Monday, August 18, 2008
25 Interesting "things" about the Upcoming College Football Season
1. Epic epidemic
It was called the superflu in Stephen King's masterwork The Stand. In the book, 99.4 percent of the human race kicks the bucket.
In college football, it seems that the only humans left are going to be those kicking the football. Everyone else is going down at an alarming rate.
• Both USC (Mark Sanchez) and UCLA (Ben Olson) have endured quarterback injuries. The last time Los Angeles didn't have a starting quarterback the Rams were in town.
• If you believe that a.) left tackle is the second-most important position on the field and b.) Georgia is No. 1, you have to believe that c.) the Bulldogs are in trouble with the knee injury to left tackle Trinton Sturdivant. The freshman All-American and rock of the Bulldogs' line is out for the season.
• That doesn't necessarily mean Florida is going to fill the void in the SEC. There have been so many ACL injuries in Gainesville, King is considering another novel. In other words, it's creepy. Five players will miss the season because of torn ACLs. The most significant losses are safety Dorian Munroe and tight end Cornelius Ingram.
• Not to be outdone, Illinois defensive tackle Sirod Williams blew out his knee last week (yes, it was an ACL) and will miss the season as well.
• Players from the Big 12's two best teams are out. Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Auston English continues to recover from having appendix removed. Missouri tight end Chase Coffman is missing time because of a broken pinky.
• Ole Miss' best defender, end Greg Hardy, will miss the opener while recovering from foot surgery.
The nation should be re-asking the obvious question ...
2. Who is No. 1?
It's a fluid situation and I won't reveal my last, official, preseason top 25 until later this month.
Let's just say it's a bit surprising that, so far, that Georgia is getting so much No. 1 love. Even before Sturdivant's injury, I was shocked that so many had jumped on the Dawgs' bandwagon.
The Associated Press will release its top 25 on Saturday. Until then, here is the combined poll of nine outlets (Blue Ribbon Magazine, Sporting News, Phil Steele, Lindy's, Athlon, ESPN.com, Collegefootballnews.com, Sports Illustrated and the coaches' poll).
1. Ohio State
3. Southern California
9. West Virginia
12. Texas Tech
15. Virginia Tech
16. Brigham Young
19. Arizona State
21. Penn State
22. South Florida
23. tie Oregon State, Wake Forest
3. The Appalachian State Effect
It can't happen again, can it?
Four different No. 1s. Ten changes at the No. 2 spot in the polls. A two-loss team playing for the national championship.
Appalachian State kicked it all off last year with that shocking win at Michigan. History suggests the wildest season in the game's history won't repeat. The odds are against any team with two losses emerging to win a national championship. LSU got the benefit of the doubt last season largely because it played in the SEC. There will be enough one-loss and/or undefeated teams from which to chose in 2008.
After a recent sit down with Appalachian State players, I got the impression that the rash of upsets isn't over. After all, if a I-AA program with 25 less scholarships than I-A can win at Michigan, is any game certain?
I asked them how they would do playing a I-A schedule. Stamina wouldn't be a problem according to the Mountaineers. They play at altitude in Boone, N.C. Plus, they reminded me that they had played 45 games the past three seasons while winning three consecutive I-AA national championships.
"I think we'd do pretty well," said Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards said. "It wouldn't be nothing to us." It's almost a symbolic opener later this month at LSU. The defending I-A and I-AA champions hooking up in perhaps the game's loudest venue.
"They're alerted," Edwards said on LSU. "This is kind of what most of us want. We kind of snuck up on Michigan. They didn't practice for us. Now we got a D-I team that is practicing like it's a big game, which it really is."
4. Can LSU defend?
When I asked that question to some Tigers at the SEC media day, they looked at me like I was drunk.
It could happen -- LSU defending the national championship, not me being drunk at media day. Never mind the quarterback issue. Remember, the Tigers have won national titles with Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn under center. The rest of the lineup is actually pretty solid.
Defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois could be the best defender in the SEC. The offensive line and backs are solid. There is that usual LSU speed all over the field.
Do the Tigers have to be talked into it?
5. It's not all about the spread
Paul Johnson is bringing the true triple option to a BCS conference for the first time in years.
Why not? Georgia Tech has been offensively challenged in recent years. Flat-out boring might be more like it. Johnson was able to annoy the biggies with the option while at Navy. Now he's going to have the advantage, in theory, each week because his is an offense that few defenses see.
The best part is Johnson being indignant about the criticism.
"Bob Stoops has done a great job but they haven't been near as successful as when Coach Switzer was running the option," Johnson said.
You've got us there, P.J. Switzer won three national championships. Stoops still has that measly one.
6. Hot seats
(In order, these are the coaches at the most risk of being fired) Tyrone Willingham, Washington Greg Robinson, Syracuse Chuck Long, San Diego State Mike Stoops, Arizona
(For now, these new coaches can do no wrong) David Cutcliffe, Duke Larry Fedora, Southern Miss June Jones, SMU Jerry Kill, Northern Illinois Bo Pelini, Nebraska Bill Stewart, West Virginia Kevin Sumlin, Houston
8. Pray for ...
Washington State coach Paul Wulff.
The Cougars' first-year coach lost his mother as a child. She disappeared one day and has never been found. The family suspected Wulff's father and a murder charge was filed. So was a wrongful death civil suit but nothing stuck. If Carl Wulff had a secret, he took it to his grave three years ago.
In 2002, Paul's wife Tammy died of brain cancer. He has since remarried and is taking over his alma mater this season. This is more than a job, it's a destiny to coach his beloved Cougars. Eighteen days after suffering an appendicitis, he played in the Apple Cup game against Washington in 1989. Wulff is tough and he is home.
If you root for one person this season, make it Paul Wulff.
9. A crack in the BCS?
The commissioners let us know loud and clear in April that the BCS was here to stay at least through the January 2014 bowls.
The ACC and SEC were in favor of a modest plus-one system but the five other major players (Big 12, Pac-10, Big Ten, Big East and Notre Dame) lined up against them in the spring BCS meetings. Not that it was a surprise. The BCS continues to be the most lucrative and, yes, compelling system in the sport's history.
Could the sport's postseason be better? Absolutely. Will it better? In time. Be advised that two of those commissioners are leaving after this academic year. The Pac-10's Tom Hansen and the Big East's Mike Tranghese are stepping down after long, glorious careers. Their replacements may sway the way those conferences' thinking about the BCS.
10. Michigan Man
Rich Rodriguez's Wolverines face Utah in the opener. (AP)
He's one of apostles of the spread option. His strength and conditioning program is second to none. He's paid up -- or will be -- with West Virginia.
The Rich Rodriguez era begins with a weird opener against Utah. While at Utah, Urban Meyer studied Rodriguez' offense at West Virginia, then turned it around in 2004 to become the first non-BCS school to get to a BCS bowl.
Those same Utes come to The Big House in Michigan's toughest opener since ... oh yeah, last year.
11. Ohio State-USC
Buckeyes vs. Trojans on Sept. 13 is largely considered the game of the year. The game of September, maybe (see below).
Both teams can afford a loss in this game at the Coliseum because the loser can run the table in its conference and still get to the BCS championship game.
12. Oct. 11
You want to know how the season is really going to shake out? Start with this date that could feature at least five games involved top 25 teams:
Arizona State at USC LSU at Florida Tennessee at Georgia Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas) Penn State at Wisconsin These aren't shabby either that day ... Arkansas at Auburn Boise State at Southern Miss Cincinnati at Rutgers Notre Dame at North Carolina Purdue at Ohio State Tulsa at SMU
13. Upsets of the year
It wouldn't be a 25 things without sticking my neck out once again.
Last year, I picked Appalachian State over Michigan (kind of), Georgia Tech over Notre Dame (yeah, I know but ND was favored), Illinois over Penn State, Kentucky over Louisville and South Florida over West Virginia.
Utah over Michigan (Aug. 30): This one is too good to pass up. Utah comes to Ann Arbor with a veteran team (16 returning starters), a bulked up offensive line (averging 311 pounds), a physical tailback (Darrell Mack) and an Orange Bowl berth on the line. Last season, the Utes won at Louisville and TCU and put to rest Karl Dorrell's UCLA career.
Ohio State over USC (Sept. 13): One of the nation's most stout defenses goes up against an offense that is still finding itself. The USC quarterback situation is up in the air until Sanchez returns and Pete Carroll is still looking for a go-to receiver. Watch for Beanie Wells to pound it out and Terrelle Pryor to give the Trojans fits.
Fresno State over UCLA (Sept. 27): By this time, the Bulldogs will be either a.) stoked or b.) pissed because of a brutal early schedule. Fresno won't get past Rutgers, Wisconsin and Toledo unbeaten, but regardless, the quarterback-challenged Bruins better watch out.
Michigan State over Wisconsin (Nov. 1): Something has to break right for the Spartans, who lost all six of their games last season by a touchdown or less. That total includes a 37-34 heartbreaker at Wisconsin. Michigan State can score -- Wisconsin still needs an effective quarterback.
Kansas over Texas (Nov. 15): This one is far, far out but even from here, it's easy to see that Kansas will be a better team (at home) than Texas on this day. The nation is underselling the Jayhawks who continue to a sport a quarterback with a chip (Todd Reesing) and a stout defense.
14. The Heisman Thing
1. Tim Tebow, Florida: Until further notice, "The Surgeon" is the man to beat.
2. Chris Wells, Ohio State: It will be impossible for the new Eddie George not to run wild this season.
3. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia: The next Herschel Walker in Cadillac Williams' body.
4. Pat White, West Virginia: Is it possible to pass and run for 1,500 each?
5. Chase Daniel, Missouri: Along with White, the best spread option quarterback in the country.
6. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma: Everything you'd want in a candidate -- humble, clean cut and the nation's pass efficiency leader as a freshman.
15. Defensive Player of the Year
James Laurinaitis, LB, Sr., Ohio State: He should be playing -- no, starting -- in the NFL but this hard-working senior came back to chase a title. You're probably sick of hearing his name considering Laurinaitis has won enough hardware in his first three seasons to start a treasury. Don't count him out for a trip to New York this season. Seriously.
16. The Stack
The spread option zone read offense is so far gone as the most dominant offense in college football since the wishbone, that it's time to figure out how to stop it.
The answer may come from a funky alignment called The Stack. Basically it's a 3-3-5 alignment that allows coordinators to keep the offense off balance with a herd of defensive backs/linebackers who may or may not blitz on any given play.
It has worked for several non-BCS schools (Akron, Nevada, New Mexico, Tulsa). West Virginia is one of the few BCS conference school running the scheme. Mountaineers' defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel used The Stack to help West Virginia finish in the top 10 in both scoring and total defense last season.
17. BCS bowls
BCS Championship: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma
Sugar: Georgia vs. West Virginia
Fiesta: Missouri vs. Florida
Rose: Wisconsin vs. USC
Orange: BYU vs. Clemson
18. Timing rules
You know how I feel on the subject.
The truth is, no one really knows how the latest NFLimization of the college game will turn out. We're basically being told to trust that the 40/25 play clock will not gouge out huge chunks of plays from the game. For now, I'll rely on the wisdom of Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.
"Every time you try something the NFL does, it's not good," Franklin said. "To me the NFL game is totally boring."
19. Will Notre Dame be back?
Uh, no. A 7-5 might be doable but that's not "back" as far as Irish honks are concerned.
Three things bother me:
• Fifty-eight sacks given up last season. Notre Dame could improve that number by 15 and still be near the bottom of the national stats.
• Jimmy Clausen wasn't allowed much "leeway" to audible last season. That tells me that Charlie Weis didn't trust him. Clausen will get more freedom at the line. What will he do with it?
• One of ND's starting receivers is 5-foot-10, 177-pound David Grimes. It's nice to have a small, quick guy but Weis better hope to heaven that blue-chip receiver Michael Floyd (6-3, 215) develops -- fast.
20. Best of the worst
Will one of these moribund programs break through?
• Vanderbilt, no bowl since 1982
• Duke, 10 wins (total), four winless seasons since 2000.
• Idaho, 10 consecutive losses. Last winning season, 1999.
• Baylor, on its fifth coach entering 13th year in the Big 12.
• Minnesota, worst defense in the country.
• Syracuse, seven victories in three years under Greg Robinson.
21. The freshman impact
They're getting younger and better. Consider these first-year players from the recruiting Class of 2008 who are expected to contribute right away:
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson : Subtract Phillip Merling who left early for the NFL. Add one of the best recruiting "gets" in the country.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: The nation's worst offense gets an immediate downfield threat.
Will Hill, DB, Florida: With Munroe out with a torn ACL, Hill is going to get a long look at strong safety.
Patrick Peterson, DB, LSU: Following in the great recent tradition of swift, hard-hitting Tigers d-backs.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Jones' arrival is so anticipated that it seems like he's been around a couple of years. Hey, maybe Johnson will cover Jones when the teams meet on Nov. 8.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State: Jim Tressel is being coy about his playing time but expect a Tim Tebow-like secret-weapon type season.
Darrell Scott, RB, Colorado: If the nation's No. 1 prep running back doesn't contribute right away, something is wrong.
22. Winning streaks
BYU, 10 consecutive victories Georgia, 7 USC, 5 Oregon State, 4 Florida Atlantic, TCU, Fresno State, Wake Forest, Louisiana-Monroe, 3
24. Losing streaks
SMU, Minnesota, Idaho, 10 consecutive losses Duke, 9 Baylor, UNLV 8 Kent State 7 Alabama-Birmingham, Army, UTEP, 6
25. In and Out
In: Unspecified team violations
Out: The truth
In: Florida Atlantic
Out: Florida State
Out: Tight I
In: Beanie (Wells)
Out: Charlie (Weis)
In: Slick Rick
In: Florida's speed
Out: The Space/Time Continuum
In: Terrelle Pryor at Ohio State
Out: Quarterback depth at Michigan
In: Contract extensions