Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A bunch of (slightly) educated guesses

Almost exactly two years ago, I made a bunch of predictions for the 2009 season. I then went back and graded myself the following spring, with accurate predictions getting one point, sort-of-correct predictions getting a half-point and crappy predictions getting none. The result ...
So that's 13 predictions and a total of 4 1/2 points. I'm not exactly Nostradamus.
... was underwhelming. I picked Florida (which went 12-1 and finished No. 2) to win it all, Tim Tebow to win the Heisman (he was a finalist but got beat out by Mark Ingram), Michigan to go 7-5 (not quite), etc. In other words, there were a lot of close-but-not-close-enough picks mixed in with a few good ones and a few terrible ones.

And that's the extent of my prognosticating history; last year's predictions were nonexistent due to my work schedule and the resulting end of my original blog.

So ... interpret that success/crappiness rate as you will. If it makes you feel any better, I still have complete confidence that what you read here is more insightful and accurate than what you'll get from Lou Holtz and Mark May, which is basically the equivalent of saying "this hamburger isn't filet mignon but is better than dog crap."

Anyway, now that we've established some context, here are your Official 2011 Forever Saturday Season Predictions:
  • Alabama will win it all. Oklahoma's the safe pick and will probably go undefeated, but I'm going with Bama on the assumption that the quarterback play will be decent, Trent Richardson will be borderline dominant and the defense will reach or exceed its typical level of awesomeness (just look at the depth chart and then think about who the coach is). The schedule isn't too bad, either: A trip to Florida, a home game against LSU and the finale at Auburn are the only games that seem like plausible losses, and none of those seem particularly daunting right now. So the pick is Alabama over Oklahoma in the BCS championship game.
  • Landry Jones will win the Heisman. I was hinting at this the other day in my post about the modern-day Heisman criteria and the near-exclusive emphasis on guys whose teams end up in the national title game. Landry Jones will put up gigantic numbers as the star quarterback for a team that's starting at No. 1 and will probably stay there all season (or at least until the title game); he's gotta be the favorite. Andrew Luck might be the awesomest quarterback since Peyton Manning or whoever, but I think he's gonna be victimized (for lack of a better word) by the same thought process Manning was back in '97: He's so hyped and so highly regarded that it's gonna be hard to impress/excite people. I mean, it's hard to envision his numbers being any better than they were last year, when he barely edged out LaMichael James to finish second after Stanford went 11-1. And maybe even more importantly, Stanford and its decimated coaching staff are highly unlikely to be a nationally relevant storyline (at least not as relevant as last year) come December. Being awesome is great, but as I said the other day, winning the Heisman nowadays pretty much requires being awesome and playing for a national-title-worthy team. Luck only fits one of those criteria and will therefore have to settle for a $30 million paycheck next April.
  • Texas will bounce back massively. To be specific, Texas will go 9-3. Mack Brown employed a bad offensive coordinator (Greg Davis) for way too long and replaced him with one who's at least decent (Bryan Harsin), which should by itself account for three wins. And I'd be concerned about the loss of Will Muschamp if Brown hadn't gone out and hired blitz-mad D-coordinator Manny Diaz from Mississippi State, who might be a slight step down but is also widely regarded as one of the best young coordinators (on either side of the ball) in the country. Garrett Gilbert will be better, the defense will still be good and the talent will still match up with anybody in the country. With Nebraska off the schedule and only three legitimately good teams on it, I'm seeing a significant turnaround and a top-tier-ish bowl game.
  • Auburn will be OK. Gotta put my proverbial money where my mouth is: I'll say Auburn finishes 7-5 and somewhere near the bottom of the polls. I just can't envision a nuclear implosion at the level of 5-7, which is what the sports books are saying. Yeah, the schedule is really hard, but all that stuff I wrote about Gus Malzahn and Michael Dyer and Ted Roof has to mean something ... right?
  • Michigan will finish 8-4. I came to this highly scientific conclusion by averaging out my worst-case scenario (6-6) and my best-case scenario (10-2). The problem is that anything in that range is entirely possible, because nobody has any idea exactly how much the defense will improve under hypothetical savior Greg Mattison and how much the offense will drop off now that Rich Rodriguez is analyzing stuff on CBS rather than calling plays. My guesses: "quite a bit" and "some but not a lot." The other tricky part is the schedule: Other than Minnesota at the bottom and Nebraska at the top, the Legends Division (arghgh) is a jumble of teams that are all roughly equal. Michigan could go 5-1 or 3-3 or possibly even 1-5 in the division, although the quantity of upperclass talent makes that last scenario pretty unlikely. I'm gonna write a little more on Michigan on Friday, but since it's not Friday and this is the spot for predictions, I'm going with 8-4.
  • Notre Dame will finish 10-2 and play in a BCS game. Insert Lou Holtz/Beano Cook senility reference here. I've been sold for a long time on Brian Kelly, and I think this is the year he puts it all together at Notre Dame. If Dayne Crist stays healthy and Michael Floyd stays sober, they should both put up ridiculous numbers as the offense takes the Brian Kelly Leap to Dominance. The defense will be slightly improved to the point of being above average, and that should be more than sufficient given the expected offensive awesomeness. Caveat: The first four games are tough (South Florida, under the lights at Michigan, Michigan State and at Pitt). But if ND somehow gets through that stretch 4-0 or even 3-1, a BCS game is a virtual lock. Seriously -- just try to find two losses in the back half of the schedule.
  • Arizona State will go 9-3 and play in the Pac-12 title game. In short, ASU is the best of a mediocre crop in the Pac-12 South. I'm tentatively optimistic about Brock Osweiler and a loaded group of receivers combining to form a really good downfield passing game (if the O-line allows one to exist). Between that and the combination of Cameron Marshall and Kyle Middlebrooks at running back, the offense will be somewhere between good and excellent. The defense should be fine, but it's depressing to think about how much better it could be with Lawrence Guy (NFL draft), Omar Bolden (torn ACL) and Brandon Magee (torn Achilles). Guh. Anyway, with Arizona having no O-line and just as many injuries on defense, Utah losing a bunch of key pieces on both sides of the ball and UCLA and Colorado being ... umm ... UCLA and Colorado, the division title is there for the taking. I'm calling nine wins, a second loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and a contract extension for Dennis Erickson (please note that my predictions do not necessarily represent what I think would be best for the program).
  • Oregon will go 11-1 and win the Pac-12. I'm of the opinion that Oregon is head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, so this isn't exactly a huge leap of faith. To make things a little more interesting, I'll throw this out there: Oregon's one loss won't be to Stanford or LSU. Neither of those teams will be able to keep up. And I've already ruled out ASU, so I'm talking about a legitimate upset, like maybe USC or Oregon State or Arizona (think about how close UA was to winning in Tucson two years ago). The offense will still be really good overall, but consistency will be a little harder to come by this year with a mostly overhauled O-line, and one bad game (like last year's ugly one against Cal) will be the difference between perfection and the Rose Bowl.
  • Wisconsin will win the Big Ten. It's basically a Wisconsin-Nebraska battle unless Ohio State comes together in remarkable fashion or Brady Hoke continues to poop gold at Michigan, and with an absolute juggernaut of a running game and possibly the best quarterback in the conference (must be nice to lose a good senior starter and somehow get better at the position), I gotta go with Wisconsin. I just can't see Nebraska having enough offense to keep up in a hypothetical Big Ten championship game matchup. The defense should be good, too, with most of the relevant pieces returning and linebacker Chris Borland coming back from a broken leg that knocked him out for the final nine games of last season. Running the table isn't out of the question, but there are enough pretty good teams in the Big Ten that I don't see anybody getting through unscathed.
  • Ohio State will be closer to typical Ohio State than apocalyptic Ohio State. After years of Tresselball and excruciating (for me) wins over Michigan that all seem the same when zoomed out, it's hard to imagine/remember anything different. It is possible that Ohio State will be, like, not good this year: There are only four starters back from last year's defense, the quarterback spot is a complete mystery, the offensive line has underachieved for the past several years and the two biggest offensive weapons are both sitting out the first half of the season. But of those first five games, only two -- at Miami and home for Michigan State -- are even remotely losable, and the rest of the schedule is a bunch of crap along with a road game at Nebraska, a home game against Wisconsin and The Game in Ann Arbor. In other words, 7-5 seems like the absolute worst-case scenario, and 10 wins is probably more likely than seven. My prediction: 9-3. If that somehow includes a loss to Michigan, the celebration at my house will last for months.
  • Miami will be about as mediocre as last season's Miami. I just said this like a day and a half ago, but I'll repeat it here anyway: Miami will be decent. The suspensions are all minor enough that by Week 5 -- when 2-2 is basically the worst-case scenario -- everyone will be available, and the ACC is as mediocre as ever beyond Florida State and Virginia Tech. Miami just needs four wins against the gooey middle of the conference to lock up a spot in a bowl game (any bowl game), which seems totally doable and would be a fine start for Al Golden. That would also slightly delay the debate about whether Miami will actually have a program in 2012 and beyond.
  • Florida State will win the ACC but won't be quite ready for the national title: As mentioned above, the ACC is as uninspiring as ever and should be a cakewalk for Florida State and Virginia Tech in their respective divisions. It's that game against Oklahoma on September 17 (and possibly a trip to Florida in November) that makes things dicey. I love FSU's defense this year, but the offense is a massive question mark; nobody really knows what E.J. Manuel is gonna bring to the table, and none of the skill-position guys jump out. It's hard to run the table without some bread-and-butter options on offense; the only comparable team to win a title in recent history was 2007 LSU, and that required a crazy, not-repeatable string of events that saw a two-loss team get into the national title game. The guess here is that Florida State loses to Oklahoma but then rolls through the ACC, beats Va. Tech in the conference championship game and makes the short trip to the Orange Bowl at 12-1.
  • Arkansas will be this year's (relative) disappointment. Three new starters on the offensive line (including both tackles), a new interior D-line, a quarterback who has basically played one career game and a star running back who's out for the season. According to brilliant people like Rick Reilly, that formula equals national championship. According to me, that formula equals ... ummm ... something well short of a national championship. There are enough tough games (at Alabama, against Texas A&M in Arlington, Auburn and South Carolina at home, at LSU) that I just can't see anything better than 9-3. The official prediction: 8-4 and a mediocre bowl game.
  • Boise State will run the table again. As is the norm for Boise, the first game is the toughest one: If they can get past a good-on-paper Georgia team in Atlanta on Saturday, chalk up another trip to the Fiesta Bowl and an honorary seat in New York for Kellen Moore. The Mountain West is a little tougher than the WAC, but it won't matter this year, especially with TCU in somewhat of a rebuilding mode and having to play on the smurf turf on November 12.
  • Some absolutely ridiculous and sure-to-be-wrong bowl guesses: I have no idea why I'm doing this, but here goes: Wisconsin will play Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Boise State will play Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Florida State will play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, West Virginia will play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and Alabama will play (and beat) Oklahoma in the BCS championship game. And then I will cry because it will be eight months until football again.


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