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  • August 29, 2013 : 15:08
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New Ducks coach Mark Helfrich is fortunate that dangerous all-purpose back De’Anthony Thomas returns, as does Marcus Mariota, who had many convinced during his freshman season last year that he was the most gifted quarterback ever to play in this system at Oregon. Mariota has speed to threaten defenses and an arm to burn them downfield. On D, the Ducks have three standouts they’ll have to replace in the front seven. And a trip to Stanford on November 7 could be painful. PREDICTION: 11–2

The Cardinals are steaming into 2013 after topping the Big East last season and beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl. They hung on to coach Charlie Strong after Tennessee came calling. Entering his fourth season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Strong has transformed this program. And he has a top athlete under center in Teddy Bridgewater, who many think could be the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He threw for 3,718 yards last year, with 27 TDs against eight interceptions. The defense loses three key players, but the attack will put plenty of points on the board. The bad news: The Cardinals’ regular season schedule is so weak (they probably won’t face a single ranked team) they could go undefeated and still not make it into the top five. PREDICTION: 12–1

Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is big and fast, with a powerful arm and a knack for avoiding turnovers. And Florida’s offensive line is solid. The Gators didn’t lose as many starters on defense as their SEC rival Georgia, but for this team to take a big step forward it will need a playmaker to emerge at receiver. Without a strong target downfield, the Gators probably won’t make it unscathed through road trips to LSU (October 12) and South Carolina (November 16). PREDICTION: 11–3

Coming off a disappointing 2012, the Seminoles had to replace most of their coaching staff in the off-season. But there’s still plenty of talent, with studs at all three levels of defense: defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Christian Jones and safety Lamarcus Joyner. Many are predicting that strong-armed, six-foot-four and 218-pound redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston will be a star. He has yet to play a college football game; 2013 will be his trial by fire. PREDICTION: 10–3

Mark Richt’s squad was five yards shy of making it to the BCS title game last season, and the Bulldogs probably would’ve won it all if they had made it, given Notre Dame’s performance in the championship match. The clock ran out on the Dawgs, however, in a heartbreaking SEC title-game loss. Georgia has much of last year’s offense back, led by four-year starting QB Aaron Murray, who still has to convince skeptics he can win big games. On D, Georgia has to replace nine starters. And the schedule is brutal, with games at Clemson and against South Carolina in the first two weeks. PREDICTION: 10–3

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read more: sports, football, preview, issue september 2013

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