Each autumn, on the eve of football season, I like to take a stab at picking the winners of the various conferences, as well as offering a few oddball predictions. I will revisit all of these in January to see just how well or poorly---all right, how poorly---I did in forecasting the events of the 2009 campaign. Here now, I offer you my league championship prognostications:
Sun Belt: I decided not to hold you in suspense. Why save the best for last? I’m going with the Florida Atlantic Owls. They’re the ones with Howard Schnellenberger, right?
Mid-American Conference: I’m going with the Michigan Wolverines. I kid, I kid; everybody knows the Maize and Blue aren’t good enough to win the MAC! The Toledo Rockets return a wealth of experience and the coaching change should dramatically improve the team, which I’m picking to win the MAC. Unless, of course, I’m confusing them with the Akron Zips. . . .
Major Independents: Does it look like 1946 in here? There are no major independents remaining in college football. Next, please. . . .
Conference USA: I think the announcement of Brett Favre’s latest return from retirement will give the Southern Miss. Golden Eagles just the encouragement they need to close the deal and win the conference title.
Western Athletic Conference: Derek Dooley is building a program in Ruston, Pat Hill should have his Fresno St. Bulldogs back in contention, and Chris Ault’s Nevada Wolf Pack looks strong with seven starters back on each side of the ball, but the league belongs to the Boise St. Broncos until they lose it. Chris Petersen’s club is like a junior varsity version of Southern California being viewed on a television set with all the colors out of whack (or, I suppose, out of WAC).
Big East: None of the above. All right, since it has to be somebody, I’m sticking with the Pittsburgh Panthers, who are poised to fill the power vacuum left when the Louisville Cardinals lost Bobby Petrino, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights lost Mike Teel, the West Virginia Mountaineers lost Pat White, and the Cincinnati Bearcats lost their entire starting defense. (All right, they have one guy back, but still . . .) Although no one is getting through the league unscathed and multiple tiebreakers are apt to come into play, I believe Pitt will overcome the loss of LeSean McCoy, a trio of Friday night conference road games, and the ignominy of being coached by Dave Wannstedt. Yeah, this pick is crashing and burning, isn’t it?
Atlantic Coast Conference: The one off-the-wall prediction I’ve been making all along in which I actually have confidence is that the Clemson Tigers are poised for a first-place finish in the ACC. The Country Gentlemen have settled on a quarterback, who will benefit from playing behind an experienced offensive line and being able to hand off to C.J. Spiller. Dabo Swinney salvaged a sorry season for the Jungaleers last year, getting the Fort Hill Felines to the Gator Bowl. While Coach Swinney wasn’t the marquee name many among the Orange and Purple faithful wanted, he has the pedigree for success by the shores of Lake Hartwell: Dabo Swinney is the fourth Alabama alum promoted from assistant coach to head coach in the modern history of the Clemson program, and the three who came before him were Frank Howard, Charley Pell, and Danny Ford. The Tigers will win the Atlantic and/or Coastal Division and they will defeat the Virginia Tech Hokies, winners of the Coastal and/or Atlantic Division, in the conference championship game in Jacksonville and/or Tampa and/or Charlotte and/or Baltimore and/or Boston and/or Atlanta and/or Washington, D.C. For crying out loud, could these people get their act together, already?
Mountain West: The Utah Utes will take a step back after last year’s unbeaten run and the BYU Cougars’ stature as a prime time player took a serious hit last year, when Bronco Mendenhall’s squad lost double-digit outings against Texas Christian, Utah, and Arizona in the postseason. The Las Vegas Bowl committee can relax, secure in the knowledge that Sin City won’t be hosting a team that considers drinking a cup of coffee an act of moral turpitude; the TCU Horned Frogs are ready to reclaim the Mountain West with their fifth eleven-win season in a seven-year span.
Big Ten: The Penn St. Nittany Lions have learned how to win again, the Iowa Hawkeyes should field a stout defense, Mark Dantonio has the Michigan St. Spartans moving in the right direction, and the Illinois Fighting Illini can’t go wrong with a tight end named Mike Hoomanawanui. Yeah, whatever. The Ohio St. Buckeyes will finish first in the league and earn the honor of losing a BCS bowl game for their troubles.
Pac-10: The California Golden Bears are loaded, the Oregon Ducks have built a solid (if horribly garbed) program, the Oregon St. Beavers are always feisty, the UCLA Bruins are on the upswing, and the Arizona Wildcats are improving. Yeah, whatever. The USC Trojans will lose to someone they shouldn’t and win the Pac-10, anyway.
Big 12: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the winner of the Red River Shootout will represent the South Division in the league title tilt! That would be the Texas Longhorns, who will defeat the Oklahoma Sooners in Dallas and capture the conference crown by beating some team from the Big 12 North that might as well be pulled out of a hat. Hang on . . . I happen to have a monkey with a dart board right here . . . and he likes the Nebraska Cornhuskers to get the honor of being hooked by the ‘Horns. Let’s go with that.
Southeastern Conference: The Georgia Bulldogs, of course! Except . . . no, not really. The Florida Gators will face the LSU Tigers in the Georgia Dome and the Sunshine State Saurians will get the better of the Bayou Bengals for the second time this season. Trust me, I’m not any happier about this fact than you are.
There they are, ladies and gentlemen . . . my ill-informed, knee-jerk, doomed prognostications concerning the upcoming football season. I’m confident of being dead wrong on at least half of that, but I leave it to you to tell me which half. Where have I hit the nail on the head and where have I missed the boat? Feel free to unmix my metaphors and correct my misconceptions in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll be preparing my specific forecasts for the fall, which should be coming your way tomorrow.