Games to Watch (1/27/2019)

Starting this season, I’ve decided to catalog the most tournament-relevant games to watch (if there are any) each night, along with the tip-off time, TV channel, and projected score of the game when input into my own personal game-scoring model. I will also revisit the projections from the day before to archive their accuracy.

YESTERDAY’S GAMES

Iowa State (14-5) @ Ole Miss (14-4)

Projected Score: Ole Miss – 74, Iowa State – 72
Actual Score: Iowa State – 87, Ole Miss – 73

Florida (11-7) @ TCU (14-4)

Projected Score: TCU – 70, Florida – 65
Actual Score: TCU – 55, Florida – 50

Ohio State (12-6) @ Nebraska (13-6)

Projected Score: Nebraska – 73, Ohio State – 64
Actual Score: Ohio State – 70, Nebraska – 60

Alabama (12-6) @ Baylor (12-6)

Projected Score: Baylor – 72, Alabama – 68
Actual Score: Baylor – 73, Alabama – 68

Pittsburgh (12-7) @ Louisville (14-5)

Projected Score: Louisville – 77, Pittsburgh – 66
Actual Score: Louisville – 66, Pittsburgh – 51

Davidson (14-5) @ Saint Louis (14-5)

Projected Score: Saint Louis – 66, Davidson – 63
Actual Score: Davidson – 54, Saint Louis – 53

VCU (13-6) @ Duquesne (14-5)

Projected Score: VCU – 71, Duquesne – 67
Actual Score: VCU – 80, Duquesne – 74

Kansas (16-3) @ Kentucky (15-3)

Projected Score: Kentucky – 76, Kansas – 71
Actual Score: Kentucky – 71, Kansas – 63

Vermont (15-5) @ Stony Brook (17-3)

Projected Score: Vermont – 69, Stony Brook – 68
Actual Score: Vermont – 73, Stony Brook – 52

Syracuse (14-5) @ Virginia Tech (15-3)

Projected Score: Virginia Tech – 72, Syracuse – 63
Actual Score: Virginia Tech – 78, Syracuse – 56

Auburn (13-5) @ Mississippi State (14-4)

Projected Score: Mississippi State – 76, Auburn – 75
Actual Score: Mississippi State – 92, Auburn – 84

2019 Model Pick Record: 76-30

TODAY’S GAMES

Cincinnati (17-3) @ Temple (15-4)

Tip Time: 12 PM EST
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Projected Score: Cincinnati – 71, Temple – 68

Michigan State (18-2) @ Purdue (13-6)

Tip Time: 1 PM EST
TV Channel: CBS
Projected Score: Michigan State – 76, Purdue – 73

Seton Hall (12-7) @ Villanova (15-4)

Tip Time: 2:30 PM EST
TV Channel: Fox
Projected Score: Villanova – 78, Seton Hall – 69

Iowa (16-4) @ Minnesota (14-5)

Tip Time: 5 PM EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Projected Score: Iowa – 76, Minnesota – 75

Games to Watch (1/25/2019)

Starting this season, I’ve decided to catalog the most tournament-relevant games to watch (if there are any) each night, along with the tip-off time, TV channel, and projected score of the game when input into my own personal game-scoring model. I will also revisit the projections from the day before to archive their accuracy.

YESTERDAY’S GAMES

Michigan State (17-2) @ Iowa (16-3)

Projected Score: Michigan State – 80, Iowa – 74
Actual Score: Michigan State – 82, Iowa – 67

Memphis (12-6) @ Temple (14-4)

Projected Score: Temple – 80, Memphis – 76
Actual Score: Temple – 85, Memphis – 76

Texas State (16-3) @ Georgia State (14-5)

Projected Score: Georgia State – 70, Texas State – 68
Actual Score: Texas State – 81, Georgia State – 68

NC State (15-3) @ Louisville (13-5)

Projected Score: Louisville – 80, NC State – 75
Actual Score: Louisville – 84, NC State – 77

Belmont (13-4) @ Murray State (15-2)

Projected Score: Murray State – 83, Belmont – 74
Actual Score: Belmont – 79, Murray State – 66

2019 Model Pick Record: 65-27

TODAY’S GAMES

Michigan (18-1) @ Indiana (12-7)

Tip Time: 6:30 PM EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Projected Score: Michigan – 68, Indiana – 64

Buffalo (17-2) @ Kent State (15-4)

Tip Time: 6:30 PM EST
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Projected Score: Buffalo – 82, Kent State – 74

Butler (12-8) @ Creighton (11-8)

Tip Time: 8:30 PM EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Projected Score: Creighton – 78, Butler – 77

Games to Watch (1/24/2019)

Starting this season, I’ve decided to catalog the most tournament-relevant games to watch (if there are any) each night, along with the tip-off time, TV channel, and projected score of the game when input into my own personal game-scoring model. I will also revisit the projections from the day before to archive their accuracy.

YESTERDAY’S GAMES

Texas (11-7) @ TCU (13-4)

Projected Score: TCU – 71, Texas – 69
Actual Score: TCU – 65, Texas – 61

Purdue (12-6) @ Ohio State (12-5)

Projected Score: Purdue – 71, Ohio State – 69
Actual Score: Purdue – 79, Ohio State – 67

2019 Model Pick Record: 62-25

TODAY’S GAMES

Michigan State (17-2) @ Iowa (16-3)

Tip Time: 7 PM EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Projected Score: Michigan State – 80, Iowa – 74

Memphis (12-6) @ Temple (14-4)

Tip Time: 7 PM EST
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Projected Score: Temple – 80, Memphis – 76

Texas State (16-3) @ Georgia State (14-5)

Tip Time: 7 PM EST
TV Channel: ESPN+
Projected Score: Georgia State – 70, Texas State – 68

NC State (15-3) @ Louisville (13-5)

Tip Time: 8 PM EST
TV Channel: ACC Network
Projected Score: Louisville – 80, NC State – 75

Belmont (13-4) @ Murray State (15-2)

Tip Time: 9 PM EST
TV Channel: ESPNU
Projected Score: Murray State – 83, Belmont – 74

Projecting the 2016 NCAA Tournament Champion

After a great deal of hours put into data compilation, statistical analysis, and number crunching, I have finished my model. My goal was to be able to compile a formula that projects the likelihood that any one of the given teams in the field of 68 wins the NCAA Tournament. There are a good amount of extra variables, such as distance traveled and overall team tournament experience, that I wished to include. However, I was not able to compile some of these due to time constraints and my bracketology work.

In the end, the final version of the model includes a whopping 29 variables. The data collected and analyzed featured statistics and results from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments ranging from 2010 to 2015. Based on previous years, it appears that the most important variables in determining a team’s likelihood of making the final four include: strength of schedule, preseason AP poll points, offensive and defensive efficiency, and offensive rebound percentage. Once a team makes the final four, the amount of tournament wins and the tournament winning percentage of the coach of each team becomes more relevant.

Tournament Projections

Do with the information and projections above what you will, and good luck to anyone filling out  a bracket – March is the best time of the year!

 

1-3-1 Sports Midweek Review

THE 1-3-1 MIDWEEK REVIEW

1 Thought From the Games Earlier this Week

Texas A&M looks like the only SEC team capable of advancing past the first weekend. The Aggies currently sit alone atop of the SEC, though LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida are all within two games. Having seen the majority of SEC teams play this season, (thanks a lot for the SUPER HIGH-QUALITY basketball, ESPN!), I can safely rule out all other teams in the conference from receiving an at-large tournament birth. Now that we’ve narrowed the field down to five eligible bachelors for that pretty lady in March, we can talk about who’s likely to advance the furthest. The answer: Texas A&M, but only by default. LSU will be lucky to make the tournament with their abysmal Non-Con SOS, and if they do so, it’ll most likely be on the Ben Simmons hype train – hello TV ratings! South Carolina appears to be quite the fraud, having gone 4-3 after starting 15-0 with their Charmin soft early season slate. Who saw that coming!? (Spoiler Alert: 1-3-1 Sports Midweek Review on January 14th, 2016) Kentucky has lost three of six, including games against SEC bottom-feeders Auburn and Tennessee, and they no longer have talent quite like the Harrison twins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Finally, there is Florida, who may be the best bet to prove me wrong; their distinct flaw is an offense that becomes very complacent and stagnant too frequently.

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3 Games to Watch this Week

i. Columbia @ Yale (Friday @ 5 pm EST, TV – FS1)
I have to admit, I’m a real sucker for watching quality mid-major and low-major college basketball. A televised game between the two leaders of the Ivy League, both of whom are undefeated in conference… count me in! The highlight of this game for me will be the opportunity to finally see German guard sensation Maodo Lo. Though he is a senior, I have yet to see him play; he may be the key to leading the Lions to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1968. I feel like the blurb highlighting this game would be incomplete without a reference to these two teams also featuring some of the smartest basketball players in the NCAA. For some, it even runs in the family. The younger sister of Columbia’s senior leader Grant Mullins, Missy, plays basketball at fellow Ivy league school and academic juggernaut Harvard. The cousin of Yale’s Brandon Sherrod, Derek, is an offensive tackle in the NFL who graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in financial risk management, and a 3.54 GPA to boot.

ii. Michigan State @ Michigan (Saturday @ 2 pm EST, TV – CBS)
This is one of the most heated rivalries in not only the Big 10, but in all of college basketball. The recent resurgence of the bad blood has been facilitated by the Wolverines experiencing great success under John Beilein. This year is no different, as the two teams have a combined 36-10 record and both sit in the upper half of the Big 10 standings. The Wolverines will look to avoid back-to-back home losses after the debacle against Indiana earlier in the week. A loss in this one could cause a bit of panic in Ann Arbor in regards to making the tournament, and rightfully so – the Wolverines have struggled mightily against quality competition (2-5 against the RPI top-50). On top of that, there has been nothing definitive that could generate realistic optimism regarding the return of team captain and leading scorer Caris Levert. The Spartans are dealing with a significant injury of their own, as point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn is likely to miss his sixth straight game due to a painful case of plantar fasciitis.

iii. Baylor @ West Virginia (Saturday @ 8 pm EST, TV – ESPN2)
These two top-15 teams need a victory in this game to keep pace with top-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 conference race. This match-up offers quite the contrast, as Baylor’s potent inside-out, slow tempo offense will be matched up with West Virginia’s fast-paced, press-oriented defense. West Virginia leads the country in steals per game, averaging over 10 – the ability to turn teams over at high rates is a demonstrated staple of Bob Huggins’ teams in recent years. Baylor ranks 141st in the nation in turnovers per game, so they’ll have to be smart with the ball if they want to go into Morgantown and steal a victory. The counter to the turnover issue could end up being the rebounding advantage Baylor should have inside. Baylor is 4th in the country in offensive rebound percentage, pulling down 41% of offensive rebounds that are available to the team; the Mountaineers will need to find bodies and block out to prevent second-chance opportunities.

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1 Bold Prediction for the Week

Diamond Stone continues his coming out party and meteoric rise up NBA draft boards with a great performance in a Maryland victory over Purdue. Freshmen phenom Diamond Stone has slowly been getting more playing time from Mark Turgeon, and the increase of his contributions to the success of the Terps has coincided with the bump in minutes. He will have an opportunity to prove his worth when the Boilermakers roll into town on Saturday. Purdue’s strength is definitely inside, led by senior big man A.J. Hammons, who is coming off of a 32 point, 11 rebound, 4 block game in a lopsided victory over Nebraska. Though he may not lead the team in any one category, I think that Diamond Stone will use his skill set to be a key contributor. This can be achieved by limiting Hammons and making key plays down the stretch, both of which may not show up in the box score, on the way to a Maryland victory.

Prediction:

Maryland – 73
Purdue – 67

1-3-1 Sports Midweek Review

THE 1-3-1 MIDWEEK REVIEW

 

1 Thought From the Games Earlier this Week

Chaos is king in college basketball this season. Filling out your bracket in any given season is a crapshoot, and in that sense, this season will be no different. However, with the two big changes to the game this season, (the 30-second shot clock [LOVE] and the freedom of movement rules [MEH]), we’re seeing significantly more mayhem than in past years. As with any major change, it takes time to iron out the kinks and stabilize what we expect as the norm. Thus, I anticipate that this pandemonium will continue through tournament time. Last night alone provides an example of some of the shocking upsets we’ve seen so far this season. A hot and cold Texas team won on the road against a West Virginia team who handily took care of Kansas one week prior, while the Spartans of Michigan State suffered their second straight one-point defeat, this one coming at home at the hands of a borderline-NIT Nebraska team.

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3 Games to Watch this Week

i. Gonzaga @ St. Mary’s (Thursday @ 11 pm EST, TV – ESPNU)
I know, I know, this game doesn’t start until 11 PM EST and you have to work tomorrow… cry me a river; it really should be of the utmost quality. This game between the Zags and the Gaels is for the outright lead in the West Coast Conference. Here is my pretend shocked face:

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These two teams are always the class of this conference, and this year is no different. Gonzaga isn’t quite the same team without Przemek Karnowski to come off the bench and be extra, super tall and do extra, super tall guy things. That being said, they still have a POY candidate in Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, and Lithuanian sensation and double-double machine Domantas Sabonis. The Gaels counter with Emmett Naar, another Australian pipeliner that has what the analysts love to call “in-the-gym” type shooting range.

ii. Oklahoma @ Baylor (Saturday @ 12:00 pm EST, TV – ESPN2)
Based on a relatively favorable start to their conference schedule, the Baylor Bears sit alone atop the Big 12 conference. If they wish to remain there, they’ll have to protect their home court and knock off the temporarily top-ranked Sooners. I anticipate Oklahoma will come out pretty fired up for this game, coming off an embarrassing defensive effort in their loss to Iowa State on Monday night. Scott Drew’s Baylor squad is very well-rounded, with four players averaging double-figure scoring per game. Of these four, I look for the Bears to channel their success through Rico Gathers, who will easily be the most physically-imposing player on the court.

iii. Maryland @ Michigan State (Saturday @ 6:30 pm EST, TV – ESPN)
After starting the season 16-0, the Spartans have stumbled their way to a 3-4 start in conference play. Of the four losses, none was more frustrating for Spartan fans than the home loss to Nebraska last night. This loss marks the second time in three years Tim Miles has led the Cornhuskers to victory over Tom Izzo and his squad in East Lansing. Michigan State will have the perfect opportunity to gain a rebound victory, as College Gameday joins Maryland in coming to town for this heavyweight match-up. Maryland, led by the underachieving Melo Trimble and the constantly improving Diamond Stone, will look for a victory to keep pace with Indiana and Iowa in the Big 10 race.

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1 Bold Prediction for the Week

Ben Bentil will put up 20+ points and 8+ boards, but all will be for naught in the face of a Villanova victory. The Wildcats of Villanova play host to the Friars of Providence at the Wells Fargo Center at 1 PM on Sunday. Providence has had an intriguing last four games, going 2-2 in a stretch where every game has been decided by single digits. While Kris Dunn’s name is the one that grabs headlines because of his NBA potential, Ben Bentil has quietly developed into a Robin role on the team. With Jay Wright sure to key in on stopping Dunn, it seems that Bentil will have a ripe opportunity to put up some double-double type numbers against Nova. In the end, however, I do believe the Wildcats will add another solid victory to their resume and maintain a zero in the loss column in Big East conference play.

Final Score:
Villanova – 76
Providence – 70

1-3-1 Sports Midweek Review

THE 1-3-1 MIDWEEK REVIEW

1 Thought From the Games Earlier this Week

Come March, the tournament committee needs to distinguish Michigan State sans Valentine from Michigan State with Valentine. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the Spartans aren’t the same team without their floor general on the court. Valentine has an uncanny ability to find open spots on the court when he’s away from the ball, as well as a knack for breaking down opposing defenses to create opportunities for his teammates. Thus, it’s not a surprise that Michigan State has looked less-than-stellar in their first two games without Valentine (an overtime victory over Oakland and a blowout loss at Iowa). In the long run, playing without Denzel should facilitate the development of complimentary players like Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes. On Selection Sunday, the committee needs to remember the impact this short-term absence had on this team.

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3 Games to Watch this Week

i. Xavier @ Villanova (Thursday @ 12 pm EST, TV – FS1)
I had the opportunity to watch the Musketeers come to Ann Arbor and lay the lumber to my beloved Wolverines earlier this season. My takeaway? They’re deep, they’re physical, they’re well rounded and they’re fundamentally sound. Aside from the aforementioned win, the big victories for Chris Mack’s squad have been at home or on a neutral court. This will be their first real road test, as an in-conference showdown versus the Wildcats should have the Pavilion rocking. This should also demonstrate the true identity of Nova; they’ve played two tournament-caliber teams so far (Virginia and Oklahoma), and they’ve lost both games by double digits.

ii. Providence @ Butler (Thursday @ 2:30 pm EST, TV – CBSS)
The Big East sure starts off with a bang with these first two match-ups. The latter of these two games features two teams that have exceeded expectations and shot up the ranks so far this season. Providence beat Arizona and played a full-strength Michigan State team tough for 3/4 of a game. The Bulldogs of Butler similarly boast one key victory (Purdue) and one quality loss (Miami). These two teams also feature two of the most complete players in the Big East Conference in the form of Kris Dunn and Roosevelt Jones. It should be noted that this is underselling Dunn; he alone is reason enough to watch this game.

iii. Iowa State @ Oklahoma (Saturday @ 7 pm EST, TV – ESPN2)
Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins may be the best backcourt duo in the entire country this season. Lon Kruger continues to look like a great hire, as his Oklahoma teams have improved every season since he arrived in Norman. As for the Cyclones, the familiar (and improved) faces of Georges Niang and Monte Morris remain to lead the charge in Ames, while Brad Stevens’ coaching double tries his best to pick up where the Mayor left off. With a game against Kansas looming on Monday, the Sooners know that they have a huge opportunity to get an early leg up in the 3-man Big 12 race; sweeping both would be an incredible feat.

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1 Bold Prediction for the Week

Butler will lose back-to-back games. The Big East is very strong at the top this season, and I firmly believe that four teams (Xavier, Villanova, Providence, and Butler) will end up being on the 5-seed line or better; of those teams, I believe Butler is the weakest. I want to be clear that this is not me suggesting that Butler is not a good team, but rather that the Big East has a lot of quality at the top this year. They have a chance to prove me wrong, as three of their first four in-conference games are against the other three teams I listed. I don’t think they’ll be able to Get it Dunn (hold the pun applause) against the Friars at home, and godspeed to anybody trying to win at the Cintas Center this season.
– Game 1: Providence – 77, Butler – 72
– Game 2: Xavier – 80, Butler – 74

Who in the Hell Decided on the Paul Bunyan Trophy?

Tomorrow, two football teams will take the field in Ann Arbor, MI and wage a battle for one of the most abominable-looking trophies in all of sports. Those two teams are the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans, and that trophy is the Paul Bunyan Trophy (not to be confused with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the ill-conceived replacement reward for the winner of the Minnesota/Wisconsin game, which replaced the apparently outmoded, but nonetheless fantastic, Slab of Bacon they used to play for).

Make no mistake about it – this is a rivalry game for both teams, regardless of what some Michigan fans may say otherwise. Yes, Ohio State is a more loathed (and respected) rival, but that doesn’t take away from the ferocity and barbarity on display between fans and players when these two in-state adversaries meet on the gridiron.

Through my experiences in the rivalry, I can say that the fan bases from each respective school love nothing more than to make sweeping generalizations about each other. Michigan fans seem to believe Michigan State fans and the school itself both have an inferiority complex, and wish so desperately that they could be as cool as the University of Michigan and their fans. In perfect contrast, Michigan State fans tend to believe that Michigan fans and the school itself could not be more pompous and full of egocentrism, like the over-confident popular kid in high school. I’m of the belief that both of these widely-held viewpoints hold some validity; however, to say that they are representative of even a majority of the fan base of either side would be a gross hyperbole. The whole “Little Brother” fiasco is a perfect example of this.

I’m not going to beat around the bush or try to hide my affiliation; I am a University of Michigan alumnus. Thus, I do get a kick out of referring to Michigan State University as little brother, but only because of how bent out of shape Spartans get when I do this. It’s just like what they teach you in elementary school as a kid – when someone teases you, if you react strongly, they’re going to keep doing it to get on your nerves. When you learn how to ignore it and show them that it no longer bothers you, then odds are they will stop doing it. Another potentially effective method is to win four consecutive games in the rivalry.

In any of the most recent football-related tete-a-tetes between fans from these schools, the Spartan representative is almost certainly going to bring up the last four years. A young, naive Wolverine will inevitably resort to one of two responses – (A) Highlighting the prestigious history of the University of Michigan football program, or (B) Belittling Michigan State academics and the students who attend the university. It’s identical to the “Little Brother” theory, but is achieved simply as a result of a different mechanism. Michigan fans are unnecessarily embarrassed about losing to Michigan State in football 4 years running now, so they get defensive and resort to desperation; it’s just silly. Michigan State had a better football team than Michigan in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and they outplayed an evenly matched Michigan team in 2011 – it’s really that simple. The best thing to do as a Michigan fan right now is to stop rubbing salt in your own wound and focus on forward-thinking, i.e. what’s going to happen this year?

Brady Hoke is undefeated at home as Michigan’s head football coach. Unlike the past 4 years, Michigan is back to having a better, more athletic football team this year than Michigan State. Michigan is coming off two blowout victories and Michigan State just suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Iowa on their homecoming weekend. The majority of sportsbooks in Vegas are giving the Spartans 10 points. All signs point to Michigan finally ending the streak.

Nevertheless, signs have been wrong before in sports. All you have to do is take one look at the Cleveland Indians from back in the day – who would have thought in mid-July of that fateful year that Ricky Vaughn, Willie Mayes Hayes, and Pedro Cerrano would lead the Tribe to the postseason? But, I digress. I’m going to be cheering on the Wolverines as vigorously as possible come 3:30 PM on Saturday, and I hope for my own personal sanity that they are able to finally put this thing to bed, so I can stop hearing the conveniently arbitrary number of days since Michigan last won a game in the series.

1-3-1 College Football Preseason Top 15

I’m going to preface this article by completely contradicting the entire basis of writing it, and I feel it’s necessary to warn our readers. I think preseason rankings in college football (and college basketball for that matter) are pointless. That’s right, I said pointless. I suggest you digest that concept for a second, and then I will tell you why I said it.

We haven’t seen any of the teams play in months, and in most cases, we will be seeing a vastly different product on the field from one year to the next, due to the constantly revolving coaching carousel and player departures.  Furthermore, these rankings often also serve as a convenient means for pollsters and media to fulfill their incessant need to overhype early season non-conference matchups. I fear that these rankings too frequently revolve around name recognition and propaganda, rather than the projected product that each team will put on the football field.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to go into my hemi-contradiction and offer my personal preseason college football top 15. Why did I say hemi-contradiction? Well, I said that because I plan on establishing my top 15 rankings by actually breaking down each team’s offensive and defensive units and ranking these teams with a blind eye to the names that will be featured on their jerseys.

1. USC

Offense Grade: A+. Matt Barkley is the odds on favorite to win the Heisman this year, and why wouldn’t he be? He gets to throw to the ball to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee the entire season. Throw in the addition of Penn State defect Silas Redd to a backfield that already featured a solid presence in the form of thousand-yard rusher Curtis McNeal, and you have an offense that can put up points very quickly and very efficiently.

Defense Grade: B+. This unit is talented, but somewhat thin and relatively inexperienced. Devon Kennard’s preseason torn pectoral muscle has made an already shallow defensive line unit even thinner. However, USC‘s defense can count their blessings for having such a talented offensive unit; this should force opposing offenses to become predictable as they try to keep up with the juggernaut that is Barkley and Co.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 7/2

2. Alabama

Offense Grade: A-. The Crimson Tide get last year’s national championship-winning signal caller back in the form of A.J. McCarron, and he will be protected by the best offensive line in college football. It hurts that Cris Carter’s son, promising young wide receiver Duron Carter, is no longer with the team. However, running back Eddie Lacy should help take a good portion of the load off McCarron’s shoulders.

Defense Grade: A. Replacing a handful of key starters from one of the top defenses in college football won’t be an easy task. The new members of this defense will require fans to have a program handy to learn the new names. However, with another elite recruiting class stepping onto campus, don’t expect a huge drop in production this year; Kirby Smart and Nick Saban will have this unit reloaded and ready to roll.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 9/2

3. LSU

Offense Grade: A-. With the exit of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, Zach Mettenberger’s long-awaited debut as LSU’s starting quarterback will finally come to fruition. However, the strength on this side of the ball lies in the legs of Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, and Alfred Blue, an insanely deep and talented running back trio. They should have a very good offensive line to run behind with the return of Hurst and Faulk at the tackle positions.

Defense Grade: A. This unit lost All-American starting corners Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and Tyrann Mathieu to an apparent synthetic marijuana addiction. Why the A, then? Well, how do you mask a lack of experience at corner? You can start by having the best defensive line in college football. No opposing quarterback will remain calm when they see Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 6/1

4. Florida State

Offense Grade: A-. 5th-year senior E.J. Manuel is back for his final year leading the Seminoles offense. Manuel is a proven playmaker, and the Seminoles’ rotation at receiver should be talented and deep this season. If Chris Thompson can play like his pre-injury old self, then Jimbo Fisher will have game-changers at all the skill positions. Fans of the Garnet and Gold just have to hope the offensive line isn’t as porous as it was in 2011.

Defense Grade: A. I already said LSU has the best defensive line in the country; Florida State’s D-line is a very close second. Florida State has one of the best defensive units it has had in the past decade, and it all begins up front. Defensive End Brandon Jenkins has the most career sacks of any active player heading into 2012, and Bjoern Werner is a stud as well. However, it is the dismissal of senior CB Greg Reid that prevents this unit from receiving an A.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 7/1

5. Oregon

Offense Grade: A-. I can’t say I am honestly surprised that Mariota won the starting job in Eugene; he possesses the skill set required to be successful in Chip Kelly’s offense and has a more accurate arm than Bennett. The loss of Lavasier Tuinei’s leadership and hands will hurt, but how can you not love an offense that gets to put Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas on the field at the same time?

Defense Grade: A-. John Boyett is the undisputed spearhead of this solid defense as a four-year starter, and Kiko Alonso is an NFL-ready middle linebacker with great size and speed. Add a very stout defensive line and some young, but experienced corners, and Oregon probably has the best defense in the PAC-12. We’ll see how they match up with USC’s explosive offense in the regular-season duel in Los Angeles, and most likely again in the PAC-12 championship game.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 8/1

6. Georgia

Offense Grade: A-. This could’ve been a straight A unit if not for the dismissal of 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, running back Isaiah Crowell. Nonetheless, Aaron Murray is a dark horse Heisman candidate and Tavarres King should band together with his fellow receivers to offer plenty of options for their talented quarterback. The stability of the veterans on the offensive line should help make Mark Richt’s offense one of the most efficient in the SEC.

Defense Grade: B+. The Bulldog’s defense is anchored by the best defensive player in all of college football this year – Jarvis Jones. Jones is an absolute menace, physically imposing his will on blockers and relentlessly flying to the ball. It seems that the back seven of this unit should be fine, but it must be said that the defensive line isn’t exactly intimidating.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 15/1

7. Oklahoma

Offense Grade: A. The remote possibility of lingering struggles with inaccuracy that plagued Landry Jones in 2011…that’s the only thing stopping me from giving this unit an A+. The fairy tale of walk-on Dominique Whaley should continue, as he has the capability to be All-Big 12 this year if he fully recovers from a horrific broken ankle. Add an experienced offensive line and Kenny Stills and Trey Metoyer on the outside, and you have a recipe for some offensive fireworks all season in Norman.

Defense Grade: B. The Sooners’ defense is filled with upperclassmen that have matured together to form a cohesive, experienced unit. The problem is, the individual pieces that make up the defense are lacking something – talent. If Mike Stoops can work just a little magic under his brother, the boys in Crimson and Cream might be able to play for a national title on the wings of the offense.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 12/1

8. Arkansas

Offense Grade: A. Knile Davis led the SEC in rushing in 2010 before going down just prior to the 2011 season with injury. Now that he is on the mend, his running ability should open up the field for Tyler Wilson, making both these guys longshot Heisman contenders. Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg are large, speedy, and tough. They will give Wilson two solid, potentially outstanding go-to receivers.

Defense Grade: B. In a league where the best athletes typically end up on the defensive side of the ball, Arkansas has flipped the script. Alonzo Highsmith was the one bright spot for this defense in 2011, and he needs to rally the troops to perform at a higher level if Arkansas expects to compete with LSU and Alabama in the SEC West.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 20/1

9. Wisconsin

Offense Grade: A-. Wisconsin employed their ACC QB-transfer acceptance strategy again this season, bringing in Danny O’Brien from Maryland. I just want to clarify something – Danny O’Brien is not the same caliber player Russell Wilson was, and it’s not even close. That being said, Wisconsin still has arguably the best offensive line in college football, and unarguably the best running back in college football in Montee Ball.

Defense Grade: B+. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor both registered 140+ tackles for the Badgers last season from the linebacker position, and the tremendously talented duo will anchor an improving defensive unit yet again this season. The Badgers’ secondary has multiple key players returning from previous injuries and should mesh to form a solid back four.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 25/1

10. Michigan State

Offense Grade: B. The Spartans lost key players at every skill position to the 2012 NFL Draft, so this unit will lack experience beyond workhorse running back Le’Veon Bell and his viable back-up, Larry Caper. However, Bell is capable of going for 1,200+ yards if he stays healthy. The departure of team leader Kirk Cousins will thrust the very capable, but inexperienced backup Andrew Maxwell into the spotlight under center. Unfortunately, the losses of the sure-handed B.J. Cunningham and super-elusive Keshawn Martin removes two huge weapons Michigan State possessed the last several years which helped them move the chains.

Defense Grade: A. If the Spartans plan on fending off Nebraska and in-state rival Michigan in the Big Ten Legends Division, it’ll start on the defensive side of the ball. The green and white faithful will quickly forget about the departure of man-eating defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, as Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge should team up with William Gholston to wreak havoc up front. Denicos Allen and Max Bullough head up a linebacker core that figures to be one of the best in the country. Finally, for the first time in a long time, the corner position will be a definitive strength for the Spartans, as All-Big Ten talent Johnny Adams teams up with the continually improving Darqueze Dennard.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 30/1

11. South Carolina

Offense Grade: B+. The Gamecocks have the best running back in college football not named Montee Ball, in the form of half-man, half-machine Marcus Lattimore. If Lattimore can stay healthy, he’ll be a definite contender for the Heisman in 2012.Connor Shaw is the undisputed starter this season under center.  He played like a winner in 2011 while replacing nogoodnik Stephen Garcia, and he should continue to do so in 2012. He has refined running and passing skills, and an offseason of starter work will make him that much better.

Defense Grade: B+. This unit is solid across the board, with no noticeable weaknesses, but no overwhelming strengths…well, okay, one overwhelming strength – Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney lived up to the hype last season, bringing an unbelievably athletic game to an already menacing defensive line. I pity the lineman that is forced to line up across from this mutant and attempt to block him; he’s an absolute freak of nature.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 30/1

12. Michigan

Offense Grade: A-. Denard Robinson is a lightning rod; he’s the most exciting player to watch in college football, but he is often one of the most erratic as well. Nevertheless, Michigan’s signal caller will be in his second year in Al Borges’ West-Coast system, so expect to see more consistency out of Shoelace in the passing game. Pending his currently indefinite suspension, Michigan also returns thousand-yard rusher Fitzgerald Touissant, and has lots of experience on an offensive line anchored by the best tackle in the Big Ten, Taylor Lewan.

Defense Grade: B. The Michigan defense made great strides in their first year under Greg Mattison, and I expect (modest) improvement to continue for the defenders in maize and blue. That being said, Mattison can only do so much with the talent he has; the stout Michigan defense of old won’t return for another season or two. The back seven features a solid all-around cast, including tackling guru Kenny Demens at the middle linebacker spot. Outside the presence of Craig Roh, the loss of both Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin to the NFL leaves the Wolverines thin and inexperienced up front.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 30/1

13. West Virginia

Offense Grade: A-. Geno Smith is a gamer and should be able to pick apart Big 12 defenses without much of a problem this season, but the real game-changer on this side of the ball is wide receiver Tavon Austin. Austin led the nation in all-purpose yards last season, and his explosive speed and playmaking ability will be displayed regularly for Mountaineer fans—much to the detriment of the opposition’s defensive strategies. Both Smith and Austin should be considered dark horse Heisman candidates.

Defense Grade: B. Though the defense is breaking in a new 3-4 and 4-3 hybrid defensive scheme, the unit does return seven starters from 2011. The experience on the defense is in the secondary, with players like Darwin Cook and Pat Miller; the move to the pass-happy Big 12 makes the back four that much more important. Having said that, I still believe Terence Garvin is the unquestioned leader of the Mountaineer defense, and is arguably the best athlete on that side of the ball as well.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 35/1

14. Texas

Offense Grade: B-. David Ash has won the starting job for the boys in burnt orange, but God only knows how long that will last. The Longhorns have a stable of somewhat talented young running backs, but the three of them splitting carries is going to limit their opportunities to have an impact. That said, the offensive line is going to be key to success, whether in the passing game or rushing attack. If the offensive line lacks consistency, it’s going to be a very long season.

Defense Grade: A+. Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor head one of the scariest, most-talented defenses in the country. The two combined for 14.5 sacks in 2011 and have the potential to hit the 20-sack level between them this season. The breakout star of the defense this year might be junior Jordan Hicks, who finally started to play to his potential in the Holiday Bowl. The Horns haven’t had a truly great linebacker since Derrick Johnson went to the NFL, so we’ll see if Hicks can finally live up to his billing for a full season.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 25/1

15. Virginia Tech

Offense Grade: B-. Going into the 2012 season, the biggest question facing the Hokies is how they will replace the loss of eight offensive starters. Luckily for the Va Tech faithful, junior quarterback Logan Thomas returns this season. With Thomas behind center, the Hokies have the pieces on offense to be at least decent in 2012. Outside of Logan Thomas, at 6’4″ and 230-pounds, wide receiver Marcus Davis is a rare athlete who has the talent to be one of the top receivers in the country.

Defense Grade: A. This defense is loaded with talent and experience, and I would expect nothing different from a team coached by Frank Beamer. The star of the unit might be corner Kyle Fuller; his 14.5 tackles for loss led the team last year, and he demonstrated versatility, playing the nickel linebacker spot, as well as corner last year.

Odds of being BCS National Champion: 40/1

Other Teams that received consideration: Clemson, Nebraska, Florida, Notre Dame