Before diving into all the individual team previews, a few insane ideas popped into my head. I call them, you guessed it, bold predictions. What you are about to read here are things not likely to come true. However, even if they have a five-percent (or better) chance, we must, as football crazies, debate on them. These are the ‘Merica Athletic aka “Diet C-USA” predictions.
No. 1 – South Florida returns to respectability with at least seven wins.
My Thoughts: USF bottomed out a year ago with a 3-9, one-league-win stinker of a season and canned Skip Holtz as a result. To replace him the Bulls reeled in hot commodity, though still a little green, Willie Taggart. The program faces all but one of their toughest tests on the road, meaning they have five good chances of getting into the win column. Call me crazy, but I like this possibility. We may see addition by subtraction with the graduation of B.J. Daniels, a turnover-prone QB – and the equation is multiplied by dumping Holtz. Anyone can do better than a combined 2-12 in league games over two seasons, right?
No. 2 – Cincinnati goes BCS bowling.
My Thoughts: Louisville is obviously the team to beat, but guess what, the Bearcats almost did just that last year. Under Butch Jones, Cincy lost an overtime thriller to Teddy Bridgewater and his Cards. Rutgers also earned a share of the crown so the Scarlet Knights could also upset the Louisville victory lap before bolting to the ACC. I like Cincy, though. They should have a big chip on their shoulders after everyone snubbed them from the Big Ten to the ACC to practically the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association.
No. 3 - Louisville plays for the national title thanks to going 12-0, Cincy and Rutgers becoming quality opponents on an otherwise weak schedule and being the only undefeated team in the nation.
My Thoughts: As it stands, UL faces exactly zero ranked teams on its 2013 schedule. This would be a major problem if not for the Cards already sitting in the top 10. As for the teams ahead of them (eight to one) Clemson, A&M, South Carolina, Georgia, Stanford, Oregon, Ohio State, Alabama. Clemson has a great shot at running through the ACC now that Florida State has had some roster turnover. TAMU plus Alabama and South Carolina plus Georgia are in divisions together and are all in the SEC. Conventional wisdom says that at least two of these have to be gone. In addition to other tough opponents (Florida, LSU, Kentucky — Kidding!) and improved clubs (Miss State, Ole Miss and Vandy) there will be losses. Plus, one will probably get knocked out in the SEC title game. Sure a team that doesn’t make the title game might make for another all-SEC national championship (a la LSU/Alabama) but it doesn’t seem likely. Similar story for Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12. They have to play each other and there could be another upset along the way. Ohio State still faces a Big Ten schedule and had some close calls last year. This of course circles back to the Cincy and Rutgers helping out. Even with the top 10 having several teams cancel out and having Ohio State needing to go through a decent schedule I’m not sure 12-0 Louisville can make the title game without getting some help unless the Bearcats and Scarlet Knights can net some big wins themselves.
No. 4 – Southern Methodist makes the final AP poll.
My Thoughts: The Ponies were dreadful on the road in 2012, losing every away game but one last year. Despite the ineptitude away from the friendly confines, they not only made, but won a bowl game. With quarterback Garrett Gilbert back after a solid debut season upon transferring from Texas and one of his top targets in Jeremy Johnson, I expect the offensive numbers to go from middle-of-the-pack to top 50-nationally. I also expect the scoring to also jump from 30.5 (a respectable No. 54) up at least three more points. I think they can win at home against Texas Tech (as well as the FCS follow-up). They have two difficult road games (A&M and TCU) followed by league play. At Memphis, Temple, at USF and at Houston (SMU dropped 72 on them last year) all look like wins right now. Rutgers and UConn at home are winnable. That just leaves a trip to Cincy and hosting their former C-USA nemesis Central Florida as the two toughest on the slate – notice they miss UL in league play. I count seven winnable/near lock games with Tech, Cincy and UCF being possible wins; especially with two of those at home. This team might finish with eight or nine wins in the regular season alone. Let’s say they pull off another bowl win; that is a 10-win campaign. Getting ranked to end the season certainly looks do-able.
No. 5 – Temple and Houston combine for 15-9.
My Thoughts: They combined for nine wins a year ago with neither making a bowl. Can they make the collective leap this year? Houston has four games I really like their chances in already (Southern, Rice, at UTSA and Memphis) and Temple has four as well (Fordham, @ Idaho, Army, @ Memphis). Those are eight great chances. UH also gets South Florida and Temple gets UConn – both of which seem winnable. They also face each other, meaning if they each win the four easy/easier games, then the two winnable contest and finally since they are assured of beating each other we are up to 11 out of the 15. Maybe Temple gets by SMU. Maybe Houston sneaks past BYU. They each travel to East Piscataway – perhaps one of them takes down Rutgers. This feels like a reach, but if one of them gets hot and hits eight or nine wins alone, I like the odds of it happening.