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Official 2013 College Football Preview/Predictions


SEC media days? Check. Summer workouts? Check. Now on college football’s schedule? Fall practice. Real football. Actual preparation for week one. Teams across the country have kicked off practice. The loud sound you just heard on your college’s campus is the sound of pads popping. The countdown clock is winding down until the fateful weekend in late August that will send millions upon millions of fans across the country into a frenzy.

With that in mind, here are my predictions for this upcoming season. These predictions cover everything from major conference standings, record predictions, Heisman finalists and bowl projections, including my pick to win the final BCS National Championship. (NOTE: These predictions do not reflect the opinions of FanSided or Fly War Eagle. These predictions are entirely mine.)


West Division:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0) – The Crimson Tide must replace three starters on the offensive line, but if Alabama finds decent replacements for three first-round picks, this Alabama team has a chance to be even better than the 2012 National Champions. AJ McCarron and TJ Yeldon form one of the SEC’s best backfields. Amari Cooper is the SEC’s best wide receiver. Bama’s defense has proven to be the best in the nation year after year, no matter what players leave for the NFL or graduate. The schedule features some tough games at Texas A&M and against LSU among others, but the Tide possesses enough talent on offense and defense to make its fourth trip to Atlanta in six years.

2. LSU Tigers (10-2, 6-2) – The tales of LSU’s demise might be a little exaggerated. Yes, the Tigers have to replace virtually its entire defense. Yes, the Tigers might be without Jeremy Hill this season. But the Tigers have one of the nation’s most talented rosters. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will bring out the best in QB Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, LSU won’t reach a BCS bowl because of a very demanding schedule that sees the Tigers play road games against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, host Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M and open the season at Cowboys Stadium against a sneaky-good TCU team. However, don’t expect LSU to fall off the radar.

3. Texas A&M Aggies (9-3, 5-3) – Yes, defenses have had a whole offseason to break down Johnny Manziel. But at the same time, Kevin Sumlin has had a whole offseason to watch footage of tough SEC defenses. A&M’s entire roster might not be on the same talent level as Alabama and LSU, but they have an offensive attack and turnover-happy defense that can make this team a serious SEC contender for the second straight year. I call for Alabama to get revenge on A&M on September 14th, however.

4. Ole Miss Rebels (8-4, 5-3) – Hugh Freeze did his best to temper expectations at SEC Media Days, but that won’t calm down optimistic Rebel fans. This team has experienced talent (18 returning starters from a team that saw a five win-improvement from 2011 to 2012) along with young talent (the #5 recruiting class in the country). Still, Ole Miss is not be a legitimate SEC West threat because of a very tough schedule. The first seven weeks see the Rebels play Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU. Just going 3-3 in those games would be a huge accomplishment for Ole Miss.

5. Auburn Tigers (8-4, 4-4) – Don’t let a poorly-coached 3-9 record fool you, this team has talent. It’s just underdeveloped. With Gus Malzahn calling the shots on the Plains, a return to the hurry-up no-huddle will carry Auburn to at least six wins, no matter the quarterback (though my gut feeling says it will be JUCO transfer Nick Marshall). The main question is the defense; with Ellis Johnson now in charge, can a Tigers defense loaded with former 5-star and 4-star recruits finally live up to their potential? If the defense takes steps forward, Auburn could stake its claim as the nation’s most improved team.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-7, 2-6) – The Bulldogs have bowl-level talent and bowl-level coaching. So why won’t they be bowling? Because they don’t have a bowl-level schedule. They have to face Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina and Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma State this season, a slate that will likely see the Bulldogs as underdogs in every contest. Dan Mullen has created a nice culture change at Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs will take a step back in 2013, which may put pressure on Mullen in 2014.

7. Arkansas Razorbacks (4-8, 1-7) – The Razorbacks are the SEC West’s least-talented team. They lose key starters from a team that was already underwhelming and bring in a coach who, despite tremendous success at Wisconsin, has no SEC experience whatsoever. This isn’t taking shots at Arkansas, it’s just the cold, hard truth. Keep in mind, it’s a rebuilding year, so struggles are expected. If the Razorbacks can capitalize on returning a good chunk of its defense, then this team might overachieve and reach a bowl.

East Division:

1. Georgia Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1) – We already know the Bulldogs have possibly the SEC’s best offense. With 10 returning starters, including the whole offensive line, quarterback Aaron Murray and a dynamic backfield of Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, this offense should put up yards and points in chunks. The main question people have about Georgia is their defense, but the fact is there is a lot of young talent on this defense, which will play together more effectively than a year ago. This Georgia team will be better than it was a year ago.

1. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-1, 7-1) – Yes, it’s a two-way tie for the SEC East, which gives South Carolina a share of its second SEC East crown. The Gamecocks have to capable quarterbacks, a bulky offensive line and a beast on defense who goes by the name of Clowney. Steve Spurrier has turned the Gamecocks into a legitimate BCS Championship contender. So why won’t the Gamecocks make it to Atlanta despite an 11-1 record? Because the one loss will come at Georgia in week two, which will leave the Gamecocks on the outside looking in once again.

3. Florida Gators (9-3, 5-3) – This Florida team will probably be better than the 2012 Gators. So how exactly does Muschamp’s bunch go from 11-1 to 9-3? It’s all about the schedule. The Gators have road games at Miami, LSU and South Carolina, along with home games against Vanderbilt and Florida State and a neutral-site match-up with the Georgia Bulldogs. Jeff Driskel and the Gators offense will be more effective than it was a year ago, and the defense returns some of its top tacklers, but the schedule is just absurd.

4. Tennessee Volunteers (6-6, 3-5) – The Volunteers enter a new era (for the third time in five years) with Butch Jones taking the helm. What’s against him? A grueling schedule that features a six-game stretch that includes Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, no proven dynamic play-makers on offense and trying to re-tool a Tennessee defense that was the worst in SEC history in 2012. Why will his Vols be bowling? Because he has the SEC’s best offensive line, which will lead to enough offensive success to get the Vols to six wins. A much-improved defense will help, too.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores (7-5, 3-5) – The ‘Dores return 70% of their lettermen from a team that won its last seven games en route to a 9-4 record a year ago. Gone is the backfield, but James Franklin should find solid replacements at QB and RB. Jordan Matthews might be the SEC’s best receiver, and Franklin has created a culture of solid defense at Vanderbilt as well. This team will do just fine in 2013.

6. Kentucky Wildcats (4-8, 1-7) – Mark Stoops has made waves as the head coach of the Wildcats already, creating so much excitement that nearly 60,000 fans showed up at Kentucky’s spring game. Next up on the agenda: win an SEC game. The Wildcats don’t have a shot at bowling this year, but just one SEC win could be enough to get he fans even more excited about the future, when the Cats will acquire more talent and win more games. Mark Stoops will actually exceed expectations with a four-win campaign his first year.

7. Missouri Tigers (3-9, 0-8) – Ouch, Gary Pinkel. The Tigers have benefited off-the-field from their move to the SEC in a financial way. However, their on-field performance on the gridiron has suffered. This is a team that was hit with the injury bug in 2012, so who’s to say it won’t happen again in 2013? Even if injuries aren’t as frequent, this program is just not ready for SEC play. They pulled in the SEC’s worst recruiting class while every team in their conference improved, even Kentucky. Expect Bobby Petrino to be waiting by the phone for a call from Missouri’s AD come December.

SEC CHAMPIONS: Georgia Bulldogs

Senior Aaron Murray refuses to lose in Atlanta again. Georgia gets revenge on Alabama in thrilling fashion. Some people will probably want a Georgia-Alabama rematch for the BCS Championship.

Big Ten

Leaders Division:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1) – Urban Meyer’s first Ohio State team exceeded expectations on its way to a 12-0 season that went ultimately unrewarded thanks to NCAA sanctions. Meyer is building the foundation of a monster in Columbus, and right now, the foundation is placed largely upon star quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes’ schedule isn’t too demanding, but it has pitfalls. The Buckeyes also have to replace most of its defense from a year ago. Expect the Buckeyes to drop a game, likely at Northwestern or at Michigan.

2. Wisconsin Badgers (9-3, 6-2) – Exit Bret Bielema, enter Gary Andersen. The Badgers have become a dominant program in the Big Ten, winning three consecutive Big Ten titles en route to three consecutive Rose Bowl berths. The Badgers lose star running back Montee Ball but still return eight starters on offense (not even including experienced senior James White) along with six on defense. Andersen built a strong program at Utah State and will surely succeed at Wisconsin. A BCS bowl in his first season is not a really crazy notion.

3. Indiana Hoosiers (7-5, 4-4) – Wait, Indiana, a team that went 4-8 a season ago, will win seven games? How? Here’s how: Last season, in Kevin Wilson’s second season, the Hoosiers sported what might have been the Big Ten’s most explosive offense. Thanks to defensive issues, Indiana lost FOUR games by four points or fewer. The Hoosiers return 19 starters (10 on offense, 9 on defense) and don’t play a road game until an October 12th game at Michigan State. With just a pinch of defense, this team could make a little noise in the conference.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5, 4-4) – Bill O’Brien pulled off an unexpected 8-4 record in his first season with Penn State, who had just been hit with the harshest sanctions in NCAA history this side of Dallas. Whether the football program can get sanctions reduced in the future is up in the air, but for now, it looks like O’Brien will have to continue to do more with less. The Lions return 15 starters from a year ago, so don’t count this team out of many games.

5. Purdue Boilermakers (4-8, 2-6) – The Boilermakers have been to two bowl games in a row and return eight starters on defense, but the schedule is challenging, with three of the four non-conference games coming against Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois (teams that combined to go 34-6 last season, with two teams reaching BCS bowls including Notre Dame’s “appearance” in the BCS title game). Being in the same division as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State doesn’t help at all, either.

6. Illinois Fighting Illini (3-9, 0-8) – Remember in 2011, when Illinois was 6-0 and ranked in the top 15? Since that point, the Illini have posted a 3-16 record, including an 0-14 record in Big Ten play. The good news is that the Illini return 8 starters on offense including seasoned veteran QB Nathan Scheelhaase. But there’s two many holes on this roster. The talent isn’t there. The coaching isn’t there, either. Tim Beckman gets canned after the Illini lose their 22nd straight Big Ten game. Yikes.

Legends Division:

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-2, 6-2) – The Huskers return only four starters on defense, but is that really a bad thing, considering Nebraska allowed 59.3 points per game against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Georgia? There’s nowhere to go but up for the Husker defense. Offensively, eight starters return, including QB Taylor Martinez, who’s poised for his best season yet in his last chance to win a championship.

2. Michigan Wolverines (9-3, 5-3) – The Wolverines officially complete their transition to Al Borges’ west-coast offense with Devin Gardner starting the season at quarterback for the first time. Michigan has one of the most talented rosters in the Big Ten, along with some of its best coaching and recruiting. The in-conference schedule is difficult, however, so this team is probably a year away from being a serious national championship contender. They do get Ohio State at home, though, and they have yet to lose a home game since Brady Hoke took over.

2. Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 5-3) – 15 starters back from a team that went 10-3 with the three losses coming by a combined 18 points and won its first bowl game since before most of the people reading this were alive? Tell me more. Chicago’s Big Ten team gets Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all at home, and with one of the conference’s most explosive weapons in Kain Colter, it wouldn’t be a shock in the slightest to see these Wildcats win the division.

2. Michigan State Spartans (8-4, 5-3) – This is a very competitive division, as evidenced by this three-way tie for second place by teams all good enough to win the division over Nebraska. The Spartans feature an excellent defense, as they always do, but last year’s 7-6 record was entirely the offense’s fault. 8 starters return on offense, so if the offense improves enough, the Spartans might be the team that represents the division in Indianapolis.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 2-6) – This team might have one of the Big Ten’s weakest rosters, and the coaching isn’t exactly something to be excited about. In fact, a former Minnesota star left the team and went postal on Jerry Kill, painting him as the type of guy no BCS program should come near. But fortunately for the Gophers, the non-conference schedule is an absolute breeze, with the only tough game being against a San Jose State team that finished in the BCS Top 25 last season.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-8, 1-7) – Kirk Ferentz, we barely knew you. OK, you made it 14 years at Iowa and, for a few seasons, the Hawkeyes were seen as one of the conference’s best. But things have gone downhill since winning the Orange Bowl in 2009. Iowa went to the Insight Bowl in 2010 and 2011 and fell to 4-8 a year ago. Things don’t look too promising here. Ferentz is on the hot seat, and if Iowa finishes in the bottom two of the division, one of the nation’s most underratedly passionate fanbases will be wondering who the next head coach will be.

BIG TEN CHAMPIONS: Ohio State Buckeyes

The Huskers put up a better fight this time around, but Braxton Miller and company will be just too much for Nebraska. Urban Meyer brings in his first Big Ten title as the head man in Columbus.

Big 12 

1. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, 7-2) – These days, it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is in Stillwater. The offense will put up points. But if the Cowboys want to earn their second BCS berth in three years, the defense will need to force more turnovers. The defense was the main reason the Cowboys weren’t serious contenders for the conference title a year ago. With 15 starters back (including 7 on defense), this team has the talent and schedule to win the Big 12.

2. TCU Horned Frogs (8-4, 6-3) – My projections do have the Frogs at 8-4, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s the ceiling for this team; a huge week one showdown with LSU in Cowboys Stadium against a very green defense could set the stage for a huge run for the Horned Frogs. If they pull the upset there, this team becomes the conference favorites along with a darkhorse BCS National Championship contender. Nine starters return on the Big 12’s best defense, and seven starters return on offense, including QB Casey Pachall, who has a chance to be special. The schedule’s tough, but Gary Patterson welcomes the challenge.

3. Texas Longhorns (9-3, 6-3) – I can’t make this team out. I just can’t. Most people can’t. The Longhorns have a freakishly talented roster. Their schedule isn’t overwhelming. 20 of 24 starters from a year ago are back. Texas fans have been waiting for the 2013 team since 2009. So why the doubt? Mack Brown. Quarterback questions. Defensive issues that need ironing out. This team might go 12-0 and earn a spot in the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena… or they might falter around and Mack Brown gets fired. Odds are, Texas won’t be “TEXAS!” this year like their fans want them to be.

4. Baylor Bears (8-4, 5-4) – Few teams ended 2012 hotter than Baylor. The Bears knocked off #1 Kansas State and Pac-12 South champion UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, and even though five starters are back on offense… come on, it’s Baylor. It’s Art Briles. Bryce Petty will put up huge numbers and self-proclaimed Heisman contender Lache Seastrunk will run right over and around defenses. This team will only go as far as the defense (7 returning starters from a group that ended 2012 well) takes them. Could it possibly take them to the Fiesta Bowl?

5. Oklahoma Sooners (8-4, 5-4) – You know some rebuilding is expected when Oklahoma fans, fans used to their team being penciled in for the BCS title game every other preseason, aren’t expecting much. Only 11 starters return this year, including QB Blake Bell, who completed 9/16 passing a year ago as a wildcat quarterback. The defense might struggle a bit and the offense will surely go through some inconsistencies. Still, this is Oklahoma. Bob Stoops’s team will win at least 8 games.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-4, 5-4) – The Red Raiders turn to favorite son Kliff Kingsbury to replace Tommy Tuberville, whose tenure at Lubbock was simply bizarre. This has “Kevin Sumlin” potential written all over it, because with a young coach who’s “made football fun again” for TTU players is installing a high-flying spread offense. Eight starters return on defense and the offense will be explosive. This team has the potential to make serious noise in the Big 12. After all, they get Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State at home.

7. Kansas State Wildcats (7-5, 4-5) – Never underestimate Bill Snyder. Ever. Even though I’m probably doing so here, and if recent history says anything, I have Kansas State way too low. Last season, they were picked no higher than 5th in the Big 12, and they eventually rose to #1 in the BCS standings before losing to Baylor. Still, gone are Collin Klein and 9 defensive starters. The entire offensive line returns, but this team might not have the weapons or the schedule to repeat last season’s success.

8. Iowa State Cyclones (6-6, 3-6) – The people in Ames love Paul Rhoads, who has led the Cyclones to three bowl games in four years. The schedule isn’t easy, with the nonconference slate including the rivalry game against Iowa and a game at Tulsa (the third meeting between the two in just over a year’s time). Still, Rhoads has a formula for success. ISU won’t make much noise in the conference, but they’ll do enough for the Big 12’s last bowl bid.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers (5-7, 2-7) – The Mountaineers drastically improved their backfield over the offseason compared to what it was shaping up to be in 2013 by grabbing QB Clint Trickett from Florida State and RB Charles Sims from Houston. However, this offense won’t be as explosive as it was last year, and even with seven returning starters on defense, there’s no evidence to suggest the Mountaineers’ defense will be any better. A year ago, West Virginia allowed over 34 points on NINE different occasions. Better things will be in store for West Virginia in 2014.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (3-9, 1-8) – Remember in 2007, when the Jayhawks started 11-0, reached as high as #2 in the BCS standings and won the Orange Bowl? That feels like it was 30 years ago. Kansas has become the laughingstock of the Big 12, posting a 6-30 record the past three years, including a 1-11 mark a year ago in Charlie Weis’s first season. Kansas has brought in a large haul of JUCO players, so this team will be improved from last year, and they lost close games against Northern Illinois, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech a year ago. But this is simply not a good football team in any sense of the word.

BIG 12 CHAMPIONS: Oklahoma State Cowboys

This conference is wide open. Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all possess at least one quality that could lead them to the Fiesta Bowl. I give the nod to the Cowboys.


North Division:

1. Oregon Ducks (12-0, 9-0) – Gone is Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles, but there’s no reason for panic in Eugene. Mark Helfrich steps in as head coach and he will continue to utilize the no-huddle spread offense to embarrass defenses. The Ducks were an overtime loss at home to Stanford away from destroying Notre Dame for the national title a season ago. They return 8 starters on offense (including Heisman candidates in QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeAnthony Thomas) and seven starters on a defense that has become one of the conference’s best. The Ducks get revenge on Stanford and nobody else on the schedule will put a serious scare into them (even though Washington, UCLA and Oregon State will put up a fight). This might be Oregon’s best team ever.

2. Stanford Cardinal (10-2, 7-2) – Back are 14 starters and head coach David Shaw to help Stanford continue arguably the best run in school history. The Cardinal have reached three consecutive BCS bowls and a fourth this season seems like a very likely outcome. Many consider Stanford one of the nation’s biggest threats to unseat the SEC in Pasadena, and they have the talent and coaching to do it. But the offense might not have the playmakers to knock off Oregon two years in a row, so they’ll have to settle for an At-Large BCS bid instead of winning their second straight Pac-12 title.

3. Washington Huskies (8-4, 6-3) – The Huskies seem stuck in a valley of mediocrity, going 7-6 three years in a row. This year, they’re poised to exceed the 7-win bar, as 19 starters are back. QB Keith Price is one of the conference’s most talented quarterbacks, but his consistency must improve or else “UDubb” won’t stand a chance against Oregon or Stanford. This should be the best Washington team since Steve Sarkisian has been here.

4. Oregon State Beavers (8-4, 5-4) – Remember when Mike Riley was on the hot seat a year ago? That seems like more than a year ago. The Beavers posted a 9-4 record last season despite never finding any consistency at quarterback. This year, the QB spot is up in the air between two veterans in Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion, but no matter who starts, a solid defense with seven returning starters should see continued success in Corvallis.

5. California Golden Bears (4-8, 3-6) – The Sonny Dykes era begins in Berkley. Cal was awful a year ago, going 3-9 with most losses not being close. There’s always optimism when a new coach takes over, but there’s only 11 starters back and two of the three nonconference games are against Ohio State and Northwestern (teams that went 22-3 last season). Better days may be ahead here, but this season, while it will be an improvement, still might not be that pretty.

6. Washington State Cougars (3-9, 2-7) – Was Mike Leach the right guy for Wazzou? Time will tell. He isn’t on the hot seat yet, but improvement is needed here and this season might not provide it record-wise. 16 starters return to the Cougars, but the schedule is tough right off the bat. In the first five weeks, the Cougs face Auburn, USC and Stanford. Ouch. Leach will succeed in time, but this year won’t be too great. NOT-SO-FUN FACT: The Cougars averaged 29 rushing yards per game a year ago and were held to ONE yard rushing or fewer on five different occasions last year (almost half of the Cougars’ games).

South Division:

1. Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3, 7-2) – The Pac-12 South is wide-open this season, mainly due to the fact it’s a very weak division in terms of elite teams. The Sun Devils surprised a year ago by going 8-5 in Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe. The Sun Devils return 15 starters but face two stiff non-conference opponents in Wisconsin and Notre Dame (at Cowboys Stadium). Still, Arizona State has the pieces in place to earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

2. UCLA Bruins (8-4, 6-3) – The Bruins are the program in L.A. with the most momentum, as the Bruins started 9-2 last year en route to the Pac-12 Championship Game in Jim Mora’s first season. UCLA topped that off with a top 10 recruiting class and enter 2013 as one of the Pac-12 South favorites. Gone is star RB Johnathan Franklin and 7 defensive starters, but young QB Brett Hundley is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and could soon make a name for himself nationally as well.

3. Arizona Wildcats (7-5, 4-5) – With RichRod at the helm, defense wasn’t really a stressed subject in Tuscon last season as the offense was powerful enough to carry the team. The Wildcats return all 11 starters from a defense that allowed 500 yards per game a year ago (including over 350 yards in 12 of 13 games), so the defense should be better. Arizona still went 8-5 (doubling their 2011 win total). They’re a darkhorse team to watch in the division, but this team will only go as far as their defense lets them, no matter how well the offense plays.

4. USC Trojans (6-7, 3-6) – This team might start the season in the Top 25, because they’re USC. But they’re not fooling me. Despite 16 returning starters and an easy first-half schedule, this Trojans team still has Lane Kiffin (who has a lifetime head coaching record of 37-34), who fired his own dad as a way to shift blame for defensive issues upon someone else, even when it’s obvious defensive problems are Lane’s fault.  USC has no proven QBs. The playcalling will be odd. The defense won’t be better than it was last year. Marqise Lee, a freakishly talented football player, will not live up to expectations simply because he’ll have nothing around him to work with.

5. Utah Utes (5-7, 3-6) – Kyle Whittingham was once one of the nation’s most popular coaches. His first six seasons in Salt Lake City, the then-Mountain West Utes compiled a record of 58-20 (35-13 in MWC games). But in two years in the Pac-12, Utah is just 13-12 (7-11 in conference games). This team returns just 12 starters and must play Utah State and BYU out of conference, as well as conference road games against Arizona, USC and Oregon. This team has its work cut out for it.

6. Colorado Buffaloes (3-9, 1-7) – The Colorado football program has fallen on hard times, going just 4-21 in two years under Jon Embree. In comes former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre. MacIntyre has experience turning around bad programs: In 2010, his first team at SJSU went 1-12, but two years later, his Spartans went 11-2. That’s a drastic change. This program has a long way to go, but this year’s team will play hard and show that things might be headed in the right direction, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

PAC-12 CHAMPIONS: Oregon Ducks

The Ducks will get the Pac-12 Championship Game at home in Eugene against Arizona State. The Sun Devils may hang around for a little while, but the Ducks will eventually shake them off.


 Atlantic Division:

1. Clemson Tigers (10-2, 8-0) – The Tigers possess all the tools to be the ACC favorites. They have two Heisman contenders in Tajh Boyd and Sammie Watkins, their defense looks to be better than it’s been the past few years and the Florida State game is at home in Death Valley. No denying this team should be in a BCS Bowl. But can this team contend for the BCS National Championship? That will depend on how the Tigers fare against two tough SEC opponents: vs. Georgia to open the season and at South Carolina to end the regular season.

2. Florida State Seminoles (10-2, 7-1) – Florida State disappointed a year ago, blowing a 16-0 lead against a mediocre NC State team and allowing a Florida team that’s usually anemic on offense to put up 37 points in Tallahassee. This year, the Seminoles return only 4 defensive players, but offensively, they have an excellent young QB in Jameis Winston, who reminds some current scouts of some guy named Robert Griffin III. The Seminoles won’t beat Clemson, but they might surprise many in a year when they’re not under the spotlight.

3. Syracuse Orange (8-4, 5-3) – The Orange is considered an afterthought in the ACC Atlantic race due to their being the new kids on the block, but as Texas A&M proved last year, being new doesn’t mean you’re unprepared. New head coach Scott Shafer is very confident that his team will be one of the ACC’s best teams right away. That’s a lot of confidence. This team won’t “dominate” the conference, but they will exceed the media’s expectations.

4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6, 3-5) – Jim Grobe’s tenure at Wake Forest has been the crystal-clear definition of “average”: 12 years, one Orange Bowl berth in 2006 and a 73-74 overall record. Last season, Wake Forest went 5-7 with a relatively younger roster. They proved their status as an average program by losing in blowouts to most of the big-name opponents they faced. They lost by a combined score of 94-13 to ACC powers Clemson and Florida State, and lost their final three games to NC State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt by a combined score of 130-27. This year, the schedule isn’t much kinder, but 17 starters are back, so this team might sneak into a bowl.

5. Maryland Terrapins (6-6, 3-5) – Randy Edsall took over after the surprising firing of longtime coach Ralph Friedgen after a 9-4 season in 2010. Edsall’s first team went 2-10. Last year’s team doubled that, getting 4 wins despite playing everyone and then some at QB due to injuries. This team is Edsall’s most-talented since arriving here, so it’s get to the postseason now or never for ole Randy. A losing record this year could seal his fate, as Maryland’s athletic department has proven impatient in the past.

6. NC State Wolfpack (5-7, 1-7) – Even an upset of Florida State wasn’t enough to save Tom O’Brien’s job last year, so the Wolfpack turn to former Northern Illinois boss Dave Doeren (who “spurned” some other schools to come here, apparently). In two years, he turned the Huskies program into a MAC power, recruited an excellent player in Jordan Lynch and led them to the Orange Bowl in 2012. The task will be tougher at NC State. The out-of-conference slate isn’t bad at all, but with only 10 returning starters, they might now get the two ACC wins they need to get to a bowl.

7. Boston College Eagles (4-8, 1-7) – Optimism reigns among B.C. fans as Steve Addazio takes the reigns in Boston with a team that returns 18 starters. However, let’s not put the cart before the horse; this program will need a few years to get back to bowl eligibility. This is a team that has lost 19 of its last 25 games dating back to the 2010 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The good news is that the Eagles might have 7 seniors starting on offense, so the offense will surely exceed the 19.8 points per game it scored last year, especially with Steve Addazio calling the shots.

ACC Coastal Division:

1. Miami Hurricanes (9-3, 6-2) – The U is back! OK, not really. There’s plenty of questions on defense and as of the time this is being written, the NCAA has yet to reach a decision regarding the Hurricanes. But if a postseason ban isn’t levied, this team has what it takes to make the ACC title game. 10 starters are back on offense, including an awesome backfield of QB Stephen Morris and RB Duke Johnson. This team will score points. But can it prevent points? Miami’s defense allowed 486 yards per game a year ago, but they return 8 starters, so more experience should lead to improvement.

2. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-5, 5-3) – The Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech and their usually-potent option attack return 16 starters from a team that only went 7-7 last year. Two of the losses came in OT to Virginia Tech and Miami. and the Yellow Jackets nearly upset Florida State in the ACC Championship. Still, this might be Paul Johnson’s best team since the 2009 team, the most recent Georgia Tech team to win the conference (though the NCAA doesn’t recognize it). Division foes Virginia Tech and North Carolina, as well as SEC rival Georgia, all have to visit Bobby Dodd Stadium this year.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3) – North Carolina… what exactly IS this program? They always seem poised for big things but always come up average in the end. Larry Fedora took over last year after leading Southern Miss for four years and guided the Tar Heels to an 8-4 record. This year, 13 starters are back, but star RB Giovani Bernard is not among them. The Heels get Miami at home on a Thursday night, nationally-televised game, but they have to travel to play South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the first 5 games. Worst-case scenario, this team could start 2-4, but they likely won’t. This is about an 8-win team.

4. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-5, 5-3) – Frank Beamer has a 216-104-2 record in 27 years at Virginia Tech, but now the program seems to be in a state of purgatory. After being a lock for BCS bowls every year, VT has now been passed by other ACC powers. 9 starters back on defense will make this defense absolutely fierce, but the defense isn’t why they were just 7-6 last year; it was the offense. 6 starters are back from a very inconsistent offense including Logan Thomas, who is unpredictable in a very bad way. To fix the offense, VT hired Scot Loeffler as offensive coordinator. Scott Loeffler. SCOT. LOEFFLER. Needless to say, the offense won’t be any better than it was last year.

5. Virginia Cavaliers (5-7, 3-5) – Is time running out on Mike London? Expectations for the Virginia football program soared after the team nearly won the Coastal Division in 2011 en route to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but those expectations fell to the ground after an 8-4 finish in 2011 flipped to a 4-8 finish in 2012. 17 starters are back, but there’s uncertainty at QB and the schedule includes non-conference games against BYU, Oregon and sneaky-good Ball State. Along with division games, the Cavs also must play Clemson. This team is improved, but their schedule is among the toughest in the league.

6. Duke Blue Devils (5-7, 2-6) – This program had its best season in almost two decades last year, going 6-7 and reaching its first bowl game since the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl. 16 starters return, but gone is QB Sean Renfree. David Cutcliffe has his work cut out for him fixing a defense that allowed 36 points per game last year. The Blue Devils gave up 45.3 points per game in its final seven contests against Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and Cincinnati, going 1-6 in those games. The defense can’t be much worse. Expect a small step back for this team.

7. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-8, 1-7) – Want to see a program that’s been stuck in neutral for years? Try the Pitt Panthers. This is a program that has played in three consecutive Compass Bowls in Birmingham. This program lost to Youngstown State by 14 points to open the 2012 season. This program finished 6-7 last year in Paul Chryst’s first year. With just 5 starters back on offense and playing in a tougher league in the ACC than the Big East they’re used to, a bowl will be hard to reach.

ACC CHAMPIONS: Clemson Tigers

A Clemson-Miami title game would probably see the scoreboard explode into a million pieces. In the end, Clemson gives up a fair share of points but ends up winning by multiple touchdowns for the program’s 2nd BCS bowl in 3 years.

American Athletic Conference

1. Louisville Cardinals (12-0, 8-0) – I feel like I don’t need to explain this selection, but I will anyways. 18 starters are back from a team that went 11-2 last year and blew out Florida in the Sugar Bowl. This year, the AAC (formerly the Big East) loses Syracuse (one of the teams to beat Louisville last year) to the ACC, as well as Pittsburgh. The schedule is ridiculously easy, with the toughest games coming against Rutgers and at Cincinnati to end the season. Teddy Bridgewater is a Heisman candidate and Charlie Strong is a fantastic coach. RB Michael Dyer ran for over 140 yards against Oregon in the BCS title game when he was with Auburn, and if Dyer’s improved his mental make-up and moved on from his past immaturity, he will be the best running back in the conference. Even with an undefeated season, Louisville would need lots of chaos across the country to get to the BCS National Championship Game. But still, what a year for Louisville athletics. Geez.

 2. Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3, 6-2) – 13 starters are back, and… oh, who am I kidding? The main attraction here is Tommy Tuberville, the strangely intriguing former Auburn and Texas Tech coach who’s known for both being too unconventional and odd and being somewhat bland at times. He built an 85-40 record in a decade at Auburn and then coached a few years at Texas Tech. Despite his winning record, his tenure as a whole is viewed as somewhat of a trainwreck among TTU fans. Still, he’s a proven winner and he’ll do just that while he’s at Cincinnati.

3. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-3, 5-3) – Kyle Flood soared past expectations in his first year at Rutgers, leading the Knights to a 7-0 start before losing 4 of their last 6 games against tougher opponents. QB Gary Nova is among just 6 returning starters on offense, and the defense, the strength of the team last year, returns just four starters. But due to the weakness of the league, Rutgers will once again find themselves on the winning side of those 10-3 and 13-10 games.

4. UCF Knights (7-5, 5-3) – One of the many new teams in the AAC, and the one probably poised for the most immediate success, is UCF. Central Florida brings their tough-nosed approach to a “BCS conference” for the first time, and they should finish in the top half of the league. This is a team that traditionally plays good defense under George O’Leary, who is entering his 10th year with the program. They won’t match last year’s 10-4 record, but this team is already better than half of their in-conference competition. The bad news is that the Knights must face Penn State and BCS contender South Carolina out-of-conference.

5. SMU Mustangs (6-6, 5-3) – June Jones has done a spectacular job rebuilding an SMU program that’s been struggling since the death penalty in the mid-1980’s. After going 1-11 his first season, he’s compiled a 30-23 record in the past four years with the program, including a 3-1 record in bowl games. This year, he has a veteran QB in Garrett Gilbert, a high-flying offensive system and Louisville is not on the schedule. That’s a relief, because Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU grace the nonconference schedule. SMU should have enough success in-conference to make a bowl.

6. Connecticut Huskies (6-6, 3-5) – It’s now or never for Paul Pasqualoni. His 10-14 record at UConn has not pleased the fans or the administration, so this year could be his last year to right the ship. He has 8 returning starters, including QB Chandler Whitmer (9 TD, 16 INT in 2012) and four offensive linemen. The defense, which was actually good last year (19.8 PPG, 310 YPG, 98 rushing yards per game) must replace 7 starters, but unless the Huskies can find any consistency on offense, the defense will have to carry this team.

7. South Florida Bulls (5-7, 3-5) – The bad news: The Bulls went 3-9 last year with only one conference win in a season in which they were one of the preseason favorites to make a BCS bowl. More bad news: USF missed out on the services of former BCS National Championship MVP Michael Dyer. The good news is Willie Taggart is in charge now and has some pieces in place to work with. This team has potential for improvement on offense and defense. But the QB position is a concern for this program, and this defense might not be improved enough to carry this team to the postseason.

8. Houston Cougars (5-7, 2-6) – Houston has been one of the most up-and-down programs in recent memory. Here are Houston’s year-by-year records in the past four years: 10-4 in 2009, 5-7 in 2010, 13-1 in 2011 and 5-7 in 2012. Last year’s struggles were due to Kevin Sumlin leaving for Texas A&M and Case Keenum running out of eligibility. Now, the competition is a little tougher than it was a year ago, and despite 9 returning starters on offense, this side of the ball took a huge blow when star RB Clarles Sims left for West Virginia. The defense allowed 483 yards per game a year ago and that number might not be that much better this year either.

9. Memphis Tigers (4-8, 2-6) – Believe it or not, this program isn’t in as bad of shape as the average fan would think it is. Last year’s team went 4-8 in Justin Fuente’s first year. The Tigers started 1-8 but won their final 3 games by a combined score of 125-56 (average score of 42-19). 17 starters are back from a team that ended the year very well and the move to a BCS conference has injected the Memphis program with a lot of enthusiasm. This team may take some bruises from seasoned AAC teams, but don’t be surprised if this team wins a game or two it shouldn’t.

10. Temple Owls (3-9, 1-7) – Gone is Steve Addazio and in steps Matt Rhule, who has no head coaching experience but is a former coordinator at Temple. He’s an offensive-minded coach, so he should help a Temple passing game that ranked near the bottom of the NCAA last year (121 yards per game, 10 TDs, 8 INTs). 8 starters are back on offense but not among them is RB Montel Harris. The Owls open the season at Notre Dame and things probably won’t be much prettier after that.


Well, I mean… Duh.

Other Notable Teams

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3) – The Irish have had a pretty bad 2013. First came the humiliating 42-14 loss in the BCS National Championship Game. Then came the Manti Te’o scandal. Then came Everett Golson’s shocking exit from South Bend (though he’ll attempt to return in 2014). This year, the schedule is tougher, as the Irish must visit Michigan and Stanford, host Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and BYU and play a neutral-site game against an up-and-coming Arizona State team. However, the defense will be strong again with 8 returning starters, including a highly-talked about NFL prospect in nose tackle Louis Nix (6’3, 357 lbs). They won’t be in the BCS title game again, but they won’t fall off the radar either.

2. BYU Cougars (8-4) – Bronco Mendenhall has been the model of success for BYU, leading the Cougars to a 74-29 record in 9 years. This year, 8 starters are back from an offense with lots of room for improvement. The defense loses a lot of starters from a unit that gave up only 14.0 points per game last year, but one of the returning players is linebacker Kyle Van Noy, the All-American caliber leader of BYU’s defense. The schedule is the toughest in school history, with games against Virginia, Texas, Utah, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Therefore, a program that had five double digit-win seasons in six years from 2006-2011 will settle for fewer for the second year in a row.

3. Navy Midshipmen (7-5) and Army Black Knights (4-8) – By now, you should know how these teams will do. Navy will be good enough to make a bowl while Army’s season will end up with the all-important attempt to upset Navy. While the Midshipmen will easily have the better record, I predict the streak against Army will end. The Knights have lost 11 straight to Navy, but that will end this year as Army pulls the upset.

4. Boise State Broncos (10-2, 7-1 in Mountain West) – Chris Petersen has a 51-2 record in seasons in which the Broncos return their starting quarterback. This year, they return QB Joe Southwick. However, this team returns only 10 starters (including the punter). Petersen’s a master of doing more with less, but with Washington, Fresno State, Utah State and BYU on the schedule, this team will not make one final bust before the BCS goes bye-bye.

5. Utah State Aggies (10-2, 8-0) – Want a surprise team? Try Utah State on for size. Yes, Gary Andersen is gone to Wisconsin, but the Aggies kept it in-house by promoting Matt Wells (a former QB for the program in the mid-1990’s) to head coach. There are 15 starters back, including 7 from a defense that allowed 15.4 points per game last year and QB Chukie Keeton. Keeton made a name for himself by almost upsetting Auburn to open the 2011 season, and he’s only improved since then. Keeton will surprise many as he will be this year’s Jordan Lynch (a non-BCS quarterback who makes himself a nationally-known name) in route to the Aggies winning the Mountain West.

Heisman Trophy Prediction

And the winner of the 2013 Heisman Trophy is……. 

Marcus Mariota, QB, University of Oregon.

It’s quite the trend. Since 2007, the Heisman has been won by a mobile QB four times. The past three years? All mobile quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel). Marcus Mariota has the offensive system to succeed. He has weapons around him like DeAnthony Thomas. He has a big, accurate arm and quickness. Last year, Mariota threw for 2,677 yards with 32 TDs and 6 INTs and added 5 touchdowns and 752 yards on the ground. This year’s Oregon offense will feature more passing, which will give Mariota a leg-up in the Heisman race as the Ducks keep winning games.

Final Heisman Standings:

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

5. Tahj Boyd, QB, Clemson

Candidates that missed out on going to New York:

6. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

7. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

8. Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State

9. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

10. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

11. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

12. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

13. Michael Dyer, RB, Louisville

14. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami

15. Marqise Lee, WR, USC


(Note: these bowls are not listed in the order in which they’ll be played, it’s just listed in order of pure importance. Basically, this is meant to put the higher profile bowls near the end, leading to the BCS Championship Game.)

Military Bowl: Ohio vs. Maryland

Hawaii Bowl: Marshall vs. San Diego State

New Orleans Bowl: Ball State vs. UL-Monroe Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Western Kentucky

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: UL-Lafayette vs. Toledo

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Wyoming

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl: Rice vs. SMU

Armed Forces Bowl: Fresno State vs. Navy

Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. East Carolina

New Mexico Bowl: USC vs. San Jose State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU vs. Arizona

Independence Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Arkansas State

BBVA Compass Bowl: Tennessee vs. Central Florida

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Minnesota vs. Iowa State

Pinstripe Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Texas Tech (The Tuberville Bowl!!!)

Belk Bowl: Rutgers vs. Syracuse

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Kansas State vs. Indiana

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah State vs. Oregon State

Liberty Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Tulsa

Music City Bowl: Auburn vs. Georgia Tech

Russell Athletic Bowl: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Northwestern vs. Oklahoma

Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Washington

Holiday Bowl: TCU vs. UCLA

Alamo Bowl: Arizona State vs. Baylor

Gator Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Michigan State

Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Miami (FL)

Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Wisconsin

Capital One Bowl: LSU vs. Michigan

Cotton Bowl: South Carolina vs. Texas

Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3, Big Ten At-Large) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, Big 12 Champions)

The Huskers fall in Indianapolis to Ohio State, but their 10-win record is impressive enough to woo Fiesta Bowl officials. Oklahoma State punches their own ticket as Big 12 champions. Taylor Martinez going up against a Mike Gundy offense? Oh yes, there will be points. There will be plenty of points.

Louisville Cardinals (12-0, AAC Champions) vs. Clemson Tigers (11-2, ACC Champions)

Louisville takes care of its business against a weak schedule, but an undefeated record still isn’t enough to earn a trip to the national title game. Still, it’s two straight BCS Bowls for the Cardinals. Clemson rides a high-flying offense to a 10-2 regular season, then the Tigers beat Miami in the ACC title game to earn a spot in this game. Tahj Boyd vs. Teddy Bridgewater. Get your popcorn ready.

Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, SEC At-Large) vs. Florida State Seminoles (10-2, ACC At-Large)

Alabama falls just short of Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, so for right now, the dynasty is put on halt. Still, the SEC Title Game is Alabama’s only loss, so the Tide gets the Sugar Bowl nod over another 11-1 SEC team, South Carolina. Florida State exceeds expectations by winning 10 games and earning a BCS bid. They’d best be ready, because Alabama has won 4 straight bowl games by a average score of  37-11. There will be some big hits delivered in this game.

 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1, Big Ten Champions) vs. Stanford Cardinal (10-2, Pac-12 At-Large)

Smashmouth football vs. a hurry-up spread attack. That’s what you get when the Big Ten champs take on the Pac-12’s second-best team, the Stanford Cardinal. Ohio State’s loss at Northwestern costs the Buckeyes a chance to play for the national title. Stanford loses to Oregon and is upset by another opponent, costing the Cardinal a chance at their 2nd straight conference title. However, Stanford still earns their 4th straight BCS bowl berth.

And finally, the final BCS National Championship Game before the new playoff…

                 #1 Oregon Ducks (13-0) vs. #2 Georgia Bulldogs (12-1)

 Mark Richt vs. Mark Helfrich. Up-tempo offense vs. SEC defense. The backfield of Marcus Mariota and DeAnthony Thomas vs. the backfield of Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The Dawgs will be playing for their first championship since 1980 while the Ducks will be gunning for their first title in school history. Oregon gets here by running the table in the Pac-12. Georgia stumbles somewhere in the SEC, but this year, the Bulldogs will refuse to leave Atlanta empty-handed, and as recent history shows, the SEC champion will always get a chance to play for it all. Helfrich will have a chance to be the second coach to win a BCS title in his first year at his school (Larry Coker in 2001). Mark Richt will be trying to validate his career with the national title that has eluded his grasp.

And your 2013 National Champions are…. the Georgia Bulldogs!