Admit it. You know you love preseason polls -- and preseason magazines -- and preseason All-Whatever teams -- and preseason award watch lists -- and preseason college football columns. (OK, here's hoping you actually do love that last one.)
As one who is involved in pretty much all of the above, I can tell you there is a lot of thought and number-crunching that goes into that material. The intent is always, well, well-intended. But no matter how much work we put in, we also know deep down that it's mostly just a series of educated guesses. A big chunk of what all we said would happen will end up missing the target worse than your overserved college roommate who decided he wanted to play darts at 2 a.m.
With that in mind and with Kickoff Week -- the week that officially declares all of the preseason chatter null and void -- rapidly approaching, what will we have gotten wrong this time?
Here are the five November/December headlines we didn't see coming in August:
November 13: MILES OUT AT LSU
After a promising 7-0 start and another seemingly unstoppable Heisman campaign for Leonard Fournette, the bad vibes and bitter tones of late 2015 returned to Death Valley, and this time there was no last-second rally to save the job of Les Miles. A streak of three consecutive losses -- home setbacks at the hands of Ole Miss and Alabama, followed by a rout on the road at Arkansas -- ended the once-beloved coach's tenure two games shy of a complete dozen seasons at LSU. In the end, a fifth consecutive season without an SEC West crown and a sixth consecutive loss to Alabama was his undoing.
November 26: TOM HERMAN LEAVES HOUSTON...AND THE ENTIRE STATE OF TEXAS
After a dizzying two seasons at the helm of the Houston Cougars program, a program slated to join the Big 12 in 2017, head coach Tom Herman and his 23-3 record will leave after the school's appearance in next weekend's American Athletic Conference title game against Cincinnati. Many believed that he would remain in the Lone Star State, but those same people also expected the state's two biggest jobs -- Texas and/or Texas A&M -- would be available. However, when UT's Charlie Strong and A&M's Kevin Sumlin were both retained, Herman elected to move next door to the recently-vacated position at... LSU.
December 4: BIG TEN SHUT OUT OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
Preseason projections had overwhelmingly surmised that for the second consecutive season the Pac-12 would be the Power 5 conference left standing outside the circle when the playoff music stopped. However, Stanford once again proved more resilient than expected, running over summer darlings USC, Washington and UCLA during a brutal September and capturing its fourth conference title in six years. Their lone loss, to Notre Dame, failed to hurt the Cardinal in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee as much the losses scattered throughout the teams of the Big Ten. As predicted by ESPN's Stats & Information number crunchers, Michigan State and Iowa took big steps backward (in August the FPI formula said the Spartans would drop as much as 4.5 losses, the Hawkeyes 3.8 -- but also predicted Stanford would fall to 3.6 losses). That same formula also said there was an 82 percent chance that the Pac-12 champ would have two losses vs. the Big Ten's 68 percent chance of a multiple-loss champion. However, the Big Ten champ ended up being Ohio State, who defeated Michigan at home to end the regular season and knocked off two-loss Nebraska in the conference championship game, but weren't able to overcome being throttled at Oklahoma on Sept. 17 and a puzzling loss at Wisconsin on Oct. 15.
December 4: CONFERENCE WITH BEST SHOT AT 2 PLAYOFF TEAMS? THE CONFERENCE WITH THE FEWEST TEAMS!
Remember that time the Big 12 thought it might lock up half of the four-team playoff field but botched it so badly it was shut out entirely? This time, it didn't make those same mistakes. With help from the Big Ten (see above) and the Pac-12 (see above) an undefeated Oklahoma team cruised into the postseason and was closely followed by one of the season's surprises, TCU. A Horned Frogs squad that spent 2015 fighting through an insane obstacle course of injuries to finish 11-2 found this year's slate to be surprisingly manageable, defeating Arkansas at home in Week 2 and suffering only one loss, a close defeat to Oklahoma in Fort Worth.
December 10: McCAFFREY AVENGES 2015 HEISMAN SNUB OVER UNLIKELY FIELD
OK, the first half of this headline wouldn't be a surprise. But some of the guys sitting with Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in New York will be. Chief among them, North Carolina's Elijah Hood, who posted huge rushing numbers against the likes of Georgia, Florida State and Clemson (in the ACC Championship) made a late push, unseating Leonard Fournette as his LSU team languished down the stretch. And a defensive player returns to the mix, sort of, via Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, who matched his nutso 2015 stat of playing 10 different positions, scoring crucial touchdowns in a slump-busting win over Michigan State.
OK, Doc Brown tells me that the flux capacitor is out of juice, so we have to return to the present day. And what do we do while we wait on him to find more garbage to pour into the Mr. Fusion? We get on with the business of Flipping The Field.
"We're going streaking!"
On Saturday night, the stars of FCS had their annual night on the big stage, an overtime thriller that saw top-ranked North Dakota State outlast No. 6 Charleston Southern in overtime. The win might well end up being the first step toward the Bison continuing the most dominant streak in FCS/1-AA history as they seek their sixth straight national championship. Also, both schools have upcoming chances to keep another streak alive. Since 1978, when the two divisions were established, at least one FCS team has defeated an FBS school. It might be too much to ask for a year like 2013, when 16 little brothers knocked off their big bros, or last year when it happened nine times. But on Sept. 10, Charleston Southern will travel to Tallahassee to play Florida State, who will be only five days removed from their opener with Ole Miss. The next weekend NDSU travels to Iowa after an off weekend to recover from their opening nail-biter.
Danny Ford Scientific Rocket Quote of the Week
When Tennessee offensive lineman Jashon Robertson was asked about Thursday night opponent Appalachian State (7:30 PM ET, SEC Network), he said of the Mountaineers: "We see guys who strain their butts off." I get what he's saying. It's a compliment. They work hard. But it still makes me uncomfortable reading it.
Speaking of Tennessee:
Great move by the Vols equipment staff, commemorating the life of Pat Summitt with helmet stickers throughout the 2016 season.
Speaking of Tennessee again:
One week ago, the Bristol Motor Speedway wasn't merely a racetrack, it was a racetrack that had been soaked with two days of rain, host of a delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race and a solid 24 hours behind schedule. Now it's already nearly a football stadium, with the field more than halfway installed and the media center and Goodyear tire buildings already deep into their transitions into locker rooms. Much more on this next week as we march toward the Sept. 10 Battle at Bristol between the Vols and Virginia Tech (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
Speaking of NASCAR:
The Sprint Cup Series raced at the Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. Officially the track is in Jackson, but a lot of teams stay in the hotels of Ann Arbor. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out of action recovering from concussion-like symptoms, but his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was still on the track with substitute driver Alex Bowman and sporting a paint job very familiar to the locals. Former IndyCar team owner Jim Harbaugh was not in the pits. These days, he's a little busy. Nationwide, Earnhardt's primary sponsor, is based in Columbus, Ohio. Wonder if there was a fistfight in the boardroom when this idea came up?
Frank Reich Comeback of the Week Award: James Conner, RB, Pitt
In 2014, Conner was the ACC Player of the Year after rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 TDs. In the 2015 season opener, he tore his right medial collateral ligament and was told he would miss the season. Then in the middle of that lost season he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Now, after both rehab and cancer treatment, Conner was declared cancer-free in May and has rejoined the Panthers to work alongside last year's ACC offensive freshman of the year, Qadree Ollison, who ran for 1,121 yards in 2015. Last week, he was named one of the team's three captains. This week, he'll lead Pitt in its opener against Villanova, with the Penn State rivalry renewal set for Week 2.
Honored & Blessed to be a Team Captain... Now let's work! #ThePursuit— James Conner (@JamesConner_) August 26, 2016
The Guy You Should Know About, But Probably Don't: Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State
Sure, his numbers were great (17 of 27, 194 yards, 2 TDs passing and 69 yards rushing), but dude's name is Easton Stick. Has there ever been a better name for someone being asked to distribute beatdowns? At the very least he should have a baseball bat endorsement deal in his future.
The Guy You Used to Know About But Forgot About But You Should Know About Again: Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
You might remember Hill as the guy who threw for 2,938 yards and ran for another 1,344 in 2013. Or you might remember him as the guy who played four games before a broken leg in 2014. Or you might remember him as the guy who came back from that leg break only to suffer a season-ending foot injury in the 2015 season opener, setting the stage for Tanner Mangum to lead the Cougars through one of the most heart-stopping seasons in recent BYU history. Well, now Hill has beaten out Mangum to reclaim the starting job for the Kickoff Week matchup at Arizona. If you find yourself holding your breath every time he takes a snap, don't be ashamed. So will his entire family.
Speaking of BYU QBs:
Have you see the videos of great college football plays that the guy creates using Legos? Here's last year's Hail Mary from Mangum that defeated Nebraska.
The Team You Should Know About, But Probably Don't: California
If you didn't stay up late on Friday night to watch Sonny Dykes' squad rout Hawaii, that's cool. I get it. You have to rest up for the real opening weekend. But if you did take a look, then you saw the Bear Raid offense take a little while to get rolling behind transfer starting QB Davis Webb before he finally piled up 441 yards and four TDs through the air. Is that a big deal against Hawaii? No. (Reminder: the Bottom 10 returns next week!) But the Bears also didn't turn the ball over once and Webb spread it around to multiple receivers. Is that a big deal against Hawaii? Yes. Any flawless performance in an opening game is a big deal. While no one is ready to say Cal is now a legit Pac-12 title contender, anyone who watched them Friday night realizes it might not be a conference title winner, but on any given Saturday -- especially playing at home -- it is certainly good enough to ruin the conference title hopes of someone else.(https://twitter.com/CalFootball/status/769752542888603650)
The Game You Should Be Psyched For But Probably Aren't: North Carolina vs. Georgia
In the midst of the much (and deservedly) ballyhooed Greatest Opening Weekend Ever, it was inevitable that one matchup would get lost in the ridiculously rich Kickoff Week schedule, and this appears to be the one. Last month, I chatted with Chick-Fil-A Bowl officials and they were downright giddy about the teams and the placement of their annual SEC-ACC showdown (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). They should be. The changes at Georgia with head coach Kirby Smart have been well-documented, as are the talents of the Dawgs' backfield of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb as they work through injuries. But we've already told you about Elijah Hood, the dilithium crystal in Carolina's warp drive offense. Another key Tar Heel is wide receiver/kick returner Ryan Switzer. The senior would have fit very nicely into our "Guy You Should Know About" category. His next punt return for a touchdown will be his eighth, tying the NCAA career record, currently shared by Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma) and Wes Welker (Texas Tech).
It has truly been puzzling this year how the nation's news attention turned a bit of a blind eye to flooding in both West Virginia and Baton Rouge. However, those natural disasters have not been ignored by those throughout the college sport community. Anyone who makes a habit of following the Twitter and Instagram feeds of SEC schools knows that their athletes and staffs spent August rallying to the cause of those suffering in LSU's back yard. Same for Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban, who might be the head coaches at FSU and Alabama, but are West Virginia natives first. They have both continued to try to keep the plight in spotlight, an effort that goes back to their joint effort to help the state's high school sports programs recover via equipment donations.