The last time a college football season began with this much uncertainty, Britney Spears was attempting a comeback, Michael Vick might have been an animal lover for all we knew, no one had heard of Appalachian State, and Charlie Weis was still considered a legitimate head coach. Strange times, indeed.
The start of the 2010 season is reminiscent of the 2007 campaign in that we really cannot have complete confidence in any team. The preseason rankings are, in my opinion, a crapshoot. Each of the top programs have significant issues to deal with and question marks surrounding key areas. Consider:
Alabama is the number one team in the country even though its entire defense from 2009 is either in the NFL or graduated.
Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor made Buckeye fans cringe for the vast majority of 2009, yet after one sterling performance against a so-so Oregon defense in the Rose Bowl he's a Heisman frontrunner and his team is a National Championship favorite in 2010.
Texas has the simple task of replacing the winningest quarterback in college football history.
Florida has to replace Jesus, and Urban Meyer almost quit at the end of last season due to a health scare.
Boise State and TCU are ranked third and sixth respectively by the AP.
If there was ever evidence that the AP threw up its collective hands and said, 'Your guess is as good as ours,' it's that the typically conservative voters gave these two non-BCS schools such respect.
I do believe both Boise State and TCU are contenders, but the AP Preseason Poll simply shows that voters have no idea how to predict future results in 2010 and based their preseason rankings on how the final polls looked in January, 2009 only.
With that in mind, prepare for a season much like 2007, when:
The second ranked team in the country unfathomably lost seven different times and each weekend brought with it upset after upset.
An LSU team with two losses coached by Les Miles advanced to and then won the National Championship.
Michigan lost to Appalachian State.
Notre Dame lost to Navy.
South Florida, Rutgers, and Kentucky were briefly BCS contenders.
Did I mention Les Miles won a National Championship? What a crazy season.
If nothing else, the prospect of mayhem in November and December brings with it the guarantee of excitement and intrigue throughout the fall. I'll say with a wink that underdogs will be very, um, profitable this year. Woops, wrong word. Enticing. Underdogs will be enticing in 2010. And profitable.
Each week during the season I will scour the odds and analyze what I believe are the most interesting and favorable matchups across the college football landscape.
Breathe in the optimism folks. Let it soak over you. It's September, everyone has a shot at going undefeated, and most importantly no one has lost any money yet. Picks are in bold.
1) Oregon State (+13.5) at TCU. The most ludicrous line on the board is also the most tempting. I'm all for respecting the littles, but TCU with Andy Dalton at the helm cannot possibly be a two touchdown favorite over Oregon State. It's as if prognosticators assume this is a layup for TCU, and I have no idea why. Oregon State has been one win away from the Rose Bowl each of the last two seasons, and the last time I checked the Rodgers brothers are still on the squad. TCU meanwhile is ranked sixth in the AP but as I just said above, those rankings mean close to nothing. This is feels like a one score game and seeing as I'm picking the Beavers to win outright, this decision is a no-brainer.
2) Connecticut (+3) at Michigan. The second most ludicrous line on the board. What world am I living in right now? The Michigan program is a joke , and UConn has become anything but. For those of you feel wary of this pick given that the game will be played in the Big House, consider this scenario: Michigan comes out of the gate slowly, gives up an early score and stalls on offense. I'm sure the already skeptical crowd will provide a boost for the Wolverines. Perhaps I'm just feeling vindictive at the moment, but I'll set the over/under at 1.5 quarters for when the 'Fire Rich(or something else)-Rod' chant serenades the players and coaches down on the field. So much for home field advantage. Oh and of course most importantly, Connecticut is the better team, and it's not all that close.
3) Purdue (+11.5) at Notre Dame. Just because I will pick the Notre Dame game every week. Despite how much Kool-Aid I have enjoyed drinking since the Brian Kelly hiring, I can't shake the memory of ten close games in 2009. Last year, Notre Dame was the easiest team in the nation to wager on because you only had to say three words each week: take the points. Notre Dame has a nasty habit of making average quarterbacks look like Heisman contenders, and no matter how potent the Irish offense may be, the defense will most likely keep inferior opponents like Purdue in the game. Just like every other year.
Other games of note:
Washington (+2.5) at BYU. Heisman favorites usually don't see their chances fizzle in the first week, so expect Jake Locker to find a way to win in Mormon country. The Huskies are on the rise and BYU is likely to take a step back in 2010.
Maryland at Navy (-6.5). This one is rather simple. Navy went 10-4 last year and is returning what might be the best Naval Academy team in a long, long time. Maryland was 2-10 in 2009 and not because they had young talent unprepared to win. They just stink and things aren't looking up. Navy will win this game by 20+.
Boise State (-2.5) at Virginia Tech. A lot of conflicting evidence here. Use whatever statistic benefits your way of thinking more. The last time Boise played a big out of conference game on the road in September, they lost 48-13 to Georgia in 2005. A long time ago I know, but they still have a great distance to travel for this game and a lot of pressure squarely on their shoulders. Virginia Tech meanwhile is 0-21 all time against top 5 teams away from Blacksburg. Sure this is technically a home game and that statistic is a bit flawed, but the Hokies don't have much historical evidence in their favor for this one. Although it may be the best game of the weekend, I think this is a stay away.
Enjoy the weekend everyone. And remember, it's a long season. Avoid pulling a Rick Pitino in the first week.