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Crystal Ball: Predictions for 2009

SI.com's College Football Crystal Ball
SI.com's college football contributors Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Austin Murphy, George Schroeder, Cory McCartney, Mallory Rubin, Arash Markazi and Kevin Armstrong provide their predictions for the 2009 season.
BCS Bowl Projections
 
Stewart Mandel
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
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Andy Staples
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
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Austin Murphy
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
George Schroeder
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Cory McCartney
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Mallory Rubin
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Arash Markazi
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Kevin Armstrong
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
National Champion
 
Mandel
Defense wins championships, and it's hard to find fault with a team that returns all 11 defensive starters -- plus the nation's top coordinator, Charlie Strong.
Staples
With Tim Tebow and the entire defensive two-deep returning, the BCS title is the Gators' to lose.
Murphy
Urban Meyer's SECOND eleven on defense would be starting for half the schools in the SEC. Gators will hold Colt McCoy & Co. to one touchdown in a pitcher's duel BCS title game. Final: 24-13.
Schroeder
Tim Tebow might not be the best player in college football history, but he's the best one we remember.
McCartney
Repeating is no small task, which is why only two teams have done it in the last 30 years. But this Gators team returns 18 starters and boasts overwhelming self-confidence. That's a dangerous combination.
Rubin
The Gators return all 11 starters from a championship defense. No. 2 Texas upset the defending champion and No. 1 team in 2005 (USC), but won't be able to pull it off again.
Markazi
There's a reason the Gators were a near unanimous selection as the No. 1 team in the country in the polls and are 73-point favorites to win their first game. They're that good, and I'm not just talking about Tim Tebow.
Armstrong
The 'Horns have been hoarding top recruits, as usual. A balanced defense and offense will bring them another title in Pasadena.
 
Surprise Team
 
Mandel
QB Ryan Mallett will be this year's Jevan Snead as the Razorbacks return to the Top 25 realm.
Staples
The Tigers didn't lose that much from the team many predicted would win the ACC last season. They can take the ACC Atlantic division.
Murphy
One Big 12 head coach told me he thinks Cowboys QB Zac Robinson is a little better than McCoy, not quite as good as Sam Bradford. Robinson, go-to wide out Dez Bryant and RB Kendall Hunter comprise the most talented trio of skill guys in the country. Itinerant coordinator Bill Young will stop the bleeding on defense as the 'Boys roll Georgia in their opener enroute to a Bedlam upset of Oklahoma and a BCS bowl.
Schroeder
With Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett and USC transfer Broderick Green, the Hogs will put up points for Bobby Petrino.
McCartney
Sure, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno are gone, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Bulldogs have a steady QB who will play within the offense in Joe Cox, a run game that will be better than you think and a line that boasts a combined 99 starts protecting both.
Rubin
The Heels lost several key contributors on offense, but boast enviable athleticism and speed on defense. Look for junior DT Marvin Austin, who anchors a veteran line, to tap into all his potential and become a true difference maker for Butch Davis' squad.
Markazi
New offensive coordinator Gus Malazahn was one of the innovators of the trendy "Wildcat Offense," and if he can get the Tigers to play with some consistency they could be a scary team. The Tigers lost four games by five points or fewer last year because they finished 104th in the nation in total offense and 110th in scoring.
Armstrong
The Butch Davis rebuilding project is on schedule, last year registering the Heels' first winning season since 2001. ACC contests against Georgia Tech and Florida State will determine how quickly the Heels can climb.
 
Flop Team
 
Mandel
Expectations are far too high for the Hokies in light of their brutal schedule and a suspect offense that already lost its top weapon (RB Darren Evans).
Staples
The schedule is favorable, but the expectations are too high for a team that must contend with Alabama and a much improved LSU in the SEC west.
Murphy
Despite the return of nine starters from a very stout defense, the Tide won't recapture the magic of last season. First-year quarterback Greg McElroy will struggle without stud north-south runner Glen Coffee and departed Outland winner Andre Smith, among others. 'Bama bows to Virginia Tech Saturday, then drops at least two games in-conference.
Schroeder
If you're concerned whether Mike Gundy, now 42, is ready for primetime, consider that for no apparent reason, he cut off interviews with players and coaches for almost two weeks leading up to the season opener with Georgia.
McCartney
Yes, the Rodgers Bros. and QB Lyle Moevao return, but the concerns are plentiful: The offensive line has three new starters, the Beavers lack a true deep threat at WR and the secondary has four new faces. Oh, and they play at USC, Cal and Oregon.
Rubin
Tailback Jacquizz Rodgers may be electric, but he can't make up for an inexperienced o-line and secondary -- especially with teams like USC, Oregon and Cal casting shadows.
Markazi
The Crimson Tide are ranked too high in the preseason polls for a team that got exposed in the Sugar Bowl and will have to replace the starting quarterback, running back and three offensive lineman.
Armstrong
Unless the green offensive line grows up quickly, the Ducks could slip up early (Boise State in opener) and late (Oregon State in finale).
 
Potential BCS Buster
 
Mandel
The Broncos' schedule sets up nicely for an undefeated run -- if they knock off Oregon first.
Staples
East Carolina, TCU and BYU might be better, but their schedules make going undefeated unlikely. If the Broncos beat Oregon, they can go 12-0.
Murphy
Of the three finalists -- TCU, BYU and Boise State -- I'm going with the Broncos, based on the fact nearly everyone from last year's 12-1 team returns. Cool customer head coach Chris Peterson is one of the best in the business, and second-year southpaw QB Kellen Moore will be even better. Plus, the Broncos get their toughest opponent -- the revenge-minded Oregon Ducks -- at home on the blue rug. Every game after that looks highly winnable.
Schroeder
If they can get by Oregon on the blue turf in the opener, the Broncos are home-free -- and maybe even if they don't beat the Ducks. Otherwise, does Notre Dame qualify as a BCS-buster yet?
McCartney
The ingredients are there for the Broncos' return to the BCS. They have an experienced quarterback in Kellen Moore, a solid line and running game and a stout defense led by end Ryan Winterswyk and corner Kyle Wilson. Plus, they play two of their toughest games (Oregon and Nevada) at home, where they're 56-2 this decade.
Rubin
TCU's the more talented team, but if the Broncos beat Oregon in the opener they stand a good chance of running the table. The biggest speed bump after opening night: the final game of the season against true BCS-buster sleeper Nevada.
Markazi
If the Broncos keep sneaking into this conversation we might have to stop calling them a "BCS Buster," the same way we have to stop calling Gonzaga a "Cinderella team." Boise State returns 11 starters, including quarterback Kellen Moore, from the team that went 12-1 last season. If they can beat Oregon in the season opener in Boise, they could go 13-0 this season.
Armstrong
The Smurf Turf Broncos kick off against a loaded Oregon squad. If they can get past that hurdle, the remainder of the schedule reads like a fairy tale season.
 
Heisman Trophy Winner
 
Texas' Colt McCoy :: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Mandel
Colt McCoy. He plays for a national-title contender, he'll receiver voter empathy after falling just short last year and he'll benefit from "Tebow Fatigue."

Staples
Tim Tebow. If the Gators do go undefeated in the regular season, Tebow, like Herschel Walker in 1982, will win the Irving G. Thalberg memorial Heisman.

Murphy
Colt McCoy. Assuming all three of last year's finalists -- winner Sam Bradford, runner-up Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow -- put up similarly gaudy statistics, and that McCoy can lead the Longhorns to the BCS title game, he'll win it because of a consensus that is already forming among voters: It's his turn.

Schroeder
Colt McCoy. Unless the Southern bloc prevails -- and we all know who they like -- McCoy will get plenty of sympathy votes (see tie-breaker, 2008) to go along with a very impressive résumé.

McCartney
Tim Tebow. Last season we saw voters are ready for a second two-time winner, as the Florida QB earned more first-place votes than anyone. With Percy Harvin gone, we'll see a return to the gaudy stats Tebow put up in 2007, leading him to add another superlative to one of the game's greatest résumés.

Rubin
Colt McCoy. The Longhorns' signal caller should have taken home the stiff-arm statue last year. This season voter guilt, a veteran receiving corps and championship contention will give him the edge.

Markazi
Colt McCoy. The Texas quarterback was my pick last year. This season, he won't leave any doubt he deserves the award. Most of his receivers and offensive linemen return and McCoy has a chip on his shoulder after being overlooked for the Heisman and the BCS Title game for Sam Bradford and the Sooners in 2008.

Armstrong
Colt McCoy. The All-America McCoy has the weapons to duel Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford for the strike-a-pose trophy.
 
First Player To Fall Out of Heisman Race
 
Cal RB Jahvid Best :: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Mandel
Terrelle Pryor. He's a long-shot candidate to begin with and USC's defense will likely smother his chances Sept. 12. Next year could be a different story.

Staples
Eric Berry. It's a shame, because Berry might be the most dynamic defender in the country. Unfortunately, most Heisman voters won't consider him.

Murphy
Let me paraphrase the question: Which talented player do you want to piss off before the season even starts? Rather than do that, I'm taking this easy out: USC quarterback Aaron Corp.

Schroeder
Jahvid Best, RB, Cal. No running back need apply most years, and especially not this year.

McCartney
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State. Durability is a major concern for Quizz. He broke down last season after 255 carries in 10 games and with 25 carries a game in store, the 5-foot-7, 191-pounder is going to take a consistent beating.

Rubin
Terrelle Pryor. The odds are against a sophomore winning for a third year in a row. Next season, Pryor will stand as good a chance as any. This season, he'll live in the shadows cast by the Holy Trinity of Heisman contending QBs.

Markazi
Sam Bradford. If the Heisman race is really only between McCoy, Bradford and Tebow, then Bradford will bow out on October 17 in Dallas after he loses to McCoy and Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Sure, he and the Sooners could recover, but the voters won't forgive that loss a second time.

Armstrong
Sam Bradford. The Oklahoma quarterback's campaign will last until Oct. 17 when the Sooners fall to the Longhorns in the Red River Shootout. He can pass the baton to McCoy in the post-game handshake line.
 
Next Household Name
 
Tech QB Taylor Potts :: Karl Anderson/Icon SMI
Mandel
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. The highly touted Hawaiian should make an immediate impact -- and since it's Notre Dame, he certainly won't be hurting for publicity.

Staples
Taylor Potts, QB, Texas Tech. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Potts has a body and an arm NFL coaches won't ignore, and he's going to put up huge numbers. Remember, Mike Leach isn't going to start running the wishbone now that Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are gone.

Murphy
Jahvid Best. With a solid offensive line opening holes for him against the somewhat fungible defenses of the Pac-10, Cal tailback Best -- the nation's leading returning rusher, with nearly 132 yards per game in '08 -- is on the cusp of blowing up.

Schroeder
Taylor Potts. Potts is the latest quarterback in Mike Leach's pinball wizard offense, which means he'll probably lead the nation in passing.

McCartney
Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama. John Parker Wilson's replacement has followed a record-setter before, succeeding Chase Daniel in high school. He's smart, has a quick release and while he'll be more game manager than playmaker, he has plenty of weapons around him to lead to a huge year.

Rubin
Taylor Potts. Meet Mike Leach's next 5,000 yard passer. Potts, like Graham Harrell, will put up gaudy stats in the Mad Scientist's offense, and like his Big 12 South brethren will earn no shortage of coverage.

Markazi
Matt Barkley, QB, USC. Everyone in Southern California knows who Barkley is by now, but the rest of the country will finally see the future of USC and the favorite to win the Heisman in 2010 when Barkley has his coming out party this month, lighting up Ohio State at The Horseshoe.

Armstrong
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Nothing smoothes the path for a new quarterback quite like an extraterrestrial athlete like Jones. Last spring he received 17 votes for student council president in Tuscaloosa. This season he will throw his hat in the ring for SEC Player of the Year and higher offices.
 
Coach on the Hottest Seat
 
Irish coach Charlie Weis :: Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Mandel
Charlie Weis. It couldn't get much more clear-cut for Weis: Get the Irish back into BCS-bowl contention (which means at least nine wins) or it's sayonara.

Staples
Steve Kragthorpe. If Kragthorpe's team stays near the bottom of the Big East, Louisville officials will show losing is far more dangerous to a man's employment status than a bawdy scene from an Italian restaurant.

Murphy
That perch is shared (and it's a tight squeeze, indeed) by Rich Rodriguez of Michigan, now presiding over one of the more dysfunctional programs in D-I, and Charlie Weis of Notre Dame, whose signature win in South Bend remains a 34-31 loss to USC -- the so-called "Bush Push" game of '05. The loser of the Notre Dame-Michigan matchup on Sept. 12 -- call it the How the Mighty Have Fallen Bowl -- becomes the seat's sole occupant.

Schroeder
Rich Rodriguez. (Weis is too easy). Year 2 of what could be a short tenure, and we've already seen lawsuits, arrests, alleged NCAA rules violations and more lawsuits -- but where are the wins?

McCartney
Charlie Weis. Is there a hotter seat in the country? Weis' last two seasons, which include the worst season in Irish history, have made the BCS runs of his first two years in South Bend a distant memory. Can a favorable schedule get him back in the good graces of fans and the administration?

Rubin
Rich Rodriguez. At least Michigan's beleaguered coach has one friend right now (aside from that banned Clemson booster...): Charlie Weis, who can't mind the deflected hot-seat attention.

Markazi
Charlie Weis. Somehow, Weis managed to avoid the chopping block after last year's embarrassing season. It was perhaps one of the greatest escapes since Houdini's days.

Armstrong
Charlie Weis. Is he humbled yet? Hopefully so, for Irish fans' sake. The schedule is easier, but not loaded with cupcakes. Weis needs heralded recruits to start producing or he may not be around to see them graduate.
 
A Bold Prediction
 
LSU OT Ciron Black :: Doug Benc/Getty Images
Mandel
This will be Steve Spurrier's last season in coaching. A fifth straight season of relative mediocrity at South Carolina will convince the 64-year-old Ball Coach he's had enough.

Staples
LSU will bounce back from a 3-5 conference record in 2008 and win the SEC west.

Murphy
USC's early-season non-conference magic goes AWOL in the Horseshoe on September 12. With Trojans freshman QB Matt Barkley looking shell-shocked in his second career start, Terrelle Pryor goes all Vince Young on the visitors, piling up 400-or-so total yards in a 10-point Buckeyes win.

Schroeder
LSU beats Florida on Oct. 10, and Tim Tebow's passionate postgame apology/prophecy is chiseled onto another plaque in Gainesville after the Gators win the BCS title.

McCartney
Taylor Potts will give Texas Tech its third straight 5,000-yard passing season. Mike Leach's last five quarterbacks have averaged 4,557 yards and 34 TDs in the first year as a starter, but Potts will surpass those numbers. He may not have Michael Crabtree, like Graham Harrell did, but Potts will have a deeper receiving corps at his disposal.

Rubin
Much like Texas Tech in 2008, sexy sleeper picks and preseason darlings Ole Miss and Oklahoma State will flirt with BCS berths, but fall short.

Markazi
Notre Dame will not be ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the season. Many predict Notre Dame will have a turnaround season because of it's cupcake schedule and high number of returning players. As long as Weis is calling the shots, I don't see it.

Armstrong
Oregon State will win the Pac-10. The Beavers took down the Trojans in Corvallis last season, and they return enough on defense to burn down Troy October 24.
 

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