So with out any further fanfare, here are my thoughts on the rest of the “Power Five” College Football conferences as well as the American Conference, which I personally believe is the best of the other “Group of Five.” In fact, outside of Boise State, there isn’t another “Group of Five” team that can challenge the best of the American.
We start with the self-proclaimed best conference in American. In fact, if you listen to the national experts the SEC West is the best conference in college football. I’m not exactly sure how you measure that, but it’s all opinion anyway. The fact is though that for the “best” conference the last two National Champions have come from the ACC and the Big Ten. I don’t expect the SEC to win the title this year either.
- Alabama – Until someone shows me otherwise, I can’t pick against Alabama winning the West. I know there are questions at Quarterback, but does anyone remember what happened last year with Blake Sims. Lane Kiffin was a disaster as a head coach (although someone is going to give him another chance sooner rather than later) but he can coach Quarterbacks and can design an offense to get the ball in the hands of his best players and let them make plays. Will Alabama be perfect? No, but will they be playing for the SEC title in Atlanta? You bet.
- Auburn – I hate Gus Malzan’s offense. But, I love Gus Malzan. How could you not like a guy who celebrates victories at the Waffle House. The reason I can’t pick Auburn to win the West is that their offense depends on a running quarterback and I don’t think Jeremy Johnson is much of a runner. The defense should be better now that Will Muschamp has washed out as a head coach and returns to doing what he does best, but I still can’t see Auburn beating Alabama.
- Arkansas – This is my kind of football. The Razorbacks are lining it up and coming right at you with the biggest offensive line in College Football. Coach Brett Bilema rode this formula to three straight Rose Bowls at Wisconsin. It won’t be long before they are calling the Hogs at the SEC Championship Game.
- Texas A&M – the Aggies defense was a complete disaster. Enter former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis who will most certainly fix the problems on defense and if they are just a little bit better on that side of the ball, they’ll be good enough to compete in the SEC West.
- LSU – No consistent play at Quarterback, a head coach who had to check himself in the hospital for drinking too much coffee and an offensive coordinator doing his job while fighting prostate cancer. Not a good set of circumstances in Baton Rouge. But the biggest reason I’d be concerned if I was an LSU fan is that the new defensive coordinator is Kevin Steele. The last time he coordinated a defense was at Clemson and in his last game West Virginia scored 70 points on it. How about another trip to the Music City bowl boys?
- Mississippi State – Dan Mullen has done a remarkable job at Mississippi State. I mean freaking Mississippi State was ranked number 1 one week last year. Quarterback Dak Prescott is back, but not much else. Mullen might want to cash in his success for a bigger job soon because success in football and Mississippi State don’t often go hand in hand.
- Ole Miss – Once upon a time an athletic director named Pete Boone fired David Cutcliffe just one year after Ole Miss won 10 games. Since then Ole Miss has largely floundered around with some success here and there and that’s about what the Rebels are always destined to be…here and there. This is the only SEC West team to never appear in the SEC Championship game. Expect it to stay that way for a long time.
- Georgia – Football is a line of scrimmage game and Georgia arguably has the best offensive line in the SEC. Add in running back Nick Chubb and 10 or 11 wins is not out of the question
- Missouri – Amazing that Missouri continues to be disregarded despite winning the SEC East two straight years. Missouri has proven itself to be one of the most physical football teams in the SEC. Tennessee is a popular pick for second in the East, but as the Vols travel to Missouri where they always seem to get run over by the desert cart, I’ll take the Tigers in the second spot.
- Tennessee – There’s no question that the Volunteers are on the way back to the top of the SEC East, but they are still not good enough on the offensive and defensive lines nor do they have enough players for me to see much beyond a third place finish in the East. I hate zone read offense and I’m still scratching my head why Butch Jones hired Mike DeBoard as his offensive coordinator when he’s spent the past few years in an administrative job. But, I’m not a head coach so I’ll defer to the former West Virginia assistant on that. The most important game for Tennessee is Florida on September 26th. They must win that game or another so-so season may be in order.
- South Carolina – amazing how when you are 70 years old and coming off a .500 season, you suddenly can’t coach. Make no mistake Steve Spurrier can still coach. He just needs to get his defense figured out. Does everyone realize that Steve Spurrier twice won 11 games at South Carolina. That’s freaking South Carolina people where the head coach was once Sparky Woods and another former head coach smoked cigarettes on the sidelines.
- Florida – This is a complete offensive rebuild for new coach Jim McElwain. Defense will have to carry the Gators but I can’t see it carrying it much past 6 or 7 wins.
- Kentucky – I don’t put much stock in recruiting rankings, but Mark Stoops is recruiting his ass off at Kentucky. It’s going to take a few years for those recruits to make an impact so this year the Wildcats should be happy to get 6 wins and a trip to a minor bowl game.
- Vanderbilt – last year new coach Derek Mason looked completely lost. I don’t expect it to be any better this year. He refers to Tennessee as the “team out East.” Maybe before he starts talking smack he should learn how to win more than three games and beat Wake Forest.
SEC Championship Game – I like Georgia over Alabama. I also do not expect any SEC team having less than two losses and thus out of the four team playoff.
BIG XII CONFERENCE
- Oklahoma – I can’t give you one logical reason to pick Oklahoma to win the conference especially since the last time they were on the field in the bowl game against Clemson, they were awful. Call this playing a hunch. All the talk about TCU and Baylor makes me think that Oklahoma may have something for the rest of the league. Of course, if “Big game” Bob Stoops blows another big game against Tennessee in Week 2, it could spell trouble.
- TCU – I love TCU’s coach and their quarterback. This is a program that just a few years ago was playing in the Mountain West and now they are in a position to compete for a national championship. If Oklahoma stubs its toe as it is prone to do, TCU should win this league over all the other teams and if they do, this time they should be in the final four.
- Baylor – One thing for sure watching Baylor play football is fun. However, I just cannot pick them to win the conference when defense is such an important part of the game and at times it appears that Baylor has no real interest in playing that part of the game like the 1980s San Diego Chargers who carried the philosophy that you can score 52 points as long as we get 53.
- Kansas State – Bill Snyder is something else. He has resurrected the Kansas State program twice. Don’t count out the Wildcats ever and with a break here and there, who knows?
- Texas – Given what second year coach Charlie Strong has had to do at Texas, this program was a bigger mess than it appeared. Eventually they’ll be back in the title hunt, but with questions at quarterback it’s not happening this year. The key is the opener at Notre Dame. A win there could be a big confidence boost. A big loss could send this year spiraling in a direction the Horns don’t want to go.
- West Virginia – Again probably a more heart than head pick (i.e., Virginia Tech), but actually I do like what Dana Holgerson is doing with the Mountaineers. He essentially had to build a Big XII team from scratch using a foundation of Big East talent. They are close, but the key question is will Holgerson get the time to finish the job with an athletic director who did not hire him?
- Oklahoma State – Mediocrity at its best.
- Texas Tech – I realize coach Cliff Kingsbury is a Texas Tech guy, a fashion expert and a bachelor who is a chick magnet. We’d all take that, but in major college football you’d better win games and Kingsbury better figure out how to do that soon or he’ll be in line to appear on ABC’s Bachelor.
- Iowa State – This is a tough gig where plenty of coaches have tried and tried and just didn’t get anywhere. Add in Paul Rhodes, a decent coach who has tried to do his best, but his time maybe running short in a state where football seems to be something you do waiting on wrestling season.
- Kansas – This is a dumpster fire. That’s what you get when you hire Charlie Weis as your head coach and then fire Charlie Weis as your head coach. Besides, does anyone in Kansas really give a damn about football?
I’m going to give credit where credit is due. Urban Meyer did an amazing job last year. There’s no question that if you watched Ohio State meltdown against Virginia Tech you’d have been surprised if the Buckeyes won 7 games. Instead Meyer rallied the team and wound up taking his third string quarterback to the National Title. The man can coach. I just can’t see a repeat. It’s only human nature that it is easier to hunt than be hunted and Ohio State is certain to get everyone’s best this year.
- Michigan State – I’m all about quarterback Connor Cook. You don’t think this guy is tough just watch what he did against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl last year. Add in a nasty defense and I expect the Spartans to topple Ohio State for the East title. Now if we could just get every damn radio and television host to stop referring to Michigan State as “Sparty.” It’s old and annoying guys.
- Ohio State – by seasons end I expect Cardell Jones to be back on the bench and J.T. Barrett to be back quarterbacking the Buckeyes. I really like running back Ezekiel Elliott and there’s no question that Urban Meyer is challenging Nick Saban as the best in the game right now. It’s just that I don’t think back to back is going to happen.
- Penn State – for reference see what Coach James Franklin did at Vanderbilt. There’s no question that Penn State is climbing back in the national picture. They need just a little bit better play from quarterback Christian Hackenberg – whose from Virginia and got out of the state – and the Nittany Lions could win 9 games.
- Maryland – I still can’t get the fact that Maryland is a Big Ten team. Maryland is competitive in the league and I expect it to remain that way. They are also in the middle of a fertile recruiting ground so there’s no excuses for not being good.
- Michigan – Jim Harbaugh has quite a job ahead of him, but at least he’s a “Michigan man”. I just don’t see much this year as the rebuilding begins. His first team at Stanford was 5-7 so expect about the same from year one in Ann Arbor.
- Rutgers – playing in the Big Ten with a Big East team is not a formula for success.
- Indiana – Is there any way that Indiana can ever hope to be competitive in the Big Ten? I guess it’s possible, but in a basketball state and playing in a stadium that looks like a nice high school stadium, it’s hard to imagine great players signing to play at Indiana.
- Minnesota – a complete out of box pick here. I just love the job Jerry Kill has done. The classic example of plan your work and work your plan. This year expect the Gophers to leap to the top of the West all while taking Paul Bunyon’s axe back from Wisconsin.
- Wisconsin – New coach but same old physical style of football. I won’t be surprised to see them win the Big Ten West, but I’ll stay with my out of the box selection.
- Nebraska – New coach Mike Riley was sort of a surprise pick, but he may just be what Nebraska needs. Talk about a 180 from former coach Bo Peliini who I never believed was a head coach and certainly not one at Nebraska. Riley has a reputation as the nicest coach in College Football and he certainly has the support of an entire state. Nebraska is still one of college football’s “blue bloods” and like Tennessee I expect them to be nationally relevant sooner rather than later.
- Iowa – Welcome to the home of the most overpaid, overrated college football coach in America. Then again, it’s Iowa and they’d rather win at wrestling than football. So, as long as Kurt Ferentz is in charge, Iowa will pay a lot of money for very little in return.
- Northwestern – A tough gig as well, but Pat Fitzgerald is relentlessly positive and as long as he’s in charge, Northwestern won’t be a gimme.
- Purdue – I can’t figure it out. This is a program that once turned out Bob Griese and Drew Brees. Again, it’s a school stuck in a basketball state that has very few elite high school prospects. Expect Purdue to lose to Marshall in its first game, and it’s all down hill from there, but they are still not the worst team in the Big Ten, that belongs to……
- Illinois – True confessions. I lived in Illinois for three years and loved it and the people. But, Illinois is a basketball state. They simply don’t care about football. If you are really good high school player in Illinois and that’s rare – you aren’t going to Illinois. The Athletic Director is a moron who fired his coach one week before the season. This program is a disaster and I don’t know why any coach would touch it. Under an interim coach with a bunch of marginally talented players, expect no better than 1 – 11.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP: Michigan State over Minnesota earning a spot in the Final Four.
I’ll quickly move through this.
- Oregon – Transfer Quarterback Vernon Adams is a dynamic playmaker in a dynamic offense. That’s good enough for me. Key early game is a trip to Michigan State.
- Stanford – again my kind of football. Line it up and run it at you.
- California – The exact opposite of Stanford, but have an experienced quarterback and expect a big leap this season.
- Washington – Chris Peterson moved to Washington from Boise State presumably to win games. Well now would be a good time to start.
- Washington State – After a bowl game, the Cougars took a step back last year. Can they take a step forward again.
- Oregon State – how badly did Gary Anderson want out of Wisconsin? He went to Oregon State. A tough place to win in an increasingly tough league.
- Arizona State – Call this a hunch as well. Todd Graham is a former West Virginia assistant under Rich Rodriguez. Now he’s trying to beat Rodriguez in this division.
- Arizona – This is a classic example of knowing where you fit in. Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia – a good fit. Rich Rodriguez at Michigan – not a good fit. Rich Rodriguez at Arizona – good fit. Arizona has never appeared in the Rose Bowl. If Rodriguez doesn’t wear out his welcome like he always seems to and stays in Tuscon, that is going to change eventually. As for this year, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Arizona back in the PAC 12 Title game.
- UCLA – I’m not buying it. A freshman quarterback might be talented but he’s still a freshman.
- USC – I think the issues with their coach getting bombed in front of a group of boosters is going to have more of an effect that you might think. Remember USC is still trying to recover from serious NCAA sanctions. This team may resemble one coached by Lane Kiffin than one who competes for championships.
- Utah – Quietly Kyle Whittingham has built a consistent winner in Salt Lake City. He’s not a shameless self promoter and seems to be perfectly comfortable at Utah. The Utes will be extremely competitive in the Pac 12 and it’s only a matter of time before they win a championship.
- Colorado – No words to describe what a mess this has been and they are still trying to fix it.
PAC 12 Championship – Arizona State over Oregon.
I like Cincinnati to win the league over Memphis. In fact, if you are looking for a dark horse team to compete for the final four look no further than Cincinnati and for one big reason Quarterback Gunner Keil. Keil committed to Indiana, flipped to LSU, eventually landed at Notre Dame only to transfer to Cincinnati. He’s found a home and role and the sky’s the limit for the Bearcats this year.