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To the Tape: Auditing SMQ's Preseason Predicitions

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Tracking SMQ's errors and erudition through the season.

The excesses of cut-and-paste render this possibly the longest post in SMQ's loquacious history. But one well worth it, to shine the effervescent rays of postseason truth on the shadowy underbelly of archived preseason conjecture. Where his own projections are concerned, SMQ thinks the tally's not nearly so damning as he would have supposed:

Anatomy of an Underdog: Attempting to put a little method behind the madness of projecting a from-nowhere mythical champion among a group of contenders sitting just behind the pack of jumbled frontrunners, SMQ looked at some past underdogs made good and came up with four teams: California, Louisville, Nebraska and Iowa. Eh, forget the Hawkeyes, who just fell just shy of a mythical championship run by losing their final five conference games, and Nebraska was run out of the race right quick by Southern Cal in September. California was still in the mix in November, but went and lost to Arizona and USC. So it was only Louisville, one measly, redemption-granting offsides call at Rutgers from an unbeaten regular season and, SMQ can assume (because he did immediately following the Cards' win over West Virginia), a certain spot opposite those unbeatable Buckeyes in the BCS championship.
Grade: Relative hit. Louisville's average rank in the preseason was 12, and it wasn't in many top ten polls in August (though Phil Steele had UL third, behind, er, Oklahoma and Auburn; Senor Spread had Florida way down at 20, third in the SEC East). Glancing at Mark May Be Wrong's compilation of preseason top 25 polls, Steele and something called Autumn Spectacle were the only ones with SMQ picking Louisville ahead of overwhelming Big East favorite West Virginia. Which brings us to...

Anti-Mountaineerism: So eventually SMQ went with Louisville as Big East champ all the way down at 14 (we'll get there in a minute). He was vindicated, though, in not once but twice calling foul on West Virginia as mythical championship contender:

It's not that West Virginia is going to be bad - it's not impossible, but very unlikely it will miss a bowl game, and probably will play in a decent one. But over the long haul, the major arc, what's the high point of this program? Is it capable of topping '05? Can it do better than an 11-1, conference-title-winning, Sugar Bowl-upsetting season? SMQ sees no reason yet anyone outside of the state of West Virginia should believe it can.

Sure, he wishes his team had repeated as Big East champ, but even Rich Rodriguez recognizes a spot-on forecast when he reads it.
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Grade: Hit again, but with the caveat the Mountaineer offense was, in fact, near enough to a "'95 Nebraska, run-for-280-at-will steamroller" in a series of ruthless blowouts, and Pat White subsequently not remotely near enough to a sophomore slump, to earn SMQ's grudging respect. WVU, its coach still in tow, for now, has more staying power than he'd granted.

Top 25: Hit or miss by definition, though it's tough sometimes to determine how close a pick has to be to be considered a "hit" - Florida at six was higher than almost anyone else projected the Gators, but ultimately not high enough. So we're speaking in somewhat relative terms:

3. Ohio State

Maybe the best offense around, though Troy Smith ultimately is going to belong in the pantheon with Brad Smith or Michael Robinson, maybe, not Vince Young...

4. Southern Cal

...the real issue here is dealing with the loss of Leinart, Bush, White and three starting linemen on offense. The receivers definitely rule, but running back is a legitimate concern, given its youth and injury/eligibility at the position (is Chauncey Washington going to play or not?), and can't approach the insane production of the past two seasons. As stated above, the laws of nature will not allow this program to survive such losses with another trip to the mythical title game - nobody pulls this off four years in a row. Not USC, not nobody. But still, you know, they're very, very good.

5. Michigan

Maybe SMQ's gullible here, picking the Wolverines almost ten spots higher than the poll at large...this seems pretty safe, actually, given the amount of talent returning on both sides and the lack of an obvious debilitating weakness that pretty much every other school around them is facing. We're talking about a quarterback in his third season as a starter, a steady running game, a couple potential all-league caliber receivers, four returning O-linemen, two potential all-America caliber defensive linemen, all three linebackers back, three out of four in the secondary - none of it overwhelming on its own, this not having been a great team last year, but collectively it adds up to one of the most complete wholes in the top ten.

Still SMQ doesn't really see them containing Troy Smith.

9. Auburn

...SMQ has concerns about the young receiving corps and especially the loss of Marcus McNeil and Troy Reddick, a massive and vital tackle combo that will be much-missed regardless the experience on the interior. Similarly, the defense will miss Stanley McClover and especially Tommy Jackson, who was an essential run plugger in the middle of an otherwise speed-rushing unit. SMQ still believes teams can line up and run straight at 215-pound converted DBs at linebacker with success...

12. Oklahoma

...But Paul Thompson was actually named the starter before last season and played plenty early on, so the dropoff may not be very significant. If the offensive line holds up - big, big "if" with four new starters - there may be no dropoff. Either way, this is obviously a defensively-driven team, and will go far on those merits. The Sooners also miss rising Nebraska, so barring another TCU-level upset, Texas and Oregon will represent the only major challenges.

Forgot to mention these guys.
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15. Tennessee

Alright, SMQ will bite on the Vols' relative resurgence...David Cutcliffe is supposed to be the zen master in this regard, but SMQ has his doubts the mantras will produce enough change to make up all of the difference sure to be incurred by a very talented but very young front seven. Still, too talented for now to write off that kind of collapse as anything but a momentary aberration.

19. Virginia Tech

...Tech, a team shuffling brand new, inexperienced quarterbacks behind a rebuilding line and replacing four draft picks on defense is likely to be a favorite in every game but one (at Miami). SMQ imagines a loss to either Boston College or Clemson, if not both, and despite the enormous speed at wide receiver and linebacker, no better than a prominent position in the snarling race for the Gator Bowl.

22. Georgia

...the consistency of nine-win seasons under Mark Richt isn't going to magically uplift a likely true freshman quarterback or three new starters on both lines and in the secondary...attrition has hit UGA too hard in too many places for any such forecasts in this league; Richt is coach of the year otherwise. A dangerous 2007.

23. Boston College

SMQ has previously named BC his 'underrated' team of the preseason, and so far his is the only poll of which he is aware that includes the persistent Eagles. Still, they don't rank quite as high as he had expected, and are sitting third in the ACC Atlantic, where most other folks are sticking them, too. There are legit conference title hopes here because the rest of the league is poised for a Big 12 North-like run of "frontrunner hot potato" unless Florida State gets its mind right, but they're going to do it by the most innocuous possible combination of running back-by-committee, controlled passing, stopping the run and creating turnovers. BC has the misfortune of drawing both Miami and Virginia Tech from across the conference's divisional divide, and you won't hear much about the Eagles if they don't win one of those games, or upsets FSU. They probably also won't come out this high in anyone's poll if they don't.

24. Georgia Tech

Entering Year Five, Chan Gailey Equilibrium faces its toughest test yet at Georgia Tech: finding a way to stay at seven wins with a) an extra regular season game, b) a four-year starter at quarterback, c) the most unstoppable freak of a receiver in the nation, d) two veteran lines and e) a fast, aggressive defense that comes out of the gate screaming past confused blockers. If anyone can do it, it's Chan, but the prospects of a new, non-mathetmatically burdened playcaller - OC and former Auburn QB Patrick Nix - with Calvin Johnson and a certain-to-be adequate running game on hand will adding the extra touchdown every two-three games to break the elusive eight-win barrier is attractive...Even a little departure from the rut - like 9-4, maybe - would be a welcome psychological boost.

And a few shameful misses:

1. Notre Dame

The very long, very loud and almost very consensus raps on Weis' army of storm-trooping clones and Manchurian Candidate Brady Quinn are readily apparent: the defense was regularly torched. The offense put up its lauded numbers against horrendous teams and in grass imported from the backyard of an abandoned shack in the northern Argentenian jungle. The previous two Irish "resurgences" this decade were followed by two of the school's worst seasons in the past half-century...Basically, SMQ just thinks these are more easily-overcome problems than Ohio State's emerging-from-the-crib defense, Auburn's size against the run and inexperienced O-line, Texas' pack of freshman quarterbacks, Florida's whimpering babes on the offensive line and in the secondary, SC's unavoidable succumbing to the Inviolable Laws of an Indifferent Universe and the lingering Jeff Bowden/Lloyd Carr problems at Florida State and Michigan. Notre Dame is flawed, but in SMQ's mind, the least flawed. Or the least fatally flawed. And that is the ringing endorsement...Plus, very importantly, the defense is going to be better. Has to be better. The linebackers are a question, but SMQ is willing to go with the experience and underrated talent (according to dubious recruitniks) on the line and in the secondary, admitted cornerback warts and all.

SMQ knew this was going to bite him. He knew this was a horrible pick. The consensus raps on Weis' army of storm-trooping clones and Manchurian Candidate Brady Quinn should have been considered more carefully. Notice the bit about Jeff Bowden, though.

That part was sort of fish-in-barrell...
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2. California

This pick involved copious amounts of brand name sugar-water concoctions, of SMQ's own rendering. This is the one that will have to be defended to the justifiable skeptics. This is much crazier than Notre Dame on top. The one guy who picked Cal No. 1 is teetering on the edge of a dark, dark abyss at the core of his sanity; SMQ knows, because he's an early adoptee into the cult and almost put the Bears up there his own self.

Again, this was a shaky limb from the start. Nice to talk yourself into a top two that are each blown out in the first three weeks of the season.

8. Florida State

The inexplicable ACC loss, and often two of them, has become the routine in the darkness of the Rix years and on into Drew Weatherford Era, but not necessarily guaranteed to continue. For one, the late season slide coincided with season-ending injuries to three starting offensive linemen, an area that ought to be counted as a veteran asset this year. Two, the win over Virginia Tech and hard-fought overtime loss to Penn State in the Orange Bowl were reminiscent of the old FSU teams that finished up here without fail. And three, Mickey Andrews has another crop of robotic mustangs set on 'destroy.'
The only real requirements for a major comeback season that would include a more convincing conference championship in a vulnerable league are health, a reduction in picks from Weatherford and a better willingness to get the ball into the hands of very dangerous backs Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith. Won't win 'em all, but every game is winnable, at least.
[emphasis SMQ's in teeth-grinding hindsight]

11. Miami

Take all indications of imminent demise here in the spirit they're offered - the 'Canes are still bad, bad men, and not only in the sense that they're linked to random and subsequent retaliatory gunfire. Last year's performance at Virginia Tech is a good indication of what Miami's still capable of and shouldn't be dismissed...Given the ACC landscape, still a conference championship, and therefore big-money series, frontrunner...

13. Iowa

Drew Tate, capable of beating Ohio State in Iowa City on guts of steel (or, should the NCAA take its cues from the World Cup and institute a tiebreaker format that has virtually nothing to do with the actual game, a closest-to-the-pin contest in overtime), keeps them in Rose Bowl contention.

20. Arizona State

The quarterback depth isn't that big of a deal, since only one can be on the field, but whichever one that is at any given time is going to have many opportunities to succeed again in a geared-up offense stocked with talented, experienced, versatile skill guys who are proven commodities. This is so much a given that essentially all the focus will be on the defense to make the three or four stops per game necessary to outscore people.

21. Oregon

A major beneficiary of Lexusgate. The Ducks' home date with Oklahoma now looks winnable, very winnable, and the boost was enough to vault a ten-game winner last season back into SMQ's poll. Despite much late season urging for BCS inclusion, this feels more like where UO probably should have wound up in a pure "power poll" style ranking in '05, and where a very similar team with a slightly stiffer schedule will likely end up.

25. Purdue

Will beat Penn State.

Wise: Picking N.C. State tenth, with the specifiers "dreadful offense" and "Rebuilding year. Again." Recognizing Miami as "much less off a badass," and noting that "nothing suggests" Maryland is "a program on the rise," an assertion backed up by the Terps' generally terrible statistical performance while being outgained in every regular season game after William & Mary.
Foolish: Picking the Terps next-to-last - they tortoised their way to nine stupefying, ridiculously close wins despite actually being an awful team (this is why he also tabbed UMD as the "team most likely to prove SMQ wrong," which was wise in a backhanded, cover-your-ass sort of way). Picking Virginia ahead of Wake Forest (!). Tabbing a championship game of Miami-Florida State.
Money Quote: On the Atlantic Division:

"Maryland and NC State may be the reflexive bowl "locks" behind those top three, but the league's biggest middle-of-the-pack sleeper is always-scrappy Wake Forest, which returns in the range of 19 starters."

The Big East
Wise: Louisville ahead of West Virginia, Syracuse in the cellar. Guaranteed one upset by Cincinnati, which came in its purest form against Rutgers on Nov. 18.
Foolish: Overestimation of Pittsburgh and complete underestimation of the Bearcats, who he said good things about ("will be much improved") but only deigned to project seventh of eight. Wrote off Rutgers' chances of entering the top 25 with Ryan Teel at quarterback.
Money Quote: On West Virginia:

SMQ's "prove it" team of the year. A stellar choice on paper, and would be a disappointment even to SMQ if it were to win fewer than nine. But history says WVU has never been able to sustain year-to-year momentum following a "breakthrough" season like the one it clearly produced in 2005. When you've got ten starters back from an offense that ended last season by kicking ass to the tune of at least six yards per carry in each of the final four games (SMQ will spot them .1 yard against Cincinnati), that is reason for optimism, but a carbon copy is probably too optimistic. Pat White's one-dimensional nature is a burden, but will not necessarily be a problem in more than two or three games if the veteran offensive line handles its business against the teams it's supposed to...

The Big Ten
Wise: He called this: "Michigan State will suffer a debilitating setback that will wreck its season...a defeat in some scarring psychological fashion on the order of the self-inflicted ten-point swing that cost the Ohio State game at home last year." Hello, Notre Dame. Picked Ohio State-Michigan at the top, Minnesota eighth. Purdue "too healthy to finish below .500 again."
Foolish: Forecasting Penn State and Wisconsin behind Iowa and Purdue; in fact, everything relating to Iowa. And to Wisconsin. Ergo...
Money Quote: On the team "most likely to prove SMQ wrong":

Which brings us back to the plucky Badgers, a team SMQ has somewhat written off due to the departure of astonishingly successful (.603 winning percentage, three conference championships in 15 years at a previously floundering program) Barry Alvarez to direct athletics and serve among the shortest-lived TV crew on record. It's tempting to underestimate a young, first-time head coach inheriting a team with some lingering problems on the offensive line (37 sacks allowed last year) and defense in general (418 yards allowed per game, at 4.6 yards per carry) , with something like 35 career touches among the returning backs, and basically none by the receivers. Last year's team also pulled out close games with the aid of a +13 turnover ratio, never falling on the negative side of that number, any repeat of which would defy reasonable probability.

And yet: there's the inevitable running back of doom (or at least of infinite frustration, as far as opponents are concerned) waiting in the wings. John Stocco, incredibly, is 19-6 as a starter. The defensive line, poor as it was against the run, is intact, with two highly-recruited/no-longer-spring-chicken tackles and some pass rush ability. All just waiting, wanting, wishing to make SMQ look like a fool for placing Wisconsin all the way down at seventh.

The Big XII
Wise: Going decidedly against the grain with Texas A&M over Texas Tech - the Raiders did beat the Aggies, but TAMU's upset of Texas left it a game in front of Tech in the conference standings. Nebraska to win the North.
Foolish: Way too high on Colorado and Iowa State and way too low on Missouri in the North. Picked Oklahoma State 11th, dissing the quarterback in the process, but Bobby Reid and the Cowboys turned out all right.
Money Quote: On Colt McCoy:

If the young quarterback is going to earn the spotlight any time soon, it'll be for qualities like "maturity" and "unselfishness" in the course of making the easy plays, maybe one here and there in a jam and not screwing up handoffs before one of UT's ridiculous stable of backs can get his talented hands on it.

The PAC Ten
Wise: Projecting the merging of records for Washington State and UCLA, which had been on completely opposite ends of things despite remarkably similar performances in 2005: Wazzou finished 6-6, UCLA 7-6, and the Cougars won in L.A. on Oct. 28. USC and Cal remained the class of the league; Stanford was the atrocious doormat.
Foolish: Oregon State avoided "five-win doom," easily eclipsing five teams SMQ had finishing ahead of it. And why did he think Cal could overtake USC, again?
Money Quote: On said Trojans: team in recent history has thwarted the malaise - by which SMQ means maybe two losses, three max - that inevitably follows the departure of production on the level of the Big Three from the Trojan backfield, which itself obscures the exodus of three offensive linemen, both defensive tackles and three-fourths of the secondary, the vast majority of which is collecting hefty paychecks these days. And still SC probably deserves to be favored in every game, even if the cosmic order dictates somebody with an offensive pulse - Nebraska, Arizona State, Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame - will shut down the surprisingly anonymous, youth-and-injury-plagued backs and pressure the new quarterback into enough mistakes to rend a scarlet and gold garment or two.

Wise: Florida as conference champion, which SMQ will say, given the number of plausible contenders in August, was the toughest top spot to forecast among the major conferences. The general order of predictions 1-12, save two or three transpositions, was very on-target.
Foolish: Failed completely to see Kentucky coming near .500, much less winning seven plus a bowl game. Saw improvement in Arkansas, but not nearly enough because of the quarterbacks. LSU's record was no surprise, but the dominance of its new defensive line was.
Money Quote: On Alabama:

The Crimson Tide were among the handful of teams - Penn State, UCLA, and Texas Tech among them - who rode a crest of coalescing senior leadership to a "career year" in '05, but who are likely to slip back into more familiar patterns this fall. For Alabama under the Perplexed-Looking Mike Shula, that means six or seven wins and looming "hot seat" intonations for the coach by random bowl time, extensions be damned.

Wishes he'd seen it coming as clearly as SMQ.
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