Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bet all your money on all these things happening*

This is the thing I do every year (or almost every year) that will definitely not be embarrassing at all because I'm so good at predicting things. Just look at last year's post:
... the tally goes as follows: 1, 0, 0, 1, 0.5, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0.5. According to the calculator-esque functionality of my brain, that's an amazing six points out of a possible 15, which ... ummm ... I'd rather not think about it as a percentage other than to point out that it's a slight improvement from the patheticness I produced two years ago.
Errr yeah. But I reject your reality and substitute my own:
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.

So ... there will be things written below that will be mind-blowingly prophetic and other things written below that will be only moderately prophetic and possibly a couple other things written below that I will later attibute to Skip Bayless. Figuring out which is which is part of the fun!

Pickin' time? Pickin' time.

LSU will win it all: Thus ends any suspense I created with my post the other day about quarterback experience and LSU's lack thereof. I just look at last year and look at what LSU has returning and then am like, "dang." The big thing, IMO, is that four of the five O-linemen are back and all four of last year's really good running backs are back; the running game is going to be dominant. The pass rush also should be absurd (Odell Beckham and Sam Montgomery wwwhheeeee), and the back seven lost a bunch of guys but still has Tharold Simon and Eric Reid and Kevin Minter and some other dudes who came with a bajillion stars and have accumulated some not-insignificant experience in backup roles over the last year or two. So that top-five-at-everything defense might regress to a top-15-at-everything defense; that's still pretty good. Whether Zach Mettenberger is better than last year's quarterbacks shouldn't matter much because of said defense, but his juco/backup experience and recruiting hype provide a couple reasons to think that he might be. Unless South Carolina or Arkansas turns out to be better than I expect, LSU should be heavily favored in every game except the Bama one, which will probably be almost as significant as last year's. Barring a loss there, I think LSU runs the table and beats Oregon (more on that momentarily) in the title game.

Oregon will win the Pac-12: Here's the thing about Oregon and USC: They're both so much better than everybody else in the Pac-12 that the winner of their game is probably gonna run the table. USC has more pure talent on offense (especially at receiver) but has some serious weaknesses on defense, especially on the line. Oregon has Chip Kelly therefore will average 40-some points per game regardless of whether Marcus Mariotta is ready; there are three returning linemen and Kenjon Barner will go crazy and DeAnthony Thomas will run for 80 yards a game on like two carries and yadda yadda yadda. The defense lost some guys but returns more, including at least one really good player at every level, and has a bunch of uber-talented young dudes who signed up to wear ridiculous uniforms and have virtual-reality machines in their lockers. And here's the other thing about Oregon and USC: Their game is on November 3, by which point Mariotta should have a much better idea of what he's doing and the offense should be accordingly crushing fools. Going back a couple years, Oregon went to the title game in 2010 with Darron Thomas as a first-year starter (albeit as a redshirt sophomore); I say they do it again this year, mostly because their weaknesses on defense are less weak than USC's weaknesses on defense (if that makes sense).

Matt Barkley will win the Heisman: In case the previous paragraph wasn't clear enough, USC will probably finish 11-1; Matt Barkley will probably be the primary reason for that. The existence of Silas Redd will be beneficial in terms of creating something resembling balance but won't stop Lane Kiffin from going ham with Barkley and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, those two being two of the five best receivers in the country. USC will put up a lot of points. The other thing Barkley's got going for him (in terms of the Heisman) is a general lack of plausible alternatives. I love Denard but ... I mean ... Michigan's schedule. Yikes. Getting Michigan through that gauntlet at 11-1 would probably be sufficient to win the thing but seems relatively unlikely. And Montee Ball put up almost 2,000 yards and roughly 4,000 touchdowns last year and still didn't come close to beating out RGIII or Andrew Luck. I think Wisconsin Running Back Awesomeness (TM) has become comparable to Houston Quarterback Number Absurdity in that the assessment of the player gets downgraded (fairly or not) by an undetermined-but-not-ignorable amount. There's also Marcus Lattimore, but he's a maybe depending on his knee. So ... Barkley it is.

Michigan will go 9-3: This team is almost definitely better than last year's team; only the D-line (which still has a lot of talent) and receiver (which still has most of the same guys but doesn't have Junior Hemingway) lost significant pieces. This team also has a waaaaay more horrifying schedule than last year's team and thus won't win 11 games unless ... ummm ... I don't even know. The defense would have to be just as good (possible) and Denard would have to be 2005 Vince Young (probably not), I guess. There's not really a game on the schedule after Bama that Michigan shouldn't win, but at Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa, at Nebraska and at Ohio State? I think there'll be a loss or two in there. If not, Brady Hoke for President. Brady Hoke for Everything.

Wisconsin will win the Big Ten: Michigan is probably better, but Wisconsin has by far the easiest path to the conference title game since (a) Ohio State is ineligible and (b) the rest of the division is a wasteland. Wisconsin won't be as good as last year with Russell Wilson and three really good linemen and most of the offensive coaching staff gone, but 10-2 is still pretty doable given the guys who are coming back and the schedule. I'm not really sure who comes out of the other division. Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska all could realistically win it and all play at least two of the four other excellent-ish Big Ten teams on the road. That's part of the reason I'm picking Wisconsin to win the conference, BTW; just picking who's gonna GET to the title game out of the other division is a crapshoot. I guess I'll go with the let's-jinx-'em method and take Michigan State.

Ohio State will go 9-3: It's probably worth noting that Urban Meyer has a pretty decent track record in his various debut seasons; his collective record is 27-9. Ohio State returns basically everything on defense and a lot on offense but was so awful offensively last year that expecting a jump to awesomeness just because Urban Meyer is God is probably unreasonable. Braxton Miller will eventually be very good; he'll probably just be pretty good this year. There's also a distinct lack of experience at running back with Jordan Hall out and a distinct lack of anything at receiver with DeVier Posey gone. All that said, a 10-0 start isn't totally out of the realm of possibility (closing stretch: at Wisconsin, Michigan), but the volume of games against average-to-good teams before that probably produces a loss or two. Probably.

Penn State will be pretty bad: It's hard to know exactly what "pretty bad" translates to record-wise since Bill O'Brien has absolutely zero history as a head coach or a college anything. What is known is that Penn State has lost its top four receivers, top two tight ends and top two running backs from last year due to either transfer, graduation or dismissal. There is nobody on the roster who had more than four catches last year; that honor belongs to sophomore wideout Shawney Kersey. Also of note: Matt McGloin was 89th in the country in pass efficiency last year and probably won't be a lot better with nobody to give/throw the ball to. And Tom Bradley is gone. Just based on the talent that didn't leave, Penn State is probably still better than Indiana and Northwestern, and in the nonconference portion of the schedule, Virginia is the only team resembling good. But man ... I think 3-1 in nonconference play and 2-6 in Big Ten play are realistic expectations. And things will probably be a lot worse three years from now.

Oklahoma will be better: And by "be better" I mean "11-1." I dunno what happened to Landry Jones at the end of last year but don't really see any reason to expect him to continue doing that rather than reverting to what he'd done the previous two and a half seasons. There's nothing super exciting at running back or receiver other than Kenny Stills, but the offense will be plenty good and the defense will be a little better at not getting torched if for no other reason than the NFL's yoinking of RGIII from Baylor and Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State. The West Virginia game should be the biggest concern given Geno Smith's awesomeness and the way the aforementioned guys lit up the Oklahoma secondary last year, but Mike Stoops should be of some benefit there. The thing that probably stops Oklahoma from being a legit title contender: The last three games are at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at TCU. There's also the Texas game, obviously, and I don't think OU gets through all that unbeaten. Probably the more meaningful question is which game Oklahoma loses; if it's West Virginia, I think West Virginia wins the Big 12. But I dunno if West Virginia is quite that good yet.

The SEC will still be pretty good: Insert Gary Danielson reference here. The loser of the LSU-Bama game (I'm saying Bama, obviously) probably goes 11-1 unless Arkansas beats one of them, which means Arkansas probably goes 11-1 (probably not), and regardless of what happens in the West, Georgia doesn't play any of those three teams and therefore has a pretty good chance at 11-1 or maybe even 12-0 if the defense plays as awesomely as last year and Aaron Murray makes The Leap. In other words, this year will probably be like last year: There will be three SEC teams in the top five-ish, and at least one of them will get left out of the BCS because of that unfair conference limitation.

Arkansas won't be last year's Arkansas: I wrote almost this exact same thing last year but feel obligated to replicate it now that John L. Smith (?!?) is in charge: I just don't think Arkansas is gonna be a top-10 team. The receiving corps has been decimated, the defense still won't be very good and the schedule includes two probable losses and about four more possible losses. There's also definite drop-off potential in the passing game with Bobby Petrino loving him some volleyball players rather than calling plays. To clarify, I think Arkansas will be good but not good enough to win 11 games again with a pretty-dang-tough schedule and John L. Smith being John L. Smith. Prediction: 9-3.

Florida State will win the ACC: I know, man. I know. I almost picked Virginia Tech -- Florida State has to go to Blacksburg in November -- but I didn't. Obviously. The force is strong with this team; Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard just picked FSU to win it all, which is most definitely not what I'm doing. I just think FSU is the best of a comparable three-team group that also includes Va. Tech and Clemson. Not counting an Oklahoma put-away touchdown, Florida State's four losses last year were by a combined 14 points, and there's nobody as good as last year's Oklahoma on this year's schedule. I don't think they go unbeaten since the running game is still nonexistent and the O-line will probably get E.J. Manuel killed at some point, but the defense hoo boy dadgum. So I'm gonna go with 10-2 rather than 12-0 since it's Florida State and this is going to end badly.

Boise State will be dominant (kind of): I'm pretty sure I make this prediction every year so hey tradition let's do it: As is the norm for Boise, the first game is the toughest one. If they get past Sparty, they probably run the table. Keep in mind that TCU is in the Big 12 now, which means the Mountain West is basically Boise and a pile of poo. First-year starting quarterback blah blah blah; it's pretty hard to envision Boise losing any of the games in the post-Michigan State portion of the schedule other than maybe the one at Southern Miss in October and/or the finale at Nevada in December. As for getting to that portion of the schedule unbeaten ... ehhh ... no. Prediction: 11-1.

Notre Dame will be something: Yeah. Something. The schedule is just so absurd after the first two games (both of which are losable): at Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, at Oklahoma, Pitt, at Boston College, Wake Forest, at USC. I think the best-case scenario is probably 8-4, and that means winning every single game other than the ones in which ND will be an underdog. Realistically, 7-5 is more likely, and that's counting on some of the close losses last year swinging the other way despite having a freshman at quarerback and nothing at cornerback. Anything better than either of those numbers should result in Brian Kelly being named Coach of the Year and Notre Dame getting a BCS berth. I don't think those things happen, obviously; I do think Kelly does OK enough to get at least another year, though. I'm going with 7-5.

ASU will go 5-7: I wrote something along these lines the other day in an official capacity: Figuring out whether ASU is gonna be pretty bad or pretty good is pretty hard because there are just a lot of games against similarly meh teams. Probably the only definitely-not-winnable games are the ones against Oregon and USC, and probably the only not-losable game is the opener against NAU. Everything else? I dunno. But I gotta pick something, so I say they'll beat NAU, Illinois, Colorado and two of the decent-but-not-great group of Utah, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State. As for specifics, the running game should be pretty good; the passing game will not. Taylor Kelly might be OK-ish but won't produce much in the way of big plays, and Michael Eubank might be starting by midseason but will be way more of a threat this year with his legs than his arm. The defense will be about average. Also, yes, Todd Graham will still be at ASU next year, mostly because no one else will consider hiring him given his affinity for Kiffin-ing and his (at that point) two straight .500-ish seasons.

Arizona will go 6-6: I've been trying to tell people for a while that, based on what I've seen, Arizona's offense will be pretty good. Matt Scott is freakin' perfect for that offense, and KaDeem Carey and Daniel Jenkins are both good enough to put up a lot of yards given the opportunities RichRod will get them. Carey might be a first-team All-Pac-12 guy if the O-line is anything other than craptacular. That said, the defense will be pretty bad. Jeff Casteel is a really good coordinator and will probably produce something respectable (or better) in a couple years but has zero to work with right now. The games against Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC will probably be ugly. Stanford and Washington might be, too; the rest are winnable, especially once the offense kinda knows what it's doing. I'm gonna call Utah as a sixth loss and the rest as wins, which means a .500 finish and an uninspiring bowl game. Woo.

Louisville will win the Big East: A bunch of text would go here if anybody cared about the Big East; nobody does. I will say this: Louisville is getting picked to win by just about everybody but, IMO, is also being overrated because Teddy Bridgewater is now a super-sexy sophomore. South Florida is probably a slightly better team but (a) has B.J. Daniels, who should never, ever be trusted, and (b) a tougher schedule, one that includes a trip to Louisville. And those two teams are pretty easily the best of an awful Big East that might not finish with a ranked team unless Louisville gets to 10-2, which is possible because of the awfulness.

There will be a lot of touchbacks: The ball comes out to the 25 now; bringing it out from six or seven or eight yards deep -- which is what guys have been doing on the regular in the NFL -- doesn't make any sense in college since it means (a) needing about a 35-yard return to do anything better than break even and (b) opening up the possibilities of terrible field position and fumbles and whatnot. An arbitrary guesstimate based on nothing: The percentage of kickoffs (which are from the 35 now rather than the 30) resulting in touchbacks will be close to (and maybe above) 50 percent.

Totally ridiculous bowl-game projections: Oh yay. This. BTW, most of the BCS bids are already accounted for in the stuff written above; this is just sort of a composite accumulation that also accounts for conference tie-ins and the at-large/top-10-ish teams, thus guaranteeing a certain (and by "certain" I mean "large") degree of wrongness. So ... I'll go with USC and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, Alabama and West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl and Florida State and Louisville in the Orange Bowl.

So ... that's that. Interesting fact: I just produced 3,000 words of preview-type material in less than three hours. Take that for what it's worth when considering the accuracy of said words; as always, the accuracy bar is set at "anywhere above Mark May/Lou Holtz inanity." In that regard, I'm feelin' pretty good.

*Don't do that.


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