By Josh Kramer
Opening night for the 2012 edition of College Football is just a week away. It seems like it was just yesterday that Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide were celebrating on Bourbon Street. In actuality, it was 227 days ago when Alabama clinched the SEC’s sixth consecutive national championship. Don’t expect that streak to reach seven though.
Here are my predictions for the season ahead.
ACC Champion: Florida State Seminoles
I along with most people around the country jumped the gun and proclaimed Florida State’s greatness last season. Will this finally be the year that the Seminoles and their outstanding recruiting classes live up to the hype? Jimbo Fisher along with the entire city of Tallahassee certainly hope so. A loaded defense led by Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner, and Xavier Rhodes are ready to roll. As is their experienced senior quarterback EJ Manuel. A September 22nd showdown with the reigning ACC Champs Clemson and a visit to Blacksburg for a Thursday night tussle (November 8th) with the always dangerous Virginia Tech Hokies are the two dates to keep in mind at this time.
Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners are a definite contender to not only win the conference crown, but to take home the whole thing after a very disappointing and injury-riddled 2011. This will be a team that has a chip on its shoulder from start to finish in 2012. Unfortunately for the Sooners, their schedule does not get serious until their final three games, which features road contests against Big 12 newcomers West Virginia and TCU, and a showdown with in-state rival Oklahoma State. Also, keep an eye on the Red River Rivalry Game against a dangerous Texas team on October 13th. Senior quarterback Landry Jones may face more media pressure than any other player in the country not named Matt Barkley. I have a feeling that the very experienced senior will welcome it as he finishes his Sooner career with a bang.
Big East Champion: Louisville Cardinals
Charlie Strong has the football program out of Louisville looking awful strong heading into his third year running the show. The Big East is arguably the most parity-filled major conference of them all with three co-champions each of the past two seasons. Due to the departure of West Virginia, things are even more wide open than usual. After falling to Cincinnati in their conference opener, Louisville was the most dangerous team in the conference last season. That momentum will be carried into 2012 led by returning starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater dealt with his fair share of bumps in the road during his freshman campaign, but he really seemed to get it together towards the end of 2011. Other than a trip to Pittsburgh to begin conference play, the Cardinals are very fortunate in that they are playing perennial powers South Florida and Cincinnati at the friendly confines of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Big Ten Champion: Michigan Wolverines*
This will have to have an asterisk next to it though (Ohio State will be the best team in the Big Ten). Brady Hoke and the tradition-filled program out of Ann Arbor are ready to improve upon a very successful 2011 campaign which culminated in the program’s first BCS Bowl victory since 2000. Denard Robinson could be on the verge of a year for the ages. Plus, the entire team should only get more comfortable in year two of the Brady Hoke system. After likely taking one on the head in their opener against Alabama, the Wolverines should run the table up until their trip to “The Horseshoe” on November 24th. Luckily for Michigan, the majority of their tough conference games will be played at the Big House, and Ohio State is ineligible to play in the Conference Championship Game. Wisconsin will be a worthy foe in the Conference Championship Game, but Michigan will prevail on their way to the Rose Bowl.
Pac-12 Champion: USC Trojans
The three-year run of the Ducks will come to a close on November 3rd at the Coliseum. USC’s offense could be the best offense college football has seen since the Matt Leinart/Reggie Bush days in Trojanville. Matt Barkley has a target on his back similar to the one Andrew Luck had last year. Don’t doubt the stud senior who passed on millions this past April to return to school just like Luck did in the spring of 2011. Plus the tandem of first-round caliber receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, along with newly acquired running back Silas Redd (and returning running back Curtis McNeal) will be awful fun to watch. USC seemed down and out a couple of years ago after harsh NCAA sanctions. That is not the case anymore.
SEC Champion: LSU Tigers
LSU was the best team in college football last season up until the fateful night of January 9th. They had their perfect season ripped away from them by Nick Saban and an outstanding Alabama team. As is always the case, the SEC is littered with BCS Bowl caliber teams. Fortunately for the Tigers, they get to play the Crimson Tide at home this year. With a new quarterback under center (Zach Mettenberger) in Baton Rouge, expect the Tigers to demonstrate an ability to pass the ball down field to talented receivers like Russell Shepard and Odell Beckham. Also, do not sleep on Florida, Georgia, or Arkansas. All three of these teams could shock the heavy favorites (LSU and Alabama) and take home the SEC crown.
Non AQ Conference Teams to watch: Boise State Broncos, Central Florida Knights
Life as a Non-AQ team has never been easy. That is why both of these teams are heading to the Big East in 2013. Keep an eye out though. Despite the departures of the blue turf savior Kellen Moore and star running back Doug Martin, Boise State will be solid as always. Chris Peterson has built a real program in Idaho. He will prove that this year. Also, do not sleep on the Knights from Central Florida. Even though UCF lives off of the leftovers that don’t go to UF, FSU, the U, and USF, they are still very talented. 2012 will make up for 2011′s poor showing for the Knights.
Heisman Trophy: Matt Barkley
I liken Barkley’s situation very much to the one Andrew Luck was given last season. The only difference is Barkley has NFL caliber skill players all around him, while Luck did not (Luck had a great O-Line though). Sure there are plenty of other plays with a solid chance at joining football’s most exclusive fraternity. Some that come to mind are Montee Ball, Landry Jones, Geno Smith, and Marcus Lattimore. None of these guys have the talent or the supporting cast that Matt Barkley is working with. Barkley is humble, hungry, and ready to put USC back on top.
National Championship Game: USC over Oklahoma
The SEC has become too good for its own good. Over the past six years, if you win the SEC, then you are in. Last year, even if you didn’t play in the conference championship game at the Georgia Dome, you still could win. The SEC’s stranglehold over the college football world officially ends this year.
By no means am I saying the SEC is down. If anything, it is up, featuring a handful of teams with a legitimate shot to take home the whole thing (LSU, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas). Last year the system played in the SEC’s favor. This year, the system will hurt the best football conference in all of the land. With the current system in place, an undefeated Pac-12 champion and undefeated Big 12 champion will get in over a one loss SEC champion. There are far too many speed bumps for any SEC team to come out unblemished this year.
USC and Oklahoma will both run the table in the 2012 regular season. Matt Barkley will pull a Cam Newton and not only win the Heisman, but he will also take home the National Championship and go number one overall in April’s draft. There will be plenty of fireworks between these two high-powered offenses in Miami on January 7th. USC’s firepower will prove too much in the end though. It has been a bumpy ride filled with turmoil, but welcome back to the pinnacle of college football USC.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.