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:
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:
Still SMQ doesn't really see them containing Troy Smith.
Forgot to mention these guys.
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And a few shameful misses:
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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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.
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.
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:
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:
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":
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:
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:
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:
Wishes he'd seen it coming as clearly as SMQ.
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