Thursday, June 16, 2005

College football quick hits

I know we're a long way from the start of the 2005 college football season, but my preseason research has begun. Here are a few early thoughts on the upcoming season.

--> USC will be good again, and they might pull off the three-peat. For that to happen, the defense will need to be much better than I project it to be. I love Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush (along with receivers like Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, and the up-and-coming Whitney Lewis). But I don't think the USC offense will be as efficient without coordinator Norm Chow, who moved on to the NFL's Tennessee Titans. The offense will score points, but it won't be enough to run the table if the defense (especially the front four) doesn't recover from some heavy losses. This team is incredibly well-coached, but road games against Oregon, Notre Dame, and California won't be easy.

--> Florida will be scary good in the SEC within a couple years. If Chris Leak picks up Urban Meyer's offense half as well as Alex Smith did, the Gators will win the SEC East this year. Meyer has won immediately at every one of his coaching stops so far, and he will win at this one. He brings with him an offense that no one in the SEC has ever had to face before, and Florida has the talent to make it run on all cylinders.

--> Michigan will win the Big Ten again. Ohio State is getting a ton of preseason hype, but I don't think they have the offensive backfield to beat out Michigan. Ted Ginn is a special player, but it won't do Ohio State any good to have him at wide receiver if they can't get him the ball. Michigan has the best offensive backfield (Henne-Hart) in the conference, and they're both sophomores. That's scary. It doesn't hurt at all that Michigan gets tOSU at home this year. It'll be the 359th year in a row that tOSU-Michigan has had bearing on the conference title. Unlike last year, this year's Big Ten champion should have a chance of finishing in the top two of the BCS and going to the Rose Bowl.

--> The BCS is really stupid. But you already knew that.

--> Staying in the Big Ten, Minnesota is primed for a disappointing year. They return a boatload of starters, including RB Laurence Maroney and emerging WR Ernie Wheelwright. However, the Gophers go from having a relatively easy conference schedule in 2004 (no Purdue, Ohio State) to having one of the toughest possible conference schedules in 2005 (at Penn State, Michigan, and Iowa; home for Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State; no Illinois or Northwestern). Not mentioned among those road games is what should be an easy win at Indiana - except the Gophers haven't won at Indiana in seven straight tries. The team might be better on the field, but the reward for that might be a slip of two or three wins, which would keep the Gophers out of the bowl picture. Quick fact: The only bowl team the Gophers beat in the 2004 regular season? Toledo.

--> Wisconsin will also slip. They overachieved by winning nine games last year, and they won't get any better this year unless the seven new starters on defense can make Bucky fans forget names like Erasmus James, Anttaj Hawthorne, and Jim Leonhard. John Stocco looked good at times under center, but really struggled down the stretch, and the Badgers failed to develop their trademark running game in the final two games (only 101 combined rushing yards and less than 2.0 YPC). The schedule is somewhat friendly for the Badgers - unlike Minnesota - and Wisconsin will probably go bowling, but don't be surprised to see Wisconsin spending the holiday season in Detroit or El Paso.

--> Mid-major to watch: UTEP. The two-deep is loaded with experienced players, including underrated QB Jordan Palmer and speedy WR Johnnie Lee Hawkins. The schedule is favorable, with the toughest road games being at rebuilding Memphis and defensively-challenged Tulane. The Miners won't threaten to make a BCS bowl (weak schedule), but they have the best potential of any mid-major to finish 11-0.

--> Conference to watch: Conference USA. The West division is loaded, with the aforementioned UTEP joined by resurgent Houston, Tulane, Tulsa (2003's surprise bowl team), and a much-improved SMU team that could surprise people (18 returning starters, 45 returning letterwinners). The East isn't bad, featuring Southern Mississippi, Memphis, former MAC power Marshall, and a UAB team that returns just about every key player except WR Roddy White from its first-ever bowl team. They lost Louisville, South Florida, and Cincinnati, but CUSA has gained some rising programs, along with the right to play a conference championship game (12 members).

--> Two words: Jovon Bouknight. If you don't know who that is, pick up a college football preview magazine, look up Wyoming, and familiarize yourself. It wouldn't hurt to read more about Wyoming, who is poised to ride the momentum of their Las Vegas Bowl upset of UCLA into 2005, and could threaten to win the Mountain West if Utah falters without Meyer. Joe Glenn has done an incredible job restoring the pride in what had been an underrated mid-major program.

--> West Virginia still won't win the Big East. That honor will go to the winner of the November 3 game between Pittsburgh and host Louisville. If Rutgers can find some defense for former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, they might be good enough to go bowling for the first time since 1978. If they don't find that defense, Schiano might be shown the door despite his best efforts to revive the program.

--> Zac Taylor will complete at least 60 percent of his passes, and he will throw at least 25 TD passes for Nebraska. If he does that, he'll be hailed as a statewide hero, and Bill Callahan will be able to breathe as he takes Nebraska to the Cotton Bowl. Iowa State was no fluke. Bret Meyer and Stevie Hicks will lead the Cyclones back near the top of the Big 12 North. Missouri will be improved, as will Kansas State. It won't matter, though, as the South Division winner will roll over the North champion in the Big 12 title game.

--> Texas might beat Oklahoma this year. Trust me...that's an upgrade over last year, when I didn't think Texas had a chance. Look out for the other Texas schools (A&M and Tech), one of which might sneak into the Big 12 title game.

--> Florida State fans are thrilled. They will play Miami, and Chris Rix won't be around to screw it up. From the sounds of it, neither will Wyatt Sexton. Xavier Lee had better be good, or FSU will have their national championship hopes dashed in the season opener for a second straight year. I really like Virginia Tech in the ACC again. The "old guard" won't be happy if they win the league for a second straight year, but with Miami missing seven offensive starters and having to play at FSU and VT, the Hokies have a great chance to win the division.

--> Omar Jacobs is better than Ben Roethlisberger, and Bowling Green has the best chance to play in a BCS bowl of any team outside the power conferences. The non-conference schedule features trips to Wisconsin and Boise State, but both of those games are winnable for the Falcons.

--> New defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville will set aside Hawai'i season tickets for Elvis. If Elvis is smart, he'll take advantage, because the Warriors' home schedule features USC, Boise State, Fresno State, and Wisconsin. I can't imagine why Glanville took this job over the head coaching gig at Northern State (Aberdeen, SD).

--> North Texas is the team to beat in the Sun Belt, but Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana-Monroe might give the Mean Green a run. UNT has won 25 straight Sun Belt games, which you might not know unless you're one of the 12 people that pays attention to the league.


John B. said...

UTEP is turning around under Price...if he can stay out of the clubs! That is a club that typically was a 2 or 3 win a year team, and I think they won 7 or 8 last year. Time will tell as far as consistency.

I am excited to go watch Bowling Green play this year (my wife graduated from there and we are returning this year for homecoming). Jacobs is an exciting quarterback, the couple of times I have seen him on TV.

Curious if you are a big NFL fan, and if it is the Pack or Vikes or someone else for you. Nice site...Found you through MGOblog.

Orson Swindle said...

Nice call on C-USA. We're devoting some space to a piece on how cool they are as a conference later this week. Nice site, and again, thank MGoBlog for the link.

Bruce Ciskie said...

John B--

Packer fan here. Miserable offseason, but I still have hope that Favre has one great year left in that arm of his. I'm a huge NFL fan, but I have grown to prefer the college game in recent years, despite the stupid lack of playoff thing.

As for Jacobs, he's not the only good QB worth watching in the MAC. Gradkowski at Toledo is going to have a huge season. I like Josh Betts (Miami), and a real darkhorse to watch is the kid from Eastern Michigan (Matt Bohnet). Luke Getsy at Akron could be good, too, though I don't think he'll have a great year with the offensive line rebuilding.