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College Football Predictions

With games starting tonight, it's time for my annual predictions - college this week, NFL next week.

Don't be surprised if ...

  • LSU loses to either Mississippi State or Ole Miss at home.
    One of my predictions last year was that LSU would lose a game in which it was favored and win a game in which it was an underdog. That came to pass when the Tigers lost at Ole Miss but beat Texas A&M at home. This year, LSU has an even younger team with no experience to speak of at QB. That means inconsistent play. Ole Miss has its most talented team in some time and is predicted by many to finish ahead of LSU in the West. And the law of averages may catch up with the Tigers in regard to Mississippi State, whom they've beaten 14 times in a row.

  • LSU beats Alabama.
    No, this isn't a contradiction to the previous prediction. By November 8, both young QBs will have nine games of experience. The Tigers have the week off before the clash (although Bama does too). The Tide's QB situation is uncer­tain also. Tiger Stadium will be jumping. Miles & Company remember how close they came to an upset two years ago when A. J. McCarron led a last minute winning drive. Saban doesn't have a McCarron under C this year.

  • LSU's string of four consecutive double-digit win seasons ends.
    Les Miles and his staff will do well to coax nine wins out of this team. Four losses ends any hope of ten wins. Back-to-back games at Auburn and Flori­da will probably produce two of those defeats. A loss to Wisconsin in the opener will make it hard to get ten wins with the conference schedule still ahead. Defeat the Badgers and the Tigers might get to ten wins with a bowl victory.

  • The winner of the Georgia-South Carolina game in Week 2 wins the SEC.
    Predicting the UGa-SC winner captures the East crown is not going out on a limb. But taking the victor to win the Championship Game is a bold choice.

  • Auburn doesn't finish in the Top Ten.
    The Tigers were the biggest surprise of 2013. But their last two wins came on freak plays. One Georgia defender was ready to intercept or at least knock down the desperation pass when a teammate knocked it from him into the arms of the Auburn receiver. Nick Saban and his staff made numerous coaching mistakes in the Iron Bowl, including lobbying for a second to be put back on the clock and sending in the FG unit instead of throwing a Hail Mary. Of course, Auburn might still have won in OT. Also, the week before AU played in Baton Rouge September 21, Nick Marshall came off the bench and led a last ditch drive that culminated in a winning TD pass with 0:10 left. All in all, last season had enough breaks go Auburn's way to last a lifetime. Fur­thermore, opponents have had the entire off-season to study video of Gus Malzahn's offense.

  • UCLA wins the Pac-12 and makes the College Football Playoff.
    This is my surprise Final Four participant. Jim Mora's Bruins have gone from nine wins his first year to ten last year. He has 16 returning starters including, best of all, QB Brett Hundley, who decided to come back for another year despite being eligible for the NFL draft.

  • At most one team nationally goes undefeated.
    Only one squad, Florida State, finished the regular season unblemished last year. With eight SEC teams, including Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia, deploying new QBs, it is highly likely no team in the nation's tough­est league will emerge without a loss. With the exception of FSU, no squad in any other conference seems capable of running the table. And I wouldn't be surprised if the Seminoles dropped a game along the way - hence the "at most one" in my prediction.
Interesting Facts

LSU has the current FBS record of 45 consecutive victories in regular season non-conference games.

Which team has the second longest streak? Wisconsin, with 29. The Badgers have also won 16 straight season openers.

Something has to give Saturday night.

Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview

Other Preview Magazine Summaries

The number in front is where Phil thinks the team will finish in the final poll. The number in parentheses is his Power Rating (strength of squad) for the team.

  1. Florida State (1)
  2. Alabama (2)
  3. Ohio State (7)
  4. Oklahoma (5)
  5. UCLA (3)
  6. Oregon (4)
  7. Georgia (8)
  8. Baylor (9)
  9. Auburn (6)
  10. South Carolina (10)
  11. Michigan State (15)
  12. USC (11)
  13. Wisconsin (24)
  14. TCU (18)
  15. LSU (14)
  16. Ole Miss (13)
  17. Notre Dame (20)
  18. North Carolina (17)
  19. Marshall (36)
  20. Stanford (12)
  21. Central Florida (35)
  22. Boise State (50)
  23. Clemson (23)
  24. Florida (19)
  25. Texas (16)

Rankings Players Eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft

  • Top 30 Guards
    #14 Vadal Alexander LSU
  • Top 30 Tackles
    #5 La'el Collins LSU
    #22 Jerald Hawkins LSU
  • Top 30 DE's
    #22 Jermauria Rasco LSU
  • Top 30 CB's
    #12 Jalen Collins LSU
  • Top 15 FS's
    #2 Jalen Mills LSU
  • Top 15 SS's
    #5 Ronald Martin LSU

Preseason All-American team

  • 3rd team OT La'el Collins LSU
  • 2nd team LS Reid Ferguson LSU

Top Individual Units

  • LSU #16 RBs
  • LSU #12 O line
    Unlike a couple of the units ahead of team, LSU had a statue for a QB (-133 rush) so their 202 ypg (5.0) and 7.7% sacks were impressive. That unit had just 30 career starts. This year they lose their RG but have 9 of the top 10 back.
  • LSU#23 D-line
  • LSU #11 LBs
  • LSU #7 DBs
    LSU is normally in the top 10 of my Pass Defense Ratings but last year with an overall young defense dropped to #28 (pretty good for a bad year!) ... They get 6 of the top 8 back and there are 9 Very Highly Touted's in the unit.
  • LSU #36 Special Teams

Teams Going Up (79% chance of better or same record than 2013 because of easier schedule)

  • #2 Mississippi State
  • #10 Florida
  • #10 Georgia
  • #17 Alabama

Teams Going Down (84% chance of weaker or same record than 2013 because of stronger schedule)

  • #11 Auburn
  • #20 Florida State
  • #20 Vanderbilt

2014 Surprise Teams - teams with the best chance of finishing higher than preseason polls predict (Florida State was his #1 in 2013)

  1. Georgia
    I really like DC Jeremy Pruitt's attitude on defense and keep in mind he has coached on the last 3 National Champ teams ... and could make it four in a row here.
  2. USC
  3. Wisconsin
    Has my #3 rated OL and #4 set of RB's and should have improved QB play this year. ... If they knock off LSU they could be favored in all their other games ...
  4. TCU
  5. North Carolina
  6. Ole Miss
    This is a talented Ole Miss squad capable of breaking through.
  7. Iowa
  8. LSU
    Last year ... the LSU Tigers were a young team and not rated in the Top 10 in the preseason and lived up to that by going 10-3 and finishing #14. They once AGAIN had a ton of players leave for the NFL and don't figure to be preseason Top 10 again, especially when you factor in drawing Florida out of the East, Wisconsin on the non-conf schedule while playing Auburn and Texas A&M on the road and Alabama at home. They were also the first team in SEC history to have a 3,000 yd passer, two 1,000 yd rec's and a 1,000 yd RB and this year all FOUR depart! Still this is LSU and they have talent like true frosh RB Leonard Fournette (my #1 RB out of high school) and there are only 4 games I do not have them favored but one is even, two they are a FG or less dog and 1 a TD dog so all fall into the winnable category. Let's face it, if you are making a Surprise Team list of potential National Title contenders not ranked in the Top 10 and the Tigers are not ranked in the Top 10, you put them on it!
  9. Virginia Tech
  10. Texas
  11. Florida
    They have my #4 rated defense in the FBS and should have a much improved offense with QB Jeff Driskel fitting well with new OC Kurt Roper's offense.
  12. Notre Dame
  13. Northwestern (long shot)

2014's Most Improved Teams

  1. TCU
  2. Florida
  3. Northwestern
  4. Air Force
  5. Nevada
  6. Louisiana Tech
  7. Memphis
  8. Tennessee
  9. N. C. State
  10. Army
  11. Akron
  12. Indiana
Phil Steele's SEC Predictions
SEC West SEC East
  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Ole Miss
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Arkansas
  1. Georgia
  2. South Carolina
  3. Florida
  4. Missouri
  5. Tennessee
  6. Kentucky
  7. Vanderbilt

LSU forecast
My main set of power ratings calls LSU the 4th strongest team in the SEC, but they are just .08 behind Mississippi. ... LSU always loses a lot of talent so despite just 12 ret st'rs, the fact that they host Bama makes them a legitimate west Title contender.

QBs - No matter who wins the job, they won't match the accuracy or the deep ball of Mettenberger.
RBs - LSU's backfield is usually 5 or 6 deep with Very Highly Touted RB's. ... The top 4 RB's [in 2013] rushed for 2,680 (6.3) but they lose Hill, Copeland and Alfred Blue. They do add in PS #1 true frosh Leonard Fournette.
Receivers - LSU always has receivers with solid size and speed but spotty QB play has held down their production as of late. ... It will be tough to replace [Beckham and Landry's] talent and production (understatement of the year) despite the addition of PS#1 Malachi Dupre.
O-line: This could be the best OL that Miles has fielded.
LBs: The Tigers are more experienced and will stop their negative defensive ppg trend the last two years (11.3, 17.5, 22.0).
DBs: Last year was a highly unusual season as no LSU DB's were selected to the All-SEC team. That will change in '14 with 6 of the top 8 back.
Coaches: In the 111 years prior to Les Miles' arrival, LSU had double-digit wins just 7 times. He's done it 7 times in his 9 yrs.
Bottom line: This is still another strong LSU team and they host Alabama and are a title contender.

Quotes
  • College Football Playoff: For more than a decade I had been calling for a system which pits the #1 vs #4 and #2 vs #3 teams in the Jan 1 bowls and the addition of a Title Game a week or two later ...
    I completely understand why some are hesitatnt about a 4-team playoff, feeling that it will lead to an 8-team playoff then to the 16-team playoff. I could not agree more that an 8 or 16-team playoff would be very harmful and in the end bad for college football. ...
    The one thing I love about college football is, of all the other sports, college or pro, the regular season of college football is the one that MEANS THE MOST. ... No other sport with an expanded playoff system can say that. College basketball's regular season big bames really mean ABSOLUTELY nothing, as it only matters what you do in the tournament. If the #1 team loses in college basketball, they would still get a spot in the March Madness tournament ... and it only matters what you do in those final 6 games. ... Just this past March the "National Championship Game" was a battle between a Connecticut team that finished the regular season #21 and a Kentucky team that was UNRANKED at the end of the regular season!
    The current FCS Playoff format (lately expanded from 20 to 24 teams), which many people want the FBS to eventually go to, has its flaws as well. From '06-'10, the THIRD place finisher in the South DIVISION of the Colonial League had played in the National Title Game twice. In most years the FCS playoffs turn into a battle of attrition. Many times in a battle that extends the year by 4 or 5 extra games on top of the regular season you see many key players get hurt. A couple of times the team I felt was the best team in the FCS got knocked out of the playoffs after injuries had taken their QB or a key player from that team out of the playoffs. The FCS champion in some years is not the best team but the one that stayed the healthiest in the playoffs. ...
    By including these 2 or 3-loss #7 and #8 in the playoffs we would be watering down the regular season. This would force the #1 or #2 team to play an unnecessary game and turn it more into attrition than crowning a true champ.
By the Numbers - LSU
10
Points per game that LSU has won by in its three neutral site openers in the last four years.
2000 Last time LSU lost a non-conference home game (UAB)
14 Consecutive victories by LSU over Mississippi State
12 Times the home team has won in the last 14 years of the LSU-Auburn rivalry
1-3 LSU's record in their last four visits to Gainesville
4 Times in the last five LSU-Ole Miss meetings that the margin has been 7 points or less
8 Number of times in the last nine years that the LSU-Arkansas game has been decided by a TD or less
Paul Finebaum on Saban and Miles
Paul Finebaum
Tiger Rag's Jim Engster interview Paul Fine­baum of the new SEC Network. Finebaum for many years was a sports talk host in Mobile and then Birmingham.

On Saban leaving LSU for the Miami Dolphins
I have always wondered, and I would never dare bring this up to him. Had he stayed in Baton Rouge and been able to resist of temptation of Wayne Huizenga[Dolphins owner in 2004], there is no telling where Tiger football would be right now. It would have blown away college football. He loved Baton Rouge. I shouldn't say this too loudly. That was a slightly better fit than Tuscaloosa for him. There was something about Nick and Terry Saban and LSU football.

Why was Baton Rouge a better fit for Saban?
There is just something about Saturday night in Baton Rouge. ... He related to people down there. Alabama is a bit more suffocating. He walked in there in the shadow of Bear Bryant ... He has managed to either equal or surpass it.

Why was Saban a largely unknown journeyman when LSU hired him at age 48 in late 1999?
It took him awhile to get over himself. Nick Saban was a difficult person­ality when he arrived in Baton Rouge. He was so driven, and he still is. But I think he has learned at a certain age, you don't take the foot off the accelerator, but you are able to make better decisions because you are not such a hothead and you are not so possessed and you are not running over and trampling your assistant coaches and people around you. And he did that. I don't think he would deny it. It made it a little bit difficult for him at times.

Did Saban make LSU or did LSU make Saban?
He walked into a great situation in Baton Rouge. That program has always been right for greatness. LSU has sometimes gotten into its own way. I love the fans of Baton Rouge and of the LSU nation, but they are the toughest fans I have ever seen. They will eat you and spit you out so quickly. I think it's the culture of the people there. Saban embraced that, and he fed off it.

If you had one night to live, where would you go to a college football game?
I would say it is LSU and Alabama in Tiger Stadium. I have never seen anything like it. Two years ago, I walked out of the stadium [after the last minute Alabama victory] and I didn't hear a sound for 15 minutes. Before the game, I had never seen a crowd as intense or electric. I will never forget that scene.

How does Les Miles rank with his 95-24 record at LSU?
He won the biggest regular season game in my career. He had bad luck, having to play Alabama again with Jordan Jefferson as your QB. I really like him. People call him quirky and crazy, but I think there is a genius there. He has to win this game [Nov. 8 vs Alabama], though ... Alabama fans will stick with Saban through thick and thin. LSU fans are more like professional fans.

Baseball Tidbits
  • Like countless other Cardinal fans, I've wondered why OF phenom Oscar Taveras hasn't lived up to his billing after a few years of hype. (He's currently hitting .232 after being given the RF job following the trade of Allen Craig to the Red Sox.) This quote by manager Mike Matheny reveals the reason. He's got a lot of things he needs to improve on in every aspect of his game. There is a group of guys who are gonig to go about it with everything they've got. We need everyone else to be doing the same. That's a polite way of saying Oscar is lazy and doesn't work to improve.
  • Actor-director Ben Affleck is arguably the most famous Red Sox fan. However, his beloved team has lost 15 consecutive games on August 15, Ben's birthday. He said after this year's loss, At this point, I'm just glad my birthday isn't in October.
  • Saturday, August 16, the Rays, last in attendance in the AL for the third straight year, enjoyed their second sellout of the season at Tropicana Field. Did the fans turn out to see one of the hottest teams in baseball the last month? No, they came to see Derek Jeter and the Yankees. The cheers were loudest when Jeter hit a go-ahead single in the 9th to spark the 3-2 win. TB manager Joe Madden said afterward: It's great that it's sold out. And I understand the people like Derek Jeter. But you've got to come out and root for the Rays, too. ... I'm not gonig to sit here and defend all that noise in the Yankees' favor in our ballpark.
Saints in Fantasy Rankings

USA Today Sports Weekly's annual NFL Fantasy Rankings includes these Saints:

  • QB
    2 Drew Brees (behind Peyton Manning)
  • RB
    27 Pierre Thomas
    44 Mark Ingram
    64 Khiry Robinson
    77 Travaris Cadet
  • WR
    27 Marques Colston
    51 Brandin Cooks
    69 Kenny Stills
    92 Nick Toon
  • TE
    1 Jimmy Graham
  • Kicker
    13 Shayne Graham
  • Defense/Special Teams
    23 Saints

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About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. For most of the year, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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