Six months ago I wouldn’t have imagined this pick, but here it is: Georgia will go 10-2 and win the SEC East. And how’s that for a snappy beginning to our annual long-range look at college football?
What changed my mind about Georgia? The Dream Team. I’m not the biggest believer in recruiting rankings, but this class rekindled a fire that, after 8-5 followed by 6-7, was down to embers.
Six months ago I saw a program that had run out of ideas. (How do you not score a touchdown against Central Florida?) Today I see a team primed to seize its opportunity. The SEC East is as rickety as it has ever been: Urban Meyer is gone from Florida, Tennessee is in flux and South Carolina’s breakthrough season — the Gamecocks finally won the division — fizzled at its end.
Georgia’s schedule sets up beautifully. The Bulldogs open against a team that figures to be ranked among the nation’s top five, but the team is Boise State (meaning: less talented than Georgia) and the game is in the Georgia Dome. The next week South Carolina comes to Athens. After winning those two games, the Bulldogs will find themselves in the Top 10.
Their two losses? Even with Florida under new management, one will come against the Gators. (One Georgia loss always comes against the Gators.) The other will come against Mississippi State even though the game is in Athens. (I’m not sure the fourth-best team in the SEC West couldn’t win the East.) As for Georgia’s opponent in the SEC title game … well, keep reading.
• Georgia Tech will tighten up on offense and defense — fewer turnovers, fewer points allowed. This will enable the Jackets to go 8-4 and finish third, behind Virginia Tech and Miami, in the ACC Coastal. They’ll miss Joshua Nesbitt but profit from a kinder schedule. They don’t play Florida State. They get North Carolina, Maryland and Clemson here, and they should win two of those. They get N.C. State, Miami, Virginia and Duke on the road, and they can win at least two of those.
• Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback who spurned the NFL, will win the Heisman Trophy.
• Nebraska, new to the Big Ten, will win the Big Ten (now up to 12 members). Ohio State, as you may have heard, has issues.
• With Nebraska gone and Texas in retreat, Oklahoma will tear through the Big 12 (now down to 10) and finish first in the BCS standings.
• As big as the Georgia-Boise game is to us around here, it will pale in comparison nationally to the other neutral-site game of Sept. 3: LSU-Oregon in Arlington, Texas. LSU 34, Oregon 31.
• Boise State won’t lose after Sept. 3, but from a national perspective it won’t matter. Boise State registers only when unbeaten.
• Auburn goes from 14-0 and the BCS title to 7-5 and fifth in the SEC West. That’s unless Russell Wilson, the baseball-playing quarterback who was released from his scholarship by N. C. State, chooses the Tigers over Wisconsin. Should that happen, bump the Tigers up to 8-4 and fourth. Wilson isn’t Cam Newton, but he’s good.
• Florida State will lose to Oklahoma in Tallahassee on Sept. 17 but will run through the ACC undefeated, beating Virginia Tech in the conference title game (now housed in Charlotte).
• Florida will beat Georgia and still finish 7-5. The Gators must play Alabama and LSU. (Georgia gets neither.) The odd Will Muschamp-Charlie Weis alliance will be in tatters by Halloween.
• South Carolina will go 10-2 — its other loss will be to Arkansas — and lose the division title on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
• Tennessee will finish 6-6. Its new athletic director, whoever he/she is, will not be pleased.
• Utah will win the South Division of the newly configured Pac-12. Stanford will win the North because its biggest game — Oregon on Nov. 12 — is at home. Lane Kiffin and Southern Cal will finish 7-5, if anyone still cares.
• As for the SEC West … Alabama has the better schedule, but LSU has the better team. The Tigers will lose early at Mississippi State but not again. They’ll take down Alabama, which won’t lose to anybody else, in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. I see LSU beating Georgia for the SEC championship and Oklahoma in the BCS title game, which will, conveniently enough, be staged in New Orleans.
• Georgia State will go 8-3. It will, however, lose 51-10 at Houston on Sept. 24. Which, when you consider the Panthers lost 63-7 at Alabama last season, will be a sign of progress.
• After the doings of this offseason — Auburn’s trees, the Fiesta Bowl follies, the fall of Jim Tressel and the weirdness at West Virginia — the games themselves will seem almost staid. Even Tech versus Georgia will be nothing special. The Bulldogs will win by two touchdowns.
By Mark Bradley