College football predictions 2013: LGHL picks each conference

USA TODAY Sports

Who is going to win the Legends Division? Better yet, who is going to win Mountain West West Division? Did you even know that was a division? Don't worry. We crunched the numbers and figured it all out.

We're struck in the dregs of the offseason. We've all read all the preseason magazines, we've scanned the police blotter, and now, we're probably all trying to build a dynasty online with NCAA '14. The only thing left to knock out before glorious, glorious football returns is to sit down and start that heavy duty conference forecasting. Our friends at SBNation.com have set up a compilation of predictions all across the network, but c'mon now, we all know which picks you're most interested in.

To break out ballot out individually, we broke everything down below, and we're as confident in these predictions as any reasonable person could be with making college football predictions...in early July:

ACC Atlantic

1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. N.C. State
4. Maryland
5. Wake Forest
6. Boston College
7. Syracuse

Florida State, Clemson and... everyone else, pretty much. N.C. State should be much improved under Dave Doeren (R.I.P. the warm milk era), but it probably won't happen overnight. Randy Edsall will probably inexplicably do just enough to keep his job, and Wake Forest will either lose eight or inexplicably play in a bowl you swear is only a holiday spirits induced hallucination. Syracuse gambled with a continuity hire in Scott Shafer, but he has no head coaching experience and the Orange under Doug Marrone weren't exactly world beaters. The move to the ACC could prove harsh in year one.

ACC Coastal

1. Virginia Tech
2. Miami
3. North Carolina
4. Georgia Tech
5. Pittsburgh
6. Virginia
7. Duke

VT should be back to the rightful top of the division, while Al Golden will show what he's made off coaching in the face of a possible NCAA investigation's wrap (maybe?). North Carolina will continue their upward trajectory with Larry Fedora, while Georgia Tech will experience all the emotions of having Ted Roof lead their defense (can it be worse than the same with Al Groh? Yes? Moving on.) The real question might be whether or not Virginia can bounce back enough to help keep the high end recruits they've landed for the 2014 class and/or save head coach Mike London's job.

The American

1. Louisville
2. Rutgers
3. Cincinnati
4. Houston
5. UCF
6. SMU
7. UConn
8. USF
9. Temple
10. Memphis

No surprises here at the top. One school in The American boasts a legitimate Heisman candidate and potential #1 overall pick at QB – and it isn't Temple. Rutgers and Cincinnati should make up the top half of the conference, with one boosted by a stingy defense and an offense that is slowly bringing in skill position talent, and the other, a school with offensive firepower and an experienced, new veteran head coach. We're a little more bullish on Houston's chances for a quick rebuild after a disappointing 2012 that featured a loss to Texas State, and think that USF will need a little more time to rebuild under Willie Taggart. There could be a lot of potential movement in the 4-8 spots, but we're reasonably certain that Memphis will still be at the bottom. Memphis gonna Memphis, y'all.

Big 12

1. Oklahoma
2. Oklahoma State
3. Texas
4. TCU
5. Baylor
6. Texas Tech
7. Kansas State
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

The Big 12 could be the most wide open and exciting of all the major conferences, with the top 4 teams all having a credible argument as to why they should be the preseason favorite. We lean towards Oklahoma, which may be replacing a prolific QB, but likely starter Blake Bell adds a dual-threat wrinkle to the Sooner offense that we haven't seen in years. Plus he'll be throwing to a talented group of wideouts. Oklahoma State figures to score roughly a trillion points again, and advanced stats seem to be very bullish on the Cowboys. If they can find a way to get a few more stops, look out.

On paper, Texas may have the most talented roster, but faces a tough non-conference schedule, questions about their ability to stop the run, and of course, must find a way to beat Oklahoma, who has owned them recently. TCU may have the toughest defense in the conference, but will need to improve along the offensive line. We also know the folly in betting against Kansas State and their army of JUCOs, but this year feels like a bridge too far. Kansas should still be terrible, but they could be *less* terrible than last year's outfit.

Big Ten Leaders

1. Ohio State
2. Wisconsin
3. Penn State
4. Indiana
5. Purdue
6. Illinois

No real surprises here. We'll get into the Big Ten into more detail later on, but the other non-Ohio State teams all have significant question marks. Who is throwing the ball for Penn State? How will Wisconsin adjust to a more difficult schedule and totally different coaching staff? Can Indiana string enough stops together to grab a bowl bid? How will Purdue acclimate to a more rush-heavy coaching philosophy? Can Illinois...well, no. Probably not Illinois.

Big Ten Legends

1. Nebraska
2. Michigan
3. Michigan State
4. Northwestern
5. Minnesota
6. Iowa

There are a lot of different ways this could shake out, but think Nebraska, armed with perhaps the best QB in the league not named Braxton Miller (no, really!) and a bevy of dangerous skill position weapons will be enough to hold off a strong Michigan squad. Michigan State still returns important pieces from a very good defense, and can only improve their passing game from last year. The numbers say they were unlucky last year, and could be due for a rebound. Northwestern is getting a lot of deserved buzz, but we're concerned about the line depth and ability to close out games, which could bite them a few times in league play.

Conference USA East

1. East Carolina
2. Marshall
3. UAB
4. Southern Miss
5. Middle Tennessee
6. FAU
7. FIU

Marshall has been quietly stockpiling some nice talent on the recruiting trail, but we like the consistency and experience that ECU brings back. UAB took some solid steps towards respectability last season and could make the other teams in the division sweat a little, and we look for Southern Miss to bounce back from their nightmare season. FAU and FIU will have a learning curve into getting up to speed for CUSA play.

Conference USA West

1. Tulsa
2. Louisiana Tech
3. UTEP
4. North Texas
5. Rice
6. Tulane
7. UTSA

On paper, Tulsa looks to be the clear class of the league, and should have an excellent chance at another CUSA title before they move to The American. Cody Green, Trey Watts and Keyarris Garrett could be one of the best QB/RB/WR combos in non-major conference football. Louisiana Tech loses a lot, most importantly their coach from last year's 9-3 squad, but Kenneth Dixon returns to run havoc on weaker CUSA defenses. Tulane and UTSA are continuing to build, but North Texas may be getting the depth it needs to be competitive.

MAC East

1. Bowling Green
2. Buffalo
3. Ohio
4. Kent State
5. Miami University
6. Akron
7. UMass

There is a fair amount of deserved buzz around Buffalo, which has a strong defense and plenty of experience, or Ohio, which has perennially been a strong team in the MAC East for the last few seasons, knocking off Penn State and spending time in the Top 25 last season. Our pick is Bowling Green to win the division though, on the strength of dominant defense and an improving rushing game. Kent State will struggle a little bit to replace their coaching staff, and Miami just graduated their best QB in program history (statistically anyways).

MAC West

1. Toledo
2. NIU
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan

We're not crazy about NIU's decision to hire Rod Carey to replace Dave Doeren, but how many times can a non-BCS school nail a coaching hire in a row? If NIU stumbles a little, despite inspired play from QB Jordan Lynch, we like Toledo, with their mix of depth, athleticism, and a healthy dose of David Fluellen, to take the MAC West crown. We also like the new developments with Western Michigan, but you never know with #MACtion. There could be a lot of movement past #2 in this division.

Mountain West Mountain

1. Boise State
2. Air Force
3. Colorado State
4. Utah State
5. New Mexico
6. Wyoming

Tough to argue that Boise State doesn't deserve to be preseason king of the...wait for it...Mountain, given their run of success, their recruiting strength relative to their peers, and several returning toys for Joe Southwick to play with. We're skeptical that Utah State will be able to keep up their momentum now that Gary Andersen is in Madison. An easy schedule and some experience which we think we lead to improvement along the defense are among the reasons why we think Air Force might surprise some this year.

Mountain West West

1. San Diego State
2. Fresno State
3. Nevada
4. San Jose State
5. Hawaii
6. UNLV

SDSU returns a bruising running back and a very talented defensive front, which should be enough to hold off a potentially feisty Fresno State squad and a SJSU team with a potential first round NFL pick at QB. Nevada is likely ripe for a little fall after the retirement of longtime headman Chris Ault, but the cupboard isn't entirely bare. SJSU has excellent top line talent, but may have serious depth issues.

Here's the thing though: Outside of Boise, SDSU (and maaaaybe SJSU if they stay totally, 100% healthy), there isn't a huge difference between the 4th MWC team and the 10th. We have a general idea, but trying to pick who is going to be 5th in the MWC feels a little bit like firing up a random number generator. See also, MAC, Sun Belt.

Pac-12 South

1. USC
2. UCLA
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

We suspect that rumors of the total demise of the USC football program have been a little exaggerated, in part because writing articles making fun of Lane Kiffin are so easy. If this guy really is the troll-king that the internet has been building him up to be, wouldn't winning the division and potentially prolonging his tenure be the most troll-tastic move yet? Also, the Trojans should have a stronger running game, miss Oregon in the regular season, boast high end talent in parts of the defense, and we're not super sold on UCLA or Arizona State. UCLA has the talent to win the division, but has a brutal league schedule, and Arizona State's defense may need a little time to gel. Arizona has big shoes to fill in their passing game, and Utah and Colorado will give us another season wondering why the Pac 12 was so keen on getting these guys to begin with.

Pac-12 North

1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

This should be one of the most exciting division races in the country, outside of the SEC West. Oregon lost a coach, but retains some continuity and bring enough juice back for a highly explosive and talented squad. We love Stanford as well, but think their schedule is a little harder than Oregon's. Washington should be experienced enough around their roster to break past their consistent 7 year slog. Washington State should take a step forward in year two under Leach and might threaten for a bowl, and Cal will easily be the best last place team in America. Either Oregon or Stanford should comfortably clobber the South champ.

SEC West

1. Texas A&M
2. LSU
3. Alabama
4. Ole Miss
5. Auburn
6. Mississippi State
7. Arkansas

I know, #HOT #SPICY #OFFSEASON #TAKES. This is less a an indictment on Alabama, who, despite some losses on the offensive line, is still stupid talented all over the field, and more a prediction that sometimes in football, the ball bounces funny ways and damnit it is insanely HARD to be that good for so long without getting a little unlucky. We'll cast our lots with Johnny Football dazzling in an encore performance, and that the craziness of Les Miles, not to mention a dramatically improved passing attack (lol Cam Cameron), can make up for heavy losses on defense and steal a win against 'Bama.

We also like a lot of the improvement for Ole Miss before their massive recruiting class, and think they've found a few difference makers that could help them steal a win or two they have no business being in. Arkansas will struggle to adapt to a program shift, much to the delight of Big Ten fans outside of Madison. Be sure to #FF @BretBielema this fall for fun times for everyone.

SEC East

1. Georgia
2. Florida
3. South Carolina
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Missouri
7. Kentucky

MARK RICHT HAS LOST CONTROL OF THE SEC, etc, etc. Armed with a prolific offense, we think the Bulldogs are finally due to catch enough breaks to overcome a potentially less elite defense to get a spot in the SEC title game, beating Texas A&M. Florida will also be strong, but their lack of a consistent passing game will cost them a chance at a league title, while South Carolina's defense outside of Clowney will be shown to be a little less than perfect. Tennessee should make some nice gains in the post-Shower Discipline era, while the big story around Kentucky will be how they manage to keep all of their recruits when they win 2, maybe 3 games next year.

Sun Belt

1. Louisiana-Lafayette
2. Western Kentucky
3. ULM
4. Arkansas State
5. Troy
6. Texas State
7. South Alabama
8. Georgia State

/looks up who is in the Sun Belt this year

While the bottom half of the league is a transition-into-FBS sort of mess, the top of the league could be quite interesting. UL-Lafayette returns perhaps the best QB in the league in Terrance Broadway, an electric, dual-threat QB that can jump start one of the most explosive offenses in non-BCS football. They return a lot of the pieces from a team that really should have beaten Florida last year. They'll get a stiff test from Western Kentucky, that tries to transition from a pro style roster into more of a spread team, at the hands of offensive guru Bobby Petrino. ULM returns 15 starters and has a great QB of their own, which should lead to an interestingthree team race, with an Arkansas State squad looming that is good enough to beat any of the above teams on a good day.

BONUS INDEPENDENT TEAM PREDICTIONS ***MUST CREDIT LGHL***

1. Notre Dame
2. BYU
3. Navy
4. New Mexico State
5. Army
6. Idaho

I won't pretend to be able to break down the differences between 4-6 here, but Notre Dame should still boast a top 10 team even if Tommy Rees is the QB, and should be a BCS bowl caliber squad this year. BYU returns a potential All-American at linebacker and wide receiver, and if they can get any sort of consistent play at QB, they have the schedule to make a nice run. Navy has a highly questionable defense, but an easy schedule and returning talent on offense should be enough for a winning season and bowl invitation.

Thoughts? Give us your picks and tell us where we dropped the ball in the comments below.

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