We're here folks. After a football hiatus that saw Ohio State and North Carolina lose their head coaches to an NCAA investigation, Texas A&M dance with the SEC for a bit and Miami free the beast on the idea of "extra benefits," we're here. The 2011 college football season is upon us. If you haven't registered for the ITB Pick'em Pool then go do that now people. The season is here and I guess we'll play this diddy to ease you into things:
To get you into the season we'll drop our ITB Conference predictions for the people. We're rolling out the picks for you people in just alphabetical order and tomorrow we'll follow this up with our BCS Bowl Predictions so stay tuned.
Coastal Champ: Virginia Tech
Atlantic Champ: Florida State
ACC Champ: Florida State
Why? This was without a doubt the easiest prediction to make. On the Coastal side Virginia Tech has so ruled the division that picking against them without a legitimate contender is absolutely asinine. On the Atlantic side as much as I'd like to go against the grain when my love of all things Saban combines with the ridiculous transition in coaching or quarterback in the division what you're left with a massive vortex of "huh?" That means the Noles get the nod as the best team in the conference.
In Charlotte we'll get a rematch and this time the Florida State team is not the young guys taking on the veterans. Tyrod is gone and now EJ Manuel will be the guy with big game experience and Jimbo's second trip should be fruitful in the Queen City. Here is where the Seminoles make that step into the national spotlight by getting to their first BCS game in years.
Big East Champ: South Florida
Why? Um, seriously this pick is on blind faith in Skip Holtz and his ability to capitalize on opportunity when it is presented to him. Are there questions in Tampa? Absolutely. But you're looking at coaching changes at UConn, West Virginia and Pitt. As much as we all love Dana Holgorsen, and it is a mighty ton, the fact is we've never seen him actually operate in a major head coaching role.
In South Florida you've got relative continuity from a system standpoint, BJ Daniels is back at quarterback and they're looking to carry the momentum built off last year's bowl win. While the Big East has a lot of teams that are in the mix to win the conference but getting Louisville and West Virginia at home to end the season will keep USF in the mix with a chance to close the door in Tampa.
Legends Champ: Nebraska
Leaders Champ: Wisconsin
Big Ten Champ: Wisconsin
Why? Nebraska, the new kids on the block in the twelve team B1G enters a Legends division where the other legitimate contenders are Michigan State and Northwestern. Iowa is recovering from off the field mess and the loss of six guys to the NFL draft. Michigan is going through another transition at the head coaching spot, including the science project of DeNard Robinson in the new offense. Minnesota is still Minnesota, except now they're Minnesota with a coaching change. We'll take Bo Pelini and his fiery style here; they're more talented than Northwestern and the Huskers get Michigan State at home.
For Wisconsin we're on the "All Russell Wilson Everything" program here. He's a dynamic player that will only add to the already solid attack for the Badgers and Brett Bielema. Ohio State is operating with a first year coach, Penn State seems to be in a holding pattern in Joe Paterno's last few seasons, Illinois still has Ron Zook and the state of Indiana is not winning this thing any time soon.
We'll take Bielema over Bo in inaugural Big Ten title game and the only thing more fun to watch than this show down will be the bitching and moaning from "Big Ten Fan" about the game being indoors.
Big Twelve Champ: Oklahoma
Why? There are plenty of quality teams in the new look Big XII. Oklahoma State, Mizzou, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas all have the talent to win the conference. Unfortunately for Oklahoma State, Mizzou and Texas Tech history isn't exactly "on their side" when it comes to running the gauntlet and winning it all. Texas is entering 2011 with a full scale coaching change on both sides of the ball and with changes come growing pains as the staff and players adjust to the new things.
Oklahoma is the best team in the conference, they might be the best team in the country for that matter. Yes, they lose Travis Lewis but the defense, under Stoops and Venables tutelage, will remain one of the best in the business. They're fast, they have a ton of guys that can play and this might be the year that a team runs wire to wire as the #1 ranked squad, provided the Sooners get past the best team they'll play; Florida State.
North Champ: Oregon
South Champ: USC
Pac-12 Champ: Arizona State
Why? Did I just blow your mind? Oregon is going to win the North in the new Pac-12. That's largely a product of a lack of quality ball clubs in their division. A lot of people like Stanford here but I don't, they lose a lot and while Andrew Luck might be an all-world quarterback the big Texan can't block, catch the football, play defensive line or cover anyone for the Cardinal. On the bottom side I think Southern Cal edges out the Arizona squads just barely to get the South Division title.
So, how does Arizona State win the Pac-12? Southern Cal can't play in the post-season, that includes the Pac-12 title game. Arizona State, by finishing second will get the nod and head into the game for a rematch against Oregon. Getting the Ducks twice in a season will be a blessing and with a guy like Vontaze Burfict leading that defense I think the Sun Devils can unseat the gang from Eugene.
East Champ: Georgia
West Champ: Alabama
SEC Champ: Alabama
Why? Sakerlina is the best team in the East entering the season and should be the favorite to win that division. However, coming off a date with Boise State in week one expect the Dawgs to be riding high and going Athens is no small task for Spurrier. UGA getting a win in week two is critical to their quest for their first SEC Championship game appearance since 2005. On the other side I spent all spring and summer debating between LSU and Arkansas for the West, trying to avoid the Bama pick.
Then August happened. The Hogs lost the element I thought put them over the top, running back Knile Davis. The Bayou Bengals, for the moment at least, have lost Jordan Jefferson their starting quarterback and Josh Johns who was set to be a fixture on the defense. More importantly they don't have playmaker Russell Shepard in the line up to open up the playbook and hurt defenses while the Tigers try to find a reliable running game.
In Atlanta it is tough to bet against Nick Saban when he has a team that is as ready to win as this 2011 edition. Give me the Tide over the Dawgs, I love Mark Richt but as it stands now there isn't much reason to bet UGA in a game against Saban.