By Dave Hershorin
January 31, 2007

…And finally

Another college football season has come and gone, so it must be time to look back and see how I did in my preseason predications (found in “Here We Go Again…”). Of course, no one can know exactly what will happen, but in this day of prognostications being used as publication lure, how many actually go back to see if they hit the mark or not as they shot their insights into the dark future? If I can even hit half of my “out on a limb” predictions, I feel pretty good in thinking that my football thoughts are grounded.

Though my picks against the spread may not have been over .500 (34-42-2), my participation in ESPN’s “Pick’ em” game (with two random winners having a chance to throw footballs through that huge Dr. Pepper can at the Big XII and ACC championships) yielded a 433rd place finish out of the 200,000+ who signed up…not too shabby, but those picks were merely win-loss. And no, I was not one of those who threw the ball for money. Anywho, here are the results of some of my more pervasive thoughts from late August.

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In talking about the national championship, my prediction was that the winner of the early Ohio State-Texas game would “have the inside track” for a spot in the title game. Even with that loss, Texas was a major player until they tanked against Kansas State and a resurgent A&M squad (see below) in their last two regular season games, which even cost them their spot for a shot at the conference crown. I also said that if any SEC team could run their league’s slate successfully “they will be a lock for Arizona”. Voila! (well, almost successfully) It looked like Georgia was the only one who may have a chance due to scheduling – it would have been something if I knew it would be the Gators, but with LSU, Auburn and Tennessee all fielding top 10-caliber efforts, which team might breakthrough wasn’t foreseeable to me. I actually thought all of the SEC schools would beat up on each other just enough to keep them all out of Tucson come January 8th. I (and most others) knew it wouldn’t be the ACC that produced any top BCS contenders, but I (and many others) did tout the Big East as having such easy non-conference schedules that one of them looked worthy of a national title invite. Funny, it was the Big East teams (not those from the SEC) that wound up beating each other up just enough to keep them all out of the title picture. In the end, I called out Notre Dame – our preseason No.1 – to exact late-season revenge on Southern Cal for an assured finale spot, and I said they would play WVU for all the Tostitos (don’t the winners get a lifetime supply of the crunchy snacks?) My outside possibility was Michigan – I said that with no one expecting much from them since Ohio State and Penn State were garnering most of the Big Ten headlines, one loss could easily see the Wolverines into the championship. They came close. But with that one loss coming so late in the season to undefeated Ohio State, UM had no time to claw their way back into title contention (even though many polls saw them drop no places after the loss in Columbus). The Big Ten wasn’t what it has been in past years (only five Big Ten squads finished with winning records, and only two of the conference’s seven bowl squads won in the postseason), so when No.1 played No.2 November 18th, their rankings exaggerated the level of football competence in this traditional contest. The marginal play displayed in the OSU-UM game was evident. Many of us saw how little defense was on hand in the Buckeye’s 42-39 win; appropriately and predictably, Michigan then got taken out 32-18 by USC in the Rose Bowl and State took it on the chin 41-14 from Florida for the title.

Noteworthy: what one must realize is how – when we look back one day soon - the establishment of an extra BCS game this past season will likely be seen as the first meaningful step toward a playoff to determine the national title. By adding a game, the powers that be concede that the already-established bowl system doesn’t supply enough games for telling who the winner should be. The new “title” game introduces and validates an infrastructure that supports post-season games separate from just those already in the bowl system, which can then allow for other games to be designated (or even created) as quarter- and/or semi-finals in future years. Sure, the extra game also does what it was meant to do in the short term – it allows for the inclusion of more teams and therefore, due to the latest tweaking of the bi-laws, more small, non-aligned mid-major schools in the BCS’s final lineups. And this is good, too, for how else could Boise State have gotten their chance to shock the world by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta? With hindsight, we will one day have a playoff, and we will look back and wonder how the archaic nature of our (current, but soon) bygone system could ever have functionally achieved the goal of determining the national champion with any certainty and validity. All we have to do is have a playoff…then this year will be seen as the one when the “new” system began.

It seemed evident, after 2005 saw Miami lose two of its final three games, that it was a make-or-break year for Larry Coker. He revamped his coaching staff heading into 2006, but evidently such a move didn’t assure the Canes of much. Miami’s offensive line woes stood out as they lost two of their first three in ’06 and could only rush for 3.7 ypc all year. They pulled out of their tailspin to beat Houston 14-13 at home, and they seemed on a roll by then winning four in a row. But the fourth win, a struggling 20-15 road victory against Duke (which went 0-12) should have been an ominous sign – the Canes then lost four straight (for the first time since 1997) to likely cost Coker his job. This was the guy who won more games in his first five years than any other Miami head coach ever had (53-9). Heck, maybe it was losing twice in a row to FSU (each time by three in two low scoring affairs) that turned the fans and alumnus against the man who led them to their last national title (2001-02). But many felt Coker was living on borrowed time since he won that title in his first year with a team he didn’t build, and that the teams he did eventually build were never quite up to the high standards usually found down in Coral Gables. His ‘04 and ’05 teams each lost three games, and neither proved worthy of BCS contention, snapping Miami’s four year streak of earning a spot with college football’s elite. I thought there was too much “speed and all-around talent” for the Canes to again sputter, but, nevertheless, Coker is gone and the Randy Shannon era begins. It just goes to prove – if you smell smoke, there is usually fire that eventually proves the reason for the smoke, and it then winds up burning out of control…in this case, Coker was a stoker and not a squelcher of this heated controversy.

Then there is the kind of prediction where I am glad to be wrong. This time, it was my usual weather warning that bore no truth. You know the old adage - wash the car or plan a nice picnic if you want it to rain; similarly, schedule a slate of games in late August and September all along the eastern seaboard and gulf coast if you want tropical weather to disrupt your season. Well, there was little interference in any form from named storms in ‘06, and having resided in New Orleans for 10+ years, I was glad to see such a minimal threat for a region where college football is still the furthest thing from most people’s minds. Historically, the odds of such a meteorological break happening again seem pretty big, and this respite has been embraced for allowing people to get their lives back together so college football will soon again be an event upon which they can focus.

Heading into July ’06, things looked promising for Oklahoma to get back to their usual dominant selves. But suddenly the Sooners had to deal with the loss of their starting QB and offensive guard due to financial improprieties. Rhett Bomar ($7,406.88) and J.D. Quinn ($8,137.17) had accepted monies over and above those they should have received for the number of hours each supposedly worked while at an off-campus job (car dealership). Many, including myself, thought that this spelled an immediate end to OU’s resurgence, but we were wrong. Paul Thompson, who had competed with Bomar for the starting slot in ‘05, bumped back over from his WR designation and finished 27th nationally for passing efficiency (22 TDs with only 11 INTs, 60% completion rate). The Sooners wound up winning the Big XII South division when Texas fell to A&M, and they then won the conference crown by dominating the Cornhuskers 21-7. Even with their OT loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl (BCS), the Sooner’s season was an unmitigated success and went a far way toward proving statements about their return to the nation’s elite. If not for a 34-33 loss up in Eugene due to an errant replay call, OU could have been right there in the hunt for that second BCS championship slot.

The biggest bursted bubble for Oklahoma occurred when junior RB phenom Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone in their 34-9 win over Iowa State. Guaranteed to score after he distanced himself from any chasing Cyclones during an impressive 53 yard run, “AD” chose the braggart’s way and dove into the “end” zone – appropriately so, since he ended his 2006 regular season and Heisman campaign with the bone-cracking move. He wasn’t quite on pace to break Barry Sanders record of 2,628 yards, but he may have had 2,300+ if he hadn’t tried to show off. When so many of the nation’s top RBs struggled in the last quarter of the season, Peterson would have been a lock to win the I-A rushing title. Many thought he would struggle without Bomar, but Thompson made sure opponents couldn’t stack the box against Peterson. He often seemed like a man amongst boys, but he still got nowhere near his self-proclaimed goal of 2,500 yards. Hopefully, he can take himself more seriously as he enters the NFL – a smaller fish in a bigger pond (so to speak), AD won’t have such a huge leg up in the pro’s and will be required to prove he can still perform against the next level of competition. Good luck, Adrian, to one of the most dominating players to never win the Heisman.

One of my biggest whiffs came in touting two Texas teams - Texas Christian and Texas Tech - as “ready to make some noise (again) on the national level”. Tech (8-5) and the Horned Frogs (11-2) seem to have landed right in the middle of where history and the prognosticators thought, so no noise was really ever made by either in ’06. Each had two losses by the first week in October. The Texas team ready to make the most noise appeared to be A&M. With first-year starting dual-threat QB Stephen McGee finishing 31st for total offense, the Aggie’s three regular season losses were by an aggregate total of six points. Consecutively to end their November slate, McGee lost by one point (first) to Oklahoma and (then to) Nebraska, and then broke a six-year skid to Texas by beating the heavily favored Longhorns 12-7 in Austin. McGee will be a junior in ’07, and with running back tandem Jorvorskie Lane (274 lbs) and Mike Goodson (7th in the conference as a freshman) both back – along with almost the entire OL and most of the defense – the Aggies seem most ready to be anointed to the state’s no.2 position. Kudos to TCU and Tech for having solid years, but they both seem to again be behind A&M in the Lone Star rankings.

I really thought this was the year the conference pack caught up with the Trojans. With three Pac Ten teams ranked and hungry to start the season - California (9th), Oregon (21st) and Arizona State (24th) – more parity in the west seemed imminent with new USC QB Josh Booty needing time to adjust to his starting status. But after Southern Cal opened with a 50-14 win in Fayetteville and a 28-10 trouncing of a resurgent Nebraska squad at home, Pete Carroll & Co. looked like they had fully reloaded instead of slowly rebuilding. The Sun Devils, Golden Bears and Ducks all came into Los Angeles and lost by a combined 46 points. Notre Dame also left Memorial Coliseum with a loss (44-24), so what went wrong against mundane league mates Oregon State and UCLA is all the 2006 Trojans could contemplate as they hammered Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The loss to the Beavers (33-31) was their first conference defeat since 2003’s loss to Cal (also away), and there is no excuse against the 7-6 cross-town Bruins besides the Trojans prematurely anointing themselves finalists for the BCS title and ignoring the task at hand. Cal technically tied USC for the conference title, with USC going to the BCS since their win over the Bears meant they had a better overall record. Southern Cal is still a head above the Pac Ten field, but it is not due to them being so good, though they will be that much better in Booty’s second year as starter. Besides USC, only Cal and OSU garnered any votes in the final AP tally, which means that out of all of the BCS-aligned conferences, the Pac Ten finished with the least amount of teams receiving points in the season’s last poll (three). Ok, so only two Pac Ten teams finished with overall losing records, making it a battle between the Big Ten and them for which BCS league is deemed the most disappointing.

Tidbits

Pitt seems to be right where I thought they would – in marginal trouble. If, as predicted, they can’t win with the nation’s No.4 passer (efficiency), what makes anyone think that next year will be any different than the previous two?...Penn State did struggle with their lines and quarterbacks, but it was a healthy season for a Nittany Lion squad that looks like it can compete for the Big Ten title next year…Colorado may have won only two games, but in holding all their foes (but three) to under 30 points, they seem to (at least) have the defense to again compete in the Big XII. I said they were one year away from returning to prominence, so let’s hope Dan Hawkins has enough of a foundation to make 2007 the year of the Buffalo…Spurrier didn’t surprise anyone, contrary to my prediction he would, except for Clemson. But in losing to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida over three straight weeks by a combined total of 14 points isn’t too shabby. The Ole Ball Coach still has it in him to motivate (lost to national champion Gators by one point), so figure his Gamecocks will succeed to that next level soon – this is not an ‘if’, but a ‘when’…My mistake from ‘05 in guessing Navy would go back to struggling were amended as I openly copped to them likely having only 3-6 losses in ’06. Two of their four losses this past season were by one point; only Notre Dame and Rutgers – both top 10 teams – beat them soundly. Remember, they have recruiting limitations due to being a service academy, so their challenge is constant, like if a I-AA had an annual slate of I-A’s. Navy is 35-15 since 2003. Having the top rushing offense four of the last eight years and a top 5 rushing unit six of those eight is some accomplishment, eh?...Coach Greg Robinson needs a little more work with his lines before the Orangemen can climb back into the thick of the Big East hunt. Predictably, they were the weak links in a 4-8 campaign, but Syracuse proved they can compete by losing to ACC champs Wake by only 10 and Iowa by seven in double overtime (the OL couldn’t get their ball carriers into the endzone on eight straight plays from inside Iowa’s five yard line in the second OT against the Hawkeyes!)…

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So, sometimes you bite the bear, and sometimes the bear bites you when making this many predictions. Guessing right every time isn’t always the key to good prognostication, though. One must have proper systematic rationale about each topic to feel solid in his/her choices, and I think that is what our site specializes in, regardless of the results. Hey, if anyone can consistently guess what will happen when teams full of 18-22 year old young men take the field, they must have either a crystal ball or a deal with the devil. I claim neither, and feel good that Nationalchamps.net can and will continue to have as true an aim as any major media outlet that covers gridiron gris-gris. If you think you can do better, let us know, please…we always have openings for sharp thinkers on our writing staff!!!

Thanks for being a part of Nationalchamps.net for another season of college football – we need all the support we can get, and we appreciate you sticking with our growing efforts. Take care, and we’ll see you in the spring when our full top 25 preview for 2007 hits the web.