It’s Football Time Again
Predictions for the college and pro teams this season
College: South’s Gonna Do It Again?
Remember when we were told no team from the Southeastern Conference could win a national championship? Those SEC juggernauts just beat up on each other week after week, so if one did make it through the season relatively unscathed, it had nothing left at the end.
The Bowl Championship Series means those days are gone, as LSU proved last year when it reached the BCS championship game and dismantled Ohio State. An SEC might sink its teeth into a championship again this year.
The Florida Gators team has bite, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Tim Tebow, the only sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, returns after running for 23 touchdowns and throwing for 32 more last season. He will be joined in the backfield by running back Emmanuel Moody, a transfer from Southern Cal who averaged nearly six yards per carry in four games with the Trojans in 2006. If he comes close to that average, it will take pressure off Tebow. Wide receiver Percy Harvin is the real deal after hauling in 93 passes a year ago. Defensively, Florida boasts the best linebacking corps in the conference, and the two toughest games, against LSU and Georgia, are at home.
Other contenders include Big 10 leader Ohio State, returning with fifth-year quarterback Todd Boeckman. If he falters, prized recruit Terrelle Pryor is ready to step in.
Last year, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford set an NCAA freshman record with 36 touchdown passes, and led the nation in passing efficiency. Another season like that, and the Sooners may be playing for the crown. With Damian Williams transferring from Arkansas, Southern Cal QB Mark Sanchez will have another target to aim for, and the Trojans will be right in the hunt for that BCS Bowl. Georgia has perhaps the best running back in the country in sophomore Knowshon Moreno, the reigning SEC freshman of the year. If he has a big game against the Gators, the Bulldogs could take the SEC.
What about sleepers? Missouri, coming off its best season ever, returns 15 starters, including quarterback Chase Daniel, last season’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Nine starters are back on defense, including linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who piled up over 120 tackles in 2007.
A group in Morgantown, W.Va., also has designs on a national title. After Rich RodriGuez defected to Michigan, new coach Bill Stewart led the Mountaineers to a 48-28 rout of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Returning quarterback Pat White, the Big
East Offensive Player of the Year each of the last two years, ran and threw for more than 1,000 yards last year. Despite a couple of trap games on the schedule, the potential is there.
NFL: Look to the Stars
If we learned anything from last year, it’s that it’s not always the best team that comes out on top. Sometimes it’s the hottest.
If the New York Giants played the Patriots—who had an 18-0 record entering the Super Bowl — 10 times, the Pats probably would win nine of those games. Heck, the Giants probably weren’t the best team in their own division. That distinction belonged to the Dallas Cowboys, who posted an NFC best 13-3 record before falling in the playoffs.
That won’t happen again. The Cowboys return 20 starters from last year’s NFC East championship team, including 13 Pro Bowlers. Among them is wide receiver Terrell Owens, who caught 81 passes for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago, and seems poised for more. Tony Romo is back under center, and though he too put up some gaudy numbers (4,211 yards, 36 touchdowns), he is 19-7 as a starter for the Cowboys; all seven of those losses have come in December or January.
There shouldn’t be many who stand in the Cowboys’ way. New York has too many internal problems (yeah, we’ve heard that before), and it might be too much to ask for Eli Manning to repeat his mistake-free effort from last year’s postseason. The Saints have Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and, hopefully, a healthy Deuce McAllister, but they still have too many holes on defense.
In the AFC, it’s probably a three-team race again, between New England, San Diego and Indianapolis. The Pats want to prove to the world that they didn’t win all those Super Bowls because of the video guy, while the Colts want to send Tony Dungy, who will likely call it quits at the end of the year, off on a winning note. But last year, we picked the Chargers to go all the way, and we’re going to do it again. After starting the season 1-3, San Diego ended with six straight wins. They added two more victories in the playoffs before injuries to quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDaInian Tomlinson, and tight end Antonio Gates ended any hopes of upsetting the Patriots.
All three of those playmakers should return healthy this season, and the Chargers will run away with a weak AFC West, and face Dallas in Tampa for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
That should be an interesting match-up: current San Diego coach Norv Turner against the team where he got his start as a coordinator. But Dallas won’t be denied.