Last year, the four major college football teams we cover -West Virginia, Marshall, Ohio State and Ohio -all partcipated in bowl games.
That can't happen this year as Ohio State will be serving a one-year bowl ban for violating NCAA rules. But fans of all four teams have reason to be optimistic about the 2012 season. Here's a quick look at each team's prospects.
WVU: The Mountaineers begin the season ranked No. 11, thanks to winning 10 games last year, including a 70-33 destruction of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
WVU -in its second year of running coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid offense -should be improved over last season. But that doesn't necessarily translate into more victories, especially since West Virginia has departed the Big East for the much tougher Big 12.
No team has gotten more mileage out of one win than WVU has received for its Orange Bowl performance. In that regard, WVU may be overhyped as few mention West Virginia trailed in all 13 of its games last year and lost by 26 points to Syracuse.
Obviously, the quality of opponents will be significantly elevated. But WVU couldn't have picked a better year to enter the Big 12. The Mountaineers possess three of the nation's best offensive weapons in quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The defense appears adequate and special teams might well be a team strength -a pleasant change from the norm in Morgantown.
There's little not to like about this team, which is capable of beating every opponent on its schedule. But the schedule will require WVU to be "up'' for virtually every conference game. No having a couple weeks in between big games. Experience a letdown and you'll experience another word that begins with L - loss.
Vegas odds makers have placed the over-under on WVU wins at 8.5. Given that West Virginia should get off to a 4-0 start and has just four road games, I wouldn't hesitate to bet over. The call here is 9-3.
Marshall: After getting off to a 3-5 start, Marshall won four of its final five games a year ago, including a 20-10 triumph over Florida International in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, to finish 7-6.
Optimistic Herd fans can point to the return of eight starters on offense -including sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, who threw for 2,059 yards and 15 TDs in making an impressive freshmen debut. Cato welcomes the return of senior receiver Aaron Dobson, who caught 49 passes for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The offense should be able to move the ball. But the defense must replace six departed starters and the Herd also lost its reliable kicker in Parkersburg product Tyler Warner.
Plus, the schedule is brutal with non-conference games against bowl winners West Virginia, Ohio and Purdue.
Like West Virginia, coach Doc Holliday's team could be improved over a year ago and have it still not show in the win column. Let's go with a 6-6 regular season.
Ohio State: For a team that finished 6-7 a year ago, Ohio State has received a tremendous amount of preseason hype.
More than any individual player, that hype is due to the hiring of Urban Meyer as head coach. He made an immediate impact, in spite of severe penalties hanging over the program, by having an outstanding recruiting year.
The question now is will fans see Urban renewal (wish I had $1 for every time a sports writer used that term) or Urban blight?
The former looks much more likely.
OSU opens the season with four easily winnable non-conference games, all at home. So if the Buckeyes go 4-4 in Big Ten play they should finish 8-4. But even that seems a bit low for this talented team that returns most of last year's defensive unit. Give the Buckeyes nine wins and watch out for OSU in 2013.
Ohio: The Bobcats are coming off a 10-win season, including the first bowl victory in school history, a 24-23 triumph over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl..
This year, there are great expectations in Athens. Members of the Mid-American Conference media have touted the Bobcats as being the favorite to win the league championship. And why not?
Ohio returns junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who threw for 3,302 yards and 28 touchdowns last year. The Cats lost their top two receivers and leading rusher from a year ago, but the offensive line is a veteran unit that could dominate the opposition.
Ohio returns eight starters on defense, including three of its front four and three secondary members.
Special teams are rock-solid with reliable Matt Weller kicking and Warren Local product Grant Venham serving as the punter.
Ohio gets a chance to show the nation what it can do when the Bobcats open the season at noon next Saturday at Penn State. If Ohio, a 5-point underdog, could pull an upset in that game, it has a chance of running the table as OU should be a favorite in its other 11 games.
Perfection is seldom achieved but it isn't out of the question. Let's go with 11-1, which should land the Cats in the top 25.
Contact Dave Poe at firstname.lastname@example.org