Brief & Bold (and probably wrong) Predictions for the 2016 College Football Season
The 2016 college football season is rapidly approaching. Football will finally be back on our TV screens very soon and fans couldn’t be happier. Whether your a fan of the NCAA or the NFL, or both, football fans will finally be able to enjoy weekends again. And Blog 4 Dat is looking at the upcoming college season and who should be reigning atop each conference in the FBS.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
The American Athletic Conference, or AAC, is still on the outside looking in at the “Power 5” conferences. But last season, the AAC had three teams, Temple, Navy, and Houston, finished 7-1 in conference and with 10 or more wins overall. Outside of these three teams, the conference is pretty weak though. Teams like Tulane, UCF, ECU, SMU, and Connecticut will continue to bring the conference down overall. I look for the same three teams to compete for the top spot and Houston being the one team that may be able to break through the glass ceiling and challenge a major competitor.
CONFERENCE WINNER: Houston
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Temple
MOST IMPROVED: Tulsa
Clemson came out of the ACC last year to finish second to Alabama after a loss in the National Championship game. This follows a successful run from Florida State and great seasons from North Carolina, Duke, and even Virginia. Big programs like Miami and Virginia Tech have many unanswered questions with changes to the programs. And the usual bottom-feeders like Boston College, Wake Forest, and Syracuse should remain where they are. The ACC is Clemsons for the taking and they should end up back in the National Championship picture.
CONFERENCE WINNER: Clemson
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Pittsburgh
MOST IMPROVED: NC State
The Big XII is going through some changes and eyeing a few teams to add to their conference. But it will be the same 10 teams that compete this year and the conference title is up in the air. Baylor has been in a ton of trouble this offseason and I believe that will affect their on-field product. Texas is still in rebuilding mode. Oklahoma State seems to falter when the moment gets too big. Kansas State does the same too. And I believe TCU is headed for a letdown season. That leaves Oklahoma to win the title and hopefully for them they don’t implode in a big moment. And even if they win the Big XII championship, I don’t believe in them enough to have them in the National Championship playoff.
CONFERENCE WINNER: Oklahoma
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: TCU
MOST IMPROVED: Texas
The Big Ten title should be between four teams this year: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa. Ohio State however will have to figure out their QB position, opening the door for one of the other three teams to jump above them. These four teams will be at the top of the conference again with teams like Penn State, Nebraska, and Wisonsin trying to play spoiler. And at the bottom teams like Rutgers, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana will just try to make it through a season in a tough conference. Maryland is the one team that I think can cause havoc and improved greatly upon their 1-7 conference record from a year ago. I don’t think they can win the conference championship, but they may knock one of the favorites out of contention.
CONFERENCE WINNER: Michigan
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Iowa
MOST IMPROVED: Maryland
I used to really like Conference USA and thought they were a competitive conference. Then, when conference expansion began, they were raided and the level of play dropped significantly. The conference has a lot of average to below average teams and I can only see three teams with a chance at being Conference USA champions: WKU, USM, and LA Tech. These three teams finished at the top of the conference last year and should remain atop an average conference. Marshall and Middle Tennessee State may give problems to WKU in their division, but that might be the only other teams to watch.
CONFERENCE WINNER: LA Tech
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: WKU
MOST IMPROVED: FIU
While not a conference, the FBS Independents are as much a part of the college football season as anyone. Army registered only two wins last year and I expect more of the same as they are always one of the worst teams in the FBS. BYU finished 9-4 in 2015 and had some very memorable moments. They are always a good team and one that can knock a championship contender out of the picture. And Notre Dame finished last year 10-3 and are always looking to break into the National Championship playoffs. UMASS also joins the Independents this year after playing as a member of the MAC last season and finishing with a 3-9 overall record. Look for them to improve now that their scheduling has opened up.
The MAC is usually the conference that gets our college football weekend started on Thursday nights. And while not the best college football has to offer, the MAC teams can put on some good games to get fans ready for the main course that follows on Saturdays. Last year, seven teams, BGSU, Ohio, Akron, Toledo, NIU, WMU, and CMU all finished with records above .500 in conference play. I don’t believe all of these teams will have the same success as some are sure to drop off slightly. But MAC heavyweights NIU are not going anywhere.
CONFERENCE WINNER: NIU
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Ohio
MOST IMPROVED: Buffalo
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
The Mountain West Conference has become largely forgotten after Boise State has taken a fall. The teams now at the top of the MWC, Air Force, New Mexico, SDSU, and Nevada, are not the same powerhouse teams like Boise State had been. They will not be the teams that can challenge a “Power 5” school at any moment. But as for the conference, these teams will be at the top again with Boise State hopefully challenging for the top spot once again.
CONFERENCE WINNER: SDSU
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Air Force
MOST IMPROVED: Colorado State
The PAC-12 grew a few years ago but there seems to be a lack of a truly dominating team after Oregon has seemed to slide downward a little. The Ducks are still the team to beat in the conference in my opinion, but will face challenges most likely from Stanford, UCLA and USC. UCLA has been a favorite in the conference for a few years now but seem to always hit a bump in the road every season. And USC, despite sanctions and coaching mishaps, seem to be on the rise once again. And while Stanford has been very good, I question how long they can stay at the top. But if any of these schools should fall, Utah is right behind them trying to break through.
CONFERENCE WINNER: Oregon
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: USC
MOST IMPROVED: Washington State
The SEC is still the top conference in all of the FBS and should prove it once again this year. Every team in the West division had a winning overall record and three of those teams, Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss could challenge for the conference championship. And Arkansas is just a step behind them. In the East, things are a little more open with Florida being the front-runner, but Tennessee and Georgia on their trail. I do believe the conference winner will come from the West division again and that winner will probably be back in the National Championship game again.
CONFERENCE WINNER: LSU
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Tennessee
MOST IMPROVED: Tennessee
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
The Sun Belt Conference has replaced Conference USA as my favorite to follow outside of the “Power 5” conferences. I like the conference more because it is centered closer to home for me with two teams, ULL and ULM, in my home state. But despite rooting for these teams to succeed, they are not at the top of the conference. ULL had a great run recently but they have been replaced by Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State. Arkansas State has built a good program that continues to improve while the other three schools have recently joined the FBS and made an immediate statement. Regardless of who finishes at the top, all of these programs have helped the Sun Belt become a great launching point for young programs looking to make a name in the FBS.
CONFERENCE WINNER: Georgia Southern
CONFERENCE RUNNER-UP: Georgis State
MOST IMPROVED: South Alabama
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.