With five weeks of the 2011 college football season behind us, many things have gone as expected: The Southeastern Conference is continuing its dominance, Andrew Luck of Stanford is still the Heisman favorite to some and the snacks at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum still taste the same as they did last year.
Though ten weeks still remain in the 2011 campaign, the first third of the season has already given us our doubts, hopes and concerns regarding our admired teams. What we had expected has lived up to its expectations, and what we did not see coming has shocked the nation. Hey, that’s the beauty of sports, let alone collegiate football.
That is the fun of waking up every Saturday, putting on that lucky, wrinkled shirt, and getting to the game before kickoff. It’s that what we might see could change the game of football and our perspectives of it forever. That’s the fun of standing on your worn-out feet, roaring with the crowd at the top of your lungs and clapping your hands until they throb — just because your team is taking the field. It’s that what you are about to see can and will become pieces of history that you will never forget. That’s the fun of being… the fan. That anything can happen, at any given moment.
So, my predictions? Take them with a grain of salt.
Team we never thought would be undefeated at this point: Clemson
The 5-0 Tigers began the season with two easy victories over Troy and Wofford, but were easily written off when their next three games featured top ranked opponents: #21 Auburn, #11 Florida State and #11 Virginia Tech. Quarterback Tajh Boyd led Clemson to a two touchdown victory over Auburn and a narrow triumph against the Florida State Seminoles. Granted, those two games were played at home, but the Tigers earned immediate national respect and a #13 ranking before their date with the Virginia Tech Hokies. Though that contest was the first road game for the Tigers, Boyd and true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins helped the Clemson offense prevail in hostile Lane Stadium, 23-3. Now the Tigers stand with an undefeated record, and clutch a #8 national ranking. The Tigers should remain unbeaten by October 29th, when they hit the road to battle the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. That should be their toughest remaining challenge this season with the exception of playing away from home versus the South Carolina Gamecocks on November 26.
Projected Final Record: 10-2
Biggest disappointment to date: Texas A&M
The Aggies began the 2011 season with a prestigious top ten ranking and did not find any obstacles while winning their first two games of the year. The Aggies looked impressive during the first half of their matchup with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but dwindled away their seventeen point halftime lead. The Cowboys would make an incredible comeback to take the game, 30-29. Though quarterback Ryan Tannehill has impressed College Station with his arm and scrambling abilities, he and his Aggies ultimately fell short versus the Arkansas Razorbacks in a 42-38 defeat. Five weeks ago, Texas A&M possessed a #8 national ranking. Now, the Aggies struggle to remain upon the ranked as they have drastically tumbled to #24. Texas A&M was favored as a preseason contender in the Big-12 Conference, but now is looking to receive bowl eligibility and gain back national respect. The Aggies still have to play four ranked opponents before the season’s conclusion, including Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas. Projected Final Record: 8-4.
If the season ended today, the Heisman Trophy should go to: Russell Wilson (Wisconsin)
The senior transfer from North Carolina State has proven Badger fans and college football fanatics that he is the real deal in Madison. Not only has Wilson led the Wisconsin Badgers to a 5-0 record thus far, his poise and leadership was key in Wisconsin’s “statement game” versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers on October 1; the Badgers welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten Conference with a 48-17 victory at Camp Randall Stadium. Wilson has already passed for nearly 1400 yards and has thirteen touchdowns with just one interception. His mobility out of the pocket has also proven effective as Wilson has also rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns this season. Wilson has comfortably settled in at Wisconsin, and has successfully taken over the reins at quarterback due to the departure of last year’s starter, Scott Tolzein. Though the Badgers still have to face Michigan State and Ohio State on the road, Wisconsin should continue their Big Ten dominance by the season’s conclusion. If Wilson and the Badgers remain undefeated by the end of November, they will find themselves with a potential Rose Bowl or National Championship berth. The Badgers currently stand at #4 in the nation.
Projected Season Outcome: Big Ten Championship, Heisman Trophy finalist, Rose Bowl berth
Most underrated quarterback among BCS contenders: Robert Griffin III (Baylor)
Robert Griffin III returns this season as the Bears’ starting quarterback, and continues to record impressive statistics, dating back to last season when he threw for over 3500 yards and 22 touchdowns. Griffin has kept Baylor competitive in the Big 12 thus far and had his Bears poised at a respective #15 until one week ago, when the Bears were edged by Kansas State, 36-35. Baylor’s current record is 3-1, featuring wins over Texas Christian University, Stephen F. Austin and Rice. Griffin III has already completed over eighty percent of his passes, and could be in future discussions for the Heisman trophy if he continues his control in the pocket. He has already passed for eighteen touchdowns and one interception thus far. The road will not welcome Baylor with open arms for the rest of the season, as the Bears still have to play Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, #3 Oklahoma and #11 Texas.
Projected Final Record: 8-4
Team with the toughest remaining schedule: Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes entered the 2011 season with a new head coach in Luke Fickell and began their first five games with four starters sitting out due to self-imposed sanctions. Former head coach Jim Tressel resigned from the program due to violating NCAA rules, and former quarterback Terrell Pryor left for the NFL Draft due to further suspicion.After winning their first two games versus Akron and Toledo, the Buckeyes are 3-2 this season. They suffered an eighteen-point loss to Miami and a three point loss to Michigan State. The Buckeyes rank 111th nationally in passing yardage per game and 91st in total points per game out of 120 FBS schools. Ohio State still has to face 14th ranked Nebraska, 19th ranked Illinois, 4th ranked Wisconsin and 12th ranked Michigan before the season’s conclusion. If the Buckeyes have any hope of regaining the national respect they once had, Fickell and Ohio State need at least two wins against the four ranked foes that they will still face this year. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, three out of those four games are away from Columbus and the Horseshoe.
Projected Final Record: 6-6
Most exciting finish to a game thus far: USC vs. Utah (September 10)
This game marked the first ever game in the inaugural Pacific-12 Conference, which welcomed new members Utah and Colorado to the conference. The Utah Utes visited the Coliseum for a primetime game, which featured a matchup of two premiere quarterbacks: Matt Barkley of USC (14 TD, 4 INT) and Jordan Wynn of Utah. With the score 17-14 in USC’s favor, the Utah Utes began a drive to field-goal range to tie the game at seventeen with a mere three minutes remaining. The Utes drove to the thirty-three yard line with the help of two favorable rulings, which set the stage for the game-tying field goal. Left tackle Matt Kalil of the Trojans blocked the field goal and cornerback Torin Harris returned the blocked kick for a touchdown as time expired. The Trojans would triumph 23-14 in a game that commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and it rudely introduced the Utes to Pac-12 football.
Nominees for Coach of the Year (or of the first five weeks):
1) Dabo Swinney (Clemson)
2) Les Miles (Louisiana State)
3) Brady Hoke (Michigan)
4) Bret Bielema (Wisconsin)
5) Nick Saban (Alabama)
Coaches on the hot seat:
1) Rick Neuhiesel (UCLA)
2) Mark Richt (Georgia)
3) Mike Riley (Oregon State)
4) Mike Stoops (Arizona)
5) Houston Nutt (Mississippi)
Best games still remaining:
Oklahoma vs. Texas (October 8)
USC at Notre Dame (October 22)
Wisconsin at Michigan State (October 22)
USC vs. Stanford (October 29)
LSU at Alabama (November 5)
Notre Dame at Stanford (November 26)
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (December 3)
Revised projections for BCS Bowls:
BCS National Championship Game: Oklahoma vs. LSU
Discover Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Boise State
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Oregon
Rose Bowl presented by Vizio: Stanford vs. Wisconsin