"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra." - Jimmy Johnson
The moment we’ve been waiting for is just two months away. At long last, Tim Tebow is officially returning to the world of college football. My 2013 performance was a year to forget. After an extremely successful September of picking games, I was sure I was the heir apparent to replace the insufferable Clay Travis on FoxSports1. Unfortunately for me, mean reversion wasn't kind in October and November, where I was treated like a Wake Forest RB meeting Denzel Perryman. After hundreds of predictions and a roller-coaster bowl season, my picks finished 2 games under .500. That C- grade had me in jeopardy of being booted from StateOfTheU given our high standards here, but thankfully I was able to convince Rashad McCants's tutor to bump me up to a B+. I've spent all winter and spring thinking about my mistakes and trying to learn from them. To borrow the phrase from UM's Athletic Department, I feel "Renewed" this season. In an effort to experience what the players will go through starting on August 1st, I've borrowed from the NCAA's recent ruling and granted myself access to unlimited food during my preparation. I'll be ready.
My columns will predict games each week this fall on SOTU and @JPickens15, but there is one topic I will try not to address. This offseason has been a brutal time to be a passionate college football fan. Thanks to the union discussion at Northwestern, the O’Bannon trial, and the video game settlements, I’m mentally exhausted. I don’t have an advanced law degree and have never been in a union, and neither do 90% of the journalists reporting on these stories ad nauseam. I’d rather comb through Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices" book looking for grammatical errors than read another article about the NCAA lawsuits. I understand that the decisions that result from these cases could transform college football as we know it, but frankly all I care about is one thing. To all involved on both sides of the issues: Please protect the product on the field and ensure that the sport remains the best America has to offer. I feel the same way about this saga as I do the soon to be endless coverage of "The Decision Part 2, What will the Big 3 do?" Just wake me up when it's over.
One question is on the minds of ACC fans across the country. Who will be selected to play in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl? In all seriousness, this offseason feels very different for the ACC. The conference broke the SEC's incredible streak of national championships, thanks to Florida State's impressive undefeated season. Clemson conquered their previous Orange Bowl demons and beat Ohio State in a marquee matchup in January. The conference traded a struggling Maryland for Louisville, gaining full access to the rollercoaster that is Bobby Petrino. If Jameis Winston avoids local supermarkets this fall, the ACC has a good chance at having a team make the inaugural College Football Playoff. The conference has finally started to earn some national respect.
Florida State is the clear favorite to win in Charlotte in December, but the Coastal Division is wide open. Can Duke sustain their success from 2013? Can Virginia Tech complete multiple passes against anyone besides Miami now that Logan Thomas graduated? Will UNC ever live up to expectations? Will Mike London be employed by October? What on earth will Al Golden do with his quarterbacks, and are any of them the player this program needs to return to prominence? I'm about to try to make sense of it all by making win total predictions.
For my first installment, I’ll look at Miami, Florida State, and Duke.
For the purpose of this article, I'll be using the opening Win Totals posted earlier this month by CG Technology in Las Vegas. These totals are just for the regular season and don’t include conference championship games or bowls.
MIAMI OVER 7.5 WINS
The Canes won 9 games last year and fans are expecting a big year, with Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley poised to lead the offense. The defense should be improved this year, with a more experienced secondary and a leader in star LB Denzel Perryman. Unfortunately for Miami, the biggest question mark is at the most important position in football. Who will play QB against Louisville on Labor Day? If Ryan Williams really is ready to play in late September or early October, how will that change the plans of the coaching staff? As a fan that is looking towards the future, I certainly hope to see either Kevin Olsen or Brad Kaaya under center initially. I have to admit to being upset when the Canes took former BYU and Kansas QB Jake Heaps as a transfer earlier in June. I get why it makes sense for depth purposes, but if Heaps somehow starts the opener, I will likely go into a deep depression. That desperate move would make a very negative statement about what the coaching staff thinks of our young talent.
The key to Miami's season is the month of September. The Canes don't have a bye until mid-October, so it's imperative Al Golden and company get off to a strong start. I'm operating under the assumption that Kevin Olsen will emerge as the starter in fall camp. While the atmosphere at Louisville will be intimidating for a first time starter, Olsen will be fortunate to have talented playmakers all around him at the skill positions. Keep in mind UL will also be breaking in a new starting QB in Will Gardner. Get the ball to Duke and Stacy early and often and I think Miami will be fine on that side of the ball. Defensively, I expect UM's players to find motivation in how poorly they played in a blowout loss to Louisville just nine months earlier. That game tape should be playing on an endless loop during the month of August. I expect Miami to beat the Cards and head to Lincoln, NE with a 3-0 record.
I feel good about playing Duke at home and the Canes have dominated Georgia Tech in recent years, regardless of where the game is played. Cincinnati will be a tricky opponent for UM, but having the game in the South Florida heat will help. My prediction will likely come down to how Miami handles a brutal three game stretch. The schedule doesn't do Miami any favors, but at least the bye weeks do come before big ACC games. The Canes will get an extra five days to prepare before heading to Blacksburg for a difficult Thursday night tilt with the Hokies. Miami returns home to play North Carolina, who I expect to be much improved from a year ago. VT and UNC will be huge games that will likely decide the Coastal, so thankfully there will be a full extra week of preparation before the Noles head down to Miami.
There are very few easy wins on the schedule, so Miami will likely be in a lot of close games. Here are the lines released by the Golden Nugget a few weeks ago.
UM Pk at Lville
UM +3 at Neb
UM -4 at GT
UM -11 vs Cincy
UM +1 at VT
UM -1 vs UNC
UM +14.5 vs FSU
UM -10 at UVA
UM -7 vs Pitt
Now for the big finish......While I understand why the Win Total for the Canes was set at 7.5, I expect this team to win at least nine games and finally win the Coastal Division. I defended this coaching staff last year, but fans won't tolerate any excuses this season. The NCAA is an afterthought, recruiting has picked up, and the roster has more depth across the board. While the QB situation works itself out, Miami's offense will still be able to thrive early thanks to a strong offensive line and big plays from Stacy, Duke, Walford, Waters, Dorsett, and company. I strongly believe that Miami is ready to make significant strides on defense this season. The defensive line is a concern once again in 2014, but the Canes will benefit from a strong incoming freshman and juco class. Expect Miami's secondary to really improve, as talented players like Artie Burns, Tracy Howard, Deon Bush, and Jamal Carter emerge and elevate their games to become one of the best units in the ACC.
I Believe That We Will Win. Go Canes. Go USA. Beat Louisville. Beat Germany.
FLORIDA STATE OVER 11 WINS
We'll start with the obvious. The defending champs are loaded on both sides of the ball, and return Heisman winning QB Jameis Winston. FSU is one of the favorites to make the first College Football Playoff. As Tomahawk Nation described a few weeks ago, the Noles are initially favored by at least two touchdowns in every game in 2014.
Florida State only has four true road games: NCST, Syracuse, Louisville, and Miami. UL and UM have a chance to make their respective games interesting, but would likely need a few breaks early. As a Miami fan, I certainly hope the Canes can shock the college football world with a win, but that's difficult to predict at this point. The Noles open up with Oklahoma State in Dallas, but the Cowboys lost a ton of talent on defense. QB J.W. Walsh has shown flashes, but isn't good enough to lead his team to the upset. With this matchup being one of the marquee games on opening weekend, I expect FSU to be ready and make a statement that last year wasn't an aberration. The toughest home games on the schedule are Clemson, Notre Dame, and Florida. The Tigers have to visit Tallahassee in mid-September with a new starter at QB in Cole Stoudt. I expect Florida State to stomp their ACC division rival again. Notre Dame and Florida are both wild cards in 2014, but I don't think either has enough offensive firepower to keep pace.
Here comes the cliche everyone will be saying on ESPN nonstop this season. "Florida State's biggest opponent is themselves." There is some truth to this sentiment. It's hard to repeat as champions in college football and Jimbo Fisher must guard against complacency. If this Win Total number was 11.5, I would probably take the under. Since it's 11, I feel like the Over makes sense. I can see scenarios where the Noles slip up somewhere and lose to a team they are suppose to handle, but that loss would refocus the team and likely result in an 11-1 finish. In my opinion, Florida State is more likely to go 12-0 than 10-2. If Jameis stays healthy all year, this is going to be another huge year in Tallahassee, as much as that pains me to say.
DUKE UNDER 8.5 WINS
Duke was one of the best stories in college football last season, winning the Coastal Division and finishing 10-4 after a thrilling game against Texas A&M. The Blue Devils return most of their playmakers on offense, led by QB Anthony Boone and WR Jamison Crowder. The loss of Brandon Connette will hurt in the running game, but expectations are higher than ever for Coach David Cutcliffe and company. Last year's OC Kurt Roper did such a good job that Florida HC Will Muschamp desperately hired him in a last ditch effort to save his own job. Duke's defense was opportunistic in 2013, especially in a key win over Logan Thomas and the Hokies. That being said, this defense won't scare anyone this fall, still lacking elite speed and size, especially in the front four. I have one warning message for the folks in Durham. Duke won't sneak up on anyone this season. The Blue Devils will have a much bigger target on their backs in 2014, with teams like Virginia Tech, Miami, and UNC looking for revenge after disappointing losses a year ago. It's hard to climb from the bottom of a conference to the top, but it's even harder to stay on top once you get there.
Duke has a good chance of starting 4-0, thanks to an ugly non-conference schedule that features games against Elon, Troy, Kansas, and Tulane. Then things increase in difficulty in a hurry, with four ACC road games in a five game span. Duke should beat Virginia at home in between, but trips to face Miami, Georgia Tech, Pitt, and Cuse will likely result in at least two losses. Duke finishes with three straight home games: Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Look for VT and UNC to improve in 2014 and take advantage of the limited home field advantage Duke has at Wallace Wade. Duke doesn't have as much depth as many of their conference rivals, which could be a significant issue if the injury bug strikes this fall. I expect Cutcliffe to take his team bowling again, but win just 7 or 8 games in 2014. That sentence I just wrote is significant progress for the program. Being disappointed with 8 wins only comes after experiencing success.