Football season starts tonight, as Wisconsin hosts UNLV (8 ET, ESPN) and Mississippi State plays Memphis (7:30 ET, FSN) in the main games. The Notebook wraps up the preseason in college and continues in the NFL…
FINAL BCS PICKS
We’ve been doing conference previews here the past several days at the Notebook, covering the five major conferences, the BCS-qualifying Big East, the non-qualifying Mountain West, Conference USA and other independents. Now it’s time to put it all together and summarize the major bowl matchups will be watching in January and who will play for the BCS National Championship on January 9 in New Orleans.
You can see the rationale for conference championship choices by scrolling down the blog to read the previews. Here’s a quick summary of the teams the Notebook picks…
ACC: Florida State
Big Ten: Penn State
Big 12: Texas A&M
Big East: Cincinnati
Mountain West: Boise State
SMU was the pick to win Conference USA, but I don’t see them busting the BCS party this year. There are four at-large selections available for the major bowls, and I think Boise State will get one of them. That leaves them for three other runner-ups or independents to get a nod to one of the marquee games. The SEC and Big Ten consistently get one of those spots and this year will be no different. Teams that lose conference championship games are usually at a disadvantage in at-large selection because they’ve just lost a big game that their fans traveled for, hurting them in both poll position and the politics of bowl selection. If you can win 10 games, finish second to the conference champ in your division and close on a good note you have a big edge in getting a BCS spot. It worked for Arkansas last year and I’m going to take a big stand and say it will work for Mississippi State this time around. The Bulldogs finish second in the West and get the call. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin comes in behind Penn State and grabs a big bid of their own. The final team to complete the BCS lineup is Oklahoma, who again beats Oklahoma State in a season finale with a lot on the line.
This is how I would then see the bowl matchups shaking out:
BCS National Championship: Texas A&M vs. Alabama
The SEC is going to get the benefit of the doubt from poll voters and rightly so, given their dominance of this event since 2006. Even if the Tide lose a game, which I think they will, they still get to New Orleans. I love Texas A&M’s offense, the way their defense is improving and I’ve been a big fan of Mike Sherman’s since he coached Green Bay. The Aggies go undefeated and this 30-1 bet in the preseason gets its shot at the sport’s biggest prize.
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Washington—Joe Paterno caps his career by winning in Pasadena, finishing third in the country and going out on a high note.
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State—The Fiesta is first in the selection order and can’t resist the chance to set up a rematch of the 2006 classic that changed the course of college football at the midmajor level.
Sugar Bowl: Wisconsin-Mississippi State—It won’t get TV ratings, but these fan bases will make the Bayou a fun place to be in early January.
Orange Bowl: Florida State-Cincinnati—The inclusion of the Bearcats in the BCS party brings more cries for re-evaluation of the Big East’s status.
And the national champion? I love to take a stand, and I would really like to pull the trigger on 30-1 Texas A&M. But if Alabama reaches this point it means their quarterback situation is settled, and we already know they’re going to run the ball and play defense. If the Tide are playing on January 9 they won’t be denied their second national title in three years and the SEC’s sixth in a row.
NFC WEST PREVIEW
It was the worst division in the history of the NFL a year ago, as Seattle won it at 7-9 and became the first losing team to enter into the postseason. Is there any hope for a rebound this year? A link to each team’s individual preview is included, and here’s a quick summation of how they’ll finish—
St. Louis (8-8)—The West’s champ returns to the .500 level as St. Louis’s exciting young skill position talent led by Sam Bradford, and a defense led by end Chris Long, continue this organization’s steady growth and earn the right to host a playoff game in January.
Arizona (6-10)—I like the acquisition of Kevin Kolb and he’ll certainly like throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, but the interior of the offensive line is bad and the defense will be beaten consistently to the outside.
Seattle (6-10)—Pete Carroll lacks consistent playmakers on either side of the ball and Tarvaris Jackson will show, once again, that he’s not n NFL starting quarterback.
San Francisco (4-12)—Patrick Willis at inside linebacker is the only defensive player really worth talking about. The Niners can’t stop anyone and Alex Smith finally plays his way out of town as Jim Harbaugh cleans house.
The division may not have to put a losing team in the playoffs, but they'll still be pretty bad and watching this race will be an eyesore all year long.
AFC WEST PREVIEW
After four straight years of San Diego dominance, Kansas City took advantage of Charger inconsistency and won the division a year ago. Here’s how the Notebook sees the 2011 race shaping up. Links to each team’s individual preview included along with the prediction…
San Diego (10-6): The Chargers can’t possibly play special teams as poorly as they did in 2010 can they? If they’re even mediocre in this area, they get back on top.
Kansas City (9-7): I like the Chiefs. They run the ball well, Matt Cassell is a good game manager and Tamba Hali is a game-changer on defense. But I think the ten wins they got last year was their ceiling and they come up a little shy of that this time around.
Denver (7-9): Denver will play their best football in the second half as John Fox gets his influence set within a team badly lacking in discipline and consistency. The Broncos are on the move back upward.
Oakland (5-11): The secondary and passing game is too flawed, and the Raiders lose the big-play battle on a week-to-week basis.
San Diego returns to the postseason and gets a chance to finally get the AFC title they only won in 1994 and the Super Bowl title they’ve never won.
*It's Closing Week at Saratoga as the track runs through Labor Day, while Del Mar out west is set to wrap it up September 7. Visit Bloodhorse.com for updates on the doings here and at major tracks around the country.
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