Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, let's take a look at the 2009 season and storylines.
FLORIDA: There's no better place to start than in the SEC, where the Florida Gators have apparently already been crowned the 2009 National Champions, Tim Tebow has walked on water...twice, and the Florida defense allegedly won't allow a single rushing yard this season. I get it! Florida is really impressive, but here's a prediction for you: Tim Tebow wins his second Heisman Trophy, but a third National Championship eludes him.
That's right! You heard it here! The Florida Gators won't win the National Championship this year.
The Gators come into the season with so much hype, it will be hard for people not to be disappointed if anything goes wrong. But, the truth is if (when!) something goes wrong. The Gators will have trouble recovering.
Florida has made it common place to cook up some tasty cupcakes in their non-conference schedule, and refuse to go on the road more than necessary. This season, Florida plays Charleston Southern, Troy, and Florida International at home during non-conference play. In fact, the Gators only play four games on the road all season.
Personally, I think it's embarrassing for a football program trying to win back-to-back championships to create such an easy schedule, but let's not go there, it'll only frustrate me.
The biggest test for Florida will come October 10 in Baton Rouge, when the Gators face 2007 National Champion, LSU, and the Gators will flunk that test.
In a conference with so many high profile teams, it seems that LSU has lost a lot of respect after stumbling to an 8-5 record last season, and people seem to forget they are one year removed from a National Championship. That won't happen again, and LSU will take in personally that people have written them off as just another Florida casualty.
Despite that loss, Florida could climb back into contention because a) they are media darlings, b) SEC teams always get credit for being in the SEC, and c) the loss would come relatively early in the season.
However, in a conference with a lot of depth, it's easy to Florida stumbling elsewhere either at the Tea Party against Georgia, at South Carolina in November, or, possibly against the same LSU team, in the SEC Championship.
Sure, Florida will be great, but I repeat, they won't be National Champions!
University of Mississippi|OLE MISS: Every year there's one SEC team that just gets over hyped. It happens in a conference with so many decent teams. Not every team can win every game. Last year the disappointment was Georgia, this year, it'll be Ole Miss.
ALABAMA: Too much has been made about this team's disappointing loss to University of Utah|Utah. Nick Saban knows how to coach a winner, but this team isn't a surprise team anymore. They're still worthy of being in the Top 15, but I don't see another BCS bowl this season.
LSU: I already mentioned that they'd be the time to trap the mighty Gators. I think this program will bounce back quickly from a disappointing 2008 season, but they'll have to learn to win on the road (Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss) are all road games. If they can win those games, they'll control their path to the BCS Championship when they face Florida in the SEC Championship.
OUTLOOK: The SEC West (LSU, Bama, Ole Miss) has more depth than the East (Florida, Georgia). LSU manages to find a way to win on the road and take the West division, and becomes a stronger team for it, taking out the Gators in the SEC Championship and making another appearance in the BCS Championship Game.
TEXAS: I thought Texas deserved to play in the National Championship last season (for the record, as a USC alum, I thought they should have played the Trojans). I think that Colt McCoy is one of the smarter quarterbacks in the college game and that he shows strong leadership.
The Longhorns biggest tests will come in a three week stretch in October when they play Oklahoma (in Dallas, as usual), at Missouri, and at Oklahoma State. I'd tell you that Texas could lose one of those and be ok, but after last season, that's not true. Texas must beat Oklahoma to keep their National Championship hopes alive.
I think that this is the year that Texas regains its stronghold on the Big 12. I'll go as far as declaring them my preseason favorite to win the National Championship!
OKLAHOMA: If you read what I wrote about Texas, you'll reverse it for Oklahoma. The Sooners are fortunate enough to get Oklahoma State at home, which again, puts the onus on the Red River Shootout against Texas. Whoever wins that game, will instantly control their path to the Big 12 Championship, which, based on recent history, leads straight to the BCS Championship game.
OKLAHOMA STATE: This team is one big upset away from playing spoiler to both Oklahoma and Texas. The Cowboys schedule shapes up to give them a fairly easy road schedule until the last week of the season, when they'll head to Oklahoma to face the Sooners. If Oklahoma State can beat Texas at home, they could be undefeated headed into that match-up.
They also play Georgia at home on Sept. 5th (it's good to see some teams still believe in the credibility of non-conference scheduling), which could set them in the right direction and ensure a berth in the BCS National Championship if they can win the Big 12. A loss against Georgia, however, could be costly, and set this team up to be one of the biggest disappointments.
I don't think they'll beat Texas and I don't think they'll beat Oklahoma, but (assuming they beat Georgia) I'm not writing them off of anything yet.
OUTLOOK: Just like last season, a cruel tiebreaker could determine the winner of the Big 12 South. Texas beats Oklahoma, Oklahoma State beats Texas, Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, and the teams don't suffer any other losses. Whoever comes out of that mess will flatten the winner of the Big 12 North, as has become a southern football tradition, and, because it seems that the Big 12 is generally guaranteed a BCS National Championship berth, will make the Big Game.
USC and the PAC 9
USC: In an interesting turn of events, the Trojans will start of true freshman at quarterback for the first time ever. Just when you thought you'd seen everything at USC, you get something new!
However, if there's three things that are for sure on the West Coast; it's that the sun rises over the hills in the morning, sets over the ocean in the evening, and the Trojans win the Pac-10.
At this point, I'm disenfranchised enough with the whole BCS system to realize that just one loss will spell doom for the Trojans and send them to the ever-disappointing Rose Bowl game.
Seriously, in the last six years, USC has missed the BCS Championship game three times despite having the same amount of losses as that game's eventual winner. In two other seasons, USC ran the table to ensure they made it to the game. The 2007 Trojans, who finished with an 11-2 record, were the only team that couldn't contend they deserved to play for the National Title.
This season will be much of the same, and I'll go as far as to guarantee a USC victory at the Horseshoe against Ohio State on Sept. 12, after which everybody will think USC is the greatest thing since Tim Tebow.
However, Halloween will haunt USC as they'll drop their one and only game of the season in Oregon (a state in which USC is 0-3 in the past three seasons). This loss will come the same day Texas loses to Oklahoma State, but somehow, despite Oregon walloping Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl last season, and being just as good, if not a better, program, Texas' loss will be much more insignificant. They'll get credit for having beat Oklahoma at a neutral site with a four-year starter, while USC won't get any credit for having beat Ohio State on the road with a true freshman quarterback making his second-ever start.
(If I sound like a bitter USC fan, I am!)
In any case, USC will go 11-1, as always, and be relegated, as always, to the Rose Bowl, where they will crush the Big 10 champion, as always, and everybody will ask, as always, why they didn't get to play for the National Championship, which they probably would have won, as always.
OREGON: Don't count out the Ducks. This team has the best shot at beating the Trojans at home, and, if they do that, they are instantly in the mix for a BCS berth. The Ducks get both Cal and Oregon State at home as well, and their stadium is unanimously regarded as the loudest in the Pac-10. This team likely would have won the Pac-10 two years ago, had it not been for a late season injury to Dennis Dixon, after which, the team sank.
OREGON STATE: Jacquizz Rodgers might be one of the smallest running backs in college football, but he also might be one of the most electric, just ask USC, which didn't stop him in their only loss last season. The schedule doesn't favor the Beavers, with trips to both USC and Oregon, but this should still be a fun team to watch.
CAL: Despite lofty expectations from year-to-year, this team hasn't made it to a Rose Bowl since 1958. That's before my mom was born, and, as I said, I've already graduated college (do the math!). If there's something that Cal will never disappoint you over it's having a disappointing season.
OUTLOOK: They call it USC and the Pac-9 for a reason, but if Ducks take down the Trojans on Halloween, they could stir up some fresh water on the pond. Still, USC is always the favorite!
OHIO STATE: This team has become almost as much of a BCS lock as the a fore mentioned USC. Even last year, when the Buckeyes blatantly didn't deserve to be there, they made it!
The big test will come Sept. 12 against USC, who crushed Ohio State's chances at a third-consecutive BCS National Championship game 35-3 last season (which might have been a blessing in disguise, since it would have been its third-consecutive loss in a BCS National Championship game). I already guaranteed a USC victory, so we know which way I'm leaning.
Ohio State should continue to dominate the better part of a relatively weak conference, but will have to go on the road to both Happy Valley (Penn State) and the Big House (Michigan) in November. The Penn State matchup will likely decide the Big 10 winner.
My money's on Penn State, but don't worry Buckeye fans, you'll go 10-2 (just like last year) and make into a BCS game over a handful of much more deserving 11-1 teams (just like last year). [[ Pennsylvania State University|PENN STATE]]: Sooner or later, Joe Paterno is gonna die. That doesn't sound like a nice thing to say, but let's be honest, he'll never retire! Honestly, why should he!? He couldn't even be on the sideline's last season, he was too old and broken down, but still took his team to a BCS game!
If he could still coach last year, he can still coach this year. He'll like this season's schedule too, because the team only plays four road games all season. He might as well just start living in the Penn State press box, so he doesn't have to walk too far (if anywhere)! Assuming Penn State can take care of Ohio State at home, the Nittany Lions could easily be undefeated headed into the final game of the season at Michigan State.
MICHIGAN STATE: I just felt the odd reason to mention them. Nobody's giving them any credit, and I don't know if they should. However, without a game against Ohio State and with Penn State at home. This team could do much better than anybody is expecting.
OUTLOOK: Michigan State wins the conference. There's no reason to say that, other than I just have an odd feeling that when it upends Penn State at the end of the year, it'll give the Spartans the Conference Championship. Think about it: Michigan State can't lose to Ohio State because they don't play them, so a Penn State win could really give them that Championship, since they'd hold the tiebreak over both the other teams! As already stated, Ohio State will also make a BCS game, deserving or not.
OUTLOOK: I could go into one team or another, but the whole conference has become a big disappointment. It seems that each year there are some teams that are supposed to do really well, but somewhere along the line the teams get knocked off by some inferior opponent in the conference (it's like a lesser version of the SEC, when you think about it).
The powerhouses change from year-to-year. Florida State is supposed to be back (finally!), Georgia Tech is supposed to moving up, and North Carolina is supposed to finally emerge. The safest bet, however, is on Virginia Tech. They seem to be the one solid team in the Top 25 from year-to-year, and they're expected to be really good this year. I expect them to go 10-2 and then win the ACC Championship over Florida State.
Honestly, I'd take UNC, if they didn't play in the same division as Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, but I feel like some tiebreaker is going to keep the Tar Heels out of the ACC Championship game, and thus, out of the national spotlight.
OUTLOOK: Look, this conference doesn't have a single team in the Top 25 in the preseason polls, and that's not gonna get any better. They got something like 4 of the Top 150 recruits last year as a conference, by comparison, teams like USC, Florida, and Alabama individually got about twice that! Since they seem to be the only team headed in the right direction, or at least not headed completely in the wrong direction, let's just say Cincinnati repeats, and we'll move on.
BOISE STATE: The Broncos can whine all they want about not making it into a BCS game last year, but when you lose the Poinsettia Bowl, the joke's on you! (For the record, I did pick TCU to win that match-up). Boise State must win their season opener, a home game, against Oregon, if they plan on crashing the BCS. Non-conference match-ups against Miami (Ohio) and UC Davis won't do them any good. Oregon has been looking for pay back ever since Boise State upset them in Eugene last year and knocked out their starting QB. I think the Ducks will get that revenge, and even when Boise State wins the rest of its schedule, it won't get a shot at the BCS. Also, just a bold prediction: they don't win the rest; they get upset by Nevada.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are probably the most unappreciated small conference team. Nobody (except, as I already mentioned, me) gave them any love heading into last year's Poinsettia Bowl against Boise State. They always seem to lose a game or two along the way, and with road games at Virginia, Clemson, Air Force, and BYU, it's bound to happen again. That said, if this team can run the table, they certainly deserve a long-awaited BCS berth. I expect they'll lose one (at Clemson) and fall out of the BCS picture, but I also expect that they'll finish the season as the highest ranked small conference team.
UTAH: The Utes were a nice feel-good story last season, and everybody that dislikes the SEC, as much as I do, loved seeing Alabama get romped in SEC territory, but this team travels to Oregon on Sept. 19 and any thoughts of an encore will be put to rest then. Even if they did upset there, November trips to TCU and BYU won't bode well for Utah.
NOTRE DAME: I'm not sure how a win in the Hawaii Bowl translates to all the hype, but, o yeah! it's Notre Dame. Jimmy Clausen might finally start to show why he was a top recruit a few years ago, but this is the same Notre Dame team that didn't register a first-down against USC last year until the fourth quarter. I'll believe they're good enough to go 8-4, but then they'll be over-placed in some prestigious bowl game and get stomped in the Bowl Season, as has become customary.
OUTLOOK: Keep an eye out for TCU, even with an 11-1 record, they could be deserving of a BCS berth (until big-bad, 10-2 Ohio State steals it away), but other than that, it looks like the Oregon Ducks will single-handedly eliminate the rest of the potential small conference competion.
Rose USC 52, Michigan State 10
Orange Virginia Tech 34, Cinicinnati 20
Sugar Florida 38, TCU 14
Fiesta Oklahoma 33, Penn State 27
BCS Championship Texas 34, LSU 17
Ok, so I broke down from my predictions a little. Ohio State didn't take out TCU, but it's only because I thought that the Big 10 isn't strong enough to send an unprecedented third team, Michigan State would get the Rose Bowl berth, and Penn State would post an 11-1 record, and it's impossible to argue that a 10-2 Ohio State team that lost to Penn State would make it in over the Nittany Lions. Then again, that's about what Colorado said after they beat Nebraska in 2001, isn't it!?
College football starts this weekend! Get excited!
--Originally posted at http://jtstally.blogspot.com --