College Football 2013: Predicting the Winner of Each BCS Conference
College football's BCS-AQ conferences are full of talented squads, and quite a few of the standings are wide-open for the 2013 season.
Texas A&M proved that it was ready to contend in the SEC last season, and UCLA did the same thing in the Pac-12 (except the Bruins weren't new members of their conference).
The American Athletic Conference has some new faces on the schedule, and it's also missing some familiar ones (like Syracuse).
USC dropped its potential national championship in 2012, and Georgia Tech found a way to completely dominate the Trojans in the postseason battle.
As unpredictable as college football is, the presses don't stop. Here is the predicted winner for each BCS-AQ conference.
*As an added bonus, there is a dark-horse candidate at the end of each slide that calls attention to teams that could be the next UCLA.
*All unlinked references to drafted players are from CBSSports.com.
American Athletic Conference
The former Big East has become the American Athletic Conference, but the teams remain largely the same. Currently, there are 10 teams in the unit for the upcoming season:
The four new members in 2013 are Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF, so they will need a couple of recruiting classes to adjust to the new conference.
Also joining the crowd of eliminated teams are: Temple, Connecticut and USF. All three of those teams didn't even finish 4-4 in conference play last season.
That leaves Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers as the favorites to win the newly labeled American Athletic Conference.
Cincinnati is under new management via the acquisition of Tommy Tuberville from Texas Tech. He has his work cut out for him if he expects to contend for a conference title, but he can always win a share of it again.
If he can implant a solid defense at Cincinnati in his first season, the Bearcats will claim the conference crown alone. If not, then look for no better than another split title with another squad.
He does have a brutal four-game stretch to end the season, though. That won't be easy to wade through.
Rutgers lost their star offensive player, Jawan Jamison, to the Redskins this offseason, and the Scarlet Knights will be gasping for breath without him. Rutgers should again field a good defense, which will keep them in the mix, but they will fall to the wayside by the middle of November.
Louisville has a trump card: Teddy Bridgewater. Louisville also has another ace up its sleeve: a favorable schedule. While the Cardinals face tough competition, there are breaks between the big games.
They start off against the Ohio Bobcats, but face the Eastern Kentucky Colonels immediately afterward. The entire 2013 slate of games looks like that for Louisville. There are reprieves between almost every one of the Cardinals' big games.
Bridgewater is one of the best players in the country. The schedule is so favorable that he could feasibly lead his unit to a perfect record next year. Regardless of how well Cincinnati does, Louisville will win at least a share of the conference title.
Cincinnati just isn't ready to knock off Louisville yet, not at the end of that 2013 schedule.
Predicted AAC Champion: Louisville Cardinals outright.
Dark-horse candidate: Houston Cougars. If the Cougars find their groove on offense, they could change the face of the entire conference in one fell swoop.
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Atlantic Coast Conference is going to be more competitive in 2013 than some may think. While it was basically a two-way battle over the past two seasons, that will not be the case this fall.
Florida State and Clemson are the two obvious choices for teams who will win the ACC's final BCS bid, but don't sneer at Miami, Syracuse or Virginia Tech, either.
Syracuse is replacing starting quarterback Ryan Nassib and first-round offensive lineman Justin Pugh. While two players don't necessarily make or break a team, Pugh and Nassib were definitely the core of the Orange offense in 2012.
'Cuse will be fine in the ACC, but a rebuilding year waits for no one. If you've been gutted, that's just the hand you have been dealt. Look for Syracuse to make a run at the conference title in 2014.
Virginia Tech is biding its time while it waits for one of two things to happen:
1. A new quarterback shows up at practice and turns out to be the team's savior.
2. Logan Thomas snaps out of his virtual coma and becomes the player that led the Hokies to the Sugar Bowl in 2011.
Virginia Tech will happily take either of those two scenarios in 2013, but the odds are firmly against them. With the season opener against Alabama, the Tide may just quell any confidence Thomas managed to gain over the offseason.
Of course, a win over Alabama could spark Virginia Tech to an undefeated season. After all, if you can beat the back-to-back national champion, who can't you beat?
Florida State has a new quarterback in Jameis Winston who could lead them to the conference title in 2013. The Seminoles are replacing first-round pick EJ Manuel with Winston, and it won't be easy.
However, Florida State has even bigger issues to handle. The Seminoles dominated the draft with 11 players selected in the seven-round span. That's great for recruiting, but that's also the equivalent of an entire side of the ball being taken from your roster.
Florida State will always be a contender, but replacing half a team is not conducive to repeating as a conference champion.
Still, the experience that Boyd brings to the table should edge Clemson for the ACC Atlantic Division crown.
Miami has the talent to make it to the ACC title game against Clemson. Running back Duke Johnson is an incredible star on the Hurricanes' offense, and he could lead the way to an unexpected ACC title.
If Florida State were to upset the Clemson Tigers, Miami could take the Seminoles down and earn the trip to the Orange Bowl (or better).
Predicted ACC Champion: Clemson Tigers over the Miami Hurricanes.
Dark-horse candidate: Virginia Tech Hokies. If Logan Thomas can return to his 2011 self, then the Hokies could end up ripping the title away from any of the favorites.
The Big 12 lost a lot of senior quarterbacks since the 2012 season came to a close. Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor and Kansas State all lost headliners at the signal-caller position.
TCU returns a stellar unit on both offense and defense. The Horned Frogs' only major loss in the offseason was leading wide receiver Josh Boyce. The Frogs still have Casey Pachall (QB), Jason Verrett (CB) and Devonte Fields (DE) on their roster, and that should be enough to get them within striking distance of the Big 12 title.
Oklahoma is always on the radar for the conference crown, but the Sooners have a lot of work to do. Not only did they lose Landry Jones during the offseason, but they also lost to Notre Dame by 17 points last season.
There are clearly a few obstacles for Bob Stoops to overcome before he's going to be met with anything other than cautious skepticism.
Kansas State lost Collin Klein, and that is not going to be easy to deal with. However, Kansas State does return its entire offensive line. A great offensive line can make any quarterback look good, as long as he's got raw talent to work with. Bill Snyder always recruits raw talent.
Texas Tech lost a starting quarterback and a head coach during the offseason, so the "rebuilding" tag is firmly set on the Red Raiders' program.
Baylor lost its last bit of quarterback experience with Nick Florence's graduation, but the Bears return Cyril Richardson as a potential All-American anchor on their offensive line. He will be blocking for Lache Seastrunk, who could end up being one of the best running backs in the country.
West Virginia simply hasn't yet adjusted to the Big 12, and losing Geno Smith isn't going to get them any closer to the conference title.
The Big 12 is wide-open, and the conference champion may surprise you at the end of the season.
Predicted Big 12 Champion: TCU Horned Frogs.
Dark-horse candidate: Texas Longhorns. It feels a little odd to call Texas a dark horse, but all the Longhorns need is for their defense to stay healthy. The offense certainly needs to have improved over last season, but Texas is almost always dangerous when its roster is at full force.
The Big Ten suffered a few losses to the draft, but the NFL was much more kind to it than it was to the Big 12. Montee Ball was taken from Wisconsin, Le'Veon Bell from Michigan State, Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State and Rex Burkhead from Nebraska.
That's not every player taken in the draft, but it's the majority of the skill-position prospects from the conference title contenders.
Ohio State finished the 2012 season with a 12-0 record after being sanctioned out of the postseason. Nebraska came ever-so-close to a Big Ten crown, but the 'Huskers were grossly outperformed by Wisconsin in the conference championship game.
Wisconsin is naturally going to be a preseason favorite, because the Badgers have been to the last three Rose Bowls in a row. Even if they are an afterthought, the Badgers have earned a permanent spot on the radar until they manage to miss out on a BCS appearance.
The Big Ten is wide-open again, but there are a few top-tier teams that will be battling for the top spot. Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana are all ready to do battle with the top teams in the conference, but they are not yet ready to claim the title.
Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State are the four teams that will be seriously running for the 2013 prize.
Ohio State is going to catch a lot of flak for the almost-losses from 2012, but that was also Urban Meyer's first season. If he can make an improvement that vast in just one season, imagine what's coming for the Buckeyes in 2013.
Predicted Big Ten Champion: Ohio State Buckeyes over the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Dark-horse candidate: Michigan Wolverines. With Devin Gardner under center, Denard Robinson gone and Taylor Lewan still anchoring the offensive line, Michigan is not to be overlooked. If the ball bounces Michigan's way a few times in 2013, the Wolverines could end up in the Rose Bowl or better.
None of the BCS conferences are easy to predict, but the Southeastern Conference has special little wrinkles that it likes to throw into the equation. Out of the last seven years, LSU, Alabama, Florida and Auburn were all SEC champions.
The SEC fluctuates just like any other conference. Currently, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M are expected to contend for the two slots in the 2013 SEC title bout.
Texas A&M has the reigning Heisman winner (Johnny Manziel) on its roster, and his offensive line is anchored by a likely All-American in Jake Matthews.
Alabama returns Nick Saban, AJ McCarron and a wealth of talent in almost every area of the field. The Tide are also filling holes in almost every area of the field, so that's a double-edged sword.
Georgia brings back almost every major component from its run to the conference title game in 2012. The bigger downside for the Bulldogs is the 2013 schedule. They don't dodge all three monsters from the SEC West this time around.
South Carolina has every ingredient necessary to contend for the SEC title, as do Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida (if a quarterback shows up in the fall).
Whichever team wins the Week 3 match between Texas A&M and Alabama will be in the driver's seat for the SEC title and a potential national championship.
Coach Saban has lost just two games to teams that beat him during the previous encounter during his time in the SEC (LSU coaching history included). While that stat may be reassuring to Alabama fans, the fact is that Texas A&M is loaded with talent.
The bigger Tide advantage is that the game will not be immediately preceded by a heart-wrenching, last-second victory over a major rival like it was in 2012.
Predicted SEC Champion: Alabama Crimson Tide over the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Dark-horse candidate: LSU Tigers. If Zach Mettenberger can get himself into a consistent rhythm, then the Tigers can essentially sneak up on some of its competition (as much as a powerhouse can sneak). Texas A&M is an obvious candidate, but LSU would be a bit of a surprise if it were to rise back to the top of the SEC this year.
The Pac-12 is possibly the most unpredictable conference, especially when it comes to 2013. Back in 2012, the preseason odds for UCLA making the national championship game were +20,000 (the same as Wake Forest of the ACC).
To put that into perspective, the Pac-12 favorite (Oregon) was listed at +800. UCLA defied logic and simply won its way into the Pac-12 title game against Stanford. UCLA was the rare successful dark-horse, even though the Bruins didn't succeed in the actual conference title match.
Oregon will return, as usual, to gun for the Pac-12 title, as will Stanford. The other teams that may not be first-glance competitors are Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Oregon State.
Oregon State has Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion returning under center and Storm Woods at tailback. Those are the headliners for the potential Pac-12 winner.
USC doesn't have Matt Barkley, but the Trojans still have the ability to step up and take the conference back. It is unlikely, but USC's depth chart is starting to really recover from the previous scholarship reductions at this point.
UCLA is a great team to keep an eye on. Brett Hundley took the Bruins to the conference title game as a freshman last season, and the only major loss during the offseason was running back Johnathan Franklin.
Arizona has Ka'Deem Carey, but it's not probable that he will carry the team all the way to the title game on his own. The rest of the team is going to have to step up in a big way just to get them that far.
Arizona State is a long shot, but Will Sutton and rest of the Arizona State defense are capable of winning any game on any given Saturday.
Predicted Pac-12 Champion: Oregon Ducks over the UCLA Bruins.
Dark-horse candidate: Arizona State Sun Devils. If the defense can get its act together, then Arizona State has a legitimate shot at the title in 2013. All the offense needs to do is perform well enough to win. The Sun Devils don't need to blow anyone out to win the conference, but their defense has to perform to its potential.