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SI.com's 2009 midseason Crystal Ball

SI.com's 2009 midseason Crystal Ball
A lot can change in seven weeks. After providing their original forecasts back in August, SI.com college football contributors Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Austin Murphy, Cory McCartney, George Schroeder and Mallory Rubin regroup at the halfway point and offer their predictions for the remainder of the season.
BCS Bowl Projections
 
Stewart Mandel
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Andy Staples
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Austin Murphy
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Cory McCartney
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
George Schroeder
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Mallory Rubin
 Title Game Rose Fiesta Sugar Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
National Champion
 
Mandel
Nick Saban's team boasts all the historical elements of a national champ: a powerful running game, efficient quarterback and suffocating defense.
Staples
The Crimson Tide have the fewest weaknesses of any team at the moment.
Murphy
As usual, the SEC championship serves as a play-in to the NCG. I like the Tide for the following exotic, elaborate reasons: They can run. They can stop the run.
McCartney
The Tide have the nation's best defense and an emerging Heisman contender in RB Mark Ingram, but more than anything they'll win it all because they just don't know how to let up. Want proof? They've won their SEC games by an average of nearly 20 points.
Schroeder
The Trojans sometimes slip in the little games, but if they can overcome the fall-out from the annual inexplicable loss, there's no one better in big games.
Rubin
The Tide play stifling defense and boast a fierce rushing duo in Heisman candidate Mark Ingram and freshman stud Trent Richardson.
 
Second-Half Surprise Team
 
Mandel
The 4-2 Wildcats' offense is rolling behind QB Nick Foles. They could put together a second-half run like Oregon State last year.
Staples
Three losses by five points. If the defense can play the way it did against Texas for the rest of the season, the Sooners can finish strong.
Murphy
Check out Miami's remaining schedule: Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, USF. The youthful 'Canes have lost their last game of '09. Beware these guys over the next few years.
McCartney
The Panthers could wind up stealing the Big East crown from Cincinnati. Freshman RB Dion Lewis is on pace for a 1,500-plus yard season, and while the Panthers do have to travel to West Virginia for the Backyard Brawl, they get USF and Cincy at home.
Schroeder
If not for a goofy interception (or incompletion) against Washington, the Wildcats would be 5-1 -- which would qualify them as a first-half surprise team. The difficult portion of the schedule comes in the second half, but Mike Stoops has found a QB in Nick Foles.
Rubin
A well-oiled rushing attack and favorable remaining schedule -- UVA, Vandy, Wake, Duke and suddenly feeble Georgia -- put an 11-1 campaign in reach. If Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and Co. pull it off, they'll give the ACC a real shot at two BCS berths.
 
Second-Half Flop Team
 
Mandel
Late-season slides have been a staple of Steve Spurrier's tenure, and a tough last month brings Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson.
Staples
The Jayhawks finish with a brutal stretch: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri. Even if they split, they don't win the Big 12 North.
Murphy
Awestruck as I am by Ndamukong Suh, the Cornhuskers are looking at at least a couple more losses if they can't get better quarterback play.
McCartney
The Tigers still face road games against Alabama and Ole Miss, not to mention matchups with explosive Auburn and Arkansas, both of whom can exploit a defense that's nowhere near the level of its predecessors.
Schroeder
The Longhorns will win the Big 12, which isn't really a flop, but the expectation is a berth in the BCS Championship game. A loss in Stillwater on Halloween will dash those hopes.
Rubin
The Jayhawks must still face Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. When the opposition finally limits the Reesing-Briscoe and Reesing-Meier connections, Kansas' defense won't be able to shoulder the load.
 
Best Bet to Bust the BCS
 
Mandel
The Broncos are going to go undefeated, and their win over Oregon and past BCS success will help maintain their lead over TCU among voters.
Staples
Cupcake scheduling isn't just for the big boys. Aside from Oregon, Boise State doesn't play anyone.
Murphy
Should the Frogs win out (BYU will have something to say about that on Saturday), their superior schedule would entitle them to leapfrog undefeated Boise State.
McCartney
TCU may be the better team, but the Horned Frogs have to play two ranked teams in BYU and Utah, while the Broncos face just one team (Idaho) with a winning record in their final seven games.
Schroeder
TCU is better, as is BYU and maybe Houston, but BYU and Houston already have blemishes, and the Frogs will have a difficult time going unbeaten.
Rubin
The Jerry Hughes-led Horned Frogs are the most talented mid-major. If they beat BYU and Utah, their superior strength of schedule will earn them the BCS nod over fellow undefeated Boise State.
 
Heisman Trophy Winner
 
Florida QB Tim Tebow :: AP
Mandel
Tim Tebow. Thanks to a dearth of contenders, the Florida star already sits atop most lists despite a slow start and should cruise if the Gators keep winning.

Staples
Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama. This is more wish than prediction. If someone is going to bring the Heisman to Tuscaloosa for the first time, it should be the Crimson Tide's best player.

Murphy
Mark Ingram. We've waited half a season for Tebow, Bradford or McCoy to take it by the throat. They've failed to do that, flinging the door open for Ingram.

McCartney
Tim Tebow. He hasn't been as dominant as he was last season or in 2007 (when he won), but in a lackluster race the player with the most name recognition will become the second two-time winner.

Schroeder
Tim Tebow. In the absence of another contending quarterback from a marquee team, Tebow's name recognition and status as a legend will make the difference.

Rubin
Tim Tebow. I'd love to see a receiver emerge and take the prize in a season where the usual suspects have faded into the shadows, but the bottom line is: If Florida continues winning and Tebow continues being a big reason why, the voters will give it to him.
 
Current Heisman Contender Who Will Fade First
 
DT Ndamukong Suh :: Karl Anderson/Icon SMI
Mandel
Colt McCoy. Last week's Oklahoma game exposed voters to the fact that McCoy isn't playing at nearly the same level this year.

Staples
Tony Pike. Even if Pike comes back strong from his wrist injury, the Bearcats don't get enough national pub for him to win this popularity contest.

Murphy
Tim Tebow. I don't see how Tebow, post-concussion, can go back to his battering-ram ways. As his numbers go down, he'll lose his grip on the trophy.

McCartney
Ndamukong Suh. Is he the best defensive player in the country? Absolutely. But any talk about a strictly defensive player winning is just that, talk. Now, if Bo Pelini wants to toss him in at fullback in goal-line situations...

Schroeder
Ndamukong Suh. Is a defensive player ever really a contender, anyway (even though he should be)? Nebraska's erratic play will doom Suh's bid.

Rubin
Tony Pike. Pike put up eye-popping first-half stats, but when you play for Cincinnati you can't afford to miss any time. If his wrist injury keeps him out, his Heisman hopes will fade.
 
Coach on the Hottest Seat
 
Illinois coach Ron Zook :: Jonathan Daniel/Getty
Mandel
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville. The Jon Gruden rumors were bogus, but the fact that replacements are already being tossed around tells you he's doomed.

Staples
Ron Zook, Illinois. Five years ago this weekend, Zook took his Florida team to Starkville. The following Monday, he was fired. This weekend, the Illini head to West Lafayette, the Starkville of the Big Ten.

Murphy
Can I say Jim Zorn? No? Well, with Maryland off to its worst start in a dozen years, Ralph Friedgen must be popping some flop sweat -- but not as much as the doomed Ron Zook, whose Fighting Illini remain winless in the Big Ten after a desultory loss to ... Indiana.

McCartney
Ron Zook. The good will he earned in making the Rose Bowl two years ago is gone. The Illini haven't beaten a FCS team since Nov. 1 of last season and their five losses have come by an average of 16.4 points.

Schroeder
Mike Sherman, Texas A&M. Actually, it's Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe, but he's a goner. Sherman won't be fired in Year 2, but the Aggies will be sorely tempted.

Rubin
Ron Zook. Might as well flip a coin here to decide between Zook and Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe. Both failed to field competitive teams in down years for their respective conferences, but Illinois' fall from Big Ten sleeper pick to 1-5 debacle has been truly shocking.
 
A Bold Prediction
 
Cincy WR Mardy Gilyard :: Al Messerschmidt/Getty
Mandel
Cincinnati will become the first undefeated major-conference team to get bypassed for the BCS title game by a one-loss team (USC).

Staples
TCU goes undefeated and gets shut out of the BCS thanks to Boise State, which will be undefeated and ranked higher.

Murphy
The Iowa Hawkeyes win out (salty, veteran dee flummoxes Terrelle Pryor in Columbus on Nov. 14), beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl and finish the season No. 3 in the nation.

McCartney
The ACC Coastal Division finish will be the most controversial in years. Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech will all finish with 7-1 conference records and at least two will tie in the BCS. According to ACC rules, a draw will determine the champion.

Schroeder
Oklahoma's second-half storyline is about becoming bowl-eligible. At 7-5, the Sooners will match the previous worst record under Bob Stoops -- in 1999, his first season.

Rubin
Boise State, TCU and Cincinnati will all finish undefeated, but none will play for the national title.
 

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