When you begin looking at the upcoming college football season in mid-summer, it's fun to project who you think will do well and who you expect to flop. But all the while, you also know you are putting your predictions out there for all the world to see, and it's impossible, and not worth the effort, to make everyone happy. Not to mention it's hopeless to think you can get it all right. But as we've done basically every season, SCS.com got a lot of it very close to correct, some of it not so close, and a small percentage of it embarrassingly wrong.
In a ranking published annually by an outside source comparing this site's conference predictions with those of other national publications, both online and in print, SCS.com finished about middle-of-the-pack. We were a good distance behind both Lindy's and Phil Steele, but our accuracy compared to Street & Smith's and CBSSportsline.com was nearly identical. And our predictions on the 2005 season were a good deal better than those of either The Sporting News or Blue Ribbon.
Like we mentioned when the previews were released in July and August, you will always win some and lose some. The ones you miss are always obvious and easy to spot, but those you get right are often overlooked. To make sure that does not happen, that's where we'll start as we review SCS.com's 2005 College Football Preview.
We told you back in August that Florida State and Virginia Tech would meet in the ACC title game and that Texas would meet Colorado in the Big XII championship battle. We also projected LSU to win the SEC West and Georgia to tie for the SEC East (though the Bulldogs actually ended up winning the division outright by one game).
Speaking of the Hokies, we projected their 10-1 overall and 7-1 conference regular season records exactly right in selecting them to the conference title game. In the process, we avoided the more popular pick of Miami out of the Coastal Division, gambled on Frank Beamer's Hokies, and got that one right.
Akron was a team out of the MAC that didn't get much preseason respect, but SCS.com projected the Zips to finish 6-5, and that's exactly where the squad found themselves in late November as they made preparations for the MAC title game.
Perhaps most importantly, we told you back in August that Southern Cal and Texas were the best two teams in America and that they would meet in this January's Rose Bowl to battle for this season's national title.
Finally, here's a look at teams whose record, both in conference and overall, we projected exactly right: Air Force, Arizona, Boise State, BYU, Buffalo, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas State, Marshall, Maryland, Memphis, Minnesota, NC State, Northern Illinois, Southern Cal, Virginia Tech.
In addition to those 17 squads above, we got an additional 39 within one game of their actual final record. That means when we projected the conference and overall records of all 117 D-I teams in America, we got over 47%, nearly half, either exactly right or within one game of their actual season-ending record.
In order of accuracy, beginning with the most accurate, here's how we did projecting the individual conferences: (1) SEC West, (t2) ACC Atlantic, (t2) Big XII North, (t2) MAC East, (5) ACC Coastal, (t6) Big XII South, (t6) MAC West, (8) SEC East, (9) WAC, (10) Big East, (t11) CUSA East, (t11) CUSA West, (13) PAC 10, (14) Mountain West, (t15) Big Ten, (t15) Sun Belt.
But that's not what you want to see. You want to see where we totally missed the ball, those outrageous predictions we made that were nowhere near the truth that was told in 2005. It's our pleasure...
THE BAD - THOSE THAT DISAPPOINTED
Louisville was projected to go 11-0, blow away the Big East, and make a run at a sure BCS berth and possibly a national title game. Instead, the Cardinals got drubbed at South Florida in late September and then lost an overtime heart-breaker at West Virginia in mid-November to end any hopes of a Big East title on their way to a 9-2 finish.
Purdue was expected to be a major contender in the Big Ten this year, but the Boilers, after winning their first two, dropped six games in a row mid-season and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 1996.
Though obviously not expected to contend with Texas in the Big XII South, Texas A&M was another team we thought would have a good season. But Reggie McNeal was unable to lead his team as Vince Young did, and the Aggies finished 5-6 and with three wins fewer than we projected.
The Mountain West did not go as expected as the teams we projected to fight it out for the league title generally finished towards the bottom half, while those we didn't expect to contend ended up near the top. Case in point was both New Mexico and Wyoming. The Lobos, who we picked to go 9-2 and 7-1 on their way to a MWC title, ended the year just 6-5 and at the .500 mark in conference. The Cowboys, expected to be one of UNM's biggest contenders this fall, went just 4-7 overall and were never in the race.
THE BAD - THOSE THAT SURPRISED
Rutgers was one of the biggest surprises in all of the country this fall. Projected by this site to finish a game under .500, the Scarlet Knights ended the regular season 7-4 and went to a bowl game for the first time in more than thirty years.
While we were busy thinking Purdue would challenge in the Big Ten, the Northwestern Wildcats were completely ignored. Predicted to finish just 4-7 in 2005, coach Randy Walker's squad actually went 7-4 this fall and was in the running for the conference title as late as a game in Columbus in early November.
Though not a conference contender, and not even a bowl team in 2005, we send our props to the Baylor Bears. Coach Guy Morriss's team, whom we picked to go 2-9 overall and winless in Big XII play, finished the campaign 5-6 and actually won a pair of conference games. It's also worth noting that three of BU's six losses came by less than ten points.
Coach Walt Harris has already begun to turn the ship around in his first season on campus at Stanford. We projected the Cardinal to go winless in the Pac-10 and pick up just one victory overall, but Stanford actually ended up 5-6 and 4-4 in league action. In fact, the Cardinal were just a minute or so away from beating Notre Dame and earning a bowl berth for the first time since 2001.
Another team just missing out on postseason play was Vanderbilt. The Commodores, projected to go 3-8 this fall, started the season 4-0 before losing a home heart-breaker to in-state rival Middle Tennessee. That began a six-game losing streak that didn't end until the 'Dores took down rival Tennessee in their season finale.
A couple of other teams who we apparently did not respect enough: Western Michigan (projected 3-8, 2-6 but finished 7-4, 5-3); San Diego State (projected 2-9, 1-7 but finished 5-7, 4-4).
THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY
As previously mentioned, we expected Louisville to win the 2005 Big East. Instead, it was West Virginia, projected to finish just 7-4 by SCS.com, that went 10-1 overall and undefeated in Big East action to run away with that conference's championship. The Mountaineers' lone loss all season came on the road at Virginia Tech.
With the exception of having Ohio State at the top of the preseason Big Ten standings, our projections on that conference went horribly wrong. We mentioned Northwestern and Purdue before, but it's also worth noting that the Michigan squad we projected to go 7-1 in league play and 10-1 overall actually finished the regular season just 7-4 and 5-3. Penn State ended up winning the conference outright after completing the season with a 10-1 mark, actually accumulating twice as many wins as we gave Joe Paterno's team credit for back in August.
Another conference we had very little success with was CUSA. Projected division winners Southern Miss and UTEP failed to get the job done. UCF, after going winless in 2004 and being projected to pick up just three victoriesthis fall, went 8-3 overall and lost just once in CUSA play to earn the East Division crown. Tulsa, also expected to win just three times, picked up eight wins of their own, captured the West Division title, and then knocked off the Golden Knights in the first-ever CUSA title game.
One team we truly expected much, much more out of this fall was Bowling Green. Led by record-setting QB Omar Jacobs, we thought the Falcons would blow away the MAC and also have a shot at making some noise on a national scale. Projected to go 9-2 and ranked number ten in the SCS.com Preseason Fab 15, BGSU saw a season-opening road game at Wisconsin slip away in the second half, and then the Falcons were blown away at Boise State two weeks later. The team went on to lose three games in league play, and though they tied for the MAC East title, the Falcons were left out of both the MAC title game and a bowl game.
Another team we gave far too much credit to was Tennessee. We picked the Vols to finish 9-2 and tie for the SEC East crown, but instead, Phillip Fulmer's squad dropped five of their first eight before being eliminated from bowl contention by in-state rival Vanderbilt in their next-to-last game of the season.
I mentioned our woes in projecting the Mountain West earlier, but props is sent out to TCU, a team we predicted to finish just one game above .500 in 2005. Ignoring our thoughts, the Frogs went out and won ten games this fall, including a season-opening victory at Oklahoma, and were one loss to rival SMU away from creating a little BCS chaos. When it was all said and done, TCU had finished 8-0 in MWC play and blown away the nearest competition by three games on their way to claiming the conference crown.
One conference that we actually had less success with than the MWC or Big Ten was the Sun Belt. To be quite honest, it was a disaster. Projected league champion North Texas went just 2-9 overall and finished tied for last in the league standings. Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Louisiana-Monroe, all of whom were projected to win just two or three games in Sun Belt play, all went 5-2 in league games, and the trio tied for the Sun Belt championship. New Mexico State, expected to go .500 in conference action, failed to win a game all season.
And finally, Coach Charlie Weis had his Notre Dame squad ready to play early and often this season, far exceeding our expectation of a 5-6 season this fall. The Irish rode a 9-2 record all the way to the BCS and came as close to knocking off USC as anyone has in recent memory.
So there you have it. What we did right, what we did wrong, and what was just plain ugly. There was plenty of it all, but hopefully next year will be even better. And if it isn't, I'm sure you'll let us know!