Look for USC, West Virginia to play in '07 title game

Wondering what's next for college football? After gazing into the crystal ball, Mark Schlabach offers some early predictions for the 2007 season.

Updated: February 23, 2007, 1:56 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

My 2006 college football predictions proved to be so prophetic that my editors asked me to look into the crystal ball once again.

Here's some of what I told you would happen during the 2006 season:

I predicted Miami would struggle and end up playing in the Champs Sports Bowl. Hurricanes fans told me I was dead wrong. They were right -- the Hurricanes beat Nevada 21-20 in the lesser MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho. I told you Auburn would finish unbeaten and play in the BCS title game. The Tigers lost twice and didn't even play in the SEC championship game.

I told you Mitch Mustain would start at Arkansas (I didn't tell you he would transfer) and Matthew Stafford would start at Georgia. I told you the Big East would be better than the ACC (I also slightly suggested at midseason -- when Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina were struggling -- that the Big East was better than the SEC).

So keeping that track record in mind (and who's really keeping score?), here are my early predictions for the 2007 season:

1. Florida will repeat as national champions: The Gators' basketball team -- but not the football team -- will make it back-to-back national championships with a win in 2007. After Florida cuts down the nets in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on April 2, the Gators football team will start its season 5-0. But the Gators will lose at LSU on Oct. 6. Three weeks later, Florida will lose to Georgia in the game formerly known as the World's Largest Cocktail Party.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesPete Carroll and the Trojans will be looking for another title in 2007.
2. The Trojans will finish on top: Southern California will be tested only twice -- at Nebraska on Sept. 15 and at California on Nov. 10 -- before finishing the season undefeated. The Trojans will play West Virginia for the national championship Jan. 7 in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, three weeks after the Trojans receive a formal notice of investigation from the NCAA for alleged violations involving 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

3. West Virginia will go unbeaten: Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez will be rewarded for his loyalty to his alma mater. West Virginia will survive a scare at Maryland in its third game, then will beat Rutgers and Louisville in consecutive games before finishing 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

4. BYU won't fall off the map: Max Hall, who redshirted as a freshman at Arizona State before serving a Mormon mission, will lead BYU to a 10-2 record. Hall, the nephew of former Arizona State and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White, broke most of John Beck's passing records in high school and will do the same at BYU. The Cougars will lose at UCLA and at home to TCU.

5. Sam Keller will thrive at Nebraska: Keller, another Arizona State transfer, will put up eye-popping numbers as the Cornhuskers' quarterback. Nebraska will lose twice in the regular season -- against Southern Cal on Sept. 15 and at Texas on Oct. 27 -- and will lose to the Longhorns again in the Big 12 title game.

6. Steve Slaton will win the Heisman: Slaton will run for more than 1,800 yards and 25 touchdowns and will win the Heisman Trophy in a narrow race against Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden. Irate Razorbacks fans will complain that coach Houston Nutt threw the football too much and will demand his firing.

Nick Saban
AP Photo/Rob CarrWill Nick Saban be able to turn the Tide at Alabama?
7. The Crimson Tide will lose three times in September: New Alabama coach Nick Saban will win his first two games, over Division I-AA Western Carolina and Vanderbilt. But then the Crimson Tide will drop consecutive home games to Arkansas and Georgia, followed by a blowout loss to Florida State in Jacksonville, Fla. Tide fans will exclaim, "This guy ain't the Bear!"

8. Notre Dame will lose at Penn State and Michigan: The Fighting Irish will be much better than I initially expected, but they'll lose early road games in State College and Ann Arbor. Notre Dame will finish 7-5, beating the teams it's supposed to beat (Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Purdue, Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford) and losing to the teams it's not supposed to beat (Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, Boston College and USC). The Irish will play Miami in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

9. Jimmy Clausen won't win the Heisman Trophy (this year, anyway): The freshman quarterback will start the Fighting Irish's opener against Georgia Tech. After Clausen throws for 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Yellow Jackets, new Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus will predict that his protege will win a pair of Heisman Trophies before he's done.

10. Virginia will be the most improved team in the country: After its disappointing 5-7 record in 2006, Virginia will win its first eight games going into an Oct. 20 matchup with Maryland. Sophomore Jameel Sewell will be among the country's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks, and senior Chris Long (son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long) will be the ACC's most feared pass-rusher.

11. Clemson will struggle again: The Tigers will have a pair of 1,000-yard runners, James Davis and C.J. Spiller, but they'll lose to Florida State in the opener and will be 3-3 after losing to Virginia Tech at home. However, coach Tommy Bowden will find some way to finish 7-5 and hope it's enough to save his job for another season.

Ron Zook
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanRon Zook and the Illini will be jumping for joy if Mark Schlabach's prediction is right.
12. Illinois will upset Michigan: The Illini will stun the Wolverines in Memorial Stadium on Oct. 20 to end Michigan's national championship hopes. The Wolverines, and everyone else in the Midwest, will then accuse Illinois coach Ron Zook of cheating.

13. TCU will be this season's Boise State: How is this for consistency? The Horned Frogs are one of only five teams to have 11 or more victories in three of the last four seasons -- Boise State, LSU, Oklahoma and USC are the others. They'll win at least that many games again in 2007, including an upset win at Texas on Sept. 8. The defense, led by ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, will shut out at least four opponents.

14. A coach will be fired in Mississippi: I'm just not sure whether it will be Mississippi's Ed Orgeron or Mississippi State's Sly Croom.

15. The SEC will dominate -- again: Three SEC teams will finish in the top 10, and two will play in BCS bowl games. South Carolina will be among the biggest surprises in the country. But Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney will remind us all that his league's teams are smarter.

16. Kentucky and Louisville will rack up a 100-point game: Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm will stake his claim as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL draft when he throws for 600 yards against rival Kentucky on Sept. 15. Not to be outdone, Kentucky's Andre' Woodson will throw for 500 in the teams' 52-50 shootout. Afterward, Wildcats fans will be more upset that Kentucky's basketball team still can't score 50 in a game.

17. South Florida will upset Auburn: After romping against Division I-AA Elon -- now, that's what I call beefing up the nonconference schedule -- the Bulls will stun Auburn on the road Sept. 8. Sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe no longer will be overshadowed by West Virginia's Pat White and Louisville's Brohm.

18. Florida State will rebound; Miami won't: The Seminoles will win the ACC after new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher transforms Drew Weatherford into an NFL quarterback and linebackers coach Chuck Amato introduces the "red shoes" defense in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will finish the regular season 10-2 and will beat Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.

19. Dan Hawkins will lose his mind: After a disastrous 2-10 record in his first season at Colorado, Hawkins will go off the deep end after the Buffaloes lose to Arizona State and Florida State in September. He'll retire to coach intramural football.

20. TCU will crash the BCS party: West Virginia and USC will play in the BCS title game. California will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Florida State will play TCU in the Orange Bowl. LSU will play Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Texas will play Georgia in the Fiesta Bowl.

And that, you can take to the bank!

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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