Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Trying to pick the winner in a college
football game, without factoring in the point spread and other pertinent
factors, isn't all that hard -- at least early on
The task becomes increasingly more difficult as the season wears on, as teams
come together in an attempt to knock off bitter rivals, stake their claim to
their respective conference crowns, assure themselves of the best possible
postseason destination, and in the case of at least two squads, set their
sights on a shot at the ultimate prize -- the BCS National Championship.
The usual cast of characters are expected to battle tooth and nail for their
shot at college football immortality this year, with USC, Alabama, LSU,
Oklahoma and Oregon considered the cream of the [preseason] crop. There are
certainly others who could find themselves in the enviable position of playing
in south Florida on January 7, 2013, so let's take a look at each conference
to see which teams will likely be left standing when the dust settles later
ACC: Florida State is the odds-on favorite to win its 13th ACC title, but you
can't count out squads at Clemson and Virginia Tech. The Seminoles, who
haven't won the conference crown since 2005 and last claimed the Atlantic
Division title in 2010, return a slew of talented starters on both sides of
the ball. Jimbo Fisher's club will likely rely on a defense that got better as
the season wore on last year to keep it in most games this season, and FSU's
toughest bouts will at home against Clemson and Florida, and on the road at
Big 12: Oklahoma is clearly the team to beat in the revamped Big 12 this year,
but quality clubs at West Virginia, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and
newcomer TCU could challenge the Sooners. Still it would be something of a
shocker if Bob Stoops' troops weren't playing for the national championship
this season -- that is of course as long as the Sooners avoid the kind of
setback they've experienced in the past when they lose to a team they should
have beaten. Oklahoma, which has a Heisman hopeful in QB Landry Jones, opens
league play at home versus K-State, and will also face Texas, Notre Dame, West
Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU this season.
Big East: With West Virginia now in the Big 12, the Big East title is up for
grabs this year. At the outset, Louisville appears to the class of the league,
although South Florida, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and even Syracuse could make it
interesting come early November. This is the final year in the conference for
both the Panthers and Orange as they will call the ACC home in 2013, so you
know they would love to stick it to the Big East with one final run. In the
end, expect the high-flying Cardinals to claim their third Big East crown, and
second straight after sharing it with both West Virginia and Cincinnati a year
Big Ten: With up to a half dozen teams expected to vie for the conference
championship, the Big Ten is poised to have a monster year. Michigan appears
to have what it takes to win its record 43rd league title, while Wisconsin,
Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State all field talented teams capable of
winning the Big Ten crown as well. Led by highly-skilled QB Denard Robinson,
the Wolverines will be tested right out of the chute when they play defending
national champion and No. 2-ranked Alabama in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 1.
Michigan's other tough games include a home date with Michigan State, and road
trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State.
Conference USA: Like some other leagues, the race to win the Conference USA
title this year is expected to be tight. With the NCAA recently declaring UCF
ineligible for postseason play, Houston, Tulsa and East Carolina appear to be
the teams most likely to have a say in C-USA's final pecking order this year.
The first full season of the Tony Levine era gets underway for the Cougars at
home against FBS newcomer Texas State on Sept. 1, but their toughest games are
expected to be on the road against UCLA, SMU and East Carolina, and at home
versus Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.
Mid-American: Like other leagues in the FBS, the Mid-American Conference
experienced some shuffling of teams after last season, as the Temple Owls
moved back to the Big East, and former FCS member Massachusetts serving as
their replacement. The Ohio University Bobcats, who notched the first bowl win
in school history last year, appear set to claim their first conference
championship in more than four decades. It won't be easy however, as also
expected to be in the thick of things are Toledo, Northern Illinois and
Western Michigan, while Bowling Green, Kent State and Ball State would love
nothing more than to play the role of spoiler.
Mountain West: Boise State is hoping to make its final year in the Mountain
West Conference a memorable one, as the Broncos are once again the favorites
to win the league crown before heading off to the Big East next season. San
Diego State is also leaving the MWC for the Big East, but the Aztecs don't
figure to be more than a middle-of-the-pack team in the league this year.
BSU's main competition now that TCU has moved to the Big 12, is likely to come
from Mountain West newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, while squads at Wyoming,
Air Force and Colorado State may also make their presence felt. The Broncos'
road to another MWC title, which they must travel without record-setting QB
Kellen Moore, features tough tilts at Michigan State, Southern Miss, Wyoming,
Hawaii and Nevada, while getting BYU, Fresno State, San Diego State and
Colorado State all at home.
Pac-12: Out from under the dark clouds of NCAA sanctions, the USC Trojans come
into the 2012 season ranked No. 1 in the country. Led by Heisman-caliber QB
Matt Barkley, USC has the talent in all phases to compete not only for the
Pac-12 title, but the national championship as well. Oregon is likely the only
team that can derail the Trojans' hopes, but the Ducks have some questions on
offense. Life without Andrew Luck begins for Stanford, but the Cardinal still
has a talented roster, as does Washington and to a lesser extent California
and even Utah. USC and Oregon meet in Los Angeles on Nov. 3, and there could
very well be a rematch a month later in the conference championship game.
SEC: Some think Alabama is the best team in the SEC. Others believe it to be
LSU. Regardless, both teams have established themselves as the top dogs in
arguably the nation's toughest conference. The defending national champion and
second-ranked Crimson Tide will know exactly what they're made of when they
take on No. 8 Michigan in the season opener, while the third-ranked Tigers,
who must find a way to get past the recent dismissal of star DB Tyrann
Mathieu, will face their first test against Washington a week later. The two
will meet in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 3. No disrespect intended, but even a squad
like Georgia, which comes into the season ranked No. 6, takes a backseat to
the "big two", and almost forgotten in the mix is Florida, which is hoping for
a much better showing in Will Mushchamp's second year at the helm. South
Carolina is a team to be reckoned with, as is Arkansas, but this year's SEC
champ will likely be Alabama.
Sun Belt: If Arkansas State is going to win its second straight Sun Belt
Conference title, it will need to do so with a new coach calling the shots.
The Red Wolves are now led by former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn,
and they have the league's top QB in senior Ryan Aplin. Also expected to
challenge for the SBC's top spot this year will be FIU and Louisiana -- the
former sporting one of the league's top defenses, and the latter a solid team
on both sides of the ball. The Sun Belt, which welcomes South Alabama to the
fold this season, will undergo even more changes in 2013 when Texas State and
Georgia State join the party following the departure of both North Texas and
FIU to Conference USA.
WAC: With this likely being the final year of football for the Western
Athletic Conference, as many as three teams are expected to challenge for the
league title. Defending champion Louisiana Tech is the obvious choice to
repeat, but the Bulldogs will face challenges from Utah State and San Jose
State. The Aggies will likely ride a stout defense to any success they
achieve, and the Spartans are hoping former Minnesota RB DeLeon Eskridge will
give them the boost they need to climb the conference ladder. In the end,
expect LaTech to win the last WAC football championship, and to secure its
second straight bowl bid in the process.
As Independents, Notre Dame certainly has the toughest road to hoe in terms of
posting a winning record as the Fighting Irish will play Michigan State,
Michigan, Miami-Florida, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and USC. As for
BYU, it only has a handful of tough bouts, taking on the likes of Boise State,
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
The Sports Network