College football anyone’s guess

Published 5:05pm Saturday, August 25, 2012

Being a graduate of the University of Alabama, I admit to my partiality. At the same time, I try very hard to be fair when I’m writing professionally about college football. With that said, I don’t think the Crimson Tide will win the national championship this year. I’ve thought about this long and hard. I correctly predicted Alabama to win it all last year (although admittedly, I thought they would beat Oklahoma and not LSU in the national championship game), but it’s very difficult to pull off a repeat. I think this will be the year where the SEC sees an end to their impressive dominance as national champions.

Before getting upset, allow me to explain. I truly believe Alabama has a legitimate chance to repeat this year as national champions. They have one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Eddie Lacy should continue the proud tradition of outstanding running backs. But the defense lost so many great players. Sure, they have plenty of good players returning, but I don’t think they’ll be as good as last year’s bunch. Ultimately, my reasoning has less to do with talent and more to do with the all-important schedule.

For an SEC schedule, Alabama made out okay. They don’t have to play any of the SEC East’s toughest foes like Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. However, let’s not forget: this is still the SEC. Any SEC team necessarily has a difficult schedule because of the conference’s strength. As many Crimson Tide fans will remember, it’s incredibly difficult to finish the year undefeated when you’re playing in the SEC.
Somehow, I suspect LSU has spent a lot of time thinking about getting embarrassed in the national championship, and they’re the likely team to knock Alabama from their perch. Keep in mind, the game is at Death Valley. It’s a formidable task to win there, especially after you humiliated their team in a national championship game.

I didn’t pick LSU because I think Arkansas will upset them. Arkansas had the lead early on, but the Death Valley crowd rattled Arkansas and they faltered. While the Hogs will miss Bobby Petrino’s play calling (insert bad joke about not missing him for other reasons), they should have a healthy Knile Davis and they have the best quarterback in the SEC in Tyler Wilson. Combine those weapons with the home crowd advantage and I can see the Razorbacks pulling off the upset. In turn, I foresee Alabama beating Arkansas.

My pick for national champion is Oklahoma. My reasoning has a lot to do with schedule. Oklahoma lost only three games last year. One was a freakish, last-second blocked punt. Another loss was at the hands (and legs) of the one-man show and eventual Heisman trophy winner known as RGIII.

The only embarrassing loss they had was to Oklahoma State. Even if the Cowboys didn’t finish as national champions, they did have a very good team. Like Alabama, they lost a lot of great players. Oklahoma should be the better team this year.

While he may not be the cover model that Matt Barkley is, Landry Jones is one of the better quarterbacks in the nation. He, too, passed up the allure of the NFL Draft for a chance to return for a national championship. The fact that Oklahoma doesn’t have a difficult conference championship greatly aids such ambitions. Mike Stoops returning as defensive coordinator is a huge addition. Defense wins championships.

Another team I could see winning the championship is Florida State. While they would have to win the ACC conference championship game, their schedule would still be easier than that of Oklahoma. FSU gets Clemson and Florida at home and has to travel to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech. That’s the extent of their schedule. They have the youngest Stoops sibling, Mark, as their defensive coordinator and the top defensive line in the nation. Losing All-American Greg Reid will be hard to overcome and it may be the difference in a close game like the national championship.

Finally, the best I can say for Auburn is I do foresee a bowl game. Losing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is a tough blow, but the team still has talent. Also, don’t forget: Gene Chizik is 3-0 as a head coach in bowl games. So, I’m predicting they finish just above .500. Don’t blame me; blame the schedule.

Erich Hilkert is sports editor of the Atmore Advance. He can be reached at  368-2123 or by e-mail at sports@atmoreadvance.com

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