One I’m buying in 2012, the other I’m selling
After digesting a couple dozen previews, preseason rankings and countless team articles, there are still a handful of teams that my numbers just don’t mesh with the hive mind. For an overview of my numbers used to predict team success, open up your HTTV to the Technical Dossier (no, not about Cass Tech recruiting). The overview is that factors such as returning experience, returning coaching and level of recruits still on the roster are all weighted based on historical significance. The formula is driven by which factors have been most important over the years, not which ones best suit a given (Michigan) team.
Texas-Lost in all of the shootouts of the Big 12 last season was a quietly strong Texas defense after adjusting for the quality of offenses faced. Texas is always loaded and they have over 80% percent production returning from their defensive line and backfield. If the offense can take advantage of half of its talent and the defense can maintain its success, look for the Longhorns to return to the title chase for the first time since Colt McCoy went down. The ongoing quarterback confusion is the only thing from going all in on Texas.
Ohio St-It pains me to admit it but this Buckeye team could be very dangerous. The defense should make major strides to an elite level this season with tons of talent and experience. Obviously a first adjustment under Urban Meyer could derail their aspirations, but unlike Rich Rodriguez’s spread entry, Meyer enters with both a quarterback and a potentially elite defense to help him hit the ground running. New coaches often provide big swings in year one for good or bad. The Buckeyes are set up for Urban to get credit for an upswing they probably would have had anyway, but it will probably take some significant first year growing pains to keep Ohio from a great theoretical bowl game.
Notre Dame-For once in their football life the Domers could actually be underrated heading into this season. Last year’s squad lost five games they had good chances to win. If the bounces go Notre Dame’s way this season they have a shot to be a top-10 team. Their biggest hurdle is going to be a schedule that entering the season looks to be far and away the nation’s toughest. Not an easy task with a Never Forget secondary, but there are plenty of other reasons to be optimistic on the Irish roster.
Missouri-The Tigers are unproven against SEC speed, but have the advantage of playing in the slightly less speedy East division. If Missouri’s prior success can translate into success in their new conference, I am predicting the Tigers can crack the top 20 at the end of the year. The level of competition is the major concern, but the middle of the SEC is not an impenetrable fortress.
Tennessee-Quarterbacks, receivers, defensive line and defensive backs are the key positions to have experience, according to my numbers and Tennessee is strong on all fronts. The offseason coaching exodus is cause for concern, but if the program can stay together Tennessee could end up as surprise second tier SEC team. Two elite receivers can go a long way.
LSU-Last year I sold LSU as a potential contender and got burned. This year I am going right back to the fire. Les Miles’ team should be a very good, top tier SEC team, but I see the Tigers as more of fringe title contender as opposed to the favorite that they have been pegged by many.
Michigan St-I have no doubts the Spartan defense is going to be good. I just don’t think they are going to be great and I have major questions about the offense. With a new quarterback and nearly 90% of their receiving production gone, there is little history on their side that they can have a productive offense. Breaking in that many new players at skill positions has Sparty projected to be one of the worst offenses in the country this year, Le’Veon Bell or not. Their defense will keep them afloat but unless Michigan St breaks in a new crew on offense at an unprecedented rate, the offense will be this team’s limiting reagent.
South Carolina-With possibly the best offensive (Lattimore) and defensive (Clowney) player in the SEC back there are plenty of reasons to be high on South Carolina this year. I just don’t think they have enough depth and experience across the board contend at the top of the SEC. I think a lot of voters/prognosticators don’t know what to after the big 5 (USC, Bama, LSU, Oklahoma and Oregon). South Carolina seems like one of the next shiniest things but I don’t see them having the team across the board to make it happen.
West Virginia-There is a serious case of Orange Bowl fever around the Mountaineer program. West Virginia will be a good fit stylistically in the Big 12 but I don’t think their offense can maintain the pace set in Miami (who could) and I don’t think their defense is going to give their offense any room to spare. West Virginia will be good and their offense will likely be great, but I don’t think they have a complete enough team to crack the Top 10 or so. With Casteel gone and facing the Big 12 offensive gauntlet, the Mountaineers are not going to be able to outscore everyone.
Arkansas-While I agree with the consensus on the first tier of the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Georgia) I have a completely different take on the second tier. Arkansas was one of those teams last year whose record was probably a bit overstated relative to performance. That’s goal for every team, but when predicting the next season you’re always better off going with performance versus record. The offense should still be solid but I have their defense predicted as 13th in the SEC and that just doesn’t cut it for a team with title aspirations.
Kansas St-Like their Cotton Bowl opponent Arkansas, Kansas State was a team whose record far exceeded their performance last year. I am predicting the Wildcats to be on par performance wise with last season but even an improvement could be a 2-3 win setback from last year with some of the games Kansas State pulled out in 2011. Arkansas and Kansas St are the two teams I have the biggest spread with versus the consensus, both ranked 20 spots or so worse by me than by most preseason rankings. Bill Snyder built something out of nothing, but even when he was at his peak, they weren’t nearly as lucky as they were last year. Just an unsustainable level of luck last year in Manhattan.
Boise St-What to do with Boise. The program consistency has been unstoppable from class to class and coach to coach. This year will certainly be their biggest test. 9% of DL production returns, 18% of LB returns, 33% of DB. They lost the winningest quarterback in NCAA history and nearly half of their receiving production. I am typically not big on underestimating Chris Petersen and company but if there is a year to do it, this is it.
Anyone not listed here is within the same ball park for my numbers and pollster consensus. I have Michigan right in line at the bottom of the top 10. Its easy to pick flaws on any college team because turnover is such a major player, but adding up all the factors says that Michigan may be flawed, but there is a reasonable case to pick them around #10 heading into the season. Even though I have Wisconsin in the same area, they are a question mark for me. Danny O’Brien may be a grad year transfer like Russell Wilson was a grad year transfer, but Danny O’Brien is not a quarterback like Russell Wilson was. My numbers have an adjustment built in, but I think Montee Ball and company could struggle a bit more than expected.