It's August, which means your days are consisting of overreacting to practice reports and reading more college football previews then any one human needs. Here's another for you.
4. Texas A&M
7. Mississippi State
2. South Carolina
Need to Know: Texas A&M could very well end up with more total wins than Mississippi even without Johnny Manziel (if he ends up suspended) due to one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the nation (Rice, Sam Houston State, SMU, and UTEP), but I have the two teams finishing with equal 5-3 records in the SEC and the Rebels taking the head-to-head tiebreaker. Mississippi is on my list of the most surprising in the country, returning its starting quarterback, running back, and all three wide receivers, along with the addition of one of the Top 15 freshmen tight ends in the nation. On the defensive side of the ball, the Rebs welcome Robert Nkemdiche at the Sam linebacker position, the consensus number one recruit in the country. This is a very strong team that could reach nine wins with an upset of LSU on October 19th.
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
2. Michigan State
Need to Know: Michigan will disappoint. The Wolverines play road games at Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, along with home meetings with Nebraska and Ohio State. They will be introducing two new guards and a center to the offense and anything more then eight victories will be tough to reach in 2013.
2. Oklahoma State
4. Kansas State
7. West Virginia
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
Need to Know: A lot of people are comparing Auburn's collapse after winning the National Championship to the 2013 version of Kansas State, but that won't be the case. The loss of Collin Klein at quarterback won't be nearly as steep with the arrival of Jake Waters, last season's JC offensive player of the year. What the defense lacks in experience it provides in maturity, and they will have time to gel during an initial stretch of North Dakota State, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.
2. Florida State
3. Wake Forest
6. Boston College
7. NC State
1. Virginia Tech
2. North Carolina
3. Miami (Florida)
4. Georgia Tech
Need to Know: The general consensus in the Atlantic division is that Florida State and Clemson will finish one-two, with the Seminoles in most top fives and the Tigers somewhere in the Top 15. But I really love Dabo Swinney's team this season. Not only do they get Florida State at home, but Georgia, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech as well. Last season's ACC Player of the Year, Tajh Boyd, returns at quarterback, and all-highlight reel receiver/return man Sammy Watkins is back as well. Clemson has a legitimate shot at a national title if it can pull an upset on the last week of the regular season at South Carolina.
The Ducks return 15 starters off last year's 12 win team and avoid the two toughest teams out of the South division. The loss of head coach Chip Kelly doesn't mean playmakers like Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, and Josh Huff are gone as well. Oregon will be equally explosive as in year's past and will easily reach double digit victories for a sixth straight season.
Sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2012 and will provide even more stability in the post Andrew Luck era this season. A pair of seniors will start in the backfield for the Cardinal behind a stacked offensive line. They have a solid chance at running the table but will need to battle a challenging road slate throughout the season, something they struggled a bit with last year.
3. Oregon State
Eight wins seems to be the common projection for Oregon State, and I have that as well, although I'm picking the Beavers to lose at Washington State and upset Stanford. The offense will be able to function well enough, even if the split end and slotback positions don't provide anything groundbreaking. The real question mark is at the tackle positions. I'm expecting a lot of rotation between Edwin Delva, Mana Rosa, Slate Hautau, and Kyle Peko, and how they perform against the run could be the difference between a Holiday Bowl appearance or a trip to the Kraft Fight Hunger.
The Huskies return 18 starters and would have a chance at a marquee bowl if not for a brutal schedule. Steve Sarkisian and company will host Boise State and Oregon at the revamped Husky Stadium, face Illinois in Chicago, and Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon State all away from home. Improvement will be there, but you'll be hard pressed to find it in results only.
5. Washington State
Believe in the Cougars. Jeff Tuel may be gone at quarterback but Connor Halliday has the experience and talent needed to succeed in Mike Leach's pass happy scheme. Three of the four receivers in that offense that started in 2012 return, and if Washington State can find a way to win two of their six road games, they will go bowling for the first time in ten years.
Sonny Dykes was a terrific hire for California, but it won't show in his first season. Breaking in a new quarterback in the air raid will result in some rocky results, especially when Cal has to travel to Oregon and UCLA in two of its first three Pac-12 games. Utilizing spark plug running back Brendan Bigelow in the pass-first system will be a huge key for Dykes and company.
Coaching to save his job, I think Lane Kiffin leads the Trojans to a Pac-12 Championship game appearance. Silas Redd, Xavier Grimble, and Marqise Lee should be able to carry sophomore signal caller Max Wittek as he attempts to replace Matt Barkley. SC has a terrific home schedule and if they can beat Oregon State on the road, they'll reach a double digit win count.
2. Arizona State
With 16 returning starters and the best running backs and defensive line in the league, Arizona State is on my teams to surprise list. The Sun Devils have a great chance at reaching ten wins but may need to sweep a tough home slate, one that includes visits from Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Oregon State, and Arizona. It is possible that ASU can make its first BCS bowl since the 1996 season.
Arizona State's in-state rival is a team that will surprise as well. Arizona returns 17 starters off last year's team and will feature one of the best backs in the Pac-12 in junior Ka'Deem Carey. They'll use the momentum gained from winning three of their last four in 2012, including a miraculous, come-from-behind effort in the New Mexico Bowl against Nevada, to shock many and finish in the upper half of the South.
The Bruins all the way down here? Really? I have no clue as to why most are picking Jim Mora's squad to go to their third straight Pac-12 Championship game. Due to a scheduling quirk, they face five conference road games, and their 12 returning starters is tied for the second lowest in the Pac. Brett Hundley could make a run at first team all Pac-12 without the Bruins winning eight games.
The 2013 Utes have got me stumped. This is a team that could win anywhere from three to seven games, and a lot of it will depend on the play and maturity of sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson. Wilson looked good against California and Washington State last season as a true freshman but will need big assistance from his receiving corps in order for the Utes to get to a bowl.
Colorado's hiring of Mike MacIntyre was one of the best of the offseason, but the cupboard is just too bare this year. The Buffaloes could very well lose every game they play in the month of October, and while they will definitely top last year's one win total, a bowl game is out of the question. Look for 2013 to be a building year as CU will return every playmaker on that offense for a postseason run in 2014.
8. South Florida
Need to Know: Louisville will win the AAC going away in the league's first season, but the question is, what will it take for pollsters to vote the Cardinals into the national championship? I am projecting them to finish the season 12-0 and at number three in the nation, but even if they were the only undefeated left standing in the country, I doubt they get a shot at some crystal. The highest ranked team the Cards will face is UCF (who I have pegged at 33rd), and bottom-feeders like Eastern Kentucky and Florida International also dot the slate. Only having a maximum of 12 games to play hurts as well as the American Athletic does not have a conference championship game.