Georgia will go 11-1 and win the SEC East. Then it will beat LSU for the SEC championship. And then … well, what destination traditionally awaits the SEC champion? (Hint: It ain’t beautiful downtown Shreveport.)
With that, we commence our annual long-range look at college football, which is guaranteed to please absolutely no one. If I pick your team to do less well than you think it should, you’ll be miffed; if I pick your team to do better, you’ll gripe about the Bradley Jinx. Which didn’t, I should note, seem to trouble Georgia overmuch last season: The Bulldogs, as predicted, did take the East. And this year, for better or worse, I foresee better.
Georgia Tech will upset Virginia Tech on Labor Day night and will win the ACC Coastal Division. I can’t really believe I’m making this call. (Perhaps you share the feeling.) But before you succumb to an outbreak of whooping scoff, check the Jackets’ schedule. They’ll play only one road game — that at Clemson — between Sept. 4 and Nov. 2, and their final three ACC games are against Maryland (2-10 last season), North Carolina (new coach plus a bowl ban) and Duke (still Duke).
One game doesn’t usually a season make — you’ll recall Georgia losing to Boise State — but history does note that the Tech-Tech winner has become Coastal champ every year there has been a Coastal. History also notes that Virginia Tech doesn’t always start quickly. History also notes that Paul Johnson is pretty good as an underdog. I’m thinking he coaches the heck out of that game and his team goes 9-3 (losses to Miami, Clemson and Georgia) and wins the division on a tiebreaker. I’m also thinking nobody else will agree — except maybe Paul Johnson.
LSU will lose a regular-season game but win the SEC West. Maybe the loss will come at Auburn, or at Florida, or even at Texas A&M. Just for the heck of it, let’s go with the new-to-the SEC Aggies. I do not, however, believe LSU will lose against Alabama on Nov. 3 or Arkansas on Nov. 24. The men of Miles will rise up for those Titanic tilts. (I also don’t think Bama will be quite as good as advertised, and I can’t see John L. Smith lifting Arkansas to great heights.)
Once again, South Carolina will beat Georgia but lose the SEC East. Because the Gamecocks will lose at LSU on Oct. 13 and at Florida the next week. (The Gators will start to get well this season. They’ll go 9-3.) Another 10-win season will leave South Carolina frozen out of the SEC title game — mostly because of the imbalance in SEC scheduling. Steve Spurrier is right: Somebody does need to do something about that.
Speaking of significant openers … Tennessee cannot lose to North Carolina State on Aug. 31. Derek Dooley’s Vols could be positioned for a rebound — provided they beat the Wolfpack in Game 1 of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. And State, which was 8-5 last season even after letting Russell Wilson leave for Wisconsin, won’t be easy. But this is a must game for the Vols, and I’m thinking they’ll take it. Besides, the SEC always beats the ACC, right?
Hold that thought. I like Clemson over Auburn the next night in the same building. Cam Newton: Gone awhile. Gus Malzahn: Gone to Arkansas State. Auburn’s 2010 national championship will soon be rendered one of those how-did-that-happen comets if Gene Chizik doesn’t think of something fast, and I’m not sure G-Chiz is about to make us say, “Gee whiz!” The schedule’s not that bad; I just don’t see Auburn being that good. Eight wins, tops.
Florida State will win the ACC because somebody has to. League loyalists point to the good coaches entering the conference — Mike London of Virginia, Al Golden of Miami, Larry Fedora of North Carolina — as reason to believe. Honesty compels me to confess that I’ve rarely seen the ACC appear less imposing. (So why am I picking Clemson over Auburn? Because I’m stupid, that’s why.)
Southern Cal will go undefeated behind their boy genius coach and will play Georgia for the BCS title in Miami. I’m not going to make a pick on this one yet — I’ve done enough damage for one day, don’t you think? — except to say this: Lane Kiffin absolutely owns Mark Richt. (OK, so they’ve only met once.)
Kidding aside, I really do think Georgia has the makings of a championship team. Great defense. Good quarterback. Lots of running backs. I have the same concerns as you about the offensive line, but no team is without blemish. And the schedule — no Alabama, no Arkansas, no LSU, not even a Boise State — looks mightily inviting. Not to heap pressure on anyone, but you have to wonder: If Richt doesn’t play for the BCS title with this team, will he ever?
By Mark Bradley