2011 College Football Predictions – Picks to win 2012 BCS Championship

2012 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Predictions
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

After watching the Auburn Tigers and quarterback Cam Newton come from out of nowhere for a storybook season that ended with the 2011 BCS title, now the college football world will turn its focus to the 2011 season and the next team to win the 2012 Bowl Championship Series National Championship crystal football.

Its the Sugar Bowls year to host the BCS title game, so that means the game will be played in the Big Easy of New Orleans, in the Louisiana Superdome on Monday, January 9th. This will be the fourth title game held at the Superdome, with two of the previous three ending in titles by LSU (2004 vs. Oklahoma; 2008 vs. Ohio St.).

Lets take a deeper look at my list of contenders by breaking them down into three categories: the shorts, middles and a few long shots.

SHORT FAVORITES

Oklahoma Sooners 4.5-to-1
Alabama Crimson Tide 8-to-1
Florida State Seminoles 11-to-1
Oregon Ducks 13-to-1
Boise State Broncos 15-to-1
Florida Gators 15-to-1
LSU Tigers 15-to-1

Oklahoma and head coach Bill Stoops get the target pinned on their backs as the oddsmakers early pick for the BCS favorite at 4.5-to-1. Quarterback Landry Jones is now a wily veteran, and receiver Ryan Broyles passed up the NFL to come back and help lead an offense that scored 37 points a game last year. They do have a glaring lack of experience in the defensive secondary to overcome with just one returning starter, which is something Stoops and the Sooners staff recruited for a few years ago, but it could come into play early in the season (at Florida St. on Sept. 17) or late in the season (at Oklahoma St. Dec. 3) and either loss could be enough to drop them from contention.

The loss of talent at Alabama is big, especially at quarterback, but the Tide still has plenty of talent back on both sides of the ball, and plenty of blue-chip recruits waiting their chance to make some noise in the SEC this season. Tide fans can expect heavy doses of Heisman-hopeful running back Trent Richardson running behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters on offense, backed up with a freakishly fast defense led by linebacker Donta Hightower and the entire four-man secondary. Alabama plays LSU at home (Nov. 5), but will have to bring it away from Bryant-Denny Stadium with road games at Penn State (Sept. 10), at Florida (Oct. 1) and at Auburn (Nov. 26) all still tough enough tests that a loss at any time could be enough to cause a detour to New Orleans.

I have to say I was somewhat surprised by the short 11-to-1 odds on the Florida State Seminoles, I guess their, 49-7, romp over Michigan State in last years Capital One Bowl is still fresh in the oddsmakers minds. Quarterback E.J. Manuel will finally get his shot to lead the offense fulltime this season, and sure the Seminoles ranked another top-5 recruiting class blah, blah, blah but I guess the reputation and recruits are enough to warrant their position on the board. Ill eat crow if it happens, but theres just too many questions surrounding the Seminoles for me. They do have a softer schedule, but an early test at home against Oklahoma (Sept. 17) or road games at Clemson (Sept. 24) and Florida (Nov. 26) could prove to be too much.

One thing is for sure about the Oregon Ducks they will score points and have a dynamic offense with quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James both back for another season, even with holes in the starting offensive line. The problem for the Ducks is on defense, where they lost five of their starting front seven to graduation. Their schedule is tougher too, with a September 3rd opener against LSU and road games at Arizona (Sept. 24) and at Stanford (Nov. 12) the Ducks might be out of the BCS race before Thanksgiving.

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The Boise State Broncos have moved from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference, but the question for the Broncos this year is still the same will they get respect for running the table in a non-BCS Conference? Heisman-hopeful QB Kellen Moore leads the Broncos offense for his senior year, and the Broncos second-ranked total defense from last year returns eight starters, so theres still a lot to like about head coach Chris Peterson and the Broncos. After a tough test in Atlanta against Georgia in the opener September 3rd, Boise State has a date with old WAC foe Fresno State (Oct. 7) that could provide some drama before they essentially play for the MWC title with TCU at home (Nov. 12) and on the road at San Diego St. (Nov. 19) in late November.

If I was sunned to see Florida State so high up on the board, I guess I have to say I was flabbergasted to see the Florida Gators so high as well at 15-to-1. Why? The last time I checked they had a questionable quarterback in John Brantley, a brand new head coach in Will Muschamp (and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis), turmoil in the offseason (All-American CB Janoris Jenkins kicked off team for marijuana possession), only one returning offensive lineman, only four returning starters on defense need I go on? Plus the Gators go on the road at LSU (Oct. 8), at Auburn (Oct. 15), at Georgia (Oct. 29) and at South Carolina (Nov. 12), they wont even win the SEC East yet alone challenge for the pipe dream of the BCS title.

The LSU Tigers have become a trendy pick for 2012, and at 15-to-1 they offer pretty decent odds for those drinking the Bengal-bayou kool aid. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is a senior, but unless he makes a leap of progress Im not sure if hes good enough to lead the Tigers into the BCS title game because theres plenty of talent surrounding him. LSU also plays one of the countrys toughest schedules, with road games at Oregon (Sept. 3), at Mississippi St. (Sept 15), at West Virginia (Sept. 24), at Tennessee (Oct. 15) and at Alabama (Nov. 5). If they can survive that gauntlet, they will surely be in the BCS game, Im just not so sure with Jefferson at the helm they can do it. If there is a karma-factor, the Tigers last two national title runs ended with victories in the Superdome, the same site of this years BCS title game.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD TEAMS

Nebraska Cornhuskers 26-to-1
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 26-to-1
Ohio State Buckeyes 26-to-1
Stanford Cardinal 26-to-1
TCU Horned Frogs 29-to-1
Wisconsin Badgers 29-to-1

The Nebraska Cornhuskers move from the Big 12 into the Big Ten, and right into the favorites role of the new Legends Division of their new conference. On offense the Huskers will try and keep dynamic QB Taylor Martinez healthy, because when he was in 2010 he was a highlight reel. With seven defensive starters back the Black Shirts should be strong enough to control the Legends Division if they can get past Michigan State and Northwestern. How they handle early October (at Wisconsin Oct. 1; home vs. Ohio State Oct. 8) will determine how far Nebraska can go in their first foray into the Big Ten.

Notre Dame is going in the right direction under second-year coach Brian Kelly, and I know that the Irish are a public-heavy team in the oddsmakers eyes, but my guts is telling me they are not quite at the 26-to-1 level yet. Notre Dames defense led by LB Manti Teo will be strong, but until one of three QBs trying to win the starting job (Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees or Everett Golson) wins it, I have to question if the Irish will score enough in tight games. Plus, their schedule is so tough that Im not so sure they make it out of September without a loss already (Sept. 3 South Florida; Sept. 10 at Michigan; Sept. 17 Michigan St.). If they do make it through, a November 26th trip to Stanford will be a huge game and could send the winner to the BCS.

If there are still any takers left on the Ohio State Buckeyes this season, how could you possibly argue to me that the 26-to-1 odds offer a whole lot of value? Their QB Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel are gone. They may have enough talent to weather the storm of the five-game suspensions (although game 3 of the suspension at Miami and game 5 at home against Michigan St. sure look tough), with their leadership gone the Buckeyes will need new players to step up bigtime. A tall task if you ask me, and certainly not worth 26-to-1, maybe 50-to-1.

The early favorite in the PAC-10 is the Stanford Cardinal thanks to junior quarterback Andrew Lucks decision to return to school back in January instead of being the first pick of the NFL draft back. Head coach Jim Harbaugh left for the NFLs San Francisco 49ers, and he took a bunch of top-shelf assistants with him (Greg Roman, Vic Fangio), so to think that things will be the same in Stanford would be a big mistake. Luck is probably the best player in college football, and the likely Heisman front-runner too, but hes going to need some help to get through a tough stretch in the schedule with road games at USC (Oct. 29) and at Oregon St. (Nov. 5) before finishing the season at home with Oregon, California and Notre Dame in the final three games.

It should be an interesting year at TCU in 2011. The Horned Frogs finally broke through the wall of disrespect last year with a perfect 13-0 season, a Rose Bowl victory and an offer to join the Big East Conference in 2012 in order to gain an automatic birth into the BCS. Now the task is to stay at the top and reload in their final year in the Mountain West, a task made harder by the departure of several key players and the entry of Boise State into the MWC. TCUs defense will be good enough to get back into a BCS Bowl game, but can they score enough points with a new quarterback on offense to leapfrog ahead of a BCS-conference school? I doubt it, even at 29-to-1.

The Wisconsin Badgers chance at 2012 BCS glory took a significant jump in early July when former North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson announced he was signing with the Badgers for his final year of eligibility. Wilson, who threw for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns in three years at N.C. State, instantly answers the Badgers biggest offseason question mark of who replaces the graduated Scott Tolzien at the helm of the Badgers formidable offense. With 16 other starters returning on both sides of the ball, Wisconsin could emerge out of the Leaders Division (over Ohio St. and Penn St.) and into the Big Ten championship game where theyd be one win away from a BCS birth.

A FEW LONGSHOTS

Virginia Tech Hokies 34-to-1
Georgia Bulldogs 51-to-1
Michigan State Spartans 51-to-1
Texas A&M Aggies 51-to-1

I know Im a sucker. Every year I think its Virginia Techs year to run the table in the ACC and set up a matchup in the BCS title game, and every year coach Frank Beamer and the boys pee on my parade. Once again the talent and skill are there in Blacksburg, and in a weak ACC that only boasts one other top-tier team (FSU), the Hokies could almost get into the BCS picture by default. Plus their schedule is easier than Florida States, with Clemson and Miami both at home in early October and just one tough road game at Virginia (Nov. 26) to finish the season.

In a true definition of long shot, Im looking at the Georgia Bulldogs out of the SEC as a surprise team. One, I personally think they have the best quarterback in Aaron Murray in the entire SEC. Two, they play their two toughest games on the road in neutral sites (vs. Boise St. in Atlanta; vs. Florida in Jacksonville), and their other tough SEC games are at home (South Carolina, Mississippi St. and Auburn). And did I mention no Alabama or LSU on their schedule, unless the win the East and face one of them in the SEC title game. Its a long shot, but it could happen.

Is it me, or does it seem like everyone outside of East Lansing has already written off the Michigan State Spartans in 2012? Sure the Spartans had their butts handed to them by Alabama, 49-7, in the Capital One Bowl to end last year, but the did go 11-2 and shared the Big Ten title for gosh sakes. With QB Kirk Cousins and their top-three running backs including Edwin Baker returning, the Spartans offense should be solid. With six starters back on defense the Spartans will have holes to fill, but it wont be a total rebuilding job. Its Michigan States schedule that could be the 300-pound gorilla, with road games at Notre Dame, at Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Iowa and at Northwestern all with the potential to knock them off a BCS track.

If Michigan State is my sleeper in the Big Ten, and Georgia in the SEC, then the Texas A&M Aggies are my sleeper in the Big 12. No team in the country was hotter at the end of the year than the Aggies, including wins over the same Oklahoma and Nebraska teams that are getting more love than the Aggies right now in the preseason. QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Cyrus Gray lead a formidable offense, and the Aggie defense has eight returning starters back from a much-improved unit in 2010. With Oklahoma State (Sept. 24) and Texas (Nov. 24) at home in Kyle Field, the Aggies really only have one road challenge at Oklahoma on November 5th.

Badgers Picks to Bet:

Short Boise State Broncos - 15-to-1 This is the Broncos year, as they gain some credibility by playing in the Mountain West, without too many more tough games on the schedule. But will a perfect run in the MWC finally give the Broncos enough respect to get into the BCS? With a senior quarterback and a strong defense, Im putting my short money on Boise State.

Middle of the Road Bets Nebraska Cornhuskers 26-to-1 The Cornhuskers first dance in the Big Ten should be a good one. Im a little concerned about their offense, but it should be good enough to stay with most of the teams in the Big Ten. Defense is what will carry Nebraska, until the offense can catch up.

Longshots Texas A&M Aggies 51-to-1 With TCU rebuilding a little and Texas in flux, the time will never be more perfect for the Aggies to step up and claim the title of the state of Texas best team. Im not so sure it will happen, but at 51-to-1 Ill put a small wager on the chance that the stars are aligned this season for Mike Sherman and the Aggies.