Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gather 'round the table, college football gurus

I feel as if I have been overtaken by a higher power.

After spending a few hours reading through Phil Steele's 2006 College Football Preview (thanks, Barnes and Noble, for having it in stock so I didn't have to go on a three-hour search around the Duluth area), I am primed and ready to talk some college football.

I want to invite my fellow college football bloggers to join me for a roundtable discussion of a few preseason issues. I'll post a few questions, provide some answers, and I'll go digging for responses and post a few nuggets sometime in the next week or so. Copy and paste my questions, if you will, and post them on your blog. Leave a comment here to link to your post, or send me an e-mail with the link.

Which preseason college football magazine is your favorite?

Plenty to choose from. Lindy's, Sporting News, Athlon's, Phil.

I think my answer is already obvious.

I'm not going to trumpet Phil's predictions as being OMG THE MOST ACCURATE, because I don't care. For me, it's not about the predictions. I could skewer anyone over predictions. Phil's magazine is just plain more informative. Stats, scores, trends, rankings. Actual detail in the depth charts and solid positional analysis on every team.

Of the rest, I'd rate the Sporting News as the best.

What team is being supremely overrated in the preseason rankings?

Try to make your case. There are plenty of candidates for this honor. Among last year's favorite targets in the preseason was Tennessee, who failed to qualify for a bowl game, along with Texas (so we're not always right around here).

I saw Oklahoma rated #1 by Phil Steele, and they become an immediate target as a result. That offensive line might have trouble opening enough holes for Adrian Peterson to have a big season, and protecting developing young QB Rhett Bomar could be a problem. And, by the way, it's not like defending champion Texas is going to experience a HUGE drop-off, especially now that Mack Brown has officially removed that "HAHAHAHA YOU NEVER WON THE BIG ONE" monkey from his back.

Another obvious target, at least to me, is Miami. Most will pick the Hurricanes to win the ACC Coastal Division, citing a relatively soft schedule, along with motivation from last year's disapointing finish. However, the 'Canes were up and down much of last year, struggling with the likes of Virginia, Georgia Tech, and even North Carolina. Miami got lucky in a win against Clemson, and they held Florida State to 170 yards of offense but lost because of turnovers and poor special teams. And, oh yeah, they lost their bowl game 40-3. Yes, I said 40-3. Got outgained 368-153. I think Miami has a shot to win the division because it is so weak, but I don't buy for a second that Miami is a legit contender on the national stage.

Honorable mention should be given to Ohio State and Notre Dame, who will try to win national championships without playing defense.

Turn the tables. Who is underrated?

I really like Michigan (sorry, M bloggers, I know this is a kiss of death). They were strikingly unlucky at times last year, both with injuries and crappy on-field bounces. With a top-notch QB, potentially great RB, and one of the best linemen in the conference (Jake Long), along with tantalizingly talented WRs Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham, Michigan should be able to score with anyone this year. And the defense, which was okay last year, returns eight starters. No way Michigan loses even half as many games as they did last year, unless they are equally unlucky this year.

I also think Nebraska is in for a big season. The Blackshirts are back, having seven starters returning from a defense that had some high spots a year ago. Zac Taylor is only going to get better, and as much as I may dislike Bill Callahan, he's done a great job amid heavy criticism at the start of his Nebraska tenure. Expect great improvement from the running game, and continued development from Taylor. If Nebraska can come out of USC alive (in other words, if they don't lose by 40), they have a shot at a ten-win season, or better.

Which conference will be the best in 2006?

Please keep in mind: It doesn't matter what happened last year. It doesn't matter what happened in 2004.

Get out your crystal ball and dust it off. Who's going to be the best this year and why?

I am obviously biased toward the Big Ten, but I like the Pacific Ten this year.

I expect USC to come back to Earth a bit, but the rest of the league is going to do their part to catch up. California is better, with Marshawn Lynch poised for H*i*m*n candidacy if they can find a quarterback. Arizona State is a defense away from being a legit contender. Oregon and UCLA have a chance to be pretty good, and Arizona could be poised for a breakthrough.

You're looking at the possibility of as many as eight or nine teams in a ten-team conference being at least on the cusp of bowl eligibility. Only Washington doesn't appear to have much of a case for a bowl run, though it's hard to imagine the Huskies going 2-9 again (and not just because they're playing 12 games this year).

(The Pac-10 also deserves props for this reason...with schedules now expanded to 12 games for everyone, the conference has gone to a nine-game league schedule. I'm sure some coach in the league will whine about how it's unfair for some teams to get five home games while others only get four, but it's exceptionally fair to have every team play everybody in the conference once each.)

Which "non-BCS" conference will be the best in 2006?

In case you're wondering, your options here are Conference USA, the MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and WAC.

The worst of the group will be the Sun Belt. Unless we have a goofy year like 2004, where no one was bowl-eligible, the Sun Belt will get their champion into the New Orleans Bowl. That team will probably be lucky to go 7-5 in the regular season. They'll have three or four teams at the bottom of the league that are among the worst in college football, and their champion will probably be beaten decisively by a Conference USA team in the bowl game.

I'd rate the MAC as being the fourth-best in the group, though they're much better than the Sun Belt. The MAC West Division is good, with Northern Illinois and Toledo expecting challenges from Central and Western Michigan. But the East is brutal. Miami (Ohio) and Akron are the best of the bunch, with Ohio trying to break the door down.

Conference USA comes in third in my view. It's an improving league that didn't lose as much as people thought it would when Louisville and friends left. In fact, teams like UTEP, Houston, and Tulsa appear poised to have big seasons, and Central Florida is coming off a storybook campaign. Don't sleep on Southern Miss, either.

I'll put the WAC just ahead of CUSA. Not only do Fresno State and Boise State have tough teams...again...but Hawai'i has the personnel to make a run at the league crown, led by rubber-armed QB Colt Brennan. And Nevada, coming off a surprising season where they tied for the league title, won't fall off that much. The Wolf Pack have that unique pistol offense, and their defense will be among the WAC's best.

The best non-BCS league is the Mountain West. TCU was awesome in their league debut. Utah finished strong and will be better this year. BYU continues to get better under Bronco Mendenhall (this gave me a great excuse to type the name "Bronco Mendenhall"). San Diego State has a new coach, Chuck Long, and might actually figure out this "offense" thing in 2006. And UNLV, Air Force, New Mexico, and Wyoming may all bring up the rear in the league, but all four have a realistic shot at a winning season.

Which non-BCS conference team will have the best season?

I pegged UTEP last year. Close, but no cigar.

I like Navy this season. A lot.

I even liked Navy before I got the Phil Steele preview, which ranks Navy 30th (!) in the nation.

This Navy team has 16 returning starters, a favorable schedule, and a great chance at a ten-win season. I'm not sure their undersized defense can hold up for a twelve-game run, nor do I think they'll be able to topple Notre Dame, but the Middies have a realistic shot at a huge season for Paul Johnson.

Adam Ballard did a nice job trying to replace Kyle Eckel last year, and they have dynamic athletes at halfback in Karlos Whittaker and Reggie Campbell. Navy has a bigger offensive line than in past years, too.

Let's get your first read on this one...who will win the H*i*m*n? Oh, by the way, players whose last names begin with the letter "Q" are ineligible.

I know I took some shots at the Sooners' offensive line earlier, but I'm picking Adrian Peterson. He's a great inside/outside running threat, and even with Bomar being improved at quarterback, Peterson is the key to OU's offense. If they beat Texas or even stay competitive and then run the table against everyone else, the Sooners will be visible enough for Peterson to be a real candidate.


Orson Swindle said...

We'll post on it tomorrow, Bruce. Good job on the qs.

mdg said...

I have ranted some concerning Fresno State and the WAC, but I love breaking down the preseason. I will post more informative answers later today or tomorrow. but the quick ones...

1.Steele and TSN for different reasons.

2.Oklahoma, this team did not look too impressive in the Holiday bowl.

3.Pitt, the Panthers could win 11 games.
7.Michael Bush, he will post unbelievable numbers that the voters just might not be able to ignore.

Kyle King said...

I second what Orson said . . . nice job on the questions, Bruce.

The Dawg Sports answers are available here.

I'm a Realist said...

Thanks for the summons.

My answers

mdg said...

my detailed answers...

Orson Swindle said...

We answered hyah.

Schlossman said...

This college football post caught my eye, and I need to defend the boys from the U.

I think you can discount the loss in the Peach Bowl. Miami plays for national titles, not for Peach Bowls. They weren't very excited to be there and it showed.

I can't remember Miami losing a game since 1999 in which it was the underdog. Never doubt the Canes. Look what happened when everyone said they couldn't beat Va. Tech at night in Blacksburg.

The offense could struggle again. The Canes will be working with a new offensive line, and they are bringing in a new system.

But their defense will keep them in the game against any opponent. I don't think there is a better D in the nation. And remember, you heard it here first, Jon Beason (Big Beast) will be the best linebacker in the country. Unknown, underrated, and he's unbelievable.

Ohio State lost a load of defensive players, but the Buckeyes never try to win without defense. Agree with the Notre Dame comment.

I wouldn't expect Nebraska to be back just yet.

I'm still not sold on Rhett Bomar.

The Pac 10 is the most overrated conference in college football every year. Stanford finished in the middle of the pack last year and lost to Cal Davis (a team UND beat a couple years ago).

Mr. A said...

I like the love for Navy, a lot. however you should know their are 18 returning starters, and recently Freshmen sensation karlos WHittaker was dismissed from the team for unspecified reasons. That being said, the team is very deep talent wise at SB, including Georgia Tech transfer Zerb Singlton.

I'll be posting my response tonight/tommarow over at Pitch Right. Once again, good work.

dolphinfan said...

Here are my answers. Great questions. September can't get here quick enough!

Nestor16 said...

Bruce - hope it's not too late - we will post our responses on Monday.

Matt Glaude said...

Rock and roll, bitches!

My response is here:

Nestor16 said...

As promised reponse from Bruins Nation. Good Qs.

Ian said...

Here 'tis

Bring a's a doozy.

Anonymous said...

My humble attempt.


Chas said...

Honestly, I'm going by more instinct and bias at the moment. I'm just not feeling fully versed in the college football situation right now. I think of this as a way of exposing some instinctive biases.
Here's the whole thing.

Maize n Brew Dave said...

Excellent questions.

Some thoughts from Maize n Brew.

Badger Tracker said...

Hi Bruce! I'm not a Blogpoll member, but I chimed in anyhow:

If you like the site, link me, please!

tony said...

Good work, Bruce! Though I think I still have plenty of homework to do before camp starts!

AgRyan04 said...

My thoughts....

Joey said...

Sorry to be so late:

Joey said...