Originally written on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 8/29/12

We’re launching a new feature on TakingBS: roundtables. Our sports analysts will give their takes on any sport at any time during the season. This first roundtable focuses on the rapidly approaching college football season, and features the one and only Zach Schotz (Syracuse), OSU Senior Evan Speyer, UMiami Junior Shane Abergel, and Michigan Junior Matt Fitzburgh. Here are our analysts thoughts and predictions on the upcoming season.

Who is the favorite to win the Heisman?

Schotz: There’s no reason why Matt Barkley shouldn’t win the Heisman this year. He literally has everything going for him…USC is BCS Bowl hungry, he has an endless amount of weapons, there are no SEC defenses in the Pac 12, AND he’s a good looking guy. With the addition of Silas Redd, paired with the best backup running back in the nation, Curtis McNeil, the passing game we’ll completely open up even more than it did last season. And even though Barkley lost Matt Kalil, he still will have extreme tempurpedic comfort in the pocket to throw to two of the top five wide receivers in the country.

Speyer: Montee Ball from Wisconsin, so long that he can elude any more predicaments off the field as well as he dodges opposing defenders. A year after having one of the best seasons in college football history, Ball could see even more action this season as they lose star quarterback Russell Wilson. Though it has broken away from the trend in recent years, the Heisman is historically a trophy won during multiple years of success. Ball made a name for himself last year, putting up numbers that probably should have won him the trophy. This year, look for him to leave New York holding hardware.

Abergel: I have to go with Matt Barkley on this one. He’s gone through too much in his USC career to let them lose this year. Barkley is already the favorite and has the incredible story and popularity behind him that will boost his votes. My darkhorse candidates this year are West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Kansas State’s Collin Klein.

Fitzburgh: De’Anthony Thomas is a lightning bolt whenever he gets the ball for the Oregon Ducks, and I anticipate a breakout season for the true sophomore. His 2,235 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns as a true freshmen gave Oregon fans something to be excited about after LaMichael James’ early departure to the NFL. Now that the Doak Walker award winning back is off to the league, Thomas will be Chip Kelly’s weapon of choice in terrorizing Pac-12 defenses. If Thomas stays relatively injury-free during the 2012 campaign, expect some gaudy figures as a spread running back, receiver, and returner.

Which team will surprise college football this year (positively)? 

Schotz: SMU is coming off an 8-5 season and a bowl game victory over Pittsburgh. With the healthy return of massive running back Zach Line, and a coming out party for former Texas starting QB Garret Gilbert (a huge upgrade from JJ McDermott) the Mustangs’ offense will keep them extremely competitive. A fresh start for Gilbert in the C-USA paired with Zach Line’s beastliness will challenge Southern Miss for the conference championship. They will also have opportunities for potential upsets over Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU transcending them into another bowl game.

Speyer: I think that Arizona could turn some heads this year. Rich Rodriguez was never a good fit at Michigan, but he is still a good coach with an exceptional offensive mind. It will be a multi-year project to get Arizona on the map, and Rich-Rod definitely lacks the personnel to replicate what he did at West Virginia this season, but in a weak division Arizona should win seven games and play in a bowl game. More importantly, they will show signs that they are headed in the right direction.

Abergel: North Carolina State is my sleeper team this year. They return all four of the nation’s best secondary that combined for 27 INT’s, and held opponents to a 57.5 completion percentage. That secondary is led by All-American, David Amerson, who is the best corner in the nation, and a likely top 10 pick in next years NFL draft. On offense the Wolfpack are led by Mike Glennon, who threw for 3,054 yards and 31 TD’s last season. With a solid QB and impenetrable secondary, look for this Wolfpack team to make some noise this year in the ACC and nationally.

Fitzburgh: The Vanderbilt Commodores are on nobody’s radar in 2012, but I believe they are due for a breakout season. While traditionally a doormat of the SEC, coach James Franklin has been doing all the right things down in Nashville. They admittedly may be a year or two away as Franklin stockpiles more highly rated recruits, but the Commodores could turn some heads if a few things go their way. A 9-win season could be in the cards if Franklin takes out two of Auburn, Florida and Missouri.

Which team takes a step backward this season?

Schotz: Penn State.

Speyer: Michigan. I touched on this in my 9 bold predictions article,  but I really feel that Michigan was one of the most fortunate teams in the country last season. Brady Hoke is a good coach, and that program is headed in the right direction, but they aren’t a team contending for a title this year. Alabama will beat them by multiple scores in their opener, and the rest of their schedule lines up for a four-loss season. Not terrible, but definitely a step back after winning a BCS bowl game last year.

Abergel: Florida State is my pick for a major step backwards this season. A main reason is the loss of star cornerback, Greg Reid, who was dismissed from the team. Playing in a conference that suddenly boasts many of the top QB’s in college football will play a factor when they face a gauntlet of them after their first two games against FCS teams. With tough road games at South Florida, NC State, Miami, and Virginia Tech, FSU will have to rely on some of those star recruits to make very early impacts this season.

Fitzburgh: The LSU Tigers are not guaranteed to hold their place in the National Title game in 2012. Aside from the inexplicable and glaring loss of do-it-all weapon Tyrann Mathieu, there is no clear cut starting Quarterback for the Tigers as of yet. Les Miles may be a great coach, but even he may need a miracle to make Rob Bolden competent behind center. Other QB candidates are two redshirt freshmen, and unproven junior Zach Mettenberger. And even if the Tigers lauded defense holds up without Mathieu, they still have a gauntlet of an SEC schedule: they face Auburn, #23 Florida, #9 South Carolina, Texas A & M, #2 Alabama, and #10 Arkansas this year. They may not totally fall off the wagon, but a 7-5 or 8-4 season is not out of reach for Les Miles and LSU.

What is the most intriguing storyline or game heading into the season?

Schotz: Oklahoma had a TERRIBLE offseason. Currently the Sooners are going into the season with five players suspended (starring Jaz Reynolds/Kameel Jackson/Stacy McGee), and with two huge offensive line injuries to center Ben Habern (calling it a career) and guard Tyler Evans (torn ACL). Luckily, the Sooners always manage to have great depth, but the suspensions and injuries can significantly set them back.

Speyer: Urban Meyer and his first season in Columbus. Its amazing that after losing Jim Tressel, Ohio State likely came out on top after inking Meyer. Now its time to see how he and the Buckeyes produce on the field. With Braxton Miller under center, Ohio State is poised to have a surprisingly successful season, and might even contend for the division that they aren’t eligible to win.

Abergel: Penn State.

Fitzburgh: Brady Hoke’s Michigan Wolverines march into the ‘Shoe to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on November 24th, in a game that will likely fail to disappoint. The Game will never be bigger for the Buckeyes, as Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus comes with no-bowl game and B1G championship game guaranteed. This means that the Buckeyes will treat this edition of the storied rivalry as their National Championship, and will likely play like it. Michigan will have to counter with a senior Denard Robinson, a junior Fitzgerald Toussaint, and their best defense since the early-Carr era. A lot can happen between now and Thanksgiving, but the Game in 2012 promises already to be a great one.

National Championship pick?

Schotz: I truly believe USC is the most talented team in the nation, but I think the reigning champions Alabama are still the best overall team, and will repeat. Sure they lost great key players, but unlike Beyonce they’re replaceable, as they do this year after year. Eddie Lacy, also known as “circle button”, is going to be the 3rd best back in the SEC and will rack up yards and touchdowns just like Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, and Glen Coffee. AJ McCarron is a true leader, and is somehow still one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the NCAA. Despite loosing Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Courtney Upshaw, Bama is still one of the best defenses in the nation, loaded with NFL talent. Bama wins…ROLL TIDE.

Speyer: Not a big fan of Lane Kiffin, but he will be hoisting the crystal ball come season’s end. Too much talent offensively, with Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marquise Lee and now Silas Redd, who offers them balance. Oregon is talented enough to beat them, but that is the only game on the schedule that could be considered a toss-up. Of course, USC has a history of underachieving against lesser teams. If they can buck that trend, they will also buck another; The SEC’s reign on college football

Abergel: USC. When you pair the best QB in college football with two elite wide outs in Robert Woods and Marquise Lee and two elite running backs in Curtis McNeal and Penn State transfer, Silas Redd, you have a very scary offense that reminds us of the Matt Leinart days. Though USC’s defense is young and lacks depth, it has enough play makers and talents to keep teams from scoring as much as USC’s offense will. I’m predicting a USC-Alabama national championship with USC surging offensively in the second half to top the Tide.

Fitzburgh: The USC Trojans are my BCS championship pick for 2012. Lane Kiffin has simply assembled too much talent in Southern Cal, and Matt Barkley should lead a stacked team against the top SEC power (I think it’s South Carolina). The addition of Silas Redd gives the Trojans a steady rushing attack to complement their vaunted passing game. And the Trojans retain a highly rated defense with 8 returning starters on defense, including four All-Pac 12 defenders. What’s most impressive about USC’s title chances is that all of this is possible while under fairly crippling NCAA sanctions. Do not be surprised to see USC #1 in 2012.

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