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all six of you have been waiting for. It's time for the Rogue League's 2008 college football preview. Conferences and teams are listed in order of strength as I perceive it. As suggested by the title, you may wish to grab a sandwich for this post. It's big, long, and satisfying.
The SEC will have a bit of a down year, I think. But still, this is top to bottom the strongest and deepest league in the nation. Georgia is the media's early favorite to win not only the conference but also the national title. They're good, but I'm not buying the national title hype. Four straight games away from Athens, versus LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn, make it virtually impossible they'll finish the season unbeaten. Their O-Line is young and not very deep. But as long as they avoid laying down like dogs in any game, like they did versus Tennessee last year, they've got enough talent to win the East. I'd prefer to see Florida win the division but I think that, despite a Tebow run at a second Heisman trophy, they'll still have some problems on defense, which will likely let them down in a couple of games. They should still play on New Year's Day, and it actually wouldn't surprise me if they did win the division. Tennessee should continue to be strong on defense but lost six of their front seven defensively. Expect a 9-3 regular season and their 56th appearance in the Capital One Bowl. South Carolina... is it me, or does it seem like the college game has passed Spurrier by? He's handed over play-calling to the OC this year but we'll see how long that will last. That said, their schedule is as favorable as one in the SEC East can be. This is a good darkhorse pick to win the division. Kentucky will struggle with their top QB Andre' Woodson now gone. And Vanderbilt will struggle because they are Vanderbilt. In the West, LSU is again the favorite. It seems a lot of people are overlooking them because they lost their quarterback. But these people seem to forget that Matt Flynn was kind of not awesome, so I don't think it will be that big a deal. Their losses on defense will be more significant. Still, I can't see any team other than Auburn possibly making a run. Speaking of those Tigers, they're supposedly instituting a no-huddle spread offense this year. I'll be curious to see if they actually have the QB play and overall speed necessary to pull that off, especially versus the tougher teams they'll face like LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia. Still they are very good defensively, and that will help them finish in the upper half of this division. Mississippi State returns from their first 8 win season in 200 years. They return a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, but their offense is still abysmal. I could see 6 wins and sneaking into a bowl. (Also, the parallel successes of Sylvester Croom and Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel last year is really kind of weird to me for some reason.) Alabama I could see finishing anywhere from 1st to 6th, so for this post I'll put them right here in the meaty middle of the pack. Nick Saban is unquestionably a great coach, but I wonder how good of recruits he's really able to attract to Tuscaloosa. The schedule is somewhat daunting this year, with an opening game in Atlanta versus a strong Clemson team, and later road games at Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU. If the Tide can simply avoid losing to Auburn for the 80th consecutive time, they should call it a successful season. Arkansas will be kinda bad, but watch for Petrino to get the Razorbacks competitive again within a year or two. Ole Miss is still Ole Miss.
The pick: Georgia over LSU in the SEC Championship game
The Pac 10 remains, and will until some NFL owner offers Pete Carroll $100M, the playground of USC. I think they might be five deep at every position, including long-snapper and punter. They'll be solid on both sides of the ball, and their schedule is rather favorable. Only QB play could possibly derail this team's chance at a national title. Mark Sanchez is good but prone to mental errors at times. I still like them as a national title contender. After USC, I think there's a sizable drop to the rest of the league. Arizona State appears to be at the top of that crop. Dennis Erickson has once again turned around a team in very little time. Their defense still really needs to improve, and they'll get a tough early-season test against Georgia. Seven conference wins gets them to another Holiday Bowl or better. How soon will UCLA rise again to glory? I think this year is too much to ask, but they'll give plenty of teams problems. Their defense was already pretty good except for that embarrassment against Utah. Their offense will greatly improve under Neuheisel and Chow. Oregon seems to be strong every year. I've always kind of wondered how they get kids to go up there instead of USC or UCLA. The Ducks need to find a good QB, and if they do, they'll improve on their Sun Bowl berth from last season. California has unusual uncertainty on offense but their defense should be solid. Another bowl for Jeff Tedford. Oregon State somehow keeps winning games despite having tons of guys nobody's ever heard of. They may sneak into a bowl, possibly. Will this be the year Mike Stoops leads Arizona to greatness? In a word, no. Their offense should be decent, but their defense will be lacking. Too many tough conference games leave them home for the bowl season. Washington features "Tebow of the East" Jake Locker, only a sophomore this season. But inconsistent RB and defensive play will be their downfall. A fun game will emerge among the fans: Where will Ty Willingham coach next? My guess: Toronto Argonauts. Jim Harbaugh's Stanford defense should be tough. Their offense will struggle a little. This team could surprise though. A bowl could be in the cards for the cardinal this season or next. Washington State continues to reel from the departure of Mike Price (remember him?).
The pick: The Trojans
The Big 12 has improved greatly over the past two seasons, but are just edged out by the Pac 10 for place as the second strongest conference. Beginning in the South division, Oklahoma appears to be at the head of the class. Their O and D lines are solid. Sam Bradford, who I'll admit I'm not very high on, seems more than capable of running Bob Stoops' system in the tradition of Jason White and Josh Heupel. I like them as a national title contender. Only a somewhat porous secondary could sink them, but depending on the matchup, that might not even matter. Texas will be strong again despite the loss of Jamaal Charles. I predict yet another 10-win season is in the cards for Mack Brown. Look for them to improve on their Holiday Bowl berth last year. Texas Tech will once again win 8 or 9 games. They get Texas at home this year, so if there's a season where they might finally beat them, this is it. I could see them in a New Year's Day bowl. Oklahoma State would be a great darkhorse pick if they could just find a defense. Their schedule is a bit rough, though (Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech all on the road). But they are men, and their coach is 40. They will squeak into the Independence Bowl (which should really be sponsored by Depend's one of these year's. Depends' Independence Bowl... just rolls off the tongue). Baylor made a smart hire in getting Art Briles, who resurrected Houston's program. He'll need some time but will turn the Bears into a bowl-eligible team within 4 years. Texas A&M was sort of run into the ground by Dennis Franchione. New coach Mike Sherman has his work ahead of him. In the North---
We interrupt this preview to comment on things recently said on tonight's College Football Live season preview on ESPN:
Jesse Palmer said he "buys into the Kool-Aid" of Georgia. Did he mean "drink" the Kool-Aid? Or is he going to buy stock in Kool-Aid? I'm pretty confused.
Craig James followed that up by calling Auburn's football team "eye candy." Uh...what? Did he mean the cheerleaders? Because yeah, I'd buy into that Kool-Aid. But the actual football team? Dude, that's just gay.
Back to the preview: In the North, Chase Daniel returned to Missouri in an attempt to win a national title. And to graduate, I would guess. The Tigers are easy to root for, having been bad for so long and also having a mascot that, despite being a tiger, is somehow more comical than scary. So I'll be rooting for this, but I don't think it's going to happen. Their defense will let them down somewhere, or they'll run into bad luck somewhere. I say this because they seemed to have such good fortune last year, and I think these things just have a way of evening out. That said, I think they'll win the North, because they're still that much better than the rest of the teams. Nebraska will improve immediately under new coach Bo Pelini. He should've been the hire instead of Bill Callahan. The Huskguys got it right and he'll right that ship. Kansas looks to improve on their success of last year, but suddenly face a very difficult schedule, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. Three or four losses seems almost certain. Colorado, who plays Divison 1 football, will continue their 15-year rebuilding program by improving to 7-6 this year, after being 6-7 last year. Kansas State should be ok this year. A traditionally soft non-conference schedule gives them a great chance at making a bowl. Iowa State is still awaiting the return of Troy Davis.
The pick: Oklahoma over Mizzouri in the Big XII title game presented by Dr. Pepper
Rutgers lost star RB Ray Rice to the NFL, but HC Greg Schiano has been getting good recruits up there and knows how to get the most out of them. They'll be good enough on offense and defense, and the schedule is favorable, which is to say, it's a Big East schedule (hey-ohhhhhhh!). I think this is the year Rutgers makes their first ever New Year's Day bowl game. Read that over and over maybe 50 times so you're less shocked when it actually happens. South Florida, who I foolishly ranked #1 in my Top 25 at one point last season, is nevertheless a good team, and seems to have vultched a few quality recruits from Florida State and Miami. I wouldn't be surprised to see them improve on their success from last season. Groethe is a good QB also, and only a sophomore. Despite the loss of Coach Dickrod, West Virginia still has really good talent. I do wonder though how well interim-turned-permanent coach Bill Stuart will be able to maximize his players' abilities. And when I say I wonder about it, I mean that I think he won't, at least not completely. That said, they're still too good to not make a bowl this season. But within 2 or 3 years, I think this program will be back to the state of mediocrity that you'd expect from that infertile recruiting area of the country (nothing personal Mountaineer State, just stating fact). I just found out today that Pittsburgh is ranked in the preseason top 25. And naturally, the first question that comes to my mind is, why? They suck. Some dude I sort of know once told me that Dave Wannstache is a good coach and that Pitt is good because they always get top 25 recruiting classes. To which I respond, no, he's not, and who cares how well you recruit if you keep going 4-7 every year? All of this said, the Big East is seriously down this year, and they aren't even a strong conference to begin with. If this Pitt team can't at least go 6-6 and make a bowl, Wannstache MUST be fired. How he's even still there is a subject worthy of this program's greatest hits. The rest of the Big East teams, I'll be honest: I have no desire to talk about them. Cincinnati... I still don't know what a bearcat is. Decent shot at getting to a bowl. Connecticut... whatever. Co-champion of the conference and made a bowl last year. Great. You're still, really, not that good. Louisville... they should improve on their disappointing season last year, because really they have more talent than they usually showed. Syracuse... you're just awful. Where have you gone, Kirby Dar Dar?
The pick: SUNJ
I'm looking forward to see how Georgia Tech will fare with the triple option under new coach Paul Johnson. The ACC has gotten weak enough that the option just might work. They won't face very much pressure in the Coastal division. Virginia Tech
needs to update: will remove the redshirt from QB Tyrod Taylor. That may or may not be enough to win. Despite their making the Orange Bowl last year, I don't see a repeat conference championship. Miami coach Randy Shannon is doing a good job getting south Florida recruits again. They will improve on their disappointing showing last season. North Carolina is a team getting some preseason buzz. Common thought is that head coach Butch Davis can win this weak division. I could see this, or I could see a more modest finish. But a 6-win season and a bowl is certainly within reach. Virginia is not very impressive, despite technically making a New Year's Day bowl last season. Duke is...well...Duke. I think this story tells us all we need to know. In the equally arbitrarily-named Atlantic division, there's equal mediocrity. The top 3 teams are pretty decent, while the lower 3 are fairly awful. Wake Forest is probably the favorite, even over bigger name programs like Clemson and Florida State. They are actually getting pretty good recruits up in Winston-Salem, and I like QB Riley Skinner and the rest of the Deacons to win the division. Clemson, as per usual, is long on talent and short on coaching. Tommy Bowden is basically the ACC's version of Ron Zook. The Tigers will probably make a New Year's Day bowl game, but talks of national title contention are misguided. Florida State still gets a lot of talent and still plays in the ACC, which is to say, they have an easy schedule. They'll also go bowling, and could even edge out Clemson to take 2nd place. It's hard to separate the next three teams. Boston College probably has the most talent, but will certainly take their lumps with an inexperienced freshman QB. Maryland is not very good but does have a very good head coach in Ralph Freidgen, so even a bowl appearance from them shouldn't really be a surprise. It would be a surprise, though, for North Carolina State. This wolfpack has been tamed.
The pick: Wake Forest
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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