Oklahoma State Robbed, Alabama Shines, Utah Escapes, Arkansas Outlasts
A critical error on the part of the officiating crew allowed Central Michigan an untimed down, which miraculously produced a touchdown and a stunning 30-27 win over the Cowboys in Stillwater Saturday afternoon. No word on whether the officiating crew will be suspended for their inexcusable gaffe. Unfortunately NCAA rules clearly state the outcome of a game cannot be changed, even in the event of such an egregious error. The horrendous mistake could cost the Big 12 dearly in the event the Cowboys go on to win the conference title. Even using descriptive adjectives is not enough to fully express my displeasure. Around the nation, Alabama held true to form, and jumped to #1 in this week’s Billingsley Report in the process, by beating #40 Western Kentucky 38-10. Arkansas held on in two overtimes to defeat TCU 41-38 in Forth Worth and Utah escaped with a 20-19 win over BYU after the Cougars tried and failed on a two point conversion try as the game ended. BYU opted for trying for a win rather than kicking an extra point and potentially tying the game which would have forced overtime with the Utes. Tennessee came to life in the second half, helped along by numerous Virginia Tech turnovers, and cruised to a 45-24 win over the Hokies in front of a new NCAA record crowd of 156, 990 fans. Stay tuned Wednesday for Billingsley’s projections for week #4.
From Feast to Famine….weekend slate slim in comparison to opening.
Over the years we have certainly learned that every game is important in college football. A single loss can mean the difference in an invitation to the playoff, but it’s hard to get as pumped up for a weaker opponent, and we have our share of snoozers this weekend. But, there are a few exceptions. I’m not sure why I torture myself by only picking the hard games every week…..Here is a sneak peak into this weekend’s crystal ball: #25 Arkansas at #17 TCU – The Horned Frogs host old SWC foe Arkansas. This game has been a long time in the making. These two have not met since the Hogs left for the SEC after the 1991 season. They have played 68 times with Arkansas holding a 43-23-2 lead. Things are quite different in Fort Worth now. The Froggies have gone from SWC cellar dwellers to Big 12 royalty and don’t think TCU has forgotten about being pushed around by the Razorbacks in the old days. The TCU fans want this game bad…..and I think Gary Patterson will deliver. TCU struggled mightily with South Dakota State….but not to the degree Arkansas struggled with Louisiana Tech. Both of these teams have a lot of improving to do. TCU 34 Arkansas 27. #45 Penn State at #50 Pittsburgh – Speaking of renewing old rivalries….. this is one I wasn’t sure we would ever see again. The series is very tight, after 96 meetings Penn State holds a 50-42-4 lead, and the teams have not met since 2000. This is a tough game to pick, but I gotta go with the home team. Pittsburgh 24 Penn St. 21. #52 California at #39 San Diego State– The Bears took a week off after their trip down under to Sydney where they thumped Hawaii 51-31. The Aztecs are fresh off a 31-0 shellacking of, well, New Hampshire. This game is a big one for both of these teams. San Diego State has dreams of a MWC title, and a win over a Power Five team sure would look good on their resume, and they are at home…..but Cal is a good team and has aspirations for the 2016 season on their own. A Bear win here would sure help Cal on the way towards a bowl bid and this game will be critical in working towards that goal. This will be close, but I think the Aztecs will pull it out. San Diego State 28 California 27. #43 Texas Tech at #59 Arizona State – The Red Raiders have a long history with Arizona, but shockingly, this is only the third meeting with Arizona State. The two previous meetings split 1-1. Both teams looked relatively impressive in opening wins over lesser competition, but now it’s time to show what they are made of. The game is a virtual tossup and my two systems have opposite projections here. Margin of victory formula has Texas Tech by 2, No margin formula has Arizona State by 1. I always favor the home team in a close game, but my gut says the Red Raiders in a road win. Texas Tech 45 Arizona State 42. #8 Tennessee vs #51 Virginia Tech in Bristol, Tn. – Will they really reach that 150,000 goal in attendance? Wow, that would certainly be a record never to be broken. I absolutely cannot believe all the bad press the Volunteers received after their opening 20-13 win over Appalachian State! My projection was Tennessee by 4. I thought Las Vegas was crazy out of line having Tennessee favored by 22! The Mountaineers were ranked #24 in my pre-season poll and well….. I guess I was right. The Hokies were average in their opening win over Liberty, but hey, a win is a win and it was a nice debut for Justin Fuente. I expect good things and big things for Fuente’s future, but this game belongs to Tennessee. The Volunteers will put it all together this week…..no more bad press. Tennessee 37 Virginia Tech 28. #42 Brigham Young at #26 Utah – Let the Holy War begin! As much as these two programs always try to take the high road because of their Mormon faith, let’s face it…..fun is fun, and there is no love lost between these two old rivals. I absolutely love this series, It is a must see and almost always comes down to the wire. Utah has dominated the series of late, winning the5 last contests, but only one game was decided by more than a touchdown. Utah leads the series of 90 games 55-31-4. BYU had a stunning 18-16 win over Arizona last week, showing a lot of character by winning in what was basically a hostile environment in Glendale. Utah had a warm up against Southern Utah, winning 24-0. The Utes have held their own in the Pac 12, something I questioned whether or not they would be able to do. Brigham Young has maintained one of the most stable programs in Major College Football and is always competitive. The Cougars would be a great addition to the Big 12, and this game will go a long way to proving that. Brigham Young 28 Utah 24. Follow all of Billingsley’s Projections here:Billingsley ReportBillingsley+ (MOV)
Seminoles Stunning Comeback Vaults Florida State to #1 in Billingsley Report
In the first half it looked like another Top 5 team would bite the dust as Ole Miss dominated Florida State offensively and defensively. But the Seminoles regrouped, settled into their routine, and ran their game plan to perfection in the second half en-route to a 45-34 win over Mississippi in Orlando. The game capped off a topsy turvy wacky (and very exciting) Labor Day weekend slate of games that saw Oklahoma and LSU both fall to other Top 26 opponents. The Sooners were stunned 33-23 on the road by #10 Houston and LSU was surprised 16-14 on the road by #26 Wisconsin. Both the Sooners and the Tigers remained in this week’s Top 15. The win for Houston jumped the Cougars all the way to #4 in this week’s Billingsley Report. In the weekend’s most surprising and entertaining game, Texas outlasted Notre Dame 50-47 in two overtimes Sunday Night. The Billingsley+ and Billingsley Personal Reports will be posted Wednesday by Noon along with the Week #3 projections.
Full Slate of Holiday Weekend Games Start Season Off With A Bang
Although the 2016 season officially kicked off in Sydney, Australia last Friday with Cal outlasting Hawaii 51-31, this weekend carries the anticipation of the full season getting underway. Much has been written about this being the greatest opening weekend in college football history, and while that statement is up for debate, there is no question 2016 ranks at or near the top for sure. Just check out these gems: The early game at 11AM CT finds #4 Oklahoma traveling to NRG Stadium in Houston for a pivotal game with the #10 Cougars. Playoff hopes for Houston hinge on upsetting the Sooners, catapulting the Cougars into national prominence right out of the gate. A loss to Houston and the Sooners would be hard pressed to work their way into the CFP. It’s not going to be easy for Oklahoma and the game could come down to the wire, but Mayfield and company will survive. Oklahoma 31 Houston 28. #7 LSU versus #26 Wisconsin in Green Bay. Will Les Miles recapture the magic? This is a great game to start in that direction. Will Leonard Fournette’s ankle injury stop him from running all over Wisconsin? Can the Tigers get production in the passing game? Lots of unanswered questions, but I think the Tigers are out to prove a point on the road. LSU 35 Wisconsin 24. #21 UCLA at #41 Texas A&M. The PAC 12 needs some big wins opening weekend if they are going to establish themselves as a firm contender for a shot at the national championship. The Bruins have what it takes to win this game, but geez….College Station is a tough environment for an opening road game. Very tough game to pick, but I’m going with my gut and saying UCLA can get it done. UCLA 28 Texas A&M 27 #18 Georgia versus #19 North Carolina in Atlanta. You can’t get more evenly matched than this for an opening contest. Lots of question marks on both sides. New coach for Georgia, lots of lost talent for North Carolina. This is a tossup in the truest since of the word, but hey…..Atlanta is still located in Georgia so I’m going with the Dawgs! Georgia 27 North Carolina 21. Saturday’s prime time contest in Arlington, Texas finds defending National Champion and current #1 Alabama taking on #33 Southern California.This is another great opportunity for the PAC 12 to make a splash, but I’m not counting on it. I’m not convinced the Tide will be clicking on all cylinders just yet, and the Trojans will be very motivated and may make a contest out of it for 3 quarters, but in the end, Alabama will prevail. Alabama 35 USC 24. The “Battle of the Tigers” kicks off an hour later as #2 Clemson opens at #32 Auburn. This is a scary opening game for Clemson, a team picked by many to win the national championship. But it’s tough to open in Jordon-Hare Stadium and there is no doubt Auburn will be well prepared for this game. I’m tempted to pick an upset because it’s highly likely…..but how can I not believe Deshuan Watson will find a way? Clemson 38 Auburn 37. #54 Arizona tangles with #47 Brigham Young in a key game that will set the pace for both programs in 2016, unfortunately no one East of the Rockies will see it…..the game kicks off at 9:30 PM CT. College Football sold it’s soul to television long ago, and the PAC 12 wonders why they get less media coverage and poor national TV ratings….. but I digress. Both teams need this win for a shot at a decent season. BYU plays one of the toughest (if not the toughest) schedules in the nation in 2016. The game is at a neutral site ( Glendale) but these two old rivals are very familiar with one another and need no introduction. This series dates to 1936 and these teams were conference buddies in the WAC through 1977. Close call here, but my gut says BYU by a hair. Brigham Young 28 Arizona 27. #46 Texas hosts #16 Notre Dame in a rare Sunday Night prime time game. What a treat for college fans to have this game on tap for Sunday night. An expected record crowd will turn out to see if Charlie Strong is making progress in Austin. These teams have given college football some of it’s greatest memories in history. Who can ever forget the 24-11 Irish win against the #1 ranked undefeated Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl after the 1970 season. The loss denied Texas a second straight National Championship. This is a very talented Notre Dame team, well coached and surely well prepared…..but something tells me Texas will play the game of their young Longhorn lives and upset the Irish in a classic. Texas 32 Notre Dame 31. #3 Florida State tangles with #14 Ole Miss in the Labor Day weekend finale Monday Night. The Seminoles run for a National Championship begins with a bang in 2016 as Florida State takes on an Ole Miss team with dreams of an SEC West title and possible playoff hopes of their own. This game could go either way. If Chad Kelly is in perfect form and on target, I think the Rebels could pull an upset…..but they will have to stop Dalvin Cook and that is a tall order. Seminoles in a squeaker. Florida State 35 Ole Miss 31. The Week 2 Billingsley Rankings will be posted by Noon on Tuesday September 6. Follow all of Billingsley’s Projections Here: Billingsley Report Billingsley+
Golden Bears Top Hawaii 51-31 to Begin 2016 Season
Hawaii matched California point for point early in the first quarter, but the Golden Bear’s offense proved too much for the Warriors in the second half and California came away with a 51-31 victory. The game opened the 2016 college football season and was played in Sydney, Australia. The lone game in week one made for sparse changes in the Billingsley Rankings. Cal moved up two positions from #53 to # 51 in the initial Billingsley Report this week. A full slate of games begins Thursday night September 1 followed by a much anticipated opening Saturday that includes several Top 25 matches. The early game at 11AM CT finds #4 Oklahoma traveling to NRG Stadium in Houston for a pivotal game with the #10 Cougars. Afternoon games include #7 LSU versus #26 Wisconsin in Green Bay, #21 UCLA at #41 Texas A&M, and #18 Georgia versus #19 North Carolina in Atlanta . Saturday’s prime time contest in Arlington, Texas finds defending National Champion and current #1 Alabama taking on #33 Southern California. The “Battle of the Tigers” kicks off an hour later as #2 Clemson opens at #32 Auburn. #54 Arizona tangles with #47 Brigham Young in a key game that will set the pace for both programs in 2016, unfortunately no one East of the Rockies will see it…..the game kicks off at 9:30 PM CT. College Football sold it’s soul to television long ago, and the PAC 12 wonders why they get less media coverage and poor national TV ratings….. but I digress. #46 Texas hosts #16 Notre Dame in a rare Sunday Night prime time game and #3 Florida State tangles with #14 Ole Miss in the Labor Day weekend finale Monday Night. The Week 2 Billingsley Rankings will be posted by Noon on Tuesday September 6.
Crimson Tide in Familiar Spot for SEC Race
Alabama is picked to win the SEC for the third straight year and if the Crimson Tide prevail, it will be their 4th SEC title in 5 years, a feat not achieved in Tuscaloosa since the Bryant years. Experience at QB is lacking and Alabama lost a lot of talent, but under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide do not rebuild, they simply reload. The quality of athletes passing through Tuscaloosa is unprecedented in the history of college football. Alabama’s schedule is brutal, so repeating as SEC and National Champs will not be an easy task. The Crimson Tide open with USC in Dallas and follow that with a home date against C-USA favorite Western Kentucky. But Alabama has never shied away from playing difficult schedules. They won the National Championship last season playing the most difficult schedule in college football history. The Crimson Tide play Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU on the road this season. LSU has more experience returning than any other SEC team, 8 starters on offense and 10 on defense, including Brandon Harris at QB and Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette at RB. The question is one of whether Les Miles can get the most out of that experience week in and week out. The schedule is manageable, even favorable by SEC standards as the Tigers get Ole Miss and Alabama at home, but opening in Green Bay against Wisconsin is worrisome and a loss there could derail LSU’s hope for a dream season. The race for the SEC East Title is up for grabs, basically a tight 3 way race between Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. Much has been expected of Tennessee for a couple of years, but the Volunteers have been unable to deliver. Last year’s 4th quarter meltdown at home against Oklahoma, the stunning 28-27 loss at Florida, plus the close losses to Alabama (19-14) and Arkansas (24-20) were very disappointing. The Vol fans are restless. But Tennessee finished very strong in 2015, winning 6 straight, capped by an obliteration of Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl. The Volunteers carry a lot of momentum into 2016. Georgia has a new coach in Kirby Smart. The Bulldog’s loss of Mark Richt was Miami (Fla.)’s gain. Not sure what Georgia was thinking…. but time will tell who will come out better in that transaction. Florida was quite a surprise in 2015, unexpectedly winning the SEC East after starting the season with 6 straight wins, but the end of the season was not kind to the Gators losing 3 straight, first to arch rival Florida State, then the SEC Championship game against Alabama and finally ending the season with a poor performance against Michigan (losing 41-7) in the Citrus Bowl. This is the way I see the SEC finishing for 2016 SEC East: Tennessee Georgia Florida Kentucky Vanderbilt South Carolina Missouri SEC West: Alabama LSU Ole Miss Arkansas Auburn Texas A&M Mississippi State
Parity in PAC 12 may spell doom in CFP
During the championship era of college football, 16 years of the BCS (1998-2013) and 2 years of the CFP (2014-2015), the PAC 12 placed 4 teams in the championship game. Southern Cal sent undefeated teams in 2003 and 2004, beating Oklahoma 55-19 and losing a classic heart breaker to Texas 41-38, and in 2010 undefeated Oregon lost a heart breaker to Auburn 22-19, and then lost 42-20 to an inspired Ohio State team in 2014. But since then, the parity in the PAC 12 conference has derailed any opportunity for a shot at the National Championship. With the consistency at Stanford, the resurgence at USC and UCLA, the inclusion of a very good Utah, and the rise of Washington and Washington State, I question whether the PAC 12 will have a team dominate enough to go undefeated in 2016. Much is written about the SEC being College Football’s toughest conference, and indeed, statistically the CFRC agrees with that. Top to bottom the SEC has been the Nation’s number one conference for 9 consecutive seasons dating back to the surprising season of the now defunct Big East in 2006. During it’s championship run that season the Big East’s Louisville finished 12-1 (#3), West Virginia 11-2 (#9), Rutgers 11-2 (#13) and South Florida 9-4 (#26) and just barely edged out the SEC by an average team rating of 264.740 to 263.800. But over the years the SEC has had one thing that in most seasons the PAC 12 has not…..a dominate team within the conference. Somehow, some way, a team from the SEC has managed to maneuver through the conference schedule (and ultimately the full season) undefeated or with one loss. Unless someone steps up in 2016, I don’t see that trend changing. The line between the projected division leaders in both the PAC 12 North and the South are so razor thin that literally, anyone of 8 teams could win the conference crown with a mere favorable bounce of the ball in a handful of key games. In the North Division I have predicted Washington to take the crown, solely based on the Husky’s home game against Stanford on September 30. That is a big gamble. Stanford lost a ton of talent, but Christian McCaffrey returns and single handedly, he could bring the title back to Palo Alto. Oregon is a strong factor, and the Ducks get Washington and Stanford at home, but has major question marks on both sides of the ball. So much so that it’s hard to believe Oregon will come out on top in both contests, much less navigating through road games at Washington State, USC and Utah. Washington State was a huge surprise in 2015 and easily could continue their winning trend in 2016, but it won’t be easy. The Cougars schedule is brutal with a non-conference game at Boise State, home games with Oregon, UCLA and Washington, and road games at Stanford and Arizona State. California and Oregon State are the only two teams in the North that do not figure into the title run. In the South Division, UCLA, USC and Utah will battle for the crown with Arizona State and Arizona not far behind. Even annual cellar dweller Colorado is showing signs of life and will be a dangerous team to contend with, especially at home in the high altitude at Boulder. Speaking of navigating difficult schedules, how did the Bruins end up with not one but two major powers for non-conference games? UCLA opens the season at Texas A&M and two weeks later travels to Provo to face BYU. I have UCLA picked to win the PAC 12 South, but seriously, I’m not sure what I’m thinking. The Bruins start their conference schedule with home games against Stanford and Arizona, then travel to Arizona State and Washington State before returning home to face Utah. If UCLA goes undefeated playing that schedule, they could easily be ranked #1 headed into November, but really? That schedule spells doom before they even reach midway through the season. Here is the way I am projecting the PAC 12 conference: North: Washington Stanford Washington State Oregon California Oregon State South: UCLA Utah Southern Cal Arizona Arizona State Colorado
Expansion? Big 12 Could Make Big Splash…..If they Have The Foresight
After months of speculation that the conference would expand, the Big 12 made an announcement in June that expansion was a “dead issue”. In July they did an about face and announced expansion was not only on the table, but they would like to announce the expansion teams before September 1. At this point I’m inclined to say I’ll believe it when I see it. But, if the Big 12 conference does follow through with expansion plans, they have an opportunity in front of them to take a leadership role and in the process, make a huge splash in college football. Originally talk of expansion included only 2 teams, simply the number needed to split into divisions, which is a model more suitable for their already approved conference championship game. But recently talk has surfaced about the possibility of 4 teams. If the Big 12 is truly thinking along those lines, why stop at 4? I believe the Big 12 should be thinking bigger, be innovative and more progressive. For years we have been told that the future of the sport lies in 16 team “super conferences”. If there is any truth in that statement then I propose the Big 12 be bold and create the FIRST 16 team Super Conference. Think about it. Add these 6 teams: Brigham Young, Boise State, Colorado State, Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston. Talk about a knockout blow to the rest of the Power 5 Conferences. Lock up the best available teams now and watch the dominoes fall in the other conferences over the next few years trying to play catch up. BYU, Boise State and Colorado State are already natural rivals for TCU because of the Horned Frog’s days in the WAC and MWC. Texas Tech has a natural geographical fit with those same teams. Cincinnati and Memphis fit well with West Virginia who, in my opinion, desperately needs teams in the conference closer to Morgantown in order to make the Mountaineers “more inclusive” in the Big 12. Houston is a natural fit, just as TCU was in earlier conference expansion. Take a look at this proposed division alignment: Big 12 West: Brigham Young, Boise State, Colorado State, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas, Houston, Baylor Big 12 East: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Memphis, Cincinnati, West Virginia. Looks like a knockout conference to me. Just a thought. But, for the moment at hand in 2016, the Big 12 has high hopes for another run at the College Football Playoff. My top pick for the conference title is Oklahoma. The Sooners are loaded with play makers on both sides of the ball and QB Baker Mayfield is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. It won’t be easy, the Sooners have one of, if not THE toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, opening at Houston and hosting Ohio State two weeks later, and the road game at TCU the week before Texas is very worrisome. Looking ahead to Texas and not focusing on the Froggies would be a huge mistake. The Horned Frog defense will be the best in the Big 12 and if Kenny Hill comes through at QB, TCU will be a legitimate conference title contender. Oklahoma State, however, is the team I expect to be the surprise team, not only in the Big 12, but nationally. With 16 starters returning, 9 on offense and 7 on defense, including an outstanding QB and team leader in Mason Rudolph, the Cowboys will give the Sooners and the rest of the Big 12 all they can handle and more. Don’t be surprised if Oklahoma State goes into the TCU game on November 19th undefeated. The Cowboy’s last two games are probably their toughest, at TCU and at Oklahoma. One of the biggest story lines this season will be Texas and whether or not the Longhorns can win enough games to save Charlie Strong’s job…..and what that magic number might be. My guess is that it will take 7 wins minimum and probably 8, but from looking at the schedule I think 6-6 might be a realistic record for Texas in 2016. More than likely the Longhorns are looking at losses to Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and TCU. Road wins at California, Kansas State and Texas Tech are possible, but not guaranteed by any means. Wins against UTEP, Iowa State and Kansas seem pretty safe but that means home wins against Baylor and West Virginia are an absolute must in order for the Horns to have what most would consider a successful season, and even then, the win total would only reach 8. This is the way I see the Big 12 finishing for 2016: Oklahoma Oklahoma State TCU Baylor Texas Tech Texas West Virginia Kansas State Iowa State Kansas
J. T. Barrett Gives Buckeyes Edge in Big 10 Race
The race for the Big 10 Conference crown is more wide open than we have seen in many years. With the resurgence at Michigan, consistency at Michigan State and surprise success at Iowa, the Big 10 is looking very competitive in 2016. Although the Buckeyes lost a ton of talent and return only 3 starters on offense and 3 on defense, Ohio State has two major things going in their favor…..an established Heisman Trophy candidate in J.T. Barrett, and the Wolverines at home November 26. Those two factors are enough to give Ohio State a razor thin margin as pre-season favorites. The Eastern Division of the conference, with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is by far the stronger group in the Big 10 this year. Any one of those teams are capable of winning the conference title. But Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State are all breaking in new QB’s. If James Franklin is going to turn a corner at Penn State, this is certainly the year to do it. The Nittany Lions have a ton of returning starters and although a road trip to Michigan on September 24th looms large, Penn State has Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State at home. In the Western Division Iowa will once again rely on a stingy defense, but duplicating last years success will be near impossible. The schedule is more difficult and the Hawkeyes won’t be sneaking up on anyone in 2016. Wisconsin appears to be the next strongest team in the division but the Badgers are breaking in a new QB and must play at division favorite Iowa on October 27. Northwestern was a surprise in 2015, racing to an impressive 10-3 season record. The Wildcats have an experienced QB and enough overall talent to compete for the division title, but lack depth in key positions so injury is going to be a major concern. The schedule is not kind for Northwestern, opening with Western Michigan will be very tough and later, road trips to Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State look brutal. Nebraska will be improved, and certainly has the ingredients to be one of the year’s top surprise teams, but the Cornhuskers have consistently under performed in recent years so it is difficult to have any level of confidence in their 2016 performance. Billingsley’s Big 10 Conference Projections: East: West: Ohio State Iowa Michigan Wisconsin Michigan State Northwestern Penn State Nebraska Indiana Illinois Maryland Minnesota Rutgers Purdue
Seminoles and Tigers Vie for Playoff Berth from ACC
Florida State and Clemson are set to duel for a spot as one of football’s elite participants in the College Football Playoff for 2016. Both teams compete in the Atlantic Division, but either would heavily favored over any team coming out of the ACC’s Coastal Division. Offensively Florida State is in solid hands. Sean Maquire returns as QB for the Seminoles, although he will be pushed hard for the starting position by redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, and Dalvin Cook returns at running back. Overall the Garnet and Gold return 9 starters on offense and 6 on defense. The opening game in Orlando with Ole Miss is a grave concern, and two weeks later a road game at Louisville awaits, but the game with Clemson on Oct. 29 is at home, as well as the season finale with Florida. It’s hard not to count Clemson as the league front runner since Deshaun Watson is returning at QB for the Tigers, but defensively, Clemson has a lot of holes to fill. Only 4 starters return on defense. Clemson has recruited well, and coordinator Brent Venables has consistently produced outstanding defenses so don’t be surprised if the Tigers win the ACC……but that road game in Tallahassee could be a major stumbling block. Clemson opens the season at a re-surging Auburn which is very winnable but very tricky. Louisville is loaded with talent and experience. The Cardinal will push Florida State and Clemson for the league title, facing the Seminoles at home on September 17th and Clemson in Death Valley on October 1, but the question as to whether or not Louisville can make that huge leap into title contender has yet to be answered. A late season game on the road with Houston on November 17th could turn into a huge game for both teams if the chips fall their way for both squads in the early part of the season. Wouldn’t that be an unexpected treat for college football! The race for the Coastal Division in the ACC is wide open. North Carolina is expected to win, but the Tar Heels will find it very difficult to match last year’s surprising 8-0 division record. Miami’s hire of Mark Richt was nothing short of brilliant and could be exactly what the Hurricane have needed for years. Time will tell, but eventually I expect great success for Richt. It just feels like the perfect fit. It is not a stretch to think Miami could win the division this year, but the schedule is daunting. A brutal 5 game stretch in mid season will define this team. Florida State comes to town on October 8, followed consecutively by North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame ( ACC schedule affiliated but a non-conference game ) and back home for Pittsburgh.The Coastal Division is so evenly balanced that any one of the top four contenders among North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh could easily take the crown. Predicted Order of Finish: Atlantic Division: Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, NC St., Wake Forest, Boston College, Syracuse Coastal Division: North Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia Next up: Thursday July 21 – Pac 10.
Playoff Hopes Hover over Houston
During the BCS Era I never failed to hear the same ole roar……the deck is stacked against the little guys, they don’t stand a chance against the powers of college football. I’m hearing the same roar, second verse now that we have moved on to the college football playoff. The only difference is, to some degree, now the naysayers have more of a point. For as much moaning and gnashing of teeth that I heard about the BCS computers there is one thing everyone could not deny…..the computers didn’t know if team “A” was Alabama or South Alabama and frankly my dear….didn’t give a damn. It was all about wins, losses and strength of schedule for those unappreciated machines. Now, a human committee must be convinced that a team is worthy of one of those coveted top four spots, and well, honestly, South Alabama really doesn’t stand much of a chance. If I said it once I must have said it a thousand times…..if you want to be a big boy, you must play, and beat the big boys. It’s all about timing, and scheduling, and getting the lucky breaks along the way. Being undefeated is not enough, you simply must prove your worthiness on the field of play by beating top notch quality opponents. Most of the teams comprising the conferences in the “Group of Five” don’t have the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot because A). They don’t schedule a major power team to give themselves an opportunity to prove themselves; B). They over schedule too many power teams and therefore enhance their risk of a loss; C). They are just flat out not good enough. Harsh words, but truer words were never spoken. This year, there is an opportunity, certainly an opportunity, for a team to make that leap into college football history. The University of Houston has the talent, and at the same time they have the schedule, so timing is on their side….. all they need now are the lucky breaks along the way. Lucky like beating Oklahoma and the Sooners going on to win the Big 12. Lucky like Louisville having an outstanding season in the ACC. Lucky like the American Athletic, overall, having it’s best year EVER. If all those things fall into place, even a human committee, hell bent on favoring traditional powers, might….just might be convinced. But all of those breaks mean nothing if Houston doesn’t come through and play the game of their lives EVERY WEEK. No letdowns, no squeakers over teams they should beat by 30 points. Let’s be real folks, to that committee….style points count. Speaking of the American Conference, it’s not going to be a cakewalk for the Cougars. Getting through their own conference undefeated, much less beating Oklahoma early (September 3) and Louisville late (November 17) is not going to be easy. Memphis, Navy, Temple, Cincinnati and South Florida all have visions of their own. And the American Conference is certainly not the only conference in the Group of Five putting forth a solid team. In Conference USA, Southern Miss plays at LSU, an undefeated season with a win in Baton Rouge against the SEC champ? That may carry some weight don’t you think? Or perhaps a Western Kentucky win at Alabama? Oh, the opportunities are there for sure for Conference USA to make some national noise. Marshall and Louisiana Tech will join Southern Miss and Western Kentucky in a battle for the conference crown. Over in the Mid America Conference, the race is so tight I could barely separate the teams by a fraction of a point in the pre-season rankings. Ohio, Akron, and Bowling Green in the East, and Western Michigan and Toledo in the West all have the fire power to win a conference title. Out in the Mountain West Conference Boise State and San Diego State appear to be a notch above everyone else, but Air Force, Colorado State, Utah State (all in the Mountain Division) and San Jose State and Nevada (in the West Division) are all within one of those “lucky breaks” away from upsetting those division leaders.
Sun Belt Anxious to build on 2015 Success
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson is all smiles this summer. Four conference teams went bowling in 2015, posting two wins and two losses, and the conference is poised for even greater success in 2016. Arkansas State won the conference title last year with an unblemished 8-0 record, but lost to Louisiana Tech 47-28 in the New Orleans Bowl, while runner up Appalachian State was flying to a dramatic 31-29 win over Ohio. The Mountaineers finished the season 11-2 and earned a #25 ranking in the final Billingsley Report, the first time in history a Sun Belt team finished in the Top 25. Although Arkansas State and Appalachian State will both be breaking in new QB’s, both teams have enough play makers to contend for another conference crown, and perhaps even, a national ranking. The Mountaineers return 16 starters (7 on offense and 9 on defense) while Arkansas State returns 13 (6 and 7). Various Online college football odds are already on top of posting the first week of the season, along with odds for conference titles and playoff participants as the opening week of the season is drawing near. Appalachian State has a very tough non conference schedule, opening at Tennessee on September 3 and hosting Miami (Fla.) two weeks later, so matching the won-loss record success of 2015 would mean posting a big non conference upset or running the table in conference play, both of which are very possible. The Volunteers and Hurricanes better be ready for this team. By a quirk in the conference schedule, Arkansas State and Appalachian State do not play in the regular season. Georgia Southern, also a big bowl winner in 2015, figures prominently into the conference race. The Eagles are the only conference contender with a solid returning QB (Sr. Kevin Ellison) but must play a tough road game against Arkansas State on October5. Later Georgia Southern gets Appalachian State at home on October 27, and has another tough road test near the end of the season at Georgia State. This is the way I am projecting the Sun Belt Conference for 2016: Appalachian State Arkansas State Georgia Southern La. Lafayette Troy South Alabama Georgia State Idaho New Mexico State Texas State La. Monroe
Pre-Season Magazines offer few surprises for 2016
The middle of June holds a ritual in the Billingsley household, that of daily trips to the local WalMart, the only source for college football magazines in Choctaw County Oklahoma. Usually the search turns into a disappointing, frustrating waste of precious time until FINALLY, one by one, the magazines start to appear. It’s always exciting to read the various predictions in print from Athlon, Sporting News, Phil Steele and online from College Football Odds. This June’s much anticipated arrival yielded few surprises in regards to Top 10 teams and predicted Conference Champions. A general consensus seems to agree on just about everything. In the coming week’s Richard Billingsley will be preparing his own conference predictions and ultimately be posting the 2016 Pre-Season rankings in the middle of August. Until then, a sneak peak preview of preseason magazines find the SEC once again firmly in control with 8 teams ranked in the Top 25 in at least one magazine. Defending National Champion Alabama once again is picked to win it all in several publications with perennial favorites Florida State, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State filling out the role as top contenders in one publication or another. Some newcomers certainly seem to be garnering a lot of attention, although not surprisingly so based on coaching, returning starters and building on last year’s success. Most notably Michigan, Tennessee, Notre Dame, LSU, Washington and Houston. Also getting a lot of attention, but perhaps somewhat less than last year are Ole Miss, Stanford, UCLA, Georgia and TCU. Teams on the rise most mentioned are Louisville, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Miami (Fla.) and Texas A&M. Iowa, USC, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Oregon seem to be filling out most of the bottom part of the Top 25.
Alabama Overtakes Notre Dame as Top College Football Program
There is a new King in College Football. For the first time in CFRC history, the Fighting Irish are no longer the top College Football Program. First released to the NCAA in 1996, the College Football Research Center’s All Time Top College Football Programs saw Notre Dame as the number one ranked program, a title the Irish have held every year since. In fact, Notre Dame and Michigan held a solid hold on the #1 and #2 positions respectively for 18 years. But Alabama began making a strong move beginning with their 2009 National Title which ranks as the overall best team in College Football history. Two years ago the Crimson Tide leaped over Michigan for the #2 position. At that time, my estimate was that if the current trend continued Alabama would overtake Notre Dame within 4 years. But thanks to three more Championships in a five year span, it only took 2 years. Since this list is compiled from every game played since 1869, movement among the Top 10 Programs is rare, but Alabama’s run of 4 National Championships in 7 years, especially during a time when strength of schedules are the highest in the history of football, created rapid movement for the Tide. Michigan has continued to fall, dropping to #4 behind arch rival Ohio State, but the race among the Top 4 teams will be an interesting one to watch in the next few years as Michigan and Notre Dame are witnessing a resurgence in their programs while nothing seems to be slowing down for Alabama and Ohio State. Click here for a complete list of the Top All Time College Football Programs and click here to research the entire Billingsley College Football Encyclopedia.