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

nashvol j.pi

August 27th, 2009
8:46 am

all of you Bryce Brown conspiracy theorists just got your comeuppance, Go Vols. Sorry let me translate for you bulldog fans, Bryce Brown will be the next Herchel (but w/ fewer personalities)

The Rifleman

August 27th, 2009
8:49 am

This is going to be funny when Georgia starts the season 0 and 3!!!!


August 27th, 2009
8:56 am

Good job Tony, I agree that Southern Mississippi is a team to possibly look out for. Pretty good talent at their skill positions. I did not care for them letting Coach Bower go but Fedora is a pretty good coach.

Go Dawgs!

Atlanta Gator

August 27th, 2009
8:58 am

Comments in response to Tony —-

(1) The Big East will be a non-factor in the 2009 BCS title hunt, and will get their one undeserved bid for its conference champion to the last-pick 2009 BCS bowl.

(2) The Big Ten will receive its mandatory one BCS bowl bid, either Ohio State and Penn State. Someone other than OSU needs to step up and challenge the Buckeyes. The lack of depth in the Big Ten is hurting the competitiveness of its top teams. You need to be tested to be ready.

(3) The Big XII is the odds-on favorite to contribute a team to the BCS Championship Game. Both Texas and Oklahoma should received BCS bowl bids.

(4) USC will be Pac-10 champion in usual runaway fashion. Question is, will they finish 12-0? If so, they could be playing for the BCS national title.

(5) Conference BCS will not receive a BCS bowl bid in 2009. Next.

(6) Mid American Conference will not receive a BCS bowl bid in 2009. Next.

(7) Mountain West is a long shot to place a team in a 2009 BCS bowl, but it’s more likely to be TCU than Utah.

(8) Sun Belt? Not happening any time in the next decade.

(9) Atlantic Coast Conference winner will get its mandatory BCS bowl bid. The ACC is hoping they don’t have to play the Big East champion again.

(10) Southeastern Conference is a strong candidate to place two teams in BCS bowls. Question is, who will be the second team?

Atlanta Gator

August 27th, 2009
9:00 am

nashvol j.pi—-”fewer personalities,” eh? Let’s hope Bryce settles on one good personality and ditches his pre-Volunteer posse and hangers-on.

Saint Simons

August 27th, 2009
9:09 am

45 – 42 !!!!!!!!!!! hahahahahahaahahahahahaha


August 27th, 2009
9:10 am

I can agree with most of these but I really think someone else will win the PAC-10 this year. It just feels like this is a rebuilding year for USC as they’ll probably lose 2 or 3 games this year. Cal is the west coast version of Clemson and will find a way to choke the season away so someone else will slip through the cracks.


August 27th, 2009
9:21 am

I just saw the UGA schedule, toughest games in order:

1 – Florida
2 – LSU
3 – Georgia Tech (really is the third best team on the schedule a bunch of pathetic loser nerds? really)
4 – Arizona State?, Tennessee? (really these are the 4th best teams, really)

What a powerhouse


August 27th, 2009
9:22 am

Auburn? South Carolina? Vandy?

Anybody better than 6-6?


August 27th, 2009
9:22 am

Bryce Brown is too small to be anything but often injured in this league.

Exley DAWG

August 27th, 2009
9:25 am

Your the best Tony.

Gen Neyland

August 27th, 2009
9:50 am

Atlanta Gator : Here’s to hoping Bryce Brown’s entourage consists of defenses chasing him downfield…


August 27th, 2009
9:53 am

Why does everyone keep referencing the new coach at Oregon as a reason for a drop off? The coach is running the same system and has kept all the old coaches around. I realize that a coaching change typically causes a drop off but this is a totally different situation. the new coach came in as offensive coordinator two years ago and instantly improved the offense. the old coach has moved to athletic director. The new coach will still be running the offense and the defense will still be run by the defensive coordinator. I think the ducks will be better than people think as this coaching change will not slow them up a bit.


August 27th, 2009
9:54 am

Don’t count out the Ducks in the Pac 10…

Not Disappointed

August 27th, 2009
10:03 am



August 27th, 2009
10:03 am

Tony…you truly are the chan gomer gailey of sportswriters. I bet you got more picks wrong than you got right..wanna bet.

Thank God and Greyhound that the worst coach in the history of the world, chan gomer gailey, is gone forever. Only thing worse than him were the Tech fans who ever supported him or defended him…like the folks on the hive website…they suck just as bad as him for propping him up for 6 lousy years.


August 27th, 2009
10:05 am

Unbelievably lame article, but what’s new? So much to pick at and so little space, so I’ll just cover the first conference. Too much faith in Cincinnati. They were a surprise last year and will be competive this year, but will not prevail. USF as a darkhorse shows you are writing from a closet without a clue. Leavitt is a good coach. Selvie is good, but even the worst teams usually have one or two good players. Grothe is athletic, but extremely erratic and will lose as many for them as he will win. The rest of the team has the collective IQ of a fern (e.g. Ford, their best RB who has already been suspended- again) and several will fall to the wayside due academics.

Got 12?

August 27th, 2009
10:14 am

I agree that Troy wins the Sun Belt again. It’s probably time they moved to Conference USA.

November 14 – Troy upsets Arkansas 63-57.

Got 12?

August 27th, 2009
10:27 am

For the Tech fans who like to keep up with Colin Peek (Tech transfer) at Bama:


August 27th, 2009
10:32 am

Georgia, Do you really think you will have a defense better than that of Tennessee? On offense I think Cox wins the qb, but as far as running the ball you pups dont even compare. I see Uga going 7-5


August 27th, 2009
10:33 am


Where’s the love for the ACC? I take it you would not pay to see 5 ACC players?

wait, what?

August 27th, 2009
10:38 am

No way Oklahoma is the favorite over Texas in the Big 12. Did you happen to see the polls?


August 27th, 2009
10:40 am

I’m hoping Clemson get’s the First big W over Tech……..What a great weekend that would be


August 27th, 2009
10:50 am

“If you got the ball, we gonna get you. If yo mamma got the ball, we gonna get her” – Marvin Austin, UNC


August 27th, 2009
10:52 am


It is odd that we didn’t get the ACC version of 5 players to watch, but honestly I don’t know that enough ACC players have that superstar/national appeal. I tend to watch as much college football as my wife allows, but if ACC football is on, I’m not watching for a specific players, just watching two teams go at it. If I had to pick the players on ACC squads I could name and would at least be interested in watching/following, it goes something like this (in no particular order):

Russell Wilson – NC State
CJ Spiller – Clemson (should have gone to UF my friend ;) )
J. Dwyer – GaTech
S. Spence – Miami
Riley Skinner – Wake

Nobody at UNC, Duke, Maryland, UVa, FSU, Boston College, or VaTech (now that the running back is down) really move the needle for me. The guys I listed above are very talented players but I wouldn’t necessarily go pay to see them; which I probably have a better chance of doing vs. SEC guys given my location. Just my 2 cents…


August 27th, 2009
11:05 am

Tenn will beat 2 of these teams.. Fla, Ga. Ole Miss & Ala. who are ranked. It will not be Fla. so who are the 2 of these three that gets it.

Dawgs '02

August 27th, 2009
11:12 am


Seriously? A team loses 10 starters on defense and they will win the conference?!? Don’t believe it for a second. I may have been around the SEC too long, but I don’t think any team can win a BCS conference after losing that many. Defense is just too important.

You should have slept on that one before picking Cincinatti. I’ll take USF. They have some great athletic players, along with some experience and good coaching.


August 27th, 2009
11:13 am

Five players have left the UF program because of permanent injuries and undisclosed reasons. Of course this is during the preseason just before real football starts and not a couple of days before Highschool seniors are about to sign grant-in-aids on signing day.

Slick Willard

August 27th, 2009
11:18 am

Atlanta Gator, I assume you meant Conference USA instead of Conference BCS, did you not.? Didn’t mean to be picky.

I like your assessment on all the conferences.

UT fans are getting all wee weed up!

August 27th, 2009
11:18 am


I hate to burst your bubble along with all of you other UT dreamers. But UT is not going to beat any of the aforementioned teams. Jonathon Crumpton can only beat the 5 or 6 cupcakes you have on your schedule.


August 27th, 2009
11:24 am

this article has nothing about the SEC yet the first post is about Bryce Brown and many follwing talking about UGA and who they will lose to and their schedule and who Tenn will beat and UF losing players. Couldn’t you guys have found a more appropriate blog story to post this crap on?

Atlanta Gator

August 27th, 2009
11:27 am

Slick Willard—-What can I say, I’m thinking faster than I can type. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed a couple of strange trends in my typing mistakes. First, repetitive mistakes; make it once, and continue to make the same mistake throughout the paragraph. Second, sound-alikes—-won/one, your/you’re, and my new favorite, and/an. Absolutely drives me nuts, because I can spell and I do know my parts of speech. Thankfully, the grammar, spelling and style expectations on these blogs are not difficult to meet.

Atlanta Gator

August 27th, 2009
11:31 am

Gen Neyland—-Wouldn’t that be Bryce’s “posse?” I guess it all depends on whether you see Bryce as the new sheriff or one of the bad guys. Just sayin’ . . . .

Got 12?

August 27th, 2009
11:32 am

I have AT&T U-verse. Last night, I set the DVR to record the Kickoff Classic. The description of the game said JPW and Coffee will be suiting up for Bama against Va Tech.

I wonder if any U-verse customers/Auburn fans have called the NCAA yet?

Wil Walton

August 27th, 2009
11:50 am

Don’t know who the Top 5 are for the ACC, but here’s a list of the better players for each team. BC – C Matt Tennant, Clem – RB C.J. Spiller, Duke – DT Vince Oghobaase, FSU – OG Rodney Hudson, GT – RB Jonathan Dwyer, Md – RB Da’Rel Scott, Mia – LB Sean Spence, UNC – LB Quan Sturdivant, NC St – QB Russell Wilson, UVA – DB Ras-I Dowling, VT – DE Jason Worilds, Wake – DT Boo Robinson


August 27th, 2009
11:52 am

Georgia will only play spoiler to someone in the SEC but will not even challenge for the EAST.


August 27th, 2009
11:58 am

Hey Richt?:

Did you forget about the Dawgs’ opener at OK State?
Surely, that game should be 2nd or 3rd in your rankings.


August 27th, 2009
12:01 pm

Regarding who plays the SEC in Pasadena this winter:

Texas or USC (if they can get past Oregon & Cal).


August 27th, 2009
12:03 pm

(God, I hope it’s not Penn State!)


August 27th, 2009
12:06 pm

Hey Richt?,

You cannot tell me you don’t think UGA’s schedule this year isn’t tough. No, we’re not playing OOC games against USC, Ohio St, OU, or Texas, but we also don’t have a bunch of cupcakes on there, either. Don’t just glance at it and say, “There aren’t many ‘great’ teams on there, so it shouldn’t be that hard”. You have to actually sit down and rationally break it down week to week to truly appreciate the difficulty of it.

Here, let me give it a shot for you. Here’s why I think UGA’s schedule will be tough in ‘09:

9/5 @ Okla State
-Huge season-opener on the road vs a respectable Big XII team on the rise.
-They’re ranked in the top 10 in every major poll.
-Kudos to Richt and Evans for having the guts to schedule a legitimate team for the opener. Not many BCS conference schools are doing this.
9/12 vs So Carolina
-ALWAYS a tough game for UGA, no matter where it’s played
-Very physical team every year, will probably cause some attrition in the ranks
-Coming off an emotionally charged road trip to Stillwater (win or lose)
9/19 @ Arkansas
-Everybody’s ‘dark-horse’ in the SEC this year
-Petrino’s offense will be productive, even more so than last year’s IMO
-SEC road game….need I say more
9/26 vs Az State
-Possible opportunity for a let down if Dawgs are undefeated up to this point
-UGA should win this one as long as we stay focused and avoid any key injuries
10/3 vs LSU
-LSU’s gotta be bitter about us coming into Death Valley and kicking them around last yaer. They really looked lost at time during the season last year; don’t expect it to continue
-They’ve always got some of the best talent in the country, + they’ve got Chavis running the D this year, which I would think will lead to improvement.
10/10 @ UT
-On the road after a very physical game against LSU = dangerous game
-UT has managed to have our number when we went into this game with the ‘better’ team. We got caught with our pants down the last time we went to K-ville and it cost us a shot @ playing in ATL
-They’ll have a lot to prove with all the verbal checks Kiffen’s been writing
10/17 @ Vandy
-Always a tough team for UGA to beat. Well coached and now, better talent than in years past.
-Vandy sees the UGA game as ‘winnable’ every year, and only UT is a more satisfying victory for them. Their coaching staff will have them ready for this game. UGA fans usually fill close to half the stadium in Nashville; let’s not change that this year!
10/24 OFF
10/31 vs FLA (in J-ville)
-no need to post anything here
11/7 vs Tenn Tech
-Okay, so we get dessert after beating the gators. One little cupcake never hurt anybody
11/14 vs Auburn
-Do I really need to note the craziness of this rivalry? It’s best summed up as, “Expect the unexpected”
-The lower ranked team usually wins
-The road team usually wins
-UGA has had 3-game winning streaks against AU 3 times in the past; AU has beaten us EVERY time we’ve gone for 4 in a row
11/21 vs Kentucky
-Improved defense under Brooks has made UK competitive over the past several years
-We had a heckuva time trying to stop their ‘option’ attack last year
-They’ve tasted victory against us recently…and they liked it!
11/28 @ GT
-The ‘08 game in Athens has re-kindled this rivalry
-They know they can compete with us, so they’ll have some confidence coming into this gam
-Like UK, we had a hard time stopping the option.
-Paul Johnson never got a phone call when UGA fired Donnan. That’s still stuck in his craw and this game will be personal to him every time we take the field. This is evidenced by the fact that he made it the team’s #1 goal last year. Heck, they even got rings made with the score of the UGA game put on there! Get a life! We need to put them back in their rightful spot in the state….in the basement.

That’s my take, for what it’s worth. UGA can’t control their SEC schedule, but the OOC games are competitive by ANY team’s standards. If there’s a team out there with a tougher schedule in ‘09, I’d like to see it. I’m not saying ours is the hardest in the country, but it’s probably top 5.

Go Dawgs!

The Rifleman

August 27th, 2009
12:40 pm

For all those reasons you mentioned above….that is why UGA will go about 7 & 5.

Gen Neyland

August 27th, 2009
12:46 pm

Atlanta Gator : The kid’s carrying a 3.7 gpa at Tennessee. In lieu of that alone, entourage sounds a bit more classy…


August 27th, 2009
12:56 pm

more love for the ‘unstoppable’ oklahoma state…….keep it up, tony.
we need more material here in athens.


August 27th, 2009
1:15 pm

Tony – Agree with most of your predictions except the following:

Big 10 – OSU, playing USC early will have Pryor ready for the conference slate, and USC is probably the best team they will face all season, like Iowa as a darkhorse as well.

PAC-10 – Oregon -While USC will be very good as they re-load rather than rebuild, don’t sleep on Oregon. They have a very good team, quietly finished in the top 10, and with USC likely having to go with freshman Barkley at QB could be a tough go of it for them in closer/road games. The Ducks get Utah, Cal, USC & OreSt all at home and Autzen Stadium is flat out one of the toughest places to play in the country. If they don’t slip up @BoiseSt, this team could easily be a top 5 team and in the BCS discussion later in the year.
Darkhorse-OreSt, they showed flashes of being a very good team, if they can put it all together this year they could definitely contend, however road games against USC, Cal, & Oregon will make it a very tough task.


August 27th, 2009
1:48 pm

Everyone wants to harp on the Sooners only returning 1 starter on the O-line. However, that starter will be protecting Bradford’s blindside & is a future 1st rounder. What the pundits are missing is Texas lost starters in their defensive front 7, so will they even be able to take advantage of the allegedly weakened Sooner O-line?

Tide Rising

August 27th, 2009
2:19 pm

We’re talking about Bryce Brown? I did read the other day that UT lost one of their 2 centers competing for the starting job.

The starting center job will go to a 6′1, 260 lb walk on senior. I am not kidding. The guy’s big accomplishment was moving from a sophomore who made 1 or 2 travel squads to making a couple of travel squads last year and playing against MSU and I think 2 of the small time non-conference games. He did play mop up in 3 games though last year.

If you’re Bryce Brown and or a UT fan you better be more worried about having entourages like Cunningham and Dunlap in the backfield on Sept 19th, Atkins and Weston when they play UGA, and Terrence Cody and Brandon Deaderick when they play Bama.

Ya can’t have a 6′1 260 lb walk on going up against 6′5 or taller 300-360lb behemoths and expect to run the ball. It aint gonna happen. This is really bad for Tennessee.


August 27th, 2009
2:26 pm

You really think OSU can go into Happy Valley this year and beat the Nittany Lions when they couldn’t get it done at home last year?
I doubt they can even get past Iowa.


August 27th, 2009
2:28 pm

USc looks set to take another PAC10 crown but if there was a year they could blow it, it is this year. USC starting a true fresshman at QB and aren’t they replacing much of the defense?

Denver Dog

August 27th, 2009
2:51 pm

Good lines there Tony, I see the usual suspects from Tech have the same lines that they write every day. Maybe they can start something new by saying something positive. I thought I read an article about the good players in the ACC. I’d love to see the Tech boys, and the QB at BC. Va Tech looks good too!

As far as UGA schedule, it is as tough as any, becuase so much is on the road, and so much emotional on the road, and payback games coming home.

Gen Neyland

August 27th, 2009
3:04 pm

Tide Rising : Yes, Sr. Josh McNeil went under the knife yesterday but he isn’t done with the surgeons. More to look at inside that knee. As far as the OL goes, it isn’t as bad as you make it out to be. I’ll agree it could be better in many ways, but this Sullins kid battled McNeil through camp and has been getting reps with the ones for a few weeks now. So if the C-QB exchange is good, the rest can fall together with the veterans along the line. Shootfire, it happened at Georgia last year, I will expect the same from Sullins et al…