"If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?" Former legendary Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi.
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If you want to increase your knowledge about college football, stop watching the television experts and radio talking heads who love football, have played football in many cases, and like to bloviate about their alma mater.

Just go to your local newsstand and buy a copy of Phil Steele’s 2014 College Football Preview. Steele is the best of the best, and there is no close second. That’s why I pay attention to Phil Steele.

Every year Phil Steele picks his surprise teams among the non-automatic qualifying teams, teams that do not compete in the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten. Here is why you may want to read what he has to say:

In 2006 he picked Boise State to get into a BCS Bowl game, and the Broncos went undefeated at 13-0, got to the Fiesta Bowl, and upset Oklahoma (yeah, now you remember).

In 2007 he picked Hawaii to go 12-0 in the regular season and grab a Sugar Bowl berth, and that is exactly what the Warriors did.

In 2008 he picked the Utah Utes, who were not ranked in the Top 25 or projected to win the Mountain West Conference, and Utah finished unbeaten at 13-0 and ended up ranked #2 in the nation.

In 2009 he picked Boise State and the Broncos beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and finished #4 in the nation.

In 2010 he picked the TCU Horned Frogs, who went undefeated at 13-0, knocked off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and finished #2 in the nation.

In 2011 he picked Boise State (for the 3rd time), and the Broncos finished 12-1, losing to TCU on a missed field goal that might have prevented them from playing LSU in the national championship game.

In 2012 he picked Central Florida (UCF), like, yeah, whoever heard of Central Florida? The Knights went 10-4, losing to undefeated Ohio State by 15 points, Missouri by 5, and twice to Tulsa by a combined 8 points. Last year Central Florida went 12-1 and knocked off #6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42. So Steele was a year early on this one, but at least he saw it coming.

In 2013 he picked Fresno State as the #1 Surprise Team (the Bulldogs finished 11-2) and Northern Illinois #2 (the Huskies went 12-2), and both teams ended up as the #1 and #2 non-Big 5 conference teams.

So here are Phil Steele’s Top Non-Power 5 Teams for 2014:

1) Marshall Thundering Herd

2) UCF Knights

3) Boise State Broncos

4) Houston Cougars

5) BYU Cougars

6) Cincinnati Bearcats

7) Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

8) Toledo Rockets

And here are Phil Steele’s 2014 Surprise Teams among the Big 5 Conferences:

1) Georgia Bulldogs

2) USC Trojans

3) Wisconsin Badgers

4) TCU Horned Frogs

5) North Carolina Tar Heels

6) Mississippi Rebels

7) Iowa Hawkeyes

8) LSU Tigers

9) Virginia Tech Hoakies

10) Texas Longhorns

11) Florida Gators

12) Notre Dame Fighting Irish, an Exception as an Independent

13) Northwest Wildcats (a Long Shot)

And, while we are at it, here are Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams for 2014:

1) TCU

2) Florida

3) Northwestern

4) Air Force

5) Nevada

6) Louisiana Tech

7) Memphis

8) Tennessee

9) NC State

10) Army

11) Akron

12) Indiana

If you want to know another 100,000+ facts about college football in 2014, buy Phil Steele’s book. You won’t find the good stuff any other place, and, yes, this is an unsolicited and unpaid testimonial because Phil Steele and his staff work their butts off so you can be informed, and they deserve the credit, not the pundits on television and radio.

Here is this year’s Associated Press Top 25 college football pre-season picks. The top 10 picks are exactly the same teams in the Top 25 Coaches Poll, but in a slightly different order (numbers 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are in the exact same order in the Coaches Poll).

Some commentary is added on my part to stir the pot and elicit response from you the reader. You can email me at:

edbagley@comcast.net

If you see things differently and want to spout off with a clever comment like “I’ll be dead before Tulane wins a national football championship” (that would make two of us), send me an email. I may publish it so watch what you say.

So here’s how the nation’s sportswriters and sportscasters see the upcoming top picks:

1) Florida State – This is hardly a surprise. Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles ran the table last year at 14-0, winning the national championship 34-31over Auburn with 13 seconds left on a 2-yard touchdown pass, breaking the SEC’s 7-year grip on the national title. Florida won in 2006 and 2008, LSU won in 2007, Alabama won in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and Auburn won in 2010. Florida State set a national record last year by scoring 723 points (51+ PPG), and returns 13 starters and the Heisman Trophy winner, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, now a sophomore.

2) Alabama – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has won 3 national titles in 5 years. The 2 years they did not win the title they were the AP pre-season #1 favorite. Saban has lost only 7 games in 5 years and, yes, Alabama is a powerhouse that attracts players like bees to honey.

3) Oregon – Former Coach Chip Kelly won 46 games in 4 years and turned Oregon into a national contender before bolting to the NFL and Philadelphia Eagles. His replacement, Mark Helfrich, inherited 15 starters his first year and went 11-2 with a team that thought they should have been in the national championship game. Oregon lost to Stanford and Arizona last year and barely beat Oregon State. The Ducks may have a higher opinion of themselves than they deserve. Helfrich and his Ducks host Michigan State after opening against South Dakota, a double-A team that went 4-8 last year. We will see how Oregon holds up against Michigan State.

4) Oklahoma – Bob Stoops and his Sooners went 11-2 last year and beat Alabama 45-31 in the BCS Sugar Bowl. The BCS system is over this year, replaced by a 4-team playoff selected by a panel of real people and not polls and computer rankings. Oklahoma just may have a shot to be in the Top 4 when the regular season ends. The Sooners have won 41 straight games when leading at the half; only Oregon has a longer streak at 60.

5) Ohio State – Coach Urban Meyer won 24 straight games at Ohio State over two seasons before the Buckeyes lost their last two last year to Michigan State 34-24 for the Big Ten title, and to Clemson 40-35 in the Orange Bowl. The season has started badly for the Buckeyes as senior quarterback Braxton Miller will be out for the rest of the year after reinjuring his shoulder. Meyer is a great coach (he won 2 national titles at Florida), but it hurts to lose your star quarterback.

6) Auburn – Coach Gus Malzahn was 13 seconds from winning the national title last year in his first year at Auburn. He went 12-2, beating Alabama and losing to LSU before taking Florida State to the limit in the national championship game. Can he get that close again? He returns 14 starters, but will be on the road against both Georgia and Alabama. Good luck with that, especially since Auburn is in the SEC West Division with Alabama.

7) UCLA – Jim Mora starts his 3rd year as coach of the Bruins. Last year marked the first time in 16 years that the Bruins beat Southern Cal (USC) and won a bowl game in their last two games (42-12 over Virginia in the Sun Bowl). Mora returns 17 starters, 9 on offense and 8 on defense, and he aims to win the Pac-12 South Division ahead of USC. UCLA might do exactly that.

8) Michigan State – Disclaimer: I have competed for Michigan State in the Big Ten, and I graduated from Michigan State on time (within 4 years) with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism. Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this about Michigan State: The Spartans have flirted with becoming a premier national power in the hunt for the national title, and now they are high enough up the AP Top 25 Pre-Season Poll to make a bid to be 1 of the final 4 teams in this year’s first 4-team playoff system (the BCS system is no more). Michigan State was ranked #2 nationally in Total Defense last year and #3 in Scoring Defense.

Given their prior performance over the years, I would not have bet even 10 cents that the Spartans would go 13-1 last season, beat Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State in the regular season, win the Big Ten title, beat #5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and finish the season ranked #3 in the nation, ahead of #4 South Carolina, #5 Missouri, #6 Oklahoma, #7 Alabama, #8 Clemson and #9 Oregon. But there it is.

I am not the least surprised that they start this year ranked #8 in the pre-season poll, behind Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn and UCLA, all schools that enjoy the perception of having more prestigious football programs. Only the Michigan State Spartans and Coach Mark Dantonio can change this perception.

9) South Carolina – Coach Steve Spurrier returns 14 starters to an 11-2 team that beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl last year. The Gamecocks must get by Georgia and Missouri in the SEC East, and play away games at Auburn and Clemson before even getting shot at Alabama, Auburn or LSU for the SEC title. This is a little like taking on a tiger with one hand tied behind your back.

10) Baylor – The Bears were 11-2 last year, beat Texas, got waxed by Oklahoma State, and lost to #15 Central Florida 52-42 in a Fiesta Bowl game with no defense. Here is all you need to know about the Bears: They don’t recruit defenders and coach defense at Baylor, only offense. Baylor was #1 nationally in Total Offense last year, #2 in Scoring Offense and #2 in Team Passing Efficiency, and #28 in Total Defense and #36 in Scoring Defense. In other words, Baylor is all offense and not enough defense, and until Coach Art Briles does something about it, the Bears will be going nowhere 98 miles an hour.

Note: The chances of any team ranked #11 or lower winning the national title is slim to none. The exceptions are few; that’s why I am not wasting ink on any of them. The team with the best chance may be Georgia. The team not even in the Top 25 with a totally unexpected chance just might be Florida. Florida State from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) may have won the national title last year, but you do not want to get into a bragging contest with the SEC (that’s the Southeastern Conference for the uninitiated).

11) Stanford

12) Georgia

13) LSU

14) Wisconsin

15) USC

16) Clemson

17) Notre Dame

18) Ole Miss

19) Arizona State

20) Kansas State

21) Texas A&M

22) Nebraska

23) North Carolina

24) Missouri

25) Washington

Few events are more influenced by the male psyche than the start of, not the fall season, but the football season.

Be it college or pro competition, football has become the most popular sport in America for several reasons:

1) Pro football teams play once of week; baseball and basketball teams play multiple games in a week. Playing once a week is perfect; you have 6 days to analyze the most recent win or loss, enough time to celebrate or commiserate.

2) Pro football has a 16-game regular season schedule in 4 months. Baseball has a 162-game regular schedule in 6 months that averages 23 games a month. Basketball has an 82-game regular schedule in 7 months and, including the playoffs, drones on for 9 months—from October to June. Talk about dull and monotonous. You could die waiting for the baseball and basketball seasons to end. No wonder their ratings are down.

3) Football is a continuous, violent, smash-mouth game that became the perfect substitute when the gladiators and lions left the coliseum in Rome. Baseball can border on the boring, and basketball has action but too little defense to qualify as a team sport.

4) Because football games happen only once a week, you can come out with a sane timetable for scores, standings, ratings and rankings. Baseball and basketball are impossible to tabulate in any meaningful way, especially when it comes to the legal and illegal business of laying money on games (betting).

5) Football is a weekend game, with most high school games on Friday night, college football on Saturday, and pro football on Sunday. Yes, football has become greedy, with limited action on Monday and Thursday, but fans are still best able to attend games on the weekend when the business of making a living can wait.

6) Boys throw rocks, jump into water, climb trees, wrestle and fight each other. Football has some rules, but there is no other game where you have so many ways to legally hurt someone very badly and get cheered for it. Men respect, and women love, a guy who can talk the talk, and then walk and walk. Football was made for a good fight, and heroes; just ask Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

It is clear that a guy’s focus becomes better, his heart beats faster, and he wants to compete by hitting an opponent quicker and harder when football season starts. Not to mention that there is also beer, noise, competition and victory in sight.

It is said the businesses in American now lose billions in lost productivity during football season because of office pools, office buzz and fantasy football action. Pro football has already played exhibition games and college football starts in a week. How could work possibly compete?

How indeed. Now, let me see the schedule, and pass over a brewski.

Six NCAA conference championships are on the line in major college football’s 14th week of action, followed by bowl game bids Sunday (12-1-12).

In the most important title game, West Division winner #2 Alabama (11-1) will face East Division winner #3 Georgia (11-1) for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title. Unless the world ends, the winner will face #1 Notre Dame for the national championship.

If you are from the SEC or root for the SEC, hope that the SEC rep wins so you can brag or boast that the last 6 national champions have all come from the SEC. If you are not from the SEC or could care less if the SEC losses, root with maximum effort and pray that Notre Dame wins because if the Fighting Irish do win, it will be the best thing that has happened in major college football in the last 6 years.

Legends Division winner #14 Nebraska (10-2) will play the Leaders Division unranked and 3rd place finisher Wisconsin (7-5) for the Big Ten Conference (Big Ten) title because both unbeaten #4 Ohio State (12-0) and unranked Penn State (8-4) are ineligible to compete due to NCAA sanctions for bad behavior.

North Division co-champion #8 Stanford (11-1) will take on South Division winner #17 UCLA (9-3) for the Pacific 12 Conference (Pac 12) title because North Division co-champion #6 Oregon (11-1) was beaten by Stanford in league play.

Atlantic Division co-champion #13 Florida State (10-2) will face Coastal Division unranked co-champion Georgia Tech (6-6) for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) title.

Florida State beat Atlantic Division co-champion Clemson in league play. In the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech beat co-champion North Carolina and lost to co-champion Miami (FL), North Carolina beat Miami and lost to Georgia Tech, and Miami beat Georgia Tech and lost to North Carolina. Yeah, you figure it out.

This could be why the ACC is also known as the Almost Competitive Division. The only weaker major conference than the ACC is the Big East (aka the Big Excuse for a conference).

West Division champion #19 Northern Illinois (11-1) will take on East Division champion #18 Kent State (11-1) for the Mid-American Conference (MAC) title. Both teams were 8-0 in league play and clear division champions.

Unranked East Division co-champion Central Florida (9-2) will play unranked West Division champion Tulsa (9-3) for the Conference USA (C-USA) title. Central Florida beat East Division co-champion to qualify.

In other games worthy of note, there aren’t any.

There are 7 key match-ups critical to conference championships and the national championship game during major college football’s 13th week. They are:

#1 Notre Dame (11-0) travels to Southern California (7-4). Poor SoCal. The Trojans were ranked #1 in the AP Pre-Season Top 25 Poll. They would have stayed there had they not lost to Stanford, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. The real question now is: Can Notre Dame, only 1of 2 unbeaten teams left, win its 12th consecutive game and play for the national title?

#5 Oregon (10-1) travels to #16 Oregon State (8-2). This game is billed as the Civil War and, in Oregon, that means no-holds-barred, katy-bar-the-door, smack down time for one of these two teams. The Oregon Ducks need a BCS bowl game to salvage their almost perfect season.

#12 Clemson (10-1) hosts #13 South Carolina (9-2). This game is all about who will be able to snag a prime BCS bowl game.

#11 Stanford (9-2) travels to #15 UCLA (9-2). This game has Pac 12 title implications. UCLA has been nothing special for the last several years; now they are something special under first-year coach Jim Mora.

#6 Florida (10-1) travels to #10 Florida State (10-1). Who will end up in a BCS bowl game?

#14 Oklahoma (8-2) hosts #22 Oklahoma State (7-3). Not long ago, this game would have been huge, now it is not so huge, but still important in the Big 12.

#4 Ohio State (11-0) hosts #20 Michigan (8-3). The Buckeyes are on probation and will not sniff a bowl game this year, but they want to log in a perfect season for new first-year coach Urban Meyer.


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