SI.com's Crystal Ball
Our experts forecast everything from bowl bids to BCS headaches
Posted: Thursday August 26, 2004 11:46AM; Updated: Friday August 27, 2004 12:34PM
SI.com's college football gang -- Kelley King, Stewart Mandel, B.J. Schecter and Luke Winn -- offer their personal prognostications for the upcoming season.
HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER
King: Matt Leinart, QB, USC. He has an established rep to build upon, relatively mild defenses to deal with, and college football's greatest offensive coordinator (Norm Chow) in his favor.
Mandel: David Greene, QB, Georgia. The fourth-year starter will put it all together and have a monster senior year.
Schecter: Greene. If the 'Dawgs get to the national title game, Greene will be The Man, piling up the yards. But he must cut down on his interceptions.
Winn: Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State. It appears to be the Year of the Running Back, so the king of the runners should be first in line for the hardware. Besides, after awarding the goods to four straight QBs, isn't it time for a change?
NEXT HOUSEHOLD NAME
King: Matt Gutierrez, QB, Michigan. The Wolverines' sophomore starter is athletically gifted and accustomed to big stages, having never lost a game for prep power De La Salle (Calif.). Having ridiculously talented receivers to throw to doesn't hurt, either.
Mandel: Lorenzo Booker, RB, Florida State. The sophomore will be FSU's most electrifying runner since Warrick Dunn.
Schecter: Dan Orlovsky, QB, UConn. He's already a proven star after throwing for 3,385 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Now with Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning in the NFL, Orlovsky could be the best quarterback in college football.
Winn: Kay-Jay Harris, RB, West Virginia. The Mountaineers are ready to romp through the Big East. By the time they earn a BCS bid, the man who did the bulk of the romping -- Harris -- will be a star.
King: N.C. State. The Wolfpack can be a contender without an all-everything quarterback. With all due respect to the great Phil Rivers, this N.C. State team is a better than last season's, with a healthy T.A. McClendon at tailback and a slew of quality returnees on defense.
Mandel: Arizona State. QB Andrew Walter will brush off last year's disappointment and lead ASU back to a bowl.
Schecter: Oregon State: Don't sleep on the Beavers. While Oregon State has little chance of winning its opener at LSU, they could make some noise in the Pac-10. Oregon State's toughest Pac-10 games are at home -- Cal, USC, Washington State and Oregon -- and the Beavers bring back quarterback Derek Anderson, who last season was the second quarterback in Pac-10 history to throw for more than 4,000 yards.
Winn: Fresno State. I agree with Mr. Mandel's assessment of the Bulldogs. They can start with a bang by knocking off Washington, then roll on to a WAC title and a nice, mid-teens AP ranking.
King: Clemson. As nice a team as the Tigers have this year, with QB Charlie Whitehurst leading the way, the Tigers' road schedule -- Miami, Florida State and Virginia, oh my! -- is just plain wicked.
Mandel: Clemson. They'll never survive a road schedule that takes them to Texas A&M, FSU, Virginia and Miami.
Schecter: Clemson. Can you say, this year's Auburn? Sure the Tigers finished last season by winning their last four games and enter this year with much promise. But in the stacked ACC Clemson will be lucky if it finishes in the top half of the conference.
Winn: Cal. Often, when I get excited about offensive firepower (see Michigan State in 2002), I end up getting let down. Let's just say I'm rather excited about Aaron Rodgers and Geoff McArthur.
BEST NON-BCS CONFERENCE TEAM
King: Utah. In this case, believe the hype. The Utes return everything that was good about last year's 10-2 season -- notably clutch QB Alex Smith, playmaking rover Morgan Scalley, and coach Urban Meyer, whose magic touch continues to rub off on his teams.
Mandel: Utah. The Utes have the best chance to crash the party of any team in the BCS' seven-year history.
Schecter: Louisville. It's too bad the Cardinals can't jump to the Big East a year early because they could probably contend for the conference title. Louisville is well-stocked at quarterback (Stefan LeFors and promising freshman Brian Brohm), running back (Lionel Gates and Eric Sheldon) and has an all-purpose star in Michael Bush. Do we smell an upset special Oct. 14 at Miami?
Winn: If not my surprise squad, Fresno State, then Marshall. With back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and Georgia, it'll be tough for the Herd to have a one-loss season -- but they're being overlooked in the post-Byron Leftwich era. Watch out. A MAC title isn't out of the question.
COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT
King: Ron Zook, Florida. Outback Bowl-type seasons might satisfy a lot of folks, but not a fandom like Florida's. With Steve Spurrier now on the market, the pressure on Zook to replicate his predecessor's success has turned up a few more notches.
Mandel: John Bunting, North Carolina. The Tar Heels have fallen too far too fast in just three years under Bunting.
Schecter: Karl Dorrell, UCLA. After going 6-7 in his first season, many Bruins fans wondered aloud if Dorrell is in over his head. UCLA showed little signs of life at the end of the season, losing its final five games. A similar collapse will cost Dorrell his job.
Winn: Ron Turner, Illinois. I'm not going out on a limb -- 1-11 seasons tend to result in hot seats. The Illini would prefer not to be in a Big Ten cellar-sharing situation with Indiana. And while coaches like Dorrell and Zook are still early in their tenures, Turner is in year eight.
OF FALLEN SUPERPOWERS ALABAMA, NOTRE DAME AND PENN STATE, WHICH WILL FINISH WITH THE BEST RECORD THIS SEASON?
King: Alabama. Notre Dame could have the best team of the three, but 'Bama might have the better record due to a slightly more favorable schedule. With an easy non conference slate to start the season and toughies LSU and Auburn to end it, Mike Shula's talented true freshmen will be able to learn on the job.
Mandel: Notre Dame. The Irish play five of their first seven games at home, allowing their no-longer-so-young offense to gain confidence.
Schecter: Penn State. Last year's 3-9 record wasn't as bad as it looked and the Nittany Lions were in every game but one in the second half. Now that JoePa's young players have taken their licks, going to a bowl is not an outrageous goal.
Winn: Notre Dame, by a hair over Penn State. Only because the Irish's schedule is a tad easier -- opponents like BYU, Michigan State, Washington, Stanford, Boston College and Pittsburgh aren't exactly primed to have monster seasons. I think the Domers are bowl-bound ... just barely.
PREVIOUSLY UNFORESEEN BCS CONTROVERSY THAT COULD ARISE THIS SEASON
King: Just maybe, those top-secret coaches' polls that continue to factor into the BCS formula will be exposed for the rush-jobs that they often are. Will it come to light that some overworked coach (or, perhaps, some assistant he asked to ghost-vote for him) has given a nod to a team that was strong last year but struggling now? Or that a brazen one has nudged his undeserving team into the top 25? Or that another coach, this one with a grudge, has left a very deserving nemesis out of one poll altogether? Such revelations may be unlikely, but it's fun to dream.
Mandel: One undefeated team (Oklahoma) and four one-loss teams (USC, Georgia, Miami and Minnesota). The Trojans lose their opener to Virginia Tech, which finishes 5-7, then runs the table. Meanwhile the Dawgs lose to 9-2 Florida, the 'Canes to 9-2 Virginia and the Gophers to 9-2 Michigan. However, because the polls tend to reward teams that lose early -- especially ones that start the season No. 1 -- the Trojans, despite losing to a vastly inferior opponent and playing a softer schedule than the other three, receive the overwhelming majority of No. 2 votes, enough to cruise into the championship game and expose the human polls as being even more screwed up than the BCS.
Schecter: Every year it's something new with these computers (hey, if it's broke and you try to fix it every year, get rid of it!). What if three teams -- say, Georgia, USC and Oklahoma -- finish the season undefeated? We're right back where we started, embroiled in controversy and we could have another split vote.
Winn: The power is in the hands of the people this season, with the polls counting for 66 percent of the BCS formula -- versus just 25 percent in '03. So ... what if the people were corrupted, and poll votes were purchased illicitly like recruits? An NCAA investigation finds that boosters of Team A, which barely squeezed into the second Orange Bowl slot, donated a chunk of change to a scholarship foundation of Team B, whose last-place coach decided to put his ballot up for sale. And those same Team-A boosters put Beat Writer C, who makes $40 Gs and drives a '95 Cavalier, into a brand-new Lexus with 20s in exchange for his AP vote. Don't say you didn't see it coming.