football As a new school year starts up, sports wonks, gridiron fans and fantasy footballers begin combing through statistics and sports news, excited for the coming college football season, the last for the BCS.

The 2013–2014 season, like every season, is fraught with questions that won’t all be answered until the Rose Bowl play clock hits all zeroes in the fourth quarter of the BCS championship on January 6, 2014. Will USC coach Lane Kiffin be able to keep his job? How will the Big Ten rename and reorganize its divisions? With Penn State banned from postseason play in 2013, what can we expect from the Nittany Lions during the season?

There’s no shortage of predictions for the coming season, and a survey of sportswriters shows both a wide range of expectations and some consistent trends. For example, most pigskin pundits expect Stanford and Oregon to duke it out for the number-one spot in the PAC-12, but there’s no consensus on who will come out on top. The SEC once again looks to come down to Alabama and Georgia, with Alabama’s Crimson Tide getting the early votes for a return to the BCS final.

The expected candidate field for the Heisman is filling up (mostly with quarterbacks). Some of the top contenders (in alphabetical order) are

  • Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville QB)
  • Marqise Lee (USC WR)*
  • Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M QB)
  • Marcus Mariota (Oregon QB)
  • A.J. McCarron (Alabama QB)
  • Braxton Miller (Ohio State QB)
  • T.J. Yeldon (Alabama RB)

Coaches, players, scandals, polling — with so many aspects of the game to pore over, it can seem like too much to take in. When it comes down to what it’s all about — winning football games — what statistics matter most? What numbers and news should guide your own prophesying?

Check out the updated college football schedule at ESPN and then make your predictions based on the following information.

Returning starters

During the first month or so of football practice, the “new guys” spend a lot of time learning the ropes — memorizing the playbook, building rapport, acclimatizing to the coaching style, etc. The more returning starters a team has, the less work this involves, the more time can be spent actually developing into a cohesive, responsive team.

So the Texas Longhorns, with 19 returning starters, have a leg up (at least on paper) over Texas A&M, with only 10 returning starters. The quality of those returning starters, though, makes a big difference.

Texas-College-Football

Past performance

It’s often said that past performance does not predict future results. While that’s true in an absolute sense, you should ignore it when you make your college football predictions. Barring injury and scandal, the past performance of great coaches and outstanding (and returning) players can be expected, within reason, to continue into the new season. You should be on the lookout for surprise performances, but in general, a team that had a great 2012–2013 season isn’t likely to flatline right out of the gate this season.

Gut feelings

Because games are won and lost through personal performance, team cohesion and (sometimes) refereeing, and each of these aspects is affected by hundreds of little particulars — from alertness and the weather to what a player ate for lunch — no sporting event can be predicted with certainty. When you’re faced with what looks like a stalemate, sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

Which is also affected by those hundreds of little particulars.

Test your prognostications — live!

Want a chance to test your predictions against the pundits at ESPN Radio? Sears has teamed up with ESPN’s Mike and Mike to give you the chance to win VIP treatment at an ESPN Football Tour event.

The winner will receive two tickets to any single 2013 ESPN Football Tour event, with the chance to meet ESPN  Radio talent, plus a $200 Sears gift card, a suite of Sears Auto Center Road Trip essentials for the winner’s car, and $1,000 spending money.

Sears and ESPN are ready for the 2013–2014 college football season. Are you?

*While this is a worthy and almost complete list of candidates, we had to add Marqise Lee in. Though his numbers will likely be down from last year with a new QB and no Robert Woods, he is still the best WR in college football and is a one-man team at times. He needs to be included on this list- Editor Kevin Taylor

Image source: MorgueFile.