Hard to believe that it is almost football season already, but the college football preview magazines arrived in my mailbox en masse over the last week. I always like to put the predictions side by side and see how they compare.
It doesn't look like there is much originality among the picks by Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and ESPN The Magazine this year. All three have the same exact top three teams: Alabama, Ohio State and Boise State. Alabama is, of course, the defending national champion and they have Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (pictured) returning, so it comes as no surprise the Crimson Tide are the consensus pick.
Here's what the different magazines had to say about the upcoming season:
National Top 10: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Boise State, 4. Texas, 5. TCU, 6. Iowa, 7. Florida, 8. Oregon, 9. Nebraska, 10. Virginia Tech.
Big Ten predictions: 1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0), 2. Iowa (11-1, 7-1), 3. Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2), 4. Penn State (9-3, 6-2), 5. Michigan State (8-4, 4-4), 6. Northwestern (8-4, 4-4), 7. Indiana (6-6, 2-6), 8. Michigan (5-7, 2-6), 9. Purdue (5-7, 2-6), 10. Illinois (4-8, 2-6), 11. Minnesota (2-10, 1-7).
MAC West predictions: 1. Northern Illinois (9-3, 7-1), 2. Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3), 3. Toledo (5-7, 5-3), 4. Western Michigan (5-7, 4-4), 5. Ball State (5-7, 3-5), 6. Eastern Michigan (0-12, 0-8).
The Sporting News
National Top 10: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Boise State, 4. Miami, 5. Florida, 6. TCU, 7. Nebraska, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Texas, 10. Oklahoma.
Big Ten predictions: 1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0), 2. Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1), 3. Iowa (9-3, 6-2), 4. Penn State (8-4, 5-3), 5. Purdue (8-4, 4-4), 6. Northwestern (8-4, 4-4), 7. Michigan State (6-6, 3-5), 8. Michigan (5-7, 3-5), 9. Illinois (3-9, 2-6), 10. Indiana (5-7, 1-7), 11. Minnesota (2-10, 1-7).
MAC West predictions: 1. Northern Illinois (9-3, 7-1), 2. Central Michigan (7-5, 6-2), 3. Western Michigan (4-8, 3-5), 4. Ball State (5-7, 3-5), 5. Toledo (3-9, 3-5), 6. Eastern Michigan (1-11, 1-7).
ESPN The Magazine
National Top 10: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Boise State, 4. Oklahoma, 5. Florida, 6. Texas 7. TCU, 8. Miami, 9. Nebraska, 10. Iowa.
Big Ten predictions: 1. Ohio State, 2. Iowa, 3, Wisconsin, 4. Penn State, 5. Michigan State, 6. Northwestern, 7. Purdue, 8. Michigan, 9. Minnesota, 10. Indiana, 11. Illinois.
MAC West predictions: None. The "cool kids" at ESPN were too busy conducting player surveys on the most annoying mascots in college football to offer any opinion on non-BCS conferences.
ESPN didn't include records with its Big Ten predictions either, which sucks. I think that's the most interesting part to analyze. For instance, both SI and TSN have Illinois at 2-6 in the Big Ten, but SI has the Illini at 4-8 overall while TSN has them at 3-9.
That tells me the smart people at TSN know Northern Illinois is going to be favored to win in Champaign on Sept. 18. NIU, not Illinois or Northwestern, is the best college football team in the state this year. The Huskies are the consensus pick to win the MAC West and with good reason. NIU has 17 starters back this season, including 11 who started at least six games on the No. 1 defense in the MAC last year. Look for the Huskies to go bowling in December.
Ditto Northwestern. Both SI and TSN have the Wildcats running the table in the non-conference portion of the schedule, which features home contests against Illinois State and Central Michigan, plus road games against Vanderbilt and Rice. Yeah, I can see Northwestern going 3-1 or 4-0 in those games. If Northwestern wins the games it is supposed to win in the Big Ten (Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois), that's going to spell a seven- or eight-win season for coach Pat Fitzgerald's team.
The prospects are a lot more grim down in Champaign. ESPN The Magazine points out that Ron Zook is counting on two new coordinators and a redshirt freshman quarterback to save his job. That spells trouble. I don't know that Illinois is going to be last in the league, but I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility. I agree with the TSN prediction of 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the league, with wins over Southern Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. However, 1-11 and 0-8 would not shock me in the least.
SI says Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is on the hottest seat in the Big Ten. I'll buy that, but only because the football tradition is far greater in Ann Arbor than the tradition in Champaign. Zook's seat is very hot. In fact TSN's Matt Hayes predicts Rodriguez, Zook and Minnesota's Tim Brewster will all get fired at season's end.
None of that would surprise me. I'm actually glad Zook is facing a win-or-else season. He's never made a believer out of me. If the Illini fail this year, it's going to be time to move on to the next head coach for sure.