What to watch for in 2009: CFB
Regardless of what happens on Jan. 8, watch out for Florida next season
Despite the controversy this season, ND's Charlie Weis will be back
Given his history, Michigan will improve dramatically under Rich Rodriguez
1. Florida will be the unquestioned team to beat (provided Tim Tebow returns). Whether or not the Gators beat Oklahoma on Jan. 8, you might as well go ahead and pencil them in to next year's championship game in Pasadena. As if the prospect of Tebow returning for another year (along with the running back stable of Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody), Florida could potentially bring back -- get this -- all 11 starters on defense, plus nearly every key reserve. Eight of their current starters are freshmen or sophomores, and the only real risk to turn pro is junior linebacker Brandon Spikes.
2. Colt McCoy will break his own NCAA completion-percentage record. With a current rate of 77.6 percent, Texas's Heisman runner-up will officially break Daunte Culpepper's 10-year old single-season record (73.6) once the Longhorns' Fiesta Bowl date with Ohio State is in the books. McCoy has already announced he's returning for his senior season. With the recent news that his favorite target/best friend Jordan Shipley has been granted a sixth year of eligibility -- along with the return of four starting offensive linemen -- McCoy should be even more productive than he was during his remarkable 2008 season.
3. Michigan will improve by at least five wins. In his debut season as the coach of West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez went ... 3-8. The next year, athletic sophomore Rasheed Marshall took over the helms of Rodriguez's spread offense, and WVU improved to 9-4. Expect much the same transformation in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines stumbled to a disastrous 3-9 record in Rodriguez's first season. With a true dual-threat QB, incoming freshman Tate Forcier at the helm, a better grasp of the system by the incumbents and better overall team chemistry, Michigan will quickly return to respectability.
4. The ACC will emerge as the nation's toughest conference. Don't laugh. While the league has largely been a punch-line in recent years (its 1-9 record BCS games is a primary reason), the 2008 season was so competitive week-in, week-out that 10 of the 12 teams finished within a game of each other in the final standings. Unfortunately, such parity also buried their teams in the national rankings. Next year, expect Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and North Carolina to become mainstays in the Top 25, along with marked improvement by Boston College, Miami, Florida State and N.C. State.
5. Charlie Weis will live to see another year. Say what you want about Notre Dame's mediocrity the past two seasons, but once the school invited its fourth-year coach back for 2009, it pretty much assured they'd be stuck with him again in 2010. While the Irish hardly knocked anyone's socks off this season (not to mention losing to Syracuse), they did improve by four wins. With QB Jimmy Clausen and 16 other starters returning, as well as another extremely favorable schedule, Weis' team will almost assuredly show more "progress" next season -- even if they still fall well short of a BCS contention.