Sunday, August 31

Random Week 1 summaries/impressions

NC State @ South Carolina

I'm only commenting on this game since I watched it basically in its entirety, because I don't think it's going to amount to much. NC State looked terrible, while South Carolina has clearly improved their defense. I don't think this was a simple case of "playing against an ACC offense cures all defensive ills." You'd like to see the Cocks find a QB, but Beecher was aweful and we've already seen how Smelley performs over the course of a season.

Oregon State @ Stanford

Stanford is clearly committed to the running game, and without losing their top four RBs this season they just might be able to do something with that! You're not going to win many games with a 313 passing yardage deficit. Even ignoring the goalline fumble, the Cardinal was (fuck you, non-pluralized team nickname) lucky to win this. On Oregon State's side, Moevao needs to find consistency as he was very streaky this game.

Bowling Green @ Pittsburgh

In summary, Pitt was horribly overrated. Having a top 10 RB doesn't matter if you can't block for him.

East Carolina @ Virginia Tech

It's amazing that one horrible QB can sabotage an otherwise good team like VT. The defense played solidly, scoring a TD and not really giving up that much to ECU. Special teams lost the battle today, but lost in the blocked punt they gave up was the blocked PAT and subsequent return for 2 points that they did have. Don't expect this area to be a minus very often. However the offense gained just 243 yards against a CUSA defense, and most of the blame for that can be blamed on the 139 yard, 2 INT performance from the QB. Ack.

Utah @ Michigan

What I was suprised about was just how dominant Utah was for about 50 minutes. Really had it not been for roughly a thousand penalties against the Utes, this one would have been completely out of reach by the time the Wolverines started scoring. This season could be pretty bad for Michigan. Ideally, Rich Rodriguez basically upgrades the offense while downgrading the defense compared to Lloyd Carr. In the long run, the offensive upgrade may be greater than the defensive downgrade, but right now the offensive players aren't there to make that payoff a reality. Give him a season or two of recruiting then we'll see it.

We'll get back to you on Utah... they looked good but this game was more about poor execution and a lack of identity from Michigan.

USC @ Virginia

We had slight questions about USC's quarterback and more about their offensive line. Both were answered in an impressive outing. Don't read too much into it being a BCS conference opponent - UVA is marginally better than a midmajor and they lost key players even from last season's lucky/overrated squad - but read as deeply into the stats as you want. A rushing edge of 218-32 is ridiculous, as is a 74% completion rate at 9.7 yards a pop. The box score barely does justice to how badly the Cavs got dominated. I'll be moving USC up to #1 in my rankings after watching this.

Youngstown State @ Ohio State

It's always tough to get a read on the Buckeyes from their Battle of Ohio games, but one thing's for sure: Ohio State's kicking game is fantastic. 5/5 FG including two 50+ yarders. Those are good against anybody. The concerns are that a crappy team like Youngstown State was able to stop so many first half OSU drives short of the end zone, and obviously Beanie Wells' condition. I think he'll be good to go against USC and probably get a lot of rest (pulled after first drive/first quarter?) against Ohio U the week before, but we'll see as the updates come in. Another question is how Terrelle Pryor will fare against a real defense, but Tressell clearly intends on incorporating him into the offense.

Missouri vs Illinois

Both offenses started the game with jitters. Missouri's receivers had cold hands and Juice Williams came out with the intention to impale his targets. The second quarter featured all of Missouri's "other" weapons - Wolfert hitting a 51 yard FG, Maclin returning a KO for TD, and Derrick Washington running all over the Illini defense. Chase Coffman showed that there is no dropoff at the TE position after last season.

So we went into halftime with the Tigers up 31-13. The offenses traded scores to start the third quarter, then Maclin had another great return (this time off a punt) to set up a quick 45-20 advantage for Mizzou. This is when Missouri showed once again why they won't win the BCS title and probably not the conference title either. They completely stop playing defense, went conservative on offense, and next thing you know it's 45-35 and Illinois is in scoring position. Fortunately for them, Sean Weatherspoon intercepted passes on consecutive drives to seal the game at 52-35. Illinois scored a meaningless TD as time expired, 52-42. The Rose Bowl will no doubt see this as a good enough showing to justify picking Illinois once again, should Ohio State be in the championship.

Missouri basically answered all questions but one: the ability to finish a game. Daniel was amazing both with his arm and his feet. The offense played a very physical game along with racking up the points and yards. They've found a replacement for Tony Temple. The defense shut down the run and did a decent job against the pass for 2.5 quarters. Special teams was a difference-maker. But you cannot stop playing when you get a big lead.

Illinois actually looked better than last season. The defense was about the same but Juice Williams is so much better than he was a year ago. The offense won't be as physical but it moved the ball and actually played turnover free up until the final minutes. They'll compete for #2 in the conference once they figure out how to run the ball, and with a passing attack like this one, defenses will have to start dropping more people back into coverage.

Didn't think I'd see Chase Daniel outrush Juice Williams while Williams outpassed Daniel. Hm.

Alabama vs Clemson

As summarizes most Clemson defeats, the Tigers ran the ball 14 times while passing 34. (further adding evidence to the theory that Tommy Bowden allows his mentally challenged brother Jeffy to call offensive plays) Sure they rushed for 0 yards and that might lead you to believe that they correctly abandoned the run, but it's not like they really put any effort into establishing the ground game in the first place. And passing into Saban's defense when they're expecting it is asking for this kind of offensive output -- keep in mind that of Clemson's 10 points, 7 came from a KO return for TD by Spiller.

Don't take away from Bama though - Clemson's defense isn't subject to Jeffy's possible influence, and the Tide pretty much rolled over it. The new passing scheme allowed John Wilson to complete 73% of his throws and two backs topped 90 yards as the Tide rushed the ball FIFTY times this game, controlling the clock. Julio Jones didn't have the greatest impact, but did score a TD in his first game.

This game reminds me of Tennessee-Cal two years ago in that we probably had these two teams' places in the college football ladder flip-flopped. I'm considering Alabama as a possible top 15 team while wondering whether Clemson fits into the top 25 at all.

Washington @ Oregon

Oregon looks like a strong team to challenge Arizona State for #2 in the Pac 10. The QBs were adequate, while the ground game and defense were dominant. Nothing to convince me that they're anywhere near USC's level, but a good team nonetheless. Washington, on the other hand, looked pretty bad and Locker is going to need to step up his game for this team to finish with a winning record.

Saturday, August 30

SEC Week 1 Games (kind of)

Apparently I need to fly more; it’s the only time I actually write anything. Still, with James going and writing about all the exciting games, I figured I’d continue the long-established trend of spending way more time talking about the SEC at the expense of lesser conferences (Jim Delaney, you’re awesome!) – so let’s talk Week 1 games across the SEC. Maybe I’ll actually put this post up on time, but I doubt it.

South Carolina v. NC State
Yeah, this one’s already happened, but if I would’ve written something like: South Carolina QB struggles, is replaced by South Carolina QB who does much better, all the while NC State shits their pants, would you have known if I wrote it on Friday or Wednesday? My point exactly.

Vanderbilt @ Miami (OH)
Hey, at least some SEC teams travel for opening week! Fittingly in this case, it’s the bottom-of-the-barrel Commodores. To be brunt, I didn’t expect them to kick the Indians Redhawks teeth in like they did, but I guess Chris Nickson is due a good game every two years or so. Then again, I thought he could be a poor man’s Tebow last year, which was wrong on more levels than I can even begin to fathom.

Florida v. Hawaii
This game would’ve been entertaining as all hell last year – picture the Sugar Bowl, only without the Georgia secondary and with a front seven that has to actually blitz to put pressure on the QB – but sadly, June Jones and Colt Brennan have both left. This means the Warriors to get play in the Swamp at the end of October, when the heat index will be, oh, 140 or so. Yeah, have fun with that.

Georgia v. Georgia Southern
I’d give Georgia shit for scheduling this, but having seen the rest of their schedule, never mind. They’ll keep everyone healthy and won’t win by as big a margin as you’d expect, but that’s because Richt will rest everyone from the second quarter on. It’s like the preseason, but it counts.

Arkansas v. Directional (West) Illinois
Let’s get the cupcakes out of the way while we’re at it; I don’t expect Arkansas to be any good, but I have no idea where Western Illinois even is. Wonder if this is near East St. Louis, in which case these guys would be straight thuggin’, bitch. As it is, they’ll get wrecked and this will be the only time all season Casey Dick looks like a semi-decent QB.

Auburn v. UL-Monroe
ULM is the better of the ULUCrew, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot against an Auburn team I’ll willingly admit I have an unhealthy obsession with. If the Tigers are smart, they don’t unveil everything and approach this game looking a hell of a lot like they did before the Clemson game last year; power game on the ground, rely on Tate, Lester, and Fannin, and pass just enough to get a little bit of experience. No sense in getting worked up yet.

Mississippi State @ Louisiana Tech
Apparently everyone’s playing Louisiana this week or something. Weird. Either way, this will be a closer-than-you’d-guess game, but pretty hideous. In other words, I’m not sold that Wesley Carroll is any good or that the Bulldogs have any WRs, period – even if there are people lining up there. The Bulldog defense should be nasty enough to carry them, though.

LSU v. Appalachian State
Who knows when this game will actually be played – it moved from 5 PM to 11 AM today, meaning LSU fans have six hours of drinking to make up (when asked, LSU fans responded with, “WOOOOOOOO [puke]”, so they seem to be okay). As for the game, I almost wish LSU was a bit worse than they actually are, as I think their first two games (they play next week against Troy) could be pretty fun games if they weren’t so obviously outclassing their opponents. Maybe they can trade schedules with Alabama or something, but that’d probably be too much to ask.

Ole Miss v. Memphis
This is kind of a one-sided rivalry – Ole Miss wrecks Memphis, Memphis gets pissed, gets up for the game next year, gets wrecked, repeat until done. Ole Miss actually leads the series 45-10-2, but it certainly seems closer than that. Memphis was inexplicably terrible last year, but they should be a bit better this time around. The only problem with that is you can say the exact same about Ole Miss. As a result, I’d expect Ole Miss to win, but like the last few years, it won’t be by more than a touchdown, but I also see no reason to think either team will score less than 28. This could easily be a candidate for “Stupidly Entertaining Game of the Week.”

Kentucky @ Louisville
Last year, Kentucky beat an incorrectly-ranked #9 Louisville team; obviously, they weren’t that good, and both teams head into this game with a plethora of unanswered questions. Louisville’s been remarkably quiet given how much noise was generated about them over the last few years, which could mean Steve Kragthorpe finally has a handle on things. He’s a smart, offensive-minded coach and I expect the Cardinals to be markedly better this year. Actually, I expect Louisville to win here (in what could probably be termed a mini-upset). Kentucky still has a ton of questions on offense, and with the turnover both these teams faced last year, I’ll trust the more experienced QB – in this case, Louisville’s Hunter Cantwell.

Alabama v. Clemson (in Atlanta)
And here’s the other SEC loss of opening weekend. If Clemson can make it through their non-conference schedule unscathed (and not inexplicably decide to blow games by passing 75% of the time; yes, Cullen Harper is good, but you have the two best RBs in the ACC, freaking use them), they should walk in-conference. No other ACC team has even close to the offensive firepower they have, and their defense isn’t going to be bad enough to hurt them. Alabama is still probably a year away at this point, but they’ll keep it closer than it should be due to talent. Along the same lines, we may see a record for “Gayest Articles Written about a QB-WR Duo”, as we’re already up to double digits for the John Parker Wilson-Julio Jones combo. LFB will stay on top of this story as it unfolds, because any opportunity to call a Tide player gay simply can’t be missed.

Tennessee @ UCLA
Your Labor Day main event features a redefined team against the Red Cross International. Seriously, UCLA is already wrecked and the season hasn’t started yet; their best bet to win is to turn the game into a Raycom-style ACC affair. For the uninitiated, that means ugly, ugly, hideous, nasty, defensive play and an offense that might pass once every five drives. Tennessee, of course, shouldn’t have a problem playing that way, although I think everyone’s underestimating the Bruins a little bit. Not a ton, but a little bit, and that’s enough to have me a little worried. I think Tennessee wins here, but it’s closer than a lot of people give it credit for.

Next up: we finally see a SEC in-conference game! Quality opponents need not apply.

As an aside, since we’re still in flight up here, I must say seeing inter-cloud lightning from above the clouds is pretty freaking cool. I’m not going to lie.

Wednesday, August 27

College Football Preview: Week 5

Week 5: And Hey, September's Almost Over... Weekend

Week 5 arrives. You've made it through two weekends of horrible football followed by two weekends where you didn't sleep because you were watching two games at a time while TiVo'ing another that you watched at 1am. Get ready for something that's completely the average of the two.

Wisconsin @ Michigan
It's an interesting game, because Wisconsin has no QB and it's on the road.
Upset alert right here. If there's one thing Michigan's defense still can do, it's stop a bland power-running team. Surely RichRod will have figured out some kind of offensive scheme to make this unit semi-potent, which is more than they'll need to outscore the one-dimensional Badgers at home.
Pick: Michigan

Virginia Tech @ Nebraska
When Nebraska has the ball, it'll be good offense vs good defense. When VT has the ball, I'm changing the channel. On the one hand, it's got to be tempting to just not risk throwing the interception and punt on first down. On the other hand, Nebraska's Black Shirt Red Carpet defense generally tacks on an extra 50% to your QB's completion percentage, so you've got to figure Glennon can complete one in every three.
This has a lot of upset potential particularly since it's played in Nebraska. VT lost Eddie Royal, Josh Hyman, Josh Morgan, and Branden Ore on offense which leaves them with exactly nothing. Nebraska counters with losing Bo Ruud, Corey McKeon, Steve Octavien, and Cortney Grixby on defense. Did I mention I'm changing the channel when VT has the ball? You really do have to realize that VT is going to field one of the worst offenses of anyone with a winning record in 2008 (along with half the rest of the ACC). Nebraska does return four offensive linemen, Marlon Lucky, and Joe Ganz on offense, so they should at least be able to get something going by late September. I still think VT holds them largely in check, but Glennon will turn the ball over just enough for the Huskers to pull it off.
Pick: Nebraska

Tennessee @ Auburn
We'll see how both teams follow up a huge divisional rivalry. I'm expecting Auburn to be coming off a close, draining win and Tennessee to be fired up to redeem themselves after a 30+ point loss.
Does it matter, though? Auburn's the better team and it's a home game for them. It'll be close and for sure there's upset potential if Auburn's offense exceeds our preseason expectations the way it has the last three seasons... I just don't see it happening. Fortunately, we'll know a lot more about both of these teams - especially their offenses - after the first four weeks, so this will be more worth talking about then.
Pick: Auburn

Fresno State @ UCLA
It's yet another road game against a Big 6 school for the Bulldogs. Clearly Pat Hill has no intention of playing in the BCS bowls; otherwise he would have scheduled Northern Colorado and Charlteson-Southern. At least they're playing in their home state, and UCLA still has no QB. They should really address that issue.
Pick: Fresno State

Purdue @ Notre Dame
If Notre Dame is 0-3 going in, they're going to be 0-4 coming out. Not, not "coming out" in that sense - we've known about Jimmy for some time now. Curtis Painter is an elite Big Ten QB (*snicker*)... oh god, I can't even finish typing that... but hey, compared to Jimmy Claussen? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Pick: Purdue

Illinois @ Penn State
Last season, this was a surprise upset and a statement game for Illinois. Everybody expects them to be just good enough again to get massacred in the BCS for their third time overall, so they're not sneaking up on anybody this season. Should be a good game.
Pick: Penn State

If the whole month plays out like this, here's what things would look like going into October:
* The bloggers at leftfieldbluffs made a shitload of money placing bets on college football games.
* The nation is rabidly salivating over Ohio State, once again! They can't lose three in a row! Only Jim Kelly could pull off something greater than that!
* Notre Dame has another winless September. (assuming the only game we miss is SDSU/ND)
* Everyone has forgotten that we expect Oklahoma to play well in September but not in January.
* In a 2004 redux, Auburn will have had an amazing first third of the season but still find themselves ranked behind teams who started off higher and don't face the same top caliber of opposition.
* It's just about time for Clemson to forget that they have two amazing runningbacks. They have almost two weeks to figure out if it's possible for them to lose to Wake Forest.
* Michael Crabteee has already caught more TDs than any QB not named Graham Harrell is going to throw for in 2008.
* Utah is revealed as the lone legitimate contender for "BCS Buster."

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Ohio State (god help us all)
2. Georgia
3. Oklahoma
4. Florida
5. Missouri
6. USC
7. Auburn (+2)
8. Clemson (-1)
9. West Virginia (-1)
10. Kansas

So that closes the first half of this little experiment - and yes, I put almost zero effort into the week 5 posting. Expect each week to be updated as a new post following the previous week's games, and maybe expect me to do this for October following week 5.

College Football Preview: Week 4

Week 4: Shaping Up the SEC Weekend

That basically sums it up. Most of the NCAA settles down after week 3, but the top five teams in the SEC are all involved in meaningful games as we transition from nonconference to conference play.

Virginia Tech @ North Carolina
These are the two popular picks to win the ACC Coastal division, which means - yes - people are picking North Carolina to win their division.
Okay, we realize that Butch Davis was the man primarily responsible for putting together those early 2000 Miami powerhouses. However, at Miami, Davis was entering a program that had been kicking everyone's asses from 1983-1994 before he was even hired. North Carolina is basically the same team they were last season, which was a woeful bunch. Yates should continue to improve, but the lack of a running game or a top defense will make Beamer's bunch too much to tackle.
Pick: Virginia Tech

Iowa @ Pittsburgh
Now I know you're thinking "why the hell is this worth talking about?!" and in a lot of ways you're right to wonder that. The thing is that the Big East still gets very little respect and this is a chance for them to earn some. We're thinking Syracuse is going to get rocked by Penn State in week 3, Rutgers has some losable nonconference games (Fresno State and, apparently, UNC) and if indeed USF loses to Kansas as I predict, people are going to be clamoring for the conference to be removed from the BCS - again, despite a nice three year BCS unbeaten streak they've got going on. Iowa, on the other hand, is getting anxious to get their program back to where it was from 2002-04 when they won a combined 31 games.
Yeah, that's not happening. LeSean McCoy is one of the nation's top backs, and with an actual QB on his team he'll have the opportunity to perhaps only run against seven and eight man fronts rather than the nine he was consistently seeing last season. Bonus that Iowa returns just three of their starting front seven. Iowa never really had an offense, and now they've lost Albert Young and Damian Sims.
Pick: Pitt

Florida @ Tennessee
If you're like everyone at this blog not named Chris, then you loved watching Tim Tebow plunge his throbbing left arm into the crevaces of this Tennessee defense in a 59-20 route last season. And you'll love watching the same thing happen again.
Pick: Florida

LSU @ Auburn
This is the game of the week. By now, we think people will just be figuring out that Auburn is way better with Burns than they were last season. LSU's quarterback situation should be settled, and their speed and talent at the other positions can shine through. Should be a great game.

Auburn returns most of their offense and installs new QB Kodi Burns. Along with Tate and Lester, this should be a fearsome ground attack as long as the line produces. It's an experienced line, but not a great one by top 10 standards. This is particularly troubling considering that their opposition is expected to field one of the nation's top defensive lines. The Auburn receivers and LSU secondary are both weak spots for their respective units; whichever wins that one could tip the more important ground battle in their team's favor.

LSU might as well be returning nine offensive starters, with the experience that Byrd and the RB corps have. However, with Ryan Perrilloux's dismissal, freshman Jarrett Lee will likely be the starting QB here. Home games against Appy State, Troy, and North Texas will give Lee some familiarity with this offense in a gametime situation, but won't remotely prepare him to face the Auburn secondary in Jordan-Hare. Auburn also has one of the nation's top LB corps and a solid defensive line led by junior Sen'Derrick Marks.

Since the 2004 season, LSU is 2-2 against Auburn, all in very close games, with a really weird split: Auburn has won the lowest-scoring games (7-3 in 2006, 10-9 in 2004) with LSU winning the others 30-24, 20-17. I don't know if that holds any water, but this feels like another low-scoring battle where the Tigers (groan) are going to come out on top.
Pick: Auburn

Notre Dame @ Michigan State
It's possible that Notre Dame could be 0-2 if SDSU doesn't choke. Can they lose to Michigan State? I don't know. That's the exciting thing about the Jimmy Claussen era - anything is possible!
Pick: Michigan State

Massachussetts @ Texas Tech
Whatever NCAA records are still standing after the Eastern Washington game are going to fall here. Crabtree 23 TDs in the first half? It could happen.
Pick: Over

Georgia @ Arizona State
You can't have two "games of the week" so we'll call this one the "game of the week for people who don't think 6-3 is an exciting game" because let's face it, the loser of this game could outscore the points total from that LSU-Auburn showdown. ASU is basically like 2007 Hawaii minus Colt Brennan but with an offensive line capable of playing on the mainland... kinda. So it should be 34-17 or something like that? Tough to say; preseason rankings indicate that Georgia should win easily but ASU's surprised some teams in the past. Either way, this is the probable Pac 10 #2 vs a team that looks like one of the two best in the SEC (along with Florida).

ASU's offense loses a ton of talent in Rudy Burgess, Ryan Torain, and Brent Miller. The line is a serious question too, with three new starters. I don't think it's a problem that jeopardizes their standing in the Pac 10 (clearly below USC and better than everyone else), but in this game Georgia is returning 9 starters from the defense that wrecked pretty much everybody from the seventh week onward (we don't know what happened against Troy... chalk it up to lack of focus sandwiched between the Florida and Auburn games). Things could get ugly if the Dawgs shut down ASU's running game and start putting the heat on Carpenter.

Offensively, Georgia is one of the last remaining teams to be successful while focusing on the power running game from the I formation. Brannan Southerland's recovery from offseason foot surgery could play a factor here, but I'm not going to put a huge weight on the health of the guy lead-blocking for Knowshon Moreno. Indeed if we're talking about blocking, when Clint Boling gets back from suspension could be more important, as his backup would be the only freshman on a now more experienced offensive line. ASU loses two starters from a secondary that was already ranked 61st against the pass, so Stafford could have a field day throwing to football Jesus.
Pick: Georgia

There's a string of inter-Big-6 nonconference games on Weds-Fri night that frankly aren't worth talking about but could be interesting in retrospect, particularly if Baylor of Colorado (unlikely!) pull off upsets. We've also got Wake facing FSU and Arizona vs UCLA... again, games I'll put more thought into if they look interesting after week 3 when I take another look at these.

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Ohio State
2. Georgia
3. Oklahoma
4. Florida
5. Missouri
6. USC (+1)
7. Clemson (+1)
8. West Virginia (+1)
9. Auburn (+ something)
10. Kansas

Tuesday, August 26

College Football Preview: Week 3

Week 3: Nonconference Showdown Weekend

So what I think is that the 2007 BCS was just bad enough that college football fans have to go to Purgatory. In Purgatory, there is college football, but it sucks... albeit, not as badly as the FSU/Oklahoma Orange Bowl. Purgatory lasts two weeks and then the good games finally start:

Week 3 is so good it hurts. Chris, myself, and a few people from our pick'em group will be watching this unfold in the quiet confines of Eastern Virginia. It will be a weekend of epic awesomeness and I only wish that our entire staff could be there. Anyway on to the games:

Kansas @ South Florida
Ohio State/USC overshadows what has the makings of a pretty sweet Friday Night game between Kansas and USF. Aqib Talib and Mike Jenkins are gone, but we've still got underrated talent on both teams and some fine college QBs. Expect a good one - that's right, your first good game of the season!
USF's offense should be its best in a while (ever?), but Kansas is also returning nine defensive starters including a top-notch linebacking corps and strong safety duo that was a little overshadowed by Talib's individual brilliance. When Kansas has the ball, you'll see a Jayhawks team missing both of last season's starting tackles, but with four seniors on the line. The WR and RB corps aren't at the strength of last season either. However, USF has lost both Ben Moffitt and Jenkins, as well as corner Trae Williams. Bottom line, I trust Reesing's decision-making and vision more than Grothe's.
Pick: Kansas

Michigan @ Notre Dame
If Miami (OH) can pull off the upset, these teams could be a combined 0-3. What we're really looking for here is sack count. The Wolverines have a legitimate opportunity to knock Jimmy Claussen out of the game by halftime.
Pick: Michigan

Oregon @ Purdue
With an impressive opening game against Northern Colorado, the Purdue bandwagon should be saturated once again. They will seriously hype Painter up as a good QB and try to act as there are more than two to four max teams in the Big Ten. Then in comes the Quack Attack... (Are they making fun of themselves? What the hell is wrong with people in Oregon?)
Pick: Oregon

Georgia @ South Carolina
For Georgia, this is the first of a five-week stretch that goes: @ South Carolina, @ Arizona State, vs Alabama, Bye Week, vs Tennessee. More interestingly, this was a home loss last season for the Bulldogs which ended up keeping them out of the BCS Championship game, and South Carolina may be a better defensive team than they were at the start of last season.
However, Matthew Stafford has really developed as a QB and the Bulldogs have figured out that their offense starts with Knowshon Moreno. They won't be as prone to turnovers as they were in the first half of 2007, and should win this handily.
Pick: Georgia

Arkansas @ Texas
This so would have mattered if Arkansas' RBs were still around. Yyyyep.
We're not sure what Texas's offense is going to look like this season, and this game may be our first real chance to tell. And we may not like what we see. But we do know what Arkansas will look like without McFadden or Jones, and for that matter with Casey Dick trying to run Petrino's offense.
Pick: Texas

I'm thinking BYU gets upset by Washington, so this would be their chance to redeem themselves. No non-Big 6 school has ever played in the BCS without a perfect record, so you kinda think this game is extremely important whether the Cougars are 1-1 (absolutely must win all remaining games) or 2-0 (realistically need to win all games).
The Bruins lost basically all of their offensive talent, have a terrible o-line, and are thin in the secondary. Oh yeah, and they still have no QB. Unlike their two meetings in 2007, this one may not even be close.
Pick: BYU

Oklahoma @ Washington
These schools had a decent game back in 2006 and the situations are similar. OU is the prohibitive favorite, but Washington has an explosive offense and OU did lose a lot of key defensive players.
The difference is that that game involved an OU team barely able to beat UAB the week before. This year's Washington lost tailback Rankin and their top two receivers on offense. Also they return just two of their defensive front seven - not a good sign when facing a Sooner offensive line composed of five returning seniors - two of whom weigh over 345. Bradford's a great QB unlike the mess in '06, and OU's ground game should dominate this one.
Pick: Oklahoma

Ohio State @ USC
This is the stuff they usually save for Rose Bowls. Well except for recently, when they save 49-17 massacres of overmatched teams that don't belong in the Rose Bowl for... Rose Bowls. But anyway this should be one of the best games of the season, and the best inter-conference game of the season. It could easily go either way.

Ohio State's offense loses a tackle and a fullback. Their defense loses LB Larry Grant and an excellent defensive lineman, Vernon Gholston. So basically this is the same OSU team as last season, only a year older. If we count Sanchez (3 games started '07) and Johnson/Gable/McKnight as returning starters for USC, then they're missing four on the offensive line as well as breaking in a new TE. Defensively, USC has a great unit but even they will miss Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, and Terrell Thomas. USC is a recruiting factory, and I have little doubt about the players stepping in to fill the holes. However, experience does count for something.

Let's talk about the players they do have. Offensively, I give USC a slight edge at receiver and an edge at QB. Interestingly, both teams have wild card QBs in Terrell Pryor and Aaron Corp, and I certainly expect playing time out of Pryor (Pete Carroll seems less the type to play two QBs in a game if it's not necessary, prefering to let the starter get the full flow of the game). Ohio State gets the nod on the offensive line and a very slight edge at RB... you could even just call this position a draw, but I think Chris Wells is the best RB in the nation. Defensively, though, Ohio State wins secondary and defensive line. Linebacker is a wash as both units are outstanding.

Now one thing you'll notice is that Ohio State should be better on both lines. I'm seeing the OSU defensive line averaging 6'4 282, and USC's offensive line 6'5 296 . On the other hand, USC's defensive line averages 6'4 281, versus Ohio State's mammoth offensive line averaging 6'5 318. Yes, Ohio State's smallest starting offensive lineman is just 3 lbs lighter than USC's beefiest, and the combined returning starters on the lines are seven to three in favor of the Buckeyes. I don't know how many USC games I've seen in the last six years where theoretically the opposition has a decent chance based on the skill positions but just get blasted on the lines. But this game could be the reversal of that, with Ohio State's defensive line able to fight USC's offensive line to a draw, while the Buckeye offensive line slowly wears down the Trojan front four.

A game this close could come down to special teams play as well. The Buckeyes' AJ Trapasso averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season and kicker Ryan Pretorius hit on 78% of his field goals - both a little above the national averages. USC's kicker David Buehler hit 84% of his field goals as one of the top kickers in the country, but the punter Greg Woidneck averaged just 37.9 yards per punt which was one of the lowest. USC held the edge in KO returns while Ohio State was a little better returning punts. Coverage does not help things either, as USC did better defending kickoffs while Ohio State did better defending punts and in fact allowed the 6th-fewest yards per punt return in the nation. On the one hand, we expect this to be a defensive battle, so Ohio State's expected edge in punting, punt returns, and punt coverage could swing the field position battle in their favor. On the other hand, if it comes down to a field goal kicking contest as low-scoring games sometimes do, I like USC's chances there.

We haven't mentioned the coaches. Jim Tressell and Pete Carroll are both outstanding and have been BCS mainstays, with Carroll preferring to, um, win... but whatever. (in Tressell's defense, Ohio State has probably faced tougher BCS competition overall, 05 Texas notwithstanding) Both are masters of scheming, but Carroll's staff seems to be a little better - and faster - at coming up with in-game adjustments. This hasn't been as pronounced since Norm Chow left, but USC is still a team who can come out with a very dangerous game-breaking strategy in the third quarter. Ohio State on the other hand seems more confident that, over the course of a 60 minute game, their talent will overcome all opposition... and playing in the Big Ten, that's often the case.

The only real concern I have in terms of coaching for Ohio State is their dedication to the ground game. Lots of Buckeye fans think the Florida game would have been a lot closer and the LSU game perhaps even a victory if the Bucks hadn't gotten so pass-happy. (Sure the 06 team had a hell of an aerial attack, but Florida's defense was fast and undersized) I don't know that running the ball at a healthy Glenn Dorsey counts as a winning strategy, but for what it's worth the OSU offense probably would have performed better in both games had they run the ball 5-10% of the time more often. Against USC, you do not want to turn this into Boeckman vs Sanchez. Boeckman is more experienced and the OSU secondary is probably a little stronger than USC's, but this is still a recipe for disaster if he starts floating passes. Sanchez isn't going to burn his own team with turnovers.

Bottom line, if you take a look at the world around you, it becomes evident that whatever being created this universe has a clear disdain for the human race. For that reason, Ohio State will win this en route to a third consecutive BCS title game meltdown. (yes, expect this game to get it's own post in a week or two)

Pick: Ohio State (god... why?)

Wisconsin @ Fresno State
You know, if they play this one in Madison, I think it's a comfortable win. But in Fresno, anything can happen. Both are good teams. I'm not sure if Fresno has the defensive personnel to stop PJ Hill and Travis "Catch It Like" Beckum.
Pick: Wisconsin

This week's got a ton of semi-interesting matchups as well: UNC @ Rutgers, Iowa State @ Iowa, Cal @ Maryland, Washington State @ Baylor, Penn State @ Syracuse, Auburn @ Mississippi State, and Virginia @ UConn. Okay, some of those stretch the definition of "interesting"... yeah. Still, this weekend is going to make you remember why college football is the greatest sport around.

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Ohio State (+2)
2. Georgia (-1)
3. Oklahoma (+1)
4. Florida (+1)
5. Missouri (+1)
6. LSU (+1)
7. USC (-5)
8. Clemson
9. West Virginia
10. Kansas (+ something)

more ESPN preseason

Two days to kickoff. With nothing but college football on the mind, why not jot some notes down about whatever random stuff I'm reading...

The Herbie Awards

Best QBs: Classic Dropback Style
1. Matt Stafford, Georgia
2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
3. Curtis Painter, Purdue
4. Nate Davis, Ball State
5. Willie Tuitama, Arizona

Best QBs: New Spread Style
1. Tim Tebow, Florida
2. Chase Daniel, Missouri
3. Pat White, West Virginia
4. Matt Grothe, South Florida
5. Jake Locker, Washington
6. Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan

It's a list of fine quarterbacks, but... anything missing? The almost sure-lock to be the NCAA's passing leader, perhaps? Graham Harrell? He's no more of a "system" QB than Painter or every QB in the second list save for Grothe. Despite Texas Tech running a version of the spread, I'd call him a dropback QB, and place him in the top 3 of that list.

QBs: "What a Difference a Year Makes"
1. Mark Sanchez, Southern California
2. Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
3. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
4. Jonathan Crompton, Tennessee
5. Cullen Harper, Clemson
6. Kevin Riley, Cal

Frankly, you're fooling yourself if you think Boeckman, Claussen, or Harper will have better seasons this time around. Actually it'd be tough for Boeckman to improve much statistically, since OSU spent most of last season annihilating teams who don't actually field defensive (or offensive) units.

Don't Get Enough Respect

Entire Wake Forest football team, including head coach Jim Grobe

You've got to be joking. What is there to respect? UConn, Navy, and Florida State were the only teams with a winning record Wake beat last season. Yes you read that correctly, Florida State won 7 out of 13 games last season. A-C-C! In their "great" 2006 season, that list was Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, and Reggie Ball. Congratulations, you play in a conference where anyone the caliber of Texas A&M can win 10 games.

Nick Reed, DE, Oregon
Stafon Johnson, RB, Southern California

Brian Hartline, WR, Ohio State

Okay, playing for Ohio State does not make you good. Reminds me of a writeup I did for the OSU vs Florida game... I talked about Ginn and Holmes as standout receivers, but that Florida had a deeper receiving corps. A Buckeye fan suggests 'don't forget (goes on to list all remaining receivers on OSU depth chart).' Yeah, and Ryan Hamby too, right? I didn't forget them, they're just not great receivers. They're solid but nothing standout. These are those same guys. OSU has a fantastic runningback and offensive line. Because teams have to put 9 in the box to stop them, they occasionally complete passes. For that matter, why is Robiskie listed as the #4 receiver in the country?

Chris Brown, RB, Oklahoma

Again, what has he ever done? Come in and mucked up the offense. Averaged a full 2 ypc less than Allen Patrick and Demarco Murray. 3.9 ypc isn't that great when the two guys above you and the guy below you in total carries all average over 5.8.

Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri
Brian Johnson, QB, Utah

"Fearless" Predictions for 2008

Not so much criticism as much as a summary:
* 4 of the 12 sportswriters/analysts are predicting an Oklahoma vs Ohio State BCS championship. (split 2-2 on who wins) OU and OSU have combined to lose the championship following the 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007 seasons... so this would guarantee them going five for six.
* 9 of the 12 think that the USC/Ohio State winner goes to the big game (6 OSU, 3 USC)
* 7 of the 12 think the SEC champion goes (5 UGA, 2 Florida)
* 7 of the 12 think Oklahoma goes
* Only one other school was even picked to go in anybody's predictions: Missouri, picked to win over USC by Bruce Feldman.

Other patterns/oddities:
* 5 believe that North Carolina wins their division. Not happening.
* One guy, Jim Donnan, believes Wake Forest will win their division. Either he believes Jeff Bowden will take a much more active role in advising his brother, or he's overrating Wake.
* Ohio State, Missouri, Oklahoma, and USC are picked to win their divisions/conferences across the board. 10 of the 12 think OU beats Missouri.
* Despite delusions of UNC rising to the top of their division, Clemson and Va Tech are the only teams picked to actually win the ACC. (9 Clemson, 3 Va Tech)
* Each SEC division has two teams who get picked to win it (Georgia/Florida, Auburn/LSU). But the East team is picked to win every time. (7 Florida, 5 Georgia)
* Of the "Big 6" conferences, only the Big East has three or more teams picked to win their whole conference. (3 Pitt, 3 USF, 6 WVU)

No real point here...

Monday, August 25

Longhorn Mack

(Disclaimer: this post is written in the Hubie Brown person.)

Not-so-hypothetical question. Suppose you're currently sitting atop the conference rankings and #2 in the BCS. You're fortunate to play in a conference retarded enough to negate the regular season with a conference championship game when no tiebreaker is needed, and you're in a rematch situation. The first time around, you mercilessly annihilated the team you'll be facing. They have no passing game to speak of and they don't play defense. You, on the other hand, have one of the top five QBs and receiving corps in the country, and a top ten defense to boot. Here's the kicker: you know that victory means facing the greatest team of all time and that they will absolutely make your team their bitch on national television, so you'd kinda like to lose this one then go on to a winnable bowl game. You can't just tell your players to lose on purpose, so you've got to come up with a gameplan for defeat. What do you do?

As discussed earlier, the correct response was "Start Chris Simms."

The name of the game is "Make Texas Go 0-12." You are head coach Mack Brown, and your goal is to submarine the 2008 season for the Texas Longhorns. You do this through horrible coaching, but with the following caveat: your players will try to win with whatever schemes you give them. You can't make it too over-the-top (like only playing 10 men every down or intentionally illegal formations), but if you put a WR at QB the team will go out there and dammit that guy will try his best to complete a 5-yard pass. Or he'll scramble under the slightest amount of pressure and end up taking it the distance. Hm, gotta be careful there...

We're looking for creativity and the closest possible thing to realism - something where the fans would think you're an absolute moron, but not so much that they'd suspect sabotage. Punting on every first down and having an all-kicker/QB defensive unit would probably work, but that's overkill and people will know something's up.

Week 1: Florida Atlantic @ Texas
Ol' Schnelly has already given you this one by calling out Texas' physical toughness. All you've got to do is try and completely prove him wrong. Perhaps you "forget" that the season starts this week instead of next, and completely wear out your players with grueling two-a-days in full pads up until the day before kickoff. Finish with an intensive workout focused on maxing out on the weights Friday afternoon. For dinner, make sure to serve them some special motivational "magic" water delivered straight from the other side of the Rio Grande - what, you mean Montezuma's Revenge is still around?

Week 2: Texas @ UTEP
What is this "other Texas team" bullshit? Who cares, you have Arkansas next week, you need to start preparing for them now. Arkansas had a pretty strong running game, so they should have one again this year - McFadden and Jones are both seniors now, right? Use this game as a tuneup for Week 3, right down to the schemes; no less than eight in the box at all times. Keep it easy on offense, you don't want to hurt anyone.

Week 3: Arkansas @ Texas
A season ago, this would be such an easy one to lose via poor defensive schemes. This year, it'll be a little bit harder, but there's no reason that you can't throw 8 into the box to stop Michael Smith, right? I mean, their QB is Casey freaking Dick, he can't do a damn thing. Screw it, bring both the safeties up and dump 9 in the box. Don't worry about Petrino being a passing coach - there's no WAY he has the personnel. Stay strong with this, too; keep on stopping the run and you'll have this game locked up.

On offense, keep in mind that Arkansas returned both their OLBs, so you want to slant the coverage to the outside, especially on passing downs. Not that you'll want to pass very often; Arkansas is starting all upperclassmen in the secondary, so that's a good sign to avoid it. You have to dominate the ground game first and foremost, but work mostly off of edge runs - they'll be your best bet.

Week 4: Rice @ Texas
This will probably be the toughest game for Texas to lose, because Rice is so bad. To lose this game, we borrow from another sport: Olympic basketball. We all know that in 2006, the Americans didn't even know the names of any of the Greek players who eventually defeated them. You're counting on your defensive personnel not being keenly aware that Rice's star WR is Jarett Dillard, but that they know that Rice has some guy who's a really good receiver. Design all coverage schemes around triple-teaming the other guy and daring the QB to throw to a wide-open Dillard. Refuse to abandon this scheme. Meanwhile, pass on every down, because Rice probably can't stop Texas' running game or passing game, and at least passing has a higher possibility of turnover.

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: Texas @ Colorado
Immediately upon landing at DIA, tell the team that there's more to life than football and go climb a 14er. Hopefully enough key players get altitude sickness. If you don't think that'll work, fly everyone directly into Boulder, but only use one plane that's big enough to go from Austin to Boulder - and land at both those airports. Make sure you bring all your coaches and equipment managers first, and don't fly out until the day of the game. Budgets are tight this year, you know.

Yet another alternative: that Oklahoma game is a big one. Better start getting ready now. Mack's got a lot of options here.

Week 7: Texas vs Oklahoma (Dallas)
Just keep doing what you've been doing, ol Macky. Sans Vince Young, unless the Sooners have another five-turnover outing a-la 2006, this one's an L.

Week 8: Missouri @ Texas
Kick to Maclin and drop seven into coverage. Regarding the latter, the only games Missouri lost last season were against Oklahoma, when the Sooners really put some heat on Chase Daniel to shut down this offense. There's not many secondaries out there who can cover all these receivers (certainly not UT's), so as long as Daniel's not getting sacked their offense should be good. The former is more of an insurance policy in case your offense somehow manages to barely outscore theirs.

Week 9: Oklahoma State @ Texas
Fortunately we can be ridiculous here, because Texas has had a habit of playing like absolute crap against OSU (after consecutive BCS title game losses, the Buckeyes had to give that one back to the Cowboys), getting into a 20+ point hole, then coming back. In fact, Mack Brown, you clearly have the first half of this game figured out already, so let's focus on preventing the comeback. You'll be down big, and time will be limited, so just keep the ball in the air at all times. Blitz constantly on D - we're talking sending the house on every play, Tenuta-style. They won't be able to keep up with that shit; you're on it.

Week 10: Texas @ Texas Tech
This one's easily losable. Just make it an aerial shootout. No way can Graham Harrell stand up against the awesomeness that is Colt McCoy, so keep it up. And throw it deep.

Week 11: Baylor @ Texas
We've been saving up a secret weapon for this one. Allow an unsupervised Friday night visit from Ricky Williams.

Week 12: Texas @ Kansas
This game plan looks a lot like a hybrid between the TTU and OSU game plans; quick-strike offense is the name of the game. Have your offensive linemen do pushups on the sidelines for every time they take more than 5 seconds to get ready between plays. Don't even bother with the huddle - that's hippie bullshit. You've got a gunslinger in McCoy, just let him rip. Five wide, all the time. Guaranteed win.

Week 13: Bye

Week 14: Texas A&M @ Texas
This one seems like it should be tough to lose, but given the last two seasons I guess it isn't. Aggies in general are a fiery bunch, so I'd get em extra riled-up by encouraging some bench players to kidnap that stupid dog. Be aware that the mutt is the highest-ranking officer in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, and that you will probably be assaulted by officers-in-training with swords if they catch you in the act. So on that note, perhaps encourage the starters to do it. Quan Cosby hasn't been injured yet, so this would be as good a time as any to fix that problem - he's an upperclassman, so it's time he became a good captain, too.

But what about the game? Dennis Franchione ain't around for you to beat up on anymore, but they still have a strong potential to be an option team. Make sure you don't forget that and plan accordingly; keep your MLB on McGee at all times to make sure he doesn't cross the line of scrimmage and keep at least 8 in the box at all times (that Jovorski Lane is a horse). On offense, all air, all the time. The Aggies won't know what hit 'em.

Now, this gameplan may only result in 4-8 instead of the 0-12 we know and crave; that's why we're not Mack Brown. He should be able to do better than this. And the Longhorns will still be ranked in the Top 10 next year if he does this anyway, so it's not like it really matters.

Sunday, August 24

College Football Preview: Week 2

Week 2: Um, Yeah... Weekend!

It's week 2, which we all know is the week that comes between week 1 and week 3. And there are some games this week! Woohoo!

Georgia Tech @ Boston College
Don't laugh now, but ACC title position could be at stake here. OK, go ahead and laugh.
Analysis: I don't even want to think about what this atrocity is going to look like.
Pick: not the fans. Maybe BC?

BYU @ Washington
If you're a BYU fan, this one matters. Yep.
Jake Locker is going to run rampant on this defense.
Pick: Washington

Oregon State @ Penn State
Meh. Ehhhhh. This is one of those games where, if they played it ten times, one of them would be good. Are you feeling lucky, punk? I'm not.
Oregon State's last trip to the Midwest didn't go so great.. and that was Cincinnati. (when does a trip to Cincy ever get described as "great" though? by going there, you've already lost something) PSU is a superior defensive team and without Morelli they won't throw enough picks to lose this one.
Pick: Penn State

Sandy Eggo State @ Notre Dame
It never gets old writing San Diego like that. You know what else never gets old? Watching Jimmy Claussen take shot after shot when this line can't hold long enough to take a three-step drop. I don't know if Notre Dame is bad enough to lose to SDSU, but... maybe.
Realistically, neither team's offense is going to look great, but Charlie Weiss will have just enough of a "decided schematic advantage" drawn up for the Domers to win by two TDs.
Pick: Notre Dame, dammit

Cincinnati @ Oklahoma
This game appears relevent because Cincinnati beat Oregon State, Rutgers, USF, and UConn last season in addition to winning 10 games. In reality, it's not. The Bearcats pull off a couple conference upsets each season, but on the road at Oklahoma they're going to get massacred.
It'll go something like this: Oklahoma scores on every drive, Cincy gets a lucky TD in the third quarter.
Pick: Oklahoma

Cal @ Washington State
This is only an interesting game if both teams are 1-0, or if you care deeply about who finishes #5 in the Pac 10.
These teams should both be mediocre, but Cal has an advantage at QB and is generally a well-coached team.
Pick: Cal

Northwestern @ Duke
Last season, Northwestern made history by giving Duke their only win in two seasons. Along with Clemson, the Wildcats are one of just two division FBS teams Duke has beaten in the last four years. Don't watch this, but have the jokes ready to send to Big 10 fans should the Devils beat the same opponent in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-99 (Wake Forest).
Can Cutcliffe make the difference at Duke? Who cares - I'm picking the result based on how comic it would be.
Pick: Duke

Dear god, there are no games worth caring about in week 2 either. Worse still, the best chance for an "upset" is if Oregon State wins in Happy Valley. OU/Cincy becomes something a little more worth caring about if Mauk somehow is granted eligibility in the next week... which, um, no. And really it wouldn't even matter. *sigh*

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Georgia
2. USC
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida
6. Missouri
7. LSU
8. Clemson
9. West Virginia
10. Texas

Thursday, August 21

College Football Preview: Week 1

Week 1: Kickoff Weekend!

It's the last weekend of August. College football kicks off! There's a lot of interesting/non-traditional matchups, but unfortunately not a lot of games that should be close and high-quality. (watching JoePa's offense grind to a halt in a 10-3 win over Coastal Carolina does not qualify as "good" even if the Staters do miraculously find a way to make it close) But hey, it's something to do, right? We know you'll be itching for something to watch now that the Olympics and all their olymptastic coverage are over.

In the early weeks, the polls are traditionally the most fluid. That is, it's harder to jump a team if you both win in week 10 than if you both win in week 2. Voters haven't made up their minds as much yet, so your level of play can change opinions. (LSU did this last season to jump USC early on when they played near-perfect football in September)

What this means is that there's a lot of poll position at stake here, even if nobody's actually losing. For example Missouri may not be able to jump Georgia, but the top, middle, and bottom groups of the top ten may shuffle around and even a team ranked in the low-teens could make a run at the top ten with two or three impressive victories.

We'll be going through things week by week - hopefully staying at least a full week ahead of the games being played - and projecting how the season may shape out. (ideally I'd like to post the entire month before it begins, the post each week's revision one week before kickoff) Why? I have no idea. Anyway on to the selected games!

Hawaii @ Florida
Hawaii was embarassed in the only game they played last season against a team with a pulse. Granted, Georgia's "pulse" is a giant throbbing bulldog cock, but Florida's basically the same story. Expect Tim Tebow to account for seven total TDs before leaving the game at halftime to get shoulder blade-deep in Hawaiian Green - to the dismay of Gator fans; Spurrier wouldn't pull a starter at a mere 49-0!
Pick: Florida

Oklahoma State @ Washington State
These are two programs who are typically in the middle of their conference's pack, looking to make a statement in this game. This one could go either way and should be a very exciting game with absolutely no national implications! I'll go with the better QB here.
Pick: Oklahoma State

Utah @ Michigan
Following the Wolverines' final two games of the 2006 season, I predicted that Lloyd Carr would lose his job. AND IT HAPPENED! If the losses to Ohio State and USC didn't already seal his fate, the final nail in the coffin was a home opener loss to Appalachian State for the first time in NCAA history that a top 5 team lost to a lower division team. Can the Wolverines make it consecutive home opener losses?
Breaking it down, you're looking at a team with a new coach and a new offensive system. They lost their four year starter at QB and then lost his backup to transfer. They lost their four year starter at RB, and his backup may be out for this game as well! Utah has experience with Brian Johnson and Darrell Mack entering their senior years.
Pick: Utah

USC @ Virginia
Virginia was one of those teams who had a ton of lucky wins in 2007 (three by 1 point, another two by 2 points). Shutting out Miami was awesome... so was giving up 17 points in about 3 minutes to Texas Tech to blow a late lead. The real reason to watch this is to see what's going on with USC's quarterback situation; the game itself will be a massacre.
In the likely event that Sanchez is out for this game, you can expect to see Pete Carroll try out Aaron Corp, as Mitch Mustain's overratedness shone through at the Cardinal and Gold game. Corp is a player you'll want to watch out for when he eventually takes over this offense... right now, even if he has the worst freshman game imaginable (excluding Chris Simms-level of suck), the RBs and defense can win this one by themselves.
Pick: USC

Appalachian State @ LSU
As we all fondly remember, Appy State went into the Little House and blew out Michigan 73-6 to start a fairly typical season for Lloyd Carr. We all know LSU is going to destroy Appy... I mean, it's not like they lost 10 starters and then had their new starting QB get kicked off the team... right? Eh, it'd be hilarious if it did happen.
However, the major difference is the defensive speed of LSU. The Tigers may have the top defensive line in the NCAA. Their linebacking corps is also a strong one. While the secondary has plenty of personnel to replace, we don't expect them to get torched by FCS-caliber receivers. The Tigers also have a strong offensive line and a deep RB corps.
Pick: LSU

Eastern Washington @ Texas Tech
Every year, we all think nobody is going to break Georgia Tech's record of scoring 222 points against Cumberland College back in 1916. And then we look at Texas Tech's nonconference schedule. According to Wikipedia, GT ran 28 times for 1978 yards and 40 TDs in that game. Nevermind that 40 TDs is more than their number of rushing attempts, and that it would give them 240 points even if they missed every PAT. Okay, so maybe 222 is a bit lofty of a goal. The NCAA record is 100 points, scored by Houston against Tulsa in 1968. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, I'm just saying that in my NCAA Football 2009 Campus Legend season, a freshman quarterback named Sexy Rexy threw for 652 yards and 12 TDs on 36 attempts (fuck it, I'm going deep) coming off the bench to help the Red Raiders win their opener 143-0.
Pick: Over

Michigan State @ California
These are two teams who had their relevence in the BCS era, and had it slip on by. Now it's a Pac 10-Big 10 conference rivalry game between two teams who are supposed to be on the up-and-up. Both teams lost a lot of talent, so it'll be interesting to see if any of the hype is legit. (no)
Pick: Cal

Alabama @ Clemson
The greatest coach in the history of Alabama football enters his second season at the helm, and Tide fans have a national title on their mind. Their hopes for victory in this game lie with Clemson's secret offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, who vows to go to a more balanced attack by taking the ball out of Davis'/Spiller's hands and calling more jump balls into triple coverage.
If we look closer at Clemson, though, playing well in their first four or five games is necessary to build the kind of expectations that can be brought crashing down when they mysteriously decide to throw the ball 90% of the time against the #105 run defense in the country. So expect the RB duo to rack up 250 yards and a gritty Tigers win.
Pick: Clemson

Illinois vs Missouri
We didn't realize how big of a matchup this was last season when it happened; this year, the game should be circled on every college football fan's calendar. Expect Missouri to rock the hell out of the team that nobody quite understands what the Rose Bowl selection committee saw in them that Mizzou didn't have.
Missouri really doesn't lose a lot compared to last season. I mean sure, losing Rucker sucks, but Coffman's just as good. I'm mildly concerned about their running game without Tony Temple, but only mildly. Besides I'm much more worried about Illinois sans Mendenhall.
Pick: Missouri

Washington @ Oregon
With Jake Locker, Washington was supposed to make a move into that second tier of the conference last season, then challenge for the title this year. Well, that didn't happen. However, they've got high expectations again... then on the other side, we've got Oregon who wants to prove that their lone Dixon-less win to finish 2007 was a sign of things to come.
Pick: Oregon

Fresno St @ Rutgers
It's an intriguing matchup, especially now that Ray Rice is gone. Fresno State has gone toe to toe with major Big 6 programs over the last ten years... if they want a BCS bid, they need to open the season with a statement win to generate some hype.
Pick: Fresno State

Tennessee @ UCLA
For whatever (awesome) reason, Tennessee seems to have decided to start each season with a game against a marquee Pac 10 program. These are two conferences that typically enter into the discussion of a) which conference is that season's toughest and b) who should get invited to the BCS Championship game, so it's great to see them actually facing off. The last two seasons the Vols' opponent has been Cal, which was split 1-1 with the home team winning both games. Unfortunately UCLA is in a bit of a slump, so expect a pretty comfortable win by Tennessee here.
Another exciting thing to watch for will be how Tennessee's offense has changed with new coordinator Dave Clawson coming in from Richmond (lost to Appa State in FCS semis... yes, I just called it the FCS).
Pick: Tennessee

I've looked at the schedule for the top 25 and it's truly pathetic in week 1. You've got Clemson/Alabama, Illinois/Missouri, and... um... yeah. Tennessee @ UCLA? Utah @ Michigan? Eh. On top of that, 30 "Football Bowl Subdivision" teams will be playing against lower division opposition. (just 40 games between FBS teams) So don't expect any shake-ups before September rolls around.

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Georgia
2. USC
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida
6. Missouri (+1)
7. LSU (-1)
8. Clemson (+1)
9. West Virginia (-1)
10. Texas

Sunday, August 17

Random Thoughts: Pac-10(!) Edition

First off, if you haven’t seen the modified Top 25 rankings, check them out; I hadn’t gotten a chance to add my thoughts to the rankings. That’s taken care of now.

So right now, we have almost 120 teams (Western Kentucky joins the Sun Belt next year) in we’re-not-calling-it-1-A-anymore, and if you think we’re covering all of them, you’re nuts. We’ll do our best to get to the ones that matter, though, and on that note here’s a bunch of random notes and thoughts about some teams.

- UCLA: if you’ve missed the news, Ben Olson is injured again and won’t be available for the first few weeks of the season at best. This will cause Kevin Craft to move up to the starting role, meaning he’ll likely get the nod against Tennessee, BYU, and Arizona (if not Fresno State). This is about as painful as it sounds for Bruins fans, but the rest of us are laughing at the turn of misfortune.

- Arizona State: the offensive line problems are very real here. We’ve already documented our concerns with it on a few occasions (it’s the main thing holding them back), but the good news is that they have three games to get it together. The bad news is they’re one injury to Paul Faniaka away from having a completely decrepit offensive line, but for those of us used to calling them the Arizona State Paper Sun Devils, that’s good news too.

- Left tackles are apparently optional at Georgia. Trinton Sturdivant is out at LT for the season, and while this will be his RS year it won’t make life any easier for the ‘Dogs. They’re not sure what they’ll do about it, but there’s enough talent there to make coping difficult yet not impossible. Expect some combination of Justin Anderson, Vince Vance, Kiante Tripp, Cordy Glenn, and Josh Davis to flip around in pursuit of that spot; of those guys, Vance and Tripp are already starters.

- Does anyone have a spare ACL for Florida? They’ve lost five (!) guys already to ACL tears: starters Cornelius Ingram and Dorian Munroe, plus backups Jim Barrie, John Curtis, and Brendan Beal. Ingram was undoubtedly the biggest loss of those five, but Munroe and Curtis were both SS, which means secondary depth is already a concern. Beal might’ve redshirted this year anyway, so that seals the deal for him, and Barrie hurts the line depth. The Gators should be fine coping with the losses, but if injuries in the secondary start to pile up, you heard it here first.

Speaking of the Gators, they allowed straight thuggin’ Ronnie Wilson to rejoin the team. EDSBS summed this up way better than we could even dream of, but: bad form, Meyer. You’re in a state that’s fucking loaded with talent; did you really need a guy who knows how to fire assault rifles in public?

- Kentucky’s kicked starting QB Curtis Pulley off the team. Mike Hartline will assume QB duties for the Wildcats, which will consist of “run around like crazy praying to g-d Dicky Lyons can shed triple coverage before getting wrecked”. I’d say this is a big deal, but I’d be lying my ass off; nobody cares about Kentucky this year.

- If this isn’t the gayest college football article you read all year, I will be very surprised. I didn’t realize they let the gays out in Tuscaloosa. That being said, Jones could be one hell of a playmaker, and I’d be scared of him if I had any confidence that John Parker Wilson, Esq. could actually turn in a consistent week-to-week performance.

- So I’ve been reading a fair amount of articles on how TAMU’s offense will be designed to feature Mike Goodson more, and I refuse to buy it. I’ll buy that Stephen McGee won’t be running the ball as much this season, but I think it’s a reach to assume a guy with Goodson’s size won’t get wrecked running behind an offensive line returning only one starter. Compound that with learning a new offensive scheme, and while we can expect Jovorski Lane to rack up the close yardage and TDs without getting too injured, I’ll need to see Goodson as the feature back before signing on. Actually, I’ll buy Goodson as the featured back, but I won’t buy him as the signature back. It just seems like a mess waiting to happen.

- Is Texas Tech due for a letdown? They’re facing the highest expectations since …well, ever, and there are still some huge questions around their defense. Mike Leach is saying all the right things and the team is at least acting like they’re focused, but I buy that as much as I buy the “[pitcher] is feeling great this season” articles that show up in spring training, after said pitcher has spent the last 112 weeks on the DL. At some point, we’ll actually have to see the actual improvement in focus and commitment from the Red Raiders, and the last five years would seem to indicate otherwise: 2003, L 21-49 @ NC State; 2004, L 24-27 @ New Mexico; 2005, L 17-24 @ Oklahoma St.; 2006, L 6-30 @ Colorado; 2007, L 45-49 @ Oklahoma State, again. Consider this a warning to take care of business on the road, guys.

- Speaking of saying the right things, Duke is quickly becoming a soft spot for me. Admittedly, 90% of this is because David Cutcliffe has become their HC, but it’s kind of weird seeing a bunch of guys who have been playing football for 6+ years on average (if not longer) talk about what it actually means to be a college football athlete. It makes me wonder what Ted Roof was doing as HC there and how he was able to land a job somewhere else, even if it was at Minnesota. Will it matter? I suspect not, but the ACC is bad enough that they could sneak a conference win (Virginia? NC State?) and finish the season 3-9. Bonus points: only one team – Clemson – has scheduled Duke for their homecoming opponent. This is a step up, as Virginia gets dinged on that twice.

That’ll cover it for now.

Monday, August 11

Preseason Top 25, by Chris and James

Taking advantage of one of those rare opportunities to sit down and talk with a co-blogger on the other side of the country, we came up with a joint ranking for the NCAA preseason top 25.

First off – screw you, Alabama. Screw you, Notre Dame. We’re not buying that shit, not yet. Go actually win something, and beating UL-Monroe doesn’t count. Neither does Duke.

1. Ohio State

God, how this selection pains us. It’s not like we actually like Ohio State or even want them to win anything, but they do return pretty much everyone from last year’s second-best team on both sides of the ball. Basically, we both were hoping the other person had some conclusive reason not to place (t)OSU first. When that didn’t happen, we were pretty much shit out of luck. What separates Ohio State from Georgia is simple: the Buckeyes have proven wide receivers and a little more experience on the line. This means there’s yet another thing Mohammed Massaquoi has dropped. What separates Ohio State from USC is the returning starter count.

2. Georgia

While Georgia came on like a freight train at the end of last year (culminating in a not-that-surprising beatdown of Hawaii), they do have a couple of minor holes. On the plus side, the defense returns nine starters and should continue to wreck everybody, and those three freshmen who started on last season’s offensive line now have a year’s experience together. Their passing game is suspect as far as results go – Massaquoi and Stafford are plenty talented, but for some reason the results just haven’t been there yet. We suspect it’s because of the giant holes in Massaquoi’s hands; he is the football Jesus, after all.

(Any doubt you had that we weren’t going to hell just ended right there.)

3. USC

Rey Maualuga and the six other returning defensive starters should keep just about any opposing offense in check, if not running away screaming in terror. It doesn't hurt that the Trojans have 12 seniors in the defensive two-deep, either. By the numbers, USC returns just four offensive starters. Factoring in Sanchez’s reasonable amount of experience and USC’s RB-by-committee approach last season, and it’s effectively six. Here’s a number that doesn’t lie, though: four new starters on the offensive line. If the line develops, the Trojans could end up winning the title, but if not, we can look at Arizona State '07 for a good model. Also, as of now Sanchez is out with a busted kneecap, and he could be out for "up to eight weeks" - or as we like to term it at LFB, "out for three weeks, then miraculously recovers before the Ohio State game".

4. Florida

The second tier starts with the Gators. They have Superman, Prince Percy, and eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, but there is plenty of reason to have doubts about this defense given their results last season. It’s unrealistic to expect Tebow to have an even better year than the one he just did, so stepping up to that elite group will require more any contribution from the running backs and more consistent, higher quality defensive play. I don't think anyone would argue the Gators' D last year wasn't consistent; it just wasn't consistently good.

5. Missouri

Missouri’s 2007 offense basically returns intact – Alexander and Coffman have plenty of game time, not to mention outstanding skill at their positions. Replacing Tony Temple will be tough, but the backups are capable. Defensively, essentially everybody is back except Pig Brown and Lorenzo Williams. That’s no small loss, but again the talent is there. Bonus for having one of the best kickers in the country, Jeff Wolfert, who hasn’t missed a FG or PAT in conference play in two seasons.

For the Tigers, it’s going to come down to mental toughness and maintaining aggressiveness. Can they overcome last season’s dominance by Oklahoma should the teams meet in the conference championship?

Missouri ending Oklahoma’s run of Big 12 championships (and Fiesta Bowl losses) would be James’ AND IT HAPPENED call of 2008.

6. Oklahoma

Over the last five seasons, the Sooners have been one of the best programs in the NCAA from September through December. Apparently the egg nog is spiked with everclear, though - and they drink it on New Years' and Christmas to boot. That doesn't work, y'all. Of almost equal concern, half the defense graduated and that includes the four leading tacklers. Bradford & co should rock everybody on offense, but the Big 12 is full of teams who can play the high-scoring game.

7. Auburn

Auburn is a semi-sleeper pick to contend for the title in 2008. They have all the pieces – sixteen returning starters, a defense that should once again terrorize the opposition, and just what we love to hear: last season’s completely inept senior quarterback graduated. Nine offensive starters return, Brad Lester is recovered from injury, and Kodi Burns plus the implementation of the spread offense might finally allow the Tigers to win games to win games where the defense gives up all of 19 points against Mississippi State. Of course, that doesn't even count leading rusher Ben Tate, who could give the Tigers a mini-Cadillac and Brown attack (with Burns playing the role of Campbell). Does it smell like 2004 to anyone else in here, or is it just me?

Auburn finishing seventh or higher would be Chris’ AND IT HAPPENED call of 2008.

8. Clemson

Clemson has the talent to compete with anyone outside the top three, is an extremely experienced team (count em – nine starters on each side of the ball are juniors or seniors), and plays in an utter joke of a conference (we’re completely at loss for why the ACC doesn’t take at least as much flak as the Big East for being soft, particularly when considering their 1-9 BCS record versus the Big East’s 6-4). What needs to happen is that Spiller or Davis need to be involved in 65-75% of the plays. That may sound excessive, but three of their four lowest rushing attempts games were losses.

If you're looking for weaknesses, their offensive line is very inexperienced (one returning starter!) and the Tiger playcalling has a bizarre fascination with trying to see if they can win games *without* Spiller and Davis. Here at LFB, we appreciate degree of difficulty as much as anyone, but that's just retarded.

9. West Virginia

Make no mistake about it, the offense is going to miss Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt, and Darius Reynaud. Those players had too much talent to simply say “Noel Devine!” and pretend nothing has changed. However, Devine is arguably better than Slaton, the offensive line returns all five starters, and Pat White should be better than ever. That’s good, because Bill Stewart wants him throwing the ball a little more often. That's always a smart move when you've averaged over 6 yards a rush for the last two years. Also of concern: four returning defensive starters, including none in the back four.

Ultimately, there's no reason WVU shouldn't end the season at 11-1, but that's assuming they split between Auburn and USF. They should have a handy temperature advantage against USF, but that Auburn game will be critical. If they win that, we can start talking about WVU in the BCS, but otherwise, they'll have their work cut out for them. That being said, kudos to the Big East for putting what's likely their de facto championship game as the last game of the season - well done, guys.

10. Texas Tech

As Texas Tech has shown in their last two bowl victories, they are never out of any game. In the crazy world of college football, that’s a great ability to have. Having the nation’s best QB, best WR, and one of the best offensive lines doesn’t hurt either. Know what else is great? The ability to stop anybody with a pulse. That’s why the Red Raiders are outside the top 5.

Early rumors are that the Red Raiders actually have a D this year; we'll believe it when we see it. Although Mike Leach and his fascination for pirates might've been the second-best storyline to come from this summer. (The best, of course, is the Iowa recruit who led police on a 20-minute foot chase while half-naked ... and then refused a Breathalyzer.)

11. LSU

The statistic of losing ten starters may exaggerate the truth – the Williams/Scott/Holliday trio should do fine at RB and Ricky Jean-Francois was suspended for most of last season. However the Tigers lost their two top QBs (way to go, Perriloux!) and three starting members of their fearsome secondary, which throws them out of any preseason top ten discussions. LSU was unfortunate to draw Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina as their East opponents, but on the other hand their nonconference schedule is a complete joke.

12. Wisconsin

The Badgers are very experienced on the O-line, on defense in general, and they have PJ Hill and Travis Beckum. That’s really all you need to beat everyone in the Big Ten except Ohio State, right? Bonus for drawing Ohio State, Penn State, and Illinois as home games.

Wisconsin is pretty clearly the second-best team in the Big 10, but we don't know if that means anything or if that's damning with faint praise. For now, we assume the latter - you're awesome, Jim Delaney!

13. Kansas

We suspect that Kansas will drop faster than an impressionable follow’s pants at Friday Night Blues. (And yes, we know that only three other people will get that. We don’t care.) Nonetheless, Todd Reesing is a legitimately good college QB, the offensive line has four seniors, and the defense returns all but two starters. Okay, so those may have been their two best defensive players (the “may have” refers to McClinton’s standing as a DT; Talib was unquestionably the best player on this entire team)… hwhatever.

If there would be a way for 2007 Kansas to play 2008 Kansas, that'd be the best gauge of how good this team is; we likely won't be able to look at their records for an indication, as this year's schedule is much harder than last year's. Last year's 12-1 could easily be this year's 9-4.

14. USF

Losing Mike Jenkins and Ben Moffit will have an impact on this defense. The offense, however, will be one of the most experienced in the nation as ten starters return – the lone newbie being a senior at right tackle. Rush defense was a major issue in their four losses last season, and something must be fixed there as Pittsburgh’s offense should be markedly improved and West Virginia is of course West Virginia.

The thing to watch with the Bulls this year is how the rush offense evolves. Mike Ford has been touted as one of the best RBs this program has seen, and if he can develop into a capable secondary threat to Grothe in the backfield that'll provide worlds of help for USF. Obviously, we'd love it if Ben Williams and/or Jamar Taylor emerged as a secondary threat, but for now we're content with one solid back. 4.3 ypc won't get it done at the level USF wants to achieve.

15. Texas

The Horns are a team that could go either way, and what that most likely means is that as Colt McCoy goes, so Texas will go. The Longhorns do have one of the more difficult four game sets in the country (OU, Mizzou, Tech, Kansas) but everything else is winnable just by playing well. Of course, the odds of ol' Mack going 1-3 in that stretch is probably 65%.

Things to watch for here: who emerges in the running game. Vondrell McGee is the leading returning RB with just under 300 yards. Early indications are that Texas should have a few talented running backs, and with new RB coach Major Appelwhite in tow, LFB is confident all of them will rush for 1,000 yards at least. We worship the Appelwhite ground over here.

Tune in later when we discuss how Mack Brown can screw up every single game this season with bad coaching moves.

16. BYU

Max Hall is back and practically his entire offense returns with him. Okay, so the Cougars also lost eight defensive starters. For a top ten team that’s a huge deal… realistically, BYU is going to get into a lot of shootouts where they have the better offense, and they weren’t relying on suffocating defense to win games anyway. Of course, they don't return anyone on said un-suffocating defense, so maybe that's a good thing.

17. Arizona State

If the Sun Devils are best-equipped to challenge the Trojans for the Pac-10 crown, then USC’s streak of BCS appearances is pretty safe. We like what Dennis Erickson did here last season, but remember that they got wrecked by Oregon, USC, and Texas – ie, the three best teams they faced. We don’t see this year’s squad as significantly better or worse.

The Sept. 20th game against Georgia should be fun, but the biggest problem that the Sun Devils had last year was between the tackles in a very literal sense - their offensive line was shit. Early returns indicate much the same this year, but here's hoping the Sun Devils at least make the 'Dogs blitz to reach the QB. We're not too confident of that, though.

18. Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is one of those teams who can lose seven defensive starters and still be expected to field a top 20 (if not top 10) defensive unit. They’re also one of those teams whose offense can get outscored by the opposing defense on any given Saturday. Sean Glennon is horrible and they lost Brandon Ore, ie the only player worth a damn on this offense. Of course, since they avoid Clemson until (likely) the ACC Championship game, there's a good chance they could roll in there at 10-2 or 11-1.

For Chris, the most intriguing game on VT's schedule is at Nebraska in late September. It's a semi-bizarre matchup between a couple of teams who are in much the same boat. The game quality probably won't be spectacular, but kudos for keeping it interesting.

19. Penn State

Penn State is another team who returns a ton of starters (18) and benefits from the graduation of an inept starting QB – byebye, Morelli! Unfortunately, we don’t have the same faith in Daryl Clark as we do in Kodi Burns and there’s little reason at this point to buy into the Nittany Lions’ hype. Losing their two best defenders (Dan Connor, Sean Lee - torn ACL, medical redshirt) doesn't make matters any easier. Fortunately, Oregon State is their toughest game in the first four weeks of the season, and that's a home game.

20. Utah

Utah is a reasonably experienced team with two very strong players – Brian Johnson and Darrell Mack. Unfortunately, Johnson’s ratio last season was just 11-10 and the Utes are losing two of their top three receiving targets. His improvement (or lack thereof) could catapult the Utes to a perfect season or leave them unranked with four losses once again. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be rooting for them in their opener at Michigan.

If Utah is able to sustain their success, we'll likely hear about them in their first game of the season (against Michigan), then against Oregon State in early October, then against BYU to close out the season. They don't play any other huge games, so 9-3 should be the worst they'll do in the regular season.

21. Wake Forest

What happens when your offense sucks to begin with, and then you lose six starters on that side of the ball? The answer is that you’re a conference title contender – if you play in the ACC. Bonus that Wake has a great opportunity to increase the ACC’s (retarded) Colley Ranking by facing Baylor, Mississippi, and Vanderbilt.

Really, Wake is the best of the "modern-traditional" ACC teams; passable to good defense, complete fucking lack of offensive talent. But they play in a glorified high school stadium, so bully for them.

22. Tennessee

When the only Tennessee fan on this blog says he isn’t buying it, we’re not buying it. But as was the case with Tennessee last season, we’ll know more after they travel to the state of California for their opener and then face the Florida Gators a few weeks later. (wow: 3-3 would be a decent start once again… talk about front-loading.) For the Vols, success will largely be dictated by the Clawfense; we're hoping that happens, since it'll let us stick Claw in front of freaking everything. Good times.

That being said, Eric Berry will haunt your dreams. And your children's dreams.

23. Illinois

The Zooker is getting a ton of recruiting talent coming into Urbana-Champaign, and Juice Williams showed remarkable improvement from his freshman season to his sophomore, leading us to an expectation of even more improvement as a junior. J Leman is going to be tough to replace and defense will be a concern for the Illini, although Martez Wilson will at least up the Illini in the coveted "highest average letters in name per LB" category.

This could be a pretty rough season for the Illini, as they miss Michigan State and Northwestern. In other words, they get OSU, PSU, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa. Yikes.

24. Fresno State

There’s a fair amount of hype surrounding the Fresno State Bulldogs, and a fair amount of reason to buy into it. Ten offensive starters return, the lone replacement being a senior at center. Though leading tackler (by 51!) Marcus Riley is gone, the defense does return seven and there’s a fair amount of experience here. Pat Hill doesn’t do his team any favors by scheduling Rutgers, Wisconsin, and UCLA – but this is why we’ve come to love the Bulldogs in an era where many top programs fill their nonconference slots with creampuffs.

Bonus points: KR AJ Jefferson returned two kickoffs for TDs last year and had the #1 return average on kickoffs in the NCAA. Good job.

25. Oregon

Oh man… ohhh man. The piss yellow and random spikes are back. Oregon loses a ton of talent – Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart among others – but the heart of the defense returns. Backup QB Justin Roper proved himself in the surprising Sun Bowl massacre of USF, and Jeremiah Johnson eases any worries about the RB position. Nathan Costa was injured last season and could also be a capable starter at QB. One thing’s for certain – Brady Leaf graduated, so Ducks fans have one less thing to worry about.

On defense, the Ducks lose FS Matt Harper, but all the other losses are largely minimal, and ROV Patrick Chung returns. CB Walter Thurmond III (...really) is a beast, giving Oregon one of the best secondaries in the Pac-10. Not bad if you can get it.

National Title Hopefuls:
Ranking their odds of making it to the big game, in order:

1. USC.
USC went out and scheduled a tough nonconference slate - facing Virginia, Ohio State... and yes, the annual rivalry matchup with Notre Dame. (mildly tougher than the Citadel) However, unlike what we saw last season, the Pac 10 is not providing a strong #2 this season. There's a ton of mid-level teams, but nobody who can knock off the Trojans unless USC totally drops the ball. (or has 57 injuries - hello, 2007 Stanford)

2. Ohio State.
Like USC, Ohio State's schedule really comes down to just one game. We rank Ohio State's odds as a little lower given that a) the USC game is played in LA and b) playing Wisconsin in Madison at this point looks tougher than anything on the rest of USC's tab.

3. Georgia.
We think there's no way Georgia runs their schedule unbeaten. However, like 2006 Florida, if a bunch of teams end up with the same number of losses, Georgia will probably get the nod as long as they win the SEC championship.

4. Missouri.
No offense to Illinois, Kansas, or Texas... but Missouri should - should - stroll into the Big 12 Championship unbeaten. Bonus that the BCS powers that be may be feeling slightly retarded after passing up the Tigers last season only to watch them annihilate Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. (like 03 -> 04 USC? Not quite, but a similar effect) If they are matched up with Oklahoma, though, that is a nightmare matchup for the Tigers. So we'll see.

5. West Virginia.
They'll be penailzed heavily, perhaps a little unfairly, for playing in the Big East. The matchup with Auburn may be tougher than we originally gave it credit for.

6. Oklahoma.

They face Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas, and then probably Missouri in the conference championship should the Sooners win the South. And at this point, is anyone willing to give the Sooners the benefit of the doubt if multiple teams share the same record? We're not.

Sounds like USC vs Georgia is the most likely matchup. That would be pretty awesome.

Beyond these top six it's not worth getting into at this point. Auburn, Florida, and Clemson (if they get their shit together) would all be entertaining title game contenders, and we're not going to preclude BYU or Utah sneaking in either. Suffice it to say, based on 2004 Auburn, the preseason top 15 is probably a hard cutoff unless shit hits the fan once again. And that's a damn shame.

Preseason Conference Rankings

1. SEC - It's tradition to rank the SEC #1, isn't it? The southland has four teams in our top eleven though, including two in the top four. Scary.

2. Big 12 - They have two top six teams and three more in the top 15. Granted, the dropoff after Texas is like a rock. But even half of the crappy teams play offense and have solid QBs - the Big 12 is the top conference for quarterbacks - making upsets a possibility.

3/4. Big 10 - They're supposed to be better than in 2007. Like that's a tough act to follow.

3/4. Pac-10 - It's basically the 2007 Pac 10 minus Dennis Dixon -- that the loss of one player would drop them from a 1/2 to a 3/4 says something about how close the top conferences are in strength.

5. Big East - Louisville fell off a cliff, Cincinnati fizzled, and South Florida was embarassed, but West Virginia continues to carry the conference on its shoulders. Pitt could be better with Bill Stull recovered from 2007's week 1 season-ending injury. There's a large gap between them and the Big 10 / Pac-10, though.

6. ACC - When your conference favorite goes through random games where they intentionally keep the ball out of their best two players' hands, that's a really bad sign. So is having Duke. And if you've watched the ACC mid-level teams play each other, you'll understand why we want to rank these guys lower than 6. Special Olympics doesn't even begin to describe it.

Thursday, August 7

I'm Back! With this year's preseason Top 25

That's right folks. Charlie's back after finally getting some time to do some research.

Before I delve in to the details of my top 25, let me preface by saying that this year OSU has a 50% chance of making it to the title game, and it all rests upon one date: September 13th. Everyone seems to be down on the Big 11, but the talent is rising in the conference due to the addition of some great coaches in recent years.

Let's start with Ron Zook, the premier talent recruiter of the conference. The Illinois team has ranked in the top 25 recruiting for the past 2 years. This year will be the year that talent will shine. Starting with a veteran quarterback, Juice Williams can lead this team to greatness even without Rashard Mendenhall.

Secondly, Marc Dantoni of Michigan State had a bust year recruiting wise, but he's adept at using the talent that John L Smith left him. Javon Ringer is the second best back in the league (yes, better than PJ Hill considering he's more consistent) and could have a breakout year.

Third and most important is the addition of Rich Rodriguez. Everyone knows how WVU decimated defenses in the Big East, but can it be done in the Big 10? A strong recruiting class for his first year (thanks to the Michigan name brand as well as his brand), a new offense... it will be an interesting show. Still, Michigan is no easy boat to sink, and they're still in my top 25.

So with that in mind, here's my Top 25:

#1 - USC. There's no doubt in my mind that they're the best and most talented team hitting the field to start the season. A veteran quaterback in Sanchez, a second year for premier recruit Joe McKnight, not to mention an reloadable defense that has consistently ranked in the top 15 defenses for almost a decade. Should they face Ohio State and win, they'll win out the rest of the games and face Oklahoma or Georgia in the title game.

#2 - Georgia. Moreno really burst onto the scene last year, and still decimated the top tier SEC defenses. This should really help out, along with Stafford getting another year under his belt. The SEC East is a little weaker than before and the only major challenge they face is Florida in their division. If they make it through ASU and Alabama unscathed early in the season, then their remaining challenge of Florida and then cruise to the title game.

#3 - Ohio State. This is frightening that even as a homer and knowing the talent they bring I would put them below Georgia... but I have to. The offensive talent is unproven, with only Chris Wells being the bright spot and Terrelle Pryor getting a few looks this year. The defense will be called upon to stop USC - the only major stumbling block for the Buckeyes. The talent in the Big 10 is rising (see notes above) but it's not quite there yet. Just wait until next year - it's likely that there could be six teams vying to be in the top 25 in 2009 (OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, PSU, Illinois, Michigan State).

#4 - Oklahoma. Bradford came out shooting last year, and this year he has the same big guys throwing blocks for him. And with the Big 12 on another down year, they'll clean up the conference with ease. The back to back Texas then Kansas can be tough... but in the end it's still not enough to knock OU down.

#5 - Florida. Two words: Percy Harvin. Add one more: healthy. We all saw what Tebow could do last year, and he's going to do it again (mostly). However, Harvin is the key to getting them through, even though the SEC lost a lot of key players. They win against Georgia, and they'll be fine.

#6 - Missouri. What do you get when you have most of your eligible receivers are 6-8 inches taller than your opponents' cornerbacks? That's right - the ability to throw high balls midfield down range, or those pesky goal-line fades. Chase Daniel is a low Heisman contender, but he's an accurate enough passer and dangerous enough runner to give even defenses such as Texas a good run for their money.

#7 - West Virginia. Yeah, Slaton might be gone. But Noel Devine will do just fine as Pat White's sidekick in the Rodriguez system. In fact, with Cincinnati and UConn as the only challengers in this conference, I see them in a BCS bowl, easy.

#8 - LSU. No more JaMarcus Russell. No more Matt Flynn. [edited] And no Ryan Perrilloux. So who will come forth as the next QB of the Tigers, who have dominated SEC opponents for half a decade? Inexperience at this crucial leadership position will cause them to fall to Georgia and Florida, and will be left out of the BCS regardless of a sickly difficult schedule due to those two teams.

#9 - Texas. The Colt wasn't quite enough to fill VY's shoes, but as long as he manages the game the Horns will be fine. But they have to worry about Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas Tech - the former's all around attack and the latter's air attack. The Horns' secondary must step up to the plate, and should they do, they have a chance at beating Missouri and TT.

#10 - Virginia Tech. I've been wondering why everyone seems to put Clemson ahead of Virginia Tech, when year after year they are more consistent. Frank Beamer's team will find a way to win this year, especially lacking a Matt Ryan led BC. They are by far the weakest conference champion of the BCS Auto-berth teams.

11. Wisconsin
12. Clemson
13. Auburn
14. Texas Tech
15. Kansas
16. Illinois
17. ASU
18. Tennessee
19. Oregon
20. BYU
21. PSU
22. South Florida
23. Wake Forest
24. Cal
25. Alabama

National Title Matchup potential:
OSU vs USC: 0% - nobody will want a rematch, especially if OSU loses the first meeting.
OSU vs Georgia: 10% - considering Georgia will have to go through Florida.
OSU vs Florida: 10% - see previous note
OSU vs Oklahoma: 25% - if these two both win out, they go. It may mean leaving out the SEC champ if they go undefeated, but that's happened before.

USC vs Georgia: 25% - this is the matchup that should have happened last season.
USC vs Florida: 25% - it would be awesome to see Superman face this defense.
USC vs Oklahoma: 50% - rematch of 2004? Very probable, considering how the BCS works.

Oklahoma vs Georgia: 20% - this means both USC and OSU will have to have lost a game. Highly unlikely as one or the other will win out.
Oklahoma vs Florida: 20%

Dark Horse contenders:
Let's face it. For right now, only Missouri can have a chance, but they have to beat both Oklahoma and Texas to get there, AND win the conference championship. WVU in the championship game? Only if their non-conference schedule included teams from the BCS6 conferences. Texas? Nah. Anyone other than USC from Pac10? My gosh that conference looks out of sorts at the top other than USC. Virginia Tech? They're playing in the second worst BCS6 conference, and will likely drop at least a game. Does LSU have an outside chance? They have huge ladders to climb, with formidable Georgia and Florida along the way. How about someone from the Big10? The middle is rising in the division, but this is not the year.

Ranking of the BCS6 conferences:
1. SEC - the most talent, consistently, year in/year out.
2. Big 12 - will field very, very competitive teams this year. Big names, big potential. Their stock rose last season with breakout seasons by Missouri and Kansas.
3. Tie Big 10/Pac 10 - the two conferences that are against playoffs are the two conferences that are suffering the most in the middle right now. They have talent! But it's not proven. OSU and USC are the only powerhouses in those conferences right now, and one great team does not a good conference make.
5. ACC - Wake Forest, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are great teams, all with one little quirk - they just can't "get it done". None of them seem to be able to go through a mediocre conference unfazed.
6. Big East - WVU is clearly the cream of the crop, and Cincinnati and UConn are rising. But everyone else? blah.