#6 Georgia, #9 USC, #17 Virginia Tech and #21 Louisville Are All Not As Good As Advertised

College Football Wrap-Up – Week 3

Reality sets in about the 3rd week of major college football, and this year was no exception.

The #6-Ranked Georgia Bulldogs got stung on-the-road at South Carolina, losing to the Gamecocks by a field goal, 38-35. South Carolina, upended in its opener at home against Texas A&M by 24 points, now does not look so bad, as A&M, then ranked #17 is now ranked #6 after beating in-state rival Rice 38-10.

South Carolina is not the only team rebounding after an upset loss. The Ohio State Buckeyes lost by 24 to Virginia Tech last week and shut out in-state rival Kent State 66-0 this week. After its tremendous win against Ohio State last week, #17 Virginia Tech was upset by unranked East Carolina this week, 28-21.

After its awesome defeat of Stanford last week, #9 USC traveled to Boston College and promptly lost 37-31. #15 Stanford, on the rebound, shut out Army 35-0. Army was using popguns, which was kind of like playing a junior college team.

Not to be outdone were the #21 Louisville Cardinals, who could not keep pace with Virginia, losing to the Cavaliers, 23-21.

So Georgia, USC, Virginia Tech and Louisville are all not as good as advertised as these 4 ranked teams lost, and all but Georgia lost to unranked teams. This is the reality of college football, even the best of the best can be upset any week, and especially in an away game. This kind of action is also why college football is more interesting than pro football.

So 4 ranked teams are upset, and 3 ranked teams are on the rebound after suffering upset loses.

So, who is left that is really still getting it done? That means ranked teams that beat unranked opponents by at least 3 touchdowns. There were 7:

#8 Baylor (3-0) beat Buffalo by 42. Baylor is college football’s all offense team with little or no defense, which is why they can get attention but never win a national championship.

#14 Ole Miss (3-0) beat Louisiana-Lafayette by 41. Ole Miss is trying to get national attention after so many years as a doormat in the SEC. Just how long will Ole Miss go undefeated?

#3 Alabama (3-0) beat Southern Mississippi by 40. Alabama under Nick Saban is the Crimson Tide, and Roll Tide is in the hunt for the national title every year.

#2 Oregon (3-0) beat Wyoming by 34. The Ducks continue to be in the race for national title in recent years.

#10 LSU (3-0) shut out in-state rival Louisiana-Monroe, 31-0.

#20 Missouri (3-0) beat UCF by 28. Every 10 years or so Missouri has a good team, but mostly the Tigers win off the radar when it comes to the national championship race.

#4 Oklahoma (3-0) beat Tennessee by 24. For years Tennessee had competitive teams in the SEC. No mas. Payton Manning left Tennessee 17 years ago.

Now let’s identify the Top 25 ranked teams that could not beat an unranked opponent by at least 3 touchdowns, indicating that they are not nearly in the same league at this point in the season. There were 4:

#11 Notre Dame (3-0) could only beat in-state rival Purdue by 16. Purdue is never in the hunt for anything, the Boilermakers are too busy trying to find boilers to fix.

#16 Arizona State (3-0) could only beat Colorado by 14. The Buffaloes are on hard times in Boulder.

#25 Brigham Young (3-0) could only beat Houston by 8.

#12 UCLA (3-0) could only beat Texas by 3. Texas was supposed to be better this year, but the Longhorns have now lost 2 of their first 3 games, which is, of course, not good.

Notre Dame, Arizona State, Brigham Young and UCLA will all get beaten this year, and all of them will likely lose more than one game.

Ten unranked teams managed to open the season at 3-0 this year but against weaker competition. All will continue to rise or fall during the coming weeks. Here they are followed by the Sagarin rankings of the opponent they beat:

Pittsburgh (3-0) beat #157 Florida International.

Northern Illinois (3-0) beat #117 UNLV.

North Carolina State (3-0) beat #115 South Florida.

Mississippi State (3-0) beat #111 South Alabama.

Georgia Tech (3-0) beat #107 Georgia Southern.

Duke (3-0) beat #102 Kansas.

Penn State (3-0) beat #90 Rutgers.

Nebraska (3-0) beat #84 Fresno State.

Washington (3-0) beat #82 Illinois from the Big Ten.

Arizona (3-0) beat #76 Nevada.

Justified or not, Nebraska moved up to #24 in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll. Although they played better ranked teams, Washington and Arizona did not move into the rankings, mostly because Nebraska is almost always overrated and Washington and Arizona are Pac-12 teams. This week’s inside joke: Big Ten teams are always thought to be better than Pac-12 teams.

There were two dramatic overtime games this week. Middle Tennessee nipped Western Kentucky in triple overtime, 50-47, and Florida got by Kentucky in quadruple overtime, 36-30. Florida (2-0) is an improved team this year.

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#3 Oregon Beats #7 Michigan State, #14 USC Nips #13 Stanford, and #8 Ohio State Loses

College Football Wrap-Up – Week 2

Oregon, Southern Cal and Virginia Tech came up big in week 2 of college football action.

The #7-Ranked Michigan State Spartans traveled to the West Coast and beat #3-Ranked Oregon 24-18 in the 1st half; the Ducks at home beat the Spartans 28-3 in the 2nd half and won the game by 19, 46-27. The Michigan State Spartans really blew their chance to jump into the Top 5 nationally and earn the kind of respect they want.

New Coach Steve Sarkisian and his #14 Southern Cal Trojans traveled to #13 Stanford and upset The Cardinal by a field goal, 13-10. You could call it close since Stanford was favored by 2.5 and lost by 3. USC called it a win, a big win against a big, physical Stanford 11.

#8 Ohio State at home took a butt-kicking from unranked Virginia Tech, 35-21. The Buckeyes, favored by 11, lost by 14.

In a much lesser upset this week, Nevada beat Washington State 24-13.

The nominee for the game with the least defense was Pac-12 Washington over in-state rival AA Eastern Washington, 59-52. This was hardly entertaining for Washington fans as the Huskies let rival Eagle QB Vernon Adams pass for 475 yards and 7 touchdowns. Eastern Washington is ranked #2 among AA schools nationally, but new Coach Chris Petersen has some work to do with the inexperienced Husky secondary. Washington did rush for 356 yards, and both teams combined for 1,100+ yards offense.

No less than 11 ranked teams had unranked teams as opponents this week, and all of them won.

Some won big:

#5 Auburn at home beat San Jose State by 46.

#4 Oklahoma on-the-road beat in-state rival Tulsa by 45.

#2 Alabama at home shut out Florida Atlantic by 41.

#15 Ole Miss on-the-road beat Vanderbilt by 38.

#17 Arizona State on-the-road beat New Mexico by 35.

#16 Notre Dame at home shut out Michigan by 31.

#24 Missouri on-the-road beat Toledo by 25.

At least one won not so big:

#21 South Carolina at home beat in-state rival East Carolina by 10.

And 3 ranked teams could only win by single digits:

#11 UCLA at home beat Memphis by 7.

#20 Kansas State on-the-road beat Iowa State by 4.

#21 North Carolina at home beat San Diego State by 4.

Synopsis: UCLA, Kansas State and North Carolina: Not as good as ranked.

No less than 8 Top 25 teams this week played AA opponents to pad their records, and all of them won.

Some won big:

#9 Texas A&M at home beat AA Lamar by 70.

#23 Clemson at home beat AA South Carolina State by 66.

#10 Baylor at home beat AA Northwestern State by 64.

#12 LSU at home shut out AA Sam Houston State by 56.

#25 Louisville at home beat AA Murray State by 45.

#18 Wisconsin at home beat AA Western Illinois by 34.

Some won less big:

#1 Florida State at home beat AA The Citadel by 25.

And one could only win by single digits:

#19 Nebraska at home beat AA McNeese State by 7.

Tell me that Florida State and Nebraska are really good this year. I hadn’t noticed.

There will be some more easy victories with AA competition next week before teams get down to league play and we begin to separate the wheat from the chaff, the contenders from the pretenders.

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Texas A&M Upsets South Carolina, 52-28; Florida State, Alabama & UCLA Just Get By

College Football Wrap-Up – Week 1

The first week of the 2014 NCAA college football season was business as usual—no less than 46 of the opening week’s 85 games (54%) found the Division 1-A teams playing weaker Division 1-AA opponents.

This happens for at least 4 reasons:

1) The major 1-A teams, what the NCAA brain trust calls the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), want at least one or two easy victories to start the season so they can be temporarily undefeated before they play tougher league competition (even the SEC teams do this).

2) Playing a much weaker team allows the major teams to give their first-time starters and younger players badly needed experience, and help build their confidence for the much tougher league games ahead.

3) Despite the preseason training, and however well it appears to go, there is nothing like game experience to reveal the weakness of a team’s offense and defense. Coaches also find out that some great practice players don’t do nearly as well under actual game pressure, and others come alive when it counts most.

4) Weaker AA teams, what the NCAA brain trust likes to call the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), buy into this competitive disparity because they get a huge monetary payoff to help fund their programs as well as the much needed publicity when they can upset the bigger-name program and team. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works because both teams benefit despite the obvious lack of competitive parity.

To preserve my sanity, and yours as well, all of my articles on this site this season will only use the national rankings of the AP Top 25 Poll of sportswriters and sportscasters, since it is the most popular poll among fans. I am 70, after all, and have been watching or covering college football for 50+ years, and need all of the focus I can get.

A new twist this year will be to focus on Phil Steele’s preseason Top 13 Surprise Teams (ST) and Top 12 Most Improved Teams (MIT). Phil Steele is the most accurate forecaster in the world when it comes to major college football, and is worth following (see my earlier posts on Phil Steele that came out last week).

Phil’s Surprise Teams this year are (in order) Georgia, USC, Wisconsin, TCU, North Carolina, Mississippi, Iowa, LSU, Virginia Tech, Texas, Florida, Notre Dame and Northwestern.

Phil’s Most Improved Teams this year are (in order) TCU, Florida, Northwestern, Air Force, Nevada, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Tennessee, NC State, Army, Akron and Indiana.

Let’s analyze the margins of victory in the first week’s results of these AA lopsided game opponents. As you read through these results, see what conclusions you can draw compared to mine:

+65 Texas State at home over AA Arkansas-Pine Bluff 65-Zip – Texas State is on neither of Phil Steele’s list of Surprise Teams or Most Improved Teams, but then again, winners always announce themselves.

+63 Memphis at home skunked AA Austin Peay 63-Nothing – Memphis is one of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams this year, and now you know why.

+62 Pittsburgh at home blanked AA Delaware 62-Zip – About time these Panthers came to life.

+45 Kentucky at home over AA UT Martin 59-14 – Martin is an extension of the University of Tennessee.

+54 Middle Tennessee at home over AA Savannah State 61-7

+52 Northern Illinois at home over AA Presbyterian 55-3

+49 #3-Ranked Oregon at home over AA South Dakota 62-13

+45 Maryland at home over AA James Madison 52-7 – This is about as good as it will ever get for the Maryland Terripans. Speed kills in college football. Unless the football season goes to 100 games, those turtles are never going to catch the rabbits.

+45 #11-Ranked Stanford at home blanked AA UC Davis 45-0. The University of California at Davis football players became road kill for the always physical Stanford players in this one. Stanford is not happy with the talent it lost to UCLA and USC, and they aim to do something about it.

+45 East Carolina at home over AA in-state rival North Carolina Central 52-7

+42 Utah at home over AA Idaho State 56-14

+41 Akron at home blanked AA Howard, 41-0 – Remember that Akron is one of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams. Ohio (Akron’s home state) seems like a good place to be at the moment. After all, LeBron James has returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Ohio State garnered a #5 ranking in the AP Top 25 Pre-Season Poll.

+39 Duke at home over AA Elon 52-13 – This is a Duke team that should win by 39 points.

+39 UL Lafayette at home over AA Southern 45-6

+39 #20-Ranked Kansas State at home over AA Stephen F. Austin 55-16

+38 #8-Ranked Michigan State at home over AA Jacksonville State 45-7

+34 TCU at home over AA Samford 48-14 – TCU is one of Phil Steele’s Surprise Teams.

+34 Toledo at home over AA New Hampshire 54-20

+32 San Jose State at home over AA North Dakota 42-10

+31 #19-Ranked Arizona State at home over AA Weber State 45-14

+31 San Diego State at home over AA Northern Arizona 38-7

+28 Air Force at home over AA Nicholls State 44-16 – Air Force is one of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams.

+27 #23 Ranked North Carolina at home over AA Liberty 56-29 – North Carolina is one of Phil Steele’s Surprise Teams.

+27 Arkansas State at home over AA Montana State 37-10

+25 Virginia Tech at home over AA William & Mary (aka Bill & Mary) 34-9

+22 Minnesota at home over AA Eastern Illinois 42-20

+20 Ball State at home over AA Colgate 30-10

+20 #24-Ranked Missouri at home over AA South Dakota State 38-18

+19 Georgia Tech at home over AA Wofford 38-19

+18 New Mexico State at home over AA Cal Poly 28-10

+18 Indiana at home over AA in-state rival Indiana State 28-10 – Indiana is another of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams.

+15 Oregon State at home over AA in-state rival Portland State 29-14 –Thought sure that the Beavers would beat Portland State by more than 15 points. Looks like Mike Riley needs more firepower, and a better defense.

+13 Old Dominion at home over AA Hampton 41-28 – When you cover college football for 50 years, some of us old-timers are surprised that Old Dominion is a 1-A football school. The surprise will be all ours if the Monarchs win more games than they lose.

+11 Illinois at home over AA Youngstown State 28-17

+10 Buffalo at home over AA Duquesne 38-28

+9 Nevada at home over AA Southern Utah 28-19 – Nevada is another of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams.

+8 Iowa at home over AA in-state rival Northern Iowa 31-23 – In-state rivals can play tough as Iowa found out. Iowa is one of Phil Steele’s Surprise Teams. The Hawkeyes better get more surprising before they enter Big Ten Conference play!

+7 Texas Tech at home over AA Central Arkansas 42-35

+5 Wyoming at home over AA Montana 17-12 – Both of these states are short on people and also scoring. Montana is 44th of 50 states with barely 1 million population, and Wyoming is the smallest of 50 states with less than 600,000. You need to have a big gas tank when traveling through Wyoming.

+5 South Florida at home over AA Western Carolina 36-31.

+4 Central Michigan at home over AA Chattanooga 20-16 – The Chippewas were behind 16-7 at the half, but came to their senses and won the 2nd half 13-0.

+3 Eastern Michigan at home over AA Morgan State 31-28 – Seriously, Eastern Michigan Eagles, you win by a field goal and give up 4 touchdowns to Morgan State?

+2 Florida International at home over AA Bethune-Cookman 14-12 – It’s truly good that Florida International actually beat AA Bethune-Cookman, otherwise, FIU might not win another game this season. Last year they finished at 1-11.

+1 Georgia State at home squeaked by AA Abilene Christian 38-37 – Georgia State is a relatively new 1-A team, and not progressing very fast, even apparently against AA competition.

+1 Syracuse at home needs two overtimes to beat AA Villanova 27-26 – Does Syracuse, at one time a competitive 1-A school, miss the legendary Jim Brown? You betcha, and then some, even more than the Cleveland Browns.

Minus 20 – Iowa State at home was upset by AA North Dakota State 34-14 – So, just how bad are the Iowa State Cyclones? Apparently, they are really, really bad. Iowa State ends up being the ONLY 1-A team unable to beat its AA opponent during the first week of the 2014 college football season. Apparently the Bison from Fargo are not too shabby!

What is your analysis of these AA games? Here is mine:

1) In 50+ years of watching and covering college football, I can say that unless an A team beats a double-A team by 40+ points, they are probably not ready for prime play in the next few weeks.

So at least a dozen teams get attention right now because they have an offense—Texas State, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, Stanford, East Carolina, Utah and Akron.

The best victory over an AA team was Texas State stomping a mud hole in Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a 65-0 shutout. When you can put 65 points on the board and keep your opponent scoreless, you are damn serious about playing football.

The worst victories were by Georgia State and Syracuse; both won by 1 against AA teams. The worst performance came from the players at Iowa State, whom lost to AA North Dakota State by 20.

Forty-five of the 46 teams that played AA teams won, that’s 98%. No wonder they do it. The only team to not escape was Iowa State. And that is the risk—that you may be very embarrassed by a lesser opponent.

AA upsets can and do happen.

In 2011, the Oregon State Beavers allowed AA Sacramento State to pull off a 29-28 victory in overtime.

In 2010, Jacksonville State, an AA team from the Ohio Valley Conference, overcame a 21-point deficit to upend Mississippi 49-48, marking only the second ever loss by an SEC team (Southeastern Conference) to an AA team.

In another stunning AA win in 2010, No. 13-ranked Virginia Tech lost at home to the James Madison Dukes, 21-16, in what had to be one of the worst – if not the worst – defeats in Hokie history. To add insult to injury, Virginia Tech was favored by 33 points, and failed to cover by 39, which could not have made Hokie boosters happy as they went home broke.

In the first week of the 2007 season, visiting AA Appalachian State pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college football history when the Mountaineers knocked off then 5th-ranked Michigan, 34-32, on a final play blocked field goal attempt at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Some fans think Appalachian State’s upset was THE greatest in history since no AA team had beaten a team ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll between 1989 and 2006—an 18-year period—and it’s unlikely that it had ever happened before since the Division I subdivisions were created in 1978.

Here are the results of the only 3 games with ranked opponents colliding during the first week:

#9-Ranked South Carolina at home, favored by 10.5, was upset by #21-Ranked Texas A&M by 24 points, 52-28—a swing in the wrong direction for the Gamecocks of no less than 34. In order to appreciate how close this game was, the Aggies were up 31-14 at halftime. Many pundits thought losing star QB Johnny Manziel (drafted #22), OT Jake Matthews (#6) and WR Mike Evans (#7) in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft would hurt Texas A&M this year.

So how bad did Texas A&M miss hotshot Johnny Manziel? Not too much. New Aggie QB Kenny Hill carved up South Carolina, breaking Manziel’s single-game passing record with 511 yards, ending the Gamecock’s 18-game home win streak, and becoming the most passing yards given up in Steve Spurrier’s 10 years as coach at South Carolina. You can pretty much say goodbye to South Carolina winning the national championship this year; it’s unlikely that the Gamecocks will make it to the SEC title game.

#12 Georgia at home beat #16 Clemson 45-21. Georgia is Phil Steele’s #1-Ranked Surprise Team this year.

#13 LSU on-the-road beat #14 Wisconsin 28-24 – Phil Steele had both LSU and Wisconsin both as two of his Surprise Teams this year.

In other notable games this week:

#7-Ranked UCLA, favored by 21 on-the-road, could only beat unranked Virginia by 8, 28-20

#15-Ranked USC, favored by 22 at home, acted like it, ripping unranked Fresno State by 39 points, 52-13.

#2-Ranked Alabama, favored by 26 at home, could only beat unranked West Virginia by 10, 33-23, and the Crimson Tide defense had trouble stopping the Mountaineer offense.

#1-Ranked Florida State, favored by 17.5 on-the-road, could only beat unranked Oklahoma State by 6, 37-31. So last year’s national champion gave up 31 points to the unranked Cowboys.

#25-Ranked Washington, favored by 17 on-the-road, could only beat unranked Hawaii a point, 17-16, and was lucky to get out of Honolulu with a victory. Washington would not have won without speedy sophomore wideout John Ross, the fastest Husky and one of the fastest players in college football. Ross scored on a 20-yard reverse, and then smoked the Warriors on a 91-yard catch and run. The dude can fly. The Husky defense gave up 424 yards of total offense, and at times could not stop Hawaii from moving the ball. None of this bodes well for Washington making a serious run in the Pac-12 race.

Tulsa at home outlasted Tulane 38-31 in double overtime.

Unranked Washington State, favored by 8 at home, was upset by unranked Rutgers, 41-38. Same Washington State again—lots of offense, not so much defense. Mike Leach needs to recruit some defenders or he is going to lose some track meets on the turf.

Unranked Vanderbilt, favored by 13.5 at home, was upset by unranked Temple, 37-7, in a rout.

That wraps up 2014’s Week 1 of college football. Come back for next week’s results.

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Who Will Be This Year’s Surprise Team in College Football?

If you want to increase your knowledge about college football, stop watching the television experts and radio talking heads who love football, have played football in many cases, and like to bloviate about their alma mater.

Just go to your local newsstand and buy a copy of Phil Steele’s 2014 College Football Preview. Steele is the best of the best, and there is no close second. That’s why I pay attention to Phil Steele.

Every year Phil Steele picks his surprise teams among the non-automatic qualifying teams, teams that do not compete in the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten. Here is why you may want to read what he has to say:

In 2006 he picked Boise State to get into a BCS Bowl game, and the Broncos went undefeated at 13-0, got to the Fiesta Bowl, and upset Oklahoma (yeah, now you remember).

In 2007 he picked Hawaii to go 12-0 in the regular season and grab a Sugar Bowl berth, and that is exactly what the Warriors did.

In 2008 he picked the Utah Utes, who were not ranked in the Top 25 or projected to win the Mountain West Conference, and Utah finished unbeaten at 13-0 and ended up ranked #2 in the nation.

In 2009 he picked Boise State and the Broncos beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and finished #4 in the nation.

In 2010 he picked the TCU Horned Frogs, who went undefeated at 13-0, knocked off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and finished #2 in the nation.

In 2011 he picked Boise State (for the 3rd time), and the Broncos finished 12-1, losing to TCU on a missed field goal that might have prevented them from playing LSU in the national championship game.

In 2012 he picked Central Florida (UCF), like, yeah, whoever heard of Central Florida? The Knights went 10-4, losing to undefeated Ohio State by 15 points, Missouri by 5, and twice to Tulsa by a combined 8 points. Last year Central Florida went 12-1 and knocked off #6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42. So Steele was a year early on this one, but at least he saw it coming.

In 2013 he picked Fresno State as the #1 Surprise Team (the Bulldogs finished 11-2) and Northern Illinois #2 (the Huskies went 12-2), and both teams ended up as the #1 and #2 non-Big 5 conference teams.

So here are Phil Steele’s Top Non-Power 5 Teams for 2014:

1) Marshall Thundering Herd

2) UCF Knights

3) Boise State Broncos

4) Houston Cougars

5) BYU Cougars

6) Cincinnati Bearcats

7) Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

8) Toledo Rockets

And here are Phil Steele’s 2014 Surprise Teams among the Big 5 Conferences:

1) Georgia Bulldogs

2) USC Trojans

3) Wisconsin Badgers

4) TCU Horned Frogs

5) North Carolina Tar Heels

6) Mississippi Rebels

7) Iowa Hawkeyes

8) LSU Tigers

9) Virginia Tech Hoakies

10) Texas Longhorns

11) Florida Gators

12) Notre Dame Fighting Irish, an Exception as an Independent

13) Northwestern Wildcats (a Long Shot)

And, while we are at it, here are Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams for 2014:

1) TCU

2) Florida

3) Northwestern

4) Air Force

5) Nevada

6) Louisiana Tech

7) Memphis

8) Tennessee

9) NC State

10) Army

11) Akron

12) Indiana

If you want to know another 100,000+ facts about college football in 2014, buy Phil Steele’s book. You won’t find the good stuff any other place, and, yes, this is an unsolicited and unpaid testimonial because Phil Steele and his staff work their butts off so you can be informed, and they deserve the credit, not the pundits on television and radio.

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2014 Associated Press Top 25 College Football Pre-Season Picks

Here is this year’s Associated Press Top 25 college football pre-season picks. The top 10 picks are exactly the same teams in the Top 25 Coaches Poll, but in a slightly different order (numbers 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are in the exact same order in the Coaches Poll).

Some commentary is added on my part to stir the pot and elicit response from you the reader. You can email me at:


If you see things differently and want to spout off with a clever comment like “I’ll be dead before Tulane wins a national football championship” (that would make two of us), send me an email. I may publish it so watch what you say.

So here’s how the nation’s sportswriters and sportscasters see the upcoming top picks:

1) Florida State – This is hardly a surprise. Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles ran the table last year at 14-0, winning the national championship 34-31over Auburn with 13 seconds left on a 2-yard touchdown pass, breaking the SEC’s 7-year grip on the national title. Florida won in 2006 and 2008, LSU won in 2007, Alabama won in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and Auburn won in 2010. Florida State set a national record last year by scoring 723 points (51+ PPG), and returns 13 starters and the Heisman Trophy winner, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, now a sophomore.

2) Alabama – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has won 3 national titles in 5 years. The 2 years they did not win the title they were the AP pre-season #1 favorite. Saban has lost only 7 games in 5 years and, yes, Alabama is a powerhouse that attracts players like bees to honey.

3) Oregon – Former Coach Chip Kelly won 46 games in 4 years and turned Oregon into a national contender before bolting to the NFL and Philadelphia Eagles. His replacement, Mark Helfrich, inherited 15 starters his first year and went 11-2 with a team that thought they should have been in the national championship game. Oregon lost to Stanford and Arizona last year and barely beat Oregon State. The Ducks may have a higher opinion of themselves than they deserve. Helfrich and his Ducks host Michigan State after opening against South Dakota, a double-A team that went 4-8 last year. We will see how Oregon holds up against Michigan State.

4) Oklahoma – Bob Stoops and his Sooners went 11-2 last year and beat Alabama 45-31 in the BCS Sugar Bowl. The BCS system is over this year, replaced by a 4-team playoff selected by a panel of real people and not polls and computer rankings. Oklahoma just may have a shot to be in the Top 4 when the regular season ends. The Sooners have won 41 straight games when leading at the half; only Oregon has a longer streak at 60.

5) Ohio State – Coach Urban Meyer won 24 straight games at Ohio State over two seasons before the Buckeyes lost their last two last year to Michigan State 34-24 for the Big Ten title, and to Clemson 40-35 in the Orange Bowl. The season has started badly for the Buckeyes as senior quarterback Braxton Miller will be out for the rest of the year after reinjuring his shoulder. Meyer is a great coach (he won 2 national titles at Florida), but it hurts to lose your star quarterback.

6) Auburn – Coach Gus Malzahn was 13 seconds from winning the national title last year in his first year at Auburn. He went 12-2, beating Alabama and losing to LSU before taking Florida State to the limit in the national championship game. Can he get that close again? He returns 14 starters, but will be on the road against both Georgia and Alabama. Good luck with that, especially since Auburn is in the SEC West Division with Alabama.

7) UCLA – Jim Mora starts his 3rd year as coach of the Bruins. Last year marked the first time in 16 years that the Bruins beat Southern Cal (USC) and won a bowl game in their last two games (42-12 over Virginia in the Sun Bowl). Mora returns 17 starters, 9 on offense and 8 on defense, and he aims to win the Pac-12 South Division ahead of USC. UCLA might do exactly that.

8) Michigan State – Disclaimer: I have competed for Michigan State in the Big Ten, and I graduated from Michigan State on time (within 4 years) with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism. Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this about Michigan State: The Spartans have flirted with becoming a premier national power in the hunt for the national title, and now they are high enough up the AP Top 25 Pre-Season Poll to make a bid to be 1 of the final 4 teams in this year’s first 4-team playoff system (the BCS system is no more). Michigan State was ranked #2 nationally in Total Defense last year and #3 in Scoring Defense.

Given their prior performance over the years, I would not have bet even 10 cents that the Spartans would go 13-1 last season, beat Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State in the regular season, win the Big Ten title, beat #5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and finish the season ranked #3 in the nation, ahead of #4 South Carolina, #5 Missouri, #6 Oklahoma, #7 Alabama, #8 Clemson and #9 Oregon. But there it is.

I am not the least surprised that they start this year ranked #8 in the pre-season poll, behind Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn and UCLA, all schools that enjoy the perception of having more prestigious football programs. Only the Michigan State Spartans and Coach Mark Dantonio can change this perception.

9) South Carolina – Coach Steve Spurrier returns 14 starters to an 11-2 team that beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl last year. The Gamecocks must get by Georgia and Missouri in the SEC East, and play away games at Auburn and Clemson before even getting shot at Alabama, Auburn or LSU for the SEC title. This is a little like taking on a tiger with one hand tied behind your back.

10) Baylor – The Bears were 11-2 last year, beat Texas, got waxed by Oklahoma State, and lost to #15 Central Florida 52-42 in a Fiesta Bowl game with no defense. Here is all you need to know about the Bears: They don’t recruit defenders and coach defense at Baylor, only offense. Baylor was #1 nationally in Total Offense last year, #2 in Scoring Offense and #2 in Team Passing Efficiency, and #28 in Total Defense and #36 in Scoring Defense. In other words, Baylor is all offense and not enough defense, and until Coach Art Briles does something about it, the Bears will be going nowhere 98 miles an hour.

Note: The chances of any team ranked #11 or lower winning the national title is slim to none. The exceptions are few; that’s why I am not wasting ink on any of them. The team with the best chance may be Georgia. The team not even in the Top 25 with a totally unexpected chance just might be Florida. Florida State from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) may have won the national title last year, but you do not want to get into a bragging contest with the SEC (that’s the Southeastern Conference for the uninitiated).

11) Stanford

12) Georgia

13) LSU

14) Wisconsin

15) USC

16) Clemson

17) Notre Dame

18) Ole Miss

19) Arizona State

20) Kansas State

21) Texas A&M

22) Nebraska

23) North Carolina

24) Missouri

25) Washington

Posted in College Football 2014 | Leave a comment