Congratulations! The suffering is over!
College football season is here, kicking in with Cal vs Hawaii tonight in Australia. Next Thursday, we finally reach the full realization of months of speculation, argument, and anticipation. It’s football time and in the spirit of the season (which should be a holiday) we’re going to risk our own wrath.
Two weeks ago we broke down the facts regarding preseason polls, and determined that according to the numbers preseason polls are fanatic, rarely selecting the right team as national champions.
So this week, in honor of football finally dragging us out of the morass called the off-season, we’re giving preseason picks a chance to change our minds. We’re going to break down the Power 5 conferences, select a conference champion, and make our predictions for the season.
This column, we’ll concentrate on the ACC, B1G, and Big XII. Part 2 will take a look at the PAC-12 and SEC, a few other schools of interest, and make picks for the Final Four and eventual national champion.
And yes – if our earlier column is confirmed and our picks are so far off they might as well be in Ryan Lochte’s departed sponsorships, feel free to point at us and laugh. We won’t care because that will mean we were right all along. But predictions are, if nothing else, fun – so let the fun begin!
Breaking Down the AP Preseason Poll 2016
Few surprises in this year’s AP Top 25. Reigning NCAA Champion Alabama starts out the season at #1, followed by Clemson, Oklahoma, Florida State, and LSU. What makes this all so interesting is that the first full weekend of games will absolutely shake this Top 25 up. Labor Day weekend will boast one of the strongest slates of games in recent memory: Clemson/Auburn, Alabama/USC, Oklahoma/Houston, LSU/Wisconsin, Ole Miss/Florida State, UCLA/Texas A&M, and Texas/Notre Dame. These games will not only highlight the weekend, but will result in several teams plummeting through the ranks.
The conference breakdown is also no surprise. The SEC appears to continue its dominance of the sport with three teams in the top ten: Alabama, LSU, and Tennessee. Ole Miss, Georgia, and Florida are also ranked, bringing the league’s total to six ranked teams altogether. The PAC-12 comes in with five ranked teams, while the ACC, B1G, and Big XII all have four teams each. The American Conference’s Houston and Notre Dame round out the affiliations.
The ACC is sitting pretty with two legitimate CFP contenders in Clemson and Florida State. Both teams are loaded, the schedules are favorable, and the hype is real. But there are other schools in the ACC to keep an eye on in both divisions.
- Florida State: Probably has the best shot of surviving the division and getting to the championship game.
- Clemson: Expectations might catch up with the Tigers, and the defense had to replace a few too many impact players.
- Louisville: This is a scrappy team, and dangerous to underestimate.
- Boston College: Might surprise somebody this year. Somebody big.
- NC State: Better overall team this season, but the schedule is brutal and the team is young.
- Wake Forest: The offense is just woeful, but should be a building year.
- Syracuse: Not enough talent to make an impact this year.
- North Carolina: If the D improves, NC will be hard to beat.
- Virginia Tech: New QB, early season beatdown in Bristol–will be better later in the season
- Pitt: An up and comer. If they get on a roll, they can blow everyone’s expectations apart.
- Miami: You may never see the U this low on Mark Richt’s watch again. Enjoy it briefly, ACC.
- Georgia Tech: Defense is suspect, but should be better than the terrible 3-9 season last year.
- Duke: Cutcliffe’s rebuilding job continues, but this year takes a small dip.
- Virgina: needs a boost of talent to make a difference
Season breakdown: The head-to-head between Florida State and Clemson decides everything. I’m giving the edge to FSU because of Clemson’s losses on defense, but either team can get derailed early. Florida State has a tricky game with Ole Miss to start the season, and Clemson might just overlook the October 1 matchup with Louisville. I see FSU and NC in the conference championship, and FSU ultimately taking the title with a potential CFP berth on the line. Keep an eye on: Miami. Richt has some playmakers, and if he finds a way to overcome the deficiencies on both lines the U will make some noise.
This is a down year in the B1G, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Michigan State has to replace the veterans that led them to a CFP appearance and the B1G title last season, Ohio State lost 12 players to the NFL draft, and Michigan is still a year away no matter what the hype train says. That might open the door for a surprise run by another B1G team – and might also keep the B1G from a third consecutive Final Four appearance.
- Nebraska: It’s a tossup for us, but we think QB Tommy Armstrong exceeds expectations. Nebraska may be back.
- Iowa: Expectations are huge for the Hawkeyes, but the Wisconsin-Penn State-Michigan run does them in.
- Northwestern: A slightly down year, but they might just surprise everybody because they have the best coach in the division.
- Wisconsin: The schedule is brutal, with the B1G three and LSU. Badgers get beaten up this year.
- Minnesota: Offense is just too unreliable to get it done.
- Illinois: Welcome to the B1G, Lovie Smith. Hope things get better.
- Purdue: Only one word can describe the Boilermakers, and we’re afraid to type it.
- Ohio State: JT Barrett is one of the country’s best QBs, and in a down year for the league that’s where our money is. An early-season loss to Oklahoma hampers playoff hopes though.
- Michigan: Harbaugh’s Maize and Blue can’t yet compete with OSU’s talent–even when most of that talent is young. Another recruiting year and we can talk.
- Michigan State: Replacing the offensive machine will be tough for Dantonio.
- Penn State: You might be surprised by the Nittany Lions this year–depending on how they adjust to the loss of DC Shoop to Tennessee.
- Maryland: A team on the rise, but they’re putting it together slowly on the Terps’ roster. Next year should be interesting.
- Indiana: The Hoosiers lost way too much talent to compete this year.
- Rutgers: First-year coach, brutal schedule, not a lot of hope.
Season Breakdown: Here’s the thing about the B1G this season: It’s a picnic, and everyone is snacking on each other. The triumvirate of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan will most likely split their games, making the snarl at the top of the East a big fat mess. The West comes down to Iowa and Nebraska, and we like the Hoosiers to take on a 2-loss Ohio State in the championship game. Buckeyes win, but a playoff berth is unlikely. Keep an eye on: Penn State. If they go on a roll, they might roll all the way.
Thanks to Baylor’s offseason atomic meltdown, the Big XII is harder to gauge. The conference’s “one true champion” motto has never really played out well, with newcomers bringing high-power offenses and no defenses, the traditional power of Texas diminishing, and Oklahoma making the transition from Big XII-style football to a B1G-SEC hybrid under Bob Stoops. This fall, the annual bloodbath is even harder to gauge, especially with the league making expansion noise but apparently incapable of luring schools they think profitable enough and unwilling to bring in teams without the national exposure they crave. With all these external factors swirling around the conference, the actual football season should be wild and woolly.
- Oklahoma: We have Oklahoma beating Ohio State, but the Sooners need to watch out for Houston in Week One.
- TCU: It’s hard to imagine the Horned Frogs without QB Trevor Boykin, but Coach Patterson cannot be underestimated.
- Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are chasing down the big dogs. If they stay healthy, this is the year they make some noise.
- West Virginia: A down year in Morgan, but still sees them winning some big games.
- Texas: Charlie Strong is fighting for his job and needs a stellar season. Reasonably good isn’t good enough, and 7-5 means a new big man in Austin.
- Baylor: Huge kudos to Jim Grobe for taking on the dumpster fire, but even with Briles’ talent he’s not the coach to win in the Big XII.
- Texas Tech: Might go 5-4 in the conference, but the injury gods have to be merciful.
- Kansas State: If K-State plays its cards just right, they might be bowling in December. Early December, but bowling nonetheless.
- Iowa State: Marginally better than last season. Marginally.
- Kansas: When’s basketball season begin?
Season breakdown: We have to go with Oklahoma to win the Big XII title. We just have to. It’s what makes the most sense. That being said, if TCU’s new QB is as formidable as the last or if Oklahoma State can stay healthy, either team can knock off Oklahoma and take the title. So we’re making the smart choice here, but we’re by no means sold. And if the eventual winner has two losses, you can flash back to 2014 and a CFP without a Big XII representative. Keep an eye on: Oklahoma State. Something about the Cowboys makes us want to push all our chips on their number.
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK: Cal vs Hawaii Normally this might be a big fat yawn, but it’s football! The first true game of the college football season is a late night amuse bouche for the season, played in Australia where all college scouts are going to find kickers these days. Tonight at 10 pm on ESPN, the Bears and Rainbow Warriors kick off the season. While we love Hawaii, we see Cal winning handily. Cal 32 Hawaii 17
Welcome to football season! This is the best part of the year, and even fanatics will agree that is fact.