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College FB Conference + Nat'l Championship Forecasts
by ASA - 08/27/2008
Play on Wake Forest (+650)
Do you realize that the Demon Deacons are 20-7 the last two seasons? Only 12 teams have more than 20 wins over the past two seasons so that puts Wake Forest in some pretty good company. Wake Forest is definitely not known as a football powerhouse and its record over the last few years would most likely come as a surprise to most.
The Demon Deacons had a decent defense last year allowing 23 points per game (35th nationally) and they should definitely improve on that number with nine starters returning. They should have one of the best secondaries in the ACC as all four regulars are back. Their two starting corners, Alphonso Smith and Brandon Ghee, might be the best duo on the league.
On offense, Wake Forest returns starting quarterback Riley Skinner, who completed 72 percent of his passÂ¬es for 2,200 yards in 2007. It also brings back leading rusher Josh Adams. The line is a bit of a question mark with three new starters. However, all three have some experience and two are upperclassmen.
The Demon Deacons get Clemson at home but must travel to Florida State, which is their toughest ACC road game. They skirt Virginia Tech, the ACC favorÂ¬ite, and have a great shot to win the ACC Atlantic Division. Jim Grobe is truly one of the top coaches in America and weâ€™re getting very nice value here with Wake at 6.5-to-1.
Play on TexasTech (+800)
This will be Texas Techâ€™s best opportunity to win the Big 12 since its creation back in 1996. The Red Raider offense should be fantastic with 10 starters back from a unit that put up 41 points per game last year (7th nationally). Tech brings back one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in Graham Harrell. He led the country in passing last year and connected on almost 72 percent of his throws.
Harrell will be throwing to perhaps the best wide receiver in college football in Michael Crabtree. The sophomore phenom led the country in receptions (134), receiving yards (1,962) and receiving touchÂ¬downs (22) last season. We think itâ€™s safe to say that the Red Raiders will put up huge offensive numbers in 2008.
That brings us to the defense. Will it be able to do its part to bring a conference title to Lubbock? We think so. Texas Tech returns eight starters from a defensive unit that actually led the Big 12 in overall defense over the final eight games of last season. Ruffin McNeill is the new defensive coordinator but heâ€™s not really that new. He actually led this defense over the final eight games of last season and you can see the results were very good. With the offense putting up big numbers, the stop unit will have to be adequate to give them a shot. It should be much better than adequate.
The Big 12 South obviously presents some problems, mainly powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas. However, we believe the 8-to-1 odds could give you a nice bang for your buck with a very good Texas Tech team.
Play on Pittsburgh (+500)
Head Coach Dave Wannstedt has compiled a lot of talent at Pittsburgh and we believe this is the year it will show. Similar to last yearâ€™s Big East champ ConÂ¬necticut, not a whole lot is expected of the Panthers and they will sneak up on teams in 2008.
The Panthers passing game struggled last year averagÂ¬ing just 178 yards per game. Expect that total to go up significantly this year. Why? First of all, Wannstedt knows and has stated they need to open it up more on offense this year.
Secondly, Bill Stull is back under center at quarterÂ¬back. Pittsburgh had high hopes for Stull last year but they were thwarted in the first game of the season. Stull was 14-of-20 for 177 yards in the opener when his season ended due to a thumb injury. Heâ€™s back at 100 percent and should make a world of difference offensively.
If the Panthers can get at least an average passing game, they will be very tough on offense as running back LeSean McCoy proved he is one of the best backs in the nation last season.
The Pittsburgh defense struggled early last season but rebounded to allow 17 points or less in four of its last six games. The Panthers get two of the three conference favorites â€“ West Virginia and Rutgers â€“ at home so their schedule could be an advantage. This team beat the Mountaineers 13-9 on the road to conclude last season. It also ended West Virginiaâ€™s hope of playing in the national championship game, which it would have played in had it simply beat Pittsburgh at home. Watch Pittsburgh carry that momentum into the 2008 season and make a run at the Big East Title.
Play on Ohio state (+125)
Normally we like taking teams with a bit longer odds to give us a chance for a better return on investment. However, in the Big 10 we simply feel that the BuckÂ¬eyes are head and shoulders above the rest of the league right now.
Head Coach Jim Tressel has won outright or shared three straight Big Ten Titles. His conference record over that time is 22-2. The Buckeyesâ€™ only conference losses since 2005 came at Penn State in â€™05 and at home versus Illinois last year. Both were by a mere touchdown.
Ohio Stateâ€™s scariest conference games this year come at Wisconsin and at Illinois. If the Buckeyes split those two, at worst, they should still win the Big 10 as we donâ€™t see anybody running the table this year. Quarterback Todd Boeckman is very solid and exÂ¬perienced but donâ€™t be surprised if Ohio State uses all-everything freshman Terrell Pryor much the way Florida used Tim Tebow a few years ago.
That will only add to the Buckeyesâ€™ offensive firepowÂ¬er, which already includes running back Chris Wells, who ran for over 1,600 yards last year. Ohio State averaged just less than 31 points per game in conference play last year. That number should rise in 2008.
The Buckeye defense should again be stellar. It allowed 17 points or less in every Big Ten game but one last year (Illinois). With 18 starters back from last year, we see no reason Ohio State wonâ€™t find itself at the top of the heap in the Big Ten once again.
Play on USC (+300)
Can you really bet against USC in this spot? The fact that we get the Trojans at 3-to-1 odds is a steal to be honest. This team has won SIX consecutive Pac-10 titles and they will make it seven in 2008. The TroÂ¬jans have now amazingly racked up 44 Pac-10 wins in their last 49 games.
While USC brings back only four starters on offense, Pete Carroll has this team stocked with great NFL-caliber athletes that will step in with very little, if any, drop off. Quarterback Mark Sanchez had a nice spring and itâ€™s not like he is completely green. He did throw for almost 700 yards last season.
The Men of Troy did lose starting running back Chauncey Washington but they have three regulars back in Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and C.J. GaÂ¬ble. Those three combined to gain nearly 1,400 yards â€“ at just less than seven yards per carry â€“ in relief of Washington last year. Donâ€™t cry for USC.
The defense will be outstanding again. Both the linebacking corps and the secondary will be among the best Carroll has coached.
USC gets the other two conference favorites, Arizona State and Oregon, at home, where itâ€™s 39-1 SU in its last 40 games. The Trojansâ€™ first three Pac-10 road games are at Washington State, at Arizona and at Stanford, which are all games they should win. Their only other conference roadie is at UCLA to end the season. Weâ€™ll take USC to win the Pac 10 AGAIN.
Play on Auburn (+250)
The SEC West is definitely the easier side of the conÂ¬ference this year. Beyond LSU and maybe Alabama, no other team should really have a shot. Auburn is very talented, as usual, but its schedule is a big reason why we picked the Tigers to win the SEC this seaÂ¬son. Their conference road games are at Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and then at rival Alabama. Those are all winnable games for the Tigers.
They return their entire offensive line and most of their defense. They must replace quarterback BranÂ¬don Cox but that might not be a bad thing. Last year Cox completed just 59 percent of his passes and threw 13 interceptions compared to just nine touchdowns.
New Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin came over from Troy and has introduced the spread. If the TiÂ¬gers can come up with a potent passing attack, watch out. Their running back stable is deep and talented. We think their 24-point-per-game average will rise toward 30 this year.
The defense was in the top 10 nationally in many categories last year and will be outstanding again this season. Since 2004, this Auburn team has two first-place finishes and two second-place finishes in the SEC West. Its conference record is 26-6 during that span. With a schedule that plays right into their hands, we look for the Tigers to win the SEC.
Play on Ohio State (+1200)
How can you not consider the Buckeyes at 12-to-1 odds? This team has been in the national champiÂ¬onship game two consecutive years. Granted they have lost both games in ugly fashion, but they have been there. And at 12-to-1, if Ohio State can simply get to that game, you can then play around and do some hedging to make sure you make a nice profit.
This is a veteran team that has been fueled by its national title game embarrassments the last two years. The Buckeyes bring back 18 starters from a team that has dominated the Big Ten the past few seasons. They are 22-2 in their last 24 conference games and have won three straight Big Ten titles.
The defense should be in the top few in the naÂ¬tion. It brings nine starters back from a team that finished first in the country in scoring, passing and overall defense in 2007. Quarterback Todd BoeckÂ¬man returns with a full year under his belt and he has a veteran offensive line to operate behind.
Scheduling is always a key when trying to hone in on potential national championship contenders. The Buckeyes do play at USC Sept. 13, which will be a very tough game to pick up a win. Even if they lose to the Trojans, itâ€™s early enough to rebound. One key to making the big game is if you are going to lose, do it early. That would be the case here.
Ohio State should navigate the Big Ten rather easÂ¬ily with its toughest spots at Illinois and at WisconÂ¬sin. If the Buckeyes win the conference again, there is a great chance they will be playing for another national title. We canâ€™t pass on Ohio State at these odds.