Predicting what will happen in a college football season is about as much of a guessing game as there is in sports. But that's the beauty of making preseason predictions. If you're right it's a chance to brag for the next year or so -- and if you're wrong, it's easy to pass it off as a ridiculous prediction that you never really believed in anyway.
With that in mind, I throw caution to the wind and offer up some predictions for the coming season that are so outrageous, they very well may actually happen.
South Carolina will win the SEC.
If you aren't a South Carolina fan chances are this pick confuses you. Last year Coach Steve Spurrier got his Gamecocks as high as #6 in the nation, helped by a win over Georgia in Athens, before it all came tumbling down and USC finished with a 6-6 record and no bowl berth. This year the pieces are in place for the team to complete what they started last year, but since USC seems to be a popular pick as a dark horse to win the Eastern Division, I'll go one better and say they take the whole thing.
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley is back for one more season after missing last year with a knee injury and even at 80% he's still one of the best linebackers in the nation. The defensive secondary features more depth than any other position on the team and if everyone can stay healthy it should pick up where it left off last year as the nation's #4 pass defense.
Offensively, the Blake Mitchell era is over at QB, meaning it's time for Tommy Beecher or frequent trouble-maker Stephen Garcia to step in and make plays. If early word out of fall practice is any indication, both are more than ready for the spotlight and could bring the Gamecock offense to the level it needs to break through in the ultra-tough SEC.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Carolina knock off just enough teams in its manageable schedule to make it to Atlanta for the conference championship.
A receiver will win the Heisman.
A wide receiver hasn't won the coveted Heisman since Desmond Howard did it in 1991 -- and before that, it's only happened one other time. The award is primarily given to a running back or quarterback, with 2003 being the closest since Howard a wideout has come to winning when Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald finished a narrow second.
This season, don't be shocked if Texas Tech All-American Michael Crabtree takes home the hardware. Last season he led the nation in every major statistical category for receivers with an unheard of 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns on 134 receptions. By comparison, in Fitzgerald's runner-up season, he finished with 87 catches for 1,500 yards and 22 TDs. If Crabtree can come close to replicating last year's success he could rocket to the top of the ballot, thanks in part to the remaining Heisman competition.
Voters might be hesitant to turn Tim Tebow into only the second back-to-back winner of all time. No offense to Tebow, but he's no Archie Griffin -- and chances are the voters will feel the same.
Chase Daniel is an early favorite to win the trophy this year -- but as any quarterback can attest, his every move on the field can affect his trophy chances much more than a receiver's. If Missouri doesn't come out with the same fire it shocked the Big 12 with last year, Daniel could play second fiddle to Crabtree.
Penn State, FSU and Tennessee will all be looking for new coaches next offseason.
It's one thing to say that the coach of a perennial cellar-dweller will be gone after this season, but even I'd agree that predicting the demise of three of the game's best coaches is a bit crazy. Still, the past few years have set things up to work out that way, and unless all three teams somehow shock the nation and pull a BCS game out of their collective hats, we might be seeing a change of faces on the sidelines.
Penn State's Joe Paterno has been halfway out the door for years now, probably lasting this long thanks only to a conference-winning 2005 turnaround and the two decent seasons that have followed. But this offseason has seen plenty of trouble in Happy Valley, with off-field player issues taking their toll on the organization and the 81-year-old coach.
Bobby Bowden faces the same turmoil only without the recent success. His Seminole squad hasn't posted a 10-win season since 2003, too long for the FSU faithful. A lack of production from some start talent, especially at the quarterback position, has put Bowden in the crosshairs recently. With just one more season like the previous few, both Paterno and Bowden could be out the door making way for a younger coach and a new era for their respective teams.
Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer got his team into the SEC Championship game last year before losing to LSU, but that won't keep him around if the Volunteers have another mediocre season. No championships since 1998 is unacceptable in Knoxville, and the joy of that national title wore off long ago. Now, Fulmer is a perennial occupant of the hot seat -- and goes into this season without QB Erik Ainge, who anchored the team for the past few seasons. The fan base has been growing restless in the absence of conference titles and BCS bowls, and it could spell trouble for Fulmer this year.
Southern Cal will not win the Pac-10.
I'm picking only one USC to have a shot at their conference title this year, and if you read above you can see it's not the powerhouse Trojans. Once again the Men of Troy are stocked with NFL-caliber talent, but the rest of the conference is catching up, and I don't think the past couple seasons are an indication that Southern Cal has what it takes to make it eight in a row in the Pac-10.
QB Mark Sanchez did fine last season filling in for John David Booty and RB Joe McKnight is a playmaker that'll have people soon forgetting all about Reggie Bush. Still the Trojans lost some good talent, especially on defense, from a squad that dropped two games last year -- including the shocker to Stanford.
I wouldn't expect another clunker like that out of this team but anyone who thinks they can look past Oregon just because Dennis Dixon is gone might be in for a surprise. Combine that game with a date the very next weekend against last year's conference co-champion Arizona State and the Trojans have a tough time ahead if they expect to hold on to the crown.
Of course out-of-conference schedule doesn't go very far in determining the Pac-10 winner, but to say Southern Cal has a huge game in week three when they host Ohio State is a massive understatement. If the Trojans lose that game they'll be waiving goodbye to their national title hopes before they've even started their conference schedule and it could be the catalyst that eventually sends them down from the Pac-10's top spot.