2014 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Predictions
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper of Predictem.com
The start of the 2013 college football season is vastly approaching and as always our staff at Predictem.com is anticipating another exciting season. This is the time of year expectations are running high for football teams all across the country. Several dozen teams feel they have legitimate National Championship hopes and I look to provide a detailed breakdown of some of the leading candidates for the 2014 BCS National Championship.
Will this be the year the SEC is knocked off college football's summit? Could this be the year we see the return of a historical tyrant in Ohio State, USC, or possibly even Florida State? Can 'Johnny Football' lead the Aggies to their first National Championship in nearly 75 years or will a team step into the spotlight for the first time? Obviously college football is loaded with surprises each year but our staff here at Predictem.com has been successful at predicting National Champions prior to the start of the season over the last few years. Take a look at my expectations and contenders for the 2014 BCS National Championship.
Alabama Crimson Tide +320
Ohio State Buckeyes +625
Oregon Ducks +1000
Texas A&M +1450
LSU Tigers +2000
Georgia Bulldogs +2300
Obviously if you want to start looking for a future National Champion, the SEC is a good place to start. Not only has an SEC team held college football's crystal trophy for the last 7 years, but the SEC has 4 different teams among the top 6 favorites to take home yet another crystal ball.
Last year the Georgia Bulldogs were driving to the end zone to score a winning touchdown against Alabama in the SEC Championship but reluctantly ran out of time due to some bad clock management. If Georgia scores that touchdown, an easy argument could be made that Georgia would have been college football's National Champion judging by how easily Alabama destroyed Notre Dame in the BCS Title Game. Luckily the Bulldogs will be poised for another run at a National Championship. Nearly the entire offense returns with the SEC's best quarterback in Aaron Murray. The dynamic duo in running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall that combined for 2,000 rushing yards with 25 touchdowns will also be back. Throw in receiver Malcolm Mitchell and the Bulldogs return nearly the exact offense that averaged 38 points per game a year ago. The test will be how the Bulldogs defense plays after losing linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. The defense had issues stopping the run last year. Losing two of the SEC's best linebackers will not help Georgia's run defense and everyone knows that you have to stop the run to win in the SEC. The Bulldogs will be tested right out of the gates with Clemson and South Carolina in the opening two weeks of the season. If the Bulldogs can pull out those two wins, the table will be set for a legitimate title run.
Obviously Georgia has a bit of an easier road towards the 2014 BCS National Championship compared to the other SEC favorites on our list. Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M will all battle it out in the SEC West meaning losses for a few of those teams are inevitable. Despite 34 wins in the last 3 years, LSU has been stuck in the good but not good enough echelon of college football. The Tigers were defeated by Alabama in the 2012 BCS Title Game and again during last year's regular season.
LSU's defense has been dynamic for years under Les Miles but the offense has been their Achilles Heel in big games. Those offensive issues have mainly resided at the quarterback position where LSU failed to find ways to move the football through the air. Coach Miles is notorious for keeping the ball on the ground and wearing down defenses with a power running game behind an extremely talented offensive line. Not only do the questions still linger at the quarterback position but the Tigers lost several key components to their offensive line and both starting tailbacks in the rushing game (Spencer Ware and Michael Ford). Therefore I cannot see LSU gaining ground on their quest for a National Championship with even more questions lingering at the start of 2013 on the offensive side of the football.
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SEC West newcomer Texas A&M impressed everyone last year in their inaugural season in the SEC. First year head coach Kevin Sumlin brought a new version of the spread offense into College Station and found a perfect fit for his offense in freshman quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel. Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy after producing over 3,700 yards passing and another 1,400 yards rushing to combine for 47 touchdowns. While arguably the nation's best player will return, Manziel will have new faces this season on offense primarily in the passing game. Additionally, the Aggies and Manziel have captured everyone's attention. These SEC defenses are going to come up with different strategies to slow down the Aggies offense and I sincerely question if we will see the same type of success from the offense in 2013.
As far as the reigning National Champions are concerned, Alabama remains the favorites to take down this year's National Championship at +320. While there has never been a team to win 3 straight National Championships in college football history, it will be hard to bet against the Crimson Tide. The offense returns all of their key components with QB AJ McCaron (31 TDs, 3ints in 2012), running back TJ Yeldon, and WR Amari Cooper. As we have seen over the last few years, Alabama's talent level on defense is superior to any other team in the country. The Crimson Tide simply replaces superstars with superstars on defense and there is not any reason to expect anything different this season.
As far as those favorites outside the SEC, the Ohio State Buckeyes return to the spotlight after serving a postseason ban in 2012 from NCAA violations left by former coach Jim Tressel. Coach Urban Meyer led the team to a perfect 12-0 mark in his first year in Columbus. Oh what might have been for the Buckeyes if not for the NCAA penalties? This year the Buckeyes look for repeat success. The offense will be poised for good things with Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller under center and a stable of talented running backs. The concerns will be on the defensive side of the football where the Buckeyes must replace their entire starting defensive line. The Buckeyes seemed to have everything go their way in 2012 pulling out 2 overtime victories and 4 other victories by 1 score or less. Can we expect the Buckeyes to have the same type of success in close games again this season? Only time will tell but rest assured Meyer has the program back on the path to glory.
Another favorite looking to finally breakthrough in 2013 comes by way of the Oregon Ducks from Eugene. The Ducks finished 2nd in the AP Poll last year and have been fighting for another shot at the National Championship after falling just short to Auburn in the 2010 Championship Game. A mere overtime loss to Stanford kept the Ducks out of last season's National Championship Game. I am still bitter about that loss considering I picked Oregon to win the 2013 BCS Championship. However, the Ducks should be poised for another run this year. The question will be if Oregon's dynamic offense will remain the same with Chip Kelly now in Philadelphia? All the pieces are in place with QB Marcus Mariota and homerun threat running back DeAnthony Thomas. The defense has slowly improving each season as well. Could this be the year all the pieces fall into place?
Louisville Cardinals +2500
Florida State Seminoles +2500
Stanford Cardinals +2700
Clemson Tigers +3000
Florida Gators +3200
South Carolina +3500
Texas Longhorns +3500
Miami Hurricanes +4500
As we get further down our list, I start to notice a few teams with perhaps too much hype or unrealistic expectations from the odds point of view. I am not going to spend a lot of time on those teams and try to convince anyone of the "anything is possible" concept. So last time I checked Mack Brown was still the coach down in Austin meaning the Texas Longhorns at +3500 is a joke. The Miami Hurricanes at +4500 would be decent if it was 1998. The Florida State Seminoles manage to give away 1-2 upsets per year while the Clemson Tigers are not even the best team in the small state of South Carolina. Therefore, we can eliminate those teams from any legitimate BCS Championship talk.
However, we are left with a few contenders with appeasing odds after those quick eliminations. Still, I find the Louisville Cardinals at +2500 overpriced. Now there is a possibility Louisville could run the table with a weak schedule but I still would not put them ahead of some 1 loss teams even in that scenario. The Cardinals can expect big things behind QB Teddy Bridgewater who is among the best players in the country but Louisville's championship chances are slim to none.
The Stanford Cardinal at +2700 may be worth the gamble. The Cardinal have bought into the SEC's mindset that if you build a strong defense good things will happen. The Cardinal defense originally established under Jim Harbaugh remained as strong as ever in 2012 holding opponents to just 336 yards per game. With the departure of running back Stepfan Taylor, the Cardinal offense must get help from QB Josh Nunes in order to keep them in the national spotlight.
As far as the Florida Gators are concerned, it's hard to write of the Gators after overachieving greatly in 2012. The Gators defense, which held opponents to just 14 points per game, catapulted the Gators back into national prominence last season to capture an 11-2 record. The Gators defense should be stout again this season and they may actually have the best pass defense in all of college football. Offensively the Gators have a lot of question marks. Jeff Driskel was inconsistent last year and has struggled with a few injuries this summer. Tailback Mike Gillislee has moved to the NFL and at this point there is not a homerun threat on the offensive side of the ball. Therefore, I cannot see the Gators improving on last year's 11-2 mark. Then again nobody expected Florida to win 11 games last year either.
Florida's SEC East rival in the South Carolina Gamecocks made some noise last year and remained in the National Championship talk for the first half of the season before back to back losses to LSU and Florida. However, the Gamecocks could be even better this season as coach Steve Spurrier has found some consistency on offense with a two quarterback system with Dylan Thompson and Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks defense was one of the best in the SEC last year and should be equally as strong in 2013. The Gamecocks defense already houses the best player in the country in DE JaDeveon Clowney so if the offense can remain consistent, the Gamecocks should contend for a Championship. However, it may only be the SEC Championship.
Jay's big longshot to watch:
Northwestern Wildcats +17500
At 175-1 odds, the Northwestern Wildcats are tempting. The Wildcats posted a 10-3 record in 2012 which included two losses by a field goal or less. Northwestern accomplished 10 wins despite being one of the worst pass offenses in the country. Running back Venric Mark was the big playmaker for the offense last year racking up 1,366 yards with 12 touchdowns. Mark will be a key player for the offense again this season. However if coach Pat Fitzgerald can get some improvement out of his dual quarterback system with Tervor Siemian and Kain Colter, then this Northwestern team could find their selves in a Cinderella type story similar to Notre Dame's 2012 season.
Jay's Pick to win the 2014 BCS National Championship:
I typically do not like betting the overall favorites for any sport especially football future bets. However, I am making the exception for 2013. Alabama could be significantly better than they were a year ago and I do not see anyone beating them twice to keep the Crimson Tide from getting to a National Championship Game. With 1 loss on the card, Alabama can still make it to the BCS National Championship Game with their brutal schedule and I really do not expect them to lose at all. When the dust settles in this era of football, Nick Saban may have built one of the greatest dynasties in college football history. A 3rd BCS National Championship in a row will help cement that notion.
Bet the Alabama Crimson Tide at +320.
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