Originally Published: August 27, 2012

Sizing up the conferences

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

After another offseason that was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons, the 2012 college football season is finally here.

You might need a map to follow the action, which starts with 17 games Thursday night, including No. 9 South Carolina playing its SEC opener at Vanderbilt.

Missouri and Texas A&M are playing in the SEC; TCU and West Virginia are members of the Big 12 (which still has only 10 teams); Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada moved to the Mountain West; and Temple is back in the Big East.

Say hello to four new FCS programs: Massachusetts (Mid-American), South Alabama (Sun Belt), Texas State (WAC) and Texas-San Antonio (WAC).

High-profile coaches also moved: Urban Meyer is coaching at Ohio State; Mike Leach is at Washington State; Rich Rodriguez landed at Arizona; and Charlie Weis is at Kansas.

The SEC remains on top, as the sport's 900-pound gorilla will try to win its seventh BCS national championship in a row.

Here's a closer look at how each of the BCS conferences shape up for this season:

ACC

Atlantic Division champion: Florida State
Coastal Division champion: Virginia Tech
Conference champion: Florida State
Dark horse: NC State
Offensive player of the year: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Defensive player of the year: Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
Freshman of the year: J.C. Coleman, RB, Virginia Tech
Coach of the year: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Coach on the hot seat: Frank Spaziani, Boston College

Three predictions:

1. Miami won't play in a bowl game because it won't reach 6-6 in coach Al Golden's second season, and the Hurricanes will self-impose a one-year postseason ban on themselves before they're hammered by the NCAA in the fallout of the Nevin Shapiro scandal.

2. Virginia Tech will defeat Virginia in its Nov. 24 regular-season finale to win 10 games or more for the ninth consecutive season. Despite losing star tailback David Wilson and most offensive firepower, the Hokies will finish 10-2 and earn another trip to the ACC championship game.

3. Florida State will finally emerge as a BCS national championship contender under coach Jimbo Fisher and will play in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles have too much talent, especially on defense, to limp through another mediocre season.

Big 12

Conference champion: West Virginia
Dark horse: TCU
Offensive player of the year: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Defensive player of the year: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Freshman of the year: Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
Coach of the year: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Coach on the hot seat: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

Three predictions:

1. West Virginia will win the Big 12 championship in its first season in the league. The Mountaineers figure to only be better in their second season using Dana Holgorsen's fast-paced offense, and their defense might be better under new co-coordinators. The Mountaineers will upset Texas on the road and Oklahoma at home, but then they'll inexplicably lose to a team they should have defeated (at Iowa State on Nov. 23), just as they did in the Big East.

2. A Texas quarterback will throw for more than 10 touchdowns in a season, something the Longhorns haven't done since Colt McCoy threw 27 in 2009. Sophomore David Ash won the starting job in preseason camp, and coach Mack Brown will stick with him as he leads the Longhorns to a 9-3 record in the regular season.

3. Bill Snyder's second edition of the "Miracle in Manhattan" will continue, as Kansas State will finish 9-3 in the regular season. Quarterback Collin Klein, who accounted for more than 3,000 yards of offense and 40 touchdowns in 2011, will be a Heisman Trophy finalist this season.

Big East

Conference champion: Louisville
Dark horse: Pittsburgh
Offensive player of the year: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Defensive player of the year: Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers
Freshman of the year: Keith Brown, LB, Louisville
Coach of the year: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Coach on the hot seat: Doug Marrone, Syracuse

Three predictions:

1. New Rutgers coach Kyle Flood will have the Scarlet Knights in the Big East title hunt until the end of the season. Flood, who took over the program when former coach Greg Schiano left for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late January, will still have the Scarlet Knights chopping wood.

2. Connecticut will purchase a fleet of private jets to prepare for life in the Big East in 2013. Next season, the league will lose Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC and add Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU.

3. New Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst, a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator, will have the Panthers in the Big East title mix in their last season in the league. With tailbacks Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, the Panthers will look a lot like the Badgers on offense.

Big Ten

Leaders Division champion: Wisconsin
Legends Division champion: Michigan
Conference champion: Wisconsin
Dark horse: Illinois
Offensive player of the year: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Defensive player of the year: Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State
Freshman of the year: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
Coach of the year: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
Coach on the hot seat: Danny Hope, Purdue

Three predictions:

1. Wisconsin will win a shootout over Michigan in the Big Ten championship game to earn its third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Badgers will lose the Rose Bowl for the third straight time, falling to Pac-12 runner-up Oregon. On the flight back to Madison, Wis., Bielema will begin his search for another transfer quarterback.

2. Michigan will end its four-game losing streak to rival Michigan State but will fall to Ohio State in new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer's first appearance in "The Game." The Buckeyes are ineligible for a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, but Meyer will have them motivated to beat the Wolverines.

3. New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien will somehow lead the Nittany Lions to a 7-5 record in his first season. Penn State's offense remains a mess, but its defense will give it a chance to be competitive in every game.

Pac-12

North Division champion: Oregon
South Division champion: USC
Conference champion: USC
Dark horse: Utah
Offensive player of the year: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Defensive player of the year: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Freshman of the year: Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon
Coach of the year: Lane Kiffin, USC
Coach on the hot seat: Jeff Tedford, California

Three predictions:

1. Washington State will lead the Pac-12 in scoring -- and points allowed. With quarterback Jeff Tuel and a deep receiver corps, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has all the pieces in place to build another potent passing attack. But Washington State's defense is still a work in progress.

2. Southern California will defeat Oregon twice, first in the regular season and then in the Pac-12 championship game. Matt Barkley will have his Heisman Trophy moment in the rematch with the Ducks and will become the third USC quarterback to win college football's most coveted individual award.

3. Stanford will lose four games without quarterback Andrew Luck. With a rugged running game and defense, the Cardinal won't fall off the map completely. But quarterback Josh Nunes will struggle early behind an inexperienced offensive line.

SEC

East Division champion: Georgia
West Division champion: Alabama
Conference champion: Alabama
Dark horse: Florida
Offensive player of the year: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Defensive player of the year: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Freshman of the year: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Coach of the year: Will Muschamp, Florida
Coach on the hot seat: Joker Phillips, Kentucky

Three predictions:

1. Alabama will defeat LSU in Baton Rouge, La., on Nov. 3 to win the SEC West -- and will actually score a touchdown in the process. Running behind what might be the best offensive line in school history, the Crimson Tide will be difficult to stop as their rebuilt defense improves from week to week.

2. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley will save his job. Dooley isn't the most popular guy in Knoxville, Tenn., but he's due to catch a break at some point. Dooley will guide the Volunteers to eight victories this season, and they'll upset South Carolina on the road on Oct. 27, the first of five straight victories to close the regular season.

3. Texas A&M will fare better than Missouri in their first season in the SEC. The Aggies seem better equipped on both lines of scrimmage to handle the rigors of an SEC schedule, and they'll finish 8-4 in coach Kevin Sumlin's first season. The Tigers will finish 7-5 after losing at Texas A&M in their Nov. 24 regular-season finale.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?