The College Football season starts on Thursday night and, while Neil Monnery has invested in a new Penn State hoodie he isn't expecting to see his Nittany Lions make the playoffs. But if it's not James Franklin's men then who are in contention to win it all?
USC are for the first time in several years considered a team that can genuinely win it all but as Woody Paige would scream, 'look at the schedule' and you'll see they'll face no fewer than six opponents in the regular season who are pre-season ranked.
'The match that the whole world is waiting to see' said Joe Buck during FOX's coverage of the NFL over the weekend. It wasn't an isolated incident either. FOX have been using that tag line for Jim Harbaugh's Michigan début at Utah. Yes, of course Jim, the whole world is waiting for a match-up between two unranked teams in Week 1. I'm not going to entertain such terrible self-promotion so let's just talk about the teams that can actually go all the way.
Ohio State - 4.67/2
We can only start with one team. The defending champions who have three quarterbacks (although one of them is moving to WR - why Braxton, why?), a great RB and arguably the most dominant defensive lineman coming into the season. Ladies and gentlemen, it's the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes won it all last season despite many pundits and talking heads believing they didn't even deserve to be in the play-offs. This year though they go into the season having received all the pre-season #1 votes from the AP and only missing out on two #1 votes in the Coaches' Poll.
They'll be favourites in every single game and even though they open at Virginia Tech, who beat them in the Horseshoe last season, they'll open up on Monday Night in prime-time with a big win and won't be remotely tested until Penn State come into town. The Buckeyes should have gone down in Beaver Stadium last year and while James Franklin's team will be better this year, going into Columbus and winning might be for a more seasoned team. That brings us to the big fixture on the schedule, Michigan State. Ranked #5 pre-season they have a huge game in Week 2 against Oregon. If they win that they'll be very much in the picture as well and that second week fixture is already circled in my calendar.
Everyone expects Ohio State to make the play-offs but overwhelming favourites do not do well in College Football and at 4.67/2 I'd be very nervous.
TCU - 7.06/1
Ah, TCU. The team who I think got hosed by missing out on the play-offs last season. Ohio State may have gone on to win it all but they probably didn't deserve to be there in the first place. TCU's only defeat was by just three points at Baylor and that was nowhere near as bad a loss at Ohio State's capitulation at home to Virginia Tech but the committee went with the Big Ten team. I think that motivation spurs them on.
They return with the favourite for the Heisman Trophy in QB Trevone Boykin and go into the season as the #2 ranked team in the nation. Let's just get this out of the way, I love TCU this season and don't foresee them getting seriously tested until the final two weeks of the season. They go to Minnesota in Week 1 which will be interesting, but it is Oklahoma away and home against Baylor where we'll find out what they are truly made of. Due to the fact the Big 12 still has no championship Game (which screwed TCU/Baylor last year) then they have to run the table to get in. I think they do.
Alabama - 8.07/1
The only other team to get a first place vote in the pre-season Coaches' Poll bar the two above, Alabama are good but whilst they are stellar at recruiting, when you lose so much offensive talent in one go, can you seamlessly make another run? They open up with a neutral field game against Wisconsin and here's the thing, I think they lose opening week causing them to be playing catch-up throughout the season. Of course if they win the SEC they'll make the play-offs but I just don't like them this year.
Auburn 15.014/1, LSU 22.021/1 & Georgia 32.031/1
If Alabama aren't winning the SEC then who is? Georgia look in a great place to come out of the East division and entertain Alabama early. Even if they lose that and even if they go down at Auburn, that won't harm them within their division. I don't see any defeats for them within the SEC East. Over in the West division then Alabama, Auburn and LSU are set to beat each other up. If any of these sweep the other two then they'll get in. I happen to think Auburn look good but LSU might be the surprise coming out of the SEC. Still I don't think an SEC team wins it all.
USC 12.5, Oregon 19.5 & Arizona State 46.045/1
Over in the Pac-12 the most interesting storyline is who is under Center for the Oregon Ducks. Vernon Adams is a college transfer from Eastern Washington where he was a dominating QB at the FCS level. Stepping up to the FBS, if he performs as many think he can then the price of 19.5 for Oregon looks pretty tempting. The only issue is they had Marcus Mariota last year and in the big game he couldn't get it done. Was it on Mariota or was it on the coaching staff?
USC are for the first time in several years considered a team that can genuinely win it all but as Woody Paige would scream, 'look at the schedule' and you'll see they'll face no fewer than six opponents in the regular season who are pre-season ranked. If they get through that undefeated or even with just one close loss then they'll earn my respect. That game at Arizona State though on September 26 fills me with dread. Mike Bercovici is a better QB than many think and USC traditionally don't travel to either Arizona school well. Arizona State might be the surprise of the Pac-12 and I think they beat USC early and I don't think they get back into it.
BCS Conference Winner Picks:
ACC - Florida State
Big Ten - Ohio State
Big 12 - TCU
Pac-12 - Oregon
SEC - LSU
I think the ACC miss out on being represented in the playoffs and I don't see Notre Dame getting there an an independent. The Big 12 has TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma who are all legitimate contenders and that not having a conference title game hurts but this year I don't see Florida State (or any ACC school) going undefeated and therefore it shouldn't sound the death knell to Big 12 hopes. TCU and Baylor might actually be two of the three best teams out there but they aren't both getting in. TCU hosts that game and I'll go with them. But I won't just go with them for that game - I'm going for TCU to win all the marbles.
Back TCU to win at 7.06/1