By Josh Kramer
College Football opening night is just a week away. Hard to believe in that it feels like just yesterday that we watched Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers handle business in Glendale, Arizona. When is College GameDay coming to your town?
Here are my predictions for the season ahead.
ACC Champion: Florida State Seminoles
-The Seminoles are back, and appear here to stay. Though they may not have the “swagger” of the U, at least they are playing by the rules down in Florida (as far as we know). Jimbo Fisher has really stepped up the recruiting game in Tallahassee and this appears to be the year that Florida State fully regains the title as the best team in Florida and regains the old Bobby Bowden swagger. With 18 starters returning and a fairly weak ACC, expect the Seminoles to cruise to a ACC Championship (sorry Virginia Tech). We will find out if this team is a real deal National Title contender on September 17th when they take on preseason number one, Oklahoma.
Big East Champion: Cincinnati Bearcats
-Call me a homer, but I got faith in this team to really turn things around. After winning two consecutive conference titles, the Bearcats faltered in Butch Jones first year at the helm, limping their way to a very disappointing 4 and 8 record. This year’s team is stacked on the offensive side of the ball featuring arguably the best quarterback and running back combination in the entire conference (Collaros and Pead). As has become the tradition in Cincinnati in recent years, the difference between a good and a great season will lie with the defense. With 11 returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, and the second year in the Butch Jones system, I expect the Bearcats defense to surprise many. Lastly, the Bearcats get to play both West Virginia and Connecticut at home. This should help immensely in that WVU is considered the favorite by many to win the conference and UConn is the defending Big East Champions. Besides, if UC does not win games, the Queen City may be in for a very long Fall football wise due to the Carson Palmerless Bengals.
Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma Sooners
-Many are calling this Sooner team way overhyped. And they very well may be a little overhyped. But without question, this team can really play. OU features the second best quarterback (Landry Jones) in the country and arguably the best receiver in all the land (Ryan Broyles). Plus this team returns a very talented offensive line and plays their toughest opponent in a non-conference duel in Tallahassee (against Florida State). Lastly, this team takes on two of their toughest conference opponents, Missouri and Texas A&M, at home, where the Sooners are typically a force to be reckoned with.
Big Ten Champion: Wisconsin Badgers
-It may seem a little nutty, but I see the boys from Camp Randall making a second consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers are your quintessential Big Ten power that relies on a huge offensive line, and a bruising rushing attack. Plus they are nearly unbeatable at home. Luckily for Wisconsin, they take on their toughest conference opponent (Nebraska), in the friendly (or not so friendly for opponents) confines of Camp Randall. Lastly, traveling to the Horseshoe in Columbus is always tough, but OSU will not be the Buckeyes we have become accustomed to seeing. They will be very good, but not good enough to beat a superb Badgers team.
Pac-12 Champion: Stanford Cardinal
-Most people are picking Oregon not only to win the conference, but to return to the National Championship Game. I do not see Oregon “Nike Squad”, led by possibly the best running back in the country, LaMichael James, repeating as Conference Champions. I realize that the Ducks are returning the majority of their skill position players, who are very good. But there are many question marks on the offensive line and they have to go on the road to take on Stanford. Sure the Cardinal have an entirely new coaching staff this year. But they have Andrew Luck, the best player in the entire nation. With Luck at the helm, this team is more than capable of running the table as long as the offensive line stays healthy. Fear the Cardinal.
SEC Champion: LSU Tigers
-The SEC West this year is an absolute danger zone. Every team is capable of defeating pretty much any team in the country. This conference has been the best in the land for some time now as they look to secure a 6th consecutive National Title. Though LSU plays an extremely difficult schedule, which features both Oregon and West Virginia on the non-conference slate, I have faith in Les Miles squad. Many are picking Alabama not only because they have arguably the most talented team in the country, but because they play the LSU Tigers at home. There is no real rhyme or reason, it is just a gut feeling about Les and his Tigers. (this pick changes if Jefferson is suspended for the recent bar fight incident).
Non AQ Conference Teams to watch: Boise State, TCU, Houston
-Boise State is going to be very good as usual. TCU is no unfamiliar face either after winning the Rose Bowl last year. But Houston, led by a healthy Case Keenum, should make an appearance at the party, and will be awfully tough to stop. Keenum threw for over 5,000 yards in both 2008 and 2009. Plus he tossed 88 touchdown passes in those two remarkable seasons. In his illustrious career for the Cougars, Keenum has thrown for nearly 14,000 yards, tossed 107 TDs, and just 41 INTs. This team plays a very manageable schedule, which features no ranked opponents (at this time). Keep an eye on any of these three teams to run the table and bring up the normal BCS debate that we have all grown to love. Can we get a plus one game please?
Other Team to Watch: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Do not forget about a program with one of the richest traditions in college football. Coach Brian Kelly has a history of major success during Year two of his tenures in past positions (Grand Valley State, Cincinnati). Expect this team to be in BCS Bowl contention heading into their date with Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal on November 26th in Palo Alto.
Heisman Trophy: Andrew Luck
-After this year, John Elway may be a mere memory in Palo Alto. This kid is really that good.
National Championship Game: LSU over Oklahoma
-Over the past five years, if you win the SEC, you will get an invite to the National Championship Game. LSU is my pick to win the SEC, so I see them making a trip to Bourbon Street on January 9th. If Oklahoma can get through a very tough challenge in Tallahassee on September 17th, I do not see anything stopping Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles. This combo, to go with an extremely talented defense, will be very tough to deny. Plus, Nebraska’s departure from the Big 12 will make things a little easier on Stoops and the Sooners. OU has dealt with a good deal of adversity this off-season. I see lady luck being on this team’s side. But in this day and age, the SEC owns College Football. No lady luck will help a team deny an SEC foe. LSU will handle business and bring a 6th consecutive National Championship to the SEC.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.