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Monday, December 15, 2008

How Wrong I Was

Never let it be said that I'm not accountable for my own idiocy. I'm aware of my mental shortcomings, and rather than pretend I'm flawless, I try to embrace my mistakes. Yes, I voted for Perot in 1996. Yes, I paid to see "Weekend at Bernie's 2" in the theater. Yes, I thought three tequila shots for a dollar was a great deal the last time I was in Mexico.

Of course, none of those poor decisions compare with some of the dumb things I said before this college football season.

Way back in August, when the economy was still chugging along, the Cubs looked like World Series favorites and Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the nation, I wrote a column for the Telegraph making 10 bold predictions (which is to say the predictions were daring, not just written in bold typeface) for the upcoming season.

As it turned out, some were right, some were wrong, and some were really, really, really wrong.

But since I'm a man who is comfortable admitting his mistakes, I figured now would be a good time to go back and see how I did. So, here are my 10 bold preseason predictions and the grim truth of how they turned out.

PREDICTION: The BCS bowls belong to the big boys. Upstarts like Boise State and Hawaii have recently crashed the BCS party, but it won't happen this season. No small-conference school has the resources and the schedule to make it to January unscathed.

VERDICT: Wrong. As it turned out, a good case could have been made for two non-BCS schools to play in the big-boy bowls. Boise State and Utah each finished the season undefeated, but only the Utes will get their chance in a BCS bowl, taking on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

PREDICTION: Ohio State will beat USC, but won't win the Big Ten. Everyone is pointing to the Buckeyes' Week 3 date with the Trojans as a make-or-break game, but Ohio State will take advantage of USC's inexperienced quarterback to win. That won't guarantee the Buckeyes will coast through the remainder of their conference slate.

VERDICT: Partially correct. OK, so Ohio State looked terrible against USC, but the rest of my thought process was right. The Buckeyes could have won that game, but still would have lost the Big Ten, and USC's offense was really never quite as spectacular against a decent opponent as it was against Ohio State. In fact, the opposite of this formula was nearly true, in that USC won the game, but still almost lost the Pac-10, save a season-ending defeat for Oregon State.

PREDICTION: A team outside the preseason top 25 will earn a BCS bowl berth. Last season was the high point of unpredictability in college football, but this year should have plenty of surprise teams, too. Keep an eye out for Rutgers, Michigan State, Arizona and North Carolina to make unexpected runs at conference crowns.

VERDICT: Correct. Well, I didn't exactly have the teams right, although Michigan State and North Carolina both proved to be better than expected this year (and Rutgers finished strong). As it turned out, another one of my preseason sleepers, Alabama, charged from the depths of the "others receiving votes" to land a BCS berth. In fact, the Tide was one quarter of football away from playing for the national championship.

PREDICTION: A preseason top-10 team will not make a bowl. Three of the AP top 10 have first-year starters at quarterback. Another has a brand new head coach. Another has an offensive line that could easily implode. Each is a recipe for disaster, and one team will fall victim.

VERDICT: Correct.
I had my concerns about plenty of the highly ranked teams this year, and Clemson and West Virginia certainly made an early run to secure this prediction for me. As it turned out, however, it was Auburn that really took care of business, finishing with a 5-7 record and a blowout loss to Alabama. Of course, the hilarity of Auburn's season hardly ended there. Good luck in '09, Mr. Chizik.

PREDICTION: The Big East will have more bowl teams than the ACC. The Big East has been the ugly stepchild of the BCS since losing Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami, but this year, the conference will upstage the ACC, where its departed signature franchises now reside.

VERDICT: I'm an idiot. Wow, this was epically bad. Call it my Syracuse-enduced blind spot, but I had no idea the Big East would be this bad this season. Cincinnati will represent the conference at the Orange Bowl, which should tell you all you need to know about the depths the rest of the conference sunk to. The ACC meanwhile was a tribute to mediocrity -- which would have been a big step up for the Big East. Ten of the 12 teams in the ACC were bowl eligible, although only Georgia Tech finished the year with fewer than four losses.

PREDICTION: Alabama will win the SEC West. The Crimson Tide disappointed the past two seasons, but are one of the few SEC teams returning an experienced quarterback. Add to that a watered-down West division and a year of the Nick Saban experience already under their belts, and the Tide will roll again in 2008.

VERDICT: Correct. In retrospect, we all should have seen this coming. Take the only experienced quarterback in the West, add a great head coach in his second year and a manageable schedule and you've got a recipe for a big season.

PREDICTION: This will be the last year for Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. Bowden's succession plan is already in place, and Florida State is ready for a change. Paterno has come under fire for his team's numerous off-field issues and risks tarnishing his legacy. Both coaches will hang it up rather than face an unpleasant future after this year.

VERDICT: Wrong. Probably. Hey, anything can happen between now and next August, but given the fact that both programs had their best seasons in year, and both coaches seem as enthusiastic as ever, it doesn't look like either coach is going anywhere.

PREDICTION: No coaching changes will happen in the SEC.
It's hard to point to any SEC coach and say he's on the hot seat, although Tennessee's Phil Fulmer has gotten his share of complaints. But even he will weather the storm of the season and remain on the job for 2009.

VERDICT: Have I mentioned I'm an idiot? I guess I severely underestimated the quick triggers around the SEC, which I should have known better than to do. But I think it's hard to argue that with Tommy Tuberville, Sylvester Croom and Phil Fulmer gone, the coaching in the SEC will be better next year than it was this season. Those ridiculously high expectations are exactly the reason the best coaches will start being wary of heading to the conference.

PREDICTION: Tim Tebow will not win Heisman No. 2. Just ask Matt Leinart how hard it is to do twice. Heck, Tebow could be upstaged by his do-it-all teammate Percy Harvin the way Leinart was by Reggie Bush. My guess, however, is the award goes to Missouri's Chase Daniel. Voters don't like voting for a guy who already won, but they do love voting for quarterbacks.

VERDICT: Correct. This prediction probably didn't have me too far out on a limb, but Mr. Tebow certainly made things interesting down the stretch. Tebow had a great season, but in the end, the QBs of the Big XII (although not the one I predicted) were too much to overcome.

PREDICTION: No one will argue with the BCS title game selections.
OK, someone will always argue, but this year, the choice of the top two teams in the country will be far more obvious than year's past. Two teams will navigate tough schedules in good conferences and finish with one loss, and the selections will be roundly applauded the way USC and Texas drew raves in 2005-06.

Penn State, USC, Texas, Utah and Alabama would probably all love a playoff right about now, with the Longhorns having perhaps the biggest complaint for missing out on the title game. This year didn't meet the level of late-season drama that 2007 provided, but this was perhaps the deepest pool of national-title worthy contenders in years. Still, I think it's pretty tough not to get excited for what should be a great championship game to end the season.

So obviously I didn't do the best job predicting the outcome of the 2008 season, but what surprised you? Should I have had a bit more foresight on these predictions? What do you think might be in store for 2009?

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