2015-08-31

FBS - Preview 2015 - The Big 10 Conference

The Big10 is on a high at the moment.
Ohio State won the conference last season and after that they did win the National Championship.
As a result of this, the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio States arch rival, did make a big splash in the coaches marked and pulled one of the biggest names available.
The got Jim Harbaugh, who was let go by the 49ers after the 2014 season.
It will be fun to see, if he can live up the hype.

Many other teams did change coaches or did sharpen their coaching personal, so a nice season should be coming.

Big Ten Conference
The best thing of the Big10 to say from my point of view is, that they did get lost of the idiotic division names (Legends and Leaders) and gave the divisions "normal" names, East and West.
The team list got bigger when Rutgers and Maryland did join last season and they also changed some teams from one division to another one.
Overall I think the conference did their homework and as far as it can be judged now, it should be ready for the next seasons to come.

The 14 teams are:

East Division:
Indiana University Hoosiers
University of Maryland Terrapins
University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan State University Spartans
Ohio State University Buckeyes
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Nittany Lions
Rutgers Universityâ€"New Brunswick Scarlet Knights

West Division:
University of Illinois at Urbanaâ€"Champaign (Illinois) Fighting Illini
University of Iowa Hawkeyes
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
University of Nebraskaâ€"Lincoln (Nebraska) Cornhuskers
Northwestern University Wildcats
Purdue University Boilermakers
University of Wisconsinâ€"Madison (Wisconsin) Badgers

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

Indiana Hoosiers
It's not an easy time at Indiana.
In basketball the team did had a great season in 2012/2013 (conference champion) and since then for the last 2 seasons they did not really click.
For a basketball school that's not good.
In football, the team did had their last bowl season in 2007 with a 7-6 record, including a bowl loss.
Some experts did see a turnaround in 2013, but the team felt short with 5 wins to qualify for a bowl and last season they ended up with 4 wins.
No easy times in Indiana.
I'm not expecting a big turnaround this season, either.
Kevin Wilson, the HC, is in his 5th season and I'm not sure if he can survive another sub bowl season.
They will start against Southern Illinois (FCS) to get an easy win and will then play FIU, which probably will be a win, too.
WKU the week after will be tougher and they might get upset here, but if all things go normal, they should win here.
The last non conference game will be against Wake Forest on the road, which might end up in a loss.
I picked Wake Forest as a loser here, so the Hoosiers might end up with 4 wins after those 4 games.
Sounds unbelievable.
They got of the west division Iowa at home and Purdue on the road, which might be a bad combination.
Iowa is never easy and even at home this might be a stronger team than Indiana can handle.
Purdue on the other side might be a team in the league as Indiana, but on the road it will get tougher, especially as a 2nd consecutive road game as it is this season.
The rest of the games are against their division teams, with most of them better than Indiana is at the moment. I think.
Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan? Losses, all of them. A win there would be a huge upset.
Which leaves Rutgers at home and Maryland on the road.
I think, if they have a chance here, it's the Rutgers game.
Maryland looks like a rising force, Rutgers might need some time.
Overall the whole schedule inside the conference looks challenging for Indiana, hence the prediction they might not get a bowl season.
Even if they win all 4 non conference games, they might not even win that 1 conference game they won last season.
If that happens, I think we will see a coaching change.
I pick them last in the division.

Maryland Terrapins
It's the 2nd season for Maryland in the Big10, coming from the ACC, where they had some tough seasons in the past few years.
Ralph Friedgen, a long time HC since 2001 took them through highs (2001 conference title and several very positive seasons) and lows (2009 only 2 wins, several losing seasons) and was let go after the 2010 season.
The not so funny thing in this case is, 2010 the Terps did win 9 games, including a bowl win.
Still, he was fired and did accept a new job in 2014 for Rutgers as OC.
His successor at Maryland became Randy Edsall, at that time a long time UConn HC.
He started 2-10 and brought Maryland up to 7-6, including a bowl loss, in 2013, their last season in the ACC.
In 2014 the finished with the same result, just a different bowl and with 1 more win in the conference and 1 less win against non conference teams.
Overall he is 20-30 (in 10 season was Ralph Friedgen 75-50), so the question is if the Terps will go down a bit this season, or up?
They will play all non conference games in September, starting with Richmond (FCS), Bowling Green, South Florida and West Virginia on the road, which is a rivalry game.
Don't expect too much here.
Richmond will be a win, but Bowling Green is a tough cookie from the MAC, as could be South Florida and regarding the WV-game I see only a loss.
A record of 3-1 is still possible.
Playing Iowa and Wisconsin won't help much to get some wins and if they are lucky the will win 1 of those, but I expect 0.
The rest will be not very funny.
Indiana and Rutgers will be the most likely beatable teams.
I do expect a split record against those teams.
The home game most likely a win (Indiana).
This adds up to even less win than last season.
Don't get me wrong, I think they Terps are on a good way, the thing is, I think most of the other teams in the Big10 are improving faster.
I see them as 6th in the division.

Michigan Wolverines
Brady Hoke is gone, he burned his reputation at Michigan.
Maybe the step was too much for him from San Diego State to Michigan, maybe the stuff around the Michigan job, the media, the fans and so on, was too much?
Anyway, the team went from 11 wins, to 8 wins, to 7 wins and on his last season to 5 wins.
It was clear the administration had to change something and they fired him and got Jim Harbaugh.
The Coach of the San Francisco 49ers and former HC of Stanford.
He left the 49ers with some anger I think, getting more or less axed after a 8-8 season, following 3 consecutive division titles, 11+ win seasons and 3 trips to at least the NFC championship game.
That was a big splash for the Wolverines.
The hype is up and that's what Michigan needs.
Ohio State, their arch rival, did win the national championship last season, while they did not even reach a bowl.
Now there are 2 big name coaches in the same division.
It's like the Big10 does copy the SEC with the Saban-Miles rivalry (if there is one ....).
I'm sure the fans will be waiting for the season final, when the Buckeyes will come visiting.
I'm not convinced the game will have any big impact on the division standings THIS season, but for sure the Wolverines will play the hardest game of the season.
Michigan will not start soft. Utah, Oregon State, UNLV (OK, that's a bit soft) and BYU are the non conference games and those won't be easy.
Granted, all teams won't be big splashy powerhouses, but this schedule beats any typical FCS-MAC-SBC-CUSA-bashing-schedule.
It's hard to predict the impact Harbaugh will have in his 1st season, but he needed a few seasons at Stanford to make them the contender they are still today.
He added 3 wins in his 1st season at Stanford.
I think Oregon State and UNLV will be wins, but Utah on the road as 1st game and BYU at home might be tough.
I give them at the moment 2 wins here, maybe 3.
Minnesota and Northwestern are probably the best can happen to Michigan to sharpen the team.
The Gophers at home will be a challenge they might not be up to this season, but a win is possible.
Northwestern has to be won.
Inside the division, the question marks will be there against Michigan State, which is rival game, at Penn State and of cause against Ohio State at home.
The Spartans have a 2 game winning streak in their rivalry, and I think they will add a 3rd game this season, even if it will be closer than last season.
Penn State will be a coin toss. With Franklin in his 2nd year, I think this will be a loss for the Wolverines, too.
The Game Ohio State - Michigan rival game nick name)?
Believe it or not, there might be upset potential.
On paper for me Ohio State is a giant favorite. Meyer has his team clicking, while Michigan has to find its new strength.
But ... it's the end of the season, it's at home and it's the GAME.
I won't pick Michigan, but I don't think they will go down as the last few seasons.
Still, I think they will lose.
Adding this all up I get .... 7 to 8 wins in regular season and a bowl spot, which would be much better than last season.
Believe it or not, I pick the Wolverines as 4th best in the division.

Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio, in his 9th season, had great seasons during his reign with the Spartans.
He has 2 conference titles and another division title.
He has played in a bowl in each of the 8 seasons with the team and won 4 in a row.
Last season his team was only defeated twice, by Oregon and Ohio State, the teams which did play out the National Championship in January.
We are talking about a top team here.
The big question mark regarding the Spartans is, will they be able to compensate the loss of the defensive coordinator?
He was one of the masters behind the Spartans success in the last few seasons and is now the HC of Pitt.
The team will face some easier teams for the start, except Oregon.
Western Michigan, Air Force and Central Michigan are lock for wins, but Oregon as 2nd game of the season will be tough.
Too tough?
Not necessarily.
Oregon has to compensate some losses, including their QB, and the game is at home.
I can imagine a win even here. But it will be close.
They got Purdue (a win) and Nebraska (probably a win) from the West, which is easier than it could have been.
The rest ist up to the Michigan game (a very likely win), the Penn State game (at home, very likely a win) and Ohio State (on the road, which is likely a loss).
In theory the team can get through the season unbeaten.
But I can't get my head around a Ohio State loss.
At the end, the Spartans will fall short a division title and will eventually end up in a big bowl.
I see them as 2nd place team.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer won a National Championship with the Buckeyes last season.
It's his 3rd and he now is one of the 2 football coaches to win such a championship with different FBS teams (Nick Saban is the other one).
All hopes in Ohio are for a repeat and chances are good.
The team is in good shape and the rest of the teams are in rebuilding or reloading mode, got new coaches or did lose some key parts of the organization.
No guarantee, but good circumstances for a repeat at least regarding the Big10 championship.
The schedule is OK, for my opinion lacks a bit of strength, but that will be judged by the playoff committee.
Virginia Tech on the road as a start is nice, but then do visit Hawai'i, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
Hawaii will be a push-over, Northern Illinois a nice match, but also a win and Western Michigan will also be no challenge.
If they lose here, the season for a repeat will be very likely over, even if they win the Big10.
Having Minnesota at home from the west and Illinois on the road will be a nice combination with another 2 wins.
Trouble inside the division?
Penn State at home will be quite tough, Michigan State at home also, and "the Game" against Michigan on the road.
All solvable problems, all very likely wins.
At the moment, it looks like the Buckeyes will go unbeaten into the Big10 Championship game, and from there they might jump to Championship, playoffs, and another championship, but we will see.

Penn State Nittany Lions
The Lions did get James Franklin from Vanderbilt last season as new HC after Bill O'Brien did go to the NFL.
On one hand, I felt a bit betrayed by O'Briens move, but on the other hand I do respect how he handled the whole "After the Abuse Scandal" situation at Penn State and he left when then team was in calm water already.
With Franklin they got a coach who was able to make Vanderbilt a winner, which looks like a miracle.
Vanderbilt is normally the prey in the SEC and he was able to turn the team around in 2 season and had after a 6-7 1st season campaign 2 seasons with 9-4, including bowl wins.
Before that, in 2010, the Commodores were 2-10! And that's not unusual for this program.
It's not a bad program, it's just the weakest school in the SEC.
So, when Franklin did win there, it was clear he can do stuff.
Now he is at Penn State and his 1st season was 7-6 with a bowl win.
Expect a better season in his 2nd year.
The Lions will start with a road trip to Temple, which should be a win.
Add Buffalo, San Diego State and Army, all at home and you can see a quite nice start with non conference games.
Strongest team will be San Diego State, but Penn State should still be able to win this.
With Illinois and Nortwestern from the west they got a mid-field team and a bottom team, nothing the team shouldn't be able to handle.
Only negative here is, that the Northwestern game is on the road, which will make this game a bit more challenging.
Inside the division, the team has to face of cause all other teams and if I'm right, the team can forget about the Ohio State game (on the road) and the Michigan State game (also on the road) and instead focus on the rest.
The Michigan game is at home, which should give them a plus. All other teams I see as beatable.
If you count all those games together, a 10 win season is possible.
This would still only be worth a 3rd place in the East division.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Kyle Flood is in his 4th season with the team and on paper it's the first time he is guiding his team though a 2nd season in the same conference.
2012 was Rutgers in the Big East, which then did split into the American Athletic in 2013 and after that season did Rutgers move to the Big10 in 2014.
With a 8-5 record including a bowl win the team looks like the team did adopt to the Big10 quite nicely.
If you kept the picks of the other teams in mind, you see I pick the team 5th.
Why that?
A rising Michigan and Penn State team will leave the Knights only to that spot. According to my picks.
The schedule they have is not optimal.
Norfolk State (FCS), Washington State, Kansas and Army are quite easy non conference games, but for the conference standings only conference games do count.
So even if Rutgers will end up with a perfect record over those non conference teams (which is not granted, Washington State and Kansas will be challenging) they still have to win against the conference foes and the chances are slim.
They got Nebraska and Wisconsin from the west, which will probably be the main contenders there.
I'm expecting 2 losses here.
Add Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State (road game) as not so optimal games or even impossible to win games, they will have to get the wins out of Indiana (road), Michigan (road) and Maryland.
I pick Indiana and Maryland as wins, which gives them overall probably 6 wins for a bowl spot and the 5th spot in the division.


West Division

Illinois Fighting Illini
BRAND NEW: Tim Beckman was axed on Friday based on reports which did found him responsible "to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries."
He had 3 seasons with the Illini and had 2 wins in 2012, 4 wins in 2013 and 6 wins in 2014, plus a bowl spot last season, which ended in a loss.
Now they will be guided by the new named interims coach Bill Cubit, the OC up to now.
Cubit was Western Michigans HC from 2005 to 2012 and has a 51-47 record with the team, including 3 bowls, all lost.
They will start with Kent State, which still should be a win.
Western Illinois (FCS) will also be a win, but then will they travel to North Carolina, where they probably will end up with their 1st loss.
Middle Tennessee will then be the final non conference game, which they should be a win, but under this situation you never know.
A 3-1 start would be nice.
But then will come the conference schedule.
It's hard to imagine them playing better than the established big shots in the division.
They will have to prove they can beat those teams.
I see them fighting against Purdue, Northwestern and maybe Iowa or Minnesota for the better places in the midfield.
With Ohio State and Penn State from the east they got 2 very good teams from that division, so don't expect wins there.
They got Nebraska and Wisconsin at home, which might give them upset potential, but I doubt it.
Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue are all road games, so there will be some losses, too.
Only "easy" home game will be Northwestern on season finale.
If I scan the whole schedule I can't imagine many conference wins, which would mean, the linear trend of Beckman will be stopped, no bowl spot and a losing season.
I think they will fight against being last in the division.
Under the current circumstances, it's very likely.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Since 17 years is Kirk Ferentz head coach of the Hawkeyes and it looks like he will stay until he leaves on his own terms.
Good season, bad seasons, the Hawkeyes had it all and the program is still in his hands.
He is in constant (small) fire, because his wage is one of the highest of all coaches, but his results are not in that top range, but that's something the school has to justify.
So here they are.
Last season was again one of those heaven and hell seasons, with a bit more hell and a bit less heaven.
They lost against all the bigger names and won most of games against weaker teams.
They lost also the bowl game.
This season, they will probably have a quite similar season.
Illinois State (FCS) is a nice start, the rival game against Iowa State should better be won, since the Cyclones are not really a tough team and Iowa lost last season.
Pittsburgh at home should be OK, but they have a new coach, so things might happen.
North Texas should be a win.
Nice start, could be 4-0, could be 3-1.
Now the conference games.
They got Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) from the east, which should be wins.
The Terps-games could be challenging and might become one of those typical Iowa collapse games, ending in a loss. But those games are hard to predict.
I see Wisconsin and Nebraska (both road trips) as losses and the most challenging teams of the rest will be Minnesota and Purdue, which are both home games.
Adding up the games will end in maybe 9 wins, which would be a better result than last season.
If they win against Minnesota, they might end up 3rd in the division.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
When Jerry Kill took over the Gophers in 2011, the team was a mess.
He managed to get them into the winning zone in 3 seasons and kept them there.
So far, only a bowl win is missing too call this turnaround a complete success.
Well, a division title or even a conference title wouldn't hurt either.
The contenders will have their say in that quest and I'm not sure Minnesota can get to the top.
They will start against TCU, which is one of the favorite teams to win the Big12.
That's a way to start a season!
Then they visit Colorado State, which might or might not play like last season. Not easy, too.
Kent State and Ohio will be the relaxing parts of that non conference games.
A 3-1 record is possible, but 2-2 might be the more likely, if CSU plays strong after that TCU match.
Now, they have to face the conference foes and they got Michigan at home and Ohio State on the road dealt to them.
Even if Michigan will not flourish in the 1st season under Harbaugh, this won't be an easy game and most likely a loss.
Ohio State is for sure a loss.
If you look then on the division games, the games against the division title contenders, like Nebraska and Wisconsin, are at home, which will probably make this close losses, but never the less, losses.
on the other hand the mid field teams will be played on the road, which will make those games much tougher and it's the main reason for me to predict a down year for the Gophers.
Summing up the likely wins and losses, I see a bowl season, but not much more.
They would have to win against Iowa on the road to get the season close the 8 wins from last season, which I doubt.
My pick is they will finish 4th in the division.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
There are voices stating the move from the Big12 to the Big10 was a mistake.
Overall, I have not enough data to judge this move.
The success was bigger in the past in the Big12, but the Huskers were not the driving force in the Big12 when they decided to move and they are still not the driving force in the Big10, since they joined the conference.
Bo Pelini was axed after last season, a 9-4 season, and he never won less than 9 games during his time at Nebraska.
The main reason for his departure was probably the missing titles.
He won 4 division titles (3 Big12, 1 Big10), but never a conference title.
His bowl record was 4-3, so also not that bad, but obviously not enough to keep his job.
He is now the HC of Youngstown State, a FCS team, getting still money from the Nebraska job. Not that bad.
New coach became a quite surprising choice, the longtime coach of the Oregon State Beavers, Mike Riley.
I'm not sure, why they selected him, but it must be something the numbers don't show.
He had a 93-80 record with the beavers.
He had good times and bad times with them in 14 seasons and the press is stating, most coaches do respect his work there.
But is that enough to satisfy a quite greedy Huskers nation?
We will see.
I think he will have 1-2 seasons to get comfortable and then the fans want to see something worth the money.
And in Huskers nations that means, titles.
Lucky for Riley, he does not inherit a losing team, instead he gets a well-oiled machine.
So expectations are high (also mine) and if he does not get the team to a 1st to 3rd place in the division, the question marks will emerge very fast.
Let's get over with the non conference games, which might be the safety net to get a bowl spot (at least for some teams).
BYU as opener is risky, but should be fun.
South Alabama has to be won and Miami (FL) will be tough, but should also be a win.
With Southern Miss the last game is a walk in the park and the Cornhuskers are able to get out of this by 4-0.
From the east they got Michigan State at home and Rutgers on the road.
The Knights should be beatable, but the Spartans? That's likely a loss. A good point to make a statement, if they win.
They play Wisconsin and Iowa at home and Minnesota on the road.
If that teams gets a good start under Riley, this mix might become the division title mix, but I have doubts regarding Wisconsin.
They are a tough team and even a team under new management who is known for smash mouth football.
I give them the edge here.
The rest I see as wins, but they are not for sure.
The season could become a total success, or a total failure.
I bowl is very likely, a upper half finish also, but I don't see a division title.
My pick is a 2nd place.

Northwestern Wildcats
It's hard to predict a Northwestern team, each season.
The Wildcats are normally a team winning some games, but losing more games than winning some during a season.
But they also won some conference titles in the past.
Since 1995 the team did win 3 conference titles, but since 2001 did the team not claim any title at all.
For season 2006 the school hired Pat Fitzgerald as Headcoach and now, in his 10th season he can claim at least the 5 bowls in a row (2008 to 20012, with only 1 win) but had the team on a losing record the past 2 seasons (each 5-7).
The problem with Northwestern is, they have some money, but not a good reputation regarding football (they have a very good one regarding education), which does automatically mean, they don't get many good recruits.
So Fitzgerald has to make the best out of his team, each year.
The power levels inside the division and inside the conference did shift a bit and it seems he lost a step against other teams.
The Wildcats will open the season against Stanford, which will probably end in a loss.
Eastern Illinois (FCS) has to be a win, Duke on the road will probably be a loss and Ball State at home should also be a win to close the non conference part of the season.
Getting 2 wins out of this is very likely, every additional one will be a bonus.
Michigan and Penn State are 2 teams from the east they will lose to.
They might have a chance against both, but it looks slim.
Key game for them will most likely be the Purdue game to clarify the 5th or 6th spot in the conference.
Lucky for them they play at home.
A big question mark is there regarding the push the Boilermakers might or might not make.
I think the push will be bigger than Northwestern can handle.
The Minnesota game beginning of October could also be a chance, played at home, but I'm sure the Gophers will get a win in a close game.
So my pick is, they will finish 6th in the division.

Purdue Boilermakers
Darrell Hazell came in in 2013 and changed stuff.
He went 1-11 with the team in 2013, 3-9 in 2014.
Feeling the heat?
It's there, under his seat.
He took over a 6-7 team, and was supposed to make it better.
So, how much better will the team become, this season?
A road game against Marshall might give them their 1st loss of the season, Indiana State (FCS) should be won, Virginia Tech, even at home will be challenge and probably another loss and even against Bowling Green could the team fall.
Assuming some progress been made, I think they will be lucky to get off this schedule with non conference teams with a 2-2 record.
Now we add the east teams of the conference, Michigan State and Indiana and I do add another split record here.
I don't see the team in the same league as the contenders, so they will probably battle Minnesota, Northwestern and maybe Iowa.
Minnesota is played at home, so a big chance here. I pick them still as losers, but this game could be crucial.
As will be the Northwestern game on the road. Here I see them as the winners.
Iowa on the road should be too much, pending a Hawkeyes collapse, and Illinois is played at home and it should be a sure win.
Adding this all up, they could end up 4th to 6th in the division.
I pick them 5th and I think they will again not play a bowl.
Will Hazzell survive this? Probably.

Wisconsin Badgers
The last team, the mighty Badgers.
Gary Andersen came in 2013 and had the team on 2 good seasons, winning the division last season and left then to Oregon State (which still doesn't make much sense if you think about money, but sometimes it seems there is more than money involved).
New HC became Paul Chryst, the now former HC of the Pittsburgh Panthers, where he coached 2 season and had 2 mediocre seasons.
Now he gets a beast he has to control and chances are good the team will keep on winning.
His coaching style does fit to the team, so except some adjustments, the team should fly.
The will play Alabama in Jerry Jones football temple in Texas for season start, which will end most likely in a loss.
Fitting coaching style might be good, but don't expect such a team win against one of the best team in the nation on their 1st game.
The other 3 non conference games are for relaxing, having Miami (OH), Troy and Hawai'i.
A 3-1 start is good, but the money is earned inside the conference.
The team got Rutgers and Maryland from the east, which is a very weak selection. Add 2 wins here.
Now inside the division, the most anticipated games will be Iowa (at home) and Nebraska (on the road).
I picked them in both games as a winner.
The Iowa game at home is great to make the last adjustments in a friendly environment to travel the next week to Lincoln and win probably the division.
Of cause there are still many games to play and if the team does not click, they might fall fast, I see them overcoming those problems of the start and win it all.
They will probably get stopped in the conference title game, but that's another story.

So my TIP is:

East Division:
Ohio State Buckeyes
Michigan State Spartans
Penn State Nittany Lions
Michigan Wolverines
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Maryland Terrapins
Indiana Hoosiers

West Division:
Wisconsin Badgers
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Iowa Hawkeyes
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Purdue Boilermakers
Northwestern Wildcats
Illinois Fighting Illini

2015-08-30

FBS - Preview 2015 - The Atlantic Coast Conference

I'm still wondering, when the ACC will get the teams on a more equal level in football.
6 teams had last season a losing record, even when a few of them got that last loss in bowls.
Overall most teams from this Power 5 conference are quite irrelevant for the national picture, even their names do still have some ringing with it.
Realistic only 4 to 5 teams do have some impact, the rest is 2nd tier or worse.

Atlantic Coast Conference
The new teams in 2013 and 2014 did not really add some quality, except maybe Louisville.
I don't think the conference will be effected by the BIG12 expansion talks, since most teams are either well established or irrelevant.

The 14 teams are:

Atlantic Division:
Boston College Eagles
Clemson University Tigers
Florida State University Seminoles
University of Louisville Cardinals
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
I'm not sure if the current HC will be there for some more seasons.
OK, the team was a mess, when he took over (2-10 in the last season before the change), but Steve Addazio came from Temple and managed to get 2 season with a 7-6 record each and a bowl loss, each.
Nice, if you were 2-10, but the team had division titles and a conference title between 2000 and 2010, several Bowl wins and was a team you had to beat in the ACC.
So, 7-6 is nice and he probably will get 1 to 2 years as credit, but for sure the heat is turned on a bit.
They do start with 4 home games, 3 are non conference games. The 4th non conference game is mid-November.
Maine (FCS), Howard (FCS) and Northern Illinois should or could be a win. Notre Dame in November is very likely a loss.
The Huskies are able to win, so the Eagles should better bring their A game.
They do play Duke and VT from the Coastal, which will not be easy.
Of all the inner division games, they will have to aim for the easier ones.
I do mark the FSU game and the Clemson game as sure losses, as I do the Louisville game on the road.
Which leaves Wake Forest, Syracuse on the road and NC State.
Hard to guess the outcome here, but last season they won these games.
Looking at all the games coming, I doubt they will make a positive conference record.
But all probable wins sum up I get them into the 6 wins figures, not more.
There are many "ifs" for a 8 win record, like "if Duke sucks" and "if VT still sucks", that I don't think they can overcome such conditions for such a result.

Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney made Clemson a winner and if there wouldn't be such teams like FSU, Clemson would have won many conference titles.
Instead they got not much in the last few season, except national recognition as team behind FSU.
The teams has double figure win season since 2011 (in which they won the conference, which was before FSU came back from the dead) and they won all bowls since 2012.
Some might wonder why the coach was not hired away from one of the other big schools, but you always need 2 parties for such an agreement.
Swinney has a nice contract until 2021 and will cost the school a lot of money, if he gets fired.
Fine, so the coach is still there in his 7th full season and he is aiming for the big one, again.
On the non conference games front does it look good.
Wofford (FCS) will get the typical warm-up beating at season start and Appalachian State will very likely get another one.
Beginning of October they will play Notre Dame at home which will be bend or break for both teams.
At season final they will play the rival game against South Carolina on the road. After 5 straight wins by the Gamecocks did the Tigers win last season, at home.
Tough to pick the games, but 3-1 to 4-0 are possible.
If they lose against Notre Dame, they can burry all hopes for a playoff spot I guess.
From the Coastal division they got Miami and GT.
I give them Miami as a win, without thinking, but GT is something else.
Lucky for the Tigers, the game is at home and a win gets more likely.
All other games inside the division are OK, the most interesting ones are Louisville on the road (3rd gameday) and FSU at home beginning of November.
Perfect for division champ run, if they can win those.
It looks good, since FSU is still sorting the QBs and Louisville might be better than last season, but they might still not be ready for a good Clemson team.
I really pick them 1st here.

Florida State Seminoles
The Noles got it the heavy way against Oregon in the playoff semifinals, after an incredible streak of 29 wins, losing 20â€"59. Autsch!
It did not hurt Winstons draft status (he was taken #1 overall) but did of cause hurt the Noles.
No repeat.
Still they won the conference and will contend of cause also this season.
But the team has some off season trouble (players are accused hitting women) and they did some shuffle to find Winstons successor at QB.
It might happen that a Notre Dame transfer will get the starting spot, but that's not final.
Last season were some discussions regarding strength of schedule for the playoff spots and I have to say, Florida State has a quite weak one this season.
Texas State and USF at season start, Chattanooga (FCS) and Florida on the road as rival game at season finale.
Beside the Gators there are no challenges and Florida got a new coach, so they might be a season or 2 away from being back on track in the SEC.
The coastal division opponents are Georgia Tech and Miami. GT is fine, but Miami is still a shadow living in their glories past.
The rest will be decided mid-October against Louisville and beginning of November at Clemson.
I think the school will take a down year this season and will have to handle GT and Louisville to get at least the 2nd place in the Atlantic.
My pick is, they will fall short and end up 3rd.

Louisville Cardinals
I think the guys on campus do sometimes congratulate themselves for the great ride the team had in the last few years.
A long time independent team, made the last push into the conferences 1996 into the CUSA, got to the Big East in 2005, moved on with several other Big East teams to the AAC for 2013 and is now since 2014 member of the ACC.
Money and reputation did skyrocket in those almost 20 years.
The Cardinals are now a member of a power 5 conference and do have an almost paved way to national championship chances, if things do come the right way.
As CUSA or even AAC team, those chances are very slim.
Louisville did hire Bobby Petrino on a second stint (he was the Cardinals coach from 2003 to 2006 and bolted to Atlanta in the NFL for the money and probably the challenge, which did not work and he bolted to Arkansas back to college ranks the next season) and he does know how to get teams winning.
Last season, in his 1st one, the team went 9-4 including a bowl loss.
Since he started coaching, a team under his guidance didn't had major setbacks. In fact, only the Louisville team of 2005 had a worse record (9 wins) than the team of 2004 a year before (11 wins).
But they switched the conference at that time.
So, an educated guess could be, that Louisville will add a win or 2 to the record this season.
They won 9 games during the regular season, losing only to Virginia, Clemson and FSU.
Means they even won all their non conference games, including Notre Dame and Kentucky.
So ... what will happen this season?
Well ... a season opener against Auburn will be a stunner.
Win this and you are in national title discussion, lose this and you can focus on the beatable teams.
Houston should be a win and Samford (FCS) even more.
The rival game against Kentucky at season finale against was won 4 straight seasons and even played on the road this season can be won again.
A 3-1 to 4-0 record is possible.
Playing Virginia and Pittsburgh from the Coastal will be much easier than playing the the big shots, so they can cash in here, too.
Overall it will come down to the Clemson and FSU games.
With Clemson at home and FSU on the road this might be the right season to overcome both teams.
I doubt it, but chances are there.
I pick them 2nd in the division.

North Carolina State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack is one of those teams, which are always in the shadows of some bigger teams.
Last time the team won a conference championship?
1979 under Coach Bo Rein in his last season with the team.
Since then, the team had some successful seasons, but it was never enough to win a championship.
Dave Doeren took over the pack 2 seasons ago and did come from a very successful 2-year stint at Northern Illinois.
His team went 3-9 in the 1st season under Doeren and went 8-5 in the 2nd year, including a bowl win.
I think the team has some chances to climb another step this season, but don't expect too much.
The other contenders are very good.
Troy, Eastern Kentucky (FCS) , Old Dominion and South Alabama are no real threat as non conference opponents.
I think it's one of the softest set of games a team can have to start a season.
The Wolfpack will have to play Virginia Tech and North Carolina from the Coastal, which isn't too bad.
VT does struggle since a few seasons and North Carolina is each year in turnaround mode, but never delivers.
I still think NC State might drop 1 of those games. Most likely the road trip to the Hokies.
Inside the conference it will get messy.
They will play Louisville at home, which will give them the best chance they can get to overcome the Cardinals, but I doubt a win here.
Clemson is out of reach from my point of view.
Most interesting game will probably the FSU game mid-November on the road.
If they can get a win there, the season might become better than expected.
I pick them still only 4th in the division.

Syracuse Orange
Maybe I'm an ass, but I think Syracuse has a lot of reputation, without much they have delivered the last few seasons.
At least in football.
Granted, in 2013, the 1st season under Scott Shafer as Headcoach the team went 7-6 in the newly entered ACC, including a bowl win.
And a season before they won the Big East conference (shared with 3 other teams).
But overall did the team not really strike fear in the hearts of the opposing teams.
Last season did the team finish 3-9.
I'm sure Shafer is feeling some heat. Not much, but some.
He better get some better protection, because the heat will get hotter after this season.
I don't think they will get a positive record.
Rhode Island (FCS) will be a nice start, mid-September will they host Central Michigan, which are well beatable, but LSU, even at home, will be a mess.
Playing South Florida on the road will be a nice test.
They can win here, but a loss is possible.
In the best case they can get 3 wins in this non conference schedule.
The Coastal teams are Pittsburgh and Virginia, which could be much worse.
But Pitt is under new management and Virginia can be a terror or a kitten.
My pick is they will lose 1 here.
Inside the division are the biggest problems.
Wake Forest at home will probably be a win, but NC State and FSU are on the road, which I think would be the most likely possible wins.
The rival Game against Boston College is at home which is a probable win.
Adding up all picks I get ... 6 wins, 3 in the conference.
Enough to get less heat? Don't think so.
But we will see.
I pick them 5th in the division.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
I hate writing about that team.
Normally the team is not that good, sometimes they show flashes of improvements, destroyed by sucking the next season, the next game or the next quarter.
The have a new coach since last season and went 3-9 under Dave Clawsons new watch.
He came from Bowling Green, winning a conference title and might bring in some better results, but fans have to be patient.
They will start the season with Elon (FCS), playing Army mid-September and Indiana a week after that.
Add Notre Dame on the read mid-November and you have the non conference games together.
If they are lucky they will win 2 of them.
Indiana and Notre Dame might be too much.
Playing Duke at home and North Carolina on the road as Coastal games won't help.
If the Tar Heels game would have been at home, I might have given the Deacons the win, but on the road? No.
Which leaves the rest of the division games.
Aiming for the weaker teams is probably a nice idea, so Syracuse (on the road), Boston College (on the road), Florida State (at home) and NC State (at home) will most likely be those games, but the scheduling is not ideal here.
They will probably win 1 or 2 of those, but not many more.
Which leaves the team overall with 3 to 5 wins.
I see them finishing last in the conference.

Coastal Division

Duke University Blue Devils
The Blue Devils are flying on a high note since 3 seasons.
2012 did they finish 6-6 and went to a bowl, the 1st since 1994. 2013 they did finish 10-4, won the division, lost to FSU in the conference championship game and did play another bowl.
Last season the finished 9-4 and went to another bowl.
The only bad thing in those 3 season was, they never won one of those bowls.
Now, in his 8th season with the Devils, David Cutcliffe will probably try to get this right.
Biggest opponent in the division will be Georgia Tech for the conference title.
Maybe Miami and Virginia Tech will get their things together again and will compete, but I will believe that, when I see it.
For Duke the non conference games are quite easy, playing Tulane, North Carolina Central (FCS), Northwestern and Army.
Northwestern will be the toughest one, but a Cutcliffe-Duke-team can win this.
So 3-1 or even 4-0 are possible here.
The Blue Devils will play Boston College and Wake Forest from the Atlantic, which might one of the easiest combinations this season.
Inside the division, they play GT at home early (end September) and will visit VT.
This 2 games will most likely determine the season results.
My pick is, it will be not enough for another trip to the championship game.
But 2nd or 3nd place is likely and another bowl. Maybe this season they can add a win there.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The press is putting GT into the spot for the ACC Championship favorite. At least some.
I wouldn't go that far, but things do look pretty good at the moment and the team will very likely finish with a very good record.
My guess is, they will make the Championship game, but from that point on they are on their own.
Paul Johnson won as their HC 4 division titles in 7 seasons and only because the team was sanctioned by the NCAA over an ineligible player, for which no real proof was given, the team cannot claim the 2009 won conference championship.
Now in his 8th season, they might be able to win it again.
The non conference schedule looks OK, starting with Alcorn State (FCS), Tulane and at Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame game will be great, with both teams able to win this.
The team will finish the season later with the traditional rivalry game against Georgia, which they were able to win last season in OT on the road, snapping a long lasting streak of defeats.
If the team is lucky they will get 3 to 4 wins out of these games, but 2 wins are a must.
From the Atlantic the play some of the toughest opponents, Clemson on the road and FSU at home.
They will have to win at least 1 of those to win the division.
At the end, it will come down in the road game against Duke, the road game against Miami and the home game against Virginia Tech.
Talent wise the tools are there to get a perfect season inside the division, even the conference, but some games will be close and an upset can happen in many games.
My pick is, they will finish 1st in the division, losing only 1 game inside the conference.
They will then have to win the Championship game, which might be a rematch of the Clemson game.

Miami Hurricanes
The "U" did not get the past 4 season what they expected to get from HC Al Golden. After a 9-4 season including a bowl loss in 2013, the team did dive to 6-7 with a loss in the bowl this winter.
So, no wonder many do see him on one of the hottest seats in the nation.
I would expect him to be fired, if certain games are lost.
Starting Bethune-Cookman (FCS), playing Florida Atlantic, Nebraska and Cincinnati in the first 4 weeks does end already the non conference schedule.
They will probably start with 2 wins (otherwise expect the trigger for Golden to be pushed very fast) and might get in trouble against the Huskers at home and the Bearcats on the road.
I'm not expecting a win against the Huskers and they will have to play tough to win against the Bearcats.
Still I think, 3-1 is possible here.
But then do the problems begin.
The next 4 games will be Florida State (on the road), Virginia Tech, Clemson and Duke (on the road) is one of the toughest list of games in a row you can have in the ACC.
Only GT is missing here (which they play later) and Louisville (which they were lucky not to draw from the Atlantic).
This can be the Al Golden survival weeks.
Honestly, I expect them to drop all of those games.
And with the rest of the schedule in mind, the team will have a hard time getting the 6 wins from last season.
It could come down to the last gameday against Pittsburgh on the road, where they are bound to win for a bowl ticket and maybe even to keep Golden in the job.
But my guess is, if it come down to that scenario, Golden will be gone before that game.
I see them finishing in the lower end of the division.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Since Larry Fedora came to town in year 2012 the team did go from 8 wins in that season to 7 wins in 2013 and to 6 wins in 2014.
Can you see the problem?
Al Golden of the Hurricanes is very likely on a hot seat, but for sure the seat of Fedora is at least fair warm.
This season will be challenging.
They start against South Carolina, which I would guess will be very one-sided and the Tar Heals will get spanked.
Then they will play North Carolina A&T (FCS), Illinois and Delaware (FCS).
This could be breathing streak, with only the Illini game a challenge, but at home.
So far the non conference games.
They might end up with 3 wins here.
North Carolina did get NC State and Wake Forest from the Atlantic, which will help to boost the win total.
Expect them to win at least 1 game here.
The rest will be interesting.
I don't expect them to win against GT and Duke (even they did win against them last season on the road) and the VT game on the road will be probably too much.
Which leaves Virginia, Pitt and Miami to top the 6 wins from last season.
Possible. Even likely.
I'm still not expecting a breakthrough season.
I pick them in the mid field.

Pittsburgh Panthers
Pitt went 6-7 last season, which still paved the way for HC Paul Chryst to get the Wisconsin gig and leave town.
As new HC was selected Pat Narduzzi, a longtime DC of Michigan State.
Expect hard mouth football and a no bullshit approach, whatever that means.
One thing is for sure, they will maybe take a small step back this season, but they will come back strong.
It might even happen without the step back already this season.
They play Youngstown State (FCS), Akron and Iowa at the start of the season and will add a Notre Dame game start of November.
With a good or bad Iowa team is hard to pick a winner, but my guts are expecting a loss there and also a loss against the Irish.
But 2-2 would be good out of the non conference games.
Syracuse and Louisville are an interesting combination from the Atlantic and another split win-loss here.
The rest of the season might come down to the games against Virginia, North Carolina and Miami, which are all home games.
Chances are they will win 2 or 3 games and will maybe get a bowl ticket.
My guess is, they will take the step back, will win 4 to 5 games only and will come back next season.

Virginia Cavaliers
I really get a bad feeling in my guts when I have to write about the Cavaliers.
It feels like they suck for ages, which is not true. They had a positive season under the current HC Mike London and they had several ones under Al Groh before that.
But since 2012 they did not have a positive record and some might think it's time for a change.
London is in his 6th season and it doesn't look like the Cavaliers will get back to the glory days.
They will play UCLA at season opening on the road and will very likely get a bloody nose in California.
Add Notre Dame the next gameday and you have a 0-2 start.
William & Mary (FCS) should help a bit, but then comes Boise State to town, which is known to eat power 5 teams alive.
Talk about a good 1-3 start here ....
They got Syracuse and Louisville from the Atlantic, but as sure as I was that Pitt would split those games, I'm sure Virginia will drop both games.
Even with playing the Orange at home.
If they want to avoid the last place in the conference (which they had last season), they need to win some conference games.
Best would be (on top of the Orange game) they would win against Pitt, the Tar Heels and Miami.
But all of those are road trips.
And the home games are GT, Duke and VT.
That's trouble.
My guess is, this will be a bad season and maybe London will not stay in his seat.
But I expected that 2 seasons ago already and he is still there.

Virginia Tech Hokies
Frank Beamer will enter his 29th season here.
Since 2012 did the team not record a double-digit win record, which they had from 2004 to 2011 every season.
No wonder some fans do get nervous and want to see a change.
I'm not sure they would get a better coach than Beamer.
At least this season, the chances are high, the team might get back into the 10 win column.
You don't believe that?
Fine.
Granted a start against Ohio State will be counterproductive, but then comes Furman (FCS), Purdue and East Carolina as non conference games.
3-1 is my pick here.
NC State and BC from the Atlantic are easy enough to win both games also.
Assuming a good run against the weaker teams, they play Duke at home and GT on the road after a bye week.
They might drop one of those, even both, but the chances are very good to win both games.
My pick is they will win 9 games during the season and might be able to get the 10th on a bowl.
Cheating?
Don't think to.
Inside the division I see them as 3rd best team.

So my TIP is:

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

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

2015-08-29

FBS - Preview 2015 - The American Athletic Conference and the Independents

The American Athletic Conference is now established and the teams did have some nice results.

Interesting is, that the former Big East teams did not play very well, while the newcomers from CUSA in 2013 did flourish, at least some of them.
The best former Big East team last season was Cincinnati winning a share of the conference title.
The 2nd best? Temple at 6th of 11 teams.
UConn and South Florida were even worse.
So, the former CUSA teams did well and some of them are even in the gossip regarding the BIG12 expansion.
The American Athletic would probably be the primary target for recruiting 2 additional teams, since the buyout wouldn't be too much and the profits for the 2 selected teams would be huge.
The main question would be, which team?
Don't judge the selection process on football only and also don't let yourself get carried away by some short term sport success.
The BIG12 would look for a stable situation and schools willing to do the next step, with bigger facilities and bigger budget.
Some names are thrown into the discussion, most of the time UCF.
Florida would be a good addition, since West Virginia is already on the east coast and Florida is also a great player-recruiting-state.
We will see.
Dependent on this season's playoff selections, the next step could happen fast.

Teams added 2015:
Navy (from Independent)

So this season there are 12 Teams:

Eastern Division
University of Central Florida Knights
University of Cincinnati Bearcats
University of Connecticut Huskies
East Carolina University Pirates
University of South Florida Bulls
Temple University Owls

Western Division
University of Houston Cougars
University of Memphis Tigers
United States Naval Academy Midshipmen
Southern Methodist University Mustangs
Tulane University Green Wave
University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Now let's get a bit into the details:

Eastern Division

UCF Knights
Central Florida does have George O'Leary in his 12th season.
He is riding on a wave of success.
Beside several conference and division titles he won with the team in the CUSA (2 conference titles, 2 division titles in 8 seasons) he did win already 2 conference titles in the American.
2013 they won and went to the Fiesta Bowl and won a shootout against Baylor, last season they won a share of the conference and lost in the Bowl against NC State.
This season, all eyes will be on them and Cincinnati for the division and probably also for the conference.
It will be tough for other teams to crack into the top ranks.
The Knights will start the season with 4 non conference games, FIU, Stanford, Furman (FCS) and South Carolina.
Stanford and South Carolina should be too much, but this season you never know.
I expect a 2-2 record after those games.
Since this is the first season with 2 divisions, the schedule is all new and UCF got lucky by avoiding Memphis and Navy from the west.
Instead they got Tulane at home and Tulsa on the road. Manageable, but the road game might be tougher than expected. Add Houston as the only real test here.
Of all other games, I think the road trip to Cincinnati will be deciding.
The winner will probably take the division and play for the championship.
I pick UCF here.

Cincinnati Bearcats
In 2 seasons with Tommy Tuberville the Bearcats were 9-4 each, but 2013 they were 3rd in the conference, last season they won a share of the conference title.
Now in his 3rd season, it will be interesting to see, if the team will take the next step or will take a (probably short) dive.
All signs are pointing towards the first one.
For me, the duel against UCF will more or less decide the fate here.
Cincinnati did split their non conference game a bit over the season, having Alabama A&M (FCS) at season start, Miami (OH) in Mid-September, which is a rivalry game, Miami (FL) at the start of October and 2 weeks later they travel to Provo to play BYU.
The FCS team and the rivalry game should be won, but Miami from Florida, even at home, will be a challenge and BYU on the road will also be a test.
I expect the Bearcats to come out of this with 3-1 or 2-2 more likely.
Inside the conference they got Memphis, Houston and Tulsa, which is a bit tougher than the UCF west schedule, so bit of a disadvantage here.
And inside the division, they play UCF at home, which is good, but East Carolina and South Florida both on the road, which could be a small bumper.
Overall, they have a slightly disadvantage against UCF from the scheduling point of view, that's why I pick them 2nd.
But they will for sure contend and they have all the chances to get into the championship game.

Connecticut (UConn) Huskies
The times of Huskies great football seasons seems to be over.
The school had little success in the past few seasons, but did hire Bob Diaco in 2014 from Notre Dame, where he was the DC in 2012 and 2013.
He did win 2 games with the team last season and will now try to improve the numbers in a challenging division.
It's hard to predict a big turnaround but let's face the games:
They will start with a 3 non conference games series, adding 1 more after at the 5th gameday.
Villanova (FCS) should be a win. Playing Army will be a test, even at home, but the Knights are beatable.
Forget about the Missouri game, this will be a massacre.
At last, after they got probably slaughtered by Navy in their first conference game, they travel to Utah and do play BYU.
I expect UConn to win 2 games max, they might even get an uprising Army team, which will let them even slide to 1-3.
Inside the conference there is the mentioned Navy game from the west, and also as western teams Tulane and Houston.
Except the Tulane game, I expect them to lose here.
And inside the division, they will have to play hard at home against South Florida and East Carolina.
On the road they might be able to challenge Temple.
UCF and Cincinnati I see as 2 losses.
So?
They will probably will win more games than the 2 last season, but don't expect a giant turnaround.
4 to 5 wins are possible, I think, which will land them a lower half spot.

East Carolina Pirates
The Pirates are now in their 2nd season in the AAC and last season they had a 8-5 debut with a tied 4th place and a bowl loss.
Ruffin McNeill came in as HC when the team was still a CUSA team and in his 6th season he might be able to get the team back on a 2 digit win record.
But that will be tough.
The start against Towson (FCS) will be a nice warm-up, but Florida on the road, Virginia Tech at home and BYU in Utah will be much to ask for.
They might end up with 3 losses here.
Navy, SMU and Tulsa from the west will help to improve the record, but Navy on the road will probably add another loss.
The toughest games in the east will come at the last 2 gamedays, with Cincinnati and UCF, so at that point it will be clear, where the team does stand.
My pick is, they will take a step back this season and will not get into the 2 digit win record.
But you never know, since some games do look close on paper and only my guts do tend to mark them as losses.
Overall I expect the team to be a mid-field team.

South Florida Bulls
Willie Taggart was hired after Skip Holtz did brought down the program to the bottom.
How he did that, I still don't understand, since he was quite successful at East Carolina and he also seems to be at Louisiana Tech.
So, maybe the situation at South Florida needs a special coach, fitting the situation?
Taggart is now in his 3rd season and he had so far a 2-10 season and a 4-8.
Thanks the definition of not so good, in my book.
Is there hope?
Maybe.
It looks like the Bulls did score a soft schedule.
They start with Florida A&M (FCS), Florida State (well, that won't be easy), Maryland (Mid-level Big10 team) and Syracuse (rebuilding ACC team).
Between those they play Memphis from the west at home.
Those 5 games will determine the state of the team.
A former Bulls team would have eventually stumbled over FSU, but the rest should have feared the Bulls.
If Taggart wants to keep his job, he should at least win against the FCS team and against Syracuse at home.
Memphis from the west will be tough, but I think a loss here could happen.
The 2 other west teams are SMU and Navy.
Navy on the road will also not be easy and probably a loss.
They get the 2 toughest teams from the east at season finale, and they play East Carolina on the road.
Did I say soft?
For an improving team, willing to overcome the other contenders, this schedule is quite easy.
But for a bottom teams, as the Bulls were last season, this could be the coffin nail for Taggart.
I think the team could get into Bowl worthy figures, but that will be a tough job.
My pick is they will fall short a Bowl bid.

Temple Owls
Temple did improve fast since Matt Rhule became the new headcoach.
The last 2 season went from 2-10 to 6-6 with no bowl spot.
Now come the 3rd season and all eyes are looking for the direction of the team.
Up or down?
For every up, somewhere else a team must go down in general.
The team got the non conference games mixed into the schedule all over the season.
They start with Penn State, play UMass mid-September and Charlotte after a bye week beginning of October.
Add Notre Dame at home end of October.
UMass and Charlotte are must-wins for an AAC-team.
But Penn State and Notre Dame will use Temple to test some stuff for the big games.
So maybe 2-2 here.
Memphis, Tulane and SMU from the west are almost as soft as it can get.
I doubt they will beat Memphis but the other 2 are beatable.
Unfortunately they play East Carolina and South Florida on the road, which won't be easy, and UConn at home.
I doubt they will be able to challenge UCF and Cincinnati, but the scheduling for that would be nice.
The Bearcats might be still a bit out of synch on the second gameday and UCF at home is the best boost you can get in that game.
When I look over the whole schedule, my answer for the question at the start is 'down', but that's just a gut feeling.
Some previews do see them on the way to the top, which can happen.
I expect many of the games to be close, but losses.
If they are able to reverse this, a great season is coming.

Eastern Division

Houston Cougars
New headcoach here and Tom Herman was the OC of national champion Ohio State last season (well, since 2012).
So, he brings in some kind of winning atmosphere.
Can he bring the Cougars back to glory?
Maybe.
This season?
Nope.
Well .... maybe.
Fact is, the Cougars were not bad last season. 8-5 overall, including a bowl win can't be called bad.
Still it did cost the former coach Tony Levine the job (before the bowl), since a 7-5 season and a 5-3 conference record in 2014 was not enough for the administration.
The team did lose some games, a team of that strength should not lose.
All those games I mark as "should be won" or "is a must" are treated the same way by many, many other people, including ADs.
If you lose 1 of those games ... OK; can happen. Lose 2 and you might get in trouble. Lose 3 and depended on your status at the school you are for sure in trouble.
Houston did lose against UTSA and Tulane last season, both at home, which did probably seal the deal for Levine. His standing wasn't good enough, it seems.
So, now comes the OC of the Buckeyes.
Hopes are, he can turn the good roster into a great football team, fast.
Biggest contender in the west beside them would be newcomer Navy and surprising team of 2014 Memphis.
If you look over the schedule, the non conference games are fine.
Tennessee Tech (FCS), Louisville, Texas State and Vanderbilt are a nice mixture, where a Cougars team might be able to get 2 or 3 wins.
I think Louisville will be too much, but even Vanderbilt can be beaten, since they are one of the weakest, if not THE weakest SEC teams.
From the east the team did get UCF on the road, Cincinnati and UConn at home.
That's tough, even if UConn will be a must win, but getting the two contenders from the east will be hard.
I'm sure they will drop at least 1 of those games.
Inside the division they got lucky and will play Memphis and Navy at home.
I'm not sold on the complete sweep here, but overall they might be able to win a share of the division title.
Question will be, if they are eligible to get into the championship game.
Tough to answer, but I think Navy might get that spot more likely, based on their schedule.
So I pick the Cougars 2nd here.

Memphis Tigers
Memphis was everything which can be great about college football (but fans of their opponents last season will see that different), they were a great surprise.
Justin Fuente came in in their last season in the CUSA and had a 4-8 record.
The team did join the AAC and they got a 3-9 record in 2013.
Then, last season, they did finish with a conference title share, a Bowl win and a stunning 10-3 record.
Fuente got a raise, the schools wants to improve the facilities and is even in the gossip about the BIG12 expansion.
I think the Tigers fans are happy for now.
This season, they will have to face a probably improving Houston team and a strong newcomer in Navy inside the new founded divisions.
They have an easy non conference schedule, with Missouri State (FCS), Kansas (which is the weakest BIG12 team), Bowling Green and Ole Miss (OK, that will hurt).
3 wins are possible here.
The teams from the east are led by Cincinnati, but then come only South Florida and Temple, but both are on the road.
Tricky.
Inside the division, they have Navy at home and Houston on the road, so I expect them to drop at least 1 of those games.
In total, the team might be able to get near the last seasons results.
I doubt it. I think they will drop a game more than last season and will fall to 3rd in the division.

Navy Midshipmen
The new kids on the block of the American Athletic.
They were independent from 1978 to last season and did now join the conference and are one of the better teams in college football.
They are not tier 1 level, regular national championship contender material, but Ken Niumatalolo did many things right in the past and in his 9th season with the team, he had so far a 57â€"35 record and 7 bowl games (3 wins).
The team did not break the final top 25 ranking in his reign, but that's fine, since the academies do have to play under different circumstances and the program was in much worse state in the 90s.
Because of the Midshipmen the conference got split in 2 divisions and the west got the instant contender dealt to.
Instant contender?
Yes, get used to the idea, that Navy has all the tools to win the division.
Their non conference games are all over the season spread, starting with Colgate (FCS), adding Air Force beginning of October, playing the Notre Dame Rivalry game a week later and finishing the season with the traditional Army game AFTER a potential championship game.
This game is by the way a big object of discussion for the playoff committee, since all other teams do finish their season a week earlier.
Last season the playoff participants were named right after that weekend.
But in theory, the outcome of the Navy-Army-game could result in different standings, bowls and so on.
So there are discussions how to handle that.
Until now, the solution is, to evaluate the outcome of the Navy-Army-game and if it's relevant, the announcements of the committee will be held back until the game is played.
Nice, but honestly, I'm not satisfied completely.
The main reason for that is, the game is always relevant, maybe not for the playoffs and the big bowls, but for other bowls as well.
Anyway, from all these games, it looks like Navy could win 2 to 3 and even the Notre Dame game is not out of reach. The Irish did not lose that game since Kellys 2nd season with the Irish, but you never know about injuries and so on.
Still, I would pick Notre Dame here.
From the east the team gets East Carolina, UConn and South Florida, which is almost the softest inner conference schedule you can get.
On top of that, the tougher 2 games, so NOT UConn, are at home.
As a mood stopper they got Houston and Memphis on the road in their own division.
So, if you look onto that all, they might go undefeated in the conference, or will drop 1 or 2 against the other contenders.
I think they can do it, so I picked them as division winner.

SMU Mustangs
Last season was a mess for the Mustangs fans.
June Jones, in his 7th season with the team, did quit after 2! games into the season (both losses of cause) and the team did struggle through the whole season, going 1-11, winning only the last game against UConn.
Needless to say, the interims coach was not prolonged and the school got another HC.
Chad Morris was Clemsons OC last season and will probably righten the ship in a few seasons.
A faster track would be surprising, since it was stated by many people that the recruiting under Jones was bad and it just takes time to get the quality of players up again.
So this season will probably be quite sucky again.
Baylor will be a mess, North Texas ar home could be a win, but they could lose it also.
TCU will be another mess and James Madison (FCS) could become the only non conference win this season.
No UConn this season on the schedule, so if they want to beat one of the probably weaker teams, they have to win against Tulane and Tulsa in their own division.
Lucky for them, both are at home.
Will the season be better than last season?
Probably.
Will it be good?
No.
I pick the Mustangs last in the division.

Tulane Green Wave
The best thing with the Tulane team is the nick name, at least the last few seasons.
The last conference title was won 1998, the last winning season was 2013 (7-6 including a bowl loss) and before that in 2002 (8-5 including a bowl win).
That's bad.
The funny thing is, this team was once a member of the SEC. In fact, they were a founding member and even won the conference in the late 40s.
They left 1966.
I ask myself, if some people do pity the guy who made that decision back then?
However, the past few season were a rollercoaster ride under Curtis Johnson.
The move to the AAC last season did not help the team and they finished 3-9.
I'm not saying that he will get fired, but for sure he will feel a bit of heat.
Going from 7-6 to 3-9 is always a bad thing.
Will it get better this season?
Not much.
Duke as season start is not the cupcake game it used to be in the past, in fact the Blue Devils will probably win here, high.
Then they travel to Georgia Tech, which are in discussion for big things this season.
A relieve should then be the Maine (FCS) game, and later they will play Army on the road mid-November.
A record of 2-2 is possible, but needs work.
From the east the team got UCF, Temple and UConn, which is probably a nice mix.
Temple and UConn are totally winnable, even if I would only pick the UConn game as a win.
The last 2 games of the season will probably be the make or break games.
Tulsa and SMU have to be beaten to have at least a small chance for a positive season.
They will need one supposed to be upset, which could be the Temple game.
Overall I think they will fall short a bowl eligible record.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Philip Montgomery was brought in from Baylor, where he served as OC the last few seasons.
He is bound to bring back the Hurricanes from the bad seasons they had in the past few years.
The former Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship did win his first 2 season in a big way (8-5 with a bowl loss and 11-3 with a bowl win and conference title), but the last 2 season went into the ground with 3-9 and 2-10.
He was let go then, since losing 2 seasons a row are not common in Tulsa.
Montgomery did great things in Baylor as OC, so the hope is, that he will get the Hurricanes back into the mix of contenders.
With a new conference (the team did join last season), the circumstances are a bit tougher than in the past, but on the other hand, I'm sure he is a different type of coach than the coaches in the past, when the team did normally not hire high flying power 5 coordinators as HC.
The non conference games are not tough, with a nice start against Florida Atlantic, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisianaâ€"Monroe on gameday 5.
If things go the right way, 2 to 3 wins are possible. Oklahoma will be too much.
From the east they got UCF, Cincinnati and East Carolina, which is quite hard. They might lose all of those.
In the division, the SMU and the Tulane games are on the road, which might cost the team some wins, if not all.
It's not easy to pick the result of the season.
On one hand, this is Tulsa, under new management, it should be able to win some games.
On the other hand, the turnaround might need a season or 2.
I pick them 5th in the division.

So my TIP is:
Eastern Division
UCF Knights
Cincinnati Bearcats
East Carolina Pirates
South Florida Bulls
Temple University Owls
UConn Huskies

Western Division
Navy Midshipmen
Houston Cougars
Memphis Tigers
Tulane University Green Wave
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
SMU Mustangs

Now a quick overview over the

Independents
Those teams are just grouped together because they did not have a place in one of the regular conferences.
Most are here on purpose.
The specialty of this group is that they don't have conference games by default. They sometimes play against other independent team, but there is no round robin schedule for them to play each team.
They do choose their 12 opponents of the season like any other team in the FBS does with their non conference games.
Negotiations over games in particular years or even game series over several seasons and sometimes decades.

Last season there were 4 teams listed as independents. Now there are 3.
Navy did join the American as planned for this season and does leave Army, Notre Dame and Brigham Young as the last independents.

There are let's say gossip talks that BYU might be on the list for the BIG12 expansion.
All of those talks are speculations, nothing is fix and BYU is far from being a really attractive team for a BIG12 conference, since their scheduling rules and their geographical location would be a big minus on a plus-minus-list.
For this season BYU stays independent.

Teams lost 2015:
Navy

The 3 teams are:
United States Military Academy, or Army Black Knights
University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Brigham Young University Cougars

Army Black Knights
I'm still no fan of Army football.
The two other service academies do show that even with different rules than the regular colleges and universities which are fielding football, the teams can compete and can play strong football.
Not on national championship level, but for sure also not as push overs.
Well ... except Army.
Jeff Monken was hired from Georgia Southern when the team was still a FCS team.
He did coach there for 4 seasons, won a division title and a conference title and did win many games more than he lost.
Last season, his 1st with the Knights, they managed to win 4 games with Army, which is more or less the average Army record. (Their last winning season was 2010 with a 7-6 record)
So, things are expected to improve here, but if that really happens .... we will see.
The schedule is quite weak.
With Fordham and Bucknell they have 2 FCS teams on the list, also of cause the 2 service academies Air Force and Navy.
They should be able to win against the FCS teams, but I doubt wins against the 2 military teams.
UConn, Wake Forest, Eastern Michigan and Tulane are no heavy hitters, so they might get a win here or there.
Penn State, Duke, Rice and Rutgers I would put into the very-likely-loss category.
Overall that smells like a 3 to 5 win season.
If they really improve from last season, they could end up with 6+ wins only by winning against the weaker teams.
My Pick is, they will fall short a bowl spot.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame had their one moment in the BCS-final 2012 and since then the team did fall to second tier team status.
Last season they dropped even out of the ranks.
I'm not sure if Brian Kelly, in his 6th season, is feeling any heat so far, but Notre Dame is not an organization, which likes to lose.
With the money and facilities, there are not many spots in the country with better environment and with that you don't expect 8-5 seasons, even with a bowl win.
This season the team will face many of the usual suspects, but also some new ones.
The season opener against Texas is nice.
Win this and the season gets a nice kick start, lose that and you know the team is in trouble.
Because I don't think Texas is ready for the top level tier teams, so losing against them means, Notre Dame is also not ready.
Virginia and Georgia Tech will be tough, but manageable, lucky for the Irish, the GT game is at home. Otherwise I would have picked the Jackets.
UMass will be a buildup opponent to face Clemson on the road, which I expect them to lose.
Then do come the usual Navy and USC game. This season both at home. I think they will beat Navy, but with USC I'm not sure.
Since I have to make up my mind now, I think USC will be tough and will win a close game.
Temple, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Boston College should be wins, if Kelly did improve the team in any way and the final game against Stanford will be fun, but could also be a loss on the road.
A 9-3 season will keep the team out of the playoffs and will avoid ugly discussions which team is more worthy to play in the 4 spots for national championship.
If they manage to win all games, the committee will have to make a tough decision.
With this schedule, Notre Dame should be considered as one of the weaker teams.
By the way: No Michigan, Michigan State or Purdue games, which is based on several things. The most notable is, that Notre Dame did join the ACC in all spots but football and did agree to play 5 ACC teams every season.
To play all those games AND all rivalries is nearly impossible, so the games were set on hiatus.
I'm sure they will bring back those games occasionally, but I doubt a regular series as they had the last few seasons.

Brigham Young Cougars
There are many talks about the Cougars program and how they would be the juiciest addition to the BIG12, since the talk over a BIG12 expansion to 12 was fueled once again.
I still don't buy this.
Not that BYU wouldn't join, pending a nice share of the BIG12 money, but I can't get my head around the big cons in that deal.
The BIG12 would then almost spread from west coast to east coast.
True, they could effort it, all of them, but the traveling miles would be huge.
I still think BYU is best off as independent, as long as the PAC12is not calling.
I doubt a return to the MWC.
Bronco Mendenhall did take over in 2005 and since then he had some success, but the last 3 season all had a 8-5 record and the team lost 2 Bowls in a row.
I don't think he feels some heat under his seat, but for sure the ambitions are bigger than 8 wins per season.
Last season did the team lose too many games against supposed to be weaker teams.
Utah State? Nevada? Memphis? BYU should have won those games, but did not.
This season?
They start with an away game against Nebraska, which can easily be a loss.
Next comes Boise State, which are probably hot, so they might lose here, too.
UCLA, a Michigan team in rebuilding mode under a star coach and then UConn.
If things go really a bad way, they will win their first game against the Huskies.
East Carolina, Cincinnati, Wagner (FCS) and San Jose State will add some wins to the record, until they play Missouri.
The season will close with Fresno State and rivalry game against Utah State on the road.
Honestly, I don't see them winning more than 8, more likely 6 to 7 games, unless the team did build up.
Yes, they have a good QB, so maybe they can win some of the bigger games, but he comes back from a broken leg, so who knows how this will turn out.
My pick is a Bowl season with another sub 10 win season, more likely at the level of last season, including a bowl.

So my TIP is (with no real conference here in place, so only based on wins and losses):

Navy Midshipmen
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Brigham Young Cougars
Army Black Knights

2015-08-28

FBS - Preview 2015 - Mountain West Conference

Let's move to the next conference. Teams from this conference had some success in the past and it will be interesting to see, how this will workout in the future.
Because I'm pretty sure there will be further changes in college football.
The anouncement of a BIG12-school-president, that it would be good for the BIG12 to expend to 12 teams (which is a no brainer, they should have done that years ago, when all the teams were on the move), the carusell of switching teams might start moving again.
The BIG12 will look for good team, with reputation and the needed facilities and money base and it's pretty sure, they will not be able to get teams from the other power 5 conferences.
So, this leave the options for smaller teams from smaller conferences.
One of these conference is of cause the

Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West had the status as jumping point to bigger conferences.
But so far, the team drain did stop and the conference got stable.
But because of the BIG12 talk, some teams got into the focus of potential targets.
Frontrunners are Boise State and Colorado State.
Boise State would be an unwise addition, then having basically teams from west coast to east coast and a nightmare in travaling miles.
Colorado State would be better, but they are at least at the moment not on the top 5 list of most of the analysts.
Weather this all will happen or not (I guess something will happen) and which teams will then be on the move again, we will see it in the future.

The 12 teams are:

Mountain Division:
United States Air Force Academy (Air Force) Falcons
Boise State University Broncos
Colorado State University Rams
University of New Mexico Lobos
Utah State University Aggies
University of Wyoming Cowboys

West Division:
California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) Bulldogs
University of Hawai'i at Manoa (Hawai'i) Warriors
University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack
San Diego State University Aztecs
San Jose State University Spartans
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels

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

Air Force Falcons
After a desastrious 2013 season, the Falcons had a comeback 2014 and finished with 10-3 and a Bowl win.
Air Force is still in my mind the best service academy fielding football in the last few years, having Navy right behind them.
But this is a very close race.
Troy Calhoun is the mind behind the Falcons success and he is here since ... 2007.
They will play Morgan State (FCS) and Michigan State in addition to the regular Navy and Army games and overall the team might be able to win 3 of those 4 games.
The Spartans are too good to hope for a win, but Army and Navy are possible to beat.
The only negative aspect here is, the Navy game is on the road.
Last season, Air Force won the Commander-In-Chief-Trophy, after 2 season in the row of Navy wins, and the Falcons won't let that monster trophy leave the base easily.
The conference schedule is tough, having Utah State at home, Boise State and Colorado State on the road and having Fresno State from the west won't help, even if it's at home.
The rest looks OK, especially because those games are at home against supposed to be equal teams or against weaker teams on the road.
The Falcons will need a good season to top those 10 wins from last season.
I think they will not get that.
My pick is, they will fall to mid field this season, with a bowl worth record.

Boise State Broncos
The Broncos do have a new head coach since last season and Bryan Harsin did do well in his 1st season with the team.
A 12-2 season, with a conference title and a Fiesta Bowl win is as good as it can get as Mountain West team.
If they want to get into the playoffs, they have to be perfect and they should better have a higher authority on their side, so last season is more or less the max.
This season will be challanging to get the same results.
It will start with a match against Washington, the team the former Boise State coach did go to in 2013 (that's why Harsin got the job) and it will be quite tough, even on the smurf turf at home.
Then they visit BYU, take on Idaho State (FCS) and will visit Virginia.
Believe it of not, the team could win all of those games, but likely will drop 1 or 2.
Being the top team in the MWC means you only play against contenders, so the schedule looks a bit easier, except you play the toughest teams on the road.
Colorado State and Utah State are both on the road.
Beside this 2 games, the others do look fine, they avoid the big shots of the west and might cruise though that schedule with a perfect conference record.
Chances are good, they will reach the conference final again and might even win the conference, again.
The soft schedule will let them left out of the playoffs, even if they would have a perfect season.

Colorado State Rams
This will be interesting. After a short period of the reigns of Jim McElwain (a former Alabama OC, now HC of Florida) another former SEC OC comes in.
Mike Bobo was the Georgia OC the last 8 seasons and the Bulldogs were not a bad team on offense in that period.
Now Bobo gets his first HC gig and he takes over the McElwain-Rams, which got from 4 wins in his 1st season, 8 wins in his 2nd season to 10 win in his 3rd and last season (which landed him the Flordia gig).
So there are not many excuses for a big drop in the record.
The start looks good.
Savannah State is a FCS team, Minnesota is quite good, but this is at home and the Rocky Mountain Showdown against rival Colorado was won last season and the Buffalos are not really expected to become very good this season.
As last non conference game the Rams added UTSA, which could be (or maybe should be) a walk in the park.
So a 2-2 to even 3-1 start is possible.
The next few games are a bit brutal, visiting Utah State, hosting Boise, visiting Air Force and then hosting San Diego State might drop the record fast.
The team also got as season final game a road trip to Fresno State.
Overall a quite challanging schedule which will defently not give them 10 wins.
If they really get 10 wins out of this, the team has a more than bright future and might lose their HC faster than the SEC can wave with money bags.
I think the team will get around 8 wins and a Bowl bid, which would be great for the 1st season under Bobo.

New Mexico Lobos
Head Coach of the Lobos is since 2012 Bob Davie.
He was the HC of Notre Dame in the late 90s (1997-2001) after Lou Holtz retired.
After several season as media guy he took over the Lobos and won so far 11 games in 3 season, never more than 4 win in a season.
All signs are pointing to another bad season.
From the non conference games Mississippi Valley State (FCS), Tulsa, Arizona State and New Mexico State only the FCS game looks like a sure win.
The Rio Grande Rivalry with New Mexico State was won the last 3 seasons and they might add another win this season.
But Arizona State and Tulsa are too good.
The conference schedule looks easier than for other teams, with Nevada, San Jose State and Hawai'i from the west.
Granted, Nevada will be probably to much on the road, but the other 2 teams are beatable.
I think the final standing inside their own division will be set by the wyoming game (already in September).
The winner will probably have an advantage to avoid the last place in the division.
Unfortunately the game is a road trip.
If I do add all prossible wins up I pick them to win 3 to 4 games.
If that's enough to keep the job, I'm not sure.

Utah State Aggies
The Aggies were quite bad in the older past. Then in 2009 did Utah State hire the former Utah Utes DC Gary Andersen.
He needed 3 seasons to turn the losing team into a winner and in his 4th season he won the conference (The team was at that time in the WAC), got a job offer from Wisconsin and was gone. (This season he moved already further and is the HC of Oregon State)
The administration selected Matt Wells as successor, a promotion from within the team.
He did win the division in his first season and even with a better record overall in last season, the team did finish second in the division, because of 2 losses inside the conference.
So expectations are quite high in Utah to get the team back on track (if you can call 10 wins, including a bowl win 'off-track')
But before the conference games will start, the Aggies will play 3 of the 4 non conference teams at season start, the last non conference game at season final.
Southern Utah (FCS) should be a win and the game against Utah (Battle of the Brothers rivalry) will be fun.
The problem for the Utah game will be, it's an away game.
Usually this is a Utes win, but upsets do happen.
The game against Washington on the road might bring the team back with a losing record.
On the last gameday will the team host BYU (The Old Wagon Wheel rivalry) which will also be fun to watch.
I'm expecting a close game but the Aggies might win this one.
Between those fun game will be the conference schedule.
From the west the team got some heavy hitters, road games to Fresno State and San Diego State will probably be tough, a home game against Nevada a bit easier, but never underestimate the Wolf Pack.
In their own division they will face some of the better teams at home. Colorado State and Boise State will be tough games and will decide the fate of the season.
Overall, the schedule looks tough and challanging.
The Aggies are a good football team and might pull some upsets here, but I doubt a perfect conference record.
That perfect record might not be needed to win the division, but I thing 2 losses might be too much and I expect the Aggies to drop at least 2.
My pick is, they will be one of the better teams of the conference, but not good enough to get into the championship game.

Wyoming Cowboys
The Cowboys did change the HC last season and brought in Craig Bohl, former HC of North Dakota State, winning the FCS national championship 3 time in a row in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Impressed?
Well, he was hired to righten the ship at Wyoming again, but the task will be a piece of work.
Last season he won 4 games, most notable the road win against Fresno State.
Will the team this season already switch to the winning teams?
Maybe, thanks to a quite easy schedule.
North Dakota (FCS), Eastern Michigan, Washington State and Appalachian State are all not sure losses.
In fact, chances are good the team will get out of this games with 3 to 4 wins.
Most challanging games will be Washington State and Appalachian State.
So far the non conference games.
Inside the conference they will face Nevada (at home), San Diego State (road trip) and UNLV (home game) from the west, which could have been worse.
In addition they get New Mexico at home.
All other games might be too much to ask for.
At the moment I see them winning 5 to 6 games this season, 3 from the non conference games.
If they pull some upsets like the Bulldogs upset last season, they will be the spoiling team this season.
My pick is, they need another season to click and they end up at the lower half of the division.

West Division

Fresno State Bulldogs
In the past 3 season did Tim DeRuyter win with the team 2 conference titles and 1 division title.
That means they were on top of their division the last 3 seasons.
Now in his 4th season, the coach will try to keep the streak alive.
There is not much the other teams can do to spoil his fun here.
The non conference games will not count against the conference record, which will be the Bulldogs luck this season, because this schedule is tough.
The start with an easy FCS game against Abilene Christian, but from that day on they will have to get much better.
Ole Miss was last season in the mix to win the SEC, so this will be very tough, Utah as PAC 12 team will also be challanging and BYU on the road will also be tough.
But the conference games will be fun.
They do avoid Boise State from the east and play Utah State at home. in addition they have Air Force on the road and Colorado State as home game from the east, so overall challanging, but under very nice conditions.
They will host Nevada and will travel to San Diego State, which will probably be the most challanging games from the west.
Bottom line is, they have a nice schedule to repeat and I pick them as division title contender.

Hawai'i Warriors
The Warriors didn't have an easy time the last few seasons.
June Jones did lift the program to its peak since a long time and then, when he accepted a bigger pay check from SMU, the program did crash.
The Warriors did pull the plug on Jones successor and did hire Norm Chow, former OC of the Titans, USC, UCLA and Utah.
Since Chow took over, the Warriors won 8 games in 3 season. 29 losses are on the other side of that equation.
That makes Chow one of the coaches on the hottest seat in the nation.
My guess is, another lossing season will probably cost him his job.
So winning will be the key for Chow in his 4th season as HC.
The non conference period will not help here.
Colorado is one of the weaker PAC 12 teams, but far from a pushover. It will help that they will come to Hawai'i, but I doubt a win here.
Then will the team travel to Columbus, Ohio and will get creamed by Ohio State.
The then visiting UC Davis (FCS) team should be the 1st win of the season, followed by another very likely loss against Wisconsin on the road.
Not a good start for Chow and his Warriors.
The team did add a 13th game as non conference game against Louisiana-Monroe, which can be won, depended on the spirit and status of the team at season final.
With Boise State, Air Force and New Mexico the team got a mix from the east, which might help them to get some wins.
The Broncos will be too much, but Air Force at home and New Mexico at home might be fair enough to get 2 wins here.
The western teams will be played in a bit unfortune lineup with the worst match for me is the Nevada game on the road after a home games against San Diego State.
If the Aztecs do win on the Island, a downed teams will have to travel to the most likely biggest threat for a jump in the standings.
Of cause, football season normally never do play out as expected, but I think with a bit different pairing plan, the Warriors might have been able to get a winning record.
With the games as they have it now, I see them fall short 1 or 2 wins, which might be not enough for Chow to stay the HC of Hawai'i.
I pick the team as bottom half team in the division.

Nevada Wolf Pack
The question this year will be, if Nevada will rise again to become a contender.
Brian Polian is in his 3rd season and so far he got the Wolf Pack from 4-8 to 7-6, including a Bowl loss.
Now, the team will have to get it done.
Starting with the non conference games, the Wolf Pack will have mixed results.
UC Davis (FCS) has to be a win, Arizona will probably score too many points to catch up and Texas A&M on the road will be a loss.
The Buffalo game on the road has to be the second win, which will give them a 2-2 record with the start of the conference games.
From the west they got Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah State, which makes this one of the softest inter division schedules.
Only unfortune thing here is, Wyoming and Air Force are away games.
But if the team did made progress, wins are possible.
Other than that they do play their east teams in a favorable way, the big shots on the road and the weaker teams at home, which should cash them some more wins.
I don't see Nevada as real contender for the division, but if they win on the road against the big teams, they will be ready.
If not, they do have at least 6+ wins, which should land them another Bowl bid.
of cause that's not the goal of the team, will want more here, but for that they have to win the challanging games on the road.
I pick them 3rd in the division.

San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs will probably be the contender to challenge Fresno State for the Division title.
Rocky Long is in his 5th season, was tied for 1st place in the division (but a loss to Fresno State left them out of the conference title game) and played bowls since his 1st season (but lost 3 out of 4).
The non conference games are a nice mix, San Diego (FCS) will be a nice warm-up, California is one of the weaker PAC12 teams and even if an upset is unlikely, the chances are there.
South Alabama is beatable, even more as it is a home game and Penn State will be a very high challange, they will not master, but maybe the team can get something else out of this.
So the record should be 2-2 here.
Fresno State at home is a gift and might land them a revenge from last season, but I have doubts here.
They also play at home Utah State, wyoming and Nevada, which is the right setup for a nice challanging season.
The road games are only clouded by the Colorado State game.
No Boise State from the east.
Overall they have the tools to win the division, fair and square.
I think the Fresno State game will be the defining game. A win in that game will boost them to the championship game, a loss will let the Bulldogs get there.
I pick the Aztecs falling short a title and finishing 2nd, again.

San Jose State Spartans
Headcoach Ron Caragher inherited a quite good team 2 seasons ago and so far managed to get 6-6 and 3-9 out of this.
Not the kind of success the administartion had in mind, when they hired him from a FCS team, winning 3 conference titles in 6 season.
Granted, the 11-2 team he got was a WAC team and the MWC is a quite tougher place, but going down never looks good.
The Spartans do have a bit of an unusual schedule for the MWC, mixing the non conference games between the other games.
Starting with New Hampshire (FCS) at season start, visiting Oregon State mid September, visiting Auburn beginning of October and hosting BYU beginning of November, the matchups do look a bit overwelming.
I'm expecting a 1-3 record out of this.
Oregon State might be beatable, but I doubt it.
From the east they got Boise State, Air Force and New Mexico. Unfortune for them the Air Force game is on the road, which means, out of this 3 games they might only win against the Lobos.
To have realistic goals, they should win the Hawai'i and UNLV games, but both are on the road, so a bit tougher than needed.
The next team to beat would be Nevada, which is (you will guess that) a road trip.
So bottom line is, they have a very unfortune schedule to make a turnaround.
I pick them fighting against the last spot.
The UNLV game might be the deciding match for that, which is ... a road game.

UNLV Rebels
This team won 2 games last season. One against a FCS team and as a surprise, one against Fresno State in OT.
That was not enough for the HC to keep his job.
The new one is Tony Sanchez, a High School coach so far.
I'm not sure this will be the right direction, but I'm always willing to give people the chance to show their talent.
The former HC, Bobby Hauck was a very successful FCS coach, but did not get the Rebels on track.
So maybe this task does not need a new coach, but something else.
Anyway, Sanchez has to field a team and I'm pretty sure the team will have growing pains.
For the start they will face 4 non conference teams.
Northern Illinois, UCLA, Michigan and Idaho State (FCS).
Idaho State might be a win, but the rest would even for a much better team be a heavy task.
The rest of the schedule is not good.
If they want a slightly chance to become not the bottom team, they have to win against San Jose State at home.
unfortune for the Rebels, they did not get any real weak team from the east, so it might happen the team will not even get the 2 wins from last season.

So my TIP is:

Mountain Division:
Boise State Broncos
Colorado State Rams
Utah State Aggies
Air Force Falcons
Wyoming Cowboys
New Mexico Lobos

West Division:
Fresno State Bulldogs
San Diego State Aztecs
Nevada Wolf Pack
Hawai'i Warriors
San Jose State Spartans
UNLV Rebels