With the college football season now incredibly just 10 days away, it’s time to throw out five very bold predictions on the season.
Below are some thoughts on Florida, Notre Dame, and a surprise Top 25 team in the SEC.
1. Somehow, Florida’s offense will be worse in 2012 than it was in 2011:
Now for those of you who are regular readers of this site, you know that I’m not much of a fan of Will Muschamp or the Florida Gators. Then again, I can’t say that I necessarily blame Muschamp or Florida for my distaste of the program either. After all, it’s not Will Muschamp’s fault that Urban Meyer abandoned a sinking ship. It’s also not Will Muschamp’s fault that Meyer left him with significantly left talent than people realize. Unfortunately, it is Muschamp who is now forced to pick up the pieces.
Speaking of “picking up the pieces,” as few actual pieces as Muschamp had last year, he has even fewer entering this year. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are both gone, which individually don’t seem like huge losses on paper, until you remember that each averaged over five yards per carry last season, and each actually played well throughout at least the first quarter of the season.
As for what returns at the other skill positions? Well, it’s a hodgepodge of underachievers, injury prone guys, and others who don’t seem to entirely fit. Just based on last year’s results, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed looked like lost kids in a grocery store trying to fit into the new pro-style offense, and Andre DeBose is talented but injury prone. Meaning that just about the only guy who anyone seems to be able to count on at this point is Mike Gillislee at running back. After him, the Gators offense has more questions than your average episode of Jeopardy.
Then, there’s the schedule, which actually might be tougher than last year’s and is likely one of the two or three toughest in college football. Granted, there are some relative bright spots (Alabama is off the schedule, South Carolina is at home, LSU is also at home and off a bye), but there are also a whole lot of question marks and negatives as well. Beyond those LSU and South Carolina matchups (Florida is a combined 0-4 against the pair the last two years) they no longer get Georgia off a bye like they have in years past, have to go to Florida State, and also play Tennessee and Vanderbilt (two teams which should be significantly improved) on the road as well. Add in another road trip with Texas A&M and a visit from fellow SEC newbie Missouri, and I ask you: How many teams play a tougher schedule from that? Other than Notre Dame (more on them in a minute), I can’t think of a single team.
Now to Muschamp’s credit, he does thankfully have one of the best defenses in college football. Remember that this bold prediction wasn’t that “Florida will be worse” than last year, and if they’re not, it will be strictly because of that defense. That unit alone will keep the Gators in most games, and might even win them one or two.
The problem of course is the offense, and sadly that unit is looking like it’ll be nothing short of an abomination. We already listed the lack of skill position depth, but really, it is bigger than that.
For starters, there are Florida’s numbers, which were plain awful last year, the most important one being that the Gators finished 105th in college football. They averaged just 328 yards of total offense, third worst in the SEC behind only Ole Miss and Kentucky. And really, whenever you’re mentioned in the same breathe as Ole Miss and Kentucky, well, that’s never a good thing.
And the problem is that as bad as that number was, when you actually break things down, it’s even worse than it appears on paper. That’s because while it’s easy to forget now, Florida got off to a hot start last year, winning their first four games, in the process averaging 461 yards per game. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Of course that also means that over their last nine games, the Gators were straight up abominable, averaging 268 yards a contest. In two of those games the Gators didn’t even break 200 yards, including a visit to Auburn, which may have set offensive football back 10 years.
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the whole quarterback situation, which isn’t anywhere close to getting figured out so far. Poor Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are still green, and an open scrimmage Saturday only showed just far each has to go to be even semi-competent in Gainesville this season. To put the performance as simply as I can, the pair combined for three interceptions and neither completed more than 50 percent of their passes, not exactly numbers that are making UF fans giggle in anticipation of the start of the year.
Add it all up, and the infeasible all of a sudden isn’t quite so crazy: Florida’s offense will be worse in 2012 than it was last year.
2. Notre Dame will be better in 2012 than they were in 2011. Their record just won’t show it:
So look, if you came here expecting me to take a couple of cheap shots at Notre Dame, well, I’m sad to say you’ve come to the wrong place. For one, I still believe in Brian Kelly. For two, I’ve sworn off making fun of Charlie Weis (at least for this column, anyway). And for three, Notre Dame wasn’t as bad as you remember them being last year.
No seriously, they really weren’t.
Now, did the Irish disappoint? Absolutely, unequivocally and without a doubt. But were they that bad? When you break down the numbers, they weren’t necessarily. Of Notre Dame’s five losses, the Irish could’ve easily won four of them, with the only sure-fire, no-chance-in-hell defeat coming at the hands of Stanford in Palo Alto. Andrew Luck was simply too good that night.
But as for the other four losses? They were all winnable. And at the sake of making a few Notre Dame fans jump out their nearest office window, let’s take a quick look at each and see how the Irish essentially gave it away.
– In Week 1 against South Florida, Notre Dame fumbled on the four-yard line on their opening drive of the season and saw the Bulls return it 96 yards for a touchdown. That score was the difference in the game as Notre Dame lost 23-20.
– A week later against Michigan, the Irish had a 24-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, before giving up 28 points in the final 15 minutes to lose to the Wolverines. This game was also known as “The first time in recorded history anyone had seen Brady Hoke smile.”
– Against USC another long fumble recovery for a touchdown (this one by Jawanza Starling, this one “only” 95 yards) proved to be a crucial 14-point swing, as the Irish lost a closer-than-you-remember 31-17 matchup with the Trojans.
– And in their bowl game loss to Florida State, Notre Dame led 14-3 heading into the fourth before giving up 15 straight points and losing 18-14.
Notre Dame fans, feel free to commence that window jumping right now.
At the same time, it does in fact prove that as bad as Notre Dame’s record was last year, they themselves weren’t that bad. If the quarterback play improves even incrementally (and really, doesn’t it have to?) and the defense just does what it did last year (they finished 30th in the country nationally in total defense?) than why can’t the Irish improve on that 8-5 record? Especially given how winnable most of their losses were last year?
Oh, that’s right, I know why: Because the Irish play the single toughest schedule in college football this year.
No seriously, look at it. That sucker is tougher than the steak my sister cooked me for dinner the other night.
As best as these eyes can tell, the Irish only have two relatively certain wins on their schedule, November 3 at Boston College and the following weekend when Wake Forest comes to town. The rest of the Irish’s schedule is enough of a mental and physical grind to qualify them for an episode of The Great Escape.
There is the opener against Navy which is cute on paper (no, really, it is), but also one that is impossible to handicap at this point. Remember, the Irish have lost two of the last four to Navy… and the game is being played in freakin’ Ireland. As best my research can tell, there’s no data to back up how seven-hour transatlantic flights impact football performance, against quirky teams that run strange offenses. It’s the same in Week 2 against Purdue. How the heck will the Irish handle flying back the other way and playing seven days later in South Bend?
Should the Irish get through those two games, well, that’s when the fun truly begins. They play the next two weeks at Michigan State and home against Michigan, a couple clubs that just so happen to be arguably the top two teams in the Big Ten. After a bye, there is a game against Miami in Chicago, back-to-back visits from Stanford and BYU, which are then followed by a trip to Oklahoma (At this point, I’m honestly cringing just typing out the Irish’s schedule). The final stretch features a visit from upstart Pitt, those two winnable games I mentioned, and a finale with some club named USC. Ever heard of them? You know, the No. 1 team in the country?
Which brings me to my point: Did you see that schedule? Now, do you see the Irish winning more than eight games? They’ll need the luck of the Irish, and a miracle by Touchdown Jesus to make that happen.
3. West Virginia will not finish second in the Big XII, like most preseason publications predict:
Maybe it’s Dana Holgorsen’s mullet/Red Bull/sandal wearing at all times combination. Maybe it’s everyone’s unabashed love affair with Oliver Luck (and that includes myself, by the way. I can neither confirm nor deny that I sent Luck an e-card on Valentines Day last year). Or maybe it’s the 70 points they put up in the Orange Bowl last year. But whatever the reason, is there any team in college football which has received more love entering 2012 than the Mountaineers this season?
Actually, I take back what I just said: I do know why West Virginia is getting so much love entering the preseason, and it has everything to do with that Orange Bowl win. And in defense of those who are high on the Mountaineers, I can’t totally blame them. After all, West Virginia did put up the greatest offensive performance in the history of bowl games.
The problem is that no one seems to remember anything that actually happened prior to that game either. You know, like how West Virginia won their last three games of the regular season by a total of seven points? Or how if it weren’t for an injury to Zach Collaros, Cincy probably would’ve won the Big East? Or those ugly losses to Syracuse and Louisville (which were admittedly early in the year)? Does anyone remember that stuff? Not to mention that all those variables don’t even factor in the significant talent upgrade that the Mountaineers will face going from the Big East to the Big XII. Louisville, Cincinnati and UConn are off the schedule. Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State are on. Yeah, good luck with that Mountaineers fans.
Point being, I would be stunned if the Mountaineers were able to top, or even match last year’s 9-3 regular season. And a top two finish in the new Big XII? Forget about it.
Michigan State WILL go to the Rose Bowl:
Now if you’ve been paying attention closely this off-season, you’ll know that this isn’t truly a “bold” prediction for a few reasons. For starters, Michigan State is really, really good. Not to mention that a sixth of the Big Ten is actually ineligible to play in the Big Ten title game (Penn State and Ohio State can’t compete), and technically you could make the case that a quarter of the league is ineligible if you include Minnesota (which somehow may finish with -3 losses this year).
Really though, this isn’t about everyone else as much as it is about Michigan State. And man, do I like this club. I already went into great detail about it in last week’s college football over/under win totals column, so I won’t get into much more on it here. Just know that the Spartans will be able to run the ball as well as anyone in this conference (thanks to four returning starters on the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell getting back into the action), and they’ll also have the best defense of anyone in the Big Ten as well.
Speaking of the Big Ten, why can’t the Spartans win this conference? Yeah, the schedule is tougher, but they do get Ohio State and Nebraska at home, and although they travel to Michigan, the Wolverines just so happen to be a club Michigan State has beaten four straight times. Win those games and they’re almost assuredly in the Big Ten title game, almost assuredly against Wisconsin (a club which won’t have either Ohio State or Penn State to worry about in their division because of sanctions). And while I won’t bother trying to prognosticate a hypothetical Big Ten championship game four months in advance, what I will say is this: Once Michigan State does make it to Indianapolis, isn’t it no worse than a 50/50 proposition to get to Pasadena? I’m no math major, but those odds do seem correct.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I were a Michigan State fan, I might start looking into flight and hotel options right now. Definitely for Indianapolis, and almost assuredly to Pasadena.
5. At some point this season, Texas A&M will be a Top 25 team:
In all honesty, this is a tough day for me. After all, there is no one, not a single writer on the planet, who has shown the Aggies less love over the last few years than I have. NO-body. Now here I am, being all nice and stuff to Texas A&M? Who am I, and what did I do with the real Aaron Torres? For most of you, these last few sentences have to be more bizarre than seeing Urban Meyer and Lane Kiffin hitting the town for a double-date with their wives.
At the same time, please remember that I’m not saying Texas A&M is one of the 25 best teams in the country. I’m not. What I am saying is though, is that they return plenty of talent, are going to be much better coached and have a fairly manageable schedule (at least by SEC West standards), meaning that while they might not be one of the 25 best teams in the country, they will win games. And if they win enough games, they will find themselves in the position to actually be in the Top 25. Got it?
With A&M, let’s start with the first two dynamics I mentioned above, and begin with their talent and coaching. We all know that Kevin Sumlin is an upgrade over Mike Sherman (in the same way that saying Mila Kunis would be an upgrade as a girlfriend if you’d previously been dating Whoopi Goldberg) and to Sherman’s credit, he actually did leave quite a bit of talent for Sumlin to work with. The Aggies return four starters on the offensive line (including potential All-American Luke Joeckel), a near 1,000 yard-rusher in Christine Michael (and believe me, he would’ve gone for over 1,000 yards if Cyrus Gray wasn’t on the club last year), as well as two receivers in Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu who combined for nearly 140 catches last year. New quarterback Johnny Manziel doesn’t have to be great; as long as he’s not awful, this team will put up points.
Then there’s the schedule, which actually…isn’t terrible, at least by SEC standards. At worst A&M will be 3-1 after four games (sorry Louisiana Tech and SMU fans, it’s true) and could be 4-0 depending things go against Florida at home in Week 2. Based on what I mentioned in point No. 1 of this article, it’s a game I expect the Aggies to win, and with a matchup against South Carolina State a week later, the Aggies will either be 4-1 or 5-0 after five games. Either way, that’ll likely put them in the Top 25 right there.
Where it gets really interesting though is Week 5 against Arkansas. On paper, that’s a no-doubt-it, mismatch loss, right?
Or is it?
It sounds crazy to even consider the Aggies winning the game, until you remember that these two teams played last year, and for three quarters A&M was actually the better team. Texas A&M led 35-17 at the half and 35-27 after three quarters, before finding a way to lose. Unfortunately for Aggies fans, all they did was find new, and more painful ways to lose each and every week last season.
Well this year, could the tables turn? Remember Arkansas isn’t as talented as they were last year (don’t let Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis fool you, this team just isn’t as talented. Not after heavy losses on the defense and at wide receiver), they won’t be as well-coached and this game is at Kyle Field, not on a neutral field like 2011. I’m not saying an upset will happen. I’m not saying it can’t happen either.
And I guess in the end what I am saying is that at some point, A&M will be in the Top 25. When? I’m not totally sure. What their record will be at the time? I couldn’t tell you.
But it will happen.
That’s just one of my five bold predictions for the 2012 college football season.
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