NCAA Preseason Guessing Game

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have no idea who first published preseason predictions. I can deduce he was either extremely well informed or was arrogant to the max or wanted to start controversy or was simply trying to sell to more newspapers. All four are probably true to some extent.

Whoever wrote those first preseason predictions had no idea what a trend setter he was. In the year 2011 everyone is seems feels qualified to make public his or her crystal ball skills. For the most part it is harmless fun. What true fan doesn’t love the preseason magazines and search for every poll on the internet?

The problem is people actually put stock in these predictions. Coaches’ jobs are put in jeopardy. Players are unwittingly set up for mega criticism. I find it funny – the slipping-on-a-banana-peel kind of funny – when coaches and teams are ripped for not living up to preseason predictions. Think about it: Before a team plays one snap a group media types decide the team should win “x” amount of games. If the team – regardless of injuries, the competition, bad breaks – doesn’t meet that number then the team has underachieved. It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous.

Did Florida really underachieve last season by going 8-5? The Gators had a coach who was battling his commitment to the job. They had a new starting quarterback that was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It had lost its star playmakers to the NFL and their replacements (Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps) had injury and off-the-field issues. Division rival South Carolina was a better team than expected. In-state rival FSU was vastly improved.

I bring all of this up because now is the time of year when the final preseason predictions are made. The Southeastern Conference Media Days ended last Friday; the ACC Media Days wrap up today; NFL camps are about to open.

In the SEC South Carolina and Alabama are the overwhelming favorites in their divisions. The “experts” also have determined that Alabama has nearly 20 percent of the 12-school conference’s best players; Florida has less than 3 percent.

I don’t believe that. Do you?

Obviously we can deduce certain likelihoods based on past performance. A good team that returns a lot of successful players should have success again. What about a bad team that returns a lot of players? Should we expect improvement thanks to experience? Difficult to say. One lesson I learned early in my career was taught to me by a crusty high school coach.

“We got 21 of 22 starters back,” he told me.

“That’s great,” I replied.

“Hell it is,” barked the coach. “We were 0-10 last year. These guys stink. What we need is 22 new starters.”

Rather than making predictions, allow me to provide you with information that is fact and reasonable assumptions.

Georgia has a favorable schedule. SEC teams play five division opponents and three non-division opponents. The non-division schedule is rotated on a two-year basis so that the schools can play one home game and one road game. The Bulldogs do not play Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, generally regarded as the SEC West’s three strongest teams. All three, in fact, are considered somewhere between strong and darkhorse contenders for the national title. UGa.’s three SEC road games are against Tennessee, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, likely to be three of the SEC’s weakest teams.

The Dawgs have the SEC’s top-rated quarterback in Aaron Murray and the league’s top coach in seniority in Mark Richt – and college football is a game dominated by quarterbacks and coaching.

South Carolina gets a break in not playing Alabama or LSU, but the Gamecocks do have to play at Arkansas and Georgia. They have the most experienced quarterback in Stephen Garcia. That’s the good news. The bad news is Garcia has been suspended for bad behavior off the field at least five times and is as reliable as the weather forecast. Coach Steve Spurrier had indicated Garcia wouldn’t be invited back for his senior season. He changed his mind after spring practice when he got an eyeful of Connor Shaw.

Edge to Georgia.

I also think it is foolish to dismiss the Florida Gators. According to the media types who bothered to vote (167 out of more than 1,000 who attended SEC Media Days), the Gators have only two players among the conference’s top 76. History, recruiting services and the eye-ball test would suggest otherwise.

Alabama has won 36 games in the last three seasons. Nick Saban is a highly regarded college coach. NFL scouts have dozens of Tide players on their radar. Alabama doesn’t have to play Georgia or South Carolina and it gets LSU, Arkansas and Florida in Tuscaloosa. But the Tide has little experience at quarterback. A.J. McCarron has thrown 48 passes against the likes of San Jose State and in mop up duty. Alabama had 14 players named to the three preseason teams.

LSU has the fewest home games (6) of any of the highly regarded teams. The Tigers also have the most difficult non-conference schedule, opening against last year BSC’s runner-up, Oregon, and a midseason game at West Virginia. If history repeats, Coach Les Miles will go brain dead and lose at least one game in the final minutes of play. LSU may have the conference’s most athletic quarterback in Jordan Jefferson, but he was miserable as a passer in 2010. A new offensive coordinator in Steve Krahthrope and pressure from Georgia transfer Zack Mettenberger could lead to improvement by Jefferson. They also could mean Jefferson winds up on the bench.

Arkansas is the most interesting team. Coach Bob Petrino’s offensive track record is impressive. The loss of quarterback Ryan Mallett could be offset by Tyler Wilson, who likely will be a household name throughout the SEC by October. Running back Knile Davis hasn’t gotten the publicity of the SEC’s top two runners, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Alabama’s Trent Richardson, but he’s a good one.

Edge to Alabama.

The only prediction I’m confidence in making is Vanderbilt will be near the bottom when all is said and done. In fact, the Vandy-Tennessee game Nov. 19 in Knoxville may determine more than which is the worst team in state. It could determine which team is the SEC’s worst.


  1. producewiz says:

    think Bama at the Gators lamb chops

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