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Ten predictions for the new year

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Pete Fiutak

   
 

Think about everything that just happened in 2011.

Robert Griffin won the Heisman? Kansas State was worthy of going to the BCS? What about two teams from the same division playing for the national title when there was another option from a BCS conference?


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How about Missouri going to the SEC, West Virginia going to the Big 12 — eventually — and Boise State and San Diego State making a move to the Big East?

And in a million years, in your worst nightmares could you have envisioned that that was how the Joe Paterno era was going to end?

It’s what makes college football interesting. No sport has as many crazy storylines that change so dramatically from season to season, and it’ll be more of the same for 2012.

So what’s next? What will everyone be talking about on Jan. 1, 2013? Here are 10 off-the-wall, wacky and wild predictions to kick off the new year.

10. (Insert anyone you want) is a slam dunk to win the Heisman.

RGIII might have been a stunner because he’s from Baylor, but he did come into the season as one of the most dynamic players in college football. Cam Newton wasn’t even on the radar until midway through 2010, and Mark Ingram was just a nice running back prospect going into 2009.

It would be easy to call Matt Barkley the favorite, and it’s possible that LaMichael James and Montee Ball will be back for another year to join Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu in the chase, but it’s hard to repeat as a finalist and Barkley is too obvious. So the winner of the 2012 Heisman Trophy will be …

Denard Robinson, quarterback, University of Michigan.

The schedule works out — more on that in a moment — and the statistics will be there for Robinson blow up in his third year as the main man running the Michigan offense. With one more year of learning on the fly after improving late this season, there’s a chance he could take a slight step up and become just enough of a passing threat, to go along with his running ability, to put together the season that finally gets noticed by the Heisman types. His numbers and highlight reel runs will be off the charts, and the big wins in the biggest games will make him the easy winner.

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9. Penn State will get blown out of the water.

Miami might get the USC treatment and could get nailed for a few years, but there are too many big shooters involved — like school president Donna Shalala — to get anything more after the Nevin Shapiro controversy. Penn State, however, is about to be made an example of because anything less than mega-sanctions will create an uproar like the NCAA has never faced before.

The unseemly mess of this fall is going to be an ongoing issue, and unlike normal situations when football programs get in trouble with the NCAA and then come out fine after a few years, this controversy is being handled by the pros and has ramifications far beyond the inane, like trading tattoos for trinkets or asking a school for money for a player’s signature.

The Big Ten has already said it’s going to weigh in with some sort of sanctions depending on the legal rulings that come out of the Jerry Sandusky case, and the NCAA is almost certain to find something wrong with the lack of control at the institution. But more than that, the lawsuits are going to drag on, the investigations from several sides are going to continue, and the Penn State football program will go on like its business as usual. However, it’ll be in a holding pattern as it holds its breath for what’s coming. The NCAA will never hand out the death penalty again, but it’ll come up with something that cripples the program for the next few years.

8. The big expansion and realignment news will be …

That there won’t be big expansion and realignment news. The Pac-12 seems content with things as they are, with many of the programs happy to have a ton of new money to play around with. The Big 12 is in a bit of a holding pattern until it knows exactly when it gets West Virginia, and the Big East is still trying to figure out exactly what sort of geographic nightmare it got itself into.

The Big Ten also appears pleased staying at 12 — evidenced by letting Missouri go to the SEC — and the SEC isn’t going to make any bold moves or gestures until it figures out what life is like as a 14-team league.

There will be some discussions and negotiations from the WAC with other smaller conferences to try to align into something interesting and relevant, but that will be minor. For this year, the dust will settle a bit.

7. Missouri and Texas A&M will be better than you think.

The Tigers need to retool the offensive line a bit, but that’s never a problem for them, and they could use a few new targets for James Franklin to throw to. RB Henry Josey is expected back at some point next year, but there’s a decent stable of backs already in place in case his knee isn’t ready, and the defense should be terrific up front and deep in the back seven.

No, the Tigers aren’t going to win the East with games at South Carolina, Florida, and Texas A&M to deal with, along with a bad break getting Alabama from the West, but they’ll be good enough make a nice first showing.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, has to deal with Arkansas, LSU, and trips to Alabama and Auburn as well as dates with Florida and Missouri. The two winnable SEC games — Ole Miss and Mississippi State — will be on the road against improved teams. However, the Aggies get back the entire offensive line and will be loaded again at receiver and on defense. If promising quarterback Jameill Showers turns out to be as good as advertised, A&M won’t be the pushover many SEC fans might be hoping for.

6. Brian Kelly will be on the hottest of hot seats by the end of the year.

Notre Dame will be better, but it’ll still be about a year away from being ready to make some serious national noise. Kelly has a terrific-looking recruiting class coming in, and the base is there to come up with a few big wins, but the schedule won’t be conducive to taking the step forward the Irish fans have been waiting for.

The Irish will be good enough to beat Navy, Purdue, Miami, Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest. They’ll go bowling and they’ll have their moments, but they’re not going to be better than Michigan; they’re not going to win at Oklahoma; and they’re not going to win at USC. If there’s a slip against a BYU team that appears to be coming back strong, and if there’s a loss at East Lansing against Michigan State, 7-5 isn’t crazy. At the very least, the Irish don’t appear to have the talent or the schedule to go to a BCS game. Charlie Weis took Notre Dame to a BCS game. Speaking of which …

5. Charlie Weis won’t be that bad at Kansas.

It was a curious hire considering Weis wasn’t exactly a success at Notre Dame and was a dud as an offensive coordinator at Florida, but he might be able to pull the Jayhawks out of the doldrums in a hurry.

No, KU won’t challenge for the Big 12 title, but it’ll be a veteran team that should start to put up some offensive numbers on a consistent basis if Weis is merely competent. If Dayne Crist’s knees can hold up, he could be an instant jolt for the passing game and an attack that’ll be able to keep up the pace in a weakened Big 12 – it’ll be bombs away. Depending how the schedule plays out, 6-6 is possible with a little bit of luck and a decided schematic advantage.

4. The big scandal of 2012 will be …

Gambling. It’s just a question of time with a perfect storm brewing to create a whopper of a problem for college athletics in the very near future, and there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to stop it.

From the shortsightedness of outlawing internet sports betting – instead of taxing and regulating the industry – to the explosion of gambling activity that’s so mainstream that people don’t realize it’s gambling – fantasy football, confidence pools, NCAA tournament brackets – more than ever, college athletes are involved in gambling in one way or another. Mix that with a smarter student-athlete who realizes that everyone else is getting rich, a desperate economic climate and the social media available to send the latest info out instantly, and the clock is ticking.

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All it takes is for one good player — or some kicker — to realize his big NFL payday isn’t going to happen, or one player who gets into a student bookie after a bad bet and the dominoes will fall. And now, more than ever before, the media is starting to look out for it. Expect a major piece by one of the big outlets at some point this year exposing the controversy.

3. USC will be the preseason No. 1 team.

Oklahoma wasn’t the best team in America to start the 2011 season, but it was the preseason No. 1 in the big polls because it made sense. The returning talent was strong coming off a Fiesta Bowl win, and there were just enough concerns with the elite SEC teams to keep Alabama and LSU from being on top – except for the CFN preseason rankings which had the Tide No. 1. USC will be the hot team going into next year, and the assumption is that the explosion from the program is about to come.

LSU, Alabama and USC will all be in the top three in some way, shape, or form, with Oregon possibly knocking on the door, but Matt Barkley’s return, along with all the talent coming back on both sides of the ball, will make pollsters give Lane Kiffin’s bunch the honor. However …

2. It’ll be LSU vs. Michigan in the 2013 BCS championship.

Michigan has work to do on the defensive line and will lose key blockers David Molk and Mark Huyge from the offensive side, but the attack will be explosive with Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint the hot backfield combination coming into the season. Throw in a loaded recruiting class that’ll fill in a few gaps, and the Wolverines will be even better after going 10-2 this regular season.

Meanwhile, LSU, even with a few likely defections to the NFL, like corner Morris Claiborne, will roll on defense again. Just give the Outland to tackle Michael Brockers right now, while the rest of the young and talented line will be dominant around him. The secondary will get back Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid, the offensive backfield is loaded with bruising runners, and Zach Mettenberger will be an upgrade at quarterback.

Here’s how it’ll all play out.

Michigan will lose to Alabama to start the season, but it’s not going to get blown away. Then the run will come with high-profile wins at Notre Dame and Nebraska wrapped around blowouts over Air Force, UMass, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa. The Wolverines will get by the home battle with Michigan State and will do just enough to avoid the upset bid in what’ll be Ohio State’s bowl game to get to the Big Ten championship game 11-1. They’ll beat Wisconsin in the title game.

LSU will blow through its schedule — North Texas, Washington, Idaho, at Auburn, Towson, at Florida, South Carolina, and at Texas A&M — before yet another showdown against Alabama. The Tigers will win, will beat Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and then will seemingly blow it against Arkansas. Even with the loss, they’ll still win the West and will play in the SEC title game against Georgia and win — again.

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The big controversy will be whether or not Alabama should get yet another rematch, or if a Michigan team that already lost to the Tide should play for it all. This time around, the pollsters will give the nod to the Maize and Blue, who’ll move up to the No. 2 spot after the Tide loss to the Tigers.

Michigan isn’t Oklahoma State.

USC will be strong, but it’ll get tripped up twice, while one Oregon loss will be enough to keep the Ducks just on the outside looking in. It’ll be a wild and controversial race, and then …

1. The SEC will win its seventh straight national championship.

Fine, so that's technically getting into 2013, but some things will be business as usual.

Happy New Year.
 

Tagged: Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, USC, Oregon, Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Montee Ball, Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson, Tyrann Mathieu

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