Predicting the future of college football right now is about as easy as guessing when the BP oil spill saga will end for the folks of the Gulf Coast.
Think about it. About eight to 10 days ago almost any informed fan would have said the Pac-10 was more than likely going to be a 16-team league that included Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Colorado.
OK, we all would have been correct about the Buffaloes.
Conference expansion has calmed down a bit, it’s far from over. So trying to look at the next decade (2010-19) and predict who’ll dominant the conferences is not so easy. Heck, we don’t even know if the teams that are in those leagues now will be there in 2011, much less in 2019.
If you would have tried to predict the teams that would dominate conferences in the past decade, most people would have predicted Miami, Fla., to own the Big East. Now the Hurricanes can’t even win the ACC, which it joined in 2004.
So let’s give it a shot and do some predicting for the next decade of college football.
SEC fans like to rip on the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the talent and depth of the league is getting better. North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami and Boston College are legitimate championship programs.
But as the Bobby Bowden era ends in Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher is primed to make a run at Florida State and return the Seminoles to elite status again. Fisher’s team has a legitimate opportunity to win a crown this year, but he’ll crank out even more as he keeps building FSU into a national title contender again through outstanding recruiting.
Runner-up: Virginia Tech. The Hokies are one of the most consistent teams in the ACC and they’ll give Florida State a run for the most titles this decade. Frank Beamer’s future is what makes it tough to go with Virginia Tech outright. He’s not in any trouble, but will he coach another decade?
If the Big 12 sticks with 10 teams and drops the conference championship, Texas will win more league titles than any other program. The Longhorns are primed to make more money than anyone else in the conference and recruiting has never been a problem.
Also, Texas shouldn’t see much disruption if Mack Brown retires during the decade and Will Muschamp takes over.
Runner-up: Oklahoma. The Sooners will continue to be relevant nationally, especially if Bob Stoops remains in Norman for another 10 years.
The conference survived the first round of expansion this summer, but it’s still unclear who will still be standing in the Big East when it’s all over.
So for now, let’s say everyone is around for another 10 years (anyone want to bet me on that one?). While Cincinnati and West Virginia have been the two powers of the past decade, both are showing signs of losing footing as the dominant programs and the time is right for Dave Wannstedt and the Pitt Panthers.
Wannstedt has been a solid recruiter since he returned to his alma mater in late 2004, and he has the Panthers in a position to be the top dog in the Big East for a long time.
Runner-up: Syracuse. Laugh if you want, but second-year coach Doug Marrone is not that far from returning the Orange to their glory days.
As long as Jim Tressel is still wearing the sweater vest and roaming the sidelines the Buckeyes remain the class of the Big Ten. Ohio State is 94-21 since Tressel took over in 2001.
Another contributing factor is the Buckeyes continue to be one of the best recruiting programs in the nation and that’s not likely to end since OSU has some of the best facilities and is committed to winning.
Runner-up: Michigan. It would be easy to go with Iowa, Penn State or even newcomer Nebraska. But if Rich Rodriguez can quiet the critics this year he won’t be too far away from returning the Wolverines to the top of the conference. What he did at West Virginia wasn’t a fluke.
It seems Houston, Southern Miss and even East Carolina are all easy picks. But it’s time to project out a little bit and go with Southern Methodist.
One thing June Jones does is win, and by leading the Mustangs to an 8-5 record, including a bowl victory over Nevada last year. SMU is in the right place to become the new Conference USA big dog.
Runner-up: Marshall. First-year head coach Doc Holliday has a lot to prove as the guy in charge, but he’s one of the country’s best recruiters and his first class is proof of that. Give him a couple years to get more talent and he just may lead the Herd to a few titles.
Now this is tough. The MAC is a solid mid-major conference, and its members play tough out-of-conference games. It’s been awhile since it went on a run of upsets, but it may be time again.
What makes this one so tough is no program seems to be able to keep the winning momentum going for more than a few years and then it’s someone new.
But I like what Coach Al Golden is building at Temple, a former doormat of the Big East. The only reason this pick is sketchy is because Golden could be off to greener pastures in 2011.
Runner-up: Ohio. The Bobcats have not been able to get over the hump of winning the conference championship game, but Frank Solich is one of the best coaches in the league and he’s probably not going anywhere.
Boise State won’t join until 2011, but the Broncos should maintain their level of dominance despite an improvement in conference depth over the WAC.
The Broncos have earned two at-large BCS berths and won both, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over fellow MWC team TCU last year. It doesn’t hurt that Chris Petersen loves coaching at Boise and hasn’t shown much interest in leaving for a BCS program.
Runner-up: San Diego State. I know it’s easy to go with TCU or BYU, and the Aztecs haven’t been relevant since Marshall Faulk. But don’t overlook second-year coach Brady Hoke, who guided Ball State to a 12-win season before leaving for San Diego State.
Pac-10 (or whatever it’s called in the future)
It’s a new decade and time for a change on top. Sorry USC, but Lane Kiffin and NCAA sanctions will take their toll on the Trojans’ dominance.
But the apple doesn’t fall too far. Washington, under the leadership of Steve Sarkisian, is just another year or two away from becoming the class of the 12-team Pac-10. Sarkisian is already bringing in top talent and the Huskies have a tradition of winning that shouldn’t make their return that far-fetched.
Runner-up: Arizona. The Wildcats are the only current Pac-10 team to never win a league title and represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. It’s time for that trend to come to end. Mike Stoops was on shaky ground until he coached Arizona to back-to-back bowl games. Now he can relax a bit and get to work on elevating the Wildcats to the upper echelon.
With Florida, Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee all considered elite programs in the 1990s and 2000s; it would seem easy to go with one of those. But it’s time for shift in power.
Auburn was a rare undefeated SEC team that didn’t get a shot at the national championship in 2004. Gene Chizik and his staff are working hard to compete on the recruiting trails with the likes of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, so the next decade is looking promising at Auburn.
Runner-up: Alabama. When Auburn isn’t winning the SEC crown it’s more than likely a good bet that the Crimson Tide will fill the void.
Do you know what’s nice about the Sun Belt? No one is looking to add any of its members in expansion. So the league should remain intact over the next decade.
But who will dominate? Probably no one, but let’s go with last year’s champ Troy. The Trojans have a respectable history and could be on the cusp of running of a few conference titles. The biggest challenger right now is Middle Tennessee State.
Runner-up: Florida Atlantic. Do you know what’s funny? Don’t be surprised if Howard Schnellenberger coaches the Owls throughout the entire decade. He’s always found a way to win and he gets to collect a lot of the talent left over in Florida that doesn’t go to Florida, Florida State, Miami, South Florida and Central Florida.
While Boise State has been the kingpin of the Western Athletic Conference, but with the Broncos departure another Idaho team is ready to take over. The Vandals showed a great deal of improvement in 2009 and the school recently extended the contract of Coach Robb Akey.
Akey is a great motivator and if he sticks around could help Idaho become as dominant as Boise, minus the BCS berths.
Runner-up: Fresno State. The Bulldogs used to be the big dog of the WAC and with Boise leaving coach Pat Hill should be able to find a little of the magic that he enjoyed earlier in the 2000s.