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Evaluating My Preseason Conference Championship Predictions

Now that the best offseason ever has settled down somewhat in the wake of all the firings, resignations retractions leaves of absence, cowardly departures from Knoxville at night amid rioting in the streets surrounding the athletic building (not unlike the frantic escape of a deposed communist dictator), and hirings, it is time for me to face the music. That’s right . . . it’s time to take a look at how I fared in my predictions. Yes, this will get ugly.

I always tell you not to bet on it, and I mean it. In forecasting every postseason contest except the Independence Bowl, I posted a truly heinous 12-21 record. How bad a record is that? It’s as bad as Lane Kiffin’s career record as a head coach . . . yep, that bad!

The only saving grace for my bowl forecasts was my strong finish. After missing six straight predictions between December 19 and 26, then another seven in a row from December 29 to 31, I posted winning marks down the stretch by going 7-3 starting with the Sugar Bowl and 5-2 beginning with the Cotton Bowl. My season-long ledger was 75-19 in games involving SEC teams, 41-51 in all other outings, and 116-70 overall. Uh-huh . . . I went 6-3 in bowl games involving the SEC and 6-18 in all other bowl games. I told you not to bet on it!

Still, I have a shot to redeem myself by revisiting my conference championship predictions from last August, so let’s take a look at what I told you before the season would come to pass last autumn:

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?

Apparently, FAU went 5-7 while Troy captured the conference crown with an 8-0 mark in league play. Don’t give me a hard time about it, though, because you know you had to look it up, too.

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. . . .

Either way, I missed the mark. Akron went 3-9, Toledo went 5-7, and both had losing ledgers in Mid-American Conference play. Central Michigan and Ohio (Ohio) won the division crowns, and, frankly, I’m not going to bother with double-checking which one of them beat the other in the championship game. Move along, people; nothing to see here. . . .

Major Independents: Does it look like 1946 in here? There are no major independents remaining in college football. Next, please. . . .

I have to say, I pretty much nailed that one.

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.

At least the Eagles made it to a bowl game, right? Favre seems to be having a heck of a year, though.

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).

This is one of the safest bets in all of sports, although I damned Boise State with faint praise by comparing the Broncos to USC.

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?

Yep, it was. It turns out that the Bearcats were able to overcome their personnel losses, go unbeaten through Big East play, and win the de facto conference title game with Pitt to capture the league title outright.

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?

Well, at least I called one of the conference championship game participants correctly. How was I to know the eventual ACC champions would be the Bulldogs?

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.

Although I underestimated Texas Christian’s ability to make it into a BCS bowl game, I otherwise stand by every word of that forecast.

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.

Except for that "losing a BCS bowl game" bit, I’d say I was pretty much spot on there.

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.

Well, Southern California did lose a game---a couple of them, actually---against teams the Men of Troy ought to have handled, but I reposed too much faith in USC. Now that Lane Kiffin is on the job in Los Angeles, there’s no risk that I’ll repeat that mistake anytime soon.

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.

I totally blew this call. Man, am I glad I totally blew this call!

Coming Soon: A Look Back at Other Assorted Preseason Forecasts.

Go ‘Dawgs!