In this, the Bowl Championship Series era of college football, the Southeastern Conference has been king. It has been well documented, especially by the folks who work for the network in Bristol, Connecticut, that the SEC has only lost one BCS title game since 1998, and that loss came last year…at the hands of another SEC school.
To take it a step further, of the six consecutive BCS titles won by the SEC, three schools from the West Division have reigned supreme: Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Only Florida under Urban Meyer has broken the stranglehold representing the East Division.
With all of that being said, with recent history being on the side of the West Division, it would be simple to plug in a school from the West as one half of a potential BCS title matchup. Heck, before Bobby Petrino took his wild ride in April, a logical choice would have been to pick Arkansas. Oops.
But picking a team from the SEC West is too easy. In fact, I don’t think a team from the SEC West even wins the conference this year. As one half of my BCS title game prediction, I’m picking Georgia to win the conference and head off to play for the crystal football.
Here’s where I pull off a prediction that has me going out on a bit of a limb, though: Georgia won’t win said crystal football.
I’m backing a (gasp!) Big Ten squad to win the BCS title. My prediction is Wisconsin over Georgia.
Look, any preseason prognostication is bound to be a shot in the dark. If you’re going to shoot, shoot for the big, slow game. If you’re going to miss, at least you can outrun the target.
(No, I am not intentionally referring to the Big Ten as “big and slow.”)
Let’s start with Georgia. Isaiah Crowell was famously dismissed for off the field issues stemming from an arrest on weapons charges. Depth at tailback shouldn’t be a problem, as the Dawgs have added two talent freshmen in Keith Marshall (an early enrollee) and Todd Gurley. The running game will be important, but not nearly as important as the passing game, and that is in good shape with junior quarterback Aaron Murray returning, along with a deep receiving corps led by senior Taverres King
The key to this season, though, will be the defense. There might be a bump in the road early in the season due to a rash of suspensions and attrition that hit the Bulldogs on this side of the ball during the offseason. Key early season losses are linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo for the first four games, which includes a challenging trip to Missouri in the Tigers first SEC game.
However, the Bulldogs don’t have to face LSU, Alabama or Arkansas at all during the regular season, which makes their path to Atlanta a little easier. Granted, they will probably have to face one of those three teams once they get there, and in that case, it would be bucking the recent history by having Georgia win the conference championship game. With that game being in their backyard, though, I like their chances.
The Badgers do not have an easy path per se, but their game at Nebraska happens in September, in week five, which would give them time to recover later in the year if a stumble should happen there. Also, don’t forget the potential importance of the Big Ten Championship game. With Penn State and Ohio State being ineligible for the game this year, it gives Wisconsin (barring a catastrophic collapse or slip up) an easier path to Indianapolis. If the Badgers are playing a game against a highly ranked Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska, it could provide just that extra boost that the Badgers might need to get to Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Wisconsin is featuring a transfer starting a quarterback for the second straight season. The latest Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback to escape to Madison is Danny O’Brien, who left the Maryland Terrapins program after graduating from the school and also after a rough sophomore season. Even with a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback, however, the strength of this Wisconsin team will be the guys running the ball.
Wisconsin has Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist, returning (although he recently suffered a concussion due to an off the field altercation), but there is also a fine running back behind him in James White. Also, look for Jared Abbrederis to be more of a focus of the offense this season, and the tight ends could also be a factor in balancing the offense.
The linebacking corps on defense is very good with Chris Borland and Mike Taylor retuning after leading the Big Ten in tackles last season. Finding a reliable pass rusher and maintaing pressure on the quarterback will be important, especially against the spread offenses they will face in their division.
So yes, both teams are slightly flawed (as are most teams this season). But schedules that, while not easy, are not that bad can mitigate some of the question marks that may rise right now in the offseason.
So why Wisconsin over Georgia, especially given that Georgia has the better defense?
It's simple: I'm playing a hunch. Bucking the trend. Going against the grain, as it were.
In all seriousness, I think that Wisconsin can play a game that is analogous to the way that SEC football is perceived. Wisconsin can play 3 yards and a cloud of dust, pound the rock for 40+ carries and shorten the game. The Badgers have the horses to hang with the Dawgs, and it might come down to a special teams gaffe. It'll be low scoring, but exciting.
Wisconsin 21, Georgia 17