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College football 2012 midseason Crystal Ball predictions

SI.com's 2012 Midseason Crystal Ball

The first seven weeks of college football are in the books, and this year has been as exciting as ever. After providing their original forecasts in August, SI.com college football analysts Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Holly Anderson, Lars Anderson, Ben Glicksman and Mallory Rubin offer their revised predictions for the second half. For more midseason content, check out our midseason All-America Team, podcast roundtable, offbeat accolades, Halfway Heisman, Andy Awards and more.

BCS Bowl Projections
 
Stewart Mandel
 Title Game Rose Sugar Fiesta Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Andy Staples
 Title Game Rose Sugar Fiesta Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Holly Anderson
 Title Game Rose Sugar Fiesta Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Lars Anderson
 Title Game Rose Sugar Fiesta Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Ben Glicksman
 Title Game Rose Sugar Fiesta Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
Mallory Rubin
 Title Game Rose Sugar Fiesta Orange 
 vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. 
 
National Champion
 
Mandel
Most teams play complacently the year after winning a national championship. So far, the Tide have produced mostly clean, hungry, four-quarter efforts. They're not unbeatable, but there's no other team out there I'd feel confident picking to beat them.
Staples
The Crimson Tide are a juggernaut. I can't wait for Nick Saban to lecture us again about praising his team too much. It's going to happen a lot.
H. Anderson
For the sake of variety, and because I am running out of ways to say "HEY READER, DID YOU KNOW ALABAMA IS GOOD AT FOOTBALL?" and because this will all be wrong in two weeks anyway when every team on this list has lost and Kansas State sneaks in to snag the crystal football. Anyway. Oregon is playing defense! The Ducks are pretty good at it!
L. Anderson
How good are the Crimson Tide? After they thumped Missouri 42-10 last Saturday, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel called this year's Alabama team perhaps the best he's ever seen in college football -- a team with no discernable weakness. The one thing that could derail the Tide would be an injury to quarterback AJ McCarron, as 'Bama has virtually no experience backing him up. If he stays healthy, though, I think Alabama rolls to its third national title in four years -- something that hasn't been done since Nebraska accomplished the feat in 1997.
Glicksman
'Bama leads the nation in every major defensive statistical category. Its offensive line has been dominant to date, and its stable of backs has actually outgained last year's Trent Richardson-led rushing attack through six games (1,303 yards to 1,302). Factor in a much-improved AJ McCarron, who's yet to throw an interception, and the Tide look poised for a third BCS title in four years.
Rubin
The Tide have waltzed through the first half of their season. With a relative cakewalk of a schedule the rest of the way -- sorry, SEC supremacists! -- they'll barely be challenged before reaching Miami. AJ McCarron is taking care of the ball and playing efficiently; Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon are both running well behind the nation's best offensive line; and C.J. Mosley is captaining a defense that's completely erased preseason concerns about youth and inexperience. Oh, and that Saban guy's still the coach.
 
Second-Half Surprise Team
 
Mandel
The Wolverines have bounced back nicely from their early-season losses to Alabama and Notre Dame. They have a top-10 defense. Denard Robinson can still run. They'll play for the Big Ten championship.
Staples
Maybe not for the entire second half, but for one game. The Badgers are slowly getting better, but they don't even need to be that good to make the Big Ten title game. They'll practically make it by default because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible. Then Wisconsin will shock the team that comes out of the Legends Division.
H. Anderson
The Blue Devils will shake off their ill-fated upset attempt at Virginia Tech to take the Coastal Division, make an appearance in the ACC Championship Game (where, presumably, they will not face current Atlantic leader Maryland, but boy howdy, have we ever been wrong about the ACC before) and earn a respectable bowl bid.
L. Anderson
Now that freshman quarterback Joel Stave has some experience and Monteé Ball is finally playing like he did last season (he ran for 247 yards against Purdue), look for Wisconsin to capture the Leaders Division, especially since Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible. With Ball running hard and Stave managing the offense, the Badgers will beat Michigan in the conference championship to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl, where they'll upset USC.
Glicksman
Largely written off after the departure of starting quarterback Casey Pachall, the Horned Frogs still boast the nation's 15th-ranked defense. Freshman Devonte Fields is already one of the premier pass rushers in the Big 12, and wideouts Brandon Carter and Josh Boyce are dangerous weapons downfield. If redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin continues to play like he did against Baylor, don't be surprised if TCU turns some heads -- and upsets some Big 12 frontrunners -- as part of a surprising second-half surge.
Rubin
The Wolverines look like the only bowl-eligible team capable of mounting a run, rising in the rankings and saving face on behalf of the entire Big Ten. The offense is cruising, while Greg Mattison's defense has allowed an average of just 9.75 points over its last four contests. The comeback begins this Saturday, when Michigan will end its four-season losing streak to offensively anemic in-state rival Michigan State.
 
Second-Half Flop Team
 
Mandel
The banged-up Tigers and their nonexistent passing game won't make it through the upcoming three-game slate of Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State with their national championship hopes intact.
Staples
If Texas Tech can dominate the Mountaineers, how is West Virginia supposed to survive against Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma, which play even better defense than the Red Raiders?
H. Anderson
The Terrapins are 4-2 and undefeated in ACC play -- after besting the likes of Wake Forest and Virginia. NC State, Clemson and Florida State won't be so kind. Adios, Terps. It was weirdly fun watching you put together half of a winning record.
L. Anderson
The Bulldogs are putting together a historic season in Starkville. Mississippi State is undefeated and ranked 12th in the first BCS standings, the program's highest spot ever. But the Bulldogs haven't played a powerhouse yet -- something that will change when they visit Tuscaloosa Oct. 27. After Dan Mullen's squad loses to Alabama it'll fade down the stretch, falling to LSU Nov. 10 and to Arkansas Nov. 17.
Glicksman
The Trojans' BCS hopes remain alive after an underwhelming first half, but things are about to get much tougher. USC still has to play Oregon and Notre Dame in addition to upset-minded Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA. Matt Barkley's senior sendoff could end with three or more losses.
Rubin
The Mountaineers can't stop a pee wee football team, let alone Collin Klein, Joseph Randle, Landry Jones and the rest of the offensive stars they'll see in the second half of Big 12 play. Plenty of West Virginia's remaining opponents can put up points; unlike WVU, they can also play some defense. The Mountaineers started 5-0, but they may finish 8-4.
 
Best Bet to Bust the BCS
 
Mandel
It's odd to think this year's far less imposing team could do what the Kellen Moore-led 2010 and '11 juggernauts could not. But if the Broncos win out (and Nevada may very well be favored in the finale), they'll easily reach the top 16 of the BCS standings, likely higher than at least the Big Ten champ.
Staples
No one. It's not happening. Ohio may go undefeated, but the Bobcats elected to play a fairly soft nonconference schedule. Too bad. Schedule better opponents next time.
H. Anderson
I sadly doubt any busters are breaking through this season. But at this point, if anyone can crack the BCS, it almost seems like it has to be the Broncos, especially given Louisiana Tech's loss and Ohio's failure to play anything like compelling football. Louisiana Tech will have more wins over non-AQ teams, but the Broncos will have name recognition from lazy voters who are just used to having them ranked.
L. Anderson
I spent several days in Athens, Ohio, for a feature on Frank Solich and his Bobcats. And it was striking to me how similarly Solich's program resembles Nebraska's. His top assistants are all former Cornhuskers; he utilizes the redshirt as frequently as any coach in the MAC; and he has a flourishing walk-on program. This is a fun team to watch, and quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship make up one of the best backfield duos in college football. I expect the Bobcats to run the table, win the MAC title and finish the regular season undefeated.
Glicksman
Following Louisiana Tech's loss to Texas A&M, the odds are stacked staggeringly against any non-AQ team cracking the BCS. Ohio has struggled to keep its perfect record intact against the likes of UMass and Buffalo, while Boise State -- the only non-AQ school included in the first BCS standings -- faces six foes with a combined record of 14-26 to close out the year.
Rubin
Louisiana Tech was the best bet, but that's over. Ohio will get shut out even if it finishes undefeated, and while we'd all like to think a qualified one-loss Boise State team could make the cut, we need only look back to last season's selection results (cough, Virginia Tech, cough) to know that's unlikely to happen.
 
Heisman Trophy Winner
 
QB Geno Smith :: Jerod Foster/Icon SMI
Mandel
QB Geno Smith, West Virginia. He held such a commanding lead through the first half of the season that he could afford a clunker like last week's Texas Tech game. It will also help if the late-season national title contenders do not have an obvious Heisman candidate.

Staples
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. This didn't seem plausible until I compared Manziel's numbers to Tim Tebow in 2007 and Cam Newton in 2010 for this week's Power Rankings. Johnny Football is in the midst of a historic season.

H. Anderson
RB Monteé Ball. The Badgers' best baller had been running largely under the radar until his breakout performance at Purdue last Saturday. None of Wisconsin's remaining opponents save Michigan State have truly formidable ground defenses. As all these top-flight quarterbacks on teams with suspect defenses waft back down to earth, folks will start to remember why Ball has been invited to New York once already.

L. Anderson
Smith. One bad game against Texas Tech last week won't cost Smith the Heisman. He'll continue to put up video-game numbers against wide-open Big 12 secondaries and will take home the trophy in a landslide.

Glicksman
QB Collin Klein, Kansas State. Fellow quarterbacks Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel may currently boast better stats, but Klein's impact will prove too much to ignore if K-State clinches a BCS berth. He can gain the edge on Smith with a win this weekend in Morgantown, and his second-half numbers should only improve: The Wildcats' attack should thrive in meetings with West Virginia, Baylor and Texas -- the 99th, 120th and 114th ranked defenses in the nation, respectively.

Rubin
Klein. Geno Smith will keep performing, but Klein will gain an edge, along with his team, when Kansas State beats West Virginia in Week 8. Klein's passing stats won't wow, but his rushing stats will. More importantly, he'll emerge as the most valuable player in college football. The best, if not always the flashiest.
 
First Player to Fall Out of Heisman Race
 
QB Johnny Manziel :: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Mandel
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. No question, he's been fun to watch. But there will be no more 500-yard nights (and possibly several much lower than that) when he faces defenses like LSU's and Alabama's.

Staples
LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. It's a shame, because Te'o is the best player on one of the nation's best defenses. Despite the Honey Badger love last year, voters will default to voting for quarterbacks and running backs.

H. Anderson
Manziel. Speaking of which: He has to come down sometime ... right? (Right?) The defenses of LSU, Alabama and Mississippi State have yet to face Johnny Football, and at least one of them is going to best him. Better luck sophomore year to college football's most entertaining and obvious mutant.

L. Anderson
Manziel. Manziel has been wonderful in the first half of the season, throwing for 1,680 yards, running for 676 yards and accounting for 24 touchdowns. But could he become the first freshman to win the Heisman? I don't think so. His Heisman hopes will be destroyed by two upcoming defenses: LSU this Saturday and Alabama Nov. 10.

Glicksman
Manziel. This says more about the level of Manziel's competition than it does about the prolific freshman. Johnny Football has upcoming matchups with LSU and Alabama. Through Week 7, the Tigers and Tide have allowed opponents to complete a combined 181-of-353 pass attempts with nine touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Rubin
Manziel. Johnny Football is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, and he's not going to stop making highlight-reel plays. But with games remaining against LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama, his 500-yard days will grow increasingly rare. His Heisman hopes will shrink with his stats.
 
Coach of the Year
 
Mike Riley :: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Mandel
Mike Riley, Oregon State. The Beavers may trip up once before the Nov. 24 Civil War, but they've got a great chance at 10 wins. That would be quite the feat for Riley a year removed from a 3-9 season.

Staples
Riley. The scenes of Riley riding his bike to work in Gene Wojciechowski's excellent piece on ESPN reminded me of the title sequence in the criminally underwatched Chris Elliott masterpiece Get A Life -- but without the newspapers. Riley has to work harder than most of his peers to recruit Pac-12 quality players, and he gets the most out of what he has. He handled the injury to quarterback Sean Mannion perfectly, and, of course, there's the In-N-Out Burger thing. Double-double, Beaver style.

H. Anderson
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky. Taggart has proven last year's success wasn't achieved solely on the back of running back Bobby Rainey by starting 5-1 with this year's talented group. The Hilltoppers have a vastly improved defense that's averaging three sacks per game and poses the ever-present possibility of a Jonathan Dowling interception, a precision passing attack led by senior Kawaun Jakes and another dependable running presence in Antonio Andrews. This Sun Belt Conference contains multitudes.

L. Anderson
Urban Meyer, Ohio State. Everyone knew that Meyer would eventually build Ohio State into a winner, but few expected him to dominate the Big Ten in his debut season in Columbus. The future couldn't be much brighter for the Buckeye program.

Glicksman
Riley. Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Penn State's Bill O'Brien all deserve mention here. But Riley has transformed the Beavers from a Pac-12 afterthought into a legitimate BCS contender. Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton have become one of the nation's most feared receiving tandems, and a rushing defense that ranked 101st in the nation last year currently checks in at No. 4. Riley has also mastered the art of the postgame In-N-Out run, which certainly doesn't hurt his case.

Rubin
Riley. Riley is college football's Buck Showalter, turning a cellar-dweller into a contender seemingly out of nowhere. Coming off a 3-9 year, Riley has his team ranked in the top 10 midway through the season despite an injury to budding star quarterback Sean Mannion. If the Beavers can avoid stumbling before the Civil War, Riley's squad could find itself in a BCS bowl -- and chowing down at In-N-Out once again.
 
Coach on the Hottest Seat
 
Gene Chizik :: Butch Dill/Getty Images
Mandel
Gene Chizik, Auburn. The national championship is officially a distant memory. If the Tigers don't beat Vanderbilt this week (and they're not favored), they're likely headed toward 3-9. The secret planes will be dispensed well before then.

Staples
Derek Dooley, Tennessee. There are so many options to choose from. I didn't include Kentucky's Joker Phillips because he's already as good as fired. Meanwhile, Auburn's Gene Chizik may still be able to use that crystal football as a heat shield. The decision might not actually be made yet on Dooley, but it's hard to find a lot of hope there.

H. Anderson
John L. Smith, Arkansas. Sticking with my preseason prediction here, armed with the added information that Jeff Long, Arkansas' AD, wants a new coach in place by December. Will Smith even see the end of his 10-month contract if the Razorbacks can snap up a hotshot coordinator immediately following the conclusion of regular-season play, or a sturdy retread before that?

L. Anderson
Chizik. I live in Birmingham and Chizik has been getting absolutely destroyed on local radio for the last two weeks. If the Tigers don't beat Vanderbilt Saturday, it's entirely possible that Auburn will go winless in the SEC, which would be a stunning fall for a program -- and a coach -- that won the national title two years ago.

Glicksman
Chizik. Less than two years removed from a 14-0 BCS title-winning campaign, Auburn has plummeted to the depths of the SEC cellar. And if not for a missed field goal by Louisiana-Monroe kicker Justin Manton in overtime, the Tigers could currently be 0-6. The second half doesn't seem any more promising: Matchups with Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama still await.

Rubin
Chizik. It's entirely possible the Tigers' only wins this year will come against Louisiana-Monroe (in the books, but barely), New Mexico State (Nov. 3) and Alabama ... A&M (Nov. 17). That's not going to cut it in the SEC West. Chizik's buyout is steep, but it's not prohibitive; his crystal football protective shield still exists, but it's splintering fast.
 
A Bold Prediction
 
RB T.J. Yeldon :: AP
Mandel
I think I'm going to let my preseason bold prediction ride. Just one more win, Blue Devils.

Staples
Some major controversy will befall the selection process for the BCS title game, and conference commissioners will huddle with bowl officials and ESPN to work out a financial arrangement that allows them to scrap the BCS a year early and start the four-team playoff in 2013.

H. Anderson
Alabama will lose a game between now and bowl season, and it will be voted No. 2 in the BCS anyway. This is not a happy wish, but a grim foreboding.

L. Anderson
Alabama will win all of its remaining games by a minimum of 14 points.

Glicksman
Led by running back Jawan Jamison and linebacker Khaseem Greene, Rutgers will finish the regular season unbeaten and secure an Orange Bowl berth. It will mark a crowning achievement for first-year coach Kyle Flood, who took over the program for NFL-bound Greg Schiano less than a week before Signing Day.

Rubin
The title game will pit undefeated Alabama and Oregon. The Fiesta Bowl will pit ... undefeated Kansas State and Notre Dame.
 
2012 Midseason Andy Awards
Source: SI
From the best moment to the best mustache, SI's Andy Staples hands out awards at the 2012 midseason.

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