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.
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 Carolina…Best defense in the SEC not in Baton Rouge.
The five most overrated teams
Expect these five teams to be overvalued when the preseason polls are released in August.
1. Louisville…Good returning roster, but schedule is tougher than you think.
2. Nebraska…I just don't think they're a big-time program anymore.
4. Wake Forest…Won't fall off the map, but schedule is too difficult to repeat.
5. Auburn…Solid 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
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.
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 Carolina…Has the pedigree to awaken the sleeping giant in Chapel Hill.
5. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State…Doesn't have a great reputation, but he does know how to win.
6. Gene Chizik, Iowa State…Quite a coup for the Cyclones, who landed the most decorated head coaching candidate in the assistant ranks.
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.
2. Tim Brewster, Minnesota…So 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 College…You 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.
Eric Berry, Tennessee
Graig Cooper, Miami (Fla.)
Jerimy Finch, Florida
Mike Ford, South Florida
Richetti Jones, Oklahoma State
Willie Korn, Clemson
Peter Lalich, Virginia
Joe McKnight, USC
Terrence Tolliver, LSU
Donovan Warren, Michigan
These junior college transfers should provide immediate help this season to the teams they signed with.
Larry Asante, Nebraska
J.J. Bass, Iowa State
Demetrius Byrd, LSU
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
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
Terrell Jackson, UTEP
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
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
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
Lee Ziemba, Auburn
An early peek ahead to what the first round of the 2008 NFL draft could look like.
2. Atlanta: Brian Brohm, Louisville
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vanderbilt will finally earn its first bowl bid since 1982.
- 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.