Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: Time of uncertainty in college football

Thirty-eight days. Just a little more than five weeks until the first full weekend of college football. The predictions are rolling in like voting results, and with still many left to tally, we're comfortable enough to call it:

Alabama is going to be pretty good.

That much we know. Or do we really? This is the most deceiving time of college football's calendar year. Our last impression came from the bowl games. Spring games? Maybe if they played someone other than backups or split squads.

The truth is we don't really know what we think we know. This time last year, who had Auburn playing Florida State in the national championship game? Who had Arizona beating Oregon by nearly four touchdowns or Duke playing for the ACC championship instead of Miami or Virginia Tech or Central Florida playing in the Fiesta Bowl?

It happens every year, and this year will be no different. This neat little script we all have written for the season starts getting scratched through and rewritten so many times that we finally chunk into the garbage can like our March Madness brackets after the first crazy weekend.

Here are five supposed givens that might not necessarily hold true:

1) The SEC will have at least one team in the four-team playoff.

Sure, the odds are pretty good. I certainly wouldn't bet against it. But it's far from being a given. The SEC has only two teams that are close to consensus top-five -- Alabama and Auburn. The next group is LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri -- all potentially very good, but not top five.

Here's a scenario that's hardly far-fetched. The No. 2 team from the West has two or three losses. The East winner isn't in the top five but upsets the West winner to take the SEC championship.

Meanwhile, the Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12 winners have one loss each and Florida State is undefeated. Would the selection committee put enough stock in the SEC's recent dominance to take a two-loss team -- let's say South Carolina -- over a one-loss Stanford team?

2) Florida State will win the ACC.

There's no question the Seminoles are loaded with talent. But are they that much better than Clemson and Louisville that they are a given to win the Atlantic Division? How much will Jameis Winston's off-the-field issues in the offseason and heavy expectations serve as a distraction?

3) Jeremy Pruitt will have a more immediate impact on Georgia's defense than Lane Kiffin will on Alabama's offense.

Much has been written and said about how Pruitt has simplified the defense and pushed every player to earn their starting positions every day in practice. It's easy to think the Dogs can't get any worse on defense than they were.

Maybe that's true. But that doesn't mean they will be better. The supposed talent Pruitt inherited is overrated. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and inside linebacker Ramik Wilson are the only definite NFL prospects. Jordan Jenkins could be, but he has to prove it on the field consistently. Pruitt has a major rebuilding job on his hands.

Kiffin, meanwhile, inherits an offense loaded with running backs and receivers and has plenty of talent on the line that just needs to play. All Bama needs is to develop a quarterback between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims.

Kiffin is excellent at working with quarterbacks.

4) The Iron Bowl will decide the SEC West.

LSU is right there with Alabama and Auburn. Ole Miss and Texas A&M have enough talent to pull an upset or two. Plus, the inter-division schedule won't be easy. Florida replaces Kentucky on Alabama's schedule, while Auburn plays South Carolina and Georgia. If Georgia bats down Nick Marshall's fourth-down pass last year, the Iron Bowl would not have decided the West.

5) The Heisman Trophy winner will be one of the supposed favorites.

Take a look at the past five winners.

2009: Mark Ingram, Alabama

2010: Cam Newton, Auburn

2011: Robert Griffin III, Baylor

2012: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

2013: Jameis Winston, Florida State

None of them began those seasons as even a darkhorse candidate. Manziel and Winston both were redshirt freshmen. Newton had transferred from junior college, not exactly a conventional layover station to the Downtown Athletic Club.

Ingram, a sophomore when he won it, had rushed for 728 yards as a freshman as Glen Coffee's backup. Pretty respectable, but not nearly enough to strike the stiff-arm pose. Even his Heisman season started modestly enough with only one 100-yard game in his first four games -- 150 against Virginia Tech in the season opener.

Of the five, Griffin had the best credentials going into his Heisman season. He enjoyed a successful season in 2010. But Baylor was just 7-6 and not yet on the national radar. He wasn't even the preseason All-Big 12 quarterback. Oklahoma's Landry Jones earned that distinction.

There's only thing we know for certain. Kickoff can't get here soon enough.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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