I'm equally excited for the NFL and college football. But since it's my job, let's talk about the college game.
Hey, USC quarterback Matt Leinart seems like a good enough guy. Team player, intelligent, strong and accurate arm, yadda yadda. He more than likely would have been the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft – over Alex Smith – but decided to come back to USC with the hopes of winning an unprecedented third consecutive national championship.
Leinart also stands as a major threat to join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy.
He will have stiff competition. Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. could give Griffin the ultimate gift by protecting his record. There are many other players on the Heisman "watch list." When it turns into a "warning list," we'll monitor it much closer.
Right now, barring injury, Leinart seems like a good bet to win. But who knows. He will be operating without his trusted offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, who is now running the offense for the Tennessee Titans.
And maybe someone will have a fluke year in a run-and-shoot offense (oh, excuse me Andre Ware, I didn't see you there) and bring home the award.
BIG TEN COACHES IN FLUX
We are seeing what might be the changing of the guard for Big Ten football coaches.
Barry Alvarez was the first domino to fall earlier this week when he announced his pending retirement (following the 2005 season) and named his successor, defensive coordinator Bret Bielema.
Penn State's legendary Joe Paterno cannot be too far behind. I really thought 2005 would be his last season, but it's not looking that way. Now I would guess he will stay on through the 2006 season, but no longer. But nothing is certain with this guy. He might coach until he's 90 or 100 (he turns 79 this season).
There have also been rumors that Michigan's Lloyd Carr, 60, is close to retirement. I would think he'll stick around for a few more years – he didn't become UM's head coach until 1995 – and he hasn't lost any of his "intensity" on the sidelines (just this once I won't call it "whining" Lloyd … OK I will).
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is one of the top coaches in the country, but I don't see him staying in the college game much longer. It is no secret that he wants to be an NFL head coach, sooner rather than later. He was up for the Jacksonville Jaguars' job in 2003, which went to Jack Del Rio. Next time the NFL comes looking to the NCAA for a head coach, it will be Ferentz. Could be as early as next year (Dom Capers needs a big season with the Houston Texas, or that is one team that could be looking for a coach like Ferentz next year).
The good news for Ohio State fans? Jim Tressel isn't going anywhere. No aspirations to be an NFL coach (although he could be) and no desire to coach at another college. He's a lifer and Buckeye fans should not underestimate the importance of that.
Tressel is 40-11 through four seasons at OSU, including a national championship, a 3-1 record over Michigan and a 3-1 record in bowl games. If he keeps up that pace, or even close, he will go down as one of the legends.
DOWNING ALL-BIG TEN?
Ohio State junior right guard T.J. Downing has one of the more interesting storylines on the team. His father, Walter Downing, was an All-American lineman at Michigan. Not only that, but he helped defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI, while playing for the San Francisco 49ers. You won't get on many Christmas card lists in Ohio by doing things like that.
But T.J. Downing – who prepped at OSU-pipeline Canton GlenOak – decided to become a Buckeye as part of the stellar 2002 recruiting class.
Downing redshirted in 2002 and didn't play much in 2003. But he really came on in '04, especially at the end of the season. And, guess what. He saved his best for those Michigan Wolverines.
Downing is a lot like a Connor Smith; somewhat of a split personality. He plays with a nasty streak on the field, but couldn't be a better guy off the field. Those types of men make the best football players.
What we saw from Downing towards the end of last year was someone playing at an All-Big Ten level. If he keeps it up this year, with a full season as a starter, I think he will find himself among the postseason honorees.
MORE O-LINE CHATTER
If Downing does in fact make one of the All-Big Ten teams this season, he will have company from his Ohio State teammates. I'm a firm believer that center Nick Mangold and tackle/guard Rob Sims are in store for a big year this season as seniors. They both received a lot of playing time on the national championship squad as freshmen and have continued to progress. They will likely be playing on Sundays next year.
Another player to watch is sophomore mammoth tackle Steve Rehring, who like Downing came out of nowhere to impress everyone last season. Well, the 6-8, 330-pound Rehring didn't exactly come out of nowhere. That guy couldn't sneak up on anyone.
Sophomore right tackle Kirk Barton is a mainstay in the starting lineup. He played tight end in high school, but has now packed 325 pounds on his 6-6 frame. He's yet another player that could find himself on an All-Big Ten team following the season. All of these guys won't make it, but at least two or three of them will.
Junior guard Doug Datish will be in Jim Bollman's rotation all season. Datish was OSU's highest-rated offensive line recruit in the 2002 class (unless you include Derek Morris) and was a starter for parts of last season. At worst, he will provide quality depth.
And true freshmen Jim Cordle and Alex Boone will most certainly see the field as well. Cordle, a center, enrolled in the spring and impressed everyone. Teammates and coaches have not been shy about talking up Cordle.
The 6-8, 315-pound Boone comes with a lot of hype, but plenty of substance as well. There's a chance he could redshirt, but I don't see that happening. My guess is that he will provide depth at tackle.
PITTMAN'S TIME Is sophomore Antonio Pittman the next 1,000-yard running back at Ohio State?
A total of 17 running backs have done it at OSU – including Griffin (3), Tim Spencer (2), Keith Byars (2) and Eddie George (2).
That's right, only four running backs in school history have reached 1,000 rushing yards twice in their career.
I think it could happen for Pittman. At worst, he should reach 1,000 yards at least once in his career and he might have a better chance of doing it this year than next (when fellow Akron native Chris "Beanie" Wells joins the team).
As mentioned, the Buckeyes will have a good offensive line this year. Definitely the best of the Tressel/Bollman era. Furthermore, the weapons at quarterback and wide receiver will force opponents to respect OSU's passing game. The days of loading up with eight or nine in the box is over. Unless you want to see the back of a No. 7 jersey all day.
So, the holes should be there for Pittman, as well as the opportunities. Redshirt freshman Erik Haw will play, but how many carries will he steal from Pittman? Maybe not all that many. True freshman Maurice Wells will also be in the mix, but he might be more of a third-down weapon this season as he gets his feet wet.
I just like what Pittman brings to the table. He's a slasher with good vision, but he's also tough enough to handle the pounding between the tackles. He's not a big, bruising back by any means, but he could be in for a surprise season.
His weight is up to about 210 pounds, which Tressel says might actually be a little bit too much. We'll see how it plays out, but if he stays healthy, expect big things from Pittman as the featured back this season.
In case OSU junior quarterback Troy Smith was wondering just how bright the spotlight shined on him (not that there should be any doubt at this point) his latest "incident" removed any uncertainty.
It's been well-documented that Smith skipped a class in early June to help out at Steve McNair's youth camp in Tennessee. The University of Texas' Vince Young was also among the six college quarterbacks invited to the event.
If Smith would have skipped class because of a hangover, like about 50 percent (or more) of OSU students late in spring quarter, no big deal. But this stuff about the McNair camp was front page news. Amazing.
Ohio State released a statement earlier this week that Smith did not commit an NCAA violation by attending the camp. That was about as surprising as if the Reds would have sent out a press release that said: "Pitcher Eric Milton will not win the NL Cy Young Award this season."
WELL ISN'T THAT SPECIAL
Looking at OSU's special teams this season, there are two near certainties: Mike Nugent will be tough to replace, and the return games – led by Ginn on the kickoff and punt return teams – will be among the best in the nation.
But back to the kicker for a moment.
While 10th year senior Josh Huston (OK, sixth year) might not be The Nuge, he will be plenty good enough. He's got a strong leg, so I don't see much (if any) dropoff on kickoffs. No one can match Nugent's accuracy, but Huston won't be too far behind in his only season as the full-time starter. He could have a BJ Sander-type senior season (yes, Sander was a punter, not kicker, but you get the point).
At punter, redshirt freshman A.J. Trapasso looked good in the spring and should be able to match what Kyle Turano did last season. Turano had a very solid senior season, averaging 42.8 yards per punt. Tressel, the de facto special teams coach, has a way of getting the best out of his punters and there is no reason to expect it will be any different with Trapasso.
FIESTA BOWL 11TH?
In ESPN's "Who's #1: Best Games" the network counts down the top 25 sports games of the last 25 years. Ohio State's thrilling 31-24 double-overtime upset over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl to win the national championship checked in at No. 11.
Not that Ohio State fans needed another reason to rip ESPN, but the game should have been somewhere in the top 10.
For starters, you can make the argument that it was the best college football game ever. Many people were saying it at the time. And looking back, the game seems even bigger than it originally did, if that is possible.
Ken Gordon of the Columbus Dispatch recently penned a good piece on the Fiesta Bowl in which he outlined that 36 starters and 15 reserves from the game are now on NFL rosters. That's 51 NFL players from a single college game. Absolutely mind-boggling.
In case you're wondering, here is ESPN's list of the top 10 games of the last 25 years…
10. 1988 World Series game one: Dodgers 5, Athletics 4 (Kirk Gibson HR).
9. 1985 college basketball national championship: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64.
8. 1980 Wimbledon Final: Bjorn Borg def. John McEnroe 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6.
7. 1997 Masters: Tiger Woods wins first major; bests field by record 12 strokes (-18).
6. Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17 (First of three for Pats' "dynasty").
5. 1983 college basketball national championship: NC State 54, Houston 52 (Lorenzo Charles dunk off airball just before the buzzer).
4. 1992 college basketball regional final: Duke 104, Kentucky 103, OT (Christian Laettner shot at buzzer).
3. 1984 college football: Boston College 47, Miami 45 (Doug Flutie hail mary; Keith Byars was still the best player in college football that year).
2. 1986 World Series game six: NY Mets 6, Boston 5 (Bill Buckner game).
1. 1980 Olympic hockey semifinal: USA 4, USSR 3 (Miracle on Ice).
One final note: On his radio show, former OSU linebacker Chris Spielman said his 9-year-old son already has a hat size of 7. I say OSU should start recruiting young Spielman now.