When your basketball team sucks, there really isn't much to get you through the dark days of not having college football. Luckily I have a dozen or so preseason predictions to fall back on and that's exactly what I've been doing the past month. You can take a look the recap of my preseason top-25 and my original Mountain West Conference predictions.
Today I take a look my 2006 5 surprise national championship contenders.
When I set out do this prediction, I took teams that were flying under the radar entering the season and decided to weed out the ones I thought were serious championship caliber teams. Basically I did this by referencing historical finishes, how well coached the team was and how much talent they had returning. These sleeper teams were not predicted to win the national championship, rather I felt they were capable of making some noise on the national scene. So with that said, let's see how I did.
A surprise only because of the way Michigan finished last season. Generally, they seem to always be a preseason favorite to finish in the top-5, however this year the Coaches Poll has them pegged at 15th to start the season.
What seems to derail Michigan every year is one inexcusably bad loss early on in the season that always throws them out of national championship contention. For all that he's accomplished at Michigan, Lloyd Carr has had difficulty putting together a truly great season (outside of their national championship one in 1997). Michigan won't win the national championship, but don't be surprised if they win the Big Ten and play in yet another Rose Bowl.
So close to predicting the rise of Michigan football. They had a great season, barely missed out on the national championship and played in the Rose Bowl. Yet like most years under Carr, Michigan could not put a truly great season together, ending 2006 on a two game losing streak. Frankly, I think Michigan performs far better as the underdog than they do as the favored team. They went into last season with one of their lowest rankings in recent memory and exploded onto the scene, demolishing Notre Dame in South Bend on their way to an 11-0 start.
Frank Beamer and the Hokies have put together some really good seasons over the past few years, but have never really been great. Last season wasn't any different, as V-Tech lost to Miami and FSU in two pivotal ACC games. This season however, they need to replace a lot on offense, but quarterback Sean Glennon should lead the Hokies into the 10-win zone and a possible stunner against a Miami program in disarray. If V-Tech can beat Miami at the Orange Bowl, don't be surprised if they're playing in the ACC Championship game come November. They probably aren't experienced enough to go undefeated, thus sliding into the #1 or #2 spot, but an 11-1 finish isn't out of the question.
The Hokies had a pretty solid 2005 campaign and entered last season replacing much of their offense. Virginia Tech started the season out 4-0, before a two game slump cost them a chance at the ACC Championship. They did finish the season winning 6 of their final 7, once again getting into the 10-win zone as I had predicted. They weren't good enough early on to go undefeated, but toward the end of the year they were playing great football. Their 10-3 finish was a bit off of my 11-1 prediction however.
Like Michigan, the Vols had an embarrassing down year last season. Unlike Michigan, Tennessee failed to have a winning season, a big surprise since a few had Tennessee winning the national championship. This year, head coach Phillip Fulmer knows his Vols need to win and win now because he may be out of a job if they don't. He quickly hired quarterback mentor and former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and the Vols do have some good returning talent. Now the Vols need to shake off last year's miserable campaign and get back to their winning ways.
The season's success will ultimately come down to junior quarterback Erik Ainge's ability. If he can't pull it together, the Vols will struggle yet again and most likely will be looking for a new coach by the time November rolls around. If he has a strong season, there's no reason the Vols can't win 10 games and position themselves as a top-10 contender.
The Vols entered 2006 on the heels of a 5-6 campaign and for Phil Fulmer, he needed a successful season to stay on as the Vols' head coach. Luckily for him, Tennessee opened up with a solid win over Cal, but losses to Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Penn State in the Outback Bowl really hurt what could have been a solid season. The Vols failed to win 10 games last season and weren't a top-10 contender by the end of the year. Though they rebounded fairly well after 2005's disastrous season, Fulmer's inability to beat Florida and win the SEC could have him close to losing his job next year.
The Frogs nearly went undefeated last year, but were stunned only 2 games into the season by their crosstown rival SMU. This season, the Frogs return an awful lot talent and if they can get through the early part of their schedule undefeated, they have a great shot at going undefeated. Of course, contending for the championship would require teams in front of them to lose, as 2004 proved that a non-BCS team can't just get in by going undefeated alone. That might be the biggest hurdle for the Frogs in their quest to become the first non-BCS team to ever play for a BCS Championship. Well that and Utah...
An obvious homer pick, but not out of the realm of possibility. Like TCU, the Utes will need a lot of help from BCS teams if they want to compete for the national championship. However their schedule arguably can be a lot tougher this season depending on how UCLA, Boise State, TCU and BYU finish. If UCLA, BSU and TCU can finish the season in the top-25 -- and even maybe two possibly in the top-10 -- the Utes, going undefeated of course, could position themselves as a national championship dark horse.
Utah returns a lot of talent, especially on offense, from last year's mediocre 7-5 season. And with all the unlucky breaks that went to the Utes last season, it's only plausible to believe they have some good luck coming their way...or so I hope.
I put these two picks together because they were pretty far off. While TCU had a great season, the Utes struggled and only won 8 games last year. Once again my undying loyalty to the University of Utah was void of reality. Lesson learned, because I won't predict a BCS busting, national championship contending season for the Utes until I actually see results on the football field. I should have hitched myself to the Boise State wagon, because right now I would look like a freaking genius after what they did to Oklahoma.
So in retrospect, I was pretty far off in these predictions. While I was close with my prediction for Michigan, the other four schools never really contended for the championship. Oh well, I guess it goes to show I need a new crystal ball. Damn those gypsies that sold it to me!