John Roberts College Football

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Preseason 2005: Non-BCS Sleepers

By popular demand, here are some non-BCS sleepers. These are teams that I think I may have underrated when I released my rankings earlier this month.

Conference USA:
I'll throw two out there- Houston and Southern Miss. Everyone is high on USM, but I just don't buy it yet. They have lost some players, and they were only a 7-5 team last year. Are they going to be better? Maybe, maybe not. We need to wait and see. Houston underachieved drastically last year. Truthfully, it wouldn't shock me to see Houston beat Oregon on September 1 and make a run at the West title. UTEP is the clear favorite, but Houston may shock some people.

Who is a sleeper in this conference? I guess I have to go with Eastern Michigan at this point, although any of the bottom eight teams is a possibility. EMU has the offensive firepower to light it up and that makes them dangerous in a conference like this.

Mountain West:
I could be sleeping on a lot of teams here. But I have to pick one out. So I'll go with New Mexico. The Lobos are a team that many are picking to win the conference. I've got them fourth. They have the running game to stay in any game. They are a talented group, but their road games are against Missouri, UTEP, TCU, Wyoming, San Diego State, and Utah. Ouch.

Sun Belt:
The Troy Trojans went to a bowl game last year. They lost a lot of talent, but I still have them projected as going just 5-6 and finishing 5th in the Sun Belt. They are probably a better team than that and should finish #3 in the conference more than likely. We'll wait and see.

OK, I'm going WAY out on a limb here and saying New Mexico State. I'm going to say that Hal Mumme has the type of affect on them that Price had on UTEP last year and they go from doormats to contenders in one year. Mumme runs a quirky offense and this team has the players to put big points on the board. If nothing else, they'll be fun to watch.

Preseason 2005: The Overlooked Games of September

These are games that it seems like are flying under the radar early in the season. There are some games we can't stop hearing about. These are games it is hard to hear much about. Some will be a load of fun to watch. Some are potential upsets that teams better be on the lookout for. Regardless, these are some of the games you need to be aware of for the first month of the season.

1. Oklahoma at UCLA (September 17)- The Bruins are bound and determined to make this season one to remember. They seem to have a team capable of doing it. But the Sooners have proven virtually unstoppable every step of the way the last few seasons. However, the last time they faced a team from Los Angeles, it wasn't pretty. Admittedly, UCLA is no USC, but this game will tell us a lot about whether or not Oklahoma has bounced back from graduations and the Orange Bowl embarrassment, or if they will be dragged down early in the season. The Texas-Ohio State game gets more press, but this may be just as entertaining of an out of conference game.

2. USC at Oregon (September 24)- The Ducks have proven very tough to beat at home. Just ask Michigan. That seems to be the predominant memory of Autzen Stadium for most of the college football world. They may never have seen a team as good as USC. However, there is some feeling out there that if USC is going to get beat, this might be the week. If it is, that makes this one of the must see games of the year.

3. Texas A&M at Clemson (September 3)- Strangely, this game has not garnered a lot of attention. Of course, neither team was particularly strong last year, though both were bowl teams. Still, this game feels like a very interesting match-up. These teams both think they are sleepers to get into the national championship race, especially Texas A&M. The real sleeper needs to win this game. This should be an incredibly entertaining game that is close down to the very end.

4. Iowa at Iowa State (September 10)- The battle over the state of Iowa is never easy. Iowa State always seems to play Iowa close in these games. The Cyclones are Iowa's biggest out of conference game, and could easily take all of the air out of the balloon for the Hawkeyes early in the season. The lofty national ranking? A loss will take that away. On the other hand, a win for the Cyclones could propel them up the rankings and send their confidence soaring. These are two good football teams. If it were in November, Iowa would win by 17 points. But in September...

5. Virginia Tech at North Carolina State (September 4)- The Hokies are looking to exact a little revenge on the Wolfpack. The Pack had the nation's #1 ranked defense a year ago, and the Hokies will try to beat that with Marcus Vick. This game will become more highly anticipated as the season inches closer and the word on Vick starts to heat up.

6. Bowling Green at Boise State (September 21)- Could these be the two best non-BCS teams in the country this year? Maybe. If Bowling Green upsets Wisconsin and Boise State upsets Georgia on opening day, this game becomes a real barn burner. The winner could be keeping hopes alive for a BCS bowl bid. The loser goes home to lick their wounds and try to focus on winning their conference. This is the type of game that fans of non-BCS schools dream about. It is almost like basketball's Bracket Buster played every February.

7. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (September 3)- The Irish and Panthers are two really deep sleepers for this season. The Irish schedule is so tough that every winnable game is a must win just to get to a bowl game. The Panthers think they have a shot at stealing the Big East and maybe more. This primetime game will be running at the same time a USC at Hawaii, Georgia Tech at Auburn, and Texas A&M at Clemson. Get your tapes, your multiple TV's, or your remote control fingers ready as that will be one great three and a half hours of football.

8. Arkansas at USC (September 17)- The odds are very slim that the Razorbacks come out of Los Angeles with a win. Of course, the odds were very slim that they would win at Texas in 2003, or keep it close against Texas last year. They did both of those things. The Razorbacks always seem to overachieve in their biggest games, and this would qualify. Beating the two time defending national champs is almost impossible, but few people are talking about it really. The Razorbacks have a lot of experience back despite the loss of Matt Jones. Don't be surprised to see them make this one closer than people are anticipating.

9. Oregon State at Louisville (September 17)- Is this Louisville's best chance to lose a game? The Cardinals could run to the Rose Bowl, but they need to win and win impressively when they get a chance. The Beavers are a good team. They may be one of only two or three teams that will be underdogs by less than a touchdown at gametime against Louisville. That makes this game one of the must watch games of the year. If Louisville is going to make a claim at the right to go to the Rose Bowl, we have got to see them against some decent competition. This qualifies.

10. Wake Forest at Nebraska (September 10)- We're digging deep for sleepers now. The winner of this game has a real shot to get to a decent bowl game. Wake is a possible sleeper for getting to the ACC Championship Game (they'll need a lot of help). Nebraska is a team that could get to the Big Twelve Championship Game. I can't wait to watch this game, which may seem strange. But these teams both deeply intrigue me, and that makes this one of the games I'm looking forward to watching.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Preseason 2005: The Games of November

As has been stated so many times before, there is no way to be 100% sure how good these games are going to be in November when we haven't seen the teams take the field for the first time in September yet. However, we can make educated guesses. And those are always fun.

1. Miami at Virginia Tech (November 5)- The Hokies and the Hurricanes are probably the two best teams in the ACC and both could get to the Rose Bowl with a little bit of luck. The Hokies have knocked off the 'Canes the last two years, and now Miami would like nothing more to exact a little revenge on Mr. Vick and Company. This ought to be a thrilling game that comes down to the final moments.

2. Ohio State at Michigan (November 19)- Simply put, the rivalry that I find to be the best in the game (Auburn-Alabama and Army-Navy come this close) could have huge ramifications this year. Both have to play Iowa, and Notre Dame battles Michigan while Texas faces Ohio State. But if both enter this game with one or fewer losses, this game will take on an ever bigger feel. Ohio State struggled to beat Michigan for years, even when favored. Under Jim Tressel, Ohio State has turned that on its head, going 3-1 against Michigan, including two games where they were big underdogs. Amazing. This could be a special game.

3. LSU at Alabama (November 12)- The Tigers and the Tide are probably the two best teams in the SEC West. If you want to find a game that LSU may not be the favorite in, this is probably it. Admittedly, Florida and Tennessee will have already battled both of these teams, but this game is the game that should be circled on the schedule for these clubs. The winner will probably get a shot at the SEC title.

4. Texas A&M at Oklahoma (November 12)- The Aggies nearly stunned the Sooners last year in College Station. Can they do it this year in Norman? It seems unlikely, but this could be an undefeated Texas A&M team since their three toughest games don't happen until November. This is the second of the three games with a visit to Texas Tech coming the week before. A win here and people may start talking about Texas A&M for the national title in a very serious voice. This one ought to be a blast.

5. USC at California (November 5)- Yes, yes. We all know that Cal has had a lot of success in Berkeley against USC. We also know that Cal should have beaten USC last year based on how the game felt and the way the stats looked at the end of the game. But this Cal team is different. They lost a lot, but there is a sense that they could have gotten everyone a ton of experience by this point and have put them in position to upset the mighty Trojans. This is popularly considered USC's toughest game. This game could wind up being a very close game.

6. Texas at Texas A&M (November 25)- This in-state rivalry on the Friday after Thanksgiving is about as much fun as they come. There is a chance that both teams could come in unbeaten and playing for a shot at the national title. These two teams are both talented, and watching Vince Young vs. Reggie McNeal should be one of those special treats that come along only every so often in a lifetime. This has potential to become the most memorable game of the 2005 season if everything plays out just right.

7. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (November 19)- All of these Big Twelve South games are starting to make my head spin. Throw in that Texas A&M visits Texas Tech on November 5 and Texas hosts Texas Tech on October 22, and it seems like the season doesn't even really start for the Big Twelve South until the second half of the season. The Sooners and the Red Raiders are going to put on a show, and if Texas Tech is ever going to make the "big leap" in the Big Twelve South pecking order, they need to find a way to beat Oklahoma on November 19.

8. Tennessee at Notre Dame (November 5)- After losing to the Irish a year ago, the Vols would desperately like some payback. The Vols could be coming in looking for a possible shot at the Rose Bowl, while Notre Dame could be looking to find someone to play spoiler with. The Irish are going to be good and probably are going to upset someone along the way, and it wouldn't shock very many people if thet team was the Vols.

9. Alabama at Auburn (November 19)- The Iron Bowl is a great rivalry, but neither team is highly ranked heading into the season. If either team is doing really well, then this game clearly will take a leap up the pole of important games. This one ought to be a TON of fun. It always is. Look for this one to be close or to end in an upset. That's the way it always seems to happen.

10. Florida State at Florida (November 26)- These two teams do not like each other too much. The rivalry runs deep. The Gators are hoping for big things this season, while Florida State is hoping that they can have a nice season in place by this point. This game is always entertaining, and Urban Meyer's first experience of this rivalry could be memorable. We strongly recommend catching it in between post-Thanksgiving naps.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Preseason 2005: The Games of October

The leaves are turning by October, and fall is in full swing. It makes for a very interesting time of the football season. At the beginning of the month, we are less than halfway through football season. By the end of the month, we are closing in on the home stretch. Once again, it is very tough to predict the Top Ten games of a month when the games haven't even started yet. Currently, these projections are roughly two months out in some cases. That makes things a little odd. But here they are.

1. Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, TX (October 8)- The Sooners have had the Longhorns number in recent years. But this is supposed to be the year that the Longhorns reverse the curse and finally beat the mighty Sooners. If they do not, then Texas will find themselves muttering about another what if. If the Sooners survive, they could be starting to think title themselves. This is about as interesting of a game as there is to look forward to for the upcoming season.

2. Florida at LSU (October 15)- Let the round robin continue! The top three teams in the SEC (Florida, LSU, and Tennessee) all play each other during the regular season this year. LSU gets both of them at home. The last time Florida came to Baton Rouge, they left with a stunning victory over the future BCS national champs. Can the Gators do it again? The two first year coaches, Les Miles and Urban Meyer, both need to give their fan bases something to cheer about in a possible preview of the SEC Championship Game.

3. Michigan at Iowa (October 22)- The Hawkeyes don't lose at home too often. In the game that could determine the winner of the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes have the huge advantage of being at home. They also generally get better as the season goes along under Kirk Ferentz. For Michigan, they will need to play their best game of the year to win this game. The winner could keep themselves in the Rose Bowl discussion, and definitely keeps alive the talk of winning the Big Ten title.

4. Georgia at Tennessee (October 8)- Last year, the Dawgs were stunned at home by the Vols. This year, it looks like it is the Dawgs that want to do the stunning. Georgia is being underrated in the SEC this year. They are being overlooked. D.J. Shockley will be running the show, and the Bulldogs have every right to think that they could walk into Knoxville and come out with a win. If the Vols are unbeaten heading into this game, it may be the most anticipated game in Knoxville since the national championship season of 1998.

5. Iowa at Purdue (October 8)- The Boilermakers are a sleeper choice to be in contention for the Rose Bowl and a Big Ten title. If they really are that good, this is the lone stumbling block on their schedule. The Hawkeyes are the only team that appears to be better than the Boilermakers on paper, and that game is a home game for Purdue. For Iowa, this is a tough road test. This could be a special game if both teams come in unbeaten. (Notice that this is the third game in the Top Five on October 8...what a day of football!)

6. USC at Arizona State (October 1)- Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its failures. Nebraska won back-to-back national titles in 1994 and 1995. In 1996, the Cornhuskers went to Arizona State to take on a Sun Devils team that looked like they were in for a surprise season. The Cornhuskers were huge favorites. But, Arizona State beat them 19-0, and the Cornhuskers later lost to Texas in the inaugural Big Twelve Championship Game and they did not win their third straight national title. Arizona State went on to be ranked #2 heading into the Rose Bowl before falling in a classic game to #4 Ohio State. USC has won back-to-back national titles. They head to an improving Arizona State. Hmmmmm......

7. Tennessee at Alabama (October 22)- The Vols continue their tough road schedule that will have already included Florida and LSU. Alabama and Brodie Croyle will be looking to earn a big victory over one of their main rivals. The Tide could be building something special by this point in the season and with LSU and Auburn both still to come, this game could propel the Tide to a truly great season.

8. Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, FL (October 29)- The Dawgs and the Gators battle in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Last year, Georgia finally ended their losing streak to the Gators. Could another one start this year? The Gators look to be the better team this year, and after all those years of beating the Dawgs when Georgia had the better team, UGA would like nothing better than to stun the Gators this time around. Of course, this could also have huge SEC title implications with both teams already having played Tennessee.

9. USC at Notre Dame (October 15)- The Trojans and the Irish are bitter rivals, and with Charlie Weiss leading the troops, Notre Dame is expected to take a big step this year. Brady Quinn needs to grow up as a quarterback before he can hope to beat Matt Leinart and the Trojans. This game could wake up the echoes for Notre Dame if they could somehow stun USC.

10. Boston College at Virginia Tech (October 27)- A Thursday night game to go ahead and mark your calendars for. The Eagles are expected to be a contender in the ACC this year. The Hokies won the ACC a year ago. These two old Big East rivals renew acquaintances in the ACC. This is a possible ACC Championship Game preview. If Boston College has won a lot of their early season games, there could be even more on the line than that. This game looks to be a showcase for both these teams to make cases that they belong in the nation's elite!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Preseason 2005: The Games of September

Picking out the Top Ten Games of September is not an easy task. Sure, some games are guaranteed to be great, but how can anyone predict how big these games will be? If both teams lose early in the season, the games lose some luster. We'll just have to wait and see.

1. Tennessee at LSU, September 24- The Tigers and Vols are both in the preseason Top Five and both are capable of getting to the Rose Bowl and winning the national title. Of course, their first priority is just winning the SEC, and since these two teams may have to get by each other again later on in the year, call this a "possible preview of the SEC Championship Game." Baton Rouge will be rocking on Saturday night, and the Vols will be coming off another tough road game. This game is about as big as they come any time of the year!

2. Texas at Ohio State, September 10- This game has garnered a lot of the preseason attention. Yes, both teams are Top Ten teams, but the real great thing about this game is that it is a non-conference game. It is rare to see two strong teams battling in a non-conference game. This will be quite enjoyable. Watch Vince Young and Ted Ginn Jr., two of the most exciting players in football, showcase their skills as the race for the Heisman heats up.

3. Tennessee at Florida, September 17- Yes, the Vols are playing in two of the top three games of the month and both are on the road in consecutive weeks. Is it any wonder that they aren't ranked #2 in the preseason polls? The Gators will be playing their first huge game under Urban Meyer and will be looking to showcase that they are in the SEC Championship race to stay. Chris Leak and the rest of the Gators will need to bring their A game, as the Vols, after not winning for 30 years in Gainesville, have won the last two times they have visited The Swamp.

4. Iowa at Ohio State, September 24- Yes, the Buckeyes are playing in two of the top four games of the month. Unbelievable. Both of these teams are Top Ten teams and have the capability to go on a big run to the Rose Bowl. However, both need to get through the tough Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have proven nearly unbeatable at home in recent years, so the fact that this game is in Columbus is a big deal. If Ohio State loses to Texas, this game will lose some of its luster, but it will still be a very important game

5. Miami at Florida State, September 5- On Labor Day night, these two old rivals square off. It is the top game of the week, but it is not the only game to think about in the first couple of weeks of the season like the ACC was planning on. That is because both teams are perceived to be a bit down this year. However, a win to start off the season could propel either team to a great season. Of course, they could meet in December for the ACC Championship. The 'Canes certainly hope they can continue their dominance in this series, while the 'Noles try to find a quarterback after the loss of Chris Rix to graduation.

6. Arizona State at LSU, September 10- The Tigers are on this list again. The Sun Devils have the potential to be one of the real surprising stars of the Pac Ten this year. With the Tigers hoping to make a run at the national championship, this game is huge. Last year, the Tigers struggled at home to beat an average Pac Ten team (Oregon State). This year, a better than average Pac Ten team, Arizona State, is coming calling. Can they pull off the upset? The Tigers will be breaking in several new starters and a new head coach in Les Miles. This game smells of a trap.

7. Florida State at Boston College, September 17- The Atlantic Division title could be on the line when these two teams square off in September. The Seminoles will be greeting the Eagles to the ACC. The 'Noles could already be 0-1 in conference play if they lose to Miami on Labor Day. That would make this game just that much more important. A second conference loss would leave them hopelessly behind Boston College in the standings. At the same time, the place will be rocking as the Eagles look to establish themselves in their new conference. What a fun game!

8. Boise State at Georgia, September 3- The Bulldogs will be bringing in several new starters, as the Broncos look to prove that they belong among the elite. Boise State has failed to win away from the blue field against BCS opponents when they have had the chance. This is a huge game. The Bulldogs are hoping that this year they can accomplish some of the goals they were unable to accomplish last year, such as winnning an SEC title and maybe even a national title. This game is a David vs. Goliath, and it is a battle of ranked teams. It is rare to see one of those types of match-ups. It ought to be very interesting.

9. Notre Dame at Michigan, September 10- This is one of football's great early season rivalry games. The Irish stunned Michigan in South Bend a year ago. With Charlie Weiss now in as the Irish head coach, they expect things to turn around. Against a Top Ten Michigan team, that may be tough. The Wolverines are expected to make a run at the Rose Bowl this year with talented sophomores Mike Hart and Chad Henne in the backfield. They have dominated the Irish in Ann Arbor lately. This game always has one of the better build ups in the game, so this ought to be a fun one to watch.

10. Georgia Tech at Auburn, September 3- The Yellow Jackets last saw the Tigers two years ago when they stunned Auburn and sent them bumbling to an 0-2 start from a #3 preseason ranking. This year, Auburn is coming off an undefeated season. They are hoping to rebuild after losing so much talent. But the Yellow Jackets have a great defens, making it tough for Auburn to break in their new backfield. Georgia Tech would be a darkhorse national title pick except for their tough schedule, and that includes this game. If the Jackets prove they can win a game like this, they may just jump right into the national championship picture.