1. Bring it on!
Or, as that great philosopher Spongebob Squarepants once said: No, people, let's bring it off.
Something collegial was lost in the past year. Our sport got uglier, more personal. Certainly more public.
|Jim Harbaugh has made himself heard before even coaching a game at Stanford. (US Presswire)|
All because Ohio State's offensive tackles had a bad day against Florida in the BCS title game.
Pac-10 commish Tom Hansen said last month that his league would secede from the BCS if a seeded playoff was instituted.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh trashed Michigan, his alma mater, and its admissions policy.
LSU's Les Miles took a shot at Southern California and its so-called weak schedule. That was after he dropped an F-bomb while referring to Alabama.
He'll never say it, but former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg resigned basically because he couldn't put up with the intra-conference bickering anymore.
We haven't even gotten to the strung-out replay fiasco that was the Oregon-Oklahoma game.
These people all need better media handlers or a lesson in good manners. The past 12 months seemed to be the year when decorum died. Like U.S. News and World Report turning into US Weekly.
Hey, we're media, it's great for us. We can't wait for the next fuel tank to explode in our sport. Who knows what all these people were thinking. Maybe it's the stress, the pressure, the chase for wins, bucks, TV contracts.
Whatever it is, bring it on. Public mudslinging is always fun.
2. We're No. 1
It's hard to pick against USC. Only Karl Dorrell disagrees.
Pete Carroll has built a tank-of-gas recruiting machine similar to Miami in its heyday. He can jump in his luxury sled and scare up a world-class recruiting class within a 100-mile radius.
|USC's John David Booty (US Presswire)|
Buuuut ... if something does go wrong -- and there are pesky road trips to Notre Dame, Cal, Arizona State and Oregon -- who might be the dark-horse No. 1 on Dec. 2?
Try the Big East champion. Any of the top three teams (West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers) could run the table. All three go in highly ranked (No. 3 West Virginia, No. 10 Louisville, No. 16 Rutgers).
That, and there is no conference championship game, an annual possible stumble in the Big 12, ACC and SEC.
USC should run the table, but if it doesn't, get thee to a legal betting parlor and take the Big East champ against the field.
3. The Big Hard
Less than 2½ years after the horror of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans will attempt to host two major-college bowl games in a week.
|Louisiana Superdome (US Presswire)|
It will look good on TV, but otherwise we're talking about the long-term future of the Sugar in the BCS rotation. It's no secret that the Sugar has the smallest volunteer base of the major bowls. Bowls in Atlanta, Orlando and Dallas are wanting in to the BCS if the Sugar does or doesn't make the cut in the future.
Yes, NOLA has been able to stage the Jazzfest and Mardi Gras since the disaster. But those events aren't competing against other cities.
The Sugar is tied to the heart of the city, which is trying to get back on its feet. Will there be enough taxis? Police? Workers to man the hotels? It has to say something that Hyatt hasn't gotten its signature property near the Superdome back online yet.
Sugar Bowl director Paul Hoolahan has been grilled by his peers about whether he can pull it off not only this season, but also going forward.
For a city trying to recover, losing the Sugar in the BCS rotation would be a critical blow.
4. The 30-yard-line solution
Kentucky's Rich Brooks calls it "one of the most significant rules changes to come about in recent years."
He's right. When the NCAA rules committee moved kickoffs back to the 30 yard line, it was the equivalent of basketball instituting the 3-point line.
|Florida coach Urban Meyer (US Presswire)|
Putting it in terms of home improvement: Coverage teams will have to account for an additional 2,398.5 square feet of space.
Kickers were beginning to dominate the game. Last season, only 3.1 kickoffs per team were returned. That's the fewest since 1985, the year before kickoffs were moved from the 40 to the 35.
The percentage of kicks returned hasn't risen above 80 percent since 2000. Expect that number now to rise to about 90 percent. Most teams don't have kickers who can boot it the more than 70 yards on the fly it will take to cause a touchback.
Florida's Urban Meyer said the average kick will now land at about the 9. Factor in his opponents' 2006 return average of 19.4 yards and that suggests an average starting field position of the 28.4 yard line.
That's right on the edge of a possible scoring explosion. According to Florida's 2006 stats, the odds of scoring (touchdown or field goal) go from 9.8 percent (between the 21 to 30 yard line) to 30 percent (31-40).
Instead of attempting to boot it deep, expect more pooch kicks and line drives to keep return teams off balance.
Also, expect teams like Kansas State and Air Force to adjust accordingly. The Wildcats led the nation last season in kickoff returns. Air Force was first in kickoff return defense.
5. BCS bowls
BCS championship game: USC vs. West Virginia
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma
Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Wisconsin
Rose: Michigan vs. Cal
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Florida
6. Upsets of the year
Georgia Tech over Notre Dame (Sept. 1): Lost in the hype over, well, everything at ND is that Georgia Tech is the better team going into the game. Significantly better. The Yellow Jackets are more solid at running back, quarterback, linebacker and defensive line. That's a good way to start the season in South Bend. Yes, ND is only a slight favorite but let's see if its fans remember that when Georgia Tech wins.
Vanderbilt over Alabama (Sept. 8): Vandy is getting close, real close, to breaking that 25-year bowl-less streak. This is where it begins. While Nick Saban is going to do great things in Tuscaloosa, the first road test for his defense will not go well.
|UK QB Andre' Woodson (US Presswire)|
South Florida over West Virginia (Sept. 28): The Bulls repeat their 2006 upset in Morgantown. This time Matt Grothe goes nuts in Ray-Jay against the nation's 109th-ranked passing defense.
Illinois over Penn State (Sept. 29): The young but improving Illini are going to beat someone they shouldn't this season. This is where Ron Zook's turnaround begins.
San Jose State over Boise State (Nov. 3): The Spartans will get beat up playing paycheck games at Arizona State, Kansas and Stanford to start the season. By November they will have had enough -- and Boise's number. After the Fiesta Bowl, Boise's closest win last season was by three at San Jose.
Alabama over Auburn (Nov. 24): It's usually an insult to say that 'Bama fans can't count to six. This time 'Bama ends the Auburn winning streak at one hand.
7. Heisman Watch
1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas: So good that the Hogs could go 8-4 and D-Mac could still win it.
2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia: 4.3-something speed in a spread offense? Deadly.
3. John David Booty, USC: A lock if USC runs the table.
4. Brian Brohm, Louisville: If he stays healthy, forget the Heisman. Louisville could be in the national championship hunt.
5. Patrick White, West Virginia: 1,000/1,000 guy who can beat you with his feet and arm.
8. Defensive Player of the Year
Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU, Sr.: A mysterious sore shin last season didn't diminish his play, but it might turn out to be the most significant development in the SEC, and the nation. Because of the shin, Dorsey concluded he wasn't quite ready for the NFL. Healed up, he is the most destructive front-four force in the nation.
9. All-Name Team
OL: Trinton Sturdivant, Georgia
OL: Gurminder Thind, South Carolina
OL: Nerraw McCormack, Penn State
OL: Nedward Tavale, Minnesota
OL: Yemi Babalola, Texas A&M
RB: Jorvorskie Lane, Texas A&M
RB: Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
WR: Euseph Messiah, Iowa State
WR: Rodgeriqus Smith, Auburn
QB: John David Weed, Baylor
TE: Bear Pascoe, Fresno State
DL: Ladi Ajiboye, South Carolina
DL: Sirod Williams, Illinois
DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL: Tonga Tea, Oklahoma State
LB: Ellix Wilson, Tennessee
LB: Ashlee Palmer, Mississippi
LB: Culmer St. Jean, Wisconsin
DB: Captain Munnerlyn, South Carolina
DB: Tang Bacheyie, Kansas
DB: Wopamo Osaisai, Stanford
DB: Boogie Allen, West Virginia
10. Winning streaks
1. Boise State, 13 (best chance to broken, Nov. 24 at Hawaii)
2. Brigham Young, 10 (at UCLA, Sept. 8)
3. Wisconsin, 9 (at Penn State, Oct. 13)
4. TCU, 8 (at Texas, Sept. 8)
(Two tied with seven)
11. Losing streaks
1. Duke, 20 (Never. OK, OK, Sept. 1 vs. Connecticut)
2. Florida International, 12 (Nov. 24 vs. Florida Atlantic)
(Three tied with seven)
12. Just plain streaking
- First-year North Texas coach Todd Dodge has won his past 48 games as a head coach. All of them with the nation's preseason No. 1 high school program in 2007, Southlake (Texas) Carroll High School. Dodge's teams were 79-1 in their past 80 games. The only loss was in the 2003 state championship game. Dodge's first game as a I-A head coach is at Oklahoma on Sept. 1. Look out Sooners?
- USC has won 33 consecutive home games. That's tied for the 11th most in history. That's also the longest streak since Florida State's 37-game streak was ended in 2001.
- Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven consecutive games.
- Michigan has scored in 275 consecutive games. That's the longest active streak and a mere 86 games behind BYU's all-time record of 361 games.
- Michigan also has the longest consecutive bowl streak at 32 years.
- Michigan senior tailback Mike Hart enters 2007 with 768 consecutive touches without a lost fumble. His only lost fumble came in the Big Ten opener against Iowa three years ago.
- Boston College has the longest current bowl winning streak, seven.
- Virginia Tech has won its past 14 road openers (not counting neutral sites). The Hokies open on the road Sept. 8 at LSU.
- The Hokies have led the nation in total defense each of the past two seasons.
- Florida State has 30 consecutive winning seasons.
- Rice's Jarett Dillard (CBSSports.com preseason All-American) has caught a touchdown pass in 15 consecutive games, three short of Larry Fitzgerald's NCAA record of 18.
- Kentucky's Andre Woodson goes into the season with 162 consecutive throws without an interception.
13. Danny Woodhead
Most of the NCAA career records are safe for now. It's just one of those seasons. Except in Chadron, Neb.
|Danny Woodhead (AP)|
That puts Danny Woodhead less than 1,000 yards away from R.J. Bower's all-division career rushing record (7,353 yards at Division III Grove City College in Pennsylvania from 1997-2000). Woodhead came to Chadron as a 5-foot-8, 175-pound freshman, essentially the same size as former Nebraska coach Frank Solich.
The difference is Solich played 40 years ago. Nebraska likes its backs a tad bigger these days. That's why the Huskers barely paid attention to Woodhead coming out of high school.
Now NFL scouts have found their way to Chadron to scout the now 5-9, 200-pound Woodhead as a returner.
14. ... and he found a Russian mail order bride too
The Stanford band has nothing on Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal's first-year coach is eccentric in a Seth Rogen/Johnny Knoxville/slacker kind of way.
No, he isn't into backyard wrestling -- yet. But Captain Comeback has been known to ride his mountain bike to work wearing his old Colts warmup jacket. The Michigan Man has bootleg discs of Bo Schembechler firing up the Wolverines before games.
Call him Jimmy The Speak. You can't shut him up. Harbaugh first hit the national radar in March when he revealed Pete Carroll is leaving for the NFL after this season. It's true. Harbaugh has it from someone on the USC staff.
None of that compares to how Harbaugh found his defensive coordinator: surfing the Internet.
Hey, who wouldn't hire a staff that way? Harbaugh was looking at NCAA statistics when he found Western Michigan at No. 11 in total defense. Scott Shafer happened to be the coordinator.
"I just felt you don't have to know a guy to hire him," Harbaugh told the San Jose Mercury News.
The Internet will come in handy if Harbaugh and Shafer don't work out. It has replaced the need to browse for job openings in newspaper classifieds.
Ever hear of craigslist.com?
15. Hot Seat
Top five coaches most likely to be fired:
|Al Groh (US Presswire)|
2. Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State: Must get off the three-win sled. That's why you play Tulane, Gardner-Webb and Alabama-Birmingham in the non-conference.
3. Ted Roof, Duke: This has nothing to do with Roof, a fine man and fine coach. It's about Duke, which just doesn't want to be competitive in football.
4. Guy Morriss, Baylor: Buried at the bottom of the Big 12 South is no fun. Baylor hasn't been to a bowl since 1994.
5. Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss: The Brent Schaeffer experiment failed. The one-time quarterback savior has moved to receiver. Another 4-8 and Coach O is in trouble.
Top five new coaches in the best situations:
|Steve Kragthorpe (AP)|
2. Nick Saban, Alabama: He'd be No. 1 but who knows how long Saban will stay? If Sabes does put down roots, 'Bama will eventually win the SEC and maybe even a national championship.
3. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State: The Wolfpack need wins, not red shoes. O'Brien brings discipline and proven success.
4. Randy Shannon, Miami: Who knows if he can coach, but like Butch Davis before him, Shannon will bring respect back to Coral Gables.
5. Butch Davis, North Carolina: The perfect guy at the perfect time. Davis made this the right job when he took it. Carolina will win, soon, with this proven veteran.
17. Nobody's talking about ...
|Nebraska's Corey McKeon (US Presswire)|
... Todd Graham. The mad-man Tulsa coach will try anything to win. He convinced the shackled Gus Malzahn to leave Arkansas to run his offense. You're going to see things this season you've never seen before. The Golden Hurricane will light up the Oklahoma sky.
... Adrian Arrington. The Michigan receiver almost screwed up big time. Lloyd Carr suspended him during the spring for off-field problems. Back on the team, and with an All-American on the other side of the field (Mario Manningham), Arrington is going to have a big year if he gets his head straight. Sixty straight days of running steps at 6 a.m. should have helped.
... Florida fullback Eric Rutledge. Urban Meyer loves his blocking backs, especially since he figured out that he couldn't win in the SEC without one. Rutledge, a converted linebacker, takes over for the legendary Billy Latsko. If Florida improves that struggling rushing attack the 240-pound Rutledge deserves a pat on his massive back.
Please join me in an honorable and noble quest. Defy the NCAA. It is still trying to ram down our throats that Division I-A has been renamed the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
It will now and always be I-A in this space, if only because the change was made because the I-AAs were upset at the "image" being portrayed. So now the Nicholls States of the world are in the Football Championship Subdivision.
As if that's going to be the marketing cure for I-AA drawing an average of 8,916 per game. I spit in your general direction, politically correctors.
I-AA was created by the NCAA in the 1970s as a way of promoting the small schools. At the time, they were even promised more television coverage. So don't ask us, NCAA, to clean up your mess with a sanitized, corporate label for second-tier football.
Using the current logic, humans are Carbon-Based Life Forms; janitors are Sanitation Engineers and that teenager pouring you coffee at the local Starbucks with a ring in her lip is a Caffeine Facilitator.
Can't wait until the oblong, leather object is propelled into the atmosphere marking the first contest of the season.
"Are ya ready for some football?" sounds so much better.
19. Down goes Stagg!
Amos Alonzo Stagg just couldn't hold on much past four decades at the University of Chicago. What a nancy boy.
You have to question the fortitude of a coach who lasted only 41 years at one school. To illuminate Stagg's lack of staying power, Joe Paterno will make it 42 years when he steps on the field against Florida International on Sept. 1. That will break Stagg's record for most years spent by a head coach at one school.
Now that's longevity.
20. Boise State did it, why not us?
Boise's miracle season gave hope to all the mid-majors.
Unfortunately for them there won't be any outsiders crashing the party this season. TCU goes to Texas in the second week. Hawaii's schedule is so laughably weak (two I-AAs!) that no self-respecting voter or computer would put it high enough in the rankings, even if the Warriors go undefeated.
Boise? The Broncos aren't even favored to win the WAC this season. They'll have to be satisfied with memories -- a documentary on the 2006 season that debuts this month.
One intriguing possibility is Southern Miss. Coach Jeff Bower has been toughing it out for a quarter century at the school. He always produces nails defenses. This year's offense features a pounding running game. Damion Fletcher led the league in rushing as a freshman.
Although the Eagles go into the season unranked, they've got a chance to get in the polls during the first month. They take trips to Tennessee (Sept. 8) and Boise State (Sept. 27). Don't be surprised if they win both.
The cultural Internet phenomenon has taken over as the best highlight show in existence.
You don't have to wait until SportsCenter to get an almost immediate look at the day's biggest plays. Anyone with a video cam watching TV in their living room can upload stuff to the Internet. The quality might suffer but at least you don't get Stuart Scott.
Type in the words "Rutgers", "Louisville" and "Jeremy Ito" and you get five different looks at Ito's game-winning field goal against the Cardinals last November.
There are countless ways to see how Oklahoma got jobbed at Oregon.
In a Big Brother-type way this holds conferences and officials more accountable when calls are screwed up. We will know right away -- from every angle.
22. Who says the NCAA is slow to act?
Seventeen years after the fact, the NCAA rules committee has decided to address the infamous Fifth Down game.
That's not altogether accurate, but additions to reviewable plays will (hopefully) make a repeat of that 1990 Missouri-Colorado outcome impossible.
What, you don't remember? Colorado was allowed a fifth down at Missouri that allowed it to score the game-winning touchdown. You should know because the Buffs shared the national championship that year.
This year, there are three additions to situations that can be reviewed by replay:
1. Determining if three or five downs were given. That's huge because in 1990, even though everyone agreed (after the fact) that Colorado had five downs, once the sequence was over, the game was over.
2. Interference from the bench that goes undetected can now be reviewed. A touchdown can be awarded, say, if a player comes off the bench to make a tackle.
In the 1954 Cotton Bowl, Rice's Dickey Moegle was tackled by Alabama's Tommy Lewis, who had come off the bench. Moegle was awarded a touchdown. Under the old rules, if that play had somehow gone undetected by officials, Moegle would have been "down" at the 42.
3. Reviews will be allowed to determine if a kick is fumbled (which can be returned by the defense) or muffed (which cannot).
23. Power outages at powerhouses
Their quarterbacks have won a combined 10 Heisman trophies, but as of this writing Notre Dame, Florida State, Ohio State and Miami are just trying to find a capable starter.
In other words it's not every day you find quarterback battles (controversies?) at schools that are in the top 14 all-time in winning percentage.
ND is waiting to see how soon celebrated freshman Jimmy Clausen can take over. Florida State is trying to get some consistency out of Xavier Lee or Drew Weatherford. Same at Miami between Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright. Oklahoma is deciding between three inexperienced players.
Jim Tressel says no matter what, Ohio State will go into the season unsettled at quarterback. That's another way of saying Heisman winner Troy Smith cannot be adequately replaced by any of three candidates.
Out of all those quarterbacks, the highest rated in pass efficiency last season was Wright (64th).
24. In and Out
In: Banning guns
In: Coach Saban
Out: Coach Satan
In: Face-to-face human contact
In: Booty calls (at the line)
Out: Booty calls (at midnight)
In: Kick returns
Out: Ohio State
In: Statue of Liberty
Out: Kicking the extra point
In: Heisman Curse
Out: Troy Smith
25. Overrated, underrated
Overrated: Taking a scythe to the coaching staff at Florida State. They're still the same players, right? I'm missing how Jimbo Fisher, in the short term, is going to make Drew Weatherford significantly better. The pollsters seem to love FSU. The numbers say that Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College have more victories than the 'Noles the past five years.
Underrated: The WAC. Ten years ago the league almost folded when the Mountain West schools broke away. Now it is flourishing, thanks in part to Boise State. It goes into the season with two ranked teams (Hawaii, Boise State), the nation's longest winning streak (Boise, 13) and two Heisman candidates (Ian Johnson, Colt Brennan). Oh, and the best bowl winning percentage in I-A the past five years (.611). Great scenery. Cool cities.