College Football: Ten Predictions for 2008 That I Wish I Wasn't Making
Everyone loves predictions.
Before the season starts, when every team has the same clean white slate, the prognosticators abound—and why shouldn't they? Half the fun of predictions is being blatantly optimistic towards your own team and overlooking any other less-than-pleasant possibilities.
If you're right, you get to show off to everyone that you called it first. If you're wrong—well, nobody but you will remember the predictions anyway. The hard part is separating what we want to happen from what we think will happen.
With that in mind, here are a list of ten predictions for 2008 that I wish I wasn't making. This way if I'm right I can gloat, and if I'm wrong I'll be too busy cheering to notice.
The following go against my hopes and dreams for 2008.
10. Last year's trend of weekly major upsets will end.
Last season, several different factors made for an exciting year full of almost weekly upsets in the top five. Most of the traditional title contenders had slight flaws or question marks, many non-traditional teams started hot, and a few early upsets forced shake-ups in the polls.
Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida, and LSU had new starters at quarterback (some more experienced than others). Oregon, USC, and West Virginia each looked like legitimate national title contenders, but injuries to their starting QBs derailed their chances.
Cal, Boston College, South Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky each had no more than one loss at the midpoint of the season. All five were in the AP top 10 during week eight, and all but BC would fall out of the rankings within five weeks.
Those teams skyrocketed through the rankings because of top preseason teams' upsets. Once these early climbers reached the top and started losing, those losses were then considered upsets, even though the teams would later be proven overrated.
The flukey nature of all of those factors will not continue into 2008. From the first weekend, when Appalachian State bows out quietly at LSU, it will be clear that the heavy favorites from each conference won't slip up nearly as much as in 2007.
A few marquee match-ups between heavyweights, and some not-so-surprising upsets between ranked teams, will determine the pecking order in 2008.
9. Ohio State will beat Southern Cal in L.A.
Thanks to consistent recruiting, USC is once again going to have one of the nation's most talented rosters. And while OSU has reputation issues after two straight title-game debacles, those are about the only issues they have.
Each team's coaches are among the best in the game, so it's hard to pick an edge from that. Talent, likewise, is probably a wash. Experience, however, plays a much bigger role earlier in the season, and Ohio State has a decided edge there.
The key match-up is that OSU has arguably the best returning defense in the country, and USC is breaking in a new starter at quarterback. Look for Mark Sanchez to get knocked around and make some mistakes upon which the Buckeyes will capitalize.
The game will be close, but OSU will go home happy.
8. The Rose Bowl will again be a disappointing match-up.
It seems almost a foregone conclusion that the winner of the OSU-USC game will make it to the BCS Championship game. There's even the possibility that the loser could.
Either way, that leaves the Rose Bowl missing at least one of its conference champs for the tie-in, likely giving that conference's second-place team a berth (à la Illinois last season). Needless to say, a match-up like that won't get anyone's blood pumping, and TV ratings will once again be low.
On the off chance that both Ohio State and USC win their conferences but fail to make the BCS Championship game, the Rose Bowl would be a rematch of the two. Unless the first game is an instant classic, few people (certainly not the players) will want to see it replayed.
7. Notre Dame will get to a bowl game.
The 2007 season was a perfect storm of problems for Notre Dame. Losses of key players all over the field paired with a murderous schedule to do in the Domers.
As has been clearly documented, Notre Dame started an injured true freshman quarterback behind a green offensive line. Inexperience at skill positions cost them dearly.
The Irish have replaced a small senior class with a heralded crop of recruits, and their schedule is considerably easier in 2008. The young players from 2007 will be bigger, stronger, and more experienced.
Unfortunately, they're still led by Charlie Weis, whose best game was a close loss to USC in 2005. Opinions of the coach have crept back to earth since they reached dizzying heights after that game.
Still, the Fighting Irish should be able to overcome Weis and gain eligibility to a mid-range bowl game (which they will then, of course, lose).
6. Joe Paterno will retire, but Bobby Bowden will not.
All signs seemingly point to this being JoePa's last season in State College.
He's been battling Bobby Bowden for tops on the all-time major college wins list for several years now, and some people suspect the two friends to be waiting each other out. Paterno is only one win behind Bowden following the 2007 season.
It seems unlikely that either head coach would weigh the wins record more than other factors, especially since both men seem more than comfortable in their own skin. Both have dismissed the record as unimportant and not something they worry about.
Talk from around Penn State and its recruits is feeding rumors of impending retirement (as outlined by the Sunday Morning Quarterback). While JoePa has earned the right to stick around as long as he wants, mounting pressure may give him the nudge necessary to walk away under his own power.
The Nittany Lions are poised to have a better season than floundering Florida State, and Paterno will retire the winningest coach in major college history. Unfortunately, Bowden will coach at least one year longer, and re-take the top spot on the list.
5. The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will not be a matchup of unbeaten teams.
Many fans and pundits have tagged 2008's Florida-Georgia game as one of the season's biggest match-ups. Both teams are gracing the top five in preseason polls, and each has been ranked number one by at least two sources.
The meeting is November first, which means they'll have played a lot of games by the time they meet. While it's certainly possible that one team will come in unscathed, it's a good bet that they'll have at least one loss between them.
Each team seems to have two big tests before they meet. Florida heads up to Tennessee, where the Vols always play them tough, and hosts defending champ LSU in the Swamp.
Georgia travels to Arizona State in an exciting non-conference game and visits LSU a week before meeting the Gators. The Dawgs also have games against South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee before the showdown in Jacksonville.
The most likely loss is probably UGA at LSU, but Tennessee has a good chance against Florida, too.
Gators and Bulldogs fans can take solace in the fact that, even with a previous loss, a win here would vault them back into the SEC and national championship races.
4. Tim Tebow will not win the Heisman Trophy.
There are several reasons he won't win, but the biggest may just be the fact that he already won. Call it Tebow Fatigue.
The voters will be looking for any other deserving candidates, while the media will tire of endless spots about the quarterback. ESPN will be looking for new supermen to harp on all season long, so Tebow won't be the only superstar in the spotlight.
Moreover, it's unlikely that he'll have stats as unbelievable as the ones from last season. With a much stronger stable of running backs in spring star Chris Rainey, USC transfer Emmanuel Moody, and returning Kestahn Moore and Mon Williams, Tebow will have fewer chances to score on the ground.
Teammate Percy Harvin is likely to garner some votes of his own, taking away more support from Tebow. Because Heisman voting goes by region, Knowshon Moreno and even Matthew Stafford could keep the Southeast from going completely to Tebow.
One more good reason: Heisman Pundit says so.
3. There will be minimal BCS controversy.
The 1999, 2002, and 2005 seasons ended with exactly two undefeated major-conference teams. That's every three years, and 2005 was three years ago.
Simply noticing a pattern like that doesn't guarantee anything for the next season, but college football is a very cyclic sport by nature. Analysis of the past ten years shows that for every apocalypse-level BCS finish, there is a season that wraps itself up neatly with a bow.
The 2007 season, as explained in No. 10 above, was full of uncertainty about its best teams, but 2008 will be different. Each conference has one or two teams heavily favored as the clear frontrunner, and there are about five teams from which the national champion will almost certainly come.
Between those teams, there are a handful of elimination games that will help clearly define the rankings far better than in 2007.
Additionally, this season will end with one clear choice from outside the six power conferences. If it's BYU, as so many predict, they might not even be the last-picked team for a BCS bowl thanks to their hefty fan base.
Most notably from the BCS world, though is that...
2. There will be two major undefeated teams at the end of the season.
Taking a look at which conferences are likely to have champions without a loss narrows things down quickly.
Either Ohio State or Southern Cal pick up an L, thanks to their early-season encounter. It's a pretty safe bet they'll win their respective conferences, so that rules out one conference champ right there.
Few would predict an undefeated team from the ACC or Big East in what is perceived as a down year for each. West Virginia and Clemson seem the most likely picks to win, but both have plenty of question marks and enough challengers that they'll each almost certainly pick up a setback along the way.
That leaves the SEC and Big 12. The overly simple statement that "the SEC is so tough that any team can beat any other team at any time" can easily be applied to the Big 12 as well.
The two conferences seem to stack up pretty similarly, particularly at the top. Oklahoma and Missouri are garnering attention similar to that of Florida and Georgia, and each conference has a few quality sleepers lurking just behind the front-runners.
Florida and Georgia both have formidable schedules, including their armageddon in Jacksonville, so finishing undefeated would seem considerably harder for either of them. The best bet for an undefeated team is Oklahoma, on the assumption that Texas will take a step back and Texas Tech will fail to take a step forward.
Many people forget that the Sooners finished with as good an argument as Georgia and USC for inclusion in the BCS Championship. Though they dropped the ball in the Fiesta Bowl, they return an amazing amount of talent from last season.
Those hoping that the BCS will move closer to demolition thanks to yet another messy finish will be sorely disappointed—even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Two undefeated title participants leads us to the final undesirable conclusion:
1. Ohio State will play in the BCS Championship Game for the third straight year (but an SEC team will not).
Not only is this squad Jim Tressel's best yet, they won't have to play against a team from that conference down south this time.
Oklahoma will run the table in the Big 12 and be the last hurdle to OSU's eventual championship. The match-up will pit two coaches with eerily similar records against each other in a game of two teams looking to end losing streaks in BCS games.
The Buckeyes will silence critics from all around the country (except of course the SEC) and dispel the demons of the last two BCS title games.
So there you have them, ten predictions for 2008. Here's hoping I'm wrong.
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