Time to get to the projected ACC and Big Ten champs, along with a couple SEC East powers …
Denard Robinson is the answer. What, exactly, was the question?
That is the general theme when looking at the Wolverines, at least outside of the Ann Arbor vicinity. Robinson is one of the sport’s most high-profile players, and his multifaceted skill set will make Michigan a dangerous offense in the Big Ten.
But there’s more to the Wolverines, a lot more. And that’s why they belong, if not in the top 10, then certainly quite close to it.
Brady Hoke could have had a better debut, but probably not by much. The Wolverines won their first six games. They beat Ohio State. They won their bowl game. The disconnect that existed, fairly or not, between fans and former coach Rich Rodriguez was significantly repaired.
Hoke and Michigan exceeded expectations last year, even if there wasn’t a victory over Michigan State to show for it. An 11-win bar will be difficult to trump, especially if the Wolverines fall like most folks expect when they face Alabama in the season opener. But things are headed in the right direction, and Michigan has as good a chance as anyone to win their division and advance to the league title game.
9. FLORIDA STATE
You can’t knock Jimbo Fisher’s strategy to return Florida State to the top of the ACC.
Here it is, succinctly: Step one: Amass more talent than nearly everyone else in the league. Step two: Profit.
At this stage, the Seminoles are vastly more talented than everyone in the ACC except for Clemson and Virginia Tech. Fisher, now in his third year as Bobby Bowden’s successor, has built his program in the manner befitting eventual national champions in this (and many other) eras – with a deep and ferocious defensive line as the cornerstone to high-level success.
So what’s the hold-up in anointing the Seminoles an obvious national title contender again? Well, they do have to contend with Clemson in what figures to be an early-season shootout. And a Thursday night trek to Virginia Tech will be difficult.
But let’s not forget something else: Fisher is still going through his learning curve as a head coach. The Seminoles lost at home as a double-digit favorite to North Carolina in 2010. They surprisingly fell to Wake Forest and Virginia last year. Most would agree those were games that, on paper, Florida State should have won.
But that’s the sort of thing maturity as a coach can fix. Well, that, and the sort of substantial talent divide the Seminoles enjoyed during their first decade in the ACC. If both of those develop this year, watch out; Florida State will have a shot of playing in the season’s final game.
Danny O’Brien probably isn’t going to be Russell Wilson, and that’s OK for the Badgers aka Quarterback Transfer U.
They still have arguably the nation’s top tailback (Montee Ball) and a gigantic, efficient offensive line.
They have one of the most favorable paths into a conference title game of anyone, what with Ohio State ineligible, Penn State both gutted and ineligible, and Purdue, Illinois and Indiana being, well, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana.
Are the Badgers perfect? Nope. There’s probably a loss or two lurking somewhere along the way (at Nebraska and at home against Michigan State or Ohio State are the likeliest candidates). There’s also a real possibility of a third straight Rose Bowl trek.
The Badgers are sort of like a Midwestern version of Virginia Tech – about as reliable a team as there is, and a program that was built up in the early 1990s by an exceptional coach who was given time to construct something out of nearly nothing. They’ll do what they always do, which is pound teams repeatedly with their physicality on both sides of the ball. Oh, and they’ll win. A lot.
7. SOUTH CAROLINA
Much like Florida State, the Gamecocks possess the sort of defensive line that permits them to seriously be discussed as a national title possibility.
The return of Marcus Lattimore should, in theory, help South Carolina enjoy another strong season running the ball. Of course, the Gamecocks did fine without him for the most part after he was injured last season.
They also face the sort of schedule to provide a reason to pause.
South Carolina faces Arkansas and Louisiana State. They have division games against Florida and Georgia. They finish at Clemson. They do have the benefit of playing perhaps their two most winnable division games on the road (and face Missouri and Tennessee in the Palmetto State as a result).
One thing’s for sure. It would be incredibly fun if the Gamecocks are a serious title contender deep into November. The sport gets a boost when Steve Spurrier is firing his barbs from a relevant team, and this might be his most relevant bunch since 2001 Florida. Media, get your tape recorders ready, especially if South Carolina heads into Baton Rouge on Oct. 13 at 6-0.
Hey, look everybody, Mark Richt has lost control of …
With the necessary reference to the Internet meme du jour out of the way, let’s be clear about something: Richt has what could be since the Bulldogs’ 2005 SEC champions.
At the least, they’ll have a chance to replicate that feat, even if tailback Isaiah Crowell won’t be a part of it. No matter, that won’t hurt the defense, which allowed more than 20 points just once in Georgia’s 10 victories.
Of course, when the defense was bad, it was ultra-costly. Georgia yielded 38.8 points per game in its four losses a year ago, and it simply needs to be better against the likes of Louisiana State and South Carolina.
Georgia won’t see Louisiana State (or Alabama or Arkansas, for that matter) until at least the SEC title game. Gifted with crossover games against Auburn (tricky, to be sure) and Ole Miss, the Bulldogs won SEC scheduling roulette relative to South Carolina (faces Arkansas and Louisiana State) and Florida (faces LSU) and might emerge as the East Division’s best shot of ending a three-year drought in the league title game.