How I Did With My 2008 Predictions

February 1, 2009

Before I get into much that looks forward to 2009, I figure it’s worth taking a look at how I did with my 2008 predictions to see what I can learn from it. After all, so many people toss so many forecasts around without ever going back and letting you know if they were good or bad.

Consider this some full disclosure before I predict anything about 2009.

Overall

My catchphrase for 2008 was “A Season of Titans.” I meant that we would not see another chaotic season where good but not great teams struggled to lay weak claims on the title as we did in 2007. I foresaw at least one undefeated BCS conference champ and maybe more. I saw a possibility of another undefeated team in the Mountain West or WAC too.

It turned out that only Utah was undefeated team going into bowl season, and I did single out the Utes as a candidate for perfection. Even so, it was a season on titans. Once again there were a bunch of great teams all fighting for a chance to play for it all.

In 2007, we ended up with Ohio State in the BCS title game basically by default and LSU in it because no one was quite sure who else to put there. In 2008, we finished the year with no fewer than four teams that felt they had a legit claim to the title, and three of them received at least one vote in the final AP poll.

I claim this one as mostly right, because the BCS controversy was caused by having too many elite teams, not too few.

Team-Specific

Florida will pound Hawai’i. I predicted this in May, got some flak from an angry Hawai’i fan, and Florida ended up winning 56-10. It was similar to how I dismissed FAU as a credible threat in 2007, got flak from an angry Owl fan, and Florida ended up winning 59-20.

Why I keep making predictions about UF beating down opponents in guarantee games is probably the biggest question here. Is it too early to predict that the Gators will eviscerate FIU in 2009? Anyway, this was right.

FSU is a six-win team. I made the headline intentionally a little misleading, but I meant that the Seminoles would win six games against I-A competition. I didn’t explicitly say it, but I also meant specifically in the regular season because bowl season is often a crapshoot.

As it turned out, FSU won eight regular season games with two coming against I-AA teams. I didn’t get all the details right (Florida State didn’t lose to Clemson, for instance), but I nailed the win total. They got six wins against I-A competition in the regular season.

Paul Johnson will do better than 7-5. This piece was mainly just background information on Johnson’s career, but I did make a prediction at the end: “Paul Johnson’s track record indicates he should do better than the 7-5 records that Chan Gailey put up seemingly every year.”

Georgia Tech went 9-4 in 2008. This one was also correct.

Next, I put together detailed predictions for the ACC and Big 12 before rolling everything else into one mega-post. So, let’s take them piece by piece.

ACC

I predicted the top three in the Atlantic would be Clemson, Wake Forest, then Maryland. It ended up being Boston College and FSU at 5-3, then the rest of division tied at 4-4. I think Maryland technically ended up third since the Terps beat all of the three other 4-4 teams.

So, I got one of three correct. I obviously bit on the Clemson hype, but I figured if it was ever going to happen for the Tigers, this was the year. Instead, they quit on their coach after one week and slumped to another mediocre year. BC also out played my expectations; I wanted to put them higher but talked myself out of it. Oh well.

In the Coastal, I went Virginia Tech, UNC, then Georgia Tech. Swap the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets and that was the actual order. Not bad for the chaotic ACC.

Then again, I did have Clemson winning the conference. Oops.

Big 12

In the North, I picked the top three as Missouri, Kansas, and then Nebraska. Switch the Jayhawks and Huskers, and you’ve got the actual order. Really though, picking anyone else in the top three of this division would have been a big stretch.

Down South, I had the order Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and then Texas. Again, picking a different set of three would have been risky. I’m not sure who technically was second or third. UT and Tech were tied behind Oklahoma, and Tech beat Texas. Does that count as correct? I say close enough.

Like with Clemson, I figured that if greatness ever happened for Texas Tech, this would be the year. I’d say an 11-2 record qualifies, but they unfortunately didn’t get a BCS bid.

I had Oklahoma over Missouri in the title game, and that was precisely what happened.

Big East

I called for the order to be West Virginia, Cincinnati, and then South Florida. Cincy won it, and then there was a three-way tie between WVU, Pitt, and Rutgers who all went 1-1 against each other.

The USF pick was rotten, but having Cincinnati in the top two was pretty good considering the consensus had the Bearcats fourth.

Big Ten

I had Ohio State first and Michigan State second. My reasoning was that Ohio State should have been one of the country’s best teams, and I still feel like they should have been. The MSU pick was mostly out of the necessity of picking a team out of left field, and with the Spartans ending up third, it wasn’t so bad.

I also specifically called for Wisconsin (preseason consensus No. 13) and Illinois (No. 20) to fall off from 2007 and not be that great. That was right on.

One huge problem though: “I have little faith that Jay Paterno’s ‘Spread HD’ will amount to much.” That’s about all I have to say about that. It really speaks for itself.

Pac-10

Honestly, I didn’t do a whole heck of a lot of thinking about the conference when making my picks. I defaulted to USC as first just like everyone else, and I banked on a second year bump under Dennis Erickson to keep Arizona State in second place.

I think if I remember correctly, I wanted to put Oregon State second, but I talked myself out of it like I did with BC in the ACC. Since I have no written proof of it, I can’t really take credit for it though.

SEC

In the East, I had Florida over Georgia. That happened, so rock on. In the West, I had Auburn over LSU. I could have sworn I ended up picking LSU, but I guess I changed that at the last second.

I was clearly flummoxed by the West division, much like the Gators who have lost to a team from it every year since 1999. I did pick Florida to win the league though.

BCS

I predicted that there would be no non-BCS teams in the BCS, so that right off was wrong. Even so, I had the Big East and ACC getting only one bid, and that was right. I also predicted that the Big 12 South would have two teams, and while I got the non-champ wrong (I said Texas Tech), I didn’t pick Missouri as many did.

The other at-larges I picked were Arizona State, Georgia, and Michigan State. Whoops. My title game was half right, with Oklahoma and Ohio State being the selected teams.

I used some trends to make predictions. One was to predict that only one of the 2007 BCS at larges would make it back in 2008. It turned out that not a one made it back.

I also said we’d have six BCS teams that were picked to be first in their division/conference, two that were picked second, one that was picked third, and one from all the rest. This part was based on the preseason consensus.

Four consensus first place teams made it: Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and USC. Three that were picked second made it: Texas, Utah, and Florida. Two that were picked third made it: Penn State and Alabama. That leaves one from the rest, and that was Cincinnati, who was picked fourth. That’s not spectacular, but it’s not bad either.

Heisman

“For what it’s worth, I also expect Ohio State’s Chris Wells to win the Heisman, followed by Chase Daniel, Tim Tebow, and Pat White.”

Injuries and team underachieving kept Beanie from having a shot, but I did correctly have Tebow third. Hooray? Not really, and honestly I don’t care. The Heisman is a popularity contest graded on a scale that is not intuitive to me, so yeah, I blew it, but I’m not that upset about it.

Overall

I got a couple divisions pretty wrong (ACC Atlantic, SEC West), but overall I think I did well. I slipped up most spectacularly in giving Clemson the benefit of the doubt and believing that Ohio State had one more good run in them. I did best in predicting better things for Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, and Michigan State than the consensus did.

I think my biggest trapping was getting too caught up in that consensus, and falling prey too much to conventional wisdom when I wasn’t sure what to do (like the Pac-10 below USC). It’s probably impossible to avoid that entirely, but my biggest missteps came from when I conformed too closely and not the other way around.

Periodically during the off season I will be doing some things that both look back and look forward. Hopefully they will culminate in a better set of predictions for 2009.


2008 Review: Risers and Fallers

January 13, 2009

Before last season, I looked at teams’ records in close games to see if they were potential risers or fallers from the previous season. The rationale is that in close games, luck determines the outcome as much as anything. If a team was particularly lucky or unlucky in 2007, you’d figure they would regress to the mean in 2008 and rise or fall accordingly (all else being equal).

All else is not equal, so it’s an imperfect method. However few teams change dramatically from one season to the next, so it works pretty well at predicting which way the teams it singles out will go.

I chose to look at games decided by eight points or less because a touchdown and two-point conversion could tie them. If a team’s difference between close games won and lost was three or more, I labeled it a potential riser or faller. If the difference was two, I put the team on a “wait list.”

I later found out that this type of study is something Phil Steele puts in his magazine every season, but he uses seven points instead of eight. I also looked only at BCS teams, whereas I think he does all of I-A. Either way, here’s how the 2008 bunch (by my figures) made out.

Potential Risers

First, let’s start with the positive.

Seven teams were picked as risers: Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan State, UCLA, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Washington. In my writeup, I expressed doubt that UCLA was going to do it, and I hinted that Washington might not either.

As it turns out, those two Pac-10 teams were the only potential risers who did not improve their records. All others won at least two more games, and Minnesota even won a robust six more games than in 2007. Together, the potential risers improved their records by an average of 1.43 wins.

The teams that were wait listed were Alabama, Arizona, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Ole Miss. UL was the only underachiever of the bunch, and like Minnesota, Ole Miss saw a six-game uptick in its wins. Alabama was close, winning five more in 2008 than in 2007. Together, the wait list teams increased their win counts by an average of 2.8 games.

In all, the potential risers and wait list teams increased their win counts by an average of exactly two wins apiece.

Potential Fallers

Now on to the harbingers of doom.

Eight teams were identified as potential fallers: Arizona State, Boston College, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Oregon State, and Virginia. I expressed some skepticism towards ASU and Northwestern falling off, and I ended up half right.

Northwestern was the only team of the bunch to improve its record, winning three additional games in 2008. Oregon State held steady with a 9-4 mark in two straight seasons. The Sun Devils fell the hardest, winning five fewer games in 2008. Together, the potential fallers won 2.13 fewer games than in 2007.

The teams on the wait list were UConn, LSU, NC State, Texas, and Wisconsin. The Wolfpack and Longhorns bucked the trend, winning one and two more games, respectively, in 2008 than they did in 2007. Defending champs LSU dropped off the farthest, winning four fewer games. Together, the wait list teams won 0.8 fewer games in 2008 than in 2007.

In all, the potential fallers and their wait list brethren won 1.62 fewer games than in 2007.

Conclusion

This particular form of prognostication was not 100 percent accurate, but I challenge you to find one that is. Eighteen of the 25 teams identified by this method went in the direction predicted and one held steady. Even counting Oregon State as a miss, that is still a 72 percent hit rate.

Who are the potential risers and fallers for 2009? Stay tuned because I haven’t run the numbers yet, but once I have them done I’ll let you know.


Cotton Bowl Time…

January 2, 2009

It’s 2:00 pm, which means it’s Cotton Bowl time. Your bizzarro stat of the day: in Ole Miss’ nine games against BCS conference teams, six times the team that outgained the other lost.

Texas Tech will almost certainly outgain the Rebels today, so maybe that bodes well for their cause. It projects as a 36-28 Texas Tech win, but we saw how much that matters in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.


Some BCS Final Score Projections

December 31, 2008

Just for the record, here are my projections for the first four BCS games. They were arrived at via the same method I used for the hypothetical BCS title game scenarios and to project a 35-21 Florida win in the SEC title game (which would have been 34-20 if Phillips didn’t miss his field goal).

I’ve run several bowl games, and it seems to be more accurate for good teams. It projected a 21-17 Boise State win over TCU (actual final: 17-16 TCU win, five total points off), but also a 34-31 Central Michigan win over FAU (actual final: 24-21 FAU, 20 total points off).

Anyway, I’ve used the absolute number projections rather than the percentages because time and again they are the more accurate ones. If you’ve read up on how this works, that has meaning to you. If you haven’t, then don’t worry about it.

Rose Bowl: USC 25 – Penn State 21

Orange Bowl: Cincinnati 19 – Virginia Tech 18

Sugar Bowl: Alabama 25 – Utah 24*

Fiesta Bowl: Texas 37 – Ohio State 18

For what it’s worth, this method has always projected the scores too high except for the obvious outliers (take a bow, Notre Dame) in every bowl I’ve run them for so far.

A bonus pick for tonight: Georgia Tech 31 – LSU 30 in the Chick-fil-A (Peach) Bowl.

*Originally said 25-23, but I noticed an error on the spreadsheet. It now says 25-24 because I don’t want to predict a tie, but since the raw numbers are Alabama 25.29 – Utah 24.93, it technically projects a 25-25 tie.


Hypothetical BCS Title Game Scenarios

December 8, 2008

With the BCS Championship Game set between Florida and Oklahoma, a lot of time and effort will go towards analyzing the two teams. Before we leave everyone else for third place or worse, I figured it would be fun to look at what historians call counterfactuals. You and I know them as “what ifs.”

Florida and Oklahoma are obvious inclusions, as is Texas since some voters out there still think the Longhorns should be No. 1. I went ahead and included USC as well because of how dominant their defense has been, and it’s hardly their fault that the Pac-10 stunk it up big time.

The methodology I used was the same as I used for the SEC title game last week. I looked at what effect each team had on its BCS conference opponents and used that against the other’s season averages to project yardage and points for the game. I am not going to make all the tables for all these matchups, but if you want to see some that illustrate the methodology, have a look at the prior post.

I do two projections for each game. One is using real numbers, meaning statements like “Florida holds its opponents to 12.48 points below their season averages,” and one is using percentages, meaning statements like “Florida holds its opponents to 52 percent below their season averages.” I should mention that I left TCU in Oklahoma’s calculations because the MWC is better that at least the Big East and the Frogs are in the top-15 of the polls.

For the time being, I give more credence to the real number projections because they did a better job at projecting the SEC title game. They had a 35-21 Gator win (actual was 31-20, which becomes 34-20 if UF doesn’t miss a field goal), and they had Florida outgaining Alabama 372 to 325 (actual was UF 358 and Bama 323). The percentages projected the yards slightly better but had the scores too low.

That is a sample size of one though, so I know that the percentages could end up being better in general.

The Matchups

First up is the actual BCS title game with Florida versus Oklahoma. The real numbers project a UF victory of 41-40, with the Sooners outgaining the Gators by a count of 481 to 440. The percentages predict a much more comfortable Gator win of 41-26, with Florida narrowly outgaining the Sooners 449 to 435.

If the Longhorn fans had their way, it would be Florida versus Texas. The real numbers project an instant classic Gator win of 36-35, with the Longhorns barely outgaining their foes 415 to 400. The percentages do the same thing in this game as with UF-OU, as they project a 32-20 Gator win with Florida outgaining Texas 406 to 359.

If we wanted to have an East Coast/West Coast game, we’d have Florida versus USC. The real numbers project a narrow Florida win of 28-24, with USC massively outgaining Florida 385 to 313. The percentages are not as kind to UF as they have USC winning a low-scoring 18-14 contest with the Trojans outgaining the Gators 364 to 275.

If the rematch had happened, we’d have Oklahoma versus Texas. The real numbers project the Sooners avenging their loss with a 42-37 win, having outgained the Longhorns 495 to 436. The percentages see these teams basically even in points with Texas winning 35-34, though the Sooners are projected to outgain Texas 471 to 431.

A replay of 2004 would give us a game with Oklahoma versus USC. The real numbers have Bob Stoops avenging his 2004 loss with a 35-33 win, though with USC outgaining OU 439 to 408. The percentages see the Trojans doubling up the Sooners 32-16, with the Men of Troy massively outgaining OU 439 to 322.

Finally, the matchup of the two on the outside looking in is Texas versus USC. The real numbers project a narrow Trojan win of 27-24, with USC outgaining Texas 399 to 310. The percentages don’t see it that close, with USC rolling the ‘Horns 25-12 and outgaining them 396 to 266.

Overall

Here are the results of this fictional tournament. The real numbers see Florida going 3-0, Oklahoma going 2-1, and Texas and USC each going 1-2. The percentages see USC going 3-0, Florida going 2-1, Texas going 1-2, and Oklahoma going a surprising 0-3.

The real numbers say the system got it right, while the percentages favor the Gators and Trojans. No matter, almost all of these hypothetical games are close. These are all good teams and choosing between them is basically a task of splitting hairs. An actual tournament wouldn’t definitively say which team is best of them, but it would at least give us a most deserving team.

If there’s another matchup of teams you’d like me to do, tell me in the comments and I’ll try to get around to it some time. I’ll do Utah if you want, since I think the MWC is as good as or better than the Big East and maybe the Pac-10, but the WAC is not, so sorry but no Boise State.


A Follow Up on Predictions

December 7, 2008

Last Thursday I threw out some numerical predictions for the SEC title game based on the teams’ stats and those of their opponents. I was looking to see what kind of effect each team had on their foes, such as (for instance) Florida holds its opponents to almost 13 points a game under their season averages. The whole thing is here.

Anyway, looking at real yardage and point differences (as opposed to percentage differences) produced a fairly accurate picture of the game. It said Alabama was likely to gain between 317 and 333 yards, and the Crimson Tide had 323 yards against the Gators. It also predicted a scoring window of 19 to 22 points, and Alabama scored 20.

For Florida, it predicted a range of 370 to 374 total yards. The Gators ended up gaining just 358 yards. For points, it predicted a range of 34 to 36 points, a little more than the 31 Florida ended up getting. It is worth noting that Percy Harvin could easily have made up that shortfall, and also if Jonathan Phillips made his second field goal attempt, they’d have hit the lower boundary of the range.

Whether Florida’s bowl game will hold to this pattern or not I do not know, but I’ll run the numbers again before it happens.

Other predictions I made:

  • It’s going to come down to execution in every phase of the game. (Check)
  • I don’t think one team will lead the whole game… (Check)
  • Nor do I think either will win by more than 14 points because they are so close (Check)
  • I believe Tebow will find a way to win. (Double Check)

All that’s missing at this point is a berth in the national title game to make it complete. Overall, I think I did quite well with this game. It makes me feel good, at least until I pull out my preseason predictions to revisit those for a later post. Clemson the easy choice in the ACC? Ohio State in the national title game again? Beanie Wells winning the Heisman? Ouch.


BCS Outlook, Week 12

November 13, 2008

The process of how games select their participants is outlined here.

If the season ended today, the following teams would get the automatic bids based on the conference standings:

ACC: Wake Forest (4 conference wins, tiebreaker over FSU)

Big 12: Texas Tech

Big Ten: Michigan State (6-1 conference record, no one else is better than 5-1)

Big East: Pitt/Cincinnati (Cincy beat West Virginia, these two have identical conference and overall records)

Pac-10: Oregon State (tiebreaker over USC)

SEC: Alabama

Non-BCS: Utah (by virtue of being the highest ranked non-BCS team and being inside the top 12)

Other: Texas (not a conference winner but still in top 4)

The Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl get first picks since they lost their tie-in teams. This year, the rotation after they pick replacements is Fiesta-Sugar-Orange. The order of the selections goes like this:

  1. Sugar takes Florida to replace #1 Alabama to lock in an SEC team
  2. Fiesta takes Texas to replace #2 Texas Tech to lock in a Big 12 team
  3. Fiesta takes USC, the most desirable at-large left and a nearby team
  4. Sugar takes Utah
  5. Orange takes Pitt/Cincinnati

I am making the assumption that the Sugar Bowl will want to set up an “Urban Meyer against his former team” storyline. It will have the luxury of doing so because of how well Florida fans travel. Plus, Utah at this point probably brings quite a few fans themselves, and I don’t know how big a crowd Pitt or Cincinnati will bring.

In total:

BCS Title Game: Alabama vs. Texas Tech

Rose Bowl: Michigan State and Oregon State

Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. USC

Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Utah

Orange Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Pitt/Cincinnati


About These Miami Folks…

September 5, 2008

I have a confession to make: I don’t hate the Miami Hurricanes football team. I just don’t.

The game this weekend has more meaning than just a game to some people, but not me. I was born in 1985, coincidentally the last time Florida beat Miami, and the two school have played only four games that I can remember to any degree.

One was the Sugar Bowl after the 2000 season when Miami simply had the better team. That was also the case in 2002. I was at the 2003 game at the old Orange Bowl, and it was the worst of all the Zookian collapses. I was at the 2004 Peach Bowl too, and neither team played like it wanted to be there. It was the worst-played college football game I’ve ever attended.

When it comes down to it, for most of my life Miami has been to me like Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, or any other national power that Florida doesn’t play regularly. That applies even with the three losses in the Zook era. I mean, it was the Zook era; I don’t harbor deep feelings about Ole Miss, why would I about Miami?

I grew up in Orlando, a city that is roughly split evenly between Gators and Seminoles. Miami fans are rare, so I didn’t hear any of them pumping up their team and getting me all annoyed.

That changed after I got to college. I met some Miami fans who attended UF and refused to become Gators. I saw random Miami fans show up at Florida games, and often they spent the time looking proud of wearing Miami stuff instead of watching the game. I began to learn about the relentless yet often misplaced bravado they usually exude.

The end result is that I just can’t stand Miami fans, but their team still doesn’t arouse the same reaction in me that FSU, Tennessee, and Georgia do. I don’t know that it ever will since Florida won’t play the Hurricanes often enough to get there.

As for the game tomorrow, it appears to be similar to the 2002 game only with the roles reversed. Florida is the national power hunting for a championship and Miami is the team hoping to be good. Miami is a lot younger than UF was in ’02, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but I expect Florida to win by a similar margin and score.

When the teams meet again in 2013, it should be a great game. This one will be uncomfortably close for a while, but the vast difference in depth of talent should let Florida pull away in the second half. There’s no way Miami has the offensive talent to keep up with the Gator offense.


2008 Season Outlook

August 28, 2008

I’m going to do my season outlook a little differently than I have done the past two years. I’m not going to go through and break down every game because injuries, schemes, and circumstances are never the same throughout the season as they are in the preseason. Instead I will pick the points of interest and call them how I see them.

The Team

The offense will be excellent. It will be able to get whatever it wants against many opponents, and even if the defense isn’t much better, it should be able to win any shootout. Not much else needs be said. The defense of course is the concern.

The line should be much improved. The ends will continue to be the strength, and no one the two deep will make Gator fans worry. They can go four deep at each tackle position if they wanted to, constantly rotating fresh bodies in and out. As it is, they probably won’t go more than three deep at each, and the coaches are more or less happy with the progress they’ve all made. There should actually be some real push up the middle this year.

The linebackers are the strongest group on the defense with a healthy Brandon Spikes. Once his foot heals, they’ll be the closest thing to a set-it-and-forget-it unit, with a great first line and capable backups. Some day, Dustin Doe will get the credit he deserves.

The secondary will remain a concern naturally, but not nearly as much as last season. Joe Haden was a quarterback in high school, Wondy Pierre-Louis never played football before his freshman year of high school, and Major Wright admitted he was kind of just playing center field without knowing fully what he was doing last season.

Those three have been starters in the SEC now, and along with Ahmad Black make up the first string in the back. Safety is thin, so losing Wright would be disastrous. Assuming health though, which seems to be a pretty big if this year, they will be much, much better. Urban Meyer calls them the most improved unit on the team, and he rarely gives out praise like that.

The most important thing is that everyone has the right attitude this year. Both the football team and the basketball team in their most recent seasons ran into the problem of assuming that showing up in orange and blue means you’ll win. They didn’t work as hard and didn’t develop the camaraderie that the championship teams had.

Well, that has changed. Meyer says the group is a lot closer and they had the right attitude in camp. In fact, he has said the fall camp was the among the best he has had at UF, and his comments so far indicate he likes this group more than even the 2006 squad at the same time of the year.

For the first time since that game in the desert, intangibles are on the Gators’ side.

The Schedule

As many people have pointed out, Florida’s schedule looks pretty doable. Hawai’i would have been a better game last season, while Miami would be a better game next year. FSU still has three quarterbacks battling for the starting role (which means they have no quarterback), and Florida has a lot more talent on the field and on the sideline.

As you can probably tell, I don’t think the non-conference schedule will be too difficult. The FSU game will be closer than it was in Gainesville last year just simply because of the site. The Gators didn’t win there between 1986 and 2004, and the wins in ’04 and ’06 were by just seven each time. There’s something about Tallahassee that keeps Florida from playing all that well, but I still think the Gators will prevail.

I’ve said this a few times this offseason, but here’s how I view the year: the team will be better and the schedule will be easier, so a 10-2 regular season is where the expectations start. Dropping Auburn for Arkansas is the primary reason for that. The other is that in my estimation, playing in Baton Rouge last season was more difficult than playing in Knoxville will be this year.

The three games I see as the greatest chance for losing are at Tennessee, home against LSU, and against Georgia in Jacksonville. South Carolina will probably be tricky since outside of the game during the collapse last season, Spurrier has played UF pretty close. Plus the Gamecock defense should be among the best in the conference.

Playing at Tennessee will still present atmospheric challenges even if it isn’t quite LSU. Dave Clawson’s new offense could also present a lot of trouble for the Gators’ young defense. Something that helps considerably is that UT plays UCLA this weekend, and the Bruin defense will be good enough to force the Vols to open the playbook a bit. Add to that Florida’s bye week before the game and the defense should have enough tape and time to get ready.

LSU’s issues at quarterback have been well documented, but ultimately I think they’re overrated since Andrew Hatch knows Gary Crowton’s system and was good enough to sign with BYU. There is so much talent on that LSU team all around that they don’t need fireworks from their signal caller; after all, Matt Flynn led them to a title without being a YouTube superstar.

The real issue to me is the Tiger defense. That may sound odd, considering how many great players are on it, but Bo Pelini has a special defensive mind. They will miss him, and the fact they replaced him with a committee would make me nervous. Florida was a couple well-timed stops from beating LSU last season, so
it’s not like it’s a lost cause for the Gators. Playing the game in the Swamp will definitely help.

The Georgia game is a bit problematic to project now. A lot depends on whether Matthew Stafford makes the big junior year leap or not, if the wide receivers stop dropping as many balls, if the offensive line will mesh into a unit as good as last season’s, and if super freshman A.J. Green is as good as advertised. Moreno will get his, Caleb King will get some more. Florida has more talent on offense, but Georgia has more experience on defense.

Meyer has been rattling his saber about last season’s Bulldog celebration, and he’s 8-1 against the three rivals. Florida was down by just five points last season with nine minutes to go, so, stop me if you’ve heard this before, getting a defensive stop would have given the Gators a great chance to win.

Florida will be better, but so will Georgia. It’s too tough to say conclusively today who will win, but you can’t rule either out as well. I suspect Florida will win, but I will get into that more around the time of the game.

Overall

In essence, nothing looks to me like an obvious loss candidate on the schedule in the way that the game at Auburn in 2006 and the game at LSU in 2007 did. The Gators leave the state just four times and have a bye before the worst trip.

If the expectations begin at 10-2, then they must go no worse than 1-2 in those three tough games. Florida has lost to an SEC West team every year since 1999, so if you believe in patterns, LSU is the most likely loss. Ole Miss and Arkansas just aren’t ready to beat a team like UF yet. Georgia would be the most crucial win since the Bulldogs are more likely to be competing for the SEC East crown than Tennessee is.

I think they’ll go 2-1 in those three tough games. Only one Florida team ever, the 1995 squad, has made it through the regular season unscathed. That’s once in 101 seasons.

In some ways, this team is like the 1995 team. It will be an offensive juggernaut, but it just does not feel like it’s ready to win it all yet. The core is still on the young side, especially on defense, and the injuries are well-documented. Things are set up to be at their best next season, but there still is a sense of urgency to get something done in 2008 with the potential of Tebow and Harvin going pro after the season.

Winning the East and then winning in Atlanta is a reasonable expectation. Going 10-2 or 11-1 in the process is also reasonable. There’s no shame in finishing second in the division to a loaded Georgia team, of course, but another 9-3 regular season would be a disappointment. That would indicate the defense didn’t get better, a significant setback considering they face seven first-year starters at quarterback (if you count Tommy Beecher) and three brand new offensive coordinators.

I certainly hope this isn’t the last year of having Tebow or Harvin. I can’t blame them if they go, but the 2009 team would be just phenomenal if they stayed. Now’s not the time to worry about 2009 though.

Enjoy this season, Gators. We may never see another one like it.


College GameDay’s Picks

August 24, 2008

In case you missed the College GameDay season preview show yesterday, here’s how everyone picked. They added Lou Holtz for the preview show, but hopefully he won’t be a part of the main lineup. The three-man crew works best. As always, Chris Fowler did not make any predictions.

Lee Corso

ACC: Clemson

Big 12: Missouri

Big East: South Florida

Big Ten: Ohio State

Pac-10: USC

SEC: Auburn

National Title: USC over Missouri

Kirk Herbstreit

ACC: Clemson

Big 12: Oklahoma

Big East: South Florida

Big Ten: Ohio State

Pac-10: USC

SEC: Florida

National Title: Florida over USC

Lou Holtz

ACC: Wake Forest

Big 12: Oklahoma

Big East: Pitt

Big Ten: Ohio State

Pac-10: USC

SEC: Florida

National Title: Ohio State over Oklahoma

The funniest part of the whole thing was during the picks segment. Corso called Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin “Jeremy McLean” and Kirk nearly lost it. Fowler also messed up an into segment off a commercial break, so even the best of them need some fall practice before the season.


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