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 “Best of the Rest” predictions:
No. 1 – Notre Dame won’t make a bowl game
My Thoughts: Sounds pretty crazy on the face of it. After all, this is the defending runner up and while they lost some talent and had drama off the field with Golson, a lot of people pointed to 2013 to be the year Notre Dame would contend, not 2012. Let’s assume with as big a draw as Notre Dame is that they will be invited to, and accept, a bowl even at 6-6. This bold prediction is really saying the Irish will be under .500. Let’s say they don’t live up to expectations and stink, as well as have a rash of injuries – a nightmare scenario – and lose all four games they have against fellow preseason ranked teams (Michigan, Oklahoma, USC and Stanford). The remaining eight are Temple, at Purdue, MSU, ASU (neutral), at Air Force, Navy, at Pitt and BYU. BYU, MSU and ASU aren’t cupcakes and Air Force’s elevation and offense could pose a problem in the ultra-insane nightmare season scenario. Even Navy’s triple option could open an argument for the Middies’ chances. That leaves Temple, Purdue and Pitt as the best chances of winning. Even in a completely unrealistic, everything went wrong season, you still have Notre Dame looking really good for three wins and some toss-ups. The Irish will be bowling for sure, I just don’t know where. Ask Lou, the…um…doctor.
No. 2 – Kenneth Dixon will be a Heisman finalist
My Thoughts: Louisiana Tech’s stud running back had 1,194 yards on 200 carries and a whopping 27 rushing TDs a season ago. He also forced a fumble. Anyway, with LT coming off an offensively dominating season - No. 3 passing, No. 16 rushing and No. 1 scoring – and Dixon being the biggest cog in that machine, you certainly would expect him to put up some insane stats. I realize since 2000, running backs have had a hard time winning the award, but there has been at least one RB in New York each season except for four, and in several of those season there were multiple nominees. Non power conference players have also made it, most recently Kellen Moore from Boise State in 2010. Here’s the counter though. The last non AQ league running back to be invited was LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000, who finished a distant fourth despite putting up video-game style numbers (2,158 yards and 22 TDs). To have a shot, Dixon will have to nearly double his yardage while not slumping in scoring and do so while having a target on his back. Here’s the silver lining, the kid is only a sophomore, if he puts up those stats as a freshman I can’t wait to see how the next few seasons unfold. He might not be a Heisman finalist, but he gives everyone a reason to watch some C-USA football.
No. 3 – UMass will flirt with .500
My Thoughts: This one is simple, if you think the MAC is a weak league you’ll say yes, if you think that the league’s uber-exciting 2012 season with a BCS trip was just a tune-up you’ll say no. I am certainly in the latter group. I love the MAC. It is the best of college sports. Young kids working their behinds off for less glory than they deserve. Often it is a matter of inches or strength that prohibits them from getting to a prime league, but is also sometimes grades — these schools, which are a little less academically inclined than a power league school, gives these deserving kids a shot at an education they might not otherwise have access too.
There is also the best of all, the legit snubs of guys who can’t get noticed anywhere. Colin Kaepernick had a similar situation before heading to Nevada. I loved this league even before all the excitement a year ago. Now that the league has broken through and feels more like the WAC during the early days of Nevada, Boise and TCU, it has amped me up even more. Since I don’t think the league will take a huge step back and will produce several good bowl teams, the spotlight turns to the Minutemen. Their first year as an FBS team was brutal. They scored just 12.7 ppg (124th) and as you can imagine, the rushing and passing efficiency splits were garbage. The defense was 121st. This produced a 1-11 yucker of a season. So flirting with .500; is that finishing 5-7? Is that being 4-4 before a four game skid to end the season? What is the definition. Well, they will almost certainly start 1-3 (although they could lose to Maine) so 0-4 is a possibility before they even hit league play. I see four league games I would put as “maybes.” That leaves two games against bowl teams from a year ago, Northern Illinois and a team that looks to take another step forward in Bowling Green. I hope Massachusetts is improved, but I think even .500 is too much to ask for the fledgling program.
No. 4 – Boise State’s frustration and flirtation with the BCS Title Game will end in the final year of the system
My Thoughts: This isn’t a debate of if a 12-0 Boise State team deserves to be in, but more of an exploration of the possibility of the Broncos going 12-0. The team was supposed to be down last year without Kellen Moore. Oops, they went 10-2 and won their bowl. The Broncos open the year with a trip to Washington, the team they beat by two in that very bowl game a season ago. Tough test right away. Going to the Valley in Fresno is never a fun trip, so Week 4 could also be a speed bump. Their lone league loss from last year, SDSU, is a roadie in the penultimate week. Another sleeping cop as they say across the pond. Nevada and a trip to Provo Utah in Week’s 7 and 8 may also be a problem. I was of course saving the best for last though: Chuckie Keeton and Utah State’s scary defense (finished 7th a year ago in scoring) HOST the Broncos in Week 6. That looks like the toughest test and when combined with Nevada and BYU, the next two weeks of October looks like it will make or break Boise. A perfect record is possible, but this isn’t the cakewalk Bronco haters like to talk about from a few seasons back. None of these teams may be ranked now, but several of them could be in the end. So to the original bold prediction, I have to go with a no. Too many tests to work around, including that trip to Seattle right out of the gate.
No. 5 – I will remember the teams of the Sun Belt
My Thoughts: Through being a football geek, playing the video game, watching all the bowls and having a Slumdog Millionaire style tie to several teams, I could remember the Sun Belt. Here was last year’s line up:
- Arkansas State – won 10 games, Gus Malzahn was there.
- FAU – Howard Schnellenberger coached there.
- FIU – The brawl with Miami.
- Louisiana Lafayette – How can you forget the Ragin’ Cajuns?
- Louisiana Monroe – Iowa played them a few years ago. Warhawks as a nickname is both cool and campy at the same time.
- Middle Tennessee State – Have the same unique nickname (Blue Raiders) as my dad’s high school (Marshal Yanda also went there).
- North Texas – Former Iowa assistant and Iowa State head man Dan Mccarney coaches here.
- South Alabama – They were in the Belt last year? This isn’t looking too good…
- Troy – Troy Trojans, you can never forget something that strange sounding.
- Western Kentucky – Made a bowl and their hoops team has a pretty good history.
See, it wasn’t that hard. This is this season’s line up:
- Arkansas State – Good, that’s one.
- Georgia State – uh-oh,
- La Lafayette – Whew,
- La Monroe – Okay, this won’t be too bad.
- South Alabama – I forgot them once, I can’t do it again.
- Texas State – are we sure this isn’t UTEP just rebranding?
- Troy – Four for sure, five if you count USA? SAU? I’ll stick with Jags.
- WKU – That’s it? That’s not too bad. I’ll challenge myself and see if I can remember where everyone else went…
- FAU / FIU = C-USA (East). This one makes sense. 80% League, 65% division.
- MTSU = C-USA (East). 75% I’ll remember the league, 2% the division.
- North Texas = C-USA (West). 49% and 0%.
There is also a 100% chance that I’ll forget Old Dominion joined the FBS this year and that New Mexico State is an independent until next fall. Idaho as an independent somehow feels right though. Happy football season everyone!