Thursday, September 01, 2011

College Football Preview: BCS Bowls

So I've gone through the BCS conferences, and now it's time for me to predict which teams go to which bowls, and who wins the National Championship.

Here's who I picked as BCS conference champs:
ACC - Florida State
Big East - West Virginia
Pac-12 - Stanford
Big XII - Oklahoma
Big Ten - Nebraska
SEC - Arkansas

And here's who I think the 4 at-large teams will be:
Texas A&M
Michigan State

So here are my bowl picks:

Rose Bowl:
Michigan State vs. Stanford
I think Stanford outduels a very solid MSU team.

Sugar Bowl:
Alabama vs. Texas A&M
Texas A&M might be introducing themselves to the SEC with a win in New Orleans here.

Fiesta Bowl:
Oregon vs. Oklahoma
Oregon beats Oklahoma in a 100+ combined point slugfest. Who wouldn't want to see this game?

Orange Bowl:
Florida State vs. West Virginia
FSU tools on WVU in a battle of the bottom two BCS conferences. Who would want to watch this game?

National Championship Game:
Arkansas vs. Nebraska
A very entertaining defensive battle which will see Nebraska prevailing because they have a good QB and that's what separates these two teams.

Now imagine how entertaining it would be if these 10 teams (plus maybe Ohio State and South Carolina) were involved in a 12 team playoff. It's too bad.

College Football Preview: SEC*

The SEC West is once again the most formidable division in all of college football. And what makes the SEC so strong is that almost every team is at least solid. Put Kentucky in the Big East and they'd contend for the title. Predicting the SEC winner is about the same as prediction one of the two teams in the National Championship Game...

1. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Hogs are strong at WR and RB, but Ryan Mallett is simply irreplaceable. But while the offense will take a step back due to this loss, the defense will take a huge step forward thanks to a flock of talented veterans.

Key Games:
9/24 @ Alabama
10/1 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, TX)
11/5 vs. South Carolina
11/19 vs. Mississippi State (in Little Rock, AR)
11/25 @ LSU

Prediction: 12-1, SEC West winner, SEC Champion, National Championship contender

2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Bama will reload in the backfield with RB Trent Richardson, who ran for 700 yards last year. However, the QB position is still up in the air. A strong defensive line needs to emerge, as well. The defense was the strength of this team last year, and they still have excellent LBs and amazing DBs. Their schedule is as forgiving as it can get in the SEC West. They'll be great, just not good enough to beat Arkansas in September. It's far too early in the year for the offense to take shape and the defensive line to gel.

Key Games:
9/29 vs. Arkansas
11/5 vs. LSU
11/12 @ Mississippi State

Prediction: 10-2, 2nd in SEC West, BCS berth

3. South Carolina Gamecocks
SC brings back talent like RB Marcus Lattimore, who ran for 1,197 yards and 17 TDs as a freshman. There's also WR Alshon Jeffery, who had 1,517 receiving yards and 9 TDs as a sophomore. If the Cocks get consistent QB play, they'll be good to go on offense. The defense also needs consistency. They're in the "weaker" SEC East, and I think they'll be good enough to repeat as divisional winners.

Key Games
9/10 @ Georgia
10/15 @ Mississippi State
11/5 @ Arkansas

Prediction: 10-3, SEC East winner, SEC title game loser

4. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia is slightly overrated, as usual. But they do have an excellent young QB in Aaron Murray, who's entering his sophomore season after 3,000+ yards and 24 TDs as a freshman. He'll need the help of an untested WR cast, and the rushing offense needs to improve from being 10th in the SEC last year. Defensively, they've gotten more girth in the middle of the D-line, which should help them play their 3-4.

UGA is just good now, they'll be a powerhouse in 2012.

Key Games:
9/3 vs. Boise State (in Atlanta, GA)
9/10 vs. South Carolina
10/1 vs. Mississippi State

Prediction: 9-3, 2nd SEC East

5. LSU Tigers
Will QB Jordan Jefferson finish the season as the starter? That's up in the air. The Tigers' intermittent offense was why they lost to Auburn and Arkansas last year. And things don't get much better in the backfield as RB Stevan Ridley needs to be replaced. Defense will be the key to LSU's success, but defense can take you only so far. We'll get to see how good LSU's defense is this weekend.

Key Games:
9/3 vs. Oregon (in Arlington, TX)
9/15 @ Mississippi State
9/24 @ West Virginia
11/5 @ Alabama
11/25 vs. Arkansas

Prediction: 9-3

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Bulldogs should have a balanced offense thanks to a rush game that's proved itself strong and an improved passing game. The defensive line will be the key to improving performance on the other side of the ball, and the LBs need to learn how to make plays fast. If the defense can stop the run, the Bulldogs can play ball with the big boys in the SEC West. This will not be an easy team to beat.

Key Games:
9/15 vs. LSU
10/1 @ Georgia
10/15 vs. South Carolina
11/12 @ Alabama
10/19 @ Arkansas (in Little Rock, AR)

Prediction: 9-3

7. Auburn Tigers
How good is the SEC? The defending National Champs are the 7th best team. Anyway, the Tigers only return 2 starters on offense, 3 on defense. RB Michael Dyer will be the workhorse of the offense. He ran for over 1,000 as a freshman. But questions surrounding the QB, WR, and line positions means it'll be a long year in Auburn.

There's only one senior starting on defense. In any other division in any other conference, Auburn would have a chance. But not with trips to Columbia, SC; Fayeteville, AR; Baton Rouge, LA; and Athens, GA.

Prediction: 7-5

8. Florida Gators
What a surprise, people are overrating Florida. But not me. Their offense is neither talented nor tested. Their defense returns only 3 starters and most players will need a full season to properly mature. They'll be tough to play, but they are quite beatable.

Prediction: 7-5

9. Kentucky Wildcats
UK lost its skill position talent. Defensively, they do have a star in LB Danny Trevathan, who made 144 tackles last year. Their defense is OK, and they'll perhaps be part of an upset that alters the outcome of the SEC.

Prediction: 6-6

10. Tennessee Volunteers
This is a year for the Vols' offense to improve after being 11th in the SEC. They have talented pieces, like sophomore QB Tyler Bray, who did well down the stretch in 2010. However, their defensive situation is utterly disorganized. They could make a bowl game in 2011, and they could do much more in 2012.

Prediction: 5-7

11. Ole Miss Rebels
One player sums up Ole Miss' football program. And that one player is RB Brandon Bolden who is the leading returning passer (1/1 for 7 yards), rusher (163 carries, 976 yards, 14 TDs), and receiver (34 catches, 344 yards, 3 TDs). He's the only talent at the skill-positions. He'll at least have a decent line to run behind. Defensively, the Rebels will be toyed with by their 5 bigger brothers in the SEC West.

12. Vanderbilt Commodores
The Commodores return 10 offensive starters... unfortunately. Because they were 112th in scoring last year and 110th in total yardage. On the plus side, they were 80th in rushing yards. The quality they have on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield will keep teams from blowing them out too badly, but that'll only affect the spread, and not much more.

Prediction: 2-10

College Football Preview: Big Ten*

The Big Ten went from eleven to twelve teams by adding Nebraska. The league was split into two divisions (named quite lamely the "Leaders" and "Legends" divisions) and a championship game will be held in Indianapolis on December 3rd. The divisions weren't determined by geography. Here's the new alignment:

Legends Division:
Michigan State

Leaders Division:
Ohio State
Penn State

I think the Big Ten wanted to make it possible for rivals (like Michigan/Ohio State or Minnesota/Wisconsin) to meet in the title game. Anyway, here come the previews:

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers

When duel threat QB Taylor Martinez is healthy, the Huskers have a very dangerous offense. And guess what, he's healthy. Their defense is stacked up front and in the backfield. They do, however, need to be able to stop the run better, especially now that they're in the Big Ten, which is deep at RB. Their linebackers need to step up. But if Martinez can lead the offense to a lead, then the shortcomings at run-stop can be safely hidden.

Key Games:
10/1 @ Wisconsin
10/8 vs. Ohio State
10/29 vs. Michigan State

Prediction: 12-1, Big Ten Legends title, Big Ten title, National Title contender

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Due to NCAA punishments, the offense might lose a step. Pryor is gone and there are other suspensions to endure. But the Buckeyes' defense was the winning factor in 2010 and it only returns 4 starters. So while the offense should sort itself out, the defense will be only good and not great. That will cost them against Nebraska... twice.

Key Games:
9/17 @ Miami
10/1 vs. Michigan State
10/8 @ Nebraska
10/29 vs. Wisconsin

Prediction: 10-3, Big Ten Leaders title, Big Ten title game loser

3. Michigan State Spartans

There are reports of Weapons of Mass Destruction in East Lansing. QB Keith Cousins threw 20 TDs last year. RB Edwin Baker ran for 1,201 yards and 13 TDs. WR BJ Cunningham hauled in 9 TDs. Not only that, but MSU is balanced on both sides of the ball. There's simply no glaring weakness for opponents to exploit. Unfortunately, they have perhaps the toughest schedule in the conference, with some real tough road games (trips to South Bend, Columbus, Lincoln, and Iowa City). Nevertheless, MSU is a legit threat to win the conference.

Key Games:
9/17 @ Notre Dame
10/1 @ Ohio State
10/22 vs. Wisconsin
10/29 @ Nebraska
11/12 @ Iowa

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Runningbacks James White and Montee Ball combined for 2,048 yards on the ground last year. The Badgers need more of that because their QB and WR situations aren't so pretty. Their defense can stuff the run, but they need to either improve their pass rush or their pass coverage in order to stop opponents from defeating them in the air. This is a quality team with serious talent, they're just missing a few pieces.

Key Games:
10/1 vs. Nebraska
10/22 @ Michigan State
10/29 @ Ohio State

Prediction: 9-3

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

The hopes of the Hawkeye offense rely on sophomore RB Marcus Coker who ran for 219 yards in last year's Insight Bowl. The offense will depend on the running game, and the running game will depend on him. The Hawkeyes had the 7th best scoring defense in the country last year, and despite losing some talent, they're still very strong at linebacker. Their defense will continue to be a strength, and in my opinion, they have one of the most underrated homefield advantages in the country.

Prediction: 8-4

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

The offense will drag this team down like an anchor. There are QB questions, they need to replace Evan Royster in the backfield, and the offensive line won't be much help to either problem. Defensively, the Lions have an excellent secondary, which will get plenty of work because their pass-rush will be absent all year long.

Prediction: 7-5

7. Northwestern Wildcats
(No picture due to Northwestern having academic standards, and their girls having self-esteem)
QB Dan Persa might be the best passer in the Big Ten, and is certainly the most efficient. He completed more than 2/3 of his passes last year, and threw 15 TDs compared to just 4 INTs. And this year, he has WRs to throw to and a good line to protect him. However, apart from a decent secondary, the Northwestern defense sucks. Thankfully for the Wildcats, they don't have to play Wisconsin or OSU. So they should go bowling.

Prediction: 7-5

8. Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines have the biggest playmaker on the planet in Denard Robinson, and they're returning 9 starters from an offense that was 25th in scoring and 8th in yardage last year. So why would you want to change the offensive scheme at all? That's the question new coach Brady Hoke has to answer. Instead of the spread offense (which is perfect for Robinson), the Wolverines will go with a more "pro-style" offense that features tailbacks. Of course, Michigan's tailback situation is pretty shallow. This idea is just a complete waste of Robinson's ludicrous talents.

Defensively, Hoke has shown some brains, as he's changed to a 4-3, which is logical because Michigan is deep at D-line and weak at LB. There still isn't enough talent on that side of the ball. That combined with a stupidly run offense and things don't look so pretty in Ann Arbor.

Prediction: 7-5

9. Illinois Fighting Illini

The fate of the Illini rides on QB Nathan Scheelhaase. As a freshman, he threw 17 TDs, and ran for 5 more along with 868 rushing yards. He and the rest of the offense are poised to improve. But the defense is going in the other direction after losing key talent to the NFL.

Prediction: 7-5

10. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue girls love trains. The offense won't be good, but it won't be nearly as bad as last year's unit, which averaged 19.7 points per game (105th). The defense should be much better as 9 starters return. There's a very good chance that Purdue will be bowling this year.

Prediction: 6-6

11. Indiana Hoosiers

IU needed offense, so they hired Ken Wilson from Oklahoma's staff. That's phase 1 of the solution. Phase 2 will be to close their eyes until 2012 or 2013 when some talent can be recruited, because the current offensive unit is an abomination to the game. They'll be the Big Ten's bitch in 2011.

Prediction: 3-9

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers

The QB is a converted WR, which leaves only one legit WR left for defenses to cover. And all the RBs are wasting roster spots. Defensively, the front 7 need to pressure the QB in order to protect a shaky set of defensive backs. Minnesota fans will welcome the cold winter so they can forget about this football team and move on to hockey.

Prediction: 3-9