Again, what you're about to read is straight foolishness. But at least we admit that.
The preliminary, subject to all edits, clarifications, admissions of complete brain spasm:
1. USC. No cracks. Just none: USC remains a smooth, creaseless facade of sheer talent with brilliant coaches pulling the levers, ensuring that anyone with half a tank of rationality will pick them at number one. This is also the obvious pick, too, which is sad but true for those of us who really love to make the contrarian's pick.
The Tony Robbins of football continues to inspire with excellence and synergistic practices, you angels, you.
The wobbliest piece of USC's American Quilt of Talented Angels--we're sure Pete Carroll calls it something like that, as opposed to the old Cartesian oppression of "depth chart"--is at wide receiver, but even there the term "wobbly" remains, well, wobbly since Vidal Hazelton and Patrick Turner fit the mold of unmanageable USC receivers: tall, fast enough, good route runners with balletic skills to bring down balls in coverage.
Defensively, Carroll continues to run a pro defense in college garb.
The worst they've looked was against Football Jesus, and that was, after all, Football Jesus. (Praise his name!) Brian Cushing has all the makings of (backhanded compliment coming) a great college-only linebacker, and Sedrick Ellis can probably already begin writing generous checks based on the credit of a fat pro contract he'll receive for being huge, fast, and fond of playing defensive tackle.
They play in a league that, with the exception of Oregon State, has shown little ability to catch USC and bring them back to the peleton. Throw in a road game against Nebraska and Notre Dame, two teams they still outclass in terms of talent, facilities, and coaching Q, and USC is an easy, easy, easy pick.
The skeptic interjects: Last season, far from a clean slate for USC, showed several deep cracks in the veneer of invulnerability, especially in terms of offensive output. The loss to UCLA seems potentially terrifying given how manhandled the USC offense truly was, especially on the corners where smaller, seemingly less talented cornerbacks owned USC's wideouts. Booty's more turnover prone than his predecessors, and the departure of Steve Sarkisian Lane Kiffin prior to the 2006 season did take something of USC's offensive prowess away. (God damn you, tasty and free Bud Light.--ed.)
2. Michigan. Holy, gobsmacked hell, what in the living daylights is Michigan doing here? A team that lost its bowl game by mucho when its defense couldn't figure out USC's innovative "throw long to Dwayne Jarrett" attack, a team that couldn't stop Ohio State from heaving its waterboy across the goal line in their rivalry game, a team that when the chips were down showed all the creativity of Futurama's Bender minus his brain when confronted with a problem in a big game ("I am Mike Debord, please insert QB Waggle.")...why here?
Michigan as Bender? It's a comparison we should expand on...
A cakey road schedule helps, as does the siren song of returning starters Mike Hart, Chad "Average Michigan White Guy qb Mark XIV" Henne, and Mario Manningham. On defense they've got Alan Branch and Lamar Woodley to replace, but otherwise will plug holes systematically as they have been wont to do during Carr's tenure. If this is a sucker's pick, it won't be exposed for many weeks after an early season matchup with Oregon at home, or at least not until the Ohio State game, which by all accounts Michigan should win, but won't.
The skeptic interjects: Forecasting off the schedule izz dumm--Florida was supposed to have no shot with a 5.15 grade schedule last year, and yet somehow ended up by luck in the national title game with one loss. The Big Ten, like any really competitive league, tends to handicap itself in the national title race by pulling ambitious crabs back into the bucket of teams with at least one loss. And, as always, Michigan's problems begin and end with one word: Sweatervest.
The eleventh-ranked google image result for "sweatervest," and problem number one for Michigan.
3. West Virginia. Overranked? Sure, but if you're gonna go, go out in flames atop the 12 cylinder Dodge Tomahawk that is the West Virginia offense and its counterpart, the wildly unpredictable Texas Hold 'em game that is their 3-3-5 defense. Pat White, Steve Slaton, Darius Reynaud, freshman Noel Devine...all weapons in the hand of the (just one more metaphor and we'll stop, we swear) four-armed Goro that is Rich Rodriguez's offense. Frankly, we have to walk away from the computer for a moment to calm down.
(Punches wall, screams. Returns.)
The Mountaineers' offense: Goro wins.
The schedule's nice and easy, the defense will...well, whiskey-cranked WVU fans will just have to pray they hold serve a few times. This team remains the most pure fun to watch period, as evidenced beautifully by their bowl game versus Georgia Tech. Even when down 35-17 in the third, we didn't doubt for a second they would at least threaten to win within a margin of three points or so, and for two very good reasons:
1. It's West Virginia, and
2. Chan Gailey was coaching on the other sideline.
Their biggest rival is undergoing a change in management (Louisville), and a quick eyeballing of the schedule looks relatively bump-free. We say: Vroom, vroom, y'all.
The skeptic would like to have a word with you. Despite having a linebacker named John Holmes, little suggests West Virginia will achieve consistent penetration and stop playing roulette on defense, scoring huge on one spin of the dial and then losing it all on the next hand. The skeptic would like to have a word with himself, please Even with the disastrous performance versus Louisville, however, they still placed 28th overall in the nation...not elite, but still very good, and well beyond the "holding serve" criteria.