Last year in this spot, I boldly proclaimed a populist rebellion was coming--that the peasants of the college football world were going to overthrow the establishment. By January, Arkansas had come out of nowhere, Wake Forest won the ACC and Boise State stunned the world by winning the Fiesta Bowl. To be perfectly honest, in most cases, I missed my guess on which individual team would do the winning. But the basic undercurrent of surprise remained an essentially correct prediction.
This year I see a lot of stabilty, at least at the top of the polls. USC is the #1 team in the country and John David Booty the default choice for the Heisman until further notice. I think where it may get wide open is in the race for at-large BCS berths. The full impact of the BCS expansion didn't really hit the major conferences last year. Boise State and Notre Dame qualifying kept it at two bids for the power conferences. But I don't see a midmajor power crashing the party this year. And while the Irish are on the right track, the inexperience on offense and the crushingly tough early schedule will keep them out of the BCS. Look for ND to play improved defense, to jell offensively and to sneak into the Gator Bowl, as a preview of bigger things in '08.
Here's the picks for each major conference, along with the four at-large bids and of course the two slots in New Orleans on January 7.
Patrick White and Steve Slaton continue to explode over the Big East. West Virginia wins this one in a runaway. The coaching change in Louisville, along with weakness in the D-Line and secondary, sends the Cards back to the obscure bowl level.
This is one of the most improved leagues in the country and will bring Wake Forest back to earth. Georgia Tech is as good as last year, when they reached the title game. I expect a more traditional race for the top though, with Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami joining Boston College in a race for the crown. Look for Frank Beamer and Tech to go to Jacksonville and win the championship game in December, in a year where Virginia Tech is everyone's sentimental favorite. Only downside: the strength of the league and a September trip to Baton Rouge keep the Hokies out of the national title battle.
As noted in yesterday's more detailed post, I like Wisconsin to edge Michigan in our home conference.
How Nick Saban got on the cover of the most recent Sports Illustrated, I have no idea. This is the most overhyped return to college ball I've heard of yet. It's Saban's old school that's going to live up to its billing. LSU wins a tough Western Division, edging out Auburn. The Tigers then go to Atlanta, knock off Tennesee and come home to be USC's whipping boy in the national title game.
Nebraska is back, joining Texas and Oklahoma in the race for conference honors and national recognition. The Huskers edge OU for the league title. In the race for BCS bids keep this in mind--the Texas-Oklahoma loser has a better chance of getting an at-large then the winner does (presuming that Nebraska, or any other team from the North does indeed win the championship). The major bowls prefer teams that haven't traveled to a conference title game and are coming off a loss.
This conference is more then USC this year. UCLA has its best team since 1998, and the Trojan-Bruin battle will be a clash of unbeatens, the Pac-10 version of what the Big Ten saw with Michigan-Ohio State last year. Look for Arizona and Oregon State to make noise as well. I think Cal is overrated as a threat to win the conference, or even go to the BCS. Pete Carroll has his best team this year, and he needs it to win this much-improved conference.
So the major bowl picture then shapes up as follows:
BCS National Championship Game
USC over LSU