Posted: Wed August 28, 2013 11:36AM; Updated: Wed August 28, 2013 12:29PM

Alabama, Stanford lead 2013 preseason Crystal Ball

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Nick Saban
Nick Saban and Alabama have won the past two BCS titles. Can they win a third straight this season?
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

It's finally here. After months of debate, hype and anticipation, the 2013 college football season has finally arrived. It's time to find out which teams, players and coaches will take center stage in the final year of the current postseason format.

SI.com college football contributors Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Pete Thamel, Zac Ellis, Martin Rickman Lars Anderson and Ben Glicksman share their predictions for the upcoming campaign. For more 2013 preview coverage, visit our preseason content archive.

SI.com's 2013 Preseason Crystal Ball
BCS Bowl Projections
 
Stewart Mandel
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
Andy Staples
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
Pete Thamel
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
Zac Ellis
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
Martin Rickman
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
Lars Anderson
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
Ben Glicksman
  Title Game   Rose   Sugar   Fiesta   Orange  
  vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.   vs.  
 
National Champion
 
Mandel
An SEC team will win the national championship again, so this is mostly a matter of picking the winner of the conference. By no means do I think the Tide's three-peat is a given. While this is without question the most loaded team Nick Saban has fielded in terms of offensive explosiveness and defensive experience, I have concerns about the Tide's rebuilt offensive line. But that's about my only concern, which is much less than I can say about any other team.
Staples
I realize this is a boring pick, but the Crimson Tide will probably have to lose twice to get locked out of the BCS title game. With that defense and that collection of skill position players on offense, that's a big ask -- even if Alabama does have to replace three starters from one of the best college offensive lines ever.
Thamel
The SEC's streak ends at the hands of a team that's basically 'Bama's mirror image, as Stanford beats the Tide at their own power game. The Cardinal return more talent on defense than Alabama, and they have a favorable schedule to find their offensive identity at tight end and wide receiver.
Ellis
The Crimson Tide are a popular pick, but for good reason: The two-time defending champs are overflowing with experience on both sides of the ball. Quarterback AJ McCarron should garner more respect than he does, and with the exception of a trip to College Station, the schedule sets up beautifully for Saban's crew. Expect 'Bama to notch a three-peat.
Rickman
David (Shaw) beats Goliath. Stanford has been slowly building a West Coast dynasty, and since former coach Jim Harbaugh handed over the reins to Shaw, this team has been one step away from greatness. Something tells me this is the year Saban will be seeing (Cardinal) red.
Anderson
In his seven years in Tuscaloosa, Saban has never had a more talented roster. The offense, led by third-year starting quarterback McCarron, will be among the most balanced and productive in the nation. The defense, which returns eight starters from a unit that led the country in nearly every statistical category in 2012, should be equally dominant this fall. The dynasty continues.
Glicksman
Don't focus on who the Ducks lose. Focus on the guys they bring back. Though offensive guru Chip Kelly is off to the NFL, Oregon maintains plenty of coaching continuity: Four assistants, including defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, have been at the program for longer than 20 years. Factor in the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota, a dual-threat passer with a Colin Kaepernick-like skill set, and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who notched four interceptions and six forced fumbles in 2012, and the Ducks will make a run at their fifth straight BCS berth. Is it crazy to think first-year head coach Mark Helfrich can topple Saban? Perhaps. But it would've been crazy to think the same thing about Kevin Sumlin a few short months ago.
 
Surprise Team
 
Mandel
Most pundits seem to be preemptively handing Clemson the ACC title. That's odd, since the 'Noles were clearly a superior team last year and will boast another elite defense. Starting a redshirt freshman quarterback (Jameis Winston) is always a concern, but his athleticism could make Florida State tougher to defend. I think FSU wins the ACC and contends for the national title.
Staples
If the Sun Devils have improved, they can wreak havoc at the top of the polls early. They go to Stanford on Sept. 21 and then face Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 12. We know defensive tackle Will Sutton is the most disruptive defender not named Jadeveon Clowney, but if Taylor Kelly -- a quarterback who should put up huge numbers in a league full of quarterbacks who should put up huge numbers -- and the offense take another step forward, Arizona State could be a force in the Pac-12.
Thamel
The Badgers begin the season outside the top 20, a justifiable ranking considering they lost six games in 2012 and remain unsettled at quarterback. Still, former coach Bret Bielema always pointed to this year as the one that could be Wisconsin's best. With James White running the ball, Jared Abbrederis catching it and an aggressive 3-4 defense brought in by new coach Gary Andersen, the Badgers will be better than expected.
Ellis
The Sun Devils return 14 starters, including one of the nation's top defensive linemen in Sutton (13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss in 2012) and a dangerous quarterback in Kelly. Even with USC and UCLA in the division, Todd Graham's program might sneak into the BCS picture as a surprise contender in the Pac-12 South.
Rickman
For once, the pressure is off Florida State. Expectations are tempered, and now it's time to see what this defense can really do. The 'Noles' offense may be a work in progress, but it doesn't have to be perfect. It should get more than enough production out of running back James Wilder Jr. and redshirt freshman quarterback Winston.
Anderson
When Hugh Freeze was handed the keys to the Ole Miss program before the 2012 season, the Rebels had lost 14 consecutive SEC games. Yet in one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football last year, Ole Miss went 7-6 and won a bowl game (over Pittsburgh). After securing one of the top recruiting classes in the nation -- including landing top-ranked prospect Robert Nkemdiche -- this is a program that's trending upward.
Glicksman
For all of its late-game heroics, Nebraska was decidedly unlucky last season. It registered a turnover margin of -12, 105th nationally. This year, look for the Huskers to take better care of the ball, and for quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah to thrive behind the most talented offensive line of coach Bo Pelini's tenure. Nebraska avoids cross-divisional foes Ohio State and Wisconsin and plays just one preseason Top 25 team (Michigan) on the road.
 
Flop Team
 
Mandel
Last year's Gators were the strangest 11-1 regular-season team I can remember. They notched an inarguably impressive résumé (wins over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State) while fielding a terrible offense. This year, Florida plays the Gamecocks and Tigers on the road, adds a tough game against Miami and won't win as many close contests. I smell 8-4.
Staples
The Fighting Irish have what appears to be a brutal schedule. Michigan should be good. Michigan State should be much better than last year. Oklahoma is Oklahoma. We just touched on Arizona State. USC is an unknown with some great athletes. BYU lures every opponent into a rock fight. Stanford looks like a potential national title contender. The Irish caught quite a few breaks last season en route to the BCS championship game. If the breaks swing back the other way, watch out.
Thamel
The Irish seemed cursed in the early days of Brian Kelly's tenure, as they suffered from bad bounces, untimely fumbles and an inability to close out close games. That trend reversed last season, as Notre Dame was charmed in the waning moments of victories over Pittsburgh and Stanford. There's going to be some market correction here, especially without quarterback Everett Golson in the fold. The Irish will win low-scoring games, but this isn't a BCS-caliber team.
Ellis
The questions surrounding Notre Dame wouldn't seem as pressing had Golson not left the program this spring. Tommy Rees takes the reins at quarterback, but his career has been wildly inconsistent to date. Factor in a brutal schedule that includes road games at Michigan and Stanford, and this team might not finish the season in the Top 25.
Rickman
Tommy Rees: The Return. I just don't see it working out for the Fighting Irish. Their opponents helped them out a ton in 2012, and I don't see luck favoring Notre Dame again in '13. A couple of bad bounces and it's out of the BCS conversation.
Anderson
Last year, seemingly every bounce went Notre Dame's way as it charged to the BCS title game. But once the Irish were back on college football's biggest stage, they were trounced by Alabama, 42-14. That morale-sapping defeat won't be easy for the program to get over. What's more, Notre Dame's arguably most important player last season, Golson, will miss the entire year for academic reasons. The Irish's luck, so pervasive in 2012, will be in short supply this fall.
Glicksman
Quarterback Devin Gardner is extremely talented, and left tackle Taylor Lewan may be the best player at his position in the nation. But the Wolverines' schedule is unforgiving. In addition to a clash with Notre Dame in Week 2, Brady Hoke's team plays Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State as part of a brutal seven-game stretch to close out the regular season. Three or four losses feel about right.
 
Best Bet to Bust the BCS
 
Mandel
Boise has garnered so much respect from the pollsters at this point that it no longer needs to go undefeated to reach a BCS game. In fact, the Broncos might even be able to afford two losses and still get to 11 wins and finish ranked in the top 12, so long as they capture the newly created Mountain West title game. As Northern Illinois showed last year, Boise might not even need to finish that high.
Staples
The Broncos figured out how to game the BCS to give themselves the best possible chance of beating a system heavily rigged against them. Schedule one winnable game against a BCS AQ team (in this case, Washington), another against a top mid-major (in this case, BYU) and batter the competition in a lesser league. Then, after years of consistent success, voters will recognize the brand and rank accordingly. It doesn't always work. Boise got politicked out of the Sugar Bowl after the 2011 season. But look for the Broncos to break through this year. The tricky part is that Boise plays its four toughest opponents (Washington, Fresno State, Utah State and BYU) on the road. If the Broncos emerge 12-0, they probably have earned a trip to a BCS bowl. Plus, it would only be right that Boise State breaks its tie with Utah and TCU -- which earned golden tickets to power leagues -- and closes the BCS era as the most frequent buster of the BCS.
Thamel
This is the easiest bet in college football. Boise is always the best bet to bust the BCS. Consider that the Broncos won 11 games last season, their lowest total in the past five years. Quarterback Joe Southwick has seasoned receivers, and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence leads a salty defense. Two road tests in the first month -- at Washington and Fresno State -- will teach us a lot about this team.
Ellis
The Broncos hit a speed bump in 2012 behind the worst offense of Chris Petersen's tenure, yet this season's attack figures to be much improved. Senior quarterback Southwick came on late last season, throwing nine touchdowns and zero picks over his final four games. Outside of the opener against Washington -- which the Broncos beat in last December's Las Vegas Bowl -- the schedule is manageable. Boise should only build off its preseason top-20 ranking.
Rickman
A down year for the Broncos was an 11-win season. You don't think Petersen will have two down years in a row, do you?
Anderson
Though Petersen returns just nine starters, the fewest of his eight-year head-coaching tenure, the Broncos will be a threat because of one player: Southwick. Over the last four games of 2012, the quarterback who struggled in September and October emerged as one of the top passers in the nation; he completed 69.9 percent of his attempts for 888 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. If Boise can survive a trip to Washington on Aug. 31 and visits to Fresno State and BYU, an undefeated season is eminently achievable.
Glicksman
Over the past three regular seasons, Boise has gone 32-4. That's resulted in three straight trips to the Las Vegas Bowl. Behind Southwick, Lawrence and a veteran receiving corps, Petersen's team will crash the BCS one final time in the 2013 campaign.
 
Heisman Trophy Winner
 
QB Marcus Mariota :: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Mandel
QB AJ McCarron, Alabama. It's a mystery to me why McCarron rarely gets mentioned in this discussion. If the Tide do in fact reach a third straight BCS title game, McCarron, last season's top-rated passer, will likely have turned in his best season to date. At that point, a career achievement sentiment could elevate him above flashier players like Johnny Manziel or Braxton Miller.

Staples
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina. It's time for a full-time defensive player -- who doesn't moonlight as a receiver -- to be recognized as the best college football player in the United States. Clowney has the skill set to pull it off. It appears Texas A&M's Manziel will play, and he'll put up huge numbers that will probably rival last year's Heisman-winning stats. Still, I'm guessing there are too many voters who will let all the other stuff cloud their view of Johnny Football's on-field accomplishments.

Thamel
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Oregon threw the ball just 35 percent of the time last season, and Mariota still ended up with 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also ran for five scores. As Oregon opens ups its offense, expect those numbers to rise, especially considering the Ducks may not play a ranked opponent until UCLA on Oct. 26.

Ellis
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State. The stage is set for Miller: The Buckeyes return a loaded offense from last season's undefeated squad. They're bowl eligible with a manageable schedule. Miller has the dual-threat game and name recognition to garner the necessary hype. If Ohio State avoids a flop, Miller should be a lock for New York.

Rickman
Mariota. Why pick Mariota when there are so many other qualified quarterbacks out there? Not only does he have a ton of weapons at his disposal, but also he's the perfect fit for Oregon's offense. I think he'll make a big jump in his sophomore season and continue to rack up stats that will be impossible for Heisman voters to ignore.

Anderson
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama. Though he's not at the top of many Heisman lists right now, Yeldon will be before long. Playing behind starter Eddie Lacy last season, the 6-foot-2, 218-pounder set the Alabama freshman record by rushing for 1,108 yards. More school records should fall this autumn, and Trent Richardson's single-season mark of 1,679 rushing yards could be in jeopardy if Yeldon stays healthy. If 'Bama storms to another BCS title game (and I think it will), Yeldon could very well become the Tide's second Heisman winner in four years, joining Mark Ingram in 2009.

Glicksman
QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson. Boyd doesn't have to lead Clemson to wins over Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina to take home this year's Heisman. He simply needs to prove he's the most prolific quarterback in the nation. For a player who racked up more than 4,000 yards of total offense in each of the last two seasons, that's squarely in the realm of possibility. Boyd upped his completion percentage from 59.7 to 67.2 percent from 2011 to '12. He may still be getting better.
 
First Player to Fall Out of Heisman Race
 
QB Aaron Murray:: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Mandel
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia. The Dawgs will lose at least one of their first two games against Clemson and South Carolina, at which point Murray will fall out of voters' minds. He'll still have a fantastic season, but he'll likely need an SEC title game victory to win the trophy. I don't see that happening.

Staples
Murray. Murray should put up great numbers against a suspect Clemson secondary in Week 1, but he gets a visit from Clowney and company in Week 2. Even if Georgia wins those first two games -- and if the Bulldogs do, they're definitely national title contenders -- Murray would likely have some votes siphoned off by whichever of his star backs (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) is most productive.

Thamel
Murray. If the NCAA sleuths can prove that Manziel didn't sign 4,000 autographs to improve his wrist strength, he's the obvious answer here. But that's a big if. Instead, I'll take the losing quarterback from the Clemson-Georgia game, who I expect to be Murray. (I think Tajh Boyd earns an invite to New York.) SEC coaches voted Murray ahead of Johnny Drama for the league's all-preseason team, but back-to-back games against Clemson and South Carolina to open the year will make it very difficult for him to jump atop the Heisman race if Georgia isn't 2-0.

Ellis
RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon. The Ducks should boast a formative offensive line that will pave the way for a strong running game, but Thomas won't be Oregon's most prolific performer. Sophomore quarterback Mariota will be the headliner of this group, and he has the tools (and the schedule) to build on his stellar freshman campaign. He'll overshadow Thomas' output in the backfield.

Rickman
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina. We're expecting too much out of Clowney. Yes, he's incredibly gifted. Yes, he'll give us one or two YouTube-worthy plays a game. Yes, he will probably be the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. But that won't be enough to keep him in the Heisman race. We want Clowney to have an all-world year. If that doesn't happen, voters will write him off.

Anderson
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Last year, Manziel essentially won the Heisman in Tuscaloosa when he engineered an upset of the top-ranked Tide. But on Sept. 14, Manziel will go poof! from Heisman contention when Alabama travels to College Station and proceeds to take care of business against the Aggies. Saban has spent a majority of the offseason devising ways to stop Texas A&M's spread attack -- he has even consulted NFL coaches on the matter -- and I expect 'Bama to make it a long, painful afternoon for Manziel.

Glicksman
WR Marqise Lee, USC. Lee is one of the nation's most electrifying playmakers, but he could have a difficult time topping last season's output of 2,683 all-purpose yards. The Trojans' quarterback situation remains unsettled -- either Max Wittek or Cody Kessler will start under center -- and opposing defenses will likely structure their entire game plans around slowing Lee. USC receiving counterpart Nelson Agholor could benefit from extra open looks, but Lee's Heisman chances will likely suffer as a result.
 
Breakout Star
 
QB Jameis Winston :: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Mandel
QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Bob Stoops and Josh Heupel didn't choose the redshirt freshman over veteran Blake Bell to have him hand off 40 times a game. The dual-threat Knight, like all Stoops quarterbacks before him, will likely put up big numbers, just split more evenly between rushing and passing totals.

Staples
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State. Winston's hype is pretty out of control for a guy who hasn't even taken a college snap, and I apologize for contributing to it. But he just seems special. If Jimbo Fisher doesn't hold the reins too tight, Winston should be dynamic.

Thamel
WR DeVante Parker, Louisville. Parker caught 40 balls for 10 touchdowns last season, so he's not exactly an unknown commodity. But the player who Charlie Strong compares to A.J. Green should put up even bigger numbers in 2013. The presence of Michael Dyer at tailback should keep defenses more honest against the Cardinals, giving Parker even more space to settle under passes from Teddy Bridgewater.

Ellis
Winston. The hype surrounding this kid was palpable throughout spring practice, and he raised plenty of eyebrows in FSU's spring game. Winston isn't E.J. Manuel yet, but he'll have the offense clicking with his dual-threat ability and arsenal of playmakers. If the 'Noles exceed expectations, don't be surprised if Winston generates some Heisman chatter.

Rickman
Winston. Winston is a star in the making. It's up to Fisher to fit his offense around his quarterback, not the other way around. Get Winston on the field and let him learn while he's out there.

Anderson
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin. Before last season, then-Badgers coach Bielema said Gordon was the most talented running back he'd ever had at Wisconsin. Gordon's play didn't disappoint. Though he played behind Montee Ball in 2012, he rushed for 621 yards on 62 carries -- an average of 10 yards per attempt -- and raced for 216 yards on only nine carries against Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Though Gordon will likely split time with White early in the season, he'll eventually emerge as the conference's top back in 2013.

Glicksman
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri. What a difference a year makes. Entering 2012, Green-Beckham was the top-ranked prospect in the nation. Now, he's the third-leading returning receiver on the 5-7 Tigers. But Missouri is better than last year's record indicates, and DGB is too good to remain ineffective for long. Coming off a strong spring, the 6-6, 225-pounder will live up to his high school billing and join Alabama's Amari Cooper, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews as an elite SEC wideout.
 
Coach on the Hottest Seat
 
Lane Kiffin :: Peter Read Miller/SI
Mandel
Lane Kiffin, USC. Athletic director Pat Haden has been relentless and outspoken in his support of the embattled coach, citing the Trojans' difficult NCAA sanctions. Even so, Kiffin can't survive another mediocre season. There's no patience for Sun Bowl campaigns in the bandwagon Los Angeles sports market.

Staples
Kiffin. Sure, Haden gave Kiffin a preseason vote of confidence. What is he supposed to say? But if the Trojans don't return to the upper echelon of the Pac-12, this would be the correct year to make a change. USC will sign its full recruiting class following the completion of NCAA sanctions in 2015. Much of the hay is already in the barn for 2014, but a new coach would have a full recruiting cycle to recruit the players who would be the ones to lead a full-strength USC back to college football's elite. If Kiffin can win big with a roster thinned by sanctions, then let him be that guy. If he can't, find the coach who can.

Thamel
Kiffin. No one needs to win more than Kiffin, who seemed to melt down off the field last year as his Trojans collapsed on it. In 2013, Kiffin needs to exploit USC's soft early schedule, or else he could be in for a long and humbling fall. Let's face it: There aren't a whole lot of folks in the NFL or college football clamoring to hire Kiffin right now.

Ellis
Kiffin. The time has come for Kiffin to prove his worth. Last season's lofty preseason expectations dissolved into a disastrous 7-6 campaign, and the Trojans' headman landed much of the blame, even from former quarterback Matt Barkley. USC AD Haden has publicly backed Kiffin, but another seven-win season would likely change Haden's mind.

Rickman
Kiffin. He might be driving ice cream trucks to stay cool, but Kiffin is on the hot seat whether his AD is willing to admit it or not. USC isn't a six- or seven-win program. It should be among the elite. The Trojans need to win, and soon, and the Pac-12 is rapidly improving around them.

Anderson
Charlie Weis, Kansas. It's already looking like 2013 could be a long season for Weis. During preseason Big 12 media days, he referred to his roster as "pile of crap," which is somewhat understandable considering Kansas went 1-11 in 2012. Weis' hopes for a rebound this fall are tied directly to quarterback Jack Heaps, a transfer from BYU who was once considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation. Weis recruited Heaps when he was still the coach at Notre Dame. Now, his job at Kansas may very well depend on how Heaps performs.

Glicksman
Randy Edsall, Maryland. While USC's Kiffin has failed to live up to lofty expectations, Edsall has failed to keep Maryland in contention for a bowl berth. The injury bug has hit his roster hard, but his 6-18 record in two seasons at the helm won't cut it much longer. With reloaded quarterback depth, dynamic wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a manageable early schedule, the Terps should make a bowl push in 2013. If they don't, it's probably time for a change in College Park.
 
Coach Who Will Fare Best in Year 1
 
Mark Helfrich :: Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Mandel
Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky. A top-10 national coach takes over a Sun Belt program already on an upward trajectory (consecutive seven-win seasons), not lacking for offensive talent (running back Antonio Andrews returns) and facing an extremely manageable schedule. Even SEC foes Kentucky and Tennessee are beatable. The Hilltoppers win 10 games in Petrino's first and only season on campus.

Staples
Willie Taggart, USF. Taggart probably deserved a better job than USF, because putting together back-to-back seven-win seasons at Western Kentucky was nothing short of a miracle. Now the Bradenton, Fla., native takes over one of the most athletic teams in the American. Everyone is handing the league title to Louisville, but don't be shocked if Taggart makes USF a player in year one.

Thamel
Mark Helfrich, Oregon. No coach in the country was handed a better situation than Helfrich, something that could turn out to be a blessing or a curse. But the Ducks' returning playmakers on offense -- Mariota, Thomas and tight end Colt Lyerla -- and a soft early schedule should give Helfrich time to adjust.

Ellis
Helfrich. Helfrich is hardly a new face around Eugene, as he's fresh off a four-year stint as offensive coordinator under Kelly. That familiarity is a big reason why Oregon's headman is primed to succeed. The Ducks return a host of proven commodities on offense, headlined by Mariota and Thomas. Oregon won't miss a beat and will make another BCS run.

Rickman
Helfrich. Helfrich is like the kid from Blank Check: He has everything right there in front of him, and that might be a bit overwhelming. But he just needs to keep the ship afloat. Oregon will be fine.

Anderson
Gus Malzahn, Auburn. I'm not including Oregon's Helfrich in this category because of the immense talent he's inheriting -- I've got the Ducks in the national game against Alabama -- so I'm picking Malzahn. Just two years removed from capturing the national title, Auburn went winless in the SEC and fell to 3-9 in 2012. Still, there is talent on the roster, and the offense seemed to adjust to Malzahn's fast-paced spread attack with remarkable ease this spring. An eight-win season seems within Malzahn's grasp if he can get productive play out of juco transfer quarterback Nick Marshall, who was formerly a cornerback at Georgia.

Glicksman
Helfrich. He's not Kelly. But he's already got a nicer office than Kelly did. While no one is overlooking the Ducks, it seems few are considering that this might be one of the most talented teams Oregon has ever had. Helfrich, like Shaw following in Harbaugh's footsteps at Stanford in 2011, has all the pieces in place to succeed from day one.
 
A Bold Prediction
 
Frank Beamer :: J. Meric/Getty Images
Mandel
After suffering through a second straight seven-win season, Virginia Tech coaching icon Frank Beamer graciously announces his retirement after 27 seasons, handing the reins to ever-loyal defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

Staples
Predicting Clowney to win the Heisman wasn't bold enough?

Thamel
Holes begin to get poked in the SEC's supremacy claim. I agree with Oklahoma's Stoops that a 14-team SEC is watered down. Just look at Texas A&M's schedule after Alabama: at Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, at LSU, at Missouri. Sorry, there's only one truly difficult game there. Conference expansion may pull the SEC down from behind, as one-loss SEC teams will start to lose the luster they had a few years ago.

Ellis
Thanks largely to Beamer's hiring of Scot Loeffler as offensive coordinator, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas will rebound from a forgettable 2012 campaign (16 interceptions) and start living up to his potential. The Hokies will vie for the ACC Coastal division as Thomas enters early-round NFL draft conversations.

Rickman
Alabama loses two games. This is too bold. I regret this decision already. Where's the undo button? Everything is getting dark. Someone send help.

Anderson
For the third straight year, Alabama will lose one game in the regular season -- the Tide will fall to Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 28 -- but still win the BCS national championship.

Glicksman
Despite having limited roster depth because of NCAA sanctions, Penn State's Bill O'Brien will add to his budding résumé by leading the Nittany Lions to a 9-3 campaign. In the process, Kyle Carter will break out as one of the premier tight ends in the nation.
 
SI Videos
Videos from the Web
 
SI.com
Hot Topics: Sammy Watkins NFL Draft Rick Adelman NFL Questions Aaron Hernandez Donald Trump
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint