September 01, 2011
I've made a lot of predictions over the last two months, about every team in every conference in the country, many of which I frankly can't even remember. Many, even after diligent research and charts and maybe some rudimentary math, still amount to educated guesses cobbled together with a random strain of fatigued logic. Or whatever sounded good at the time.
But if for whatever reason you feel it necessary to hold my feet to fire about anything I've said about the 2011 season when the calendar turns to 2012, there are only a handful I'm willing to risk looking like an idiot for on the eve of the first Saturday kickoff, before the actual muscle and sweat grinds the offseason logic into irrelevant dust.
• Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley will redeem themselves, and no one will notice.
Gilbert and Brantley were two of the most hyped and ultimately most disappointing players in college football in 2010, both flopping badly in their attempts to succeed legendary quarterbacks at Texas and Florida, respectively. The result in both cases was a free-fall from the top of the polls and a wholesale exodus from both coaching staffs.
Now a year older and under the wing of new offensive coordinators, Gilbert and Brantley both held on to their jobs over the offseason and have a chance to shrug off the growing pains as competent, veteran starters. For two fan bases accustomed to superstars, though, "competent" won't stop the calls for the next generation of hyped freshmen waiting in the wings.
• Oklahoma will lose its No. 1 ranking by midseason.
The Sooners open the season atop both major polls by virtue of their explosive passing game, but the focus during the first month of the season is on the defense: With All-Big 12 linebacker Travis Lewis on the shelf for at least four games, the already vulnerable Sooner D is without its best player for crucial dates with Florida State and Missouri, and possibly against Texas, as well. Even OU gets through that gauntlet unscathed, the margin will be narrow enough to force some second-guessing among pollsters.
• Braxton Miller will be Ohio State's starting quarterback by Halloween.
This was supposed to be a nice, quiet redshirt year for Miller, who would look just fine rocking a cap and clipboard while biding his time behind senior Terrelle Pryor. That timetable began to look shaky when Pryor was suspended for five games last December, and went up in smoke completely when he left the team in June, leaving Miller and senior Joe Bauserman to pick up three disappointing years' worth of slack.
As a result, the Buckeyes will shuffle between both quarterbacks and drop a pair of conference games over the first half of the season, before deciding to stick with the freshman during an Oct. 22 bye week. With a more manageable schedule down the stretch, Miller will restore some much-needed optimism by leading a 4-0 November, capped by the Buckeyes' eighth straight win over Michigan.
• The media is going to love Brady Hoke, anyway.
Whatever else Hoke does in his first season as Michigan's head coach, he already has the local scribes and alumni alike eating out of his hand as the anti-Rich Rodriguez, a role Hoke is playing to the hilt. So far, Hoke's resumé hasn't mattered nearly as much as his ability to evoke the halcyon days of yore among pre-Rodriguez alumni, who have yet to tire in their praise of his deep respect for Michigan tradition and his insistence on building a more "physical" presence from the sissified remnants of the spread offense.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Hoke inherits the most dynamic player in the Big Ten, either, or that he pulled off the best hire of the offseason by luring Greg Mattison from the Baltimore Ravens to resurrect the league's worst defense.
• Boise State will finish undefeated, igniting yet another BCS controversy.
The "BCS controversy" part is a given: Since 2004, 13 different teams have been shut out of the championship game with a perfect regular season record. Four of those teams have been from Boise State. Unlike their predecessors, though, the 2011 Broncos have both the respect (a top-10 ranking in both major polls) and the schedule (high-profile games against Georgia and TCU) to make a serious bid for the title game if they run the table again — and to raise a serious ruckus when they're ultimately left out.
• Notre Dame will make a BCS bowl game, infuriating everyone.
Yeah, somebody says this every year. This year, it happens to be a lot of somebodies, all of whom see a talented, veteran team that hit its stride at the end of its first season under a new coach and is likely to be favored in at least ten of its first eleven games. If they win the ones they're supposed to, the Fighting Irish will be too attractive for the big-money games to pass up at 10-2, but still juuuust divisive enough to inspire a new round of hate on behalf of the less-pedigreed teams that didn't make the cut.
• Miami and North Carolina will sacrifice bowl games to appease the NCAA — but Ohio State will not.
All three schools face allegations of major NCAA infractions — already outlined in detail against North Carolina and Ohio State, and still to come against Miami — and all three have been forced to suspend multiple, high-profile starters as a result. The Tar Heels and Buckeyes have already fired popular, successful head coaches, too; at Miami, the fallout is likely to extend even higher up the food chain.
Where the uncertainty lingers in Chapel Hill and Coral Gables, though, Ohio State has already appeared before the Committee on Infractions and has good reason to believe the NCAA plans to accept the lighter penalties the university has imposed on itself without adding future scholarship penalties or bowl bans. With no such vote of confidence coming their way in time for the bowl season, Miami and North Carolina will take the initiative to keep themselves home for the holidays and cross their fingers that that's as bad as it gets.
• Urban Meyer will be the Buckeyes' new head coach before Jan. 1.
America's Most Eligible Coach grew up in Ohio, went to school in Ohio (Cincinnati) and landed his first graduate assistant job at Ohio State, where he picked up a master's degree and a wife. Who also grew up in Ohio. He's made no secret of his admiration of former Buckeye coach Earle Bruce, who served as an important father figure early in Meyer's career. He's even sharing a broadcasting booth this fall with a Buckeye alum, covering multiple Buckeye games in Ohio Stadium. When it becomes clear the NCAA isn't going to reduce the program to a smoking crater, Meyer will take the reins from placeholder Luke Fickell and never look back.
• Andrew Luck will win the Heisman Trophy.
I know, it's not exactly going out on a limb to vouch for a clean-cut, self-effacing brainiac who leaves even the most ruthless NFL scouts struggling for negatives. But the politics of the award being what they are — since 2000, nine of the last eleven Heisman winners have been scheduled to play in the BCS Championship Game the following January, and seven of those nine were quarterbacks — Luck is the most likely of a very, very small handful of realistic candidates to hit all of the marks. He has the name recognition, he's going to have the numbers, and if Stanford takes care of business in make-or-break visits from Oregon (Nov. 12) and Notre Dame (Nov. 26) down the stretch, he'll have his second golden ticket to New York and his first to New Orleans coming right behind it.
• Alabama will beat Stanford for the BCS championship.
Trailing by less than a touchdown with the clock winding below two minutes, Andrew Luck will drive Stanford into Crimson Tide territory with a pair of first-down passes under heavy pressure. With the game-winning points in reach, though, the nation's best defense will stiffen, forcing Luck into a fourth-and-long situation that he's unable to convert under heavy pressure.
Victory in hand, a group of Alabama players will attempt to dump a bucket of Gatorade on coach Nick Saban, who — sensing the impending danger — will turn just in time to reverse the oncoming bath in midair through telekinesis. As the liquid hovers above the sideline in suspended animation, Saban will focus his mentally energy to force the players to begin assaulting one another, Three Stooges-style, while a graduate assistant taunts "Why are you hitting yourself, huh? Stop hitting yourself." On the podium, Saban will accept the BCS championship trophy, command silence from the crowd and vanish into the thin air with the crystal ball, never to be seen again.
• Joe Paterno will outlive us all.
Eventually, he will. You'll see. (Well, you won't, actually. But he'll see.)
As for this fall, amid fevered speculation surrounding his persistent health issues and the final year of his contract, at least one mainstream outlet will report in November that JoePa plans to step down at the end of the regular season after 47 years as Penn State's head coach. Within days of the report, Penn State will announce Paterno has signed another three-year extension through his 88th birthday in 2014.