, but they are not given easily. WKU is quite good for a SBC team and Miami (OH) should also not just roll over and give up.
Still, this might be a 3-1 campaign here, which would be great for Stoops.

Now the conference games: Bad news is, they play Alabama and Mississippi State from the West, which might be all losses. The Bulldogs might be in bad shape and the Wildcats might have a chance here.
But it's on the road.
If they aim for a few spots above the last place in the Eastern, they have to top Mizzou and Tennessee. Both are home games, so chances are high they get that done.
If those 2 teams did not advance further.

At the end I see them at 6th or 7th place, not higher.
It will take some time to get the Wildcats relevant again.

Missouri Tigers
Mizzou is a bit of a mystery for me. Many say the Tigers are a proud program, but I have not seen much of that.
Yes, they had some nice seasons under Gary Pinkel (now his 13th season) in the Big 12, but never more than a Division champ was achieved.
Now they are in the SEC since last season and they did win 5 games.
I don't expect them to get into a bowl game this season either.

Non-Conference games are against: Murray State (FCS), Toledo, @Indiana and Arkansas State
Fans will demand a 4-0 campaign here. But this might not happen. At least the Indiana game will be tougher than it would have been in the last few years.
I'm also expecting 4 wins, but at least one upset is possible.

Inside the conference they play a hell of a schedule, with Ole Miss and Texas A&M from the west and with only Tennessee as winnable game at home.
All other games are on the road or against well better teams, regardless the playing field.

They might surprise us all, but I expect them to drop almost all conference games.

South Carolina Gamecocks
Steve Spurrier is in his 9th season (feels like was hired a few season ago) and has the Gamecocks on the edge of becoming a national force.
This season it might happen that the gamecocks can not only win the division (which they did under Spurrier only once in 2010 and they lost against Auburn in the SEC championship game) they might be able to win the conference.
Biggest opponents are of cause in the division are Florida and Georgia.

Non-Conference games are against: North Carolina, @UCF, Coastal Carolina (FCS) and Clemson
That's also a nice championship schedule. North Carolina is no pushover anymore and is a small risk.
If they win, they will rise even further in the polls.
UCF and the FCS games are nice relaxing games and that Clemson game might even become a national championship participation game, if both teams do deliver what is expected.
I would give SC the nod against Clemson in that rivalry (Battle of the Palmetto State), since it's still Clemson, means normally they collapse somehow in the season and become inconsistent.
4-0 is possible here.

Now to Florida and Georgia. Georgia is the 2nd game of the season. It's on the road in UGA country.
Tough. I would give SC the edge in being better prepared, but a home game in Georgia is a very nice factor to eliminate such plus.
Open game.
The Florida game is at home and that might decide the division.
Lucky Spurrier got Arkansas and Mississippi State as Western opponent, which might be the easiest team combination for any Eastern team.
This could become a factor.
Still, it will probably come down to the direct compare to Florida or Georgia to pick the conference finalist.

Contending team for the division; might be the favourite.

Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols do have a new headcoach, again.
Just for the record, they had 2008 still Phillip Fulmer, serving in his 17th season (won a national championship for the Vols in 1998 and had an overall record of 152-52) and was let go after that year with a 5-7 record and a 10-4 record in 2007 ...)
The next new man was supposed to be the next big Vols coach. Lane Kiffin was chosen. He stayed one season, did basically insult every living being on the plant not wearing orange (team colour) and bolted for USC right after the 2009 season.
Then (2010) came Derek Dooley, former HC of Louisiana Tech, and he stayed 3 seasons until he was let go after a 15-21 record and getting every season 1 win LESS than the season before.
Now in 2013 Butch Jones did arrive and he was already a HC for 2 other teams.
He was one an Assistant to Brian Kelly (the Notre Dame HC) and after a short period at West Virginia was always in hand when Brian Kelly did the next step up in Headcoaching duties.
He took over Central Michigan when Kelly left (that was Jones first HC gig) and did take over Cincinnati when Kelly left them for Notre Dame.
Now, after leading the Bearcats for 3 seasons he became the Vols new hope.
So, 5 seasons, 4 coaches.
That won't help.
It will take a few seasons to get that out of the system and have a clear path in recruiting and playing style.
At least this season it will be more or less doing the best with the given players.

Non-Conference games are against: Austin Peay (FCS), Western Kentucky, @Oregon and South Alabama
Except Oregon none of those teams should be able to get a hold on a SEC team. But don’t underestimate WKU, they might be able to scare the Vols a bit.
Still I expect 3-1 wins here.

Inside the Conference I don't see much light. They will battle Mizzou and Kentucky for the bottom. Given the other programs state of rebuilding and adjusting mode, they might be able to get on top of them and finish 5th.
They play Alabama on the road but Auburn at home which might be a crucial game for an extra conference win.
If they want to stay ahead of Kentucky and Mizzou, they have to win both games on the road against them.
Not easy.

Still, I believe in 5th place, even a bowl is possible.

Vanderbilt Commodores
James Franklin is HC here for his 3rd season and he did well so far.
He lead the team from 6-7 to 9-4 including his first bowl win.
Now it will come down to the question, if the Commodores will go up or down.
Vandy was never the big football team, so it will take more to make them a real SEC power than 1 good season.
And Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are way better this season, and those other teams should be far from being able to win regularly against Vandy.
Which leads us to the mid field.

Non-Conference games are against: Austin Peay (FCS), @UMass, UAB and Wake Forest
They should win all of those.
Biggest threat will be Wake Forest, but I doubt a Demon Deacons win here.
4-0 is not bad.

Western teams are Ole Miss and @Texas A&M, which will be a downer. Ole Miss could be in annoying mode and might upset a few teams this season, Texas A&M is supposed to battle Alabama for SEC dominance.
Chalk in 2 losses.

Then comes the big question regarding the Eastern division.
I doubt wins against the 3 contending teams, 2 of them are on the road.
But that leaves Kentucky, Mizzou and Tennessee to cash in the wins and 2 of those are at home.

They might stumble against one of those but with the 4 wins out of the conference they get back to bowl.
No repeat on 9 wins this season.

Western Division

Alabama Crimson Tide
The reigning national champion is again the preseason #1 team.
It's no wonder, since Nick Saban did everything to have his Tide team reloaded with the best talent available.
Winning 3 titles in 4 years does help in recruiting.
I'm not sure if Saban will ever get be noted with Bear Bryant in one sentence as equal, they were different coaches in different times, but Saban is for sure having a historical era at Alabama and as coach in general.
The Bear is always named for being the best ever.
He won where ever he coached, and for the most part that was with Alabama, for almost 30 seasons.
Nick Saban will probably not crack that record, since he is already 61 and only in his 7th season.
But the Bear did win 6 national championships, and Saban has 4 (3 with 'bama and 1 with LSU) and has one of the best team in the country to get even more. And on top of that the BCS era does look quite harder than the 60s, 70s or 80s of Bryants time.
The nation is talking Three-peat in Alabama and they might get what they want.
But not so fast, it's not done yet and there is a whole season to play.

Non-Conference games are against: Virginia Tech, Colorado State, Georgia State, Chattanooga (FCS)
Unfortunately is Virginia Tech not close being in top shape.
This will probably be a very boring game, more or less like that Michigan game last season.
The rest are wins which are not cashed in yet.

Very nice is, they have to play Texas A&M on the second gameday on the road.
I don't want to dismiss any team, but this game might already decide the division.
Of cause the LSU game at home will be hot and they play Ole Miss also at home.

They play Tennessee and Kentucky out of the Eastern Division, so no real threats from that side of the SEC.

Interesting will also become the Iron Bowl against Auburn on the road at the end of the season.
It might happen that Auburn gets better over the season and we will see at least a nice game there.

Alabama is national title contender but it might happen that Texas A&M will steal the show.

Arkansas Razorbacks
The Razorbacks had some real scary seasons behind them. Not just 2 seasons ago they looked like a real contender for SEC glory under Bobby Petrino.
They were 11-2 and right behind Alabama and LSU. They did win their Bowl game.
Then Petrino did crash with his motorcycle (and his love affair behind him on the back seat) and suddenly it was like a soap opera.
Aiding your love affair by granting a job at Arkansas? Check.
Trying to hide everything under the rug? Check.

Lying to your AD? Check?
Petrino was let go and an interims coach was names, since the whole incident happened almost right before the season start.
John L. Smith took over on short notice and the Razorback team was a mess. 4-8 in record.
Now they hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin and I think they got what they wanted; a decent guy (7 seasons with Wisconsin), at least until the next pay raise is available somewhere else?
I don't know. Maybe he will stay a while or he will suck, since the SEC is not the Big 10.
At least the Razorbacks do have a new coach for a whole season and he will probably get the Hogs back on track, at least a bit.

Non-Conference games are against: Louisianaâ€"Lafayette, Samford (FCS), Southern Miss and @Rutgers
That's a quite easy schedule here. Rutgers will be a challenge and they might lose that one.
But the other games should be won. That would be almost the win total from last season.

They got South Carolina and Florida from the Eastern, so that's a big downer.
They have to aim for wins in the West against Auburn and Mississippi State (both at home) to get better.
I doubt wins against other teams, but the core of the players is still good, so even more is possible.

Mid-Field team which can go both ways.

Auburn Tigers
The Tigers won the national Championship under Cam Newton and Gene Chizik (who was hired away to Auburn from Iowa State with a losing record, looks like that had a reason).
Everyone was happy in Auburn nation but two seasons later and a 3-9 record with 0-8 in conference games Chizik was let go and Gus Malzahn was hired, the former Auburn OC and Arkansas State HC.
I think Auburn Nation is hoping for the walk over water by Malzahn, the return to glory and world peace.
Something like that ...
I'm sure Malzahn will get the team better, but don't underestimate Newtons skills in that one glory season in 2010.
And we all know that there won't be a Newton every season.
The Tigers will get a better offense, but those two seasons under Chizik won't be erased fast.

Non-Conference games are against: Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina (FCS) and Florida Atlantic
The Tigers will have a hard time in their first game. The Cougars are in the second year of rebuilding, the Tigers in their first.
I'm expecting a loss here. The rest should then get better and I expect the team to win all of them.

Georgia out of the east will be too much, Tennessee could get close.

Inside the Conference on general I expect a growing team, which might even upset 1 or 2 teams at the end.
Arkansas is a good target for that (on the road) or that Tennessee game (also on the road).

I don't expect the Iron Bowl against Alabama to be game against equal teams, but since it is in Tigers territory, it might get closer than expected.

The Tigers will probably be the last team in the SEC West.
A full rebuild is needed and that takes time.

LSU Tigers
Les Miles is now in his 9th season and since Saban did return from the Dolphins he did not win much on the national stage.
Yes he won the national championship in Sabans first Alabama season, but that was the last season he had a real chance.
In 2011 he also had the chance (played Alabama in the BCS Championship game) but I was sure he would lose that one and he did. Give Saban enough time and he will beat you.
The Tigers are always big in talent and they are always competing, but it seems the Crimson Tide is always a step ahead.
And now there is Texas A&M, at least this season.

Non-Conference games are against: TCU, UAB, Kent State and Furman (FCS)
TCU on the first day is a risk and on neutral site in Texas.
I guess the Tigers will survive, but they might get a better defensive opponent than expected.
The rest are pushover games not worth the note.

Playing Georgia and Florida from the east is bad luck for LSU.
They will at least lose one of those.

Add the road trip against Alabama and the season looks grim for a division crown.
LSU will give most teams a fight for their money, but I don't think they will get better than last season with 10-3 (including a Bowl loss)

Upper Mid-Field team, probably 3rd.

Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
The Rebels are on the rise.
Hugh Freeze is in his 2nd year and he adjusted from the SBC very well.
Recruiting seems to be excellent and he did win 7 games last season, including a Bowl.
Now they will get even better.
They will not be ready to challenge the big teams yet, but they do grow and will probably be big enough in 1 or 2 seasons.

Non-Conference games are against: SE Missouri State (FCS), @Texas, Idaho and Troy
Except the Texas game those games will be wins. Texas on the road will be tough.
They might lose that one, but everything is possible.

They got Vanderbilt and Mizzou from the Eastern, which couldn't be much better.
They probably will be able to cash in some wins here.

The crucial games for a better Mid-Field position will be Arkansas (home) and Mississippi State (away).
They should win against Auburn and they play LSU at home for a chance for an upset.

They might get even at 3rd place, but I doubt it.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dan Mullen is in his 5th season and some do say this might be his last.
That's very hard on him, but he did not deliver the expected big gain yet.
The record did rise from 5-7 to 9-4, but the then expected challenge for the top did not happen.
They kept cruising in the mid field and they will do again this season, if they are lucky.
Some previews have them on 7th place.
I don't expect them to drop that deep with 2 rebuilding teams in the mix, but they have to fight hard to get into a good position.

Non-Conference games are against: Oklahoma State, Alcorn State (FCS), Troy and Bowling Green
Oklahoma State will probably play catch-up with them and they won't be able to do that.
The rest should be wins, even if Bowling Green might be a bigger challenge than wanted.

Kentucky from the east might be a nice win boost, but no guarantee, South Carolina will beat them.

In the west they will have to win against Auburn and Arkansas, both on the road.
That's the reason for some 7th place previews.
They play Ole Miss at home and I'm expecting them to fight them to the teeth.

It's hard to see them climb higher than 5th, more likely a 6th place is probable.

Texas A&M Aggies
Kevin Sumlin did win big in his first season with the Aggies and in the SEC.
They were close for winning the conference did even top Alabama for their only loss of the season, but at the end the Aggies stumbled over some other SEC teams (Florida and LSU).
This season, with Johnny Manziel (Heisman trophy winner of 2012) back at QB the Aggies are primed to challenge the big red elephant of Alabama for the division, the conference and even the national championship.
Not so fast, there is a season to play. And Manziel might not repeat his great performance of last season.

Non-Conference games are against: Rice, Sam Houston State (FCS), SMU and UTEP
That's a win booster schedule. A loss here would basically end all dreams for a national championship.
SMU might be the toughest team in that mix.

They play Alabama very early in the season, mid-September on their 3rd gameday.
It's at home, but 'bama has a bye week before that, which never a good thing with Saban.

There is not much challenge out of the east with Vanderbilt and Mizzou, but they have to play LSU on the road, which might become the one stumble too much to handle well.

At the end they will contend for the division and if they win that one, they will also compete for the conference.
I don't think the SEC will come down to that mid-September game and the rest is settled.
More likely the SEC West will be decided in December, as most of the time.

So my TIP is:

Eastern Division:
Georgia Bulldogs
South Carolina Gamecocks
Florida Gators
Vanderbilt Commodores
Tennessee Volunteers
Kentucky Wildcats
Missouri Tigers

Western Division:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Texas A&M Aggies
LSU Tigers
Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels
Arkansas Razorbacks
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Auburn Tigers

2013-08-23

FBS - Preview - Big 12

Now we get to the conference I can't get a hold on, this season.

Big 12 Conference

It's still joke, that the Big 12 has only 10 teams left (while the Big 10 did grow to 12 already).
Maybe they should switch their brand name ...
Just kidding. Of cause this will not happen.
The Big 12 ask the NCAA to grant them a championship games, even if they are 2 teams short the required 12 teams.
Well, the Big 12 did not get THAT wish granted, thanks NCAA.
At least at this point you had balls.

So obvious the Big 12 WILL look for additional teams, 2 at least, maybe even more.
I could now guess future targets, but it's not worth the effort.
Even people much deeper in the daily business at college football did not foresee some changes which happened in the last few seasons in all conferences.
It would make sense for the Big 12 to get teams from not already occupied states, so inviting teams out of Texas or Oklahoma wouldn't make sense.
But they did invite TCU so there is always an exception ....

Let's focus on the current line-up.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

So the number of teams for 2013 stays at 10 Teams.

So this season there are 10 Teams:
Baylor University Bears
Iowa State University Cyclones
University of Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas State University Wildcats
University of Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma State University Cowboys
University of Texas Longhorns
Texas Christian University (TCU) Horned Frogs
Texas Tech University Red Raiders
West Virginia University Mountaineers

Now let's get a bit into the details:

Baylor Bears
Art Briles, the headcoach of Baylor will probably get a statue on campus.
Now in his 6th season, he brought Baylor basically in the league of the big boys.
Baylor can now recruit those good talents out of Texas, which were in the past a lock for Oklahoma or Texas.
Baylor is recognised as a competitive team.
It's not like Briles did win the conference, no, he just got competitive and won a few more games than Baylor did in the past.
Most important, he does not lose automatically to Texas or Oklahoma anymore.
Well ... give credit also to that guy named Robert Giffin III.
He did basically put Baylor in the map, too.
But he is gone since last season and Baylor did suffer a bit, still went bowling (and won).
This season it should get a bit upwards.
How far? I don't know.

Non-Conference games are against: Wofford (FCS), Buffalo and Louisianaâ€"Monroe
If all goes right, this will be a 3 win start, but don't underestimate ULM.
They might give Baylor a fight they don't need at that point.

I expect them to get somewhere in the midfield, not sure if they can get higher than 4th.
Bad luck for them they got Kansas State on the road, and also TCU on the road.
The homes games look good, with West Virginia and Iowa State being probably the teams to beat for sure to climb high enough.

I don't see them drop deeper than 8th. But between 4th and 8th everything is possible.
Since this should be an up year, they will probably end up 4th in front of Kansas State.

Iowa State Cyclones
I don't like Iowa State, for no real reason. Maybe it's the stint of a losing team they seem to spread.
But that's not fair, since they are winning some games and even went bowling 3 out of 4 seasons (winning only one).
Paul Rhoads is in his 5th season as commander of that team and he did not do much.
Well, more than his predecessor, but not much more.
That makes it hard to predict their season, as every season.

Non-Conference games are against: Northern Iowa (FCS), Iowa and @Tulsa
That FCS game should be a walk in the park, the Battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy against rival Iowa will be probably a win (I’m leaning 60% for ISU), but that Tulsa game will be the toughest.
Away and against nice team ... Expect a 2-1 start here.

Assuming they will compete for a mid-field spot, they will have to win against some tough teams inside the conference.
On the road against Baylor does not help as also the road games against Kansas State and West Virginia.
The only winnable home game would be Kansas, so I doubt a nice record for that season.
They might steal a win against the Red Raiders, but I see them not climbing high.

Expect them to end up 7th or 8th in the conference on a down year.

Kansas Jayhawks
Ha, that's my favourite for the suckiest team of the whole Big 12.
I think Charlie Weis is not a good headcoach. He might be a good offense coordinator, but all his head coaching stints so far were rubbish.
Granted, he is only in his 2nd season with Kansas and there is plenty of room to get the team better, but I doubt he can do it.
Mark Mangino the pre-predecessor at Kansas was a good coach on the field (but he seemed to be an ass regarding his players ...) and was the only coach since the 60s to have a winning record with the Jayhawks.
Turner Gill did crash the team in only 2 seasons and Charlie Weis got a very nice contract to turn things around.
In his first season he got 1 win, losing as Big 12 team even against Rice and NIU.

Non-Conference games are against: South Dakota (FCS), @Rice and Louisiana Tech
I'm not very confident, that they will win more than the FCS game.
The Rice game will be a nice indication where the season will head.
I'm expecting no big change to last season, but they might get good enough to top Rice and LT.

But then does the conference games start and the might have started fun will stop.
They start with Texas Tech and @TCU, which might give them a nice uphill start (but I expect them to lose both).
Then they host Oklahoma to get spanked heavily.
Then Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State. If there is still some fighting spirit in them now, they might even win on the rest of the schedule.

For me, this will be the bottom team, until they prove me wrong.
Might happen fast, since Charlie got desperate and invited lots of Junior College players, but I expect that experiment to fail.

Kansas State Wildcats
Colin Klein is gone (with not being drafted and not getting a contract after visiting the Texans Rookie camp) so Bill Snyder in his 22th season has to find a new starting QB.
This will take some wins of the board during the season, for sure.
They are some kind of dark horse, since nobody expected the rise of power under Colin Kleins watch and now every journalist and fan wonders if Snyder can duplicate such "wonder".
I expect them to drop a bit, not without some cat fight.

Non-Conference games are against: North Dakota State (FCS), Louisianaâ€"Lafayette and UMass
Well, at least this will give them a 3-0 start, which might be enough to give the next QB the security and confidence for the next steps.

With Texas (on the road), Oklahoma State (on the road) and Baylor (at home) as first 3 teams out of the conference the level of playing will be found very fast.
If they win at least one of those, expect them not to drop too deep.
If they lose all of them, which I expect, they have to win all games, until Oklahoma comes to town in late November.
Otherwise they will drop even further.

I sort them in as mid field team.

Oklahoma Sooners
I'm expecting much out of Norman this season.
They just HAVE to get back at top at some point, don't they?
Yes, Bob Stoops (15th season) and the Sooners won the conference again last season, with a tie again.
Last time they won it fair and square as single team? 2007.
And they lost the bowl last season.
On paper Bob Stoops looks like a genius, but he was hired to get national championships, not tied conference championships.
I wonder when the people at Norman will get greedy and fire their very successful coach?
I wouldn't do that, but you never know. It's all about expectations.

This season, despite some issues, the Sooners should be one of the contending teams.

Non-Conference games are against: Louisianaâ€"Monroe, Tulsa and @Notre Dame
Well, that's anything than a cupcake start for a season.
ULM will be good, but I expect them not to reproduce the upset mode they had last season (when they won against Arkansas).
This is a totally different situation and the Sooners will win for sure.
Tulsa should increase the needed effort to win about some levels but should also fall and then comes the big test.
I don't know, maybe it's just me, but if I read such a matchup like Oklahoma @ Notre Dame, I always think, 'uh, Notre Dame will lose'.
The reason for that is, Notre Dame was so long no match for such big programs as the Sooners are that I don't put them in their league.
I always think of them like they are some kind of old school once being famous sport star, not realising the world did change around them and there are new and bigger players around them.
To make it short, I expect this game to be close and I think the Sooners can win this.

To be honest, not many teams should be a match for them this season.
I think Oklahoma State (on the road and the toughest one) will challenge them, Texas (Red River Rivalry, neutral site) and Baylor (on the road, but the weakest of the mentioned ones).
The rest should be wins no matter who comes or where they have to play.

So, if they top the Cowboys, they will win the conference as single team, I'm sure.
Contending team for the conference title.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mike Gundy is in his 9th season and last season was the first time he had some kind of setback.
2011 did the Cowboys win the Conference and in 2012 they were only 3rd and not ranked since 2009.
This season is supposed to be a step back into the winning area and competing for the conference title.
That might happen, if the defense gets better.
They took too many points by the other strong programs last season.
Most hurting loss must have been the OT-loss against Oklahoma 48-51.
If that defense comes up improved to last season, they will compete with the top 4 teams for the title.
Some do see them even as favourite.
I give them not that edge, but it's close.

Non-Conference games are against: Mississippi State, @UTSA and Lamar (FCS)
What a strange setup.
Staring with a SEC team into the season is risky and they will even against Mississippi State need a focus start.
The margin for errors is slim. I expect them to win, but it won't be fun.
The next 2 games are basically games to play just to get them done.
If the Cowboys would lose one of those, they should can the season.

Here is the reason for the favourite part at some previews: They have only one strong away game.
They play Texas on the road, Oklahoma at home and also Baylor at home.
Then Kansas State and also TCU at home.
Who they play on the road?
Texas Tech (with a new coach), West Virginia (still adjusting for the Big 12) and Iowa State (still being Iowa State).
This looks like a perfect season for a dominating conference win.
For me, the key game is against Oklahoma on the last game day.
Eventually the conference is already decided at that point, but I doubt it.
There should be at least the tie for the conference lead at the line and probably a BCS Bowl participation.
Maybe even a national championship game consideration.

Contenders for the Conference title.

Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns did win the last national championship in 2005.
They competed in 2009 but lost the BCS championship game.
Since then did Mack Brown (in his 16th season now) win 22-16 games.
That's not enough in Longhorns nation.
Every sign is pointing for a better season that last season (which was 9-5 with a Bowl win) and having them compete for the conference.
For one of the 3 biggest programs in the US that is the least.
There are voices in Texas demanding the head of Mack Brown already.
If they suck again this season without a conference title and especially losing against Oklahoma, the fans will go nuts.
I think that's too much, but expectations are very high.
Bad luck if you (as Mack Brown did) did even raise those expectations during your era.

Non-Conference games are against: New Mexico State, @BYU and Ole Miss
Well, that's a nice ramp up.
New Mexico State will be down before the 1 quarter is over, BYU will be a bit of a bigger challenge, Texas has to bring their A game to dominate here.
And Ole Miss will probably be the toughest team to top.
That SEC team is on the rise and will not go down easily.
Here is a loss possible, even at home.
If Texas is really a contender, they have to win this.

Biggest games will be the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma on neutral site (still in Texas) and the home game against Oklahoma State.
Biggest speed bump could be the road game against Baylor.
If Baylor is at that point still healthy, they might end Texas dream of dominance there.

I doubt a top 2 ranking in the conference, but it would be stupid to dismiss Texas as not able to content.
They are contenders with a slightly lesser chance for the big one.

TCU Horned Frogs
Gary Patterson is a good coach. He is now in his 13th season with TCU and he guided them from the WAC, the CUSA, through the MWC to the Big 12 and STILL have them competing.
Their debut in the Big 12 last season was 7-6 and for sure they will get better.
It's hard to tell, how well, but I doubt a losing season.
Their best weapon will be the defense, which might be the best the Big 12 has.
The offense is a bit of a concern, but Patterson can adjust, I'm sure.

Non-Conference games are against: LSU, SE Louisiana (FCS) and SMU
Strange setup and if everything goes the way the gods of American Football have destined the teams, they should end up 2-1 here.
LSU will be too much and the rest should be wins, even if SMU will be a bit of work.
Let's hope the June Jones offense will give the Gary Patterson Defense some work.
I still doubt a SMU win.

They have to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road in October.
That should mark the season. If they win one of those, they are better than expected.
Baylor on their last game at home will probably be the decider for a good or better season in the Big 12.

I think they will play for a mid-field position with a bowl participation.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
New coach here after Tommy Tuberville did bolt for the Cincinnati downgrade.
Kliff Kingsbury is a Kevin Sumlin (HC of Texas A&M) assistant and this is his first headcoaching job.
Not bad, since this is the Big 12.
Texas Tech is not a bad team, but far from being a regular threat against Texas and Oklahoma.
Still, it is possible to get them on competing level.
But I doubt them to be ready this season. Or the next one.
Too many coaching chances in too less seasons (3rd coach in 5 seasons).
Some teams do adjust to such changes, but I bet the Red Raiders will not match their last season record (8-5).

Non-Conference games are against: @SMU, Stephen F. Austin (FCS) and Texas State
SMU will be tough. On the road as first game? I mark this as a loss.
The rest will probably be wins.

4 away games and one on neutral site inside the conference sound OK, but I can't find really nice setups.
But I don't see much bad setups also, so chances are, they will win a few and lose a few.
I'm not sure if they will manage a positive season record, but probably they even will manage that.

Mid field team with tendencies for the lower part of the conference.

West Virginia Mountaineers
Dana Holgorsen is in his 3rd season as West Virginia head coach and he sure will adjust the team for the Big 12, in which they came last season, and did got a 7-6 record.
They looked like a nightmare team to play until mid-season (started 5-0), then did the team collapse (lost 5 in a row) and finished 5th in the conference.
Now Geno Smith is a NY Jet and the Mountaineers do need a new QB.
It looks like a rough season for the team and they might end up with a losing record.

Non-Conference games are against: William & Mary (FCS), Georgia State and Maryland
This is a soft start. All games should be wins, the Maryland game might be a challenge, but I'm not expecting much of the Terrapins.
3-0 start is a must.

Now starts the fun.
Between the non-conference games, they have to play Oklahoma on the road, and then they have to play Oklahoma State and Baylor.
This will probably a 0-3 start inside the conference.
From here it gets a bit better but not much.
In total 5 road games and this includes Kansas and TCU, two teams they might have a chance to top.

At the end I would not be surprised to see them with 3 conference wins and a total of 6 wins.
That will bring them a bowl invitation but it's far from the expected results.

Mid field team with tendencies for the bottom.

So my TIP is:
Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Texas Longhorns
Baylor Bears
Kansas State Wildcats
TCU Horned Frogs
Texas Tech Red Raiders
West Virginia Mountaineers
Iowa State Cyclones
Kansas Jayhawks

2013-08-20

FBS - Preview - PAC 12

The next conference is a bit on the rise at the moment. It got a new TV deal which lead to lots of additional money and the teams started to spend big time money on high profile coaches.

Pacific 12 Conference
The PAC-12 did hire the last few years some very well-known coaches, at least for college football level.
It resulted in a much more competitive team landscape than a few years ago.
Gone are the days when USC and Oregon did battle it out on their own with a one-season-wonder-team does challenge them once in a while and win a share of the conference title.
Last season did Stanford win it all (in the second year of the PAC-12 expansion, before that it was the PAC-10 with 10 teams and no conference championship game).
That was the first time for any team since the 1999 season that NOT USC or Oregon won the conference.
Winner in 1999 was ... Stanford.

All those realignments which did happen from last season end to this season start did happen to most of the other conferences, the PAC-12 was rock stable.
And there are no rumours to lose or add teams.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

The 12 teams are:

North Division:
University of California, Berkeley (Cal) Golden Bears
University of Oregon Ducks
Oregon State University Beavers
Stanford University Cardinal
University of Washington Huskies
Washington State University Cougars

South Division:
University of Arizona Wildcats
Arizona State University Sun Devils
University of Colorado Buffaloes
University of California, Los Angeles Bruins
University of Southern California Trojans
University of Utah Utes

Now let's get a bit into the details:
North Division

California Golden Bears
Cal has a new coach, Sonny Dykes, formerly known for his work at Louisiana Tech until end of last season.
He won a WAC Conference title (2011) and has now the chance to get the Bears back on track.
The Bears are a bit away from the competing teams at the moment and Dykes Offense should at least make those games much more fun to watch.
Question will be if he can get the defense on competitor level as quick as he usually gets his speedy offense right.
They will play better than last season, I'm sure, but if they will be able to crack the 3 wins from last year is an open bet.

Non-Conference games are against: Northwestern, Portland State (FCS) and Ohio State
The PAC 12 does only play 3 non-conference games usually, since they play 9 conference games.
Those 3 games above do really look like a 1-2 campaign.
Northwestern will be good and it's the first game. Unless the start on 100%+ motivation level, they will lose.
The FCS game will be a nice win but then does come the perfect Ohio State team and will crash the party.

And after that does the fun start ... if you are not a Bear fan.
Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Washington on the road?
I think they will have to aim for a few upsets against Washington State, USC and Arizona at home.
The Colorado game looks like the only winnable game so far and THAT is also on the road late in the season.

To make it short, I think Cal will have a hard time this season.
Of all teams in the PAC 12 North I see them as the worst this year. Bottom team.

Oregon Ducks
The Ducks did also get a new headcoach, since Chip Kelly took the Philly Eagles NFL job.
Chip Kelly did win the conference 3 times in his 4 years as HC and did also win a tie of the division title last season (but did not play in the Championship game).
Mark Helfrich got the gig now (he was the OC for some seasons with the Ducks) and expectations are that he will keep the Ducks on that level.
Tough job, since the balance of power did shift a bit.
Stanford got very strong and new coaches with big reputation do come into the conference since 2 seasons.
This won't be a walk in the park again.
To be fair, it wasn't already last season.

Non-Conference games are against: Nicholls State (FCS), @Virginia and Tennessee
For a PAC 12 team, that start couldn't be much softer.
Of cause when teams do negotiate their future opponents, nobody can forecast a totally mess at Tennessee and nobody can imagine an up and down Virginia team.
Those games were fixed years ago, but they do come in hand at the right time.
Easily will the Ducks win these games, if Helfrich does at least keep the team on 80% of last season speed and strength and build on those results.

The conference games will be more fun and until October they have a nice ramp up.
Colorado, the Washington teams and Cal shouldn't be a real challenge.

Then does the UCLA game happens and with a 1 bye-week does come the Stanford game.
At that point the division crown will probably be awarded, but it could happen that the Civil War against Oregon State is the deciding game.

Still, contending team and one of the two favourites to win the division.

Oregon State Beavers
Last season was some kind of a stunner for Oregon State fans, in a good way.
The Beavers did win 5 games in 2010 and 3 games in 2011.
Everybody thought to see another sub-Bowl-eligibility season in 2012 and a coach Mike Riley on a hot seat after 12 seasons with the program.
Those expectations got smashed.
They won 9 games and went to a Bowl, where they lost to Texas.
Not that bad.
Now expectations are high and the coach is safe for his 13th season.

Non-Conference games are against: Eastern Washington (FCS), Hawai'i and @San Diego State
We might see here a perfect non-conference run.
SDSU will be the toughest opponent, and it is an away game and will get rough.
Depended on the progress of both teams, this can go either way.

They have 5 away games inside the conference which is bad luck.
But they do avoid UCLA and Arizona from the south; still have to play Arizona State and USC.
If they want to get those 9 wins from last season again, they will have to win a lot of games, against improving teams.

My bet is that they will not get those 9 wins again, but will be a Bowl team.
Mid field team.

Stanford Cardinal
Stanford is having a great run lately.
The Cardinals were in a hole since 2002 and did have 2 unsuccessful coaches before Jim Harbaugh took over and polished the teams into a winner.
He did not win any championship, no conference and went only 2 times to a Bowl and won only one.
Still he landed the 49ers gig since everybody was able to see, want he had done.
David Shaw inherited that polished program and did cash in a Division title in 2011 (tied with Oregon, which then won the conference) and a conference title in 2012.
And there is no sign of slowing down.
Stanford is one of the programs which are considered to have a chance to win it ALL, not only the conference.

Non-Conference games are against: San Jose State, @Army and Notre Dame
The Spartans game will be nice, but I'm betting on a Cardinals win here.
Army has no chance and the Notre Dame Rivalry game will be fun.
I'm expecting a Stanford win here, but it will be close.

Most of the PAC 12 games will be very one sided, but some might get interesting.
They play UCLA and Oregon at home and those games will probably decide the division crown of the north.
Last season they stumbled a bit over the Washington game and lost it, this year it's a home game, so most likely they will win that one.

Chances are very high, they will only have to battle it out with Oregon and Stanford will be the favourite in that one.
Top contender for the conference championship.

Washington Huskies
I have to admit I can't get an opinion on Steve Sarkisian, the headcoach of the Huskies.
He is in his 5th season now and the best he got was 7 wins and 6 losses (the last 3 years in a row).
That's not what he was hired for.
On the other hand he did get his team to deliver crucial losses to some of the better PAC 12 teams, every season.
First season they won against #3 ranked USC, 2nd season was again against USC, ranked #18, in his 3rd season they did only win the supposed to win games and last season they won against #8 Stanford and #7 Oregon State.
But they also did suck from time to time and what's left is, they are no team you like to play but you can win against them any given Saturday.
This season this should better go a bit upwards, since every team in that league is getting better.
So either they adjust or they will sit at the bottom of the division and we all know what that means for coaches.

Non-Conference games are against: Boise State, Illinois and Idaho State (FCS)
The season start against the Broncos will be hard. I'm expecting a battle here with the Broncos winning.
Illinois is played at Soldier Field on neutral site, and Washington can hope for a win here.
Idaho State is a nice relaxing game. So, potential a 2-1 at this point.

Inside the conference they play only 4 away games, all of them look like sure losses.
But that give hope for one of the crucial upsets ....
If they win their home games they will top their record from last season, but that includes a must win against Oregon and arch rival Washington State.

I doubt such results; they might get lucky and get 6 wins. But I expect them to drop behind the Cougars and finish 5th in the division.

Washington State Cougars
You can't deny Mike Leachs skills in bringing teams forward.
He knows how to get the best out of his players.
That Texas Tech incident is still blurry for me and I'm still not sure if Leach did something wrong or not.
Anyway, he is now in his second year with the Cougars and I'm expecting a jump in production.
I think they are not ready to play with the big boys all season long, but they might be able to get more wins against the mid field level teams.

Non-Conference games are against: @Auburn, Southern Utah (FCS) and Idaho
It's never easy to play a SEC team, but Auburn should not be that tough on season opener. Malzahn will get his Tigers in shape, but that takes a bit time.
The FCS games should be a walk in the park and the Battle of the Palouse against rival Idaho should be a win, too.

Let's pick the crucial games: Oregon State at home, Arizona State at home, @Arizona, Utah at home and the Apple Cup against Washington on the road.
That looks good, since you can add Colorado to that schedule.
I think they have the potential to win 6 games or more in that season and go bowling.
They will end up in the mid field, probably 4th place in the division, but they might climb even higher.

South Division

Arizona Wildcats
I'm curious to see how Rich Rodriguez will do here.
I'm still thinking he would have got Michigan on track with a bit more time.
But fixing the offense and then fixing the defense it not Big 10 style and he was let go.
Well, lucky him the Wildcats are hungry for winning and they got a first taste last season, when Rodrigues did arrive.
He took over a 4-8 Arizona team and went 8-5 including a Bowl win.
This season the fans will want more, for sure.

Non-Conference games are against: Northern Arizona (FCS), @UNLV and UTSA
If they don't cruise through this with 3-0 I would be not only surprise, I would be stunned.
None of this teams should be a match for any PAC 12 team, less for a team on the rise.

If the Wildcats wants to get better in division standings (last season they had only 4 conference wins and finished 4th in the south division), they have to win against all mid field or worse teams.
The problem is they have basically most of those teams on the road.
At home they have UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Washington State.
Bad year for an improvement on the record, if the team might not grow up quickly.
I expect them to win many games, but I doubt they will win all crucial games and get 6-7 conference wins.
No, I think they will be lucky if the manage to get 5 wins.

Mid field team with probability of getting at 3rd place.

Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils did also get a new coach last season, Todd Graham, but he was not that much in the news as Mora or Rodriguez, which is odd, since he managed to get the Sun Devils to 3rd place and a Bowl win in his first year.
The reason for that was probably that the leap from 6-7 to 8-5 was not that high as the leaps of UCLA and Arizona.
Still, he had his team winning and everything is pointing towards a contending season.

Non-Conference games are against: Sacramento State (FCS), Wisconsin and Notre Dame
That's not a win boosting non-conference schedule. The FCS game will be a win, yes, but Wisconsin, even at home will be tough and Notre Dame (played in Texas) will be also tough.
They might win both games, but those win have to be earned big time.
Expect at least one loss here.

And if they win both games, expect a drop in conference play.
They do for certain aim the top so they have to compete against everyone.
But they play Stanford on the road and also UCLA on the road. So much for the top.
I expect them to get short here and get an upper mid field position, with only 4 road trips in the PAC 12, that's OK.

Toughest games for that goal will be Oregon State and Arizona, both at home.

Expect a 2nd place in the division.

Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado is a mess. As far as I understood the situation, the former-former headcoach did suck with a big contract and the former headcoach was selected with the remaining money, so he was not only a cheap choice, but also had no room to work with.
No wonder the Buffaloes had any success and an eventually good coach had his hand tied up behind his back and did at the end suck in the eyes of the fans.
So he was let go and since the whole process needed years and the PAC 12 did sign a new TV contract, suddenly money is no issue and the new headcoach gets 4 times the money the former one got.
Looks like Mike MacIntyre has now a better situation to work with.
He was the headcoach of San Jose State the last three seasons.
Expectations are he will rebuild that team to new glory, but this will take years.
Don't look for a quick turnaround here, we might see some nice results next season, but I'm expecting an almost as bad record as last season (1-11).

Non-Conference games are against: Colorado State, Central Arkansas (FCS) and Fresno State
What a nice start; they play the Rocky Mountain Showdown against rival Colorado State as season opener.
Last year the Rams did win, overall the Buffalos are leading the series by a mile.
Expect them to win the FCS game and get probably flatten by the Bulldogs.
They might get 2-1 here or 1-2. Everything is possible.

You might think it can't get worse by starting the conference play against Oregon and Oregon State?
Well it don't get better until November when they get Washington and Cal.

There are some potential wins in that schedule overall (Cal and Utah) but I doubt more than 1 win in conference games.

They will top their last season record, but not much more.
The bottom team of the PAC 12 South.

UCLA Bruins
Jim L. Mora did surprise everybody last season, when he took over the Bruins program and won the division in his first year.
Now the expectations in Los Angeles are even higher.
Not only is everybody expecting a repeat, but also to compete against the North champion for the conference.
The way is long and rocky, and they have to beat basically every team on the conference schedule, since Arizona State and Arizona will not sleep.
And there is USC, which might rebound.

Non-Conference games are against: Nevada, @Nebraska, New Mexico State
The Nebraska game will be the most interesting one. Nevada and New Mexico State will lose against the Bruins, but the Huskers at home are a different league.
I dodged a prediction for that game in my Nebraska preview and I'm still not sure who will win.
But I think the Huskers will have the edge here and it's their game to lose.

Still, all this is irrelevant for the conference where they have to play Stanford and Oregon from the North on the road.
That's tough.
They have to play Arizona State at home which is good, but USC also on the road.
It might come down to the direct compare to the Sun Devils to lift then into the championship games.

Contenders for the division and conference.

USC Trojans
For me, Lane Kiffin is not a headcoach for a program as USC is.
OK, I wouldn't even hire him as headcoach, period.
But that's a different thing.
I don't understand why USC did hire him (4 seasons ago), since everybody could see, what he had done to the Raiders and to Tennessee.
And I don't mean his coaching and (not) winning.
I mean his behaviour to the press and to other people in that business.
He annoys me, every time I see him.
He did fire his DAD, Monte Kiffin, who did come to him from a very nice NFL DC job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (he was there for 13 seasons!) to help his son and that brat did fire him after 4 seasons.
Only to save his job.
Monte Kiffin is now the DC of the Dallas Cowboys.
I bet the defense of USC won't get much better this season, since the problem was not the dad ...
But ... maybe Lane Kiffin does some turnaround and gets the ship in the right direction. Maybe.
A bad season to start with that turnaround, now that his Magazine-Cover-QB is gone and no real successor did show up.
Remember, last season was supposed to be the national championship run.
They finished 7-6 including a Bowl-loss to Georgia Tech.
For me it's hard to see them going Bowling this season. But maybe ....

Non-Conference games are against: @Hawai'i, Boston College, Utah State and Notre Dame
It might sound funny, but beside Notre Dame, Utah State could be the toughest opponent in that group.
Hawai'i is far from becoming competitive and Boston College was coached to the ground. Rebuilding is needed.
Notre Dame IN South Bend will probably be too much this season.
So USC might start with 2-2 or even 3-1 here.
If they lose against Utah State, it's a bad signal.

They have to play 4 road games in the conference, including Oregon State and Arizona State.
Means they meet UCLA and Stanford at home. That might help.
If they are as worse as I expect them to be, it won't, but if Kiffin did get the most out of his very deep talent pool, there might be an upset possible.
I expect them to win against Washington State, Utah, Cal and Colorado. That's it.
If they win more, Kiffin might have some coaching left, or maybe he just starts focus on the field and the team, instead of the press and other coaches and programs.

They probably will fight for a Bowl worth season and if any of those named teams I expect to lose against them did their homework ... it won't happen.
The funny thing is, if the players can play and get the right direction, the team is strong enough to win the south division.
I sort them in as 4th, but everything is possible.

University of Utah Utes
The Utes did miss a Bowl last season, first time since 2002. That's a nice series of Bowls going down.
Kyle Whittingham is now in his 9th season as Utah Headcoach.
Obviously this was his first losing season with them, having a 5-7 record.
Don't expect them to rebound quickly.
There are many question marks on offense and defense and with many teams in the PAC 12 getting better, it's only logical that some get worse (at least on the record).
Utah is primed to be such a team.

Non-Conference games are against: Utah State, Weber State (FCS) and @BYU
Here are two rivalries at the start. The Battle of the Brothers against Utah State is a series, Utah does own with Utah State winning once in a while, as they did last season. And it is not unlikely they might win this year again.
Last time they won back to back was 1996 and 1997.
The Weber State game will be easy and then comes the Holy War against BYU.
That one is also owned by Utah, but it's much closer.
In fact Utah did basically win almost every game until mid-60s, then the Mormons did start fighting back and did basically win almost every game until the mid-90s.
Now it looks like a more or less even series.
Last season Utah did win at home by 3 points.
I expect them to lose this year.
That makes a 1-2 start, right?

Now let's have a look at the conference.
They also have only 4 road games, but they got not many easy teams on their schedule at all.
Of cause they have Colorado (at home), but as I expect them to become the 5th placed team in the south, all other teams in the division will be a challenge.
USC? On the road. Arizona? On the road. Means they will play the two toughest south teams at home, which means all 4 games in total could be losses.
North teams? Hey, they got lucky and got Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State and Washington State ...
Means out of 6 teams, they got my projected 1st to 4th teams. And they got Oregon State at home and Washington State on the road.
Means again it might come down to 4 losses.

It won't get that hard, I'm sure, but every game will be a challenge and they will not get Bowling.
I put then 5th in the south.

So my TIP is:

North Division:
Stanford Cardinal
Oregon Ducks
Oregon State Beavers
Washington State Cougars
Washington Huskies
California Golden Bears

South Division:
UCLA Bruins
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona Wildcats
USC Trojans
Utah Utes
Colorado Buffaloes

2013-08-14

FBS - Preview - Big 10

I'm not sure if this whole season with the Big 10 will be a two-team show ... but must previews I saw are expecting it that way.

Yes, there are 12 teams in the conference (which does put the conference name in a very strange ball park) but does anyone really think there will be more contenders for the conference title than the two BIG ones?
OK, I don't want to get cryptic, so let's start.

Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten Conference was since the nineties a Big 11 conference and when Nebraska did join in 2011 (from the supposed to be more attractive Big 12!) they were with 12 teams and big enough to host a championship games.
The most surprising part of the past few years is, that the realignments did basically passed the Big 10 without much damage.
They were even able to get Nebraska and in 2014 they will get Maryland (from the ACC) and Rutgers (from the American).
Some genius did also did a review on the Legends and Legends naming of the divisions and did (oh wonder) suggested a renaming (to East and West) and a realignment of the teams according to the naming in 2014.
Maybe we will also see a renaming to Big 14?? Probably not .... BIG 10 is a brand now.

So the Big 10 is not only established and stable, it is expending in the future and does its homework.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

So, the last year of the Legends and Legends sorting.

The 12 teams are:

Legends Division:
University of Iowa Hawkeyes
University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan State University Spartans
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
University of Nebraskaâ€"Lincoln (Nebraska) Cornhuskers
Northwestern University Wildcats

Leaders Division:
University of Illinois at Urbanaâ€"Champaign (Illinois) Fighting Illini
Indiana University Hoosiers
Ohio State University Buckeyes
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Nittany Lions
Purdue University Boilermakers
University of Wisconsinâ€"Madison (Wisconsin) Badgers

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Legends Division
Iowa Hawkeyes
Since 15 years is Kirk Ferentz head coach of the Hawkeyes and it might be that he is now on a hot seat.
Last season was a disaster for such a proud program.
With 4 wins only it was the worst result since the 2000 season, Ferentz second season with the team (in rebuilding mode).
Last season he not only did lose 8 times, no, he lost the 6 last games in a row, even against Indiana and Purdue.
So this season he has to rebound or the AD might look for a new face. Maybe.
The Hawkeyes are not known for quick coaching changes, so he might still have some time left.

Non-Conference games are against: Northern Illinois, Missouri State (FCS), @Iowa State and Western Michigan.
This might give him some breathing room. Toughest games will be Northern Illinios and of cause the Cy-Hawk Trophy-game against rival Iowa State, where ISU is cruising on a 2 game winning streak.
I can see them win 2 or 3 games out of these non-conference games, I'm sure they will drop one (either the NIU or the Iowa State game).

The conference schedule is a bit worse than last season with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue from the Leaders Division.
I don't think it will make much of a difference, where the home and away games inside the division are, all of them will be tough.

It looks like the Hawkeyes will battle for the bottom of the division, since I can't see a single team more primed for that position.
Iowa looks like the weakest team in the Legends Division and so I pick them last, even if I know for sure they will not go down without a fight and for sure will upset one or two teams.

Michigan Wolverines
For Michigan only winning is acceptable.
When Rich Rodriguez was hired they thought to have a winner on board, but he did not deliver the results wanted. I still think he could have done it in a season or two, but the fans were demanding a change and the AD did what was expected.
Brady Hoke, a former Michigan assistant, was hired after he went head coach with Ball State and San Diego State. He was one of the leading candidates, once the Rodriguez situation became a problem.
Hoke is now in his 3rd year and this is now his team for sure.

Denard Robinson, last year’s QB, is gone and with him the one dimensional offense.
Everyone is expecting a dominant Wolverine team which has to battle Ohio State in the Conference Championship game.

Non-Conference games are against: Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Akron and @UConn
Beside the Notre Dame game, this will all be wins. The Notre Dame game is always special and will probably come down to the last few plays and a margin of a few points.
But 3-1 is a must, 4-0 a wish which might happen.

The rest looks tough, especially when you have Ohio State and Penn State from the Leaders division, Indiana is then relaxing.
Ohio State at home is a bonus, but Penn State on the road.
Toughest game inside the division is probably the Nebraska game at home.

The Wolverine are for sure the favourites for the Division crown, but it might come down to the Ohio State game, since Nebraska has a bit easier schedule and that game against Ohio State might give Michigan that one additional loss to kick them out of the Division crown race.

Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans had a good run two and three seasons ago, but did fall a bit the last year.
Mark Dantonio, in his 7th season, will try to fix this, but that's not easy.
Biggest question mark will be the offense which does sputter last season and it doesn't look like they will have the answer for that ready.
With Michigan rising and all other teams getting also better (except Iowa), it’s hard for the Spartans to keep up.

Non-Conference games are against: Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State (FCS) and @Notre Dame
Also here, as it is for the Wolverines. All games are must-wins, except the Notre Dame game.
But here the game is at South Bend and the Spartans are not that tough as the Wolverines.
So I'm expecting a loss here for Michigan State.
3-1 is still very nice.

They get Purdue, Illinois and Indiana as Leaders opponents, which will help.
Nebraska on the road and Northwestern on the road might get too much to secure a midfield position.
Looks like a hard year for the Spartans. At the end they will be Bowl eligibly and will get the 4th or 5th place in the division.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Jerry Kill took over a program which did almost hit rock bottom of the conference (thanks to a worse Indiana team they were only 2nd worst).
Now in his 3rd year he has the Gophers already back in the bowl picture and if they will add a view more wins, they will fight for the TOP.
It's not the time for that ambition level this season, but probably we will see a bit progress.

Non-Conference games are against: UNLV, @New Mexico State, Western Illinois (FCS) and San Jose State
San Jose State will be a challenge; the rest will be probably wins.
This can become a 4-0 start for the Gophers.

Penn State, Wisconsin and Indiana are the three Leaders opponents, which could be worse, but will not be easy.
If they aim for a midfield or better position, they have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State, both games are on the road.

So, I doubt a much better winning record for this year.
Midfield Position is possible, but probably only 4th or 5th place.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Cornhuskers were for some years the best program in football.
But that was in the late nineties, since then they program did took a few steps back.
Bo Pelini is now in his 6th season with the Huskers and did so far win only Division titles.
For a program which was used to win Conferences on regular basis and which won back-to-back national championships in the 90s, that's far from being enough.
Pelini is not in trouble (probably not ...) but he for sure will have nice conversations regarding success every day, at least in the papers.
Especially if you lose the championship game 31-70! against a Wisconsin team only eligible for the game because Penn State and Ohio State were not allowed to play.
And especially if you lose the following bowl game against a (granted good) Georgia team.
No Sir, that's not the Huskers way.
We will see, if Pelini has a target on his head, or not.

Non-Conference games are against: Wyoming, Southern Miss, UCLA, South Dakota State (FCS)
Beside the UCLA game, this will all be wins, but UCLA will be tough. I'm expecting big things from the Bruins, but it's a home game for Nebraska ...
They will record 3 or 4 wins, it doesn't matter for the conference and they will be Bowl eligible, so who cares. LOL.

More interesting is the conference schedule.
They got Illinois, Purdue and Penn State (unfortunately that one is on the road) which is one of the softest inter division setups of all teams.
I'm not saying they will win all those, but you don't get much better chances.
Biggest opponent inside the division will be of cause Michigan and that is a game on the road.

So I expect them to be 2nd. But they will contend and might end up in the championship game.

Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern is normally a team in the midfield or lower parts of the Big 10.
With the new 2 division setup of cause it gets harder to NOT being last or almost last in the division, but Northwestern did finish 3rd last season and had an overall record of 10-3.
Thanks to the 4-0 sweep of the non-conference games.
They went to a Bowl and won against Mississippi State so the expectations for this season are high.
Since 2006 is Pat Fitzgerald the Headcoach (so this is his 8th) and he managed to get the Wildcats to a Bowl the past 5 seasons.
For me it's still a big question mark, if they really can challenge Michigan and Nebraska for the TOP or if they have to battle Michigan State and Minnesota for 3rd place.

Non-Conference games are against: @California, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine (FCS).
This could become another sweep with 4-0. Biggest question for me is the Cal games, since it's the season opener as an away game against a Cal team under new Management.
If this Cal team does a turnaround as UCLA did last season ... I would pick a loss.
But nobody knows. I go with a 4-0 sweep here.

Now comes the bad news, they have to play Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders Division (and Illinois to get some breath).
That's tough. But they play Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota at home, so they might get lucky, but I strongly doubt a win against Michigan.
If I have to make a guess, they will lose enough Conference games to NOT stay at the TOP.

They are my pick for the 3rd place and a Bowl.

Leaders Division

Illinois Fighting Illini
Tim Beckman was the Toledo Headcoach for 3 seasons, won a division title in the MAC, did come to Illinois last season for rebuilding and got 2 wins so far.
The Illini are very much under the typical Big 10 level.
In his 2nd season he will get them a bit better, but this won't be enough to get Illinois back on TOP (last Big 10 Championship in 2001).
No, they will suffer at least this season again.

Non-Conference games are against: Southern Illinois (FCS), Cincinnati, Washington and Miami (OH)
To be honest I think they will lose at least 2 games of those. Sure win is only the FCS game, but the Bearcats are not bad, the Huskies can bite and Miami is only a mid-field MAC team, but I'm not that confident regarding this Illini team.
But probably they will win 2 of those games.

Assuming we have a bottom team here I expect them to fight against Purdue and Indiana for the last spot.
Well, bad Karma did give them both games as road trips.
Now add Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State from the Legends division and you can see, why I’m not that confident.
It will be tough for this Fighting Illini team to top those 2 wins from last season.

I'm not doubting the fighting, just the winning.
Bottom team.

Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana is more of a basketball school and did very long haunt the dungeons of the Big 10.
Kevin Wilson took that team over 3 years ago and did get a few wins.
From 1-11 to 4-8 and now he is aiming for a Bowl season.
Last Bowl season was 2007 (not bad, I'm a bit surprise, when I did the research) and the one before that was ... 1993.
That's more the expected result.
They had some coaching changes in the last 10 years and there was not much winning to cheer for, so everybody is hoping for a long and more successful period with Wilson.

Non-Conference games are against: Indiana State (FCS), Navy, Bowling Green and Missouri
Four home games will be a boost. And they might even win 3 of those.
Except the Indiana State game, all will be tough, Mizzou too tough, but they might win against Navy and Bowling Green.
No guarantee. I expect 2 wins in total here.

They get Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota from the Legends division, which will not give them much room for errors.
Only one is home game, the Gophers game.

Inside the division they have Illinois and Purdue at home which might give them the 2 wins to get even with last season record.
But where should the rest of the needed 6 wins come from?
They have Penn State at home as the only potential upset ...

I doubt a Bowl season, but maybe Wilson can surprise me and the rest of the nations.
It will be fun to see, if he will then land a better paid gig, since he showed he can turn things around quickly.
Poor Indiana fans, if that happens.

Ohio State Buckeyes
The former 2 times national championship winner Urban Meyer (with Florida) did come in last season and new Headcoach, with a Bowl ban in place and got a 12-0 record in his first season.
There might have been some nice positive effects in place to accomplish that, but it still was impressive.
Now they are one of the favourites to win it ALL in the NATION.
First step will be to win inside the conference.
All signs do point to a conference championship game against Michigan.
We will see.

Non-Conference games are against: Buffalo, San Diego State, @California, Florida A&M (FCS)
Well, if they stumble here, they are out of the national championship picture early.
Most challenging will be SDSU and Cal, but SDSU is still a MWC team and played at home and Cal is in rebuilding mode.
4-0 should be a must.

They play Wisconsin and Penn State at home and they play from the Legends division Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan.
Only Michigan on the road is speed bump and it might come down to a loss here and a rematch a week later.
Or they win and rematch then.
Only a loss against Wisconsin might bring them down.

Conference title contender and favourite for any title possible.

Penn State Nittany Lions
There are rumours the Lions will lose their Headcoach Bill O'Brien very soon to the NFL.
Bill O'Brien took over last season, when the whole child-sex-abuse-scandals were in every paper.
Paterno is dead, he name tarnished and the program of Penn State hammered by NCAA sanctions.
O'Brien came from the New England Patriots (former OC) and did what a coach can do.
He went in and made the students focus on the field, and the students did play like there will be no tomorrow.
They had growing pains in the first few games, but did win 5 straight after 2 losses and at the end they had 8 wins in 12 games.
This season will be different.
No pity from other teams, no disrespect and in addition a looming coaching change.
Bill O'Brien does say he will stay (and if he really does, it would be great) but the american reality normally works different.
We will see.

Non-Conference games are against: Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State
I'm not convinced this will be a 4-0 campaign, but it will be close.
The biggest question mark will be Syracuse and UCF.
Both do have the potential to upset the Lions, but I think they won't.

They have to play Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska from the Legends which might be the toughest inter divisional schedule a Big 10 team has this year.
Michigan and Nebraska are games at home, which might pamper it a bit.

Ohio State and Wisconsin on the road sets the tone inside the division.
No sir, even if they would be eligible for a championship run (which they are not, also no Bowl) they wouldn't even come close to the championship game.

They do also have fewer scholarships for some years, but if O'Brien stays, I think they will be able to compensate this very well.

The Lions will find themself in the middle of the division.

Purdue Boilermakers
For two years Darrell Hazell was the head coach of Kent State, a program from the MAC, and first he was not very successful.
In his first year he took that 5-7 team and recorded a 5-7 season ...
In his second season, he took that 5-7 team and recorded a 11-3 division championship season and took the gig with the Boilermakers.
Purdue was not that bad last season; they went into a Bowl and lost, so it was a 6-7 season.
Normally Purdue is not very much known for playing much better, not in football, not with all the other big guns in the conference.
Still, the Boilermakers want to be more successful, so they did the coaching change.
Hazell will have a tough year.

Non-Conference games are against: @Cincinnati, Indiana State (FCS), Notre Dame and Northern Illinois
Looks like 2-2 start or even 1-3. Cincinnati is not a pushover and might be the second weakest team in that list.
Indiana State should be a win, but Notre Dame and NIU will be too much.
So worst case a 1-3 start?

They are lucky they have Iowa at home from the Legends division, but they have also Michigan State on the road and Nebraska at home.
There might go a few more win down the toilet. If they would have the Spartans hat home, they might have a chance, but on the road?

And then there is the rest of the own division.
I give them Illinois, but for the rest I see no win, sorry.

I expect them to be at the bottom, with fighting it out with Illinois for the last place.

Wisconsin Badgers
Last season was a very strange one for the Badgers.
Imagine to have a 4-4 record inside the conference and an 8-4 overall.
You lost against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska.
You are still in the conference championship game, because Ohio State and Penn State are banned for that game.
You play against Nebraska to whom you lost before and win ... no ... WIN 70-31!
That coach (Bret Bielema) left for a better paid SEC team (Arkansas) and a new one (Gary Andersen) comes in from a WAC team (Utah State, now in the MWC).
So, what comes this year for the defending champion?
If they want to get back into the Rose Bowl (which they lost last season) a 4th time in the row, they have to beat Ohio State and a few more.

Non-Conference games are against: UMass, Tennessee Tech (FCS), @Arizona State and BYU
That Sun Devil game in Arizona will be a hard nut to crack, still a win is possible.
BYU should be OK at home.
But even if they get a 4-0 record here, it doesn't count for the conference.

Ohio State on the road is a major bump, but they have Penn State at home and also Indiana and Purdue.
Nice to play.

They have only Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota from the Legends division, so all parameters are better than for most other competing teams, except Ohio State.
So better win against the Buckeyes or settle for a Non-BCS-Bowl.

I doubt a first place year but expect them to be 2nd.

So my TIP is:

Legends Division:
Michigan Wolverines
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Northwestern Wildcats
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Michigan State Spartans
Iowa Hawkeyes

Leaders Division:
Ohio State Buckeyes
Wisconsin Badgers
Penn State Nittany Lions
Indiana Hoosiers
Purdue Boilermakers
Illinois Fighting Illini

2013-08-12

FBS - Preview - ACC

The next conference was (and still is) always a mystery for me.
Somehow I always thought the teams did not fit the right way.
There are very heavy teams and there are those "always losing" teams, but that picture is only one dimensional if you only look at football. The powers do shift if you look at other sports like Basketball.
So I accept the differences as they are in football and might just wonder from time to time regarding the odd constellation.

Atlantic Coast Conference
The ACC was stable since 2005, but now some changes did happen or are coming.
Syracuse and Pitt did join for 2013 and the conference has now 14 teams.
Next season will Maryland join the Big 10 and Louisville will join from the AAC to keep the team amount at 14.
Let's hope this will be all. But I doubt it, since the Big 12 is still a few teams short (for a championship game) and they will for sure recruit not from the bottom.

Teams added 2013:
Syracuse (from the Big East (now the American))
Pittsburgh (from the Big East (now the American))

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

The 14 teams are:

Atlantic Division:
Boston College Eagles
Clemson University Tigers
Florida State University Seminoles
University of Maryland Terrapins
North Carolina State University Wolfpack
Syracuse University Orange
Wake Forest University Demon Deacons

Coastal Division:
Duke University Blue Devils
Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets
University of Miami Hurricanes
University of North Carolina Tar Heels
University of Pittsburgh Panthers
University of Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Hokies

Now let's get a bit into the details:
Atlantic Division

Boston College Eagles
The Eagles did suffer a bit the last four years.
Frank Spaziani did coach it to the ground.
He took over a back to back Division champ (which had 9 wins in his last season) and in his first year it looked OK. 8-5 and a 2nd place in the Division.
Then came 7-6, then 4-8 and at last 2-10!
No wonder he was let go and Steve Addazio was hired away from Temple.
If this will solve the issue has to be seen, Addazios last season was a 4-7 season at Temple.
This team will definitely NOT compete for anything in this season.

Non-Conference games are against: Villanova (FCS), @USC, Army and @New Mexico State.
They team might win all of those except the USC game, but that's no guarantee.
I assume a 3-1 here, since the Eagles should be a bit better on paper.

The problem is the rest of the schedule will likely be all losses.
If we only concentrate on the not too tough teams we have Wake Forest on the 2nd day at home and Maryland and Syracuse both on the road at the end of the season.
They also got North Carolina and Virginia Tech from the other Division.

A bottom team and no Bowl in sight.

Clemson Tigers
Many do see Clemson already as the division champ, maybe even as Conference Champ.
That scenario is not unlikely, but Florida State will probably have a say in that.
Still, Dabo Swinney is in his 5th season and Clemson is doing fine.
Back-to-Back double digit win season are very good.
And they will do it again this season, there is no doubt from me, but I'm not sure about the "that's enough to win it all part".

Non-Conference games are against: Georgia, South Carolina State (FCS), The Citadel (FCS) and @South Carolina.
I'm can't understand how this schedule did happen ...
Two SEC teams are sandwiching a complete season and in the middle are two cupcakes to boost the win record?
Both SEC games will be tough, but if Clemson does back up the hype, they will win at least one of them, maybe even both.
I'm expecting 3-1 here.

The rest is very favourable for Clemson to win the Division.
They got FSU at home, NC State as an away game, but after a bye week, Georgia Tech and Virginia from the Coastal. It could have been much tougher.

Favourite for the Division title and for the conference championship.

Florida State Seminoles
Clemson might win it all this season, but not without a fight against the Noles.
Jimbo Fisher is in his fourth season and unfortunately he is in some kind of rebuilding season.
So he will need all his coaching skills if he wants to repeat last season as conference champions.

Non-Conference games are against: Nevada, Bethune-Cookman (FCS), Idaho and @Florida.
Well, you never know how the rivalry game against Florida will turn out, but I assume a loss for the Noles this season.
The rest is winnable or a sure win.

For the conference games, they got a short end of the stick this season.
They have Clemson on the road, Pittsburgh and Miami (FL) from the Coastal.
The only better thing is (for positioning as 2nd best in the Atlantic Division) the fact they have to play NC State at home in mid-season.

I see them as contender for the Division title and a sure Bowl team.

Maryland Terrapins
This is the last season for Maryland to play in the ACC.
Randy Edsall is in his 3rd year and did boost the win record from 2 to 4 in last season.
Not enough for many.
This season he has a better team and might get Bowling.

Non-Conference games are against: FIU, Old Dominion (FCS), @UConn and West Virginia.
Mark a 3-1 for those games as possible with only the WV game as too much to get.

Then they have to face the conference teams all afterwards.
The good thing is they have Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College at home.
Those games alone could be the bowl ticket.
Add Wake Forest (but on the road) and you can see why they MIGHT get bowling.
The other teams will have a say in that.

I expect them to compete at mid field level and GET bowling.

North Carolina State Wolfpack
Dave Doeren took over the pack and is coming from a very successful 2-year stint at Northern Illinois.
The situation here is a bit different that the MAC environment, but he will probably bring back some pride into the Wolfpack.
Expectations are sky high!
The predecessor was let go, because 3 consecutive bowls season (but never better than 8 wins) were not enough.

Non-Conference games are against: Louisiana Tech, Richmond (FCS), Central Michigan and East Carolina.
Yes, all are home games and all are manageable. LT will be a bit of a challenge, as East Carolina, but I’m expecting 3-1 out of this.
At least.

They have North Carolina and Duke from the Coastal and have to play Clemson at home and FSU on the road.
Would have been this (Clemson and FSU) the other way around, I would have given them the edge for 2nd place in the Atlantic.

They will be contenders, and Bowlers but probably not enough for a champion season.
Wait 1-2 seasons, please.

Syracuse Orange
The Orange promoted Scott Shafer to Headcoach after Doug Marrone was hired as new Headcoach of the Buffalo Bills.
He takes over a squad which had won a share of the Big East title last season with 8 wins in total.

Now Shafer has to adjust to the ACC in his first season with a lot of strong team next to him.
It will be interesting to see, how the team will perform, but don’t expect too much for the start.

Non-Conference games are against: Penn State, @Northwestern, Wagner (FCS) and Tulane.
This will be a not so easy start facing the two Big 10 teams. The rest should be wins.
2-2 sounds OK.

With Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh they did not get the easiest opponents from the Coastal but do have to play BC and Wake Forest at home which should help them to keep a mid-field position.
But don't expect them to climb much higher. They have to face Maryland on the road, which might be the key game for better standings or even a Bowl.

Mid-field team.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest is never a powerhouse.
Since 13 seasons (including the upcoming) Jim Grobe is the Headcoach and he did the most out of the program, the best he got was a conference title (OK, that's very good!) and 5 Bowl seasons.
Last season they had a 5-7 record.
This season might get worse.

Non-Conference games are against: Presbyterian (FCS), Louisianaâ€"Monroe, @Army, @Vanderbilt.
The FCS game should be a sure win, but don't expect much from the rest.
Yes, LMU is a SBC team, and Army is also not that good, but the Deacons are also not that good.
Every game will be tough and if they are lucky the get 3-1 out of it.

Inside the conference they probably will also battle every game and will probably lose most of them.
They have to play BC and Syracuse on the road, which will make those games not easier.
But they will need those wins to get a better record than last season.
They got Miami and Duke from the Coastal and this time they have the winnable game (Duke) at home.
I'm not expecting a better season than last year; more likely it will be a worse one.

They will fight against the bottom and the BC game (2nd gameday) will probably be the difference maker.

Coastal Division

Duke University Blue Devils
The Blue Devils did start 5-1 last season. Everybody did wondering "what's going on?", since this was the team with the longest Non-Bowl-Season-Streak in the country.
They managed to win another one against UNC and did at the end finish 6-6.
David Cutcliffe is in his 5th year and for everyone in the country that last season was more or less a wonder.
But was that a one-hit-wonder or the progress the Duke-fans do wait for since .... ages (well ... almost 2 decades)?

Non-Conference games are against: North Carolina Central (FCS), @Memphis, Troy and Navy.
This looks easy enough to be winnable.
The Navy game might be too much, but you never know.
This might be a 3-1 campaign or a 1-3, depends on Dukes progress (or degeneration).

The conference games will be tough. I can see them positioning somewhere in the middle, but can they really challenge Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami?
Can they win again against a growing North Carolina team?
If they manage to win against Pittsburgh and Virginia, and also against Wake Forest from the Atlantic on the road, this would be a very good season for the Blue Devils of the past.

I expect them to be in mid field with a chance for a Bowl, but not more.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech is every year a mystery.
They come out of the offseason and do win and lose games they are not expected to win or lose.
This team could do it all if they would just stop being inconsistent.
Now in his 6th season, Paul Johnson has won division titles and even a conference championship but with ups and downs.
Last season they did only win the division (shared) and reach the championship game because Miami and North Carolina were not allowed to play the championship game.
This season will not be that easy.
Miami and North Carolina can compete now (well, not 100% secure for Miami, but very likely) and VT is forced to get back on track.

Non-Conference games are against: Elon (FCS), @BYU, Alabama A&M (FCS) and Georgia.
Well, that Georgia game will be a loss for sure, but the rest can be won or has to be won.
3-1 is possible, but BYU will not be that easy.

The conference will be decided between the big four in that division and here they have 2 home games (UNC and VT) and one on the road (Miami (FL)).
But they have also Clemson and Syracuse from the Atlantic, with Clemson on the road.

I think at the end they will be the worst team of those big four programs, but we will see.
A Bowl is a must.

Miami Hurricanes
Miami is for many the favourite to win the division, or even the conference.
The U is strong, no doubt, but there is still North Carolina, VT and GT.
The key will be the schedule and how they will start into the season.
Al Golden is now the Headcoach since 3 seasons and he did well.
He won the division (shared) last season and did only not play in the conference championship game, because they did withdraw from post season games by themself since the NCAA investigation were still on going.
This year will probably be a season with no sanctions and they WILL compete.

Non-Conference games are against: Florida Atlantic, Florida, Savannah State (FCS) and @South Florida.
Two cupcake games, one very tough one and a probably quite easy one? Consider this as a 3-1 record at least.
Florida will be eventually too much, but you never know.

All the big games are at home except North Carolina. That's a nice help.
But they got Florida State from the Atlantic on the road, which might be a bigger speed bump than wanted.

They look on paper as the favourite, but I can see them easily drop.

I see them as contender for the division crown.

North Carolina Tar Heels
When Larry Fedora came in last season from Southern Miss he changed things immediately.
A 3-5 team in conference play was changed to 5-3 and a share of the conference title.
Because of NCAA sanctions the Tar Heels were not allowed to compete for the championship game or a Bowl, but this year will be different.
No bowl ban, full contender status.
They might get even lucky and Miami will be put out of the picture for contention by the NCAA (even I don't think UNC would like that).
The Tar Heels have all reasons to hope for the big step forward.

Non-Conference games are against: @South Carolina, Middle Tennessee, East Carolina and Old Dominion (FCS).
That Gamecocks game will probably be a cool down game, very unlikely the Heels will win against that very strong SEC team.
The rest should be wins, all home games and against weaker conferences teams.

Now add home games against Miami, Boston College and NC State from the Atlantic and you get a nice schedule.
Concerns are the away games against GT and VT. Those could be early season speed bumps which might make the Miami game meaningless regarding the division crown.
But I expect Fedora to handle this and give UNC the chance for a conference championship.

Also contender for the division crown.

Pittsburgh Panthers
Honestly I don't know how to handle this program.
In my head Pitt is some kind of weak juggernaut hard nose football team, never winning the big games.
Totally twisted.
They moved to the ACC from the former Big East, did win 6 games last season, lost the Bowl.
Paul Chryst was named Headcoach last season, after Todd Graham bolted Pitt after just one season for Arizona State.
All signs are saying "adjustment period" or even "rebuilding".
So no wonder I don't expect much of them.
Make no mistake; I think Chryst WILL get the most out of them, but so many changes in so many years do have an impact.

Non-Conference games are against: New Mexico, Old Dominion (FCS), @Navy and Notre Dame.
This can be a 1-3 to 3-1 campaign.
I doubt a Notre Dame win, and I expect an Old Dominion win, all between is plausible.

They start the season against Florida State from Atlantic and will have to travel to VT and GT.
They also play former Big East rival Syracuse on the road as the other Atlantic game and will have UNC and Miami at home.
If the big 4 would be scheduled the other way around I would give Pitt the edge and the chance to break into that group I expect to finish 1 to 4.
But as it is ... I expect them to finish 5th or 6th.

Lower Midfield and they might have to stretch for a Bowl bid.

Virginia Cavaliers
I'm curious to see, what will happen with the Cavaliers.
I have to say I hate to see them play.
Once I start liking their play, they start losing. Then I start hating them and they play like you would wish to see any team play. Damn.
Mike London came in 2010 and is now in his 4th season.
So expectations are to start winning.
He had an 8-5 season, with a Bowl loss, in 2011 but dived to 4-8 in 2012.

Non-Conference games are against: BYU, Oregon, VMI (FCS), Ball State.
Well ... if you are on a hot seat, you don't want a non-conference schedule like that!
Even if all those games are home games, they can easily be 1-3 (the FCS games should be a win).
BYU is tough, Oregon is faster than its shadows and Ball State is on the rise.
This will be interesting.

Let's assume the Cavaliers will try to compete with Duke, Pitt and maybe GT and VT for a better mid field position.
They play @Pitt but against those other teams at home. So IF they are good enough to compete, they don't have a better chance.
From the Atlantic they got Maryland and Clemson. Could be worse, but those games will also be tough to impossible.

They will probably fight for the bottom and lose.
I doubt they are fit for the fight assumed above and London might be out of a job at the end of the season.

Virginia Tech Hokies
The last time Frank Beamer had a 7 win season with Virginia Tech was? Last season ... right.
But before that? 1997! VT was in the Big East and VT did bounce back with a 9-3 season right after that.
Beamer did raise the expectations for the Hokies to a level which most teams can't handle.
It will be interesting to see, how VT will play this season.
They had more or less an abo for the division title and getting the conference title in every 2 to 3 seasons.
It looks like this is gone, at least many do think that way.
After one 7-5 season.

Non-Conference games are against: Alabama, Western Carolina (FCS), @East Carolina and Marshall.
I expect a more or less copy of the Alabama - Michigan game last season as opener. I big loss for the Alabama opponent.
The rest should be a win, so 3-1 is not unlikely.

Then they have to travel to GT and beside the Miami road game, everything looks like a rebound season for VT.
They still have to beat UNC at home, but got BC and Maryland from the Atlantic.

This might get them to the top, but I expect an upper midfield position.
But at the end the wins should be more than 7.

So my TIP is:

Atlantic Division:
Clemson Tigers
Florida State Seminoles
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Maryland Terrapins
Syracuse Orange
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Boston College Eagles

Coastal Division:
North Carolina Tar Heels
Miami Hurricanes
Virginia Tech Hokies
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Duke Blue Devils
Pittsburgh Panthers
Virginia Cavaliers