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Friday, August 22, 2003

The DK College Football Preview

The college football season officially gets under way tomorrow night, with Kansas State ready to give Cal a spanking in the Black Coaches Association Classic. That means it's time for all of the sports media to make their predictions on how the season will turn out. Dimmy Karras is no different.

This is impossible to do really because who knows which young players will come out of nowhere to be stars? Anyway, it's fun to guess and see what happens. ESPN has expert predictions, a side-by-side comparison of the national polls and a listing of the year's top games.

I'll make a few picks here for the hell of it. In making my picks for the national championship game--the Sugar Bowl this year--I don't bother trying to figure out which team is the best. Instead I focus on who has a schedule that I think will allow them to finish the regular season undefeated. The first team that jumps out at me is Michigan, rated fourth in the AP poll. They have a non-conference schedule that includes Notre Dame at home and a game at Oregon. In the Big Ten they don't play Penn State or Wisconsin, so I think they have a great shot at being undefeated for the November 22 showdown with Ohio State, which is at the Big House. And I think they'll get over the hump and beat the Buckeyes this year too.

In case you don't know yet, Maurice Clarett is facing a multi-game suspension. He won't be playing in the OSU opener next Saturday night vs. Washington, and I think the Huskies have a shot at winning that game. Without Clarett, the Buckeyes won't control the clock as much, so they'll have less of a chance to keep Cody Pickett and the Washington passing attack off the field. You heard it here first. In any case, even if OSU wins next week, I just don't think the team can avoid being distracted over Clarett's status. They had a ton of breaks go their way last year to win the title, and the controvery surrounding the program now is an inauspicious sign for the coming season. The SI curse lives. (Previous Clarett coverage here and here).

I will go ahead and pick Oklahoma (the AP #1) to face Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, and just for fun I'll make the Sooners my national champ too. The whole Big 12 will come down to the Oklahoma-Texas game on October 11 in Dallas. Only one of those teams can even go to the Big 12 championship game, and whichever does should win it and be undefeated. Two possible problems for Oklahoma are that they have a QB coming off knee surgery in Jason White and an Oklahoma State team that has beaten them the last two years visiting on November 1. The Cowboys have ruined Oklahoma's national title chances the last two seasons, and I think Bob Stoops will have his team ready for their intrastate rival this time around.

The Big East, SEC, ACC and Pac-10 look too jumbled to produce an undefeated conference champ that will head to the Sugar Bowl to me. I don't see Miami as being any better than Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh (I do look forward to seeing the reaction during the 'Canes Big East farewell tour, including a stop at BC on September 20). NC State should challenge Florida State in the ACC. I'm not sold on USC and Auburn as conference champs either, and Notre Dame, playing at Michigan and Pitt and hosting FSU and USC, will lose a few. Thus I believe the national championship game matchup will be the Big Ten and Big 12, with the OSU-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas games deciding the exact pairing.

The Heisman is also a tough call. None of those four teams I just listed as Sugar Bowl possibilities have a standout QB or running back who is considered a candidate, yet history shows that those positions on the BCS teams are often Heisman finalists and winners. (I guess Cedric Benson, the Texas runner, does qualify, and WR Roy Williams is also a possible finalist if the Longhorns excel.) A lot of people are talking about guys like Kevin Jones at Virginia Tech as candidates, but the team's success has a lot to do with the Heisman--remember Brad Banks last year? Given my pick of a Michigan-Oklahoma championship, I expect toward the end of the year we'll hear some people calling for a defensive player to win the award, possibly OU DT Tommie Harris or Michigan corner Marlin Jackson. I'm not saying a defender will win, just that it'll be a topic of discussion. Michigan QB John Navarre could also emerge, like Banks a year ago.

OK, those are my predictions for the college football season to come. Let's hope this year is as memorable as last, when the Miami-Ohio State championship was a game for the ages.