With the college football season now just hours away it’s time to make predictions for the winner for each of the 11 conferences. I wanted to be controversial and interesting, but with few exceptions I couldn’t get past the chalk. (odds to win the conference are from Bovada)
Florida State (1/1) has come into the last couple of seasons with major expectations, and the Seminoles have found creative ways to disappoint each year. This year they are more talented than they have been in a decade, and the expectations are higher than they have been in that time as well. I don’t love the culture of this team, so I hesitate to trust them. They have such a talent edge in the ACC, though — I really don’t like Clemson this year — that I have no choice but to trust them. It’s a tentative trust, though.
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The Big East is a pathetic conference right now, so it is quite possible that no team from the group will wind up ranked. Louisville (2/1) is the only team that is marginally interesting to me. Coach Charlie Strong is talented and entering his third year, so he should be ready to make his mark on this program. He has a potentially excellent QB in Teddy Bridgewater to work with, and a very manageable schedule.
Oklahoma (1/1), like Florida State, has been consistently disappointing in recent years despite big expectations. They did the right things to fix their defense this offseason, though, and they have a QB in Landry Jones who should have a special season. The Big 12 is very tough, and I have a lot of respect in particular for West Virginia (5/1). The Mountaineers face a big adjustment in their change of geography, though, so the Sooners have the edge.
I’ll admit I am biased here, but it’s not just because I’m a huge Michigan fan that I am picking the Wolverines (2/1) here. The math is simple — they have the best player in the conference in Denard Robinson, an outstanding coach in his second year with the program, and improved depth in problem areas. The schedule is tougher than would be ideal — starting with Alabama in their opener — but they are going to be good. Ohio State can’t win, and despite having a pretty easy route to the championship game I think Wisconsin (3/2) is overrated. It’s Robinson’s world, and this year he’ll prove it.
USC (5/9). Nothing to debate here. There is a lot of talent in this league right now, but the rest of the teams are either on the rise, rebuilding, or, in the case of Oregon, full of culture issues that really scare me. USC has a very good QB, the best receiver in the country, a strong running back, a great defense — the list goes on.
LSU (5/2) gets the nod in the two-horse race against Alabama (2/1). There are three reasons I am going against the defending national champs here. For starters, though, I keep hearing about their incredible depth on defense and I can’t help but be uneasy about the fact that they have lost seven starters on that unit. They could easily be just as good as they were, but a lot could go wrong and I want to see it with my own eyes first. Second, I’m not really big on A.J. McCarron. He’s a game manager type of QB, and I’m not sure he can be a difference-maker if needed. Third, and most significant, they have to travel to LSU this year. That alone gives the Tigers the nod.
I like watching June Jones coach. And with Garrett Gilbert he has a QB that has the potential to be a real star in the conference. It’s a perfect time for the SMU Mustangs (9/4) to shine — and exceed expectations at the same time. Southern Miss and Houston (both at 9/2) are both dangerous, but they both face new coaches and all that goes with that. Tulsa (6/1) is dangerous as well. Central Florida (11/4) was very disappointing last year and has the distraction of a potential major violation and postseason ban to deal with. The downside is potentially big for the Mustangs, but I like enough about them to take the risk.
The Ohio Bobcats (3/1) start their season with the toughest test — a game at Penn State. That is going to be a lot easier than it might have been, though. If the Bobcats can get through that — and I think they will — then they not only have the inside track at winning the MAC, but Frank Solich has a good shot at leading his squad to 12-0. They are far and away the class of the MAC, and it would be a major disappointment for them if they don’t take it.
This conference gets blown up next year with the loss of Boise State (1/4), but this year it will be very interesting to watch. The Broncos get a chance to prove that they are the type of elite program that keeps rolling when lesser squads would have to reload. They face some external challenges that are almost as big as their internal ones as well. Nevada (11/2) is a tough, interesting squad. Wyoming (18/1) could be solid and Fresno State (8/1) is poised to rebound. San Diego State (22/1) is making a transition at QB, but the Aztecs are talented and bold. It should be a nice dogfight, but I still can’t pick against the Broncos — even though they are bet down so low that there is absolutely no value here.
Florida International (5/2) is the clear choice here. Mario Cristobal is as hot as any coach in the country, so the fact that he turned down some good jobs to stay here tells you that he thinks he has a good season ahead. There is a lot of talent on board, the conference is manageable, and the confidence will be high. The second choice in the conference is Arkansas State at 7/2. They are in the first year under Gus Malzahn, and that means a whole lot of changes, so that tells you just how attractive FIU is.
Louisiana Tech (-175) is the easiest pick on this board. They have a very good coach in Sonny Dykes. They have an offense led by QB Colby Cameron that has a chance to be very good. The defense was only okay last year, but this year should be much improved. This is not only the best team in their conference, but they have a real chance to finish in the Top 15 or 20 if all goes well. Outside of this team the conference is a total mess, so this should be easy.
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