Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Looking ahead at the 2010 college football season

This week is college football preview week here at MGCR. I'll have my 2010 University of Houston preview up in a few days, and a preview of the North Texas Mean Green is on its way as well. But first, I wanted to take a look at what are expected to be the top (and bottom) teams going into the 2010 season, and make a prediction as to which team will win the BCS National Championship at the end.

This year, I created my own list of what are expected to be the top teams going into the season by considering eight different preseason polls. I included six "human" preseason polls - the AP sportswriters' and USA Today coaches' polls, picks from from the networks NBC and CBS, and top 25 lists from online sports publications Athlon and collegefootballnews.com - and two preseason computer polls - the Congrove computer's preseason rankings available at collegefootballpoll.com, and Jeff Sagarin's preseason rankings posted at USA Today.

Thirteen teams were ranked in the top 25 by all eight of these preseason polls; another three were ranked by seven of the eight polls (Oklahoma was seen as a top-25 program by everybody except CBS Sports, while Sagarin didn't have Wisconsin or Pittsburgh in its top 25). I selected all fifteen of those schools, added all the rankings together and then divided by eight to come up with a "consensus" preseason top 15 for the 2010 season (click on it to read it better):

You can argue that I chose the wrong polls or should have weighted them unequally or included more schools or whatever. But this was just for fun, and besides: as Todd points out, preseason polls are wrong more often then they're right, so they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Alabama is the preseason favorite by all six of the human polls I selected. The two computer polls are slightly less impressed with the Crimson Tide; Sagarin has them 3rd and Congrove has them 4th. The same can generally be said for Ohio State; five of the six human polls have them second, but both computers put the Buckeyes sixth.

Florida averages third and is ranked in the top ten by all eight polls, including first by Sagarin. Boise State, which averages fourth, is ranked in the top ten by all the human polls. The two computer polls, however, differ dramatically as to the Broncos; Sagarin has them outside of the top ten while Congrove has them first. The two computers also like Texas, who average fifth: both of them rank the Longhorns second in the nation. The human voters are more varied in their preseason evaluations of Mack Brown's team, although the AP writers, the coaches and CBS all have Texas in the top five.

TCU averages sixth. All of the polls except for Athlon have the Horned Frogs in the top ten, with NBC and Congrove ranking TCU as high as 3rd. Six of the seven polls, likewise, have Oklahoma in the top ten, with NBC ranking them as high as 4th and CFN, Sagarin and Congrove all placing the Sooners fifth. CBS, however, is not nearly as impressed with OU: they don't even have them in the top 25.

Rounding out the top ten are Virginia Tech, Oregon and Nebraska. Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Pittsburgh and LSU take spots 11 through 15 in my consensus top fifteen.

In case anybody is wondering, USC would have been 12th on this list had I included them. However, they were only ranked by six of the eight polls I picked; the coaches poll does not rank teams on probation and Congrove has the Trojans outside of its top 25. Miami, likewise, would have been 13th, but Athlon and Sagarin don't rank the Hurricanes in their preseason top 25.

On the opposite end of the Football Bowl Subdivision spectrum are what are expected to be the nation's worst football teams in 2010. For that, we have ESPN's famous preseason Bottom Ten, as well as preseason lists that rank all 120 teams, such as CFN, CBS, Pre-Snap Read, Congrove and Sagarin. The bottom line: if you're a fan of Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky, Tulane, North Texas or any FBS school in the state of New Mexico, you're probably in for a long year (although I will explain in a subsequent post why there is hope for the Mean Green).

So that's the top and the bottom going in to 2010. Who is going to come out of the 2010 season with the BCS title? Here are my predictions for the season ahead:

1. Neither Alabama nor Florida will make it through the regular season undefeated. Yes, the Crimson Tide are the reigning BCS champions. Yes, they bring back eight starters including 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram on offense. But Alabama is replacing almost its entire starting defense. Florida, for its part, has to replace several of last year's key players, not the least of which is Tim Tebow. Furthermore, it's tough to go undefeated in SEC play: Florida didn't do it when they won the conference and BCS Championship in 2006 and 2008, and LSU didn't do it when they did the same in 2007. That the Crimson Tide managed to do it last season is a testament to how good they were last year. I simply don't expect them to pull off the same feat two years in a row, nor do I expect the Gators to be able to do so even if they can regain last year's form. One loss probably won't hurt either team's shot at the BCS title; however, and as with seasons past it's likely all going to come down to who wins the conference.

2. Ohio State won't go undefeated, either. Terelle Pryor and the Buckeyes are very good and in my opinion are deserving of their #2 preseason ranking. But they have road games against Iowa, which returns 14 starters from last year's 11-2 season, and Wisconsin, which returns practically everyone on an offense that led the Big Ten in both yards gained and scoring last year. Ohio State also has tough home contests against Miami and Penn State. That's not a schedule that's conducive to an undefeated season regardless of how good the Buckeyes are. Like Alabama or Florida, the question for Ohio State is if they can limit the number in their loss column to 1.

3. Nebraska, on the other hand, will go undefeated. No more Ndamukong Suh? No problem! Just take a look at the Huskers' cakewalk of a schedule. They play a bunch of patsies out-of-conference, the rest of the Big 12 North is weak, they miss Oklahoma this year and they get the Longhorns (less Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley) at home one mere week after the Texas-Oklahoma showdown in Dallas. Sure, the Huskers have a big question mark at quarterback. And yes, that late-season road trip to Texas A&M is going to be tough. But if the Huskers can maintain a stifling defense and find something resembling an offense, they could enter December with the clearest shot at the BCS National Championship game.

4. No matter how well they do, neither Boise State nor TCU will play for the national title. Aside from the fact that I really don't see either of these teams going undefeated - I fully expect Virginia Tech to knock off Boise State this weekend, as a matter of fact - there is absolutely, positively no way that the exclusionary BCS system will allow a school from a non-automatically-qualifying conference to play for the national title.

5. Oregon and Virginia Tech will be good, but not national-title good. The Ducks and the Hokies both look to build on last year's ten-win seasons. But both schools nevertheless face tough schedules that will probably cost a loss or two. While I think that USC is overrated, Oregon nevertheless has hard road dates against Cal and Oregon State in the Pac-10. And even if Virginia Tech gets past Boise State this weekend, they're still facing formidable ACC matchups against Georgia Tech and Miami in November. Finally, while the Pac-10 and the ACC are both very solid conferences, neither conference is "top-heavy" in that multiple teams are highly ranked. That will lead to a perception, albeit unfair, that they played "soft" schedules.

So what's going to happen? Truth is, I foresee a logjam of one-loss teams going into conference championship Saturday after the final week of the regular season: Alabama, Florida, Texas and/or Oklahoma, Ohio State, and even Oregon and Virginia Tech could all be sitting at one loss, and the resulting implications regarding BCS chaos and controversy would be enormous.

But here's how I see things shaking out: Ohio State will be penalized by their idleness - their season ends two weeks before conference championship Saturday, which means they will be out of the minds of the voters - while Oregon and Virginia Tech will be passed over because neither of them faced any top-ten competition in-conference. That means that the Big 12 and SEC championship games will end up determining the participants of the BCS title game. Alabama will defeat Florida in the SEC Championship, while Nebraska will take care of either Texas or Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Alabama will then go on to hand the Huskers their only loss of the season in the BCS National Championship Game, thereby securing themselves their second consecutive college football championship.

Of course, I'll probably be wrong about this prediction, just as I have every season before.

Other preseason rankings worth reading are Andy's Staples' top 25 list at Sports Illustrated (I didn't include him in my list because he is already an AP voter) and the exhuastive 120-school countdown over at Pre-Snap Read. For more BCS bowl predictions, see the list that Sports Illustrated put together. Finally, for readers looking for a comprehensive list of each week's televised college football games, I recommend this site.

Let the fun begin!

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