My college football predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
Stewart Mandel and I used to split the annual predictions column, but after my first solo foray a year ago, the powers that be decided I should go it alone for another year. Last year, six of my 10 predictions came true. (I'm taking half points on Nos. 3 and 7.) You may call that a failing grade. I call it a .600 batting average.
Actually, some of the predictions I missed on were so horrifically, egregiously wrong that I shouldn't take any credit for the others. I can only hope I won't miss so badly in 2013...
1. Johnny Manziel will not repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney won't win it, either. Not because he plays defense, but because we're talking about him too much now. The accelerated news cycle has significantly altered the rules for the Heisman Trophy. Even five years ago, the winner had to be someone who made a name for himself the previous year. If he didn't, not enough voters would be aware of him.
Now, anyone who made a name for himself the previous year enters the preseason Heisman hype cycle. By September, everyone will be sick of him and looking for reasons to tear him down. Judging by the past two years, the new formula involves a previously unheralded player putting up huge numbers early then winning a signature game sometime in November with a huge chunk of people watching. Manziel could probably duplicate his season on an equally good Texas A&M team in 2013 and not win because he isn't the flavor of the month anymore. It isn't fair, but what exactly is fair about an award that usually ignores 20 of the 22 positions on the field?
2. An SEC team will play for the national title for the eighth consecutive season. I'm just going to keep predicting this until it stops happening. And since the amount of teams allowed to play for the national title will double to four in 2014, you'll probably see this prediction for years. Alabama will bring back a ton of talent. Quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley have already announced their returns. Texas A&M and LSU will be as good and possibly better. In the SEC East, Florida and South Carolina will bring back a lot. Someone in the league is making the national title game.
3. Notre Dame will remain nationally relevant, and not just because of TV ratings. Defensive tackle Louis Nix and offensive tackle Zack Martin have already announced their returns for 2013. If tight end Tyler Eifert decides to stick around another year, the Fighting Irish should be set up to win again. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt will be a year more dominant. Quarterback Everett Golson will be more confident. Yes, Manti Te'o will be gone, but Notre Dame's young defenders also show promise. Returning to the BCS title game would require the Irish to catch some breaks, because the schedule is no cakewalk. Notre Dame has to go to Michigan and Stanford, and Michigan State and Oklahoma come to South Bend. If Arizona State's improvement continues, the Oct. 5 matchup between the Catholics and the (Sun) Devils in Arlington, Texas, could be tough.
4. Chip Kelly will leave for the NFL. Nick Saban will not. Even before Stanford knocked off Oregon and prevented the Ducks from winning a fourth consecutive conference title, rumors ran wild that Kelly would bolt for the NFL after this season. It makes sense. He almost took the Tampa Bay job last offseason, and the Patriots' successful adaptation of some principles of Kelly's Blur Offense proves a version of his scheme could work at the game's highest level. Last week's Yahoo! report that Oregon couldn't wrangle a summary judgment and will have to face the NCAA's Committee on Infractions only fuels those rumors more. If Kelly must face severe discipline because his program paid a handler with a $25,000 check, then why should he stick around and face the music when he can get paid and let the players who remain at Oregon deal with the consequences?
Meanwhile, every time someone links Saban's name to an NFL job, it is because of one of two reasons: 1) Agent Jimmy Sexton knows how to get raises for his clients. 2) Trolling Alabama fans by suggesting their uber-successful coach will leave them is a surefire way to grab page views and social-media engagement.
5. Whether more realignment happens at the highest level will depend on a court in North Carolina. The schools at the Big East/Conference USA/Mountain West level will continue to play musical chairs because that's what they do, but we're talking about the big-money leagues here. The ACC sued Maryland in court in Guilford County to ensure the school will pay all of the league-mandated $50 million buyout before it leaves for the Big Ten. These liquidated damages clauses are notoriously difficult to enforce because the aggrieved party (the ACC) must prove it was actually damaged. (And considering ACC officials sang the praises of new 14th member Louisville less than a week after Maryland announced its move, proving that might be tough.)
This is why the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 have Grant of Rights agreements that bind them together. Schools must pledge their television rights to the league for the length of their media deal. If a school leaves, the league retains the ability to sell the television rights for that school's home games. One former conference bigwig described the Grant of Rights this way recently: "It's like telling someone they can marry my wife, but I'm the only one allowed to sleep with her." Why didn't the ACC do that? Because all the schools wouldn't agree to it. In fact, Maryland and Florida State voted against the $50 million buyout. If that buyout isn't upheld or Maryland is allowed to negotiate it down to a much smaller number, then Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will essentially have a green light to try to poach two more schools in large, untapped-by-the-Big Ten television markets. The fate of the ACC would be in Delany's hands. If he grabbed two ACC schools, the SEC likely would follow suit. If the Big 12 felt insecure about only having 10 members, it might also join the fray. If the buyout holds at $50 million, then the incentive for anyone else to leave drops considerably.
6. Urban Meyer and Ohio State will dominate the Big Ten -- and this time it'll count. No one else in the Big Ten has offered any proof that they can recruit at the level required to compete against Meyer. While everyone else in the league tries to build a nice little team that might make the Rose Bowl, Meyer is trying to build a monster that can compete against Alabama. The defense will be young, but the schedule is manageable. Another undefeated season is a distinct possibility. So too is the possibility that the Buckeyes' schedule gets no respect for a second consecutive year. Ohio State needs Sonny Dykes to make a splash at Cal -- the Buckeyes' best out-of-conference opponent -- and Wisconsin and Michigan to have otherwise-great seasons.
7. TCU will be in the Big 12 title hunt in late November. In 2012, the Horned Frogs were the league's youngest team -- playing a quarterback who was a tailback until the Thursday morning before the fifth game -- and they still managed a respectable showing in their first season in the Big 12. Whether Casey Pachall returns at quarterback or Trevone Boykin remains, TCU should score enough to overcome opponents stifled by what should be the Big 12's best defense. The deepest league in America is tough to predict, but TCU should be the most improved team in it. We'll be able to gauge that improvement immediately, because the Horned Frogs open the season against LSU at Jerry Jones' Football Emporium and House of Chicken and Waffles.
8. Ole Miss will land the nation's top-ranked recruit. The decommitment of Loganville, Ga., defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Clemson in November was the first major signal that the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder might follow older brother Denzel to Oxford. Denzel Nkemdiche, a 5-11, 203-pound linebacker, led the Rebels in tackles in 2012. He is one of a bevy of overachievers who helped first-year coach Hugh Freeze work a near-miracle with a roster Houston Nutt had not managed well. Freeze is a fantastic recruiter, and he and Denzel will use all their charm to lure Robert to Oxford. They're up against Nick Saban and Alabama, but blood may be thicker than BCS championship appearances.
9. Florida State will be ... Nope. I promised I'd never say that again. The Seminoles still look to be the best in the ACC, but until they prove they can get through a season without choking against a lightly regarded conference foe, I've sworn that I won't tout them as contenders of any kind.
10. Boise State will win whatever conference it belongs to in 2013. Whether that results in a BCS bowl will depend on which conference that is.
The Broncos just finished their version of a rebuilding year with an 11-2 record. Now they have to figure out which league they'll play in next season. Boise State is supposed to leave the Mountain West for the Big East, but the Big East has no media rights deal. That deal gets tougher to make every day because the league doesn't know which schools it can count on to stay or even what it will even be called. The Mountain West has a media rights deal in place, and it may try to poach Big East-bound SMU as well. On the field, the Broncos will be good enough to win either league. The Big East would be tougher -- assuming Louisville and Rutgers haven't already departed for their new leagues -- but because the BCS has one last gasp in 2013, the winner of the league automatically makes a BCS bowl. In the Mountain West, Boise State probably would have to go undefeated. With out-of-conference games at Washington and BYU, that won't be easy. Northern Illinois made a BCS game with a loss this season, but after the outrage that followed that choice, expect voters to hold schools in non-AQ conferences to a higher standard now that they understand the rules.