- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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The 2012 college football season is the rearview mirror, but it's never too early to look ahead to 2013.
My predictions have largely been hit or (really) miss over the last few seasons. This past season, I predicted Alabama would play for the BCS National Championship again.
But I had the Crimson Tide losing to USC.
Here's what else I got right: Florida State playing in the Discover Orange Bowl, Oklahoma playing in the Cotton Bowl, and Wisconsin and Louisville playing in BCS bowl games (I had the Badgers in the Fiesta Bowl and the Cardinals in the Orange Bowl).
Here's what else I got wrong: Northern Illinois playing in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, Michigan State playing in the Rose Bowl, Texas playing in the Sugar Bowl and Notre Dame playing in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Well, it never hurts to keep trying, so here are 10 bold predictions for 2013:
1. An SEC team will win the BCS National Championship for the eighth consecutive season.
I know -- I'm really going out on a limb with my first prediction. As they say: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. After predicting USC would win a BCS National Championship this past season, I've decided I'm going to pick an SEC team to win it every season until a team from another conference actually does it.
Two-time defending national champion Alabama will once again be the team to beat, but the Crimson Tide will have to replace three starters on their offensive line, including All-America guard Chance Warmack and Rimington Trophy winner Barrett Jones. But with quarterback AJ McCarron coming back for his senior season, along with tailback T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper, it's hard to imagine Alabama won't simply reload. Alabama's defense should be even better in 2013 after starting so many younger players this past season.
If Alabama doesn't win three BCS National Championships in a row, Texas A&M might be the second-best bet out of the SEC West. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina also are more than capable of making a BCS championship run in the SEC East.
2. McCarron will be a Heisman Trophy finalist, and might even win it.
What more does McCarron have to do to be considered one of the country's most elite quarterbacks? Over the last two seasons, he has guided the Crimson Tide to a 25-2 record and two BCS National Championships. This past season, he led the country in passing efficiency and threw 30 touchdowns with only three interceptions in 314 pass attempts.
More importantly, McCarron has played his best in Alabama's two biggest games. In the last two BCS national championship games, McCarron has completed 43 of 62 passes for 498 yards and hasn't thrown an interception.
Along with McCarron, these players might have the best chances at being invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (the reigning Heisman winner), South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee.
3. Atlanta and Dallas will be the biggest winners in the new playoff chase.
We'll have to sit through another season under the current BCS format before we move to a four-team playoff starting in 2014. The new playoff format will include two national semifinal games followed by a national championship game a week later, as well as three other BCS-type access games, which will feature at-large teams not included in the playoff.
Three current BCS bowl games will definitely be included in the future playoff rotation: the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio (Big Ten vs. Pac-12); Discover Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Notre Dame, Big Ten or SEC); and Allstate Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC). The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl also seems assured of being part of the semifinals rotation, leaving two access bowls for other bidding cities.
Dallas and Atlanta will secure the two available spots in the rotation, as the Cotton Bowl and Peach Bowl (the Chick-fil-A Bowl will become a separate entity) will also be part of the first championship rotation. Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be chosen to host the first national championship game in 2014.
4. The Big Ten will rename its divisions.
The Big Ten will ditch Legends and Leaders as its division names before Maryland and Rutgers join the conference in 2014. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN's Brett McMurphy that a decision could be made as early as June.
It's unclear where the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins will fit in the Big Ten's new landscape. Based on geography, the following teams could be placed in the East: Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois. The following teams could be placed in the West: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. But geography figures to be tossed out the window when the Big Ten announces its divisional realignment sometime this spring, so look for bitter rivals Michigan and Ohio State to end up in the same division to preserve their longtime series.
Sadly, Delany and the Big Ten's athletic directors and presidents will pass on the most appropriate division names available: Rose Bowl Loser and Capital One Bowl Loser.
5. USC will fire football coach Lane Kiffin.
Who knew USC athletics director Pat Haden had such a quick trigger finger? On Monday, he fired basketball coach Kevin O'Neill after the Trojans' 7-10 start. Has Haden been watching USC play football the last two seasons?
After the Trojans were a popular choice for No. 1 before the 2012 season (see, it wasn't just me), they limped to a 7-6 finish, including a listless 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. With quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods leaving, the Trojans don't figure to be much better in 2013. In fact, it only seems to be a matter of time before USC starts to feel the real effects of NCAA probation and scholarship losses.
After USC finishes 8-5 in 2013, Haden will realize former USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin -- the head coach's father, who resigned after this past season -- wasn't his only problem. Haden will fire Kiffin, who will somehow land a better job in the NFL only a couple of weeks later.
Other coaches who will start the 2013 season on the hot seat: Maryland's Randy Edsall, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, New Mexico State's DeWayne Walker, Illinois' Tim Beckman, UNLV's Bobby Hauck, Missouri's Gary Pinkel, Army's Rich Ellerson and Texas' Mack Brown.
6. Purdue's Darrell Hazell will become the next big thing.
Hazell, who guided Kent State to a surprising 11-3 record this past season before leaving for Purdue, will become the latest African-American coach to strike it big at a school in a BCS league.
Going into the 2013 season, three minority coaches are among the hottest names in the country: Stanford's David Shaw, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Louisville's Charlie Strong. Their teams went a combined 34-6 in 2012 and won the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl, respectively. Vanderbilt's James Franklin, another African-American coach, guided the Commodores to a 9-4 record, their best finish since 1915.
Isn't it amazing what happens when minority coaches land better jobs than New Mexico, New Mexico State and Kansas?
7. Ohio State won't go undefeated again.
The Buckeyes went 12-0 under first-year coach Urban Meyer in 2012, but were ineligible to win a Big Ten championship and play in a bowl game because of NCAA probation. Ohio State won't go undefeated again, after losing too much of its defense from this past season.
Behind Miller's passing and running, Ohio State will still finish 11-1 and will play Michigan in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. Ohio State will be equipped for a national championship run in 2014 if Miller returns for his senior season.
8. Oregon will play an SEC team for the national championship.
Buoyed by coach Chip Kelly's return to Oregon, the Ducks will go 12-1 in the regular season and win the Pac-12. With Mariota returning for his second season under center, the Ducks will play an SEC team in the last BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Oregon brings back 15 position players, so Mariota will have plenty of help surrounding him. The Ducks will have to replace star tailback Kenjon Barner, but De'Anthony Thomas will be the most explosive player in the country when he touches the ball.
9. Notre Dame won't go undefeated, but will still play in a BCS bowl game.
The Fighting Irish returned to national relevance this past season, finishing 12-0 in the regular season before being trounced 42-14 by Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.
The Irish won't go unbeaten in 2013, but they'll win at least 10 games, which will be enough to earn them another trip to a BCS bowl game. Quarterback Everett Golson figures to be a better passer in his second season as a starter, and Notre Dame's defense will continue to be stingy, with star end Stephon Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix III returning to school.
10. Auburn will be the most improved team in the country.
The Tigers can't get any worse after finishing 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC this past season. Things were so bad that coach Gene Chizik was fired only two years after guiding the Tigers to a BCS National Championship.
Auburn hired former Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn to fix things; he directed Auburn's offense during its national championship season in 2010. Malzahn has already found his quarterback of the future: former Georgia defensive back Nick Marshall, who threw for 2,837 yards with 18 touchdowns, while running for 949 yards with 18 scores at Garden City (Kan.) Community College this past season.
Marshall, who was dismissed from Georgia two years ago, will beat out Kiehl Frazier for Auburn's starting job in preseason camp and will become one of the country's most exciting dual-threat quarterbacks in Malzahn's spread offense.
It's never too early to look ahead to the 2013 season with 10 bold predictions.