2009 College Football Preview: LA's Return

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LA Takes Inspiration from Phil Steele on College Football EveLA Takes Inspiration from Phil Steele on College Football Eve

While very abbreviated this season - sorry, it's been a hectic summer - here is my "preseason preview" courtesy of a Top 10 list of the things you need to know heading into the 2009 college football season.  Enjoy and please direct any complaints or bitching to 1-401-285-0701.

10Jumping right in, who will hoist the BCS Championship trophy on January 7th, 2010?

Florida.

I never go with the preseason media favorite when making my preseason selection - with good reason.  The preseason #1 has gone wire-to-wire only ten times in the history of the sport - and only twice in the modern-BCS era.  The last to do it was the 2004 USC squad whom I picked to make it to the big game (but to get upset by the winner of the Auburn/Georgia game).  But this year's Florida team is just too strong to ignore - from top to bottom - and they have the right schedule, the right attitude, the right intangibles.  My game-by-game simulations have their only close contest coming on October 10th @ LSU (after a bye week! what luck)...a game I predict they will win by 7.

By the way, back to 2004...you might recall that Auburn won that Georgia tilt...and went 13-0 (winning the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech to close the season) along with USC but was left out of the National Championship game when Oklahoma also went undefeated in the regular season.  I still side with Tiger fans when they bring up that year with tears in their eyes as I believe Auburn would have beat USC had they played that January.  It is no coincidence that I introduced the preseason rankings as a 30% weighting in my LA power rankings following the 2004 season.

And I see a lot of similarities between the 2009 and the 2004 season - with several schools having a legitimate chance to go undefeated and the preseason polls making up a MAJOR component of who gets to go where come January.  The 2004 final regular season poll, along with records and preseason rankings in parenthesis, looked like this:

1.  USC 12-0   (1)

2.  Oklahoma 12-0  (2)

3.  Auburn 12-0  (18)

4.  California 10-1  (15)

5.  Texas 10-1  (8)

6.  Utah  11-0  (21)

7.  Georgia  9-2  (4)

8.  Louisville 10-1  (NR)

9.  Virginia Tech 10-2  (NR)

10.  Boise State  11-0  (NR)

Now...tell me again why the preseason polls don't matter?  The ONLY reason why Oklahoma was chosen over Auburn to play USC was that preseason ranking delta of a whopping 16 slots.  And Utah and Boise State both went undefeated in the regular season as well...but Utah received the BCS nod over Boise State.  Why?  Preseason rankings.  Utah started at #21 and Boise State was off the map.  Yeah - the preseason polls matter.  A lot.  Florida will beat Oklahoma for the crystal but they will NOT be the only two undefeated teams when the regular season comes to an end.

9.  Okay then, how many undefeated teams will there be when the regular season comes to an end?  At a minimum, like 2004, there will be 4 undefeated teams when the regular season ends.  I am calling for Florida, Oklahoma, Penn State and Boise State to win out in 2009.  Heck, if TCU can slip past Clemson on September 26th, I call for a whopping 5 teams to remain unblemished going into the bowls.

My dream for 2009...can you imagine Joe Paterno in a post-Rose Bowl interview if Penn State goes undefeated in the regular season...beats the shit out of the PAC-10 Champion...and doesn't get a chance to play the Florida/Oklahoma winner for a "real" National Championship?  It would be irony well served if JoePa can change the game one last time...as he retires muttering something about "F the BCS"...by finally forcing a college football playoff via such a scenario.

8.  Penn State to the Rose Bowl - got it.  Who will they face there (A.K.A. who will win the PAC-10)?

In perhaps my most shocking preseason prediction of 2009, I am calling for USC to finish the regular season no better than 10-2.  Only THREE returners on defense.  Playing the other two legitimate PAC-10 contenders (Oregon and California) plus their two biggest Out Of Conference games (Ohio State and Notre Dame) on the road (17th hardest schedule in the land).  A new defensive and offensive coordinator.  A TRUE freshman QB in Matt Barkley under center (to start anyway).  And then the news that broke this week (no pun intended) - starting WR Ronald Johnson (and second returning WR in 2008 reception yards) is out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone.  Ouch.  Everything adds up for USC's first non-BCS Bowl bid year since 2001.

The Cal Bears get it done in '09 and will finally "smell the roses" in January.

7.  There are 10 BCS Bowl bids up for grabs each year.  Thus far, you have California (PAC-10 automatic bid), Penn State (Big Ten automatic bid), Florida (SEC automatic bid), Oklahoma (Big XII automatic bid) and Boise State (at large) through to the Big Dance.  Who are the other 5?

Virginia Tech (ACC automatic bid), West Virginia (Big East automatic bid), Oklahoma State (at large), Ole Miss (at large) and Ohio State (at large).  The last one in are the Buckeyes and they must beat USC at the Horseshoe on September 12th...AND have Penn State run the board...to hold off a Notre Dame team that should finish 10-2.  I can forsee a MAJORLY screwed TCU squad in 2009...going undefeated (and they very well could if they slip past Clemson on 9/26) but left out of the big dance due to starting the season one spot back of the Broncos in the preseason polls and not coming from one of the super conferences.  Again, this season is setup to deal the current BCS system a major blow.

6.  Which team will be the 2009 BCS Buster?  Boise State.  No, TCU.  No, Boise State.  Wait...could this be the year that TWO teams from the smaller teams make it in?  Wouldn't the public demand (and pay for) to watch both of these Cinderellas take on one of the big boys if both go undefeated?  Sure - Boise State's Out Of Conference (OOC) schedule is a joke, aside from Oregon (more on that in a minute), but they have already proved their meddle and are sort of becoming the poster child for how to be a BCS school in a non-BCS conference.  And TCU, should it pull it off, will have beaten Clemson and BYU (and Virginia) away as well as Utah at home to go undefeated.  I actually think TCU will lose to Clemson in a thriller...who will go on to push Florida State for the Atlantic Division crown.  If I am right, isn't a 11-1 TCU team...whose lone blemish is a close loss to Clemson...worthy of a BCS bid as well?  Especially if the Big East fails to get a team ranked higher than TCU or Boise State before season end (which is VERY likely given that the Big East is not represented in the Top 25 preseason polls)? Wanna make some easy bucks?  Place a bet that TCU will have more wins than Texas at the end of the season (including the bowls)...and you are welcome for the suggestion.

5.  Who will win the Heisman?  Tim Tebow.  I've already sent in my ballot and so has everyone else.  Welcome to a very elite group of two-time Heisman Trophy winners kid.  Next question.

4.  Which team has the largest negative LA Talent-to-Power Ranking delta (a.k.a. the team that, despite good talent, will not fulfill their potential due to a tough schedule, bad breaks, etc.)?  Mississippi State and Missouri from the fringes...and Georgia on the main stage.  Mississippi State is a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of talent but is likely to finish 3-9.  Alabama and Ole Miss (yes, Ole Miss) had better not overlook the Bulldogs at season end or it could be a "Pitt over WVU, 2007" type upset to close the season.  Missouri is actually calculating as a top 25 team in terms of raw talent but has a #71 power ranking.  I call for them to have a losing record BUT shock the college football pundits by upsetting one their big name opponents along the way (watch out Texas, Nebraska or Illinois).   And, while those story lines will certainly be entertaining, Georgia fans are in for another season of heart break.  Preseason ranked #13 (how appropriate that they are unlucky 13) - I have them #5 in the nation in terms of talent but having a -5% chance of actually hoisting the BCS Trophy.  Their team is loaded but there is that annoying Florida team to deal with...as well as a trip to Oklahoma State to kick off the season...and other OOC foes Georgia tech and Arizona State.  Ouch.  And they have to start the climb toward a National Championship from outside of the Top 10...not impossible, but tough.  With all that said, don't be surprised if the Bulldogs surprise as they certainly have the talent to be a National Championship Dark Horse pick.  If they pull it off, they will have earned it.

3.  Which team has the largest positive LA Talent-to-Power Ranking delta (a.k.a. the team that will look good in the regular season but get blown out in a bowl)?  From the fringe...Ohio and from the main stage...our beloved Boise State Broncos.  Ohio (not State) is ranked #91 in my talent rankings (as one would expect) but a WHOPPING #25 in the LA Power Rankings.  Ohio could very well be this year's edition of last year's Ball State run.  I predict Ohio will upset UConn to kick off the season at home and could potentially run the table if their good luck (they have a -10 intangible score) comes pouring down on them when they play @ Tennessee.  Ohio (not State) beating Tennessee?!?! Impossible you say?  Well, the Volunteers take on UCLA and Florida the two weeks before...all it takes are a few key injuries here or there and the impossible could happen.  Tennessee is not particularly deep and Lane Kiffin has some serious bad karma stored up following a ridiculous offseason.  Call for the Bobcats to beat the spread and you will be a happy man.  Then, we have our national team - the Boise State Broncos.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Their talent is solid...#38 in the land...top 1/3 tier.  But their LA Score is a ridiculous #2 !  That's right - their talent level, plus their easy schedule, plus their solid starting point (are they really the 16th best team in the nation?) give Boise State a legitimate chance to dream of a BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP birth.  They would need all the biggies to lose 2 games...and Florida to lose 1...but I could see it happening.  If we had the "+1 playoff format" many are calling for, I could DEFINITELY see Boise State getting a BCS birth...winning in an upset...and playing for the crown.  Amazing.  Basically, get past the Ducks and the season is a walk through practice to the BCS party.

2.  Which team is the most overrated going into 2009?  The South Carolina GameCocks.  Gotta love having the 'Old Ball Coach on your sideline - virtually guarantees you getting into the "Others Receiving Votes" heading into the preseason.  Their LA score is 78 heading into the season and I could easily see them sitting home for the holidays.  They enter 2009 with only 11 returning starters (2nd fewest in the SEC)...only 58.8% lettermen returning...and without under appreciated QB Smelley (how much will we miss Mr. Smelley Cock?).  Bottom line is that Spurrier's squad has underperformed to talent level the last 2 seasons and I think he has lost his edge in recruiting...and I think we will see the beginning of the end for him this year.  Again, opening night will be very intriguing to watch - as South Carolina travels to (an underrated) NC State on ESPN Primetime tomorrow night.  They have the prime opportunity to prove me wrong.

1.  Which team is the most underrated going into 2009?  My top five teams to surprise this year are:  Nevada, Rutgers, Southern Mississippi, South Florida and NC State.  Call up Vegas now to see what the payout would be to place $100 now on 2 of these 5 finishing in the Top 25 at regular season end.  I bet you will get a handsome payout as all of them have good talent, friendly schedules and are being largely ignored by the Coaches Poll heading into kickoff.  Southern Miss, like Ohio, has the REAL potential to shock everyone deep into the season...Nevada has a prime time opportunity versus Notre Dame opening weekend (although I don't see that happening)...and the other 3 have LEGITIMATE chances to win their respective conferences.

And, with that, it is almost (finally) time to quit talking and start playing out the best soap opera going...the college football season.

~30 HOURS until Kickoff,
L.A.