Preview 2007: Preseason Notes

A look at what we expect to be some of the newsmakers, record-breakers, and headlines of the upcoming college football season. Can Darren McFadden (pictured) be both the Heisman Trophy winner and #1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft?

2007 COLLEGE FOOTBALL CRYSTAL BALL

The five most underrated teams

Expect these five teams to be undervalued when the preseason polls are released in August.

1. South FloridaThis year's Rutgers?

2. Rutgers…Lots of talent returns to prove last season was no fluke.

3. Miami (Fla.)…Randy Shannon will circle the wagons with a loaded defense.

4. South CarolinaBest defense in the SEC not in Baton Rouge.

5. AlabamaExperience and a soft schedule greet Nick Saban.

The five most overrated teams

Expect these five teams to be overvalued when the preseason polls are released in August.

1. LouisvilleGood returning roster, but schedule is tougher than you think.

2. NebraskaI just don't think they're a big-time program anymore.

3. FloridaUrban Meyer will vie for another national title—in 2008.

4. Wake ForestWon't fall off the map, but schedule is too difficult to repeat.

5. AuburnSolid program with a solid season, but third in the SEC West.

Update your resumes

These coaches could be forced out if they don't have a big season.

Bobby Bowden, Florida State

Tommy Bowden, Clemson

Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State

Bill Doba, Washington State

Phil Fulmer, Tennessee

Al Groh, Virginia

Guy Morriss, Baylor

Mike Stoops, Arizona

Ty Willingham, Washington

There's a new sheriff in town

The best offseason coaching hires.

1. Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville…The next Kirk Ferentz, and unlike his predecessor he won't flirt with other jobs every winter.

2. Nick Saban, Alabama…The Larry Brown of college football, he wins big and then looks for a big payday somewhere else.

3. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State…Will bring discipline and a work ethic to a program teeming with talent that sorely needs it.

4. Butch Davis, North CarolinaHas the pedigree to awaken the sleeping giant in Chapel Hill.

5. Dennis Erickson, Arizona StateDoesn't have a great reputation, but he does know how to win.

6. Gene Chizik, Iowa StateQuite a coup for the Cyclones, who landed the most decorated head coaching candidate in the assistant ranks.

7. Mark Dantonio, Michigan StateA poor man's Tom O'Brien, he should greatly help discipline the almost always-underachieving Spartans.

8. Todd Graham, TulsaA miracle worker at Rice who comes back to Tulsa to build on Kragthorpe's foundation.

9. Brian Kelly, CincinnatiAll he needs is one big season and then bigger offers will come his way.

10. Randy Shannon, Miami (Fla.)…The only guy who wanted the job, he should generate a loyalty from the Cane Community his predecessor never had.

Swing..and a miss

The worst coaching hires of the offseason.

1. Jim Harbaugh, StanfordDidn't athletic director Bob Bowlsby get his fill of young, brash, arrogant ex-players who haven't yet proven themselves as head coaches with Steve Alford?

2. Tim Brewster, MinnesotaSo the Gophers fire a guy that made them respectable for the first time since the 1960s, and replaced him with a guy whose never been a head coach anywhere? Yeah, that makes sense. No, it doesn't.

3. Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston CollegeYou would think with the success the Eagles have had lately they could've done better than an NFL retread.

Handicapping the field

My power ratings of the major conferences.

1. SEC…Just one legitimate national title contender in LSU, but has several teams that will hang around the rankings all season, and could have as many as 10 bowl-eligible teams when it's all said and done.

2. Pac-10…If you really examine it there's surprising depth here beyond USC in a league that features several experienced teams. Expect two teams in the BCS and as many as eight bowl-eligible teams.

3. Big 12 (South)…Take away Baylor and the Big 12 South Division is as tough as any conference in the country, with Oklahoma and Texas as good as just about anybody, and Oklahoma State and Texas A&M returning talented and experienced teams up against tough schedules. Plus, Texas Tech is always salty under Mike Leach.

4. Big Ten…Michigan and Wisconsin have national championship-type schedules, and any league that has Ohio State and Penn State in its second tier has depth. There could be as many as eight teams in bowl games.

5. ACC…Not too many elite teams, but lots of decent ones. In fact, that's pretty much been the way to describe this league ever since it expanded to add Florida State, Miami (Fla.), and Boston College.

6. Big East…Probably no conference has a better top four than Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville, and South Florida. But the bottom tier of this league is absolutely terrible.

Freshmen of influence

Expect these rookies to make an instant impact this fall.

Arrelious Benn, Illinois

Eric Berry, Tennessee

Raymond Carter, UCLA

Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame

Graig Cooper, Miami (Fla.)

Jerimy Finch, Florida

Mike Ford, South Florida

Richetti Jones, Oklahoma State

Willie Korn, Clemson

Peter Lalich, Virginia

LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh

Joe McKnight, USC

Ryan Miller, Colorado

Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech

Terrence Tolliver, LSU

Donovan Warren, Michigan

JUCO jolts

These junior college transfers should provide immediate help this season to the teams they signed with.

Alesana Alesana, Kansas State

Larry Asante, Nebraska

J.J. Bass, Iowa State

Demetrius Byrd, LSU

Alex Cook, California

Kayne Farquharson, Miami (Fla.)

Patrick Gates, Colorado

Ellis Lankster, West Virginia

Terry Mixon, Washington State

Kenny O'Neal, Tennessee

Austin Panter, Michigan

Mike Reed, Oklahoma

Co-Eric Riley, Mississippi State

Terence Scott, Oregon

Tonga Tea, Oklahoma State

Joseph Townsend, Nebraska

Woodny Turenne, Louisville

Luis Vasquez, Arizona State

Jairus Wynn, Georgia

Changes in attitude, changes in latitude

These transfers are expected to reboot their careers come autumn in a different uniform from where they started.

Harrison Beck, N.C. State

Allan Evridge, Wisconsin

Max Hall, BYU

Terrell Jackson, UTEP

Stephen James, Houston

Sam Keller, Nebraska

Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida

Ryan Mundy, West Virginia

Al Pena, Houston

Fred Rouse, UTEP

Willie Williams, Louisville

Out of the shadows

After redshirting, playing behind established upperclassmen, or suffering injury last season, these players will become household names in 2007.

Sean Bailey, Georgia

Boise State's next quarterback

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

Stevie Brown, Michigan

Thomas Brown, Georgia (if healthy)

Jake Christensen, Iowa

Mario Fannin, Auburn

Matt Flynn, LSU

Justin Forsett, California

Terry Gant, Alabama

Darian Hagan, California

Cody Hawkins, Colorado

Elijah Hodge, Wisconsin

Tim Jamison, Michigan

Demetrius Jones, Notre Dame

Sergio Kindle, Texas

Jake Locker, Washington

Tony Moeaki, Iowa

DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

Keith Payne, Virginia

Tyrone Prothro, Alabama (if healthy)

Austin Scott, Penn State

Jake Sharp, Kansas

Brandon Spikes, Florida

Kurtis Taylor, Iowa State

Tim Tebow, Florida

Patrick Turner, USC

Darrin Walls, Notre Dame

Chris Wells, Ohio State

Wait for '08

These players are going to have to wait their turn before basking in the spotlight next year.

Joseph Barksdale, LSU

Clint Brewster, Minnesota

Hunter Cantwell, Louisville

John Clay, Wisconsin

Eugene Clifford, Ohio State

Chris Colasanti, Penn State

Jonathan Crompton, Tennessee

Anthony Davis, Rutgers

Noel Devine, West Virginia

Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech

Everson Griffen, USC

Ronald Johnson, USC

Keaton Kristick, Oregon State

Ryan Mallett, Michigan

Robert Marve, Miami (Fla.)

James Montgomery, California

Mitch Mustain, USC

Josh Oglesby, Wisconsin

Mike Ragone, Notre Dame

Brandon Saine, Ohio State

Mark Sanchez, USC

Bradley Stephens, Texas A&M

Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

Lee Ziemba, Auburn

Cashing in

An early peek ahead to what the first round of the 2008 NFL draft could look like.

1. Oakland: Darren McFadden, Arkansas

2. Atlanta: Brian Brohm, Louisville

3. Houston: Colt Brennan, Hawaii

4. Dallas (from Cleveland): Jake Long, Michigan

5. Minnesota: Keith Rivers, USC

6. Washington: DeSean Jackson, California

7. Tampa Bay: Chad Henne, Michigan

8. St. Louis: Calais Campbell, Miami (Fla.)

9. Arizona: Lawrence Jackson, USC

10. Miami: Glenn Dorsey, LSU

11. Kansas City: Dan Connor, Penn State

12. Buffalo: Sam Baker, USC

13. N.Y. Giants: Chris Long, Virginia

14. Green Bay: Limas Sweed, Texas

15. Detroit: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

16. Tennessee: Mario Manningham, Michigan

17. Jacksonville: Jordan Grimes, Purdue

18. Seattle: Antoine Cason, Arizona

19. Philadelphia: Steve Slaton, West Virginia

20. San Francisco: Ryan Clady, Boise State

21. Carolina: Sedrick Ellis, USC

22. Pittsburgh: Early Doucet, LSU

23. Cincinnati: Terrell Thomas, USC

24. N.Y. Jets: Kirk Barton, Ohio State

25. Dallas: Mike Hart, Michigan

26. Denver: Brian Cushing, USC

27. Baltimore: Justin King, Penn State

28. Chicago: Adarius Bowman, Oklahoma State

29. Indianapolis: Jared Gaither, Maryland

30. San Diego: Quinton Demps, UTEP

31. New Orleans: Frank Okam, Texas

32. New England: Will Arnold, LSU

The envelope please

Predicting who will win college football's most prestigious individual awards.

Heisman Trophy: 1. Steve Slaton (West Virginia), 2. Colt Brennan (Hawaii), 3. Chad Henne (Michigan), 4. John David Booty (USC).

Outland Trophy: Jake Long, Michigan

Nagurski Award: Keith Rivers, USC

Lombardi Award: Glenn Dorsey, LSU

Butkus Award: Keith Rivers, USC

Doak Walker: Steve Slaton, West Virginia

Johnny Unitas: Colt Brennan, Hawaii

Biletnikoff Award: DeSean Jackson, California

Thorpe Award: Kenny Phillips, Miami (Fla.)

Bear Bryant Award: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

The ultimate college football road trip

My annual look at the best games of the season.

August 30th—Kent State at Iowa State…The debut of the Gene Chizik era against an upper division MAC foe.

September 1st—Tennessee at California…Can the Bears avenge last season's embarrassment in Knoxville?

September 8th—Virginia Tech at LSU…The winner could have the inside track on half of the BCS National Championship Game.

September 15th—USC at Nebraska…The Trojans visit Lincoln for the first time since 1969 and it's in primetime.

September 20th—Texas A&M at Miami (Fla.)…Two talented and veteran teams that each have grueling schedules.

September 22nd—Penn State at Michigan…The Nittany Lions haven't defeated the Wolverines since 1996, not that they're counting in Happy Valley.

September 28th—West Virginia at South Florida…A chance for the Bulls to demonstrate they are ready for primetime.

September 29th—Alabama vs. Florida State at Jacksonville…Bobby Bowden finally faces his alma mater.

October 6th—Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas…This annual grudge match should determine the Big 12 title yet again.

October 13th—Wisconsin at Penn State…The first real test of the season for the experienced Badgers.

October 18th—South Florida at Rutgers…The resurgent Scarlet Knights are the program the Bulls aspire to become.

October 20th—California at UCLA…The winner likely advances to face USC for the Pac-10 title later on.

October 27th—South Carolina at Tennessee…The SEC East title will be decided by this one, not the cocktail party in Jacksonville on the same day.

November 1st—Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech…The Hokies will need to survive this potential ambush to stay in control of the ACC.

November 3rd—LSU at Alabama…Getting a rare victory in Tuscaloosa could be all that stands between the Tigers and an undefeated season.

November 8th—Louisville at West Virginia…Expect more offensive fireworks with the skill-position talent these two teams have.

November 10th—USC at California…The toughest of the tough road trips on the Trojans' difficult slate.

November 17th—Ohio State at Michigan…Come on, did you really think we'd choose any other game for this week?

November 22nd—USC at Arizona State…Dennis Erickson will have the Sun Devils ready if the Trojans don't take them seriously.

November 23rd—Texas at Texas A&M…Wouldn't it be something if the Longhorns came to College Station undefeated?

November 24th—Alabama at Auburn…Nick Saban's first Iron Bowl comes with the Tigers controlling the series as of late.

November 29th—Rutgers at Louisville…This time the Cardinals could do to Rutgers what Rutgers did to them last season.

December 1st—UCLA at USC…Last season's shocking upset by the Bruins breathed life back into this once vibrant rivalry.

5 things that won't happen this season

Contrary to conventional wisdom, don't count on these things occurring.

  1. Darren McFadden won't be a Heisman finalist, let alone win the award. He won't sneak up on anyone this season in the Wildcat formation, and the quarterback situation at Arkansas is so inconsistent that defenses will key on him from the opening week.
  2. USC and LSU, the consensus top two teams in the preseason magazines, won't play for the national title. It's just too easy, and the chalk never makes it all the way through the season unscathed. The odds of the preseason top two teams coming out of the two toughest conferences, in my opinion, to play for the national title aren't very good if history is any indication.
  3. Neither of last year's national championship finalists – Florida and Ohio State – will finish as a serious threat to win their own conferences, let alone compete for another national title. Each will lose three games and play in a second-tier January bowl game. Maybe against each other.
  4. Nebraska won't return to the Big 12 Championship Game. The entire defensive line has to be rebuilt, the schedule is brutal, and four years into the Bill Callahan era his program is still too reliant on JUCOs. The Huskers are no longer an elite level program for self-inflicted reasons. When they abandoned their option game they abandoned their identity and tradition.
  5. No non-BCS conference school will seriously challenge for a BCS berth this season. There will be no Boise State repeat. TCU is the best of the mid-majors, but has to play at Texas and at BYU. Boise State is replacing its quarterback, and Hawaii's road schedule is too tough to run the table.

5 things that will happen this season

Take notes because these will be the major storylines of the 2007 campaign.

  1. Lloyd Carr will announce prior to the Ohio State game that he is stepping down as the head coach at Michigan after 13 seasons. Carr will leave on a high note, finally defeating the Buckeyes to get the Wolverines in the BCS for the fourth time in five years. Whoever his predecessor is will inherit a roster stacked with young talent for the foreseeable future and a $250 million renovation of the Big House underway. That should provide Michigan the means to attract just about any successor it wants to take his place.
  2. Notre Dame will struggle to decide between Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley, and Jimmy Clausen at quarterback most of the season. Plus, the Irish will be humbled against a ridiculous early season road schedule. As a result, Charlie Weiss goes from making the BCS in his first two seasons to barely being bowl-eligible in season three.
  3. There will be another BCS controversy over which one-loss team gets to claim a spot in the national title game. USC, by virtue of more love from the computers thanks to a tougher strength of schedule, will edge LSU, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers.
  4. Vanderbilt will finally earn its first bowl bid since 1982.
  5. Look for a storybook season in Blacksburg in response to the horrific on-campus shootings last spring. The Hokies return a lot of experience from the team that was playing the best ball in the ACC down the stretch. The non-conference date at LSU will be tough, but the nation will adopt VT as America's team in the wake of the tragedy, beginning with the debut of ESPN's College Gameday from Blacksburg on September 1st. Obviously football isn't important enough to overcome the grief for those that were slain, but it could become a pleasant enough distraction that further unifies and strengthens a community still recovering from a head-on collision with evil. Especially with their fellow Americans cheering them on.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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