Sunday, August 21, 2005

HOT and NOT for 2005!

What's Hot and Not for the 2005 College Football Season
Visors. Stevie Boy's is back where he belongs, on a college sideline. Quarterbacks. College football lost a banner class of QBs. Among them: Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Jason White, Stefan LeFors, David Greene, Matt Jones, Kyle Orton and Timmy Chang. That's a lot of missing yards, touchdowns and leadership.
Seats. The quick coaching hooks at Florida, Notre Dame, Washington and Mississippi last year proved that winning has never been a more urgent priority. This year's endangered list includes (but is not limited to) Rich Brooks at Kentucky, Houston Nutt at Arkansas, Mike Shula at Alabama, one-third of the Big 12 and almost half of the ACC (led by perennial hot seater Tommy Bowden at Clemson). Legends. After owning the ACC since '92, Bobby Bowden's Florida State team looks like the league's third-best in '05 -- if everything goes well. If not, we could be talking mid-pack. Joe Paterno has seven home games at Penn State -- and he'll need all of them to eke out his first winning season since 2002. Steve Spurrier inherits just nine returning starters and a sketchy team attitude at South Carolina.
USC. Any questions? Matt Leinart. Reggie Bush. Pete Carroll. Song girls in sweaters. Traveler galloping the sidelines. SoCal sun and fun. Currently the coolest football school on the planet. Oklahoma. Nice to have Adrian Peterson back, but there's uncertainty at quarterback and in the swagger department. Are the Trojans' cleat marks removed from the Sooners' psyches yet?
The spread offense. Urban Meyer plugged Alex Smith into the spread at Utah and saw him become the No. 1 NFL draft pick. The guy Meyer left in charge two stops ago, Bowling Green's Gregg Brandon, saw his QB, Omar Jacobs, throw for 4,000 yards and 41 TDs last year in the same offense. Defensive coordinators, you are hereby challenged to find the antidote to the spread. Soft corner coverage. More and more defensive coordinators want cornerbacks who can press receivers off the line of scrimmage, challenging the easy releases and easy short-yardage completions. The trick is finding corners big enough to be physical with wideouts and fast enough not to be burned deep.
The ACC. The erstwhile basketball league adds a quality 12th team (Boston College) and a championship game to shoulder up alongside the SEC and Big 12 in the Supersized Conference Category. Conference USA. It has enough members to hold a championship game, too -- if anybody cared. The league loses marquee member Louisville and two other solid programs in South Florida and Cincinnati. The only news coming out of C-USA in '05 could be Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams' Heisman Trophy bid.
Instant replay. All the major conferences will dabble in it, after the Big Ten led the way. Using TiVo for instant replay. The Big Ten's average replays dawdled along at about 2 minutes per stoppage of play according to ACC officials, in part because its on-the-cheap equipment was slow. Most leagues are using a faster computer technology this year.
The SEC West. Two years ago LSU rode in from outside the preseason top 10 to win half the national championship. Last year Auburn rode in from outside the preseason top 10 to go 13-0 and finish a controversial second. With some development at quarterback, either could be back in the title mix again this year -- and keep an eye on Alabama, too. The Big 12 North. Nobody in the division finished with a winning league record last year, and nobody sees a sure breakthrough team this year, either. But don't sleep on Iowa State, which avoids playing both Oklahoma and Texas.
Orange. Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia Tech all have it in their color schemes, and all look like top 10 teams. Green. Matt Leinart turned down a pile of it to play one more season of college ball.
Sophomores ready to break out. Cal running back Marshawn Lynch averaged 8.8 yards per carry backing up J.J. Arrington. Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm (right) completed 67 percent of his throws backing up Stefan LeFors. Miami tight end Greg Olson averaged 17 yards per catch backing up Kevin Everett. USC outside linebacker Keith Rivers had 2.5 sacks backing up Matt Grootegoed. Senior QBs trying to prove themselves. Georgia's D.J. Shockley has seemingly been waiting forever for his shot. Ole Miss' Micheal Spurlock couldn't handle his opportunity to replace Eli Manning, but gets a second chance under Ed Orgeron. Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst went from celebrated sophomore to castigated junior after a 7-TD, 17-pick season. BC's Quinton Porter is the key to a big ACC debut season for the Eagles. Colorado State's Justin Holland was a higher-rated recruit than Alex Smith, but he's been inconsistent and injured. Colorado's Joel Klatt can look unstoppable or terrible, sometimes in the same game. North Carolina's Matt Baker hasn't played much in three years, but coach John Bunting is high on him.
Louisville. One of the aspiring BCS Busters from last year is now a BCS Insider. The high-octane Cardinals could go undefeated in their first season as a Big East member and lobby for the Rose Bowl. Utah. The school that actually did bust the BCS paid the price for its success, losing its coach (Meyer), quarterback (Smith) and offensive coordinator (Mike Sanford, now the head coach at UNLV). Back to reality for the Utes.
Two-way players. Boston College's converted cornerback Will Blackmon will start at WR and play nickel back, in addition to returning kicks. BC linebacker Brian Toal will see time as a short-yardage fullback. Miami's Devin Hester will play DB and perhaps some WR, in addition to being the scariest kick returner this side of Ohio State's Ted Ginn. Jim Tressel's conservative use of Ginn last year as a true freshman. Speaking of Ginn: he'll start at WR and run back kicks, and could also play some DB. In other words, he'll get the ball much more often this year -- or Tressel will have to fight his way out of Ohio Stadium.
The WAC at the top. Boise State and Fresno State both look like Top 25 teams, and both have shock-the-world opportunities: Boise at Georgia Sept. 3 and Fresno at USC Nov. 19. The WAC at the bottom. Losing UTEP to C-USA hurt, and new additions Idaho and Utah State won't add much.
ACC defensive linemen. Mathias Kiwanuka at Boston College. Darryl Tapp at Virginia Tech. Eric Henderson at Georgia Tech. Mario Williams and Manny Lawson at NC State. Baraka Atkins and Orien Harris at Miami. No league will be sending more front-four heat at QBs. SEC quarterbacks. The league's coaches voted a quarterback who last year threw for less than 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns (Jay Cutler of 2-9 Vanderbilt) as its preseason first-team all-conference choice. Seems like a few SEC coaches must think Florida's Chris Leak (3,197 yards and 29 TDs last year) is overrated.
The passing game at Notre Dame and the running game at Georgia. Charlie Weis is polishing up Brady Quinn with a sharp new attack. The Bulldogs return all five OL starters, three talented RBs and install a running threat at QB. The passing game at West Virginia and the running game at Oregon State. The Mountaineers lost QB Rasheed Marshall and his backup, and their top four pass catchers. The Beavers averaged just 2.2 yards per carry last year and lose everyone who ran for more than 20 yards in 2004 -- but they like Florida transfer Jimtavis Walker at RB.
Big 12 September scheduling. In an era in which nobody wants to go play anybody on the road, check out these early nonconference trips: Texas A&M at Clemson, Sept. 3; Texas at Ohio State, Sept. 10; Oklahoma at UCLA, Sept. 17; Colorado at Miami, Sept. 24. Texas Tech's September schedule. The Red Raiders apparently didn't get the league's memo. Their nonconference slate consists of home games against Florida International, Sam Houston State and Indiana State. Yes, the Big 12 South is murder, but for a school riding a streak of 12 straight non-losing seasons, that's pathetic.
Black quarterbacks. It might only still be an issue to Rush Limbaugh, but Phil Steele's preview magazine rates African-Americans as five of the nation's top six QBs: Vince Young of Texas; Reggie McNeal of Texas A&M; Chris Leak of Florida; Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green (above); and Brad Smith of Missouri. Black coaches. Three quit or were fired last season, and only three will coach this season: Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, Washington's Tyrone Willingham (above) and UCLA's Karl Dorrell.
Familiar old faces in obscure new places. Say hello again to Frank Solich (Ohio), Dick Tomey (San Jose State) and Hal Mumme (New Mexico State). George O'Leary. The familiar old face went 0-11 last year in his obscure new place, Central Florida. Year 2 greets him with an upgrade to a tougher conference (C-USA from the MAC) and seven road games, including the opening act of the Spurrier Era in South Carolina Sept. 1. Thanks for nothing.
Media pullouts from the BCS. AP doesn't want its poll to be an accomplice to mayhem, and ESPN doesn't want its name on a coaches' poll that clings to secrecy until the final pre-bowl ballot. The BCS. Can't wait to see how the annually tweaked formula blows up this year, and who the aggrieved parties will be. Meanwhile, the Harris Poll -- motto: ???? -- should be interesting.
Famous family names in key spots. Skip Holtz, son of Lou, takes over as coach at East Carolina. Marcus Vick, brother of Michael, follows in Mike's very fast footsteps as starting QB at Virginia Tech after being suspended last year. Nick Saban sideline shots. The guy the cameras seemed to love is off making grown men cry in the NFL now.

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