2007: A Football Season in Review
Okay, so every sports magazine, website and writer makes all sorts of predictions in the summer, yours truly included. It's an obvious idea, and can be pretty easy to write (USC should be very good this year, Washington State not so much), unless you really try to examine teams in depth, like I do. But, and insert your metaphor here (My deceased grandfather's: if the queen was packin', she'd be the king. Not really sure how it relates, just like it.), at the end of the day, fans have every right to judge you on your accuracy. Now that the season's winding down, I figured it's a good time as any to put my feet to the fire and see just how well I did and take a look at Stanford, the Pac-10 and college football nation to note once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
First off, a word on preseason magazines, and no, the man isn't paying me for this: buy Phil Steele's publication. It's the most accurate and in-depth preseason magazine out there by orders of magnitude, and I've seen many sportswriters sneak it into press boxes underneath stacks of paper to lift material from it. Okay, first the Pac-10 standings, with ties broken by head-to-head result, then overall record:
Pac-10 Standings (Actual vs. Predicted)
Team Actual Media Yours Truly
USC 1 1 1
Arizona State 2 4 6
Oregon State 3 5 5
Oregon 4 6 3
UCLA 5 3 2
Arizona 6 7 7
Cal 7 2 4
Washington St. 8 8 8
Stanford 9 10 9
Washington 10 9 10
Total Error N/A 16 14
Biggest Pac-10 Disappointments: 1. Cal, 2. UCLA
If you average out Cal's first six weeks with their last six, you probably get the second- or fourth-place spot that we predicted, but only the last nine weeks count. And when they hit the tank, they hit the tank. UCLA always hits the tank, but we looked at their 20 returning starters and thought this might be the year. Hopefully the trend continues with Dorrell gone.
Biggest Pac-10 Surprises: 1. Arizona State, 2. Arizona
The biggest surprise was that there was no real surprise in a year where we slotted the average team less than two spots from their actual finish. The Arizona schools were the only two Pac-10 teams that beat both predictions, and it's not like Arizona State's 8-0 start against a creampuff slate (Hey, that includes us! Fire this Novinson kid!) was unexpected, though I did expect them to fade worse down the stretch.
Naa, naa, naa, naa, naa, naa:
Okay, a measly two points (adding up the differences between each team's predicted and actual finish) is well within the margin of error, but look, I beat the professionals. Hope their editors are reading. For those of you who don't remember every word of every article I've ever written (and really, shame on you), my Pac-10 predictions are here: http://stanford.scout.com/2/659338.html. I called every game as a win/loss and made a crazy prediction for each team. The predictions in particular tended to fall clearly into one of two categories:
Moments of Supreme Stupidity:
3. (On USC.) "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: The defense does not allow more than 20 points at home the entire season."
In my defense, take away Nebraska's three fourth-quarter touchdowns with USC ahead 42-10 (final: 49-31), and the most the Trojans allowed all season was 24, and I bet you can guess to whom. So not THAT far off.
2. "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: Bye, bye Ty. A god-ugly loss at Stanford is a microcosm of an ugly season that costs Willingham his job in his third year in Seattle."
In my defense, just substitute in "god-ugly win" and "his DC's job." But I really did think this would be the General's last year.
1. "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: The Bruins play USC close enough in the season finale to win over national respect and sneak into their first BCS bowl since the 1998 season."
USC 24, UCLA 7. Total yards: 437-168 USC. Final UCLA record: 6-7. No excuses here. I flat-out Charlie Weis-ed it.
Moments of Supreme Intelligence:
4. "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: The offense finishes in the middle of the Pac-10, but the defense finishes dead-last in the conference and allows teams like USC, UCLA, Cal and Oregon to put up some ugly, ugly numbers. The defense blows a double-digit lead or two and costs the Cougars a bowl bid in the final weeks."
USC hung 47. Oregon notched 53. The Cougars finished 2nd in scoring offense and 8th in total offense. Average that out and 5th's smack in the middle. Scoring D was 10th out of 10. The D blew leads, but none greater than a score, ala 2006. And, yup, Oregon State scored 52 in Game 11 on Nov. 17. With a win there, the 5-7 'Cougs would have been bowl-eligible at .500.
3. "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: Tennessee has major defensive issues; Cal has the best receivers in the nation; and the Vols embarrassed the Bears last year. This year's game is in Berkeley, so I say Cal returns the favor and hangs 40."
Cal 45, Tennessee 31. The preseason No. 15 Vols allowed four teams to crack the 40-point mark. In the 12-team SEC, they finished 9th in rush defense, 10th in scoring defense and 11th in pass defense and total defense.
2. "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: Arizona's top defense stonewalls the Ducks on a Thursday night in one of the conference's biggest upsets of the season."
Arizona 34, Oregon 24, in one of the country's biggest upsets of the season. To be fair, it wouldn't have happened without Dennis Dixon's injury, and no one could have predicted that.
1. "Crazy Prediction/Chance to Look Really Bad Six Months From Now: The Cardinal beats San Jose State, beats a Pac-10 bottom feeder or two (I say Washington) and comes out of nowhere to win one they really should not (say, Oregon State) in dramatic, fourth-and-game, 25-yard touchdown Sportscenter-highlight fashion. Memories of that game linger for months and give the fans reason to keep on believing after an otherwise unremarkable season."
One they really should not? Check. Dramatic, fourth-and-game, 25-yard touchdown Sportscenter-highlight fashion? Check. Yeah, Arizona, not Washington, and USC, not Oregon State, but what next? That it wasn't just a SportsCenter highlight, but a Pontiac Game Changing moment too? I'm happy to sign autographs in Maples, if you ask nicely.
God, it's always about you. What about the national picture?
Wow, that's creepy. You sound like my ex. But glad you asked…
Biggest National Surprise and Disappointment, All Rolled Into One:
The predictability in the Pac-10 standings mirrors the national landscape and the people that make money off college football couldn't dream it up better than this. They're having their cake and eating it too. Teams like Kansas, Missouri and Illinois come from varying degrees of nowhere, teams like Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC suffer varying degrees of shocking upset and, as these games and not the countless 40-point Oklahoma routs of the Baylors are most salient in our memories, we have this sense of complete chaos.
ESPN's College Gameday and Sports Illustrated feed the frenzy with their annual "any school can reach the top in this new era of college football" piece. (Every third week of October, like clockwork. It's my autumnal Punxsutawney Phil.) Come crunch time though, look who rises to the top: the big-name schools, with the fanbases to sell out bowl games and move the Neilson dials. (Well, except for Notre Dame. Don't think college football nation is shedding too many tears though.)
Just look at the BCS:
ACC: Virginia Tech
Big East: West Virginia
Big 10: Michigan
Big 12: Oklahoma
At-large: Ohio State
Television overlords, mid-December:
ACC: Virginia Tech
Big East: West Virginia
Big 10: Ohio State
Big 12: Oklahoma
(For the doubters it's http://stanford.scout.com/2/658501.html)
OK, so I called five of the six conference champions, and seven of the 10 BCS participants - before the season even started. (Of the remaining three, Georgia and Ohio State are hardly shockers and Illinois was a ticket-based, not football-based decision.) And half of our BootBoard probably did as well, I did nothing special here. The simple fact is that not that much changes at the top in this day-and-age of college football, which leads me to the following conclusion: Inertia's a mighty powerful force in college football. (I'm told it's like physics in that way.) So while the turnaround can be done and I'm all behind Team Eubanks (and that Harbaugh guy too), also try to listen to the "LongWinded" inside of you. At the end of the day, most of teams at the top stay at the top, and only a few from the field sneak their way into the party. Our first several steps were all solid, but remember that we're climbing a mighty tall mountain.
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