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.