Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Updated: August 30, 11:24 AM ET
College Football: Eleven predictions
By Will Harris
Special to ESPN.com
College football can't boast the parity found in the NFL. There are a lot more matchups of big versus small, fast versus slow, tall versus short. And of course, there are a lot more situations that pit the unmotivated against the motivated. We'll cover everything you need to know about the key teams, players and games right here each week.
This is the place for analysis, news, injuries and valuable nuggets of information from around the college football landscape. Each week, I'll dissect the past week's action for revealing tendencies and make predictions about the future. And of course, we'll cover your favorite topics -- write in and let me know what you'd like to see discussed.
Eleven conferences, eleven story lines.
Some of the top things to watch for from each league this season.
- SEC: Vanderbilt will earn its first bowl berth since 1982. The Commodores have 10 starters back on what should be one of the team's best offenses of the last quarter century. Eight starters return to a defense that allowed fewer than 24 points per game last season. Vandy has eight home games for the first time in school history, and this will be the year the Dores snap their 24-year bowl drought.
- ACC: Florida State will be a national title contender despite a brutal schedule. The Seminoles have one of the nation's top defenses and plenty of talent back on offense. Bobby Bowden made some great coaching hires in the offseason, bringing in offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher from LSU and offensive line coach Rick Trickett from West Virginia. Also, former North Carolina State head coach and perennial thorn-in-the-side-of-Seminole-Nation Chuck Amato returns to his former post alongside longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. Expect the Noles to win 10 games for the first time since 2003.
- BIG EAST: South Florida, not Rutgers, will be the biggest threat to West Virginia and Louisville's Big East supremacy. The Scarlet Knights will still be a bowl team, but even though USF must travel to New Jersey in October, it's the Bulls who are better-equipped to be the surprise of the league and move up to at least third in the standings. Jim Leavitt has the best team of his 11-year tenure, with plenty of playmakers returning to an offense that should be the team's best since the fine 2002 unit. Couple that with the Big East's best defense and a schedule that provides home dates for the Louisville and West Virginia games and you have a recipe for a special season.
- BIG 12: Texas A&M's offense will win a lot of fantasy leagues this season. Not only do the Aggies return their dynamic running back duo of speedy Mike Goodson and bruising Jorvorskie Lane but they also get back All-American candidate Martellus Bennett at tight end. The offensive line is perhaps the nation's best, and quarterback Stephen McGee threw for nearly 2,300 yards and a 12-2 ratio despite Dennis Franchione's run-first schemes. The Aggies will have one of the most prolific offenses in the land and are a gold mine of fantasy talent. The backfield combo will rival those of Arkansas, West Virginia and Clemson for top honors in leagues that select running back corps.
- BIG TEN: Penn State will win the Big Ten. Michigan is rightfully the favorite, but the Nittany Lions will be formidable, as well, and they get all their toughest opponents except the Wolverines in Happy Valley. Senior quarterback Anthony Morelli made great strides last season and has three exciting receivers at his disposal. Penn State also returns a veteran offensive line, a great set of backs and a defense that boasts the strongest back seven this side of Southern California. Joe Paterno's teams have lost eight straight to Michigan, but this season they'll catch Lloyd Carr's Wolves coming off tough games against Oregon and Notre Dame. The all-time leader in Division I-A wins is still one of the game's best coaches, and he finally has a club that matches up well with Michigan. Don't be surprised to see the Lions pull the upset on the road and capture their second Big Ten title in three years.
- PAC-10: For once, the favorite will win it all. What Pete Carroll's Trojans have accomplished in the past five years is simply amazing. USC won 11 games in 2002 despite facing 11 bowl teams. The team won 12 games in 2003 despite having to replace Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer under center. In the three seasons that followed, the Trojans went 36-3, winning three league titles and a national championship while churning out two more Heisman winners. This could be Carroll's best team yet, with a senior starting QB in John David Booty, a top offensive line, plenty of talent at the skill positions and the nation's best defense. For all that the Trojans have accomplished in their five-year dynasty, however, they have only one national title to their credit. This season, the Men of Troy will make it two.
- MAC: The traditional powers will return to the top. For the first eight years of the league's two-division structure, only Marshall (6 times), Toledo (5), Western Michigan (2), Miami (2) and Bowling Green (1) earned berths in the conference championship game. In the two years since, the four slots in the title game have been filled by four different teams (Central Michigan, Akron, Northern Illinois, Ohio), none of which had even been close to winning a league title since 1994. This is the season the traditional MAC heavyweights reclaim their usual positions at the top of the standings. Marshall is in Conference USA now, of course, but Toledo and Western Michigan are the class of the tough West division, and Miami and Bowling Green will battle Kent State for the East crown.
- SBC: Florida Atlantic will become the first Sun Belt team ever to defeat a Big Ten team when the Owls host Minnesota on Sept. 15. With a new coach who has never been a coordinator and a redshirt freshman quarterback who has never taken a snap, the Gophers are rebuilding this season as they install new schemes on both sides of the ball. Howard Schnellenberger's Owls have built for this season as they return 18 starters and 85 percent of their lettermen. Florida Atlantic will be vastly improved on both sides of the ball and is one of the favorites for the Sun Belt crown. Expect the Owls to ambush Minnesota at "neutral" Dolphin Stadium and secure the league's first-ever victory over a Big Ten school.
- MWC: Colorado State will beat Air Force by four touchdowns on Oct. 13. Sonny Lubick's Rams had notched 10 straight winning seasons before 2004, winning at least a share of the league title six times in that span. The team was decimated by injuries in 2004 and 2005, but appeared headed for a major resurgence last season. The Rams were 4-1 and leading Air Force 21-3 at halftime on the road. CSU would not score again in the game, though, losing 24-21 and collapsing to an 0-6 record the rest of the way. This season, however, the Rams are well-heeled, with 19 returning starters, including productive senior quarterback Caleb Hanie and leading 2005 rusher Kyle Bell (1,288 yards in '05, medical redshirt in '06.) Meanwhile, Air Force is embarking on the long and arduous process of converting option personnel to pro-style schemes. It will be several years before the rebuilding Falcons taste the postseason again, and you can be sure the Rams haven't forgotten exactly which game started last season's tailspin.
- WAC: Hawaii will become the latest mid-major to log an undefeated season. Like Utah in 2005 and Boise State in 2006, Hawaii has the talent, the experience and the schedule to post an unblemished record. Quarterback Colt Brennan and his top three wide receivers return to lead an attack that averaged a staggering 47 points per game last season. The Warriors get Boise State at home this season, and their non-WAC schedule consists of Northern Colorado, UNLV, Charleston Southern and Washington. The schedule, however, might keep the team from getting enough respect in the polls to crash the BCS party.
- C-USA: Memphis will rise from the ashes of its 2-10 season to finish second in Conference USA East. The Tigers had been to bowls in three consecutive seasons, but the 2006 campaign was derailed by every imaginable problem, including the midseason firing of defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn and subsequent transition to a completely different scheme on that side of the ball. The Tigers already were struggling with a switch to a more complex spread offense, so the turmoil on defense really sealed their fate. This season, they have 18 starters back, face a very favorable schedule and are in the second year of the new schemes. Expect Memphis to finish on the heels of C-USA favorite Southern Miss, and it's not a reach to suggest that the Tigers could be the first team in NCAA history to win at least 10 games after losing at least 10 the previous season.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com. You can contact him at WillHarris@TalentedMrRoto.com.