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Revisiting My Preseason Forecasts (Part I): Conference Championship Picks

All right, I’ve put it off long enough; it’s time I finally faced the music where my preseason predictions are concerned. I’m going to start with my conference championship picks, where my forecast of an S.E.C. title for my alma mater was as erroneous as every other positive prognostication I made in favor of Georgia. As for the other projections I offered in August, these are they:

Atlantic Coast Conference: Can I answer "N/A" for this one? I’ll believe it when I see it where Clemson is concerned, Boston College and the Techs (of the Georgia and Virginia varieties) are in rebuilding mode, and Florida State and Miami are spent volcanoes. Are we really looking at a North Carolina-Wake Forest A.C.C. championship game? (I’m assuming those two teams are in different divisions, but I’m not about to take the time to look it up right now.) Good grief! I’m going with the Demon Deacons purely by process of elimination. Seriously, what could possibly justify guaranteeing this league an automatic spot in the B.C.S.?

I was right about the Fort Hill Felines, but the Eagles, the Yellow Jackets, and the Hokies all were better than I anticipated, which is why I blew the call by failing to pick V.P.I. Honestly, why do we even bother picking any team other than the Gobblers to capture the A.C.C. crown? Virginia Tech is like the Florida State of the A.C.C. Wait, that’s a bad analogy, isn’t it?

Big East: While the Mountaineers again look strong, a fourth straight 11-win season is not in the cards for a West Virginia club that lost Rich Rodriguez and Steve Slaton in one fell swoop. I believe those departures will be too damaging for Bill Stewart and his charges to overcome, particularly since the Mountain Men close out the season against a South Florida squad that has beaten them in each of the last two seasons. I’m a believer in the Bulls, who are B.C.S. bowl-bound.

Not so much. U.S.F. came up short, although I don’t think anyone foresaw Cincinnati capturing the title, even though everyone recognizes that the Bearcats are building a good program. I am officially 0-for-three in league predictions thus far.

Big Ten: Is there any mystery at all to this league? Minnesota will be better (they have to be, right?), Illinois will be worse (they have to be, right?), Wisconsin will be the most enigmatic nine-game winner in the country, Michigan State will implode, Purdue won’t beat anyone with a winning record, Ohio State will beat Michigan, and the Buckeyes will win the conference crown without breaking a fourth-quarter sweat in more than one game. This recording will self-destruct in five seconds.

While that encapsulation of the Big Ten race got quite a lot basically right, it fell well short of being dead solid perfect because a team I didn’t even mention (Penn State) walked away with the championship. Honestly, though, eight months from now, anyone who isn’t a Keystone State resident won’t remember that Ohio State didn’t win it, anyway.

Big 12: As an S.E.C. homer, it pains me to say so, but this league is loaded. Colorado and Nebraska are on the upswing, Texas Tech is getting lots of preseason love, Oklahoma and Texas figure to be their usual sturdy selves, Oklahoma State may have in 2008 the season the Cowboys were expected to have in 2007, and rumor has it that Kansas will be facing more than one rankable regular-season opponent for a nice change of pace. The class of the conference, though, is Missouri, which features a boatload of returnees on the offensive side of the ball and has only one tough game on the other team’s home field (against Texas on October 18). I don’t think they’ll make the national title game, but the Tigers will capture the B.C.S. berth they deserved last year as the Big 12 champions.

Uh, wow. That wasn’t just wrong, that was toweringly, colossally, stupefyingly wrong. Remind me next time never to pick any team that isn’t Oklahoma or Texas to win the Big 12 title.

Conference USA: Is anyone else tired of Central Florida and Tulsa? Me, too. What the heck; let’s go with Houston.

Oh, for crying out loud, am I going to have to look this one up to figure out which one it was? I’m pretty sure East Carolina and Tulsa met in the conference championship game, so I’m guessing it had to be one or the other of those teams, neither of which is Houston, so my streak of Detroit Lions-like perfection remains agonizingly intact.

Pac-10: O.K., O.K., O.K., it’ll be Southern California . . . but not by as wide a margin as you think.

Thank goodness for the safest bet in sports!

Mid-American Conference: Do you seriously think I’m picking Ball State to win anything? Central Michigan has won two M.A.C. titles in a row and it’s in Georgia’s interests for C.M.U. to keep winning, so I’m going with the Chippewas.

I was right not to pick the Cardinals, but I was wrong to go with Central Michigan. In my defense, though, it’s not like you saw Buffalo coming, either.

Mountain West: The more I look at B.Y.U., the more I ain’t buying the hype. The Cougars end their season against Utah in Salt Lake City, where Brigham Young’s conference title hopes will be dashed by the league champion Utes.

Nailed it. Um, I must have accidentally omitted that part about how they’d smoke Alabama in the bowl game, but I’m pretty sure I put that in the forecast, too, just let me hunt for it for a while. . . .

Sun Belt: Oh, for crying out loud! Who was running the background checks if we let this many dadgum teams into Division I-A! Can I please just pick Florida Atlantic and move on to more important things? (F.A.U.’s the one with Howard Schnellenberger, right?)

I could slip this one right by you, couldn’t I? I could tell you I got this one right and you’d never know it, would you? Five teams from this eight-member league finished with conference records of 4-3 or 3-4, so you have no idea, do you? It was, in fact, the Trojans, who apparently are a good bet in any league . . . although, in case you place any stock in 2009 predictions offered this early, you should know that William Butler Yeats believes Troy will not repeat.

Western Athletic Conference: Fresno State is the trendy pick here, but one sub-par season isn’t going to cause me to lose confidence in Boise State, particularly when the sub-par season in question still resulted in ten wins and a 7-1 conference record. The Broncos host the West Coast F.S.U. and the modus operandi of Pat Hill’s Bulldogs has been to expend all their energy on high-profile non-conference games, leaving nothing in the tank for league play. With three of Fresno State’s first four games being at Rutgers, against Wisconsin, and at U.C.L.A., I see the Golden State Bulldogs stumbling and Boise State reclaiming its rightful place atop the W.A.C.

Bless you, Broncos.

Noteworthy Independents: What is this, 1989? There are no noteworthy independents. Anyone who tells you differently works for the National Broadcasting Company.

Yeah, I’m calling that an accurate forecast. No, I’m not impressed by a bowl win over Hawaii. I found out firsthand in 2008 just how little significance such a victory carries.

It is with great trepidation that I contemplate the possibility of moving forward with an ex post facto assessment of my more general predictions, but dive into them I shall, shortly. For now, you may feel free to mock and belittle the foolishness of my preseason prognostications, and be thankful that you did not write yours down and publish them on the internet, so that you could be held accountable for your own idiocy afterwards.

Go ‘Dawgs!