From Manziel transitioning to the NFL or the new playoff system in the FBS, the game of football has had plenty to keep everyone busy and entertained this Summer. Now with games getting under way this weekend here’s our big preview (without week 1 games in our considerations). In our college football preview this year we will cover all the FBS conferences and our predicted winners, our Heisman winner, contender and dark horse, our Division 3 champ prediction and finally our Don’t Sleep On… list.
[*Denotes Returning for 2014 Season]
Last Year’s Champ: University of Central Florida (#10, 12-1)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Blake Bortles UCF, Marcus Smith LOU
Louisville exits the conference now in the ACC, as does Rutgers with their new mark as the easternmost member of the Big 10. Replacements include East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa, all coming over from Conference USA.
Dan: East Carolina. I like this conference, I really do. It’s not a front-runner conference, but it will be very exciting with these teams and where they’re at right now. They shopped around at the C-USA marketplace and came out big winners, with some of the conference’s top teams coming over. ECU QB Shane Carden was one of the top 25 in the country last season with 33 passing TDs (see our rankings), and is poised for breakout season 2.0. They have a loaded schedule at South Carolina, at Virginia Tech, and at home against North Carolina in a three-week stretch. Huge conference tests at Cincy and at home against UCF, but I think they’ll have the manpower to pull off the conference switch-a-roo championship in the American, and Carden will be the POY.
Bryce: Cincinnati. The American is a conference of halves. Half is good, half is bad. Potentially real bad. I really like how Cincy’s schedule lines up, and that’s why the win the conference…well that and their adequate talent pool. Toledo and Miami of Ohio are solid openers, and Ohio State then follows as a great test of how good they really are. Conference opener is a mediocre Memphis squad, then comes Miami of Florida. Another good test of talent game. Four weeks later we have our potential game of the year where the Bearcats play host to the Pirates of East Carolina on a Thursday night. No UCF on the schedule this year either. Cincy will sweep the Miami’s, finish with one loss to the Buckeyes, and take the second American crown. (Quick lesson. Miami University=Ohio; University of Miami=Florida. And Miami University was a school when Florida was still ruled by Spain…)
Atlantic Coast Conference
Last Year’s Champ: Florida State University (#1, 14-0)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Jameis Winston FSU*, Aaron Donald PITT
Maryland’s departure was covered by Louisville marking 2014 as their first season in the ACC.
Dan: Florida State. Far and away the most talented team in this conference. Each division looks like a two-horse race, with the coastal coming down to Miami and North Carolina, and the atlantic coming to Florida State and Clemson, with the respective winners playing for the conference crown. I’m hoping for a FSU/Miami showdown in the title game, but all bets are off at that point. Jameis might be the best QB in the country, and with a plethora of weapons around him (read: speed kills), he’ll have another great year, taking the POY crown and with FSU taking the conference, and possibly a national playoff berth with it. Be sure to keep an eye on Virginia Tech as well, as it looks like they’re poised to break out of their down streak of late.
Bryce: Florida State. The Seminoles were the most complete team last year in the ACC, and things don’t change much here. I like Dan’s point to watch the Hokies; they play OSU early on in what should be a nice measurement game. I say keep on eye on the Dukies. They avoid playing FSU and Clemson in their crossover games, so consider it an extra boost to what should be a competitive season for the Devils from Durham. The ACC as a whole was stronger than the Big 10 last year, I’m curious to see how that holds up, and who takes the crown as the second best football conference.
Big 12 Conference
Last Year’s Champ: Baylor University (#13, 11-2)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Bryce Petty BAY*, Jackson Jeffcoat TEX & Jason Verrett TCU
No membership changes here, but you’d have to expect some soon. With the Big 12 only having 10 members and the conference having membership in the “Super 5” league of the FBS, the Big 12 is in prime position to start accept applications for schools to get into, what should be, the most highly coveted arena in collegiate athletics.
Dan: Baylor. Call this conference a 3 ½ team race with some high-powered offenses in the running for the crown. Those 3 ½ teams would be, in order, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and half of Texas Tech, the explosive offensive half that is (remember the first quarter of this game?). Baylor has the most talent and is the most complete team, even though Oklahoma’s defense brings them into that category as well. We’ll have to see if Trevor Knight is the QB everyone think he will be, or if last year was a fluke, unlike Bryce Petty, who will keep putting up big numbers with the Bears, as they run away with this conference, by one game.
Bryce: Baylor. Does this conference spell parity or what? There are a lot of different feelings around the conference as to who should break out this year and who was smoke and mirrors in 2013. All I know is that Baylor and Oklahoma are the only ones that stand out to me. The rest could all finish .500 and I wouldn’t be surprised a tick. Petty is the best quarterback west of the Mississippi, and he’ll turn Baylor into his team, marking over RG3’s stamp, when they make a run at the playoffs this year.
Big 10 Conference
Last Year’s Champ: Michigan State University (#3, 13-1)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Braxton Miller OSU*, Chris Borland WIS
No schools departed but Maryland and Rutgers come aboard in 2014. The big idea here was getting the Big 10 on the Eastern Seaboard. New Jerseyians scoffed at the idea because, “We don’t care about Rutgers football,” and Maryland’s football program has nothing to write home about in recent years. We’ll put that to bed right now because the Big 10 Network just inked a deal to get their network on New Jersey and Maryland television sets, which means money, baby.
Dan: Wisconsin. This looks like a classic homer pick, but let’s not say that so fast. No Braxton Miller means no Ohio State in the title game, or so you would think. That leaves Michigan State, who is not what they were last season, or so you would think, although they return their QB who does a little of everything for that Spartans team. I’ll take MSU coming out of the East division and Wisconsin, who has an easy schedule apart from an August 29 matchup with LSU, should be the western sponsor in Indianapolis. The Badgers toughest B1G test is a home game against Nebraska in mid-November, and they return one of the best RBs in the nation in Melvin Gordon. Watch out for Penn State to ruin some things as well in that tough east division. I guess I’m banking on the fact that anything can happen in the championship game to push Wisconsin through.
Bryce: Michigan State. As much as I do like Wisconsin, I don’t like their inconsistency, or lack of solidarity at the quarterback position. I guess the same goes for OSU. Both solid teams but they don’t have that signal caller that just shouts “Gamer” or “Winner” or “Dependable” even. Enter Connor Cook. The Stanford of the east, except they walked all over them 8 months ago. Their ability to hang with any offense they face, and force whatever offensive approach they want to use on defenses, is just rare and fun the same. Oregon September 6th will be tough test number 1…even though I’d take MSU -10. I’ll say the next big test is in the final week of the regular season when Sparty takes on Happy Valley. At Penn State, looking to close on an undefeated season, but those Nittany Lions really want their 9th win as well. Did I mention it will snow? Spartans finish undefeated but I’ll call Penn State and Oregon close calls this year.
Last Year’s Champ: Rice University (10-4)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Rakeem Cato MARSH*, Shawn Jackson TULSA
Membership changes here, but not in the right direction at all. CUSA loses Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina while only gaining Western Kentucky from the Sun Belt and Old Dominion from the FCS.
Dan: Marshall. With no big boys on the schedule, I think this team could go undefeated overall. Non-conference games include Miami (OH), Rhode Island, Ohio, and Akron, then they get into conference play, where their toughest test looks to be Middle Tennessee at home, while they also get conference champ Rice at home. Senior QB Rakeem Cato is a Heisman hopeful, and maybe the best QB in college football. He threw for 3900 yards and 39 TDs last season, leading the Herd to the 8th highest scoring offense in all of college football at 42.1 PPG. They ranked 21st in the country in passing YPG, and 23rd in rushing yards, so it isn’t just happening through the air, although their defense is sturdy as well, ranking 32nd in the country in scoring defense last year. If Cato puts up big numbers and his team goes undefeated, you’ll see him in New York, maybe with some hardware too.
Bryce: Marshall. I hate to repeat my partner, but the Thundering Herd will be the team to beat in the Conference USA, and the state of West Virginia as well. Cato is an animal. If you haven’t seen him in live action, please find a weekend this fall to do so. He’s entertainment in and out of the pocket, plus you’ll feel silly when he comes second in Heisman voting and you never saw him play…I’ll call MTSU at home one to watch, as the Blue Raiders had one heck of a running attack last season and only beat Marshall in the last seconds of what was a thrilling weeknight battle in 2013. Rice could be one to watch too, but they seem to play just as dangerous as any of the other CUSA rivals.
Mid America Conference
Last Year’s Champ: Bowling Green State University (12-2)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Jordan Lynch NIU, Khalil Mack, BUFF
No conference changes.
Dan: Bowling Green. Almost every team that was in the running last year is losing their best player, besides BG. QB Matt Johnson will be back, along with a solid receiving core. Gone from the conference are Jordan Lynch, Khalil Mack, Keith Wenning, Willie Snead IV, and Dri Archer. BG had the #5 defense in the country last season, allowing just 15.9 PPG, while putting up just under 35 on the scoreboard each week. It’ll be Bowling Green over Buffalo in the conference title game in Detroit, for a visit to Detroit for a bowl game.
Bryce: Bowling Green. Unfortunately most of the MAC’s playmakers have either graduated or gotten drafted (or both). Leaving potentially to be the most exciting part of the MAC to be the new Bahamas Bowl which pits the MAC against CUSA. Out of conference matchups with Indiana and Wisconsin should help prepare them for the mediocre MAC schedule that they will face. I see double digit wins in the Falcons future, but nothing like an undefeated season and claims for the playoff berth. Look for the west to beat up on each other and leave Toledo or Northern Illinois to battle BG in the championship game.
Mountain West Conference
Last Year’s Champ: Fresno State University (11-2)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Derek Carr FRES, Shaquil Barrett CSU
No conference changes.
Dan: Boise State. New head coach Bryan Harsin knows the Boise State way, and will have the offense clicking on all cylinders, even when breaking in a new QB, as many of the teams in the conference are doing. Front-runner Fresno State loses Derek Carr and Davante Adams, while Boise must deal with the loss of QB Joe Southwick, but returns skill players across the field. The Broncos get Colorado State, Fresno State, and San Diego State at home on the blue turf, where they’ll once again go to work winning the Mountain West.
Bryce: Boise State. Chris Peterson’s exit to Washington came at an appropriate time. While Boise State was a force to be reckoned with in the Ian Johnson Fiesta Bowl days, the luster has lacked a bit in the last couple years. This fresh start they look to embark on comes also without a huge competitor in conference. Harsin has gone and hired 4 former Boise State players from the glory days who have since turned to coaching. 3 more either come from small schools or bring a very youthful mind. Wyoming will make a bowl game this year, as will Utah State, but neither will have the gusto to top the Broncos for the east division crown. Without Derek Carr, Fresno State no longer has a real incumbent threat, but the Dogs and the Wolfpack should finish 2 and 1 respectively in the west.
Pacific 12 Conference
Last Year’s Champ: Stanford University (#11, 11-3)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Ka’Deem Carey ZONA, Will Sutton ASU
No conference changes.
Dan: Oregon. They have maybe the best player in the country in QB Marcus Mariota and an offense that is showing no signs of slowing down. A young defense didn’t do them any favors last season, especially against the run, but another year should do them well. They’ve got one of the best defensive players on their hands also in CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who should stand tall against some of the better offenses in the Pac-12. They’ll have their hands full in an early week 2 test at Michigan State in a battle of top-10 teams. On the road against UCLA should be a preview of the conference championship later in the season, but Oregon always seems to get tripped up somewhere along the way, this year’s possible trip-up could come against Oregon State in the Civil War during the final week of the season. Look for the Ducks to get into the national playoff with a solid 1-loss season.
Bryce: Oregon. Originally I thought of Stanford and UCLA first. Stanford lost too much of their talent to the NFL and their defensive coordinator to Vanderbilt. UCLA, a hot pick to win the conference and even the national title, just isn’t complete enough for me. They have an excellent quarterback but their O-line and run defense doesn’t look like they’ll get the job done. Oregon, with defensive issues of their own, still has speed and the defense is growing. Both older and also older. As Dan mentions, the offense doesn’t show signs of stopping. Ever hear of a player being too fast for the football team?
Last Year’s Champ: Auburn University (#5, 12-2)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Tre Mason AUB, Michael Sam MIZZOU & CJ Mosley BAMA
No changes but the rumor mill involving North Carolina moving in is worth a check…mostly because it was never put completely to bed.
Dan: Georgia. I want to pick Ole Miss, I really do, but playing in the west, I can’t. There’s too many good teams in the west and Georgia doesn’t have to deal with nearly as many in the east. They have a relatively easy schedule, if you can say that for an SEC team, and should be much better on defense than they were last season, with the addition of former FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who will have the still-young Bulldogs ready to play each and every week. After picking them to win the national championship this year, this pick feels much better. They lose star QB Aaron Murray, who holds a ton of SEC career passing marks, but they get almost every other skill player back, whether they are returning to school or coming back from an injury. This team was riddled with bad luck and injuries and still almost won 10 games. This year should be a coming out party for the young Dawgs defense. We’ll have to see if they can get by a strong western team in the championship game, but it could be any of LSU, Auburn, Bama, or Ole Miss. I’ll go Georgia over Ole Miss in the championship game, because why not.
Bryce: Mississippi State. Dak Prescott and timing, baby. Mississippi State is not a team that can compete for SEC title’s year in and year out. But they can be scary every few years. This is one of their few years. Here’s their scheduled potential pitfalls: 9/20 LSU, 10/4 Texas A&M, 10/11 Auburn, 11/15 Alabama, and finally 11/29 the Egg Bowl with Ole Miss. I’ll call out one loss in that mix, either to LSU or Alabama, but not both. Returning 18 of 22 starters with those 4 that left signed NFL contracts (only 1 drafted). The Bulldogs will pose nice threats at defensive line and their secondary will get the job done week in and week out. Prescott will be the heart and soul of the offense, not to say they don’t have a solid core of running backs and receivers though. Watch Prescott do some athletic things, stealing the spotlight that was reserved for Braxton Miller this season.
Sun Belt Conference
Last Year’s Champ: University of Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4) and Arkansas State (8-5)
Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year: Antonio Andrews WKU, Xavius Boyd WKU
Additions to the conference have been a plenty, as they include FCS Southern Conference members (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern) and FBS Independents (Idaho and New Mexico State). App State and Georgia Southern won’t be in the postseason as they are in their transition year. Georgia State did that last year so they technically become full fledged members this year, too. Idaho has the proud distinction of being the only academically ineligible team in the FBS. But since you can’t suspend an entire team, they just won’t be in postseason play, as if that was truly a possibility.
Dan: Louisiana-Lafayette. I’ve got my money on this being a two-team race between ULL and Arkansas State…sound familiar? The Ragin’ Cajuns get Arkansas State at home in late October (on my birthday), and that could be the difference in this conference race. Each team faces its share of early tests, ULL against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Boise State, while Arkansas State gets Tennessee, Miami (FL), and Utah State. I think each team will enter that October 21 matchup with a 4-2 record and all the marbles riding on that game. Senior QB Terrance Broadway was the highest ranked Sun Belt QB in our ranking last season, and for good reason. He’s a dual-threat guy with a big arm, and he’ll be the key to a Cajuns title run. The only other team I could see challenging for the ship would be Troy.
Bryce: Louisiana-Lafayette. A bunch of brand new additions to this conference, as mentioned above, tells us this conference is a solid split between the core and the newbies. The core is ULL, La Tech, Troy and Arkansas State. La Tech will take the back seat and let the other three duke it out for the Sun Belt, Belt. Back to Terrance Broadway and why he’s a difference maker…he hasn’t thrown for over 3,000 yards or 20 touchdowns yet in his career, but those legs of his are the difference maker. His ability to make plays happen when his lackluster O-line breaks down is Cajun’s key to success. Fun to watch, but I’d like to see some bigger numbers this year.
Winner: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Contender: Leonard Fournette, LSU
Dark Horse: Rakeem Cato, Marshall
The fan in me actually has Cato as the winner, Petty the contender and Fournette as the dark horse. This because the last couple Heisman winners have been off the radar at the beginning of the year and you’re not supposed to know who Fournette is. But instead I go conservative in picking Petty as he was in contention last year, the LSU frosh as my contender because I’d be willing to bet you know Fournette has been compared to Adrian Peterson, and Cato as my dark horse because regardless how much I tweeted about him last year, you probably still don’t care he threw 39 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while logging 3916 yards. Of the 11 guys that threw for more yards last year, only Derek Carr and Jameis Winston threw more touchdowns. You know all about Petty so I’ll finish here with Fournette, letting his highlight tape do the talking.
Winner:Todd Gurley, UGA
Contender: Marcus Mariota, ORE
Dark Horse: Christian Hackenberg, PSU
I had the same winner & dark horse as Mr. @bsedio at first, but changed some things up and came up with my new big three. Todd Gurley will grab the award in a loaded QB field, including names like Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, and more. Hackenberg seems like a nice candidate because he’s the prototype QB, he plays in a good conference, and he definitely has the schedule to make some noise, with games against Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten, as well as a early season matchups to put up some big passing numbers. He’ll have to make better throws to a ton of different receivers now that his favorite target Allen Robinson headed off to the League. Hackenberg will have his time in New York in the coming seasons, but he won’t win the award this year. It’s close between everyone else. I think that Gurley will have to be huge for Georgia if they want to win games in the SEC with an inexperienced QB. His running ability will open up the entire field. Mariota will have a great year once again, but with so many high-profile candidates in the same conference, he could be overshadowed in some games. I’ll go with Gurley to take home the hardware in early December
Don’t Sleep On……………………
Teams, coaches, players, mascots, it doesn’t matter, here’s who you should be watching for this season. Who knows, maybe you’ve heard of ‘em.
Dan: Texas Tech & Nate Sudfeld. The Red Raiders were one of the feel-good stories of the season, until about week 8, when they hit the wall and their schedule got a little tougher. They finished 8-5 in Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s first year, but made strides in the right direction with the high-powered offense (remember that Baylor vs. Texas Tech 1st quarter I posted before?). QB Davis Webb is currently the only scholarship player at that position, but it won’t matter, because he was golden last year, throwing for nearly 3000 yards and 20 TDs. Kingsbury isn’t afraid of any of the big boys on their schedule, including games against every member of the Big 12, plus a non-conference game against Arkansas. This offense might score 45 PPG and win the Big 12 outright, I wouldn’t be surprised, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Nate Sudfeld is a different story, he’s a one-man wrecking crew, who will lead his Indiana Hoosiers through a tough Big Ten east schedule from the QB position. We had him ranked as the #25 QB in the country last season as a sophomore, and looking to only get better. After winning the starting job outright from a dual system mid-season last year, Indiana’s offense took off and ended up averaging almost 39 PPG and over 300 passing YPG. He ended up throwing for nearly 2500 yards and 21 TDs in a part-time job. Indiana has offensive fire power, which is how they’ll have to win games because their defense isn’t stopping anyone. Indiana will win 7 games this year and Sudfeld will be the man responsible for that. How’s a bowl game sound for the Hoosiers? Talk about a basketball school…
Bryce: Nike’s ability to disgust us, Rakeem Cato and The Bulldogs of Mississippi State. So I’ve already covered Rakeem Cato and MSU but I feel like people may not be taking me seriously. So I’ll say it again. Mississippi State will do way more damage than you can imagine. If Dak Prescott stays healthy, the sky is the limit. Rakeem Cato will win the Heisman if Marshall goes with 0 or 1 losses this season. Feasible too. He’s done nothing but fill stat sheets in Huntington. His draft stock will be fun to watch too, seeing as he’s a no brainer as a Heisman winner, but may not have been touched if he left early last year (remember Brett Smith of WYO?). On to Nike…My first bone to pick is with what they do in their backyard. Not only do I think the White/Green and Black/Yellow concepts are bizarre, but they don’t even go together. I can just see mom’s all over the Pacific Northwest walking by and thinking the Washington Huskies are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. I could really go on with countless other examples of atrociousness but I’ll just finish with this: just because you can change something, doesn’t mean you should…aka change for change’s sake usually isn’t for the better.
Division 3 Championship:
Because they play football in the other divisions too.
Dan: Linfield over Mount Union. Linfield is #3, Mount is #2 in the pre-season poll, all chasing defending champ UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks are breaking in a new QB and lost a lot of key members of that championship team from last year, especially on defense, so we’ll rule them out of the championship conversation. Mount Union got embarrassed in the championship game by 40 points, and have a top 2 player in the country coming back to lead them to the promised land in QB Kevin Burke. Linfield plays out west and should have a relatively easy road to Salem, if they can get by a few regional home games. They should run away with the conference and show up in the playoffs with nothing but confidence. Mount had a “down” year last year and many feel that they’ll be back with a vengeance in 2014.
Bryce: Linfield over Mount Union.
Playoff Teams & National Champ
Dan: 1-Florida State, 2-Baylor, 3- Oregon, 4-Georgia, CHAMP-Oregon over FSU
Bryce: 1-Florida State, 2-Michigan State, 3-Oregon, 4-Mississippi State, CHAMP-Michigan State over FSU