It seems like football season ended just a few days ago, but it will be right back before we know it. And, it is never too early to begin preparing ourselves for the upcoming season. It’s always fun to pick what you think the best games will be and who will win these games. Certain games always carry more weight than others, especially when it comes to deciding conference champions, or who goes to which bowl game. So, to help you start getting pumped up for next season, Fifth Quarter presents our picks on the biggest, most important, most anticipated games of each conference.
ACC: Florida State at Clemson
As long as Virginia Tech continues to struggle, this game will likely decide who wins the conference crown. FSU won a barn burner in Tallahassee in 2012, leaving Clemson waiting in line for most of the season. Despite the wishes of fans abroad, the ACC would not rewrite a few rules to allow these teams to play again for the ACC Championship. FSU is coming off their first 12 win season since 1999 and their first ACC Championship since 2005. As FSU searches for its next quarterback, Clemson will gladly invite the Seminoles into Death Valley to take the crown away. With key returns like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, things are looking good for the Tigers in 2013.
Who wins it?: Clemson
Big 12: Oklahoma at Kansas State
Much like Clemson, Oklahoma was held out of a BCS bowl by one in-conference loss. That loss came at the hands of Collin Klein and the Kansas State Wildcats. Klein is gone now. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is gone. These two teams will be fighting hard to maintain control of the conference and not let Texas keep building momentum. Whoever wins this one has the best chance of once again subduing the Longhorns, who should make a serious run at the Big 12 title this year. This one may just come down to which coach can handle the transition year better.
Who wins it?: Oklahoma
Big East: Rutgers at Louisville
The Scarlet Knights and the Cardinals are both leaving the Big East after this season. Rutgers is headed to the Big 10 and Louisville is going to the ACC. But, I hope they give us one last good game before they depart. These teams will likely be the major players in deciding who wins the Big East in 2013. Rutgers defense will be ready to try to derail the Heisman run of Teddy Bridgewater. But, Bridgewater and his receiving corps showed great poise in the Sugar Bowl against a stout Florida defense. If Louisville can reproduce some of that offensive firepower, they will do very well in 2013.
Who wins it?: Louisville
Big 10: Wisconsin at Ohio State
There have been 2 Big-10 Championship games. Wisconsin won both. They got to last year’s game by default, but it is still impressive that they stepped up and put a beating on a Nebraska team that defeated them earlier in the season. Ohio State (along with Penn State) allowed Wisconsin the shot at the championship by being on bowl ban last year. The Buckeyes managed an undefeated season under first year head coach Urban Meyer. The Braxton Miller-led team will be looking to repeat a wonderful season and possibly challenge for the national championship. Before that happens, they need to dethrone the only champion the Big-10 has ever had.
Who wins it?: Ohio State
Conference USA: Tulsa at Louisiana Tech
Conference USA is getting a major face-lift this off-season. Several teams are coming and going and it will look completely different in 2013. Tulsa, the best team staying, will travel to Louisiana Tech, the best team coming to the conference. This game will establish the pecking order in the new version of the conference. Louisiana Tech was a team that played very well against Texas A&M in 2012. They were left out of a bowl game when 6-7 Georgia Tech was allowed a spot in the Sun Bowl. Look for the Bulldogs to come into 2013 wanting to make an impact on their new conference.
Who wins it?: Louisiana Tech
Mid-American: Northern Illinois at Kent State
These two teams ran the table in their conference schedules in 2012. That will not happen again, since they are scheduled to play each other in 2013. The MAC Championship game was delightfully good. If they can bring half the intensity of that game to this one, we will have another good one to watch. Jordan Lynch will struggle to match his 2012 numbers, but expect him to come out strong once again.
Who wins it?: Northern Illinois
Mountain West: Boise State vs. San Diego State
Boise State has ruled to Mountain West Conference for several years now. There is no reason to think anything is going to change that soon. The Broncos’ only 2012 conference loss came at the hands of the San Diego State Aztecs. Expect Boise to come into this game looking for revenge and to try to return to the BCS limelight. Chris Petersen just can’t be stopped in this conference.
Who wins it?: Boise State
Pac-12: Oregon at Stanford
Oregon was one game away from being in the National Championship in 2012. One close game against Stanford that they lost kept them from playing for the crystal football. Stanford performed better than anyone expected them to in the absence of Andrew Luck. These teams will definitely be the best two teams in the Pac-12 again. Whoever wins this game should take the conference crown. The Chip Kelly-less Ducks will be very, very competitive in 2013. It’s hard not to be with the speed and skill they have on roster. But, David Shaw has done a great job keeping his team moving through the years. The Stanford defense just may win the game again.
Who wins it?: Stanford
SEC: Alabama at Texas A&M
Alabama will probably enter the 2013 season as the favorite to win the National Championship. Why wouldn’t they? After winning the title 3 of the last 4 years, the Tide are going to be a constant factor on the scene for a while. But, they have some new competition to add to that tough SEC schedule. Texas A&M proved everyone wrong when they joined the SEC last year and actually held their own. It is very possible the Aggies will jump LSU for the #2 spot in the SEC West. And, that is saying something. This should be one of the best games of the year. Two national title caliber teams. Two Heisman-worthy quarterbacks (including the 2012 Heisman winner). Two offensive lines that can just put a beating on a defense. It doesn’t get any better than that. Last year Texas A&M rolled into Tuscaloosa and took down the #1 Crimson Tide. This year Alabama has to travel to Texas A&M and face the 12th Man. I know Nick Saban is always tough to beat when he’s been planning a revenge game for a year. But, I can’t help but have the feeling that the home atmosphere and fact that the game comes in Week 2 will bode well for Johnny Football and the Aggies.
Who wins it?: Texas A&M
Sun Belt: Troy at Arkansas State
The Sun Belt has been ripped apart during this off-season. A lot of teams will be gone. Some will be coming. You can’t really be too sure how long the conference will stay afloat at this point. But, it is notable that there are still several quality programs residing in the league. Here are two prime examples. Arkansas State won the Sun Belt in 2012 and represented the conference well with a win over Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. They are on an eight-game win streak. The Red Wolves defeated Troy 41-34 in a late season road game last season. Expect the return trip in 2013 to be a good one. The Troy Trojans are hungry to reclaim their Sun Belt throne, returning an experienced quarterback and bringing in several quality transfers from bigger schools. To do that, they will have to take down the defending conference champs in their first conference game of the season. Look for both teams to show up ready to play.
Who wins it?: Troy
Did we get a pick wrong? Is their another game more important than these? Let us know in the comments!