SportsLine.com Senior Writer Dennis Dodd and College Football Producer J. Darin Darst look back at a wild college football season while taking a look ahead at the schools and players to watch in 2005.
J. Darin Darst: Welcome Dennis ... We had a wild college football season. We saw a non-BCS school make a BCS bowl, a freshman almost win the Heisman and the preseason No. 1 go wire-to-wire, winning the national title. Were you surprised by the way Oklahoma got blasted in the Orange Bowl?
Even if Matt Leinart leaves, WR Dwayne Jarrett and the Trojans should be just fine. (AP)
Dennis Dodd: I think everyone was surprised. I thought it would be a close game either way. The way USC dominated injected the "D word" into the conversation -- dynasty. Not only good, but head and shoulders above everyone else.
Darst: I was expecting to see this game of the century and was disappointed. More so because Bob Stoops has now lost two BCS title games and both times Oklahoma has looked less than average.
Dodd: We would be calling him the college Marv Levy if it weren't for the 2000 title. He DOES have some credibility left, and they will be back.
Darst: What about USC? They have a lot of guys returning and if Leinart comes back -- who is going to beat them? I don't think there is a team in the Pac-10 that will beat them next year. You might as well chalk them up to 11-0 again and wait to see who plays them in a bowl.
Dodd: Expect a return to the Rose Bowl for a shot at a third consecutive national championship. 1) The Pac-10 is going to be down, so that shouldn't be a problem; 2) Even if Leinart leaves (his announcement will come Saturday), USC is more than confident John David Booty can step right in and 3) They've got 15 starters returning WITHOUT Leinart.
Darst: Totally amazing. Anytime you have Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett back on offense, it shouldn't really be a problem with Leinart gone.
Dodd: Imagine Bush a year older and stronger. The same with Jarrett. He has barely scratched the surface. Wait until he really gets in the weight room. White completely surprised me with his ability to get tough yards and break tackles. The guy could play in the Big Ten, for sure. So much for the Pac-10 being soft.
Darst: White wasn't even 100 percent against Oklahoma, just wait until he is. Is it too early to be calling them the team of the '00s?
Dodd: They have officially passed Oklahoma as the team of the 21st century. What's amazing is how fast it has happened. Carroll's job kind of mocks what is going on at places like Notre Dame, Penn State and Florida State.
Darst: Who do you see challenging USC for the national title? Might we see a traditional Rose Bowl for the national title with USC and Ohio State?
Dodd: Doubtful, but could happen. The Big Ten shapes up (again) as a three-way dogfight between Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. Three great teams, but I think they'll knock each other off in the fight for the Rose Bowl. Iowa at Ohio State on Sept. 24, Michigan at Iowa on Oct. 22 and Ohio State at Michigan on Nov. 19.
Darst: Iowa was very impressive this year. Drew Tate will be a junior next year and they have almost everybody back on offense.
Dodd: Four of five return on the offensive line, Sam Brownlee returns at tailback, if he's healthy and Ed Hinkel, a possession receiver, returns. Remember, Iowa lost SIX running backs to injury. If it gets any kind of running game, it will be nails. Won 10 games while finishing last in the NCAA in rushing.
Darst: The only area of concern for them might be the defensive line, where they lose all four starters, including defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. OK ... so we got USC and a dogfight in the Big Ten, any other teams out there you like for 2005?
Dodd: I think obviously Louisville. The Cards will start in my preseason top 10. Going to the Big East where they should dominate. Multiple offensive weapons. Soph quarterback Brian Brohm is essentially a returning starter after sharing time with Stefan LeFors. Defensive line returns with two starters and two guys who saw significant time -- DE Chad Rimpsey and DT Amobi Okoye.
Darst: Louisville is definitely the favorite in the Big East. At least next year the Big East will give us a decent BCS representative.
Dodd: Defense will be a concern, but the Cardinals were able to win 11 without one in 2004. The "return" of Bobby Petrino pulls it all together. I've been jacking these guys for about the last four years and they never seem to disappoint. I call Louisville the 13th SEC school because of the support football gets there.
Darst: I like an SEC battle between LSU/Tennessee/Florida. LSU had one of the best recruiting classes last year and those kids are going to start making an impact. Xavier Carter and Early Doucet at wide receiver and I like what JaMarcus Russell did at quarterback, especially coming off the bench in the bowl game. Obviously the question will be if Les Miles can guide them to an SEC title.
Dodd: One more thing on the Big East. It basically has until 2006 to prove its worth. The Big East was able to count Louisville's performance this year toward its BCS average re: automatic qualification in the future. That was huge.
Darst: OK, I'll put you on the spot -- give me your preseason top 5 right now and then I will tell you mine.
Dodd: 1. USC. 2. LSU. 3. Michigan. 4. Texas. 5. Ohio State.
Darst: Here is mine: 1. USC. 2. Ohio State. 3. LSU. 4. Texas. 5. Iowa. We basically like the same teams. Were there any schools that had a great year this year that you think will really struggle in 2005?
Dodd: Wisconsin comes to mind. It loses Anthony Davis, Erasmus James, some of that OL. It will be projected fourth at best in the Big Ten after a pretty good season.
Darst: I assume California also comes to mind -- it is going to lose almost its entire defense and say good-bye to Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Arrington and Geoff McArthur.
Dodd: Yes, Cal won't be ranked going in. In fact it's going to be hard to make a case for any Pac-10 team besides USC being in the preseason Top 25. Believe it or not, Florida is in the worst shape, I think, in that state. Although it has all kinds of talent and a new coach, it did lose five games last year. That's a big mountain to climb in one year.
Darst: But man-o-man -- I can't wait to see what Urban Meyer does with Chris Leak.
Dodd: Everyone is worried about Leak having to play like Alex Smith. Hey, ever hear of coaches adjusting? Meyer will get Leak out on the edge more where his arm and legs will be more dangerous. I don't think he'll be running the true read option like Smith, who got beat up on almost every play.
Darst: Keep an eye on wide receiver Andre Caldwell. He is going to be fantastic in that offense next year. What about those other two powerhouses in the state -- Miami and Florida State?
Dodd: Larry Coker faces a key year. He is starting to play with his own players and lost another group of juniors. If Bobby Bowden can get the offense together, best team in the state might be Florida State.
Darst: With the Seminoles finally getting rid of Chris Rix, it might finally challenge for the national title. Now if they can just pound the ball with those two stud running backs -- Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker.
Dodd: And I think no matter who is at quarterback it will be an upgrade. Drew Weatherford will compete with Wyatt Sexton. The question is, will Bowden be patient enough to hammer the running game? Seems like they've got to pass it 30 times even against weak teams just to do it. It's OK to hand it off 55-60 times against Clemson, especially on the road.
Darst: Well, before we go -- give me a few guys to watch for in the Heisman race. Everybody knows about Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush, but what about Vince Young, Drew Tate, Chris Leak and Ted Ginn Jr.?
Dodd: It's a solid top four (in some order) Bush, Young, Ginn, Jr. and Peterson. Unless there's injury, I've got to think the Heisman winner is going to come out of that group.
Darst: Ginn has got to get the ball a lot though -- Bush might have been the best all-around player this year, but he didn't get enough touches to boost the stats -- Ginn will NEED the touches.
Dodd: I'm actually working on a match race between Ginn and Bush. Proceeds go to charity. You think folks wouldn't want to see that?
Darst: Oh yeah, pay-per-view, Saturday before the Super Bowl!
Dodd: You're right with me.