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Athlon makes its second-half predictions for 2013.
With the first half of the 2013 season finished, it’s time to take a peek at what the second half of the college football season has in store.
There’s no shortage of second-half storylines, as the coaching carousel will continue to spin and upsets are bound to happen, which will alter the national title picture.
The SEC has eight ranked teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. Will that continue? Alabama is a heavy favorite to win the national championship, but South Carolina, Georgia, Florida or Missouri would be a worthy challenger in the SEC title game.
Outside of the SEC, Ohio State and Oregon hope to finish unbeaten for a shot at the national championship. Both teams have already passed a huge test, while the Ducks have a showdown with Stanford coming up on Nov. 7.
Anything can happen in the next seven weeks, but here are 10 predictions for the second half of the season, as well as predicted champions for each conference.
10 Predictions for the Second Half of College Football’s 2013 Season
1. The SEC will win another title
It’s not exactly a ground-breaking revelation, but the odds are in favor of the SEC closing out the BCS era with an eighth consecutive national title. Alabama, while maybe not as dominant as last season, is still the best team in the nation. Not too far behind the Crimson Tide is LSU, Texas A&M and a four-team race in the SEC East. With a favorable schedule, South Carolina has to be the favorite in the East, but don’t count out Florida, Georgia or Missouri. The depth of the SEC could hurt its national title prospects if the East champion has one loss and beats Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship – assuming there are two unbeaten teams from BCS conferences. Oregon or Ohio State would be an intriguing matchup against Alabama, but the odds favor the Crimson Tide to make it eight in a row for the SEC.
2. Louisville will finish the regular season unbeaten
You can complain about the Cardinals’ strength of schedule, but let’s not lose sight of the fact this is one of the top 10-12 teams in the nation. Louisville has cruised to a 6-0 start and should finish the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record. Games against UCF and Cincinnati won’t be easy, but behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a defense allowing just 7.3 points a game, the Cardinals finish 12-0.
3. Miami will play for the ACC Championship
Finally. After joining the league in 2004, Miami will represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship this season. Despite a cloud of NCAA uncertainty, the Hurricanes have made steady progress under coach Al Golden. Miami is 5-0 heading into a Thursday night matchup against North Carolina, with two huge showdowns remaining against Florida State and Virginia Tech. A season-ending matchup against Pittsburgh in late November could be tough, but Miami’s schedule sets up for a 10 or 11-win season. Barring an upset loss or a defeat to Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes should represent the Coastal Division in Charlotte in early December.
4. No BCS bowl for Notre Dame
A year after playing for the national championship, Notre Dame will miss out on a BCS bowl. The Fighting Irish already have two losses, leaving no margin for error the rest of the year to get to 10-2 and back into BCS consideration. The upcoming schedule isn’t overwhelmingly difficult, but Notre Dame still has to play USC, Stanford, BYU and Pittsburgh. It’s unlikely the Fighting Irish escape those four games with a 4-0 mark. Although Notre Dame doesn’t have a direct bowl tie-in this year, it should have no trouble finding a landing spot, especially if (as projected by most) some of the BCS conferences fail to fill all of their allotted spots.
5. Mack Brown won’t return to Texas for 2014
Regardless of how Texas finishes this year, the Longhorns will have a new coach on the sidelines in 2014. After last week’s win against Oklahoma, Texas is in the driver’s seat to win the Big 12 title. But the Longhorns still have to play TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor. After losing to Ole Miss and BYU, along with barely escaping at Iowa State, it’s hard to bank on Texas playing the rest of the Big 12 slate with the same effort we saw against Oklahoma. With good friend and athletic director DeLoss Dodds stepping aside, it seems unlikely Brown would want to work for someone else and will call it quits at the end of 2013.
6. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will win the Heisman
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s Jameis Winston will make a run at Mariota, but the sophomore will claim the first Heisman in Oregon’s program history. Through six games, Mariota is completing 60.6 percent of his throws, has 17 touchdown tosses with no interceptions and is averaging 287.3 passing yards a game. The sophomore also has 426 yards and eight scores on the ground. As long as Mariota keeps up his current pace and Oregon wins out, it’s hard to see another candidate passing him for the No. 1 spot this December.
7. Florida State’s Jameis Winston will get invited to New York for the Heisman
For the second year in a row, a freshman will get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel made it last season, and Florida State’s Jameis Winston is on track to fly to the Big Apple in December. Even if the Seminoles finish 10-2 or 11-1, it’s hard to find a flaw in Winston’s resume. The freshman is already one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and can take Florida State from being a top-10 team to a national title contender in 2013 and in 2014.
8. There will be more than two unbeatens from BCS conferences
If you like chaos, then buckle up. There’s a good chance Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State all finish unbeaten this year, creating BCS chaos in December. But there’s more. The winner of Clemson/Florida State also has a chance to finish unbeaten, and Louisville is likely to finish 12-0. Alabama still has to play LSU and assuming they win the West Division, the champion from the East in the SEC title game. Ohio State’s schedule is very favorable, but the Buckeyes still need to get past rival Michigan (in Ann Arbor) in the season finale. Oregon passed one hurdle with a win at Washington and the trip to Stanford on Nov. 7 looms large in the national title picture. Upsets and injuries will happen, so it’s tough to predict what might happen in the next seven weeks. However, the guess here is Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State all finish unbeaten, creating a three-team discussion for the two spots in the national championship.
9. A team from a non-BCS conference will make a BCS Bowl
Whether it’s Fresno State or Northern Illinois, the odds of a team from a non-BCS conference making a BCS bowl are high. In a projected BCS standing after Week 7, both Fresno State and Northern Illinois were in the top 20. The Bulldogs will have a slight edge in overall resume, especially if they have a rematch with Boise State in the Mountain West title game. The Huskies have a favorable path until November, but a home date against Ball State and a road trip to Toledo won’t be easy. If both finish unbeaten, the edge should go to Fresno State.
10. One SEC head coach job will be open in December
Maybe this is a bit crazy, but we will guess one SEC job will open this offseason. A few SEC coaches will be in demand (perhaps James Franklin for Texas or USC?) for other jobs, and the NFL will have interest in Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. Who knows, every coaching cycle seems to produce one surprise. Let the speculation begin…
Bonus: No team finishes with an unbeaten record in Big 12 games
Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor are the only three unbeaten teams in Big 12 play after Week 7. Considering how difficult this conference was to project in the preseason, it’s hard to envision any team finishing Big 12 without a loss (or two) in league play. Don’t be surprised if a 7-2 record in Big 12 action wins the league.
ACC Coastal: Miami
ACC Atlantic: Clemson
ACC Champion: Clemson
Big 12: Baylor
Big Ten Leaders: Ohio State
Big Ten Legends: Nebraska
Big Ten Champion: Ohio State
C-USA East: Marshall
C-USA West: Rice
Conference USA Champion: Marshall
MAC East: Bowling Green
MAC West: Northern Illinois
MAC Champion: Northern Illinois
MW Mountain: Boise State
MW West: Fresno State
Mountain West Champion: Fresno State
Pac-12 North: Oregon
Pac-12 South: UCLA
Pac-12 Champion: Oregon
SEC East: South Carolina
SEC West: Alabama
SEC Champion: Alabama
Sun Belt: UL Lafayette
BCS Championship: Alabama over Oregon