Breaking down the rest of Division I-A



We are only a week away from kickoff. Seems like a pretty good time to step out of the SEC and ACC and take a quick look at the other Division I-A conferences. I’m picking the conference winners with a possible dark horse for each. If you disagree with my picks, please give me yours.



Winner: Cincinnati. The defending champions lost 10 starters on defense but return quarterback Tony Pike and wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, one of the best in the country. I think Brian Kelly is a very good coach. The fact that the Bearcats COULD win tells you how down the league is this year.

Dark Horse: South Florida. I keep waiting on the Bulls to win the Big East. But they have been in the hunt the past two seasons only to fall apart in the second half. A team that has Matt Grothe at quarterback and George Selvie at defensive end should be better than the Bulls have been.



Winner: Penn State. A lot of people like Ohio State because of sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. But the Nittany Lions have a senior quarterback in Darryl Clark and a really good running back in Evan Royster. They also get Ohio State at home on Nov. 7.

Dark Horse: Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost their great running back, Shonn Greene, but they have a steady quarterback in Ricky Stanzi and a defense that gave up only 13 points per game last season, which was fifth in the nation. If sophomore RB Jewel Hampton can stay healthy Iowa has a shot. But the Hawkeyes must play Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State on the road.


BIG 12

North winner: Kansas. The popular winner is Nebraska because second-year coach Bo Pelini has promised improvement on the defense. But this is a league of quarterbacks. Nebraska will have a new one. Kansas returns senior Todd Reesing.

South winner: Texas. The popular pick is Oklahoma, which returns QB Sam Bradford, the Heisman Trophy winner. But Bradford lost four of his starting five offensive linemen. Texas is playing with a major league chip on its shoulder after getting shut out of the BCS championship game last season. Colt McCoy is going to have a huge senior season that may give him the Heisman Trophy.


Dark Horse: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have all of the offensive firepower they need in QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter, and WR Dez Bryant. What they haven’t had lately is a defense to back it up. Last season the Cowboys were 93rd nationally in total defense (405.54 yards per game). Since 2002 Oklahoma State has not been better than 74th in total defense. Bill Young has been brought in as DC to correct that. If the Oklahoma State defense improves just a little bit, the Cowboys could be this season’s Texas Tech and play the role of spoiler.



Winner: For the eighth consecutive year it has to be USC, despite questions at quarterback and a defense that lost eight starters. Four of those defensive starters were picked on the first day of the NFL Draft. Sophomore Aaron Corp and true freshman Matt Barkley are the quarterbacks. They will work behind a veteran offensive line with an embarrassment of riches at running back. Put it this way: If you don’t get Southern Cal this season, I don’t know when you’re going to get them.

Dark Horse: California has the nation’s leading returning rusher in Jahvid Best, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry last season. The Bears also have a top 25 defense that gave up less than 20 points per game in 2008. Finally, California gets USC at home on Oct. 3. Some folks like Oregon in this role but the Ducks have a new head coach in Chip Kelly.



East winner: East Carolina. The Pirates return Patrick Pinkney at quarterback (2,675 passing, 13 TD) and seven starters from a defense that finished in the top 30 in scoring.

West winner: Houston. QB Case Keenum threw for 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns last season.

Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi. Sixteen starters return from a team that finished the 2008 season with five straight wins.


Winner: Only three starters return on offense and among the missing is quarterback Brian Johnson, who led the Utes to a 13-0 season in 2008. But Kyle Whittingham has continued to build the program after taking the handoff from Urban Meyer in 2005.

Dark Horse: BYU. Quarterback Max Hall returns after averaging 310.4 yards passing per game last season. The defense from last season’s 10-3 team returns eight starters. The Cougars play non-conference road games against Oklahoma and Florida State, but league games against TCU, Air Force, and Utah are at home.



East winner: Buffalo returns 12 starters from the defending MAC champs and gets the nod despite losing all-conference running back James Starks for the season (shoulder).  Starks was Buffalo’s all-time leading rusher. Junior Brandon Thermilus will now get a shot at tailback. The Bulls of Turner Gill are going for their third straight MAC East title.

West winner: It’s got to be Central Michigan and quarterback Dan LeFevour, who threw for 2,784 yards last season and led the Chippewas to their third straight bowl. No current MAC member has ever gone to four straight bowls.

Dark Horse: Western Michigan. Tim Hiller is a big-time quarterback who completed 64.9 percent of this passes for 3,725 yards and 36 touchdowns a year ago. The Broncos were 11th nationally in passing (294.7 ypg) last season.



Winner: Troy is pretty much a lock to pick up its fourth straight Sun Belt title. But the big boys on Troy’s schedule had better pay attention because many say this is the best team that that Larry Blakeney has had in his 18 years at the school. The passing combination of senior QB Levi Brown to junior wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan (77 catches in 2008) is lethal.


Dark Horse: A lot of people like Arkansas State as the No. 2 team in the Sun Belt but I like Florida Atlantic and senior quarterback Rusty Smith (3,224 passing, 24 TD in 2008). Cortez Grant (60 catches) is a great target. The Owls get Arkansas State at home.



Winner: There is little doubt that Boise State will win the conference. The Broncos return only nine starters from a 12-1 team, but one of them is sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore (3,486 yards, 26 TD), who completed 69.4 percent of his passes last season. The question is whether or not Boise can upset Oregon at home on Sept. 3. If that happens, the Broncos could go 13-0 and make some of the big dogs in the BCS very nervous.


Dark Horse: Nevada is the most likely challenger to Boise in the WAC as the Wolf Pack returns eight starters from an offense that averaged 37.6 points per game (12th nationally) and 277.8 yards rushing (third nationally) last season. Nevada will give Notre Dame a hard time on Sept. 5 in South Bend. But also keep an eye on Derek Dooley’s Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. This is Dooley’s third year in Ruston and his team returns nine starters from an offense that enabled the Bulldogs to go 8-5 last season.


Programming note: Tonight I will be speaking to the Touchdown Club of Atlanta for their 2009 kickoff meeting at the Fox Sports Grill at Atlantic Station. At 5 p.m. we will have the first Atlanta signing of my new book on Georgia radio legend Larry Munson. The title is: “From Herschel to a Hobnail Boot-The Life and Times of Larry Munson.” Hope you can join us.


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71 comments Add your comment


August 27th, 2009
3:05 pm

If you have to explain UGA’s schedule to anyone, you are explaining it to a moron. It’s that simple..the SEC part speaks for itself..throw in playing two top 15 OOC teams ON THE ROAD along with AZ STATE and the explaining should be over.


August 27th, 2009
3:14 pm

Yeah I too would kinda like to see some team in the PAC 10 knock off USC but even if a team like the Oregon Ducks did it would probably only be a one year thing because USC lost so many players plus they are starting a new QB.NO! it is time for some PAC 10 team to not only knock off USC but to do it for years to come or atleast give them some tough competition.We all know about the PAC 1.

Tide Rising

August 27th, 2009
3:16 pm

1) Big East- Looking like the least if Cincy is the favorite. I think Tony is making a mistake though in leaving out West Virginia.

2) Big 10- Penn State has it but I think Iowa will challenge. Defense wins championships and if Iowa’s D is that good then they can be the big winner. They can always replace Greene at tailback and probably have a couple good backs in waiting. Ohio State- Too much hype as usual surrounding one player with Terrelle Pryor being this year’s overhyped Big 10 player.

3)Big 12- Kansas in the north but Texas all the way. OU has to replace 4 O-line starters but can make a run if they gel quickly.

4) Pac-10- Tony seems to forget about Oregon. Cal is hot water cold water. If they could play with any consistency I would pick Cal. It should be a tight 3 way race between these 2 teams and USC which for once actually looks mortal with a new qb and 8 new starters on D. I expect the conference winner to have 2 losses.

5) Mountain West- BYU takes it because of a great returning qb. TCU will be a close 2nd and Utah drops a little bit but not a lot. Utah lost a great senior class and a great qb. 8 new starters on offense is too much to replace. Before we got UTAH’ED I made the point that if the big east gets an automatic bid then there is no way the Mountain West shouldn’t get an automatic bid.They went something like 5-0 or 6-1 against the PAC 10 during the season last year and did the same the year before against the PAC 10. And we all know the PAC 10 went 5-0 in bowl games.

6) Year 2 of Larry Fedora at Southern Miss and they capped off last season on a 5 game winning streak. I look for the eagles to keep flying high.

7) Upset special of the year. I can’t guarantee Nevada to beat Notre Dame outright but I guarantee they at least cover the line. Personally I think they can pull out the win but at the very least they will cover the points. That’s how little respect I got for ND. The fact that Beano Cook and Lou Holtz are both talking ND vs Florida for the national title is absurd. What would that score be anyway 58-7?

Tide Rising

August 27th, 2009
3:24 pm

General Neyland,

The other 4 starters on Tennessee’s O-line are solid but there are huge depth questions if 1 or 2 of them go down. If they stay healthy then they could be good.

I just can’t get over the fact that in this day and age UT would have an undersized walk on who could actually be a starting center. I don’t care how much fight or heart the kid has. At that size he will get crushed going against SEC caliber competition.

Kiffin has signed and gotten some commitments from a lot of good skill players besides Brown but he really needs to go out and get some beefy, corn fed boys to be competitive. I’ll give Fulmer credit. He understood that the game is won and lost by the horses up front.


August 27th, 2009
3:28 pm

Don’t recall stating I was UT fan. History tells me Tn can do some upsets when most write them off.


August 27th, 2009
3:29 pm

1. Big 10: I’m going with OSU eventhough I’d like to see Penn St be the winner.

2. Big 12: I’m going with Texas and not only do I think Texas will win the conference but Colt McCoy could win the Heisman this year.


August 27th, 2009
3:43 pm

In the Big 10 it is going to be interesting to see if RichRod can get Michigan back on track and heading in the right direction.Michigan fans are not use to having a losing season and last season they know they stunk up the field.Alot of pressure is already on RichRod to turn things around so it should be intereasting to see what happens.Personally think Michigan is going to be a strong force in the Big 10 once RichRod gets the players he needs to play his style of football. But will Michigan fans give him enough time if it does’nt happen soon?


August 27th, 2009
4:05 pm

I’m just impressed that Tony knew there were 2 divisions in Conference USA. Nobody else would know this.

I read the breakdown of UGA’s schedule from HamDog and unless Cox proves he is legit, this could be a tough year for you doggies. I think Richt is too good a coach to lose 5 or 6 but 4 losses could easily happen. OSU, LSU, FLA & GT. But SC, Arky & UT will be tough as well.


August 27th, 2009
4:49 pm

If Joe Cox struggles in Stillwater, the Dawgs could be in for a long season.Win or lose, if Cox cannot perform at a high level, UGA could go 6-6. If Joe Cox is the qb the players think he is and the defense is considerably better and a few breaks here and there, 11-1 could be in reach. Georgia has played LSU really good in the past few games and managed to win them. Georgia has a week off before the gators and that has worked in their favor in the past. GT usually wins 2 in a row every 10 years, but not this year. Also, I think Penn Wagers, Steve Shaw, and Marc Curles will let the Dawgs play this year.

As a possible winner of the “Definite-Maybe Contest”, I definitely think the Dawgs will go 6-6, but maybe 11-1. See ya in December.


August 27th, 2009
4:55 pm

I have heard that some Ok St fans are calling the UGA game the biggest OOC game in their history.

There is huge pressure on both teams in this game.

I for one am looking forward to seeing it.

Geaux Tigers


August 27th, 2009
5:55 pm

You get out of the south and it looks like a black and white movie when it comes to college football. The sport is dying in the rest of the world. The Georgia,OK State game will start to show this. Georgia will kill them and in this state that will be great, in the rest of the country it will be that fewer people interested in college football.

Tide Rising

August 27th, 2009
5:59 pm


Hard to believe you think UGA could go 6-6. That would be dang near impossible in my book. If a lot of things went against them and they dropped several of their big games they could go 8-4 but even then I have a hard time seeing that. 10-2 is much more likely and 11-1 is not unrealistic.


August 27th, 2009
7:08 pm

Tony, a small follow up to your predictions in regards to the Pac-10. Coach Pete Carroll just announced (much to the surprise of fans and local writers in LA) that true freshman Matt Barkley will be the starter and followed up with “He’s the starting quarterback at USC — it’s not a one-game deal.” How does this affect your predictions, if at all, if you think that SC will win the PAC-10 again or if this is the year that California (finally) or Oregon go to the Rose Bowl. Big fan of your writing from out in Santa Monica. Thanks! I know this column is focused on the SEC/ACC, so my apologies to the other readers for a question on the PAC-10.

Big Dawg

August 27th, 2009
8:44 pm

Gen Neyland

How is your granddaughter doing? I haven’t heard from you in a while, e-mail me with your new e-mail address as the last couple of times I tried to send you an e-mail they came back undeliverable. Can’t wait for the season to begin, should be an interesting year. All these haters on these blogs with their opinions and no analysis to back up what they say. Atlanta Gator and you are the exceptions and it is a pleasure reading your posts.

Go Dawgs and Go SEC

Terrible Truth

August 27th, 2009
8:50 pm

Great job, Tony, but the more I read the more I realized I couldn’t give a fat baby’s butt about these other conferences, including the All Chumps Conference. The SEC rules!


August 27th, 2009
9:50 pm

Tide Rising

How does Kiffin get the blame for a senior walk on starting and you give Fulmer credit for having the horses upfront? These are Fulmer’s guys. Kiffin has one partial recruiting class of his own. All the others came with the job, thanks to the recruiting of the previous staff.


August 27th, 2009
9:50 pm

I want to invite you bloggers to watch a few minutes of the Oregon @ BS U game next Thursday at 10:30 pm ET.
Both offensive and defensive coordinators are going to be watching the film from this game for years.
This may be the hardest hitting game of the season as there are so many implications and stories in the air.
If you watch for a few minutes and are not intrigued, that’s cool, I missed the last 10 minutes of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Write in after the game or next day and tell us what you think about west coast football (and the new uniforms.)


August 27th, 2009
10:06 pm

5 top ACC players – How about the 9 returning defensive starters from UNC, arguably the fastest defense in the country. Pay attention now so you won’t get blindsided.


August 27th, 2009
10:26 pm

Last year, the NATS marched in to Sanford Stadium as underdogs, and did the unthinkable. They rushed for over 400 yards in route to a 45-42 win over the home town Bulldogs. In those few hours on a Saturday in November, the Yellow Jacket faithful also lost something. They lost all memory of the past 30 years in this series of “Clean Old Fashioned Hate.” Seriously? Have you been around a Tech fan since then. One win, in which they’re vaunted defense gave up 42 points, and all is forgotten. Now on to the reality of the football world in the state of Georgia. For all of you Tech fans out there who have short term memory loss, and to all of you Dawg fans who are down on the Dawgs, here is a quick history lesson. The Dawgs and the Jackets first met on the football field in 1893. Tech had little trouble with the Dawgs that day, winning the series opener 28-6. Tech took a 1-0 series lead. They would keep the lead until 1897, when the teams would meet for the second time. Georgia returned the favor to its cross state rivals, winning 28-0. The series would stay pretty even for the first 20 games. Tech won 3-0 in 1925 and evened the series at 9-9-2. Tech would take the series lead in 1928 with a 20-6 win. Georgia would even things up in 1929. In 1963 the Jackets jumped back on top of the series with a 14-3 win in Atlanta. Tech now led the series 27-26-5. It would be their last series lead to date. This heated rivalry was about to cool off. Since 1964, the Jackets have managed just 12 wins against Georgia. Let me say that again for all of you Jacket fans out there…12 wins in 45 games. To say that Georgia has dominated this series in the past 45 seasons would be a slight understatement. During that stretch of dominance, Georgia has posted win streaks of five, six and seven (twice). Tech has won three straight once (1998-2000). Vince Dooley enjoyed much success during that span as he went 19-6 against Jackets. Even Ray Goff enjoyed playing the Jackets, as he posted a 5-2 record. Jim Donnan would not fair as well, as his 2-3 record against Tech most likely contributed to his exit. Success would continue in 2001 as Mark Richt came to town as Georgia’s new head coach. Richt and his team would win that first meeting 31-17 in Atlanta. Richt would go on to win seven straight, before losing to the Jackets for the first time last year. So what have we learned today? We know that it takes very little success to make a Jacket fan happy. After all, they have won 12 games in the past 45 seasons. To Georgia fans at 33-12 record since 1964 looks pretty good. We know that Tech fans are overjoyed after winning for the first time in seven years. Losing seven of eight, 14 of 18, and 23 of 31 doesn’t seem so bad. Georgia fans are disappointed in last season. Losing to Tech is like letting your little brother win at “horse” in the backyard. Even though you beat him constantly, he holds that one win in a decade over you as his trophy. Tech fans will gloat all year…you can count it. But reality says they will win a couple of games every decade. I’m glad they can live with that. This series has had many memorable moments. Many players have saved their best for this series. In the past decade I have had the chance to see many of these games in person. It makes it easier for me to ignore the short term memory loss displayed by Tech fans. Now that we have revisited history, maybe we can all look at this series again from a “realistic” point of view.

Atlanta Gator

August 27th, 2009
10:38 pm

Big Dawg—-Glad to see your post. The AJC college football blogger crowd has changed over the last several years. Apart from the haters, there are some fin new additions to the crowd, including some new Tiders and Gators. Gen Neyland remains an entertaining regular. I do miss Buck Cochran’s UGA-or-the-highway posts; he was a Dawg true believer. Have not seen a post from War Eagle in quite some time; I hope he is well enough to begin to post again with the start of the season. It was always a pleasure to read a post from someone who had actually played the college game. With Chip Towers relinquishing the UGA blog, I’ve tended to post far more on Tony’s Mr. CFB blog than the UGA blog. Now that the season is about to start, I suppose I need to stop by the UGA blog and harass some old friends. = )


August 27th, 2009
10:59 pm

m……go away little boy….the Tech football program hasn’t been relevant for years. Go post your god and greyhound line to someone who cares….because thats all you got. Tech will lose five games this years…its goona happen,and Gerorgia will beat them soundly in Grant field in front of a stadium full of Dawg fans. CPJ may be a good coach but he can’t block and can’t tackle and Tech simply doesn’t have the athletes to hang with the big boys on their schedule.By the way you Tech fans seem to forget that your great defense you keep bragging about gave up 407 yards passing to the Dawgs in their three point win last year. Do you really think Georgia and all the other teams on Tech’s schedule haven’t studied the game film from last year. Wheather you chose to believe it or not teams will adjust and Tech isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this year…..get use to it, Tech will not win the ACC, will lose to Georgia and will finish 7-5 or 6-6. Have fun in Idaho at your bowl game.