Friday, August 25, 2006

Which Division Is Better?

After reviewing the Big XII and SEC, which division is stronger?

SEC East: Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky
Big XII South: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State

If South Carolina keeps improving under Steve Spurrier, the SEC East will have a slight edge. That is, unless Dennis Franchione gets the Aggies where the Aggies think they deserve to be. A&M drags the Big XII South down in this comparison, but Tennessee is starting to give them a run for their money. For whatever it's worth, Tennessee beat A&M like a rented mule at the Cotton Bowl two years ago.

At the bottom, Baylor and OSU are improving, as is Vanderbilt. Vandy loses their first round NFL draft pick at quarterback, though, and will have to rebuild (is there such thing as rebuilding at Vanderbilt?). Kentucky is just plain bad.

It's a tough call. OU and Texas have been in 4 of the last 6 BCS national championship games. That counts for a lot. Also, the improvement of Baylor makes up for the relative disappointment of A&M.

Coming up: We go out west for the Pac 10 and Mountain West.

Projections: SEC

That noise you hear is Phil Fulmer panicking over the latest development in the SEC: His nemesis and worst nightmare, Steve Spurrier, has elevated the South Carolina Gamecocks to the level of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Actually, there's not enough room at the top, as proven by the Vols' 5-6 season last year, and the Gamecocks passed the Vols in year 1 of the Spurrier era. Even bigger things are yet to come.

Urban renewal continues in Gainesville, as the Gators return to the top of the Eastern Division. They hold off Spurrier's Gamecocks toward the end of the season, and win a head-to-head tiebreaker. Georgia looks strong here, as well, but will wind up with losses to both the 'Cocks and the Gators. As for the Vols, they will improve to 7-5, good enough for a winning record and a bowl game. I'm not sure how excited they'll be about the Music City or similar bowl, but it'll be better than their stay home during bowl season last year.

In the West, the three-headed monster of Alabama, Auburn, and LSU lurks again. All three look strong, as usual. Alabama has the slight nod. They play at LSU, where they rarely lose in Tiger Stadium. Of course, Auburn visits Tuscaloosa, where they more than hold their own with the Tide. The Tide squeaks out in the Iron Bowl, and earn a trip to Atlanta for the SECCG (the national championship of the Confederacy), opposite the Gators.

Florida 10-2 7-1
South Carolina 10-2 7-1
Georgia 10-2 6-2
Tennessee 7-5 4-4
Vanderbilt 4-8 1-7
Kentucky 3-9 0-8

Alabama 10-2 6-2
Auburn 9-3 5-3
LSU 9-3 5-3
Ole Miss 6-6 3-5
Arkansas 5-7 2-6
Mississippi St 4-8 1-7

There are six teams in the conference that can play with anyone in the country: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. Tennessee will be above average, but not on par with their teams in the recent past. Arkansas opens at home with a loss to USC, and will struggle with the conference heavyweights. I'm afraid Houston Nutt's days there are numbered. Surprisingly, I have Ole Miss with six wins. They have home games against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, and a favorable non-conference schedule. Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State is Mississippi State.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Projections: Big XII

The long awaited projections for the Big XII....

As has been the case in recent years, the balance of power in the Big XII Conference is in the South division. In the last six years, a team from the South has played in the BCS national championship game four times. In addition, Nebraska from the North has appeared there once.

It is really hard for me to be objective here, as I really, really like OU, and I really don't like Texas. I look for OU to move forward with quarterback Paul Thompson, thinking "Rhett who?". Texas will be good, as usual, but will sorely miss Vince Young, a once-in-a-lifetime talent. They have a problem in that they scheduled Ohio State this year. That's an "L" for them. Texas Tech will also be strong, and will beat the Longhorns in an ambush in Lubbock. Their talent level increases every year, and their worst luck is that OU and Texas are as good as they have ever been. The Red Raiders are knocking on the door.

Nebraska 9-3 6-2
Iowa State 7-5 4-4
Kansas 7-5 4-4
Missouri 6-6 3-5
Colorado 5-7 3-5
Kansas State 4-8 1-7

Oklahoma 11-1 7-1
Texas Tech 10-2 7-1
Texas 9-3 6-2
Texas A&M 7-5 3-5
Baylor 6-6 3-5
Oklahoma State 4-8 1-7

This year marks the return of the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the top of the Big XII North. They still won't be the caliber of their teams in the 90's, but they'll be good enough to win the North.

Where does the Oklahoma loss come? I really want them to go undefeated. But, I just don't see that happening. They'll lose somewhere they're not supposed to. I chose Kyle Field in College Station. This sets up an eerie parallel to 2002, the last season of R.C. Slocum in Aggieland. (Has R.C. been gone four years already?) As for the Aggies, they play two Louisiana schools (Tech and Lafayette), and two military schools (The Citadel and Army). Call it Cajuns and Corps. The Ags will struggle when they hit conference play, but will be able to get it together for one game against the Sooners at home. This will give them a winning record, and make them bowl eligible, but will it be enough to save Fran's job? Would they even want to go to the Texas Bowl in Houston?

Colorado has a schedule problem. They scheduled themselves out of a bowl, as they'll lose their home game with Arizona State, and between the hedges at Georgia. They're between a rock and a hard place, as it's hard for them to sell tickets for games against cupcakes when competing for entertainment dollars in the Denver metro area. They have to play decent teams to draw at the gate. Usually, they can hold their own, but they can't load up on lesser programs as other programs do in their non-conference schedule.

After 11 years, Oklahoma and Nebraska will finally meet in the Big XII championship game. Bill Callahan will drag the "hillbillies" comment back out, as he did on his last trip to Norman in 2004. Just as long as he doesn't call us "F'in" hillbillies again...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Preseason On The Road

Watching the Cowboys annihilate the Saints tonight in Shreveport, I was reminded of the days when pre-season games at neutral sites weren't that uncommon. In the past, a lot of preseason games were played in college stadiums, or in other places. Some cities have even used them in campaigns to attract an expansion team (example: Memphis). It's a good idea to have some of these games in places that would otherwise not even sniff a live NFL game.

Now, most NFL owners have the need to play these preseason games at home, so they can roll them into their season ticket packages and charge regular season prices for the opportunity to see some guys that will be working at Home Depot soon afterward.

Speaking of enterprising, I am reminded of when Jerry Jones took the Cowboys out to El Paso, and had them scrimmage in front of 40,000 fans against the Oilers (or was it the Raiders?). I think he took them to El Paso two years in a row, and also had them scrimmage in Shreveport against the Saints. It is great public relations for the team, and some extra money for the owner, but the players complained about the additional travel for a practice. The Cowboys are a big fish in the big pond of Dallas. In the smaller pond of El Paso, they are an even bigger fish.

Coming tomorrow: Projections for El Grande Doce (the Big XII).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Projections: Big Ten

The Big 10 (ever wonder how these highly regarded institutions of higher learning forgot how to count?) never lacks for drama, as the teams pursue their holy grail, which is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. National championships matter here (ask the folks in Columbus about 2002), but in these parts, the Rose Bowl is still the pinnacle of success and the ultimate goal.

Iowa 11-1 7-1
Ohio State 11-1 7-1
Michigan 9-3 6-2
Wisconsin 9-3 5-3
Purdue 9-4 5-3
Penn State 7-5 4-4
Northwestern 7-5 3-5
Michigan St. 5-7 3-5
Minnesota 5-7 2-6
Indiana 5-7 1-7
Illinois 4-7 1-7

Iowa? What about Ohio State? Ohio State is getting a lot of love in preseason, as they should. They look pretty strong. I look for them to go into Austin and get revenge for Texas' win last year in Columbus. However, they will suffer their only loss when they venture into Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes will be pretty stout as well. They will be undefeated when they visit the Big House, where the Michigan Wolverines will ruin their perfect season.

As usual, Michigan won't be bad. Unfortunately for coach Lloyd Carr, they'll lose to Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State. The reverse John Cooper effect could come into play, as continual losing to Ohio State is not tolerated in Ann Arbor. John Cooper recruited a ton of NFL draft picks, and beat everyone except Michigan, thus losing his job.

Look for the Hawkeyes to make a long-awaited return to Pasadena. Ohio State will appear in a BCS bowl, as well.

Also, further down in the standings, look for Purdue to bounce back into the bowl picture. Michigan State won't be so lucky, and will be looking for a new coach.

Projections: Big East

The Big East enters their second year in their new configuration. Last year, West Virginia almost single-handedly saved the league's reputation with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. This year, the Mountaineers are looking for more. This is a surprisingly competitive league, though, so the 'Eers will find what Louisville found last year, after a pre-season full of hype: Don't take the conference lightly.

West Virginia 10-2 5-2
Louisville 10-2 5-2
Pittsburgh 9-3 5-2
Rutgers 7-5 4-3
South Florida 6-6 4-3
UConn 7-5 3-4
Cincinnati 4-8 2-5
Syracuse 1-11 0-7

John, what are you thinking? West Virginia is good enough to go through their entire schedule undefeated. However, I am forecasting a wild scenario. West Virginia goes undefeated until they visit Louisville, when they visit Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville wins the big game away from home. However, the Cardinals' fortune is short-lived, as they lose the following week on a trip to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Panthers get off to a 6-0 start, before losing three of their next four. Their last two games are at home, in the muck and mire of Heinz Field, against archrival West Virginia and Louisville. Yes, you guessed it, Pitt wins those two games, forcing a three-way tie for the conference championship. In that scenario, Pitt would normally be the conference champion with wins over the two other tied teams, West Virginia and Louisville. However, the Big East, in event of a tie-breaker, gives their BCS bid to the highest-ranked team in the BCS rankings. That will be West Virginia.

Convoluted enough? To be fair, West Virginia and Louisville are both good enough to run the table, go undefeated, and end up in Glendale in January. Weird things happen during a season, though, and I look for something really weird to happen here.