We have reached the midway point of the season for most teams in Division I-A (aka the Football Bowl Subdivision).
Let’s take a look at our preseason projections and see how they stack up so far. We’ll go conference by conference to see who the leaders are today, and see if my preseason picks align with the current reality:
Atlantic Division Prediction: Wake Forest
Coastal Division Prediction: Virginia Tech
Current Leaders: Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. For now, we are correct. Virginia Tech needs to watch out for Georgia Tech, and Wake has a virtual two-game lead on second-place Florida State (thanks to the head-to-head victory back in September).
North Division Prediction: Missouri
South Division Prediction: Oklahoma
Current Leaders: Kansas in the North, and a three-way tie in the South between Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. KU is the only team in the North undefeated in conference play, but they still have to play Missouri at the end of the season in Kansas City. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas begin their self-round robin next week.
Preseason Prediction: South Florida
Current Leader(s): Pitt and West Virginia. South Florida is only one game back, but since their conference loss was to Pitt, that puts them in a slightly bigger hole than it appears on paper.
Preseason Prediction: Ohio State
Current Leader(s): Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. The next two weeks will sort a little bit of this out as the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing this week and host Penn State next weekend. The Nittany Lions and Michigan State will face off to close the Big Ten regular season in mid-November if they both manage to outlast Ohio State.
East Division Prediction: East Carolina
West Division Prediction: Tulsa
Current Leaders: Marshall in the East and Tulsa and UTEP in the West. But the Golden Hurricane and the Miners will square off this Saturday.
Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame
Currently, Notre Dame and Navy have the same record (4-2). The two schools face off Nov. 15 in Baltimore, Md.
East Division Prediction: Bowling Green
West Division Prediction: Ball State
Current Leaders: Bowling Green and Western Michigan. Ball State is a half-game back of Western Michigan because the Cardinals stepped out of MAC play this past weekend. Western Michigan plays their last non-conference game against Illinois in mid=November.
Mountain West Conference
Preseason Prediction: Utah
Current Leader: TCU. Utah is a half-game back and hosts TCU on Nov. 6, their second game in five days that week.
Preseason Prediction: USC
Current Leader: California. The Golden Bears are the only undefeated team in conference play at this point. Cal travels to Los Angeles to play the Trojans on Nov. 8, assuming they get by Arizona this week and Oregon in two weeks.
East Division Prediction: Georgia
West Division Prediction: Auburn
Current Leaders: Florida and Vanderbilt (!) tied in the East, and Alabama in the lead in the West. Oh, and raise your hand if you had Tennessee pegged as being winless in conference play through the middle of October. Yeah, me neither.
Sun Belt Conference
Preseason Prediction: Florida Atlantic
Current Leader(s): As usual, the unpredictable Sun Belt has a four-way tie between Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State and Florida International (!) Down is up, up is down, but Troy can be found at the top of the standings. I wonder if Tony Franklin regrets moving down to Auburn.
Preseason Prediction: Fresno State
Current Leader: San Jose State, with Boise State and New Mexico State a half game back. Fresno is in the middle of the pack with a .500 conference record. Idaho sits in last place at 0-3.
Let’s get to the picks. So far, I am 11-8 thanks to an absolutely abysmal week last week (1-3). Here’s to turning things around.
We’ll start in Austin, Texas, where the Missouri Tigers are trying to not only pick up the pieces of their shattered national championship dreams, but they are also trying to end a losing streak in Austin against the Longhorns that stretches back to 1896.
Yes, I know that the stat is somewhat misleading because Missouri and Texas never played regularly until the Big 12 formed, and even then, Missouri only travels to Austin once every four years.
I can’t help but flash back to the first Saturday of my freshman year. I was in the TV lounge in my dorm, and I sat down to watch the inaugural Big 12 football game. It was Missouri vs. Texas. Mizzou was actually in the game for a while, but then there was a weather delay that killed all of the momentum.
That was 12 years ago. In that time, Texas has won a national championship and Missouri has resurrected their program (after an extended period of dormancy). Both teams have Heisman trophy contenders directing explosive offenses. Both teams feature shaky secondaries.
My concern heading into this game is with Chase Daniel. He was rattled and frustrated by the end of the Oklahoma State game.
Will Muschamp, Texas’s defensive coordinator, will be a head coach somewhere when this season is over. He is that good and has been for a while.
Couple that with the fact that Chase might have something to prove to Mack Brown for not recruiting him harder before he committed to Missouri, I fear that Daniel will try to do too much. He’ll get picked at least twice by Texas’s green secondary, and the Longhorns will win 38-24.
Let’s travel from one group of Tigers to another. This time, we will head to Clemson, S.C., where those Tigers will host the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech in an ACC tilt.
I won’t get into the soap opera that took place this week with the firing of Tommy Bowden. I’ll address that in a separate piece.
The only comment that I will make here is that the timing of the firing seems off, since a bye week was coming after Saturday’s game.
A quarterback change from Cullen Harper to Willy Korn, plus losing CJ Spiller, plus a shaky offensive line plus facing the triple option offense of Georgia Tech might just be too much drama for Clemson to overcome.
I’ll say Georgia Tech heads back to Atlanta Saturday night with a 27-10 victory in which they attempt 11 passes.
Speaking of schools that play in the state of Georgia, an important SEC East battle will take place between the hedges as one of the surprises of the first half of the season, Vanderbilt, will face the Bulldogs Saturday afternoon.
Vandy came away from their last trip to Sanford Stadium with a 24-22 victory and almost beat Georgia in Nashville last season. The Commodores suffered an ugly loss to Mississippi State in Starkville last week 17-14, in a performance that looked and smelled like a letdown game after their thrilling upset of Auburn the week before.
Georgia had a week off to lick their wounds from the sound thrashing that Alabama delivered to them, and then handled a puzzling Tennessee team 26-14.
Georgia is about to begin a string of three straight games against ranked opponents, with a game at LSU next week and the annual rivalry match against Florida in two weeks.
But I think Georgia knows that they cannot overlook Vandy. Not after the last two years. And while the Commodores have improved, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull off the shocker. It should be close again, but Georgia will avenge 2006’s home field loss and win this one 26-17.
Lastly, we’ll leave the southern part of our country and head to the upper Midwest for an old school Big Ten battle. Ohio State travels to East Lansing, Mich., to face a surprising Michigan State squad.
Ohio State is now led by true freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, but the offense is still as stagnant as it was under Todd Boeckman.
The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in passing offense (143.6 yards per game) and 70th in scoring offense (24.3 points per game). Apparently, there are reports of grumbling in the locker room about the offensive direction.
And yet the Buckeyes have only lost once, to a good USC squad.
Meanwhile, I think most of us that follow college football regularly are awaiting the annual swoon that seems to hit Michigan State this time of year. Last week’s game at Northwestern would have been the natural stumbling point.
All Michigan State did was jump out to a 17-0 lead and never look back in cruising to a 37-20 victory over the Wildcats in Evanston.
Now, they get the Buckeyes at home for a game to decide at least a share of first place in the Big Ten.
The key to the game will be tailback Javon Ringer vs. the Ohio State defense. Ringer is averaging 35 carries for 158 yards per game this season.
If Michigan State can use him to grind it out and play keep away, they have an excellent chance of winning.
Ohio State must get Ringer off the field somehow. Or at the very least, use their own running backs (Beanie Wells, Maurice Wells, Brandon Saine and Pryor) to take Ringer out of the game and put the game in the hands of Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer.
But that swoon we keep looking for? I don’t see it happening for Michigan State this time. I think that Mark Dantonio might have finally gotten the culture to shift a little at Michigan State, and I think that Sparty will be celebrating a victory on Saturday. Michigan State wins, 24-13.
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