Baylor – (See stories on the site) Fifteen seasons without a bowl are about to come to an end if everything breaks right.
Houston – Ten victories for the Cougars are possible in wide-open Conference USA. Case Keenum (5,000 yards passing) is a Heisman candidate. There, I said it. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech had better watch out in September. The Cougars would take a split and have the talent to sweep.
Kansas – The Jayhawks have finished at the top of the standings once since 1968. Forty-one years ago they shared the Big Eight title and went to the Orange Bowl. In 2007, they went 12-1 and shared the Big 12 North title with Missouri. (The Tigers won the division based on its head-to-head victory over the Jayhawks.) No one is expecting KU to go 12-1 again, but it has the stuff to win its first outright title in anything (even a modest division title) since 1930. Nebraska has the easier conference schedule but the Huskers have to play in Lawrence.
Michigan State – After Ohio State and Penn State, the Spartans might be the pick in the Big Ten. Third-year coach Mark Dantonio has the program trending upward after winning nine games in ’08. Even with the loss of quarterback Brian Hoyer and leading rusher Javon Ringer, there are expectations that Sparty will compete in the Big Ten. Michigan State doesn’t play Ohio State and gets Penn State at home. Linebacker Greg Jones might be the conference’s best defensive player.
Nevada – At last check, the Wolf Pack were the only team in the country to run the Pistol offense. That’s not a good matchup with still-emotionally fragile Notre Dame opening up at home against Nevada. Coach Chris Ault will pull everything out of the bag. Give me quarterback Colin Kaepernick (one of only five players ever to pass for 2,000 and rush for 1,000) and tailback Vai Taua (1,521 yards rushing) and I’ll take my chances.
Auburn – Gene Chizik recruited well and God knows he knows how to roll in a limo. But I’m having a hard time figuring out how new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn makes chicken salad out of chicken spit. The offensive talent isn’t there, just like it wasn’t for Tony Franklin last season. Chizik might do great things. They won’t happen in 2009, though. Look for a repeat of 5-7.
Buffalo – In the frat party that followed the Bulls’ MAC championship, a lot of folks forgot that Buffalo lost six games. It didn’t exactly roll over people. Seven of its 14 games were decided by six points or less. It was outgained in conference play. Point is, 2009 could go either way. This year, MAC rivals will not take the Bulls lightly.
Clemson – The Tigers will find a way to slip off the edge of the cliff, even coming off a 7-5 season. Start with a rookie head coach (in his first full season) Dabo Swinney. A life-size poster of C.J. Spiller is nice but where’s the beef? Baylor (see above) has more all-time draft picks. Tommy was never good enough. The Tigers are favored by some to win the ACC. When they don’t we’ll hear more chants of “1991, 1991 …” the last year Clemson won the league.
Miami – Just when the Canes seemed ready to turn the corner, here comes the schedule from hell. Miami could be a better team than ’08 and still come out of the first four 1-3. And how did AD Kirby Hocutt get roped into having to play Central Florida and South Florida on the road in the same season?
South Florida – There’s nothing wrong, exactly, with the Bulls. I’m just wondering when they’re going to quit teasing. In a wide-open Big East, South Florida could win it, or finish fifth. The program seems to have peaked after winning nine in both ’06 and ’07. Jim Leavitt has the league’s best offensive player (Matt Grothe) and best defensive player (George Selvie) this season. We’re waiting, coach.