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Welcome to Part II of the College Football Report's Preseason Special. Last week, we caught you up on the major storylines of the offseason. Below, we offer our fearless (and bluntly biased) projections on the upcoming season. After a long look at each major conference, you will be treated to the Report's preseason predictions. We'll identify the Broncos, Tigers, Horned Frogs and other wildlife worthy of your hard-earned money. At the same time, we hope to help you avoid the Buffaloes, Cougars, Owls and various endangered species (has anyone started a Save the Terrapin Fund yet?) to avoid.
Together with a network of relentless researchers, the insights from no fewer than four publications (Lindy's Sports, Athlon Sports, Phil Steele, and The Gold Sheet), news from numerous websites, plus rumors, hints and downright hearsay, our crack staff here at The College Football Report has . . . no idea what will happen this year. Then again, the odds are good that neither do you. Welcome, true believers, to the 2010 season.
A note on the following: the numbers in parentheses reflect each team's rank in the preseason Associated Press poll and 2009 overall record. And as always, The College Football Report is for entertainment purposes only. Including gambling.
The Atlantic Coast Conference
Comment: Last season, Clemson lost the ACC title game to Georgia Tech in a game few watched and fewer remember. This year, the Yellowjackets return among the ACC's top teams, joined by Virginia Tech, Miami and (if suspensions are lifted) North Carolina. While the ACC may lack a true national title contender, we would match up the top four or five squads against almost anyone. And we expect the ACC representative in the BCS to play in one of the more intriguing postseason matchups.
The Chalk: The Hokies (#10, 10-3) and Tar Heels (#18, 8-5) enter Week One in the spotlight, but not for all the right reasons. While Va Tech matches up against Boise State in a virtual BCS elimination game, UNC remains under a cloud of suspicion due to an ongoing NCAA investigation. Up to 12 players will be reprimanded for improper benefits, contact with agents and the like. A few days ago, UNC coach Butch Davis suspended star DT Marvin Austin for unspecified violations of team rules although Austin also figures prominently in the NCAA goings-on. Meanwhile, Jacory Harris & Co. down at the University of Miami (#13, 9-4) gets a tune-up at home against Florida A&M.
The Contenders: Georgia Tech (#16, 11-3) and Florida State (#20, 7-6) will factor into the ACC championship. With Virginia Tech's history for stumbling into one or two critical losses, one or both of these teams could sneak into the conference championship on December 4.
The Field: Boston College (8-5) and Clemson (9-5) round out the remainder of the ACC's second tier. The Tigers could prove a frisky underdog at home, but questions surround the offense after the departure of RB CJ Spiller and his 7,588 career all-purpose yards. (For those of you keeping track at home, that's the second-most in D-IA/FBS history.)
The Goats: While Duke, North Carolina St. and Wake Forest will muddle through mediocre seasons, Maryland and Virginia may be among the worst teams in any BCS conference this year.
The College Football Report Projection: The Hurricanes claim their first ACC title in a Sunshine State showdown over rival Florida State. Virginia Tech stumbles in November while UNC eventually implodes under pressure from the NCAA. Duke, and star receiver Donovan Varner (the ACC's only returning 1000-yard receiver), catch a few road favorites by surprise and go bowling for the first time since 1994. Finally, coach Ralph Friedgen retires from the Maryland head job by November 15, citing "health reasons."
The Big East
Comment: Why is it that certain conferences have "Conference" in the name while others simply go by "The Big X"? The ACC is always the Atlantic Coast Conference. You will never see the Big East referred to as The Big East Conference. I have no idea why this happens.
If you would like to skip ahead, we won't blame you. To Big East fans: the top team in your conference has Dave Wannstedt at the helm - you know this will be a long season, right?
The Chalk: The mighty Pittsburgh Panthers (#15, 10-3) enter the 2010 season as the odds-on favorite to win the Big East helped by the fact that West Virginia (#25, 9-4) is their only conference foe ranked in the AP Top 25.
The Contenders: For our money, Cincinnati (12-1) and Connecticut (8-5) make for more interesting TV (and betting window) fare than the top two teams. While you may not want to back the Bearcats (5-7 ATS), we expect many of their 2010 matches may go "over" the point total. (Four of last five '09 games eclipsed the mark, even with O/U amounts of 51, 59, 57 and 57 points.) If Butch Jones can keep his D off the field, we like Cincy QB Zach Collaros to run all over opposing teams. As for the Huskies, 2010 marks the 10th season of play among the DI-A/FBS big boys and it could be a memorable one. UConn returns 17 starts from a '09 squad that posted an 8-5 straight-up record and went 10-2 against the number.
The Field: Once upon a time (read: 2006), rumors had Rutgers (9-4) head coach Greg Schiano taking any number of big-time jobs after winning the Texas Bowl over Kansas State and finishing the season at 11-2. Fans of the Scarlet Knights, accustomed to eight-win seasons, may find 2010 a bit humdrum. Down in Tampa, Skip Holtz takes over at Southern Florida (8-5). USF jettisoned Jim Leavitt in January after an alleged confrontation with a player, turning the team over to the former East Carolina coach.
The Goats: Louisville (4-8) will start the season off on the wrong foot by losing to Kentucky (again), while Syracuse (4-8) hopes an influx of scholarship athletes (up to 76 this year) helps to continue the gradual rebuilding taking place out East.
The College Football Report Projection: Pitt drops out of the Top 25 by September 26, surfaces again on October 31, but ultimately has too much road work to do (three of last four away from home) down the stretch. Cincy and UConn don't have quite enough, leaving us with . . . the Mountaineers. Hurrah.
The Big Ten
Comment: Can Ohio State (finally) live up to the hype? Can Wisconsin return to the Rose Bowl? Is Iowa for real? Will JoePa drop dead on the sidelines?
While the first four weeks of the schedule for all the above teams features plenty of Directional Creampuffs (Eastern Illinois? Youngstown State? Eastern Michigan? Austin PEAY, for godssakes?), we will still know a great deal more about the top Big Ten teams by September 12.
The Chalk: Ohio State (#2, 11-2), Iowa (#9, 11-2), Wisconsin (#12, 10-3) and Penn State (#19, 11-2) all have a chance to be in the Top 10 on October 3. We expect the Badgers and Hawkeyes to be on cruise control (both start with three of four at home), but Penn State and Ohio State face sterner tests. The Nittany Lions travel down South to face the (suddenly Ingram-less) Alabama Crimson Tide on September 11 in prime time. Hours earlier, the Buckeyes square off with the Miami Hurricanes. Both programs deserve healthy kudos for such an aggressive schedule. To the Big Ten: thank you. The Disney family of TV networks thanks you too, but we aren't supposed to talk about that.
The Contenders: We aren't sure anyone belongs in this category. Not yet.
The Field: For sake of convenience, we will lump Michigan State (6-7), Michigan (5-7) and Northwestern (8-5) into this group - but not necessarily in that order. If the Wolverines start the season 3-3, we would not be surprised to see Rich Rod's team spit the bit. The last half of the season (Iowa, @ PSU, then winnable games against Illinois and Purde, and closing vs. UW and @ OSU) looks brutal for the Maize n' Blue. Mark Dantonio in East Lansing doesn't have it much easier - his fourth year had better exceed his underwhelming '09 campaign.
The Goats: Phew. Purdue, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota combined for a total of 18 wins last season. And only 10 of those Ws came in conference play. In contrast to the typical Big Ten fan, the conference carries most of its weight up top.
The College Football Report Projection: The Big Ten will be very, very good this year. As is often the case, we may not know how good until the postseason. The conference does well in bowl games, but does not (as we mentioned last week) always show up in BCS matchups. Many have speculated about the cause (grueling conference schedules, the long layoff before BCS play, faster athletes in the SEC or Big 12, etc.) but this year should be a litmus test: for fans of the Big Ten, it's put up or shut up.
We will spot OSU a berth in the BCS title game. Despite the Buckeyes' schedule, anything less would be a major disappointment. If the left side of the O-line can protect Pryor (we're looking at you, Mike Adams), the Bucks should get past Iowa and Wisconsin on the road. For runner-up, we will go with the balanced Badgers (2009 ranks overall - offense, 30th and defense, 17th) over the defensive-minded Hawkeyes and inexperienced Nittany Lions. Bonus prediction: UW's John Clay will garner more votes than any other running back for the Heisman this year . . . unless Mark Ingram gets a knee transplant, in which case all bets are off.
The Big 12
Comment: 2010 marks the last season of the Big 12 as we know it - next year, Colorado and Nebraska depart for the Pac-10 and Big Ten respectively. And this year will be a proverbial fight to the finish - Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska all have a shot at the league title.
The Chalk: The Longhorns (#5, 13-1), Sooners (#7, 8-5) and Cornhuskers (#8, 10-4) make up the best group of top shelf teams of any conference this year. Any one of the three could end the season in Pasadena for the BCS title game. Unless Nebraska falters, the conference championship game will pit them against one of the other two out of the South division.
The Contenders: Much like the elite group, the second tier in the Big 12 is stocked with good teams: Missouri (8-5), Texas Tech (9-4), Texas A&M (6-7) and Oklahoma State (9-4) could all waltz into a title in a lesser conference. Of the four, we like Okie State but would hesitate putting rent money in the hands of a team with so many unproven players (only seven starters - total - returning for the offense and defense) so we will go with A&M. Senior QB Jerrod Johnson (3579 yards and 30 TDs in '09) can play with the best and the Aggies get Mizzou, Tech, Oklahoma and Nebraska at home in College Station.
The Field: Despite the talent in the Big 12, the conference still harbors some bottom feeders. Baylor (4-8), Iowa State (7-6), Kansas (5-7) and Kansas State (6-6) took a beating in conference play last year and the trend looks to continue in 2010. All four have some tough sledding to do just for bowl eligibility, much less a place in the national picture.
The Goats: Make that goat, singular. We reserved a special place here for the Colorado Buffaloes. After compiling a miserable 3-9 record in 2009, head coach (and TV-analyst-in-waiting) Dan Hawkins apparently he feels he's owed a contract extension. What about the three years remaining on your current contract, coach?
The College Football Report Projection: We will keep up the trend of avoiding the favorite - Texas - in favor of Nebraska. The Huskers have more to prove on their last trip through the Big 12 and a much more favorable schedule, despite an early road trip to Washington that could prove tricky. The Big 12 champ could play in the BCS title game, but we suspect two undefeated teams will earn that honor - and going unbeaten in this conference in 2010 may be too much to ask of anyone. That said, we would encourage you to break open the piggy bank when backing any Big 12 team in preconference play. Even teams like UCLA and Florida State will be overmatched against the top dogs, and lesser squads like A&M and Tech should rack up enough points to blow out any unranked opponents in September.
Comment: We don't know what to make of the Pac-10 this year. The conference failed to crack the preseason Top 10, one of its best teams (USC) has been banned from postseason play, and the top player from the other leading team (Oregon) was given the heave-ho in the offseason. What the hell happened? Isn't the West Coast supposed to be relaxed, accepting and full of doe-eyed Song Girls? Instead, we have been treated to an off-season of shady activities by the likes of Coach Lane Kiffin and Jeremiah Masoli. The former Ducks quarterback pled guilty to second-degree burglary in March and ran into trouble again in June for marijuana possession, followed by the boot from Chip Kelly's squad.
The Chalk: This is where we are supposed to talk about Oregon (#11, 10-3) and USC (#14, 9-4) but instead let's talk time zones. The Pac-10 often plays in the prime time matchup on Saturday night. If not, viewers elsewhere in the country can catch a late game nationally televised on the ESPN family. But who stays up to watch Iowa at Arizona or Oregon at Arizona State? Both games are good examples of why the "East Coast bias," much lamented by Pac-10 fans, is inevitable - kickoff is at 10:30PM Eastern! The Pac-10 could boast the best teams in the nation, but nobody east of Amarillo would know about it. Staying up past my bedtime, even for college football, isn't easy for me anymore - and I'm in my mid-30s! Can we really expect the seasoned (read: middle-aged) writers who vote in the Associated Press poll to burn the midnight oil on the East Coast?
The Contenders: Oregon State (#24, 8-5), Stanford (8-5) and Arizona (8-5) fall into the Pac-10's uninspiring second cut. Any one of these teams could be ranked in the 20s and still wouldn't make our radar. (With the possible exception of Washington, given our growing crush on Coach Sarkisian.) Oh wait, one of them is already ranked! How could we overlook the sneaky Beavers? You know what, let's move on before we say something we'll regret.
The Field: Washington (5-7) needs to win a few more games this year for the Jake Locker for Heisman campaign to have serious legs. The Huskies played well at times last season, but starting off against the likes of BYU, Nebraska and USC may make the remainder of 2010 an uphill battle for bowl eligibility. And Cal (8-5) and UCLA (7-6) should spend a bit less time by the beach and log a few more hours on the practice field.
The Goats: Arizona State (4-8) and Washington State (1-11) outright suck. About the nicest thing we can think to say about either is that their records against the spread last year weren't too terrible: 5-5-1 and 5-7, respectively.
The College Football Report Projection: The "nobody believes in us" factor is one of the few constants in the college game, along with the "outraged at being disrespected" effect. If Lane Kiffin has any idea what he is doing (and despite his scumbag nature, or perhaps because of it, we believe he does) he will play both cards with his Trojans this season. He can sell the team on treating every game - especially every game televised nationally - as a bowl game. Should USC roll through Week 8 undefeated, the conference title could be on the line against at home against Oregon on October 30. We have pulled for Southern Cal in the past for financial reasons, but rarely root for them outright. This year, we want to see them crash and burn or go unbeaten. Anything in between would be too boring.
The Southeastern Conference
Comment: We are unabashed fans of the SEC, and three letter acronyms (TLAs) in general, here at the CFR. The conference delivers the goods on the big stage: four straight titles, six overall (four more than any other conference), and an unbeaten record in the BCS championship game. Teams like LSU (champs in 2003, 2007), Florida (2006, 2008) and Alabama (2009) have ran the show for the past decade, so much so that even football fans in Big Ten country have begrudgingly acknowledged the SEC's dominance. But past results only go so far in college football - many of the stars from last year are now playing on Sundays. Will 2010 see the SEC step aside for the Big Ten or Big 12?
The Chalk: Speaking of the NFL, Alabama (#1, 13-0) and Florida (#4, 13-1) could play in places like Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis and Oakland and the local fans would consider it an upgrade. To say the least.
The Contenders: Arkansas (#17, 8-5), LSU (#21, 9-4), Auburn (#22, 8-5), and Georgia (#23, 8-5) form a pack of hungry teams eager to knock off the favorites. But compared to past seasons, none of the contenders seem capable of a run at the conference championship game. That said, we could get taken by surprise - particularly given the injury to Bama stud RB Mark Ingram - by a team coming out the West. If so, our money is on LSU. In the East, Georgia returns one of the best O-lines in the country which should give redshirt freshman Aaron Murray plenty of time to get the ball to AJ Green and the rest of UGA's talented wide-outs.
The Field: South Carolina (7-6), Tennessee (7-6), Mississippi State (5-7) and Ole Miss (9-4) could end the season with six wins or more, but each has a range of issues that should keep them out of the Top 25. The only possible exception is South Carolina, where Steve Spurrier is under pressure to deliver some notable results and should have his foot on the gas all season. Mississippi State might be hard pressed to scrape together six wins as well as replace RB Anthony Dixon (5.4 ypg, 12 TDs) but the Bulldogs are should show improvement in the second year of Dan Mullen's system. And in late-breaking news, Jeremiah Masoli's appeal has been approved and will likely get most of the starts at QB for Ole Miss, taking the Rebs from hypothetically interesting to genuinely interesting.
The Goats: As a native Kentuckian, I am sorry to say it but the University of Kentucky (7-6) will resume its traditional spot at the bottom of the heap in the SEC. The Wildcats should take some comfort from Vanderbilt's (2-10) company in the cellar this season. In one of the nerdier matchups of 2010, Vandy hosts Chicagoland's very own Northwestern on September 4. The teams have already agreed that the loser has to wash the chalkboards the rest of the month.
The College Football Report Projection: We predict at least a 20 percent drop in Tim Tebow references during any given SEC game, but only a 10 percent drop-off during any game featuring the Florida Gators. Junior John Brantley has the unenviable task of replacing one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time, but his job will be made somewhat easier as Florida should have a sterling defensive unit. Let's pencil the Gators - with one loss, on the road at Alabama - into the conference championship game. (More a process of elimination than anything else - the SEC East looks very un-SEC East-like this season.)
Because anything else wouldn't be as fun, we have Alabama as the other half of that matchup. In the Bama backfield, a healthy Ingram should pair up with super soph Trent Richardson to steamroll the Gators. Making matters worse for the Gators (and all other opponents), the Tide has exactly the sort of quarterback needed for this team - senior Greg McElroy won't heave up any ducks for all-stars Gator DBs Jenkins, Black or Hill to pick for six.
Boise State (#3, 14-0) and Nevada (8-5) will lead the WAC, Houston (10-4) will run away with Conference USA and someone - we don't particularly care who - will win the MAC, but the Mountain West is where the action is in 2010 outside the BCS "big six" conferences.
Utah (10-3) and BYU (11-2) belong in the Top 25 and Air Force (8-5) should draw some attention as well. We like the Utes and BYU to pull off some impressive wins over nonconference opponents (as evidenced in Utah's squeaker over Pitt on Thursday night) but most of the talk will be about TCU.
Finally, we can't write 4,000 words and not devote a few to Notre Dame (6-6). Like it or not, the college football world is a better place when Notre Dame wins. We can't blame you if you've learned to dislike the Irish, but a .500 team just doesn't seem right. Few teams seem to stir up as much emotion across the nation as ND, and the 2010 season will see them criss-cross the country to play on both coasts (at Boston College and at USC). Yet many teams will travel to South Bend this year, where the Irish have a distinct edge.
The College Football Report Projection: Week One will change everything. Boise State loses to Virginia Tech on Monday night in Landover, MD. TCU wins (but doesn't cover) over Oregon State and reels off an undefeated season. That puts the Horned Frogs in the title game and an angry Boise team up against a big conference dough boy. As for ND, Look for first year coach Brian Kelly to get the most out of green QB Dayne Crist and land in a decent bowl game.
The Beachwood Bankroll
To fund our operations this season, we took up dog walking, horse racing and shoe shining. The profits netted us a cool ten grand which sits in a closely guarded shoebox in the CFR offices. To get things rolling, we put down some propositional wagers on the BCS championship: $100 each on Florida (+$800), Oklahoma (+$800), Nebraska (+$1500), TCU (+$2000) and LSU (+$2500). (If you're curious, the Tide took up the top spot on the tote board at +$440.) While some sportsbooks won't collect until after the season, let's treat this like Vegas which will take the Bankroll down to $9,500.
For fun, let's also throw down $50 each on:
#24 Oregon State (+13.5) at #6 TCU, 6:45PM
Rice at #5 Texas (-31), 2:30PM
The Sea Mammal Speaks (or Barks, as the Case May Be)
The Beachwood Sports Seal returned from his summer mating grounds earlier this week. You might say his oats look well-sown. He also seems to have dropped some weight, trimmed his whiskers, oiled his coat and cut back on the Ol' Grand Dad. On the downside, he has taken up smoking cigars. Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas, in fact. Supposedly procured from a tobacconist in South America - we can't quite seem to nail down the details - the Coronas have added a noticeably Latin aroma to the Beachwood Sports office. The Seal barked out the following picks and then disappeared into a thick haze.
Colorado @ Colorado State (+11.5), 1:00PM
Purdue (+11) @ Notre Dame, 2:30PM
Washington State @ Oklahoma State (-17), 6:00PM
Mike "Dr. Dude" Luce brings you The College Football Report in this space twice a week, with the generous assistance of the Beachwood Sports Seal. They both welcome your comments.
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