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College Football Lookahead: Nos. 11-15

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This segment will start off with one of the universe’s most powerful forces outside of stupidity …

15. CLEMSON

Yep, Clemsonliness, The art of doing well when you’re supposed to do poorly and poorly when you’re supposed to do well. It’s so endemic at Clemson, unpredictability is actually predictable.

Maybe, though, this is the team to change things. Maybe the Tigers will both start and finish a season in the top 25 for the first time since 2000.

The good and the bad is just the same as last year. Clemson has some of the best brand-name skill players in the country. Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins … that’s a group that should produce a strong offense nationally with just decent line play.

As for the defense? Well, there’s a reason Kevin Steele isn’t around anymore. West Virginia and its half-a-hundred plus 20 in January’s Orange Bowl say hello. New coordinator or no, there’s only so much progress that can be expected.

So what’s left? A team that probably won’t be in the national title hunt deep into the season, but one that should be incredibly entertaining to watch. Watkins’ presence alone (well, after his two-game suspension to open the season) ensures there’s a decent chance something extraordinary will happen. Here’s guessing a similar run to last year – 10-3ish, give or take a game. It’s not unpredictable and definitely not in accordance with Clemsonliness, but it is a fair expectations at this stage.

14. OKLAHOMA STATE

Going out on a limb here on a number of fronts.

This is a gamble Oklahoma State’s defense can continue its penchant for making frequent stops as their respective backs get closer to the goal line.

It is a gamble the Cowboys can replace perhaps America’s oldest starting quarterback with perhaps its youngest.

(It is not, it should be pointed out, a gamble the Pokes will maintain their ridiculous turnover margin. They won’t. Let’s get that out of the way now).

Even with some new personnel, Boone Pickens U.’s M.O. will be the same: See who can make the scoreboard explode first. It’s what they’ve done for a few years, and what they did even better than Oregon could last year. Yes, a regression is coming. Oklahoma State isn’t going 12-1. But the Cowboys will still be plenty strong, and might even have 10 regular-season wins in their holster.

13. WEST VIRGINIA

There’s not much to write about the Mountaineers’ “adjustment” to the Big 12 because, in reality, they are already a Big 12 team from an offensive standpoint.

If the defense catches up, West Virginia’s first year in its new league will be just dandy.

The offensive pieces are there, from the sideline mastermind (Dana Holgorsen) to the quarterback (Geno Smith) to the aggravating wideout who will make life miserable for opponents (Tavon Austin).

The only thing about the Mountaineers’ move from the Big East that appears difficult is simply remembering they’re in the Big 12. Most schools make conference shifts with some geographic rationale. It’s just kind of hard to associate West Virginia with, say, Texas Tech and Iowa State and Kansas.

No one in Morgantown, though, probably cares all that much. And it certainly would get a lot easier to think of West Virginia as Big 12 country if the Mountaineers make a run at a conference crown in their debut.

12. OHIO STATE

It’s time for another chapter in the Urban Legend, one that won’t be written immediately but should still have a solid start.

Indeed, Urban Meyer won’t be the one to deal with the unpleasant combination of a true freshman quarterback (Braxton Miller) and a defense, while strong, that just wasn’t up to Ohio State’s lofty standards.

Well, much of that defense is back, and chances are good it will wind up back in that two-touchdowns-per-game territory Sir Sweater Vest’s Buckeyes teams specialized in. In turn, Miller’s only going to have to improve so much to get Ohio State back in eight- or nine-win territory.

But lo, who happens to be the coach? Meyer. And who happened to do quite nicely at Florida when he had a quarterback whose rushing was probably praised more than his passing for a good swath of his career? Meyer.

Before last year’s 6-7, the Buckeyes had rattled off six straight 10-win seasons. That’s the neighborhood Ohio State is used to living in. It’s the neighborhood Meyer is used to living in. And chances are, the Buckeyes will either get there or come awfully close to it very, very soon.

11. ARKANSAS

Hey look, it’s Clemson with a slightly better defense in a substantially better league. Which is to say, few teams are going to be more fun to watch this year than the Razorbacks.

And that’s not even including the endless supply of Bobby Petrino jokes certain to be made after his ill-advised motorcycle exploits.

In all seriousness, the Razorbacks probably have just about as perfect ranking right where they’re at. It’s not because of an explosive offense with two Heisman Trophy candidates. It’s not because of a leaky defense, because in reality Arkansas’ D is solid enough.

It’s because the Razorbacks are a glistening 19-0 against teams outside the top 10 over the last two years. They’ve lost one game to an unranked team over the last three years. They’re 2-5 against the top 10 in the same span.

There are two, maybe three, opponents that figure to be in the top 10 when Arkansas faces them this season. Sounds like another 10-2 regular season and a solid bowl, but make no mistake the trip there will immensely amusing thanks to the high-powered offense and the wild card that is John L. Smith on the sideline.

Patrick Stevens

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