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August 12, 2007

David Fox breaks down the best bets


We here at Rivals.com don't endorse gambling, but there's nothing wrong with a friendly wager every now and then.

Losses can mean losing bragging rights, buying lunch or wearing a Halloween costume to the office in middle of July.

Each April, one colleague will take Tiger Woods to win The Masters and will give his betting partner everyone else aka "The field."

Got the concept?

For this college football season, I'll give you five "I'll take the field" scenarios and throw in five more where I'll give you the field.

1. The Heisman race
You take Darren McFadden, Colt Brennan and anyone from the Big East to win the Heisman Trophy. I'll take the field.

Here's why: McFadden will probably be the best player in the country. I'd take him to be the SEC player of the year and the Doak Walker Award winner, but last season's Heisman runner-up has factors working against him this season. For starters, only two of the last 10 Heisman Trophy winners played on teams that won fewer than 10 regular season games Texas' Ricky Williams and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne. Hitting double-digit wins before the Heisman voting will be a tall task for Arkansas, even with a schedule that features three Sun Belt teams and a Division I-AA opponent.

As for Brennan, he will likely lead the nation in passing and possibly could lead the Warriors to an undefeated season. Working against him is the fact that he plays in a non-BCS conference. He also faces a soft schedule, plays his home games in the middle of the night for East Coast voters and will have to fight the perception that he is a product of the system. The last non-BCS player to win the Heisman was BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. By the time Brennan gets to his statement games against Boise State (Nov. 23) and Washington (Dec. 1), it will probably be too late to make a difference.

Giving up the entire Big East causes me the most apprehension. West Virginia's Pat White and Steve Slaton, Louisville's Brian Brohm and Rutgers' Ray Rice could all reach that double-digit win plateau if they lead their respective teams to a conference title. Exposure and statement games won't be a problem with key conference games again being played in front of a national television audience on many Thursday nights. Working in my favor, though, is that Syracuse and Pittsburgh are the only current Big East schools to field a Heisman winner in their history. White and Slaton could split the West Virginia vote, and the thought of a Rutgers player winning the Heisman still isn't right.

In the field, I still have John David Booty. His predecessors at USC, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, won the award. Exposure and wins certainly won't be a problem here. I still have the Michigan duo of Chad Henne and Mike Hart (who was fifth in the balloting last year) and Texas' Colt McCoy. To me, Boise State's Ian Johnson might be a safer bet than Brennan if the Heisman goes to a non-BCS player. If the award goes to a wide receiver, Cal's DeSean Jackson would be as good a pick as any since he is also the nation's best punt returner.
2. The Big Ten title chase
You take Michigan and Wisconsin to win the Big Ten. I'll take the field.

Here's why: The Big Ten favorite and a national title contender, Michigan is a veteran team with offensive skill to spare and a defense that led the country against the run last year. After going 12-1 in 2006, Wisconsin returns the Big Ten's leading rusher and a stifling defense. It would be a safe bet that the two teams will finish first and second in the league. Look a little closer, and it's not so clear-cut.

After the Wolverines' back-to-back losses to Ohio State and USC to end the season, I don't trust Michigan to run the table. Defeating Appalachian State, Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State at home in the first month of the season is possible. But the Wolverines, who have ended each of the last three seasons on a two-game losing streak, finish the year with a gauntlet. Michigan will face an improved Michigan State team on the road, followed by a road trip to Madison for what is sure to be the game of the year in the Big Ten. Then there's the finale against Ohio State, against whom Michigan has lost five of the last six. Wisconsin, too, has a backloaded schedule. The Badgers will go to Ohio State the week before facing Michigan. Wisconsin ends the season with their rivalry game at Minnesota.

I do have this working in my favor: Either Michigan or Wisconsin could be eliminated from the Big Ten title chase on Nov. 10 when the two face each other at Camp Randall Stadium. Defending champion Ohio State could also play the role of spoiler for both teams. By the time the Buckeyes play host to Wisconsin on Nov. 3 and go to Michigan on Nov. 17, any questions on the Ohio State offense could be solved. Also in the field is Penn State, which has a tough defense and a senior quarterback. A healthy Iowa team that doesn't have to face Michigan or Ohio State could also be a factor in the conference race.
3. ACC contenders
You take a former Big East team to win the ACC. I'll take the field.

Here's why: In this deal you're getting two favorites to win division titles, Virginia Tech and Boston College, along with Miami (not a bad throw-in if you ask me). The ACC expansion hasn't worked out quite as well as hoped. Virginia Tech is the only former Big East team to make the two-year-old conference title game (the Hokies lost in 2005). The Hokies are a popular pick to win the ACC because of their stout defense and all-conference running back Branden Ore. Star quarterback Matt Ryan is poised to lead Boston College to an Atlantic Division title. Miami, with its tough defense, won't be playing in bowls like the MPC Computers Bowl for much longer.

But nothing is predictable in the ACC nowadays. Defending champion Wake Forest was picked last in the Atlantic Division last year. Coastal champ Georgia Tech was picked third. In the field, I get Florida State - which has won the league 12 times. The Seminoles (7-6) are coming off their worst season since 1981, but only the 30-0 loss to Wake Forest was decided by more than a touchdown. If the coaching staff can turn those one-score losses into wins, Florida State could return to the top of the ACC. Also in the field is Clemson, which has its toughest league games at home. I'm also not counting out a veteran-laden Wake Forest team.
4. Independent thinking
You take Notre Dame to win the most games among independents. I'll take the field.

Here's why: Find your favorite (or least favorite) Notre Dame fan and propose this one. Most of it comes down to Notre Dame vs. Navy, but I'm not saying Navy will beat the Fighting Irish for the first time since 1963. Pencil in four wins for Notre Dame in the last four games against Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. It's the first eight that will be trouble. With a green quarterback and a soft defense, the Irish open the season against Georgia Tech, at Penn State, at Michigan, vs. Michigan State, at Purdue, at UCLA and against Boston College and USC in South Bend, Ind. How many wins do you have in that list? If you give the Irish three wins in the first eight games, that gives Notre Dame a seven-win season - not including a bowl game.

Under Paul Johnson, Navy has won at least seven games in the regular season in each of the last four years. Give the Midshipmen W's against cupcakes Temple and Duke, Division I-AA Delaware and the other two service academies - which Navy has swept each of the last four seasons. There's five wins off the bat. All Navy has to do to get to eight wins is beat Ball State and Northern Illinois at home and then North Texas on the road.

If Navy fails you on this one, you still have Western Kentucky in your back pocket. The Hilltoppers are a Division I-A independent in transition from I-AA. Western Kentucky (6-5 in I-AA last year) plays only six I-A opponents this year. Only one opponent of the Hilltoppers (Florida) plays in a BCS conference.
5. BCS crashers
You take non-BCS teams with green fields to go to a BCS bowl game. I'll take the (blue) field.

Here's why: In short, I get Boise State and you get everyone else. The door is now open for non-BCS teams to make regular appearances in major bowl games. This year, Hawaii and TCU hope to repeat Boise's feat from a year ago. In the field, you also get dark horses BYU, Utah and Southern Miss.

TCU, Boise State and Hawaii were all ranked in the first coaches' poll, which is used in the BCS formula. TCU is ranked the highest at No. 22, but the Horned Frogs' best chance at a spot in the BCS was last year. TCU won its toughest non-conference game against Texas Tech, but followed that with back-to-back losses to BYU and Utah. The Horned Frogs will likely have to beat Texas in Austin for a shot at the BCS in 2007.

Assuming both are undefeated at the time of their Nov. 23 matchup, the winner of the Boise State-Hawaii game will have the best shot at a spot in a BCS bowl. If Boise State again goes undefeated (that would mean road wins over Washington and Hawaii and a home win vs. Southern Miss), the Broncos would likely return to the BCS. If Hawaii goes undefeated, its schedule could hinder the Warriors. Two Division I-AA opponents and only one BCS opponent (Washington, in Honolulu) is not the best way to gain favor with voters.
The Rivals five: You take the field
Here are five picks where I would make you take the field.
1. I'll take USC to win the Pac-10, you take the field.
Reasons you want the field: Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State
2. I'll take Darren McFadden to win the Doak Walker Award, you take the field.
Reasons you want the field: Michigan's Mike Hart, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, Rutgers' Ray Rice.
3. I'll take Hawaii to lead the country in pass offense, you take the field.
Reasons you want the field: Texas Tech, New Mexico State
4. I'll take Rutgers' Ray Rice and Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard to lead their respective conferences in carries, you take the field.
Reasons you want the field: Connecticut's Donald Brown, Arizona State's Ryan Torain
5. I'll take C.J. Gable to lead USC in rushing, you take the field.
Reasons you want the field: Chauncey Washington, Emmanuel Moody, Joe McKnight, Hershel Dennis, Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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