One of the reasons that I am for a playoff in football is because of the SEC. That conference in brutal!! Auburn, LSU, Florida and Georgia all have legit national championship hopes. Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina would contend for league titles in nearly every other conference. Just check out this preview of the Pac-10, SEC, MWC and the Independents
PACIFIC 10 CONFERENCE
THE ELITE: USC still will be a national force. Sure, they just said bye-bye to the last two Heisman winners [Leinart and Bush] and saw Lendale White bolt too. The receiving corps is outstanding...but who will throw it to them? California has been right behind the Trojans for the past couple of years and have played them tougher than pretty much anyone.
BOWL WORTHY: Oregon is usually tough...but must go to USC and Cal, so they won't win the conference title. Arizona State has a very good offense...but a very bad defense. The didn't allow less than 16 points in any game last year...and that 16 pt game was against horrid Temple. Oregon State has a chance at making a splash. They have USC, Cal and Oregon all at home. They also have a skeddie that could allow for a 6-6 year if they can win some tough games.
SURPRISE TEAM: Arizona has a chance to surprise some people. After going 1-6 to start last season [and the one win was against Northern Arizona], the Wildcats went into Oregon State and won....then pounded UCLA the next week 52-17. They also lost close games with Oregon and Arizona State late in the year. They're getting better.
DISAPPOINTMENT: UCLA should fall a bit this year. Last year, the Bruins took a 9-1 record into the USC game and were promptly pounded 66-19. The schedule sets up for a positive start....but games against USC, at Cal, at Notre Dame, at Arizona State and at Oregon could push UCLA down in the standings.
YOU SUCK!: Washington State could sneak into a bowl. With Idaho and Baylor on the menu, they have to find only four more wins. Um...but where?? Stanford is still a year or so away from being about to get into the bowl picture. Washington has tons of work to do....and with at Oklahoma, at USC, at Oregon and at Cal on their season plate, ugh.
HOT SEAT: Mike Riley could be pushed out the door at Oregon State. He has a losing record in his 5 year stint, which followed a great run from Dennis Erickson. There are some openings for a few wins [Cal, Washington State, at Stanford, at Hawaii] and Riley may need those and to knockoff one of the bigwigs in the Pac 10 to keep his job.
TOUGHEST SKED: USC has a lot of turnover and a tough schedule. With the new scheduling of playing all 9 other conference members....there is no hiding. And when the non-con sked includes at Arkansas and home dates with Nebraska and Notre Dame....it will be a test. Especially the final games...Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame at UCLA.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Aside from Notre Dame-USC?? Well then, California-USC. The Bears are the only Pac-10 team to beat USC in the last three years....and were very close to beating the Trojans in their last meeting in LA.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dwayne Jarrett could follow in the footsteps of Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Williams as elite USC wideouts. Not only does he have the talent...but an offense friendly to his skills and another premiere receiver [Steve Smith] on the other side that can take some heat off him.
OVERVIEW: Now, is USC really this juggernaut?? Or didthey just have a great stretch due to some magical players in their program? It will be seen this year. Still, it comes down to USC and California. I like USC. They have a tough non-con sked...but as far as the Pac 10 title goes, they get ASU, Oregon and Cal at their place.
THE ELITE: Auburn may be the best team in the nation. They have been the SEC's best team over the last three years. Their schedule is a bit favorable, with LSU, Florida and Georgia visiting the Tigers. If they slip up, then it will be LSU right there to take their place. The difference is that these Tigers must go to Auburn, Florida and Tennessee. Is this the time for Florida to finally shine?? QB Chris Leak [who went to Independence HS, just like ol' Sportz Assassin] is in his senior season and running an offense that really doesn't suit him. The Gators navigated thru last year...but need to win a big road game. They lost at Alabama, South Carolina and LSU....and got only one true road win...at hapless Kentucky. This year is tougher. Georgia will be right there if they can get a QB. Maybe Joe Cox can be that guy [another Independence HS grad]. If they do indeed find a QB, they are talented enough to win the whole thing.
BOWL WORTHY: Tennessee had an embarassing year last year...missing out on a bowl. Still, they should be back for a pretty good 2006. Alabama's defense will be able to hold the team as the offense tries to find himself.
SURPRISE TEAM: Arkansas may be a team on the rise. Four of their SEC losses last year were by 4 pts or less. They also have some cake teams on their sked that could allow them to be close to being a bowl team.
DISAPPOINTMENT: South Carolina needs work from the offense...one that struggled to score most of the year. With games against Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson on their map....the Gamecocks could find themselves outmatched. Still, they should be a bowl team.
YOU SUCK!: Kentucky has struggled to get their football program back to relevance since their rise during the Tim Couch era. Vanderbilt has holes everywhere. But they do have a win at Tennessee to ride the season on. Ole Miss isn't horrible...but they aren't good enough to win in this stacked conference. Mississippi State has a defense that could bite some teams....but Sylvester Croom still is in rebuilding mode.
HOT SEAT: Kentucky's Rich Brooks hasn't gotten it done in his 3 year stay in Lexington. And with the basketball team not wowing anyone....the football ugliness is even more magnified.
TOUGHEST SKED: Florida. They host Alabama, LSU and South Carolina....and must go to Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State. Ouch.
GAME OF THE YEAR: There are a ton of these games....pretty much one every week. LSU-Auburn may be the best game on the SEC schedule. The winner will have the inside track for the West title...and may be the SEC [or national] champ. However, will there be any hype for an SEC game pitting South Carolina at Florida?? Some guy named Steve Spurrier heads to the Swamp.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Auburn's Kenny Irons has the talent and plays in an offense that could vault him into Heisman heights.
OVERVIEW: In the West, that LSU-Auburn game [which is verrrrry early in the season, Sept 16] should decide that division. On the other side...Florida, Georgia and Tennessee will battle for it all. Florida is the more talented team....but Georgia plays an easier SEC sked. That will put them in the SEC title game. Still, I think Auburn beats 'em.
THE ELITE: Well, Notre Dame is the only elite here. And, boy, they are elite. Their offense exploded last year....and should only get better with virtually everyone back and another year in that Charlie Weis offense. The key will be how the defense holds up.
BOWL WORTHY: Navy has become the premiere academy with a very potent offense that has brought fits to everyone they play [yeah, even Notre Dame]. It grew stronger as the year went along, too.
YOU SUCK!: Army has fallen off the map. Still, they have some winnable games out there [VMI, Rice, Kent State]. Temple is in a holding pattern until they get to the MAC. Still, they were 0-11 last year with a few really lopsided games in there.
HOT SEAT: Army's Bobby Ross has the headline here. Notre Dame and Navy are doing fine...and Temple has a 1st year coach. Unless Army tanks, he probably will be okay.
TOUGHEST SKED: Notre Dame plays another horrid sked. Check it out: at Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, at USC. And games at Navy, at Air Force, Purdue and North Carolina won't be complete cupcakes.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Notre Dame at USC. The Saturday after Thanksgiving.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Brady Quinn enters the year as the Heisman frontrunner. He put up awesome numbers in his first year in the Notre Dame offense. Another year with virtually everyone back?? Wow.
OVERVIEW: Well, it is Notre Dame and everyone else. Navy should see a decent bowl game too.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
THE ELITE: TCU spent it's first season in the MWC by dominating it. If not for a puzzling loss to SMU, the Horned Frogs would've went undefeated last year. If there is a non-BCS conference team that could sneak into the dance....it could be TCU. They are still better than the rest of the conference...and with Baylor, UC-Davis and a tough home game against Texas Tech as their non-con foes, the Frogs look like BCS sniffin' material. If not them, then maybe Utah? The Utes do get to host the Frogs before a national audience on October 5. They are strong at QB, but inexpereinced at running back.
BOWL WORTHY: BYU is on the upswing after some poor years earlier this decade. The problem they have is a tougher sked [see further below]....but do own possibly the conference's top backfield.
SURPRISE TEAM: New Mexico can contend for a bowl berth. They have a potentially explosive offense...but also have a potentially implosive defense. But this is a program on the rise. The management of Rocky Long is perfect for lifting this team into the MWC's top half on a consistent basis.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Colorado State isn't what it once was. They have one of the worst defenses in the nation and don't have the offensive firepower of years past to make up for it. Also, with the addition of TCU and the re-emerging BYU out there....the Rams have a lot more competition as the Utah Spoiler. Still a bowl caliber team...just not an elite one.
YOU SUCK!: There are some bottom feeding teams out there. Chuck Long takes over at San Diego State....and is working to adjust the culture there to a winning one. Wyoming has gone back to the bottom after peeking it's head into a bowl in 2004. Air Force isn't the premiere service academy anymore....nor are they a factor in this conference. And coach Fisher DeBerry scarred his great 22 year record at the AFA by making some racially insensitive remarks last year. And UNLV just isn't ready to compete yet.
HOT SEAT: Air Force's Fisher DeBerry may be nearing his end at the academy. Again, those racial remarks stained a very good resume. But their recent struggles have gone against what they've built over time. And, like with Colorado State, the Falcons have to deal with TCU now....just just those nestled western schools. It is hard to imagine DeBerry being fired....but an honor discharge [read: retirement] could be "suggested" it they endure another bad year.
TOUGHEST SKED: BYU has it tough. They have a non-con schedule with Tulsa and Utah State at home at go to Arizona and Boston College. And the conference is unforgiving. They must go to TCU, Utah, Air Force and Colorado State.
GAME OF THE YEAR: TCU heads to Utah on Thursday, October 5th for a nationally televised game that could be the defacto MWC title tilt.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Beck could be the next in a line of BYU quarterbacks to have a special season. Last year, he threw for nearly 3,800 yards....37 TDs...and with a 64% completion rate. He has a great stable of receivers plus a good running attack that will keep defenses on focusing on stopping just him.
OVERVIEW: What would be better for the Mountain West: TCU rampaging thru the league again and possibly going to a BCS game [and risk being viewed as a rinky dink league with a Texas school embarrasing them].....or having a very nice battle amongst TCU, Utah and BYU for the title [and risk that BCS money]??? Either way...TCU will win this thing. But how they do may give us a glimpse at what may be the future of this league for the next couple of seasons.