2011 college football predictions
The hurry-up will explode nationwide after Auburn's and Oregon's success
An SEC team will play for the BCS title for the sixth consecutive season
Rash of agent-related scandals will lead to a reduction of USC's penalties
1. Less huddling, more hurrying. The success of the fast-break offenses at Oregon and Auburn will inspire even more coaches to stop wasting precious seconds on brief meetings to distribute information that can just as easily be delivered to the entire offense almost instantaneously by holding up a poster on the sideline featuring photos of SI.com columnist Stewart Mandel, a jackalope and Dora the Explorer. Take a look at the top-six scoring offenses in 2010, in order: Oregon (no-huddle), Boise State (some no-huddle), Oklahoma State (no-huddle), TCU (huddle), Wisconsin (huddle) and Auburn (no-huddle). Oklahoma, the only program in the nation to crack 1,000 plays in a 12-game regular season, has won two Big 12 titles in three seasons running a hurry-up, no-huddle scheme. The architect of that offense, Kevin Wilson, is the new coach at Indiana. The key isn't the lack of huddling, but the hurrying. Some teams work without a huddle but still milk the clock. Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn want the ball snapped as quickly as possible in all but a few situations. Look for more coaches to start pressing the gas pedal on their offenses. Defensive coordinators -- the ones those coaches face and the ones on their own sidelines -- will have to adjust accordingly.
2. The talent pool will be as deep as ever thanks to the NFL's labor issues. The NFL is facing a work stoppage if owners and the players' union can't hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. That situation could wipe out offseason practices and training camp, while the new CBA might feature a rookie salary scale more similar to the NBA's. With so much uncertainty, players who aren't high first-round locks may opt to stay in school. Imagine how good Oklahoma will be if receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis return. What if Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick decides he'd rather face Big Ten competition than deal with a shortened rookie season? Forget about handicapping the Heisman Trophy race until after the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft. (This does not apply to the Ohio State players suspended for the first five games of next season. They should go pro now.)
3. An SEC team will reach the BCS title game for the sixth consecutive season -- but it might not be the one you think. Alabama could benefit the most if NFL labor strife persuades fence-sitting stars to stay in college. The Crimson Tide could bring back almost everyone from a talented but immature team. LSU would also remain largely intact, though no amount of labor issues should keep cornerback Patrick Peterson from entering the draft. Still, don't forget about South Carolina, which earned a trip to Atlanta in 2010 by being the best team in a weak SEC East. The East will be better next year, but so will the Gamecocks. South Carolina returns all its key skill-position players -- including receiver Alshon Jeffery and tailback Marcus Lattimore -- and most of its secondary.
4. The Big Ten will keep its football division names, and you will learn to live with them. Sure, I helped pile on when the Big Ten announced that it would separate its football programs into the Legends and Leaders divisions. I wondered on Twitter why the conference hadn't gone with something more region specific. Why not call them the Deep Dish and Fried Curds divisions? Others pulled out the surgical steel. Blogger Doug Gillett set the bar impossibly high by suggesting Leaders and Legends narrowly edged Self and Parody. But even though Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has hinted that the league may revisit the names, don't count on it. Like the Big Ten Network, Leaders and Legends will slowly assimilate into the national football consciousness. Ten years from now, we won't even remember the day Delany introduced the names alongside a logo that looks as if it were designed using Microsoft Paint by the most boring fourth-grader Delany could find. The whole affair may embarrass some Big Ten fans, but as long as the names make this T-shirt relevant for years to come, they're OK in my book.
5. USC will be allowed to play in the postseason. The agent issues of the past year at various schools have made USC's punishment in the Reggie Bush case look downright draconian. (North Carolina had an agent runner on staff as its associate head coach, for goodness' sake.) An NCAA committee will hear USC's appeal next month. Unless the Committee on Infractions is prepared to similarly hammer other programs, there is a good chance USC's punishment will be reduced. The Infractions Appeals Committee isn't supposed to consider evidence that wasn't presented in the original case, but the members of that committee are human beings deeply involved in college athletics; they know what's going on. Besides, the Infractions Appeals Committee is well within its rights to deem a penalty excessive. If it does, it could give USC back some lost scholarships, but the most public way to lessen the severity of the punishment is to let USC play in the postseason.
6. A new conference championship game will affect the BCS title game matchup. Let's say Legends champ Nebraska comes into the inaugural Big Ten title game at 12-0 and Leaders champ Ohio State comes in at 11-1 with a loss at Nebraska. Then suppose the Buckeyes beat the Cornhuskers in Indianapolis. That might open the door for one-loss Pac-12 North division champion Oregon to squeeze into the game by beating South champ Arizona. Naturally, a one-loss SEC champ would be a lock for the title game.
7. The Big East will expand again. The Big East already grabbed TCU, but that only makes nine football-playing teams. It takes 12 to stage a football championship game, unless the NCAA grants a waiver to stage one despite having only 10 teams. Villanova's board of trustees will vote in April on whether the Wildcats will jump to the FBS and become the 10th football-playing Big East school. That would be the easiest move for the Big East, because Villanova already is a member of the conference for its other sports. Should Villanova decline the invitation, Central Florida would be thrilled to accept. Or the conference can get even more ambitious -- and geographically incorrect. Remember last year, when it appeared several Big 12 North teams with excellent men's basketball programs would be left without BCS AQ-conference homes during the Realignmentpocalypse? Since the Big 12 didn't completely solve its underlying problems with its contraction, why not go after those programs and strengthen the nation's mightiest basketball league while also adding a football championship game?
8. Florida and Texas will bounce back and compete for BCS bowl berths in 2011. The programs went a combined 93-15 between 2006 and 2009 and a combined 12-12 in the 2010 regular season. Guess which was the fluke? Florida will get a shot of energy from new coach Will Muschamp, and some new blood on the Texas staff will inspire some of those former five-star recruits to play up to their potential. There aren't many universal truths in college football, but virtually limitless funding plus Olympic-sized talent pools nearby equals short dry spells.
9. The 10-team Big 12 is going to be ridiculously top-heavy. We've already predicted Texas will get back to its winning ways. We've also predicted Oklahoma will be excellent. But we're not done. Missouri and Texas A&M also have the potential to win the conference. The Tigers should bring back almost everyone from a 10-2 team; quarterback Blaine Gabbert is one of those guys who could get pushed back to school by the NFL labor issues. Meanwhile, the Aggies can build their offense around a pair of sophomore tackles (Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews) who started as true freshmen in 2010, and coordinator Tim DeRuyter's defense should be fine because even though pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller is gone, eight starters should return. With the league going to a full round-robin conference schedule, the teams at the top could beat up on one another and keep the Big 12 elite from sniffing the BCS title game.
10. Boise State will open the season by beating Georgia in Atlanta, but won't compete for the national title. The Broncos finally can erase the tired "They got killed when they came to Athens in 2005" argument that every SEC fan trots out when explaining why Boise State would rank somewhere between Vanderbilt and Ole Miss if it played an SEC schedule. Unfortunately for Boise State, the Broncos have to go to Fort Worth to face TCU in the only season the two programs will be Mountain West Conference foes. That game should erase quarterback Kellen Moore's last chance to lead Boise State to the BCS title game.