A glance across the nation

To wrap up this college football preview, I thought we'd do a real quick run-through of each conference across the nation. Let's take a look...

Can Bobby Bowden catch Joe Paterno this season? (Allsport)

In the ACC: Bobby Bowden continues the chase of Joe Paterno for the all-time Division I-A coaching record.  There's a chance that Bowden could leapfrog Paterno this year if Florida State has a great year and Penn State continues to struggle.  By my count (which could be wrong), Paterno has 327 wins and Bowden has 323.  On paper, it is quite possible that Florida State could put up enough wins this year for Bowden to at least come very close... Around the conference, there are a couple interesting storylines, particularly up at Maryland as it will be interesting to see how they follow up last year's unexpected and unprecedented football success.  North Carolina State hopes to continue their climb up the ladder and has enough back to have a quality football team.  Georgia Tech loses some key players off last year's team, including QB George Godsey, but should have enough back to be competitive.  Virginia hopes to compete for a bowl bid this year, as does North Carolina, who should have a solid team despite losing two defensive linemen in the first six NFL draft picks.  North Carolina also has a QB (Darian Durant) who announced he was transferring, but decided to stay later on.  Clemson faces life after Woody Dantzler although Willie Simmons may be just fine.  Wake Forest very quietly put together a 6-5 record last year and with sixteen starters back, they may be a threat to make a bowl this year.  Duke will continue to struggle.

Team on the rise: There are a couple candidates here; I like Virginia's future under Al Groh, but NC State seems to be becoming more and more of a team to be reckoned with. This year, they should have a good team.  However, OSU fans and North Carolina fans are both a bit skeptical of what's going on at NC State... remember how NC State grabbed Richard Washington from OSU at the last minute and did the same with DB A.J. Davis, who committed to UNC?  The similarities with the two incidents were spooky...

Team on the decline: No one jumps out, although it will be tough for Maryland to do what they did again.

Top Offensive Player: Chris Rix, QB, Florida State, Bruce Perry, RB, Maryland

Top Defensive Player: E.J. Henderson, LB, Maryland

Stars on the Rise: Chris Rix, QB, Florida State, Greg Jones, RB, Florida State, Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida State

Sleeper Player to Watch: Latrez Harrison, WR, Maryland

In the Big East: Will anyone beat Miami?  Probably not.  I think the gap between the Hurricanes and the rest of the conference is huge this year.  Virginia Tech has a lot of holes to fill.  Boston College returns many of their starters on a team that almost knocked off Miami last year; they may have the best chance to finish second.  Pittsburgh finished the season hot last year; can they carry over the success?  Syracuse, like Virginia Tech, has a lot of holes to fill.  As for West Virginia, they could be fascinating to watch.  Things got ugly last year in Morgantown as the players did not react well to their new head coach Rich Rodriguez.  I once saw a story about possible mass transfers after last season; I never did hear how it turned out though.  The Mountaineers were lousy last year as they finished 3-8.  Temple and Rutgers should continue to be doormats...

Team on the rise: Pittsburgh.  Lots of people thought the Panthers would do better last year, but this is a program that is in the right direction.  They have great facilities and have attracted some nice recruits recently.

Team on the decline: West Virginia, although I don't know if they could decline further than they did last year.

Sleeper Team: Pittsburgh

Top Offensive Player: Ken Dorsey, QB, Miami

Top Defensive Player: William Joseph, DT, Miami

Stars on the Rise: WR Andre Johnson, Miami, RB Willis McGahee, Miami, RB Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech

Sleeper Player to Watch: Johnnie Morant, WR, Syracuse

In the Big Ten: It's wiiiiiiide open.  It's going to be similar to the past two years where teams from the Big Ten are knocking each other off all season long.  All teams have question marks.  Will OSU get good QB play, good CB play and some sort of offensive line to come together?  Will UM find an offense?  Can Michigan State replace T.J. Duckett?  Can Illinois replace Kurt Kittner?  Can Wisconsin survive the injury to Lee Evans?  Will Penn State get back to a bowl?  Will Kyle Orton be the next great Purdue quarterback?  Does Iowa have enough to get back to postseason play?  Will Minnesota have enough to compensate for the loss of Ron Johnson and Tellis Redmon?  Will Northwestern rebound even though they no longer have Damien Anderson or Zak Kustok, and will they stop anyone in the process?  Will Indiana do anything under new head coach Gerry Dinardo?

Team on the rise: Iowa.  The Hawkeyes have undeniably made big steps since being at rock bottom a short time ago.

Team on the decline: Northwestern.  A team that was expected to compete for the Big Ten title last year didn't even make the postseason, and this year's team might have a hard time as well. 

Top Offensive Player: Charles Rogers, WR, Michigan State

Top Defensive Player: Mike Doss, S, Ohio State

Stars on the Rise: DE Will Smith, Ohio State, QB Zac Mills, Penn State, CB Marlin Jackson, Michigan

Sleeper Player to Watch: QB Brad Banks, Iowa

Chris Simms will have one more chance to win in Austin (Allsport)

In the Big Twelve: One of the nation's top two conferences will be exciting to watch this year as they may have as many as five top 15-caliber teams.  Many eyes will be on Texas to see if they finally deliver with all their talent.  Most people are skeptical and will believe it when they see it.  In addition to that, a lot of eyes will be on Chris Simms.  This is his final season in Austin and his last chance to do something big.  The Oklahoma Sooners will be their main competition; they are expected to once again compete for the national crown.  There's a lot coming back on both sides of the ball.  Colorado is a projected top-ten team; they will have a fabulous running attack.  Nebraska will be breaking in new QB Jamaal Lord, but if they can fill the holes and he can do the job, look out because they might not be having an off-year after all.  Texas A&M is a team to watch out for with all their returning starters.

The next best team is likely Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders return a fine QB in Kliff Kingsbury and enough to easily get back to a bowl even though their schedule is tough.  Iowa State is a team to watch; they have been solid recently and return QB Seneca Wallace to lead the show.  Kansas State loses a lot of starters from a team that went 6-6, but don't count them out.  If there's a sleeper in the conference, Oklahoma State could be the one as they return 17 starters including a hidden gem of a WR in Rashaun Woods (and don't forget how they ended last season by knocking off Oklahoma).  Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor will be fighting to stay out of the cellar.   

Team on the rise: Colorado.  The Buffaloes started their unexpected rise last season and they have enough to stay there for a while.

Team on the decline: Kansas State.  Bill Snyder has done an unbelievable job in Manhattan, but last year was the worst the Wildcats had in a while, and they have some work to do this year.

Top Offensive Player: WR Roy Williams, Texas

Top Defensive Player: CB Sammy Davis, Texas A&M, DE Cory Redding, Texas

Stars on the Rise: DT Tommie Harris, Oklahoma, DB Nathan Vasher, Texas, RB Cedric Benson, Texas

Sleeper Player to Watch: QB Ell Roberson, Kansas State

Rick Neuheisel's recruiting techniques haven't been making other coaches very happy.  (Allsport)

In the Pac Ten: Will things get dirty this year in the Pac-10?  They did during recruiting season as the coaches got a little snippy with each other.  There seems to be three standout teams in the conference -- Washington, Washington State, and Oregon -- and the question is if one of them is good enough to win it all.  We'll find out early as Washington and Washington State have September road games at Michigan and Ohio State respectively.  Washington's offense should be high-powered, as should Washington State's, and if Oregon gets good QB play, look out.  These three should fight it out for the title.  

There's a bit of a dropoff after that, but there are a lot of quality teams in this conference.  USC has some talent coming back but needs to improve and faces a tough schedule.  UCLA can never be counted out, and even though they lost some key players including DeShaun Foster and LB Robert Thomas, they will have a solid team.  Stanford only returns two starters on defense, but that's no reason to count them out as they have a lot back on offense in WRs Teyo Johnson and Luke Powell, QB Chris Lewis and RB Kerry Carter.  Arizona could be a sleeper team as they return nine starters on offense, including a 1,000+ yard rusher in Clarence Farmer and speedy WR Bobby Wade.  Oregon State will try to get back on the winning end as they bring back 15 starters but must replace Ken Simonton at RB and Jonathan Smith at QB.  Arizona State has one of the top defensive players in the league in DE Terrell Suggs.  Cal won one football game in 2001 and may finish last again.

Team on the rise: Washington State.  They could have a chance to stick around for a couple of years with the players they have.  

Team on the decline: UCLA.  Started off great last year but went into a tailspin, and they have work to do to get back into contention. 

Top Offensive Player: Reggie Williams, WR, Washington, RB Clarence Farmer, Arizona

Top Defensive Player: Troy Polamalu, S, USC

Stars on the Rise: WR Reggie Williams, Washington, RB Onterrio Smith, Oregon, WR Teyo Johnson, Stanford, OL Kwame Harris, Stanford

Sleeper Player to Watch: QB Kyle Boller, Cal

In the SEC: It should be a verrrry interesting year down south... maybe more so off the field.  Scandals are swirling in the air, and ever since Alabama got hit hard, it seems like the schools and fans have been bickering with one another (for an interesting column on the issues, click here for an article from CNN/SI that was run a few days back).  Academic fraud allegations have surfaced at LSU and Tennessee, as has allegations of players who were given money at Tennessee.  In addition to all that, the nation's most high-profile coaching change took place here as Ron Zook takes over for Steve Spurrier.  The prime contenders are familiar -- Florida and Tennessee -- but there are several teams that will be good.  I like Georgia's potential, and I think that LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and South Carolina will all make the postseason (that is if Alabama is eligible).  It's going to be a dogfight.

Team on the rise: Arkansas.  The fact that the Hogs made it to the Cotton Bowl last year was a surprise, and the fact that they hung with Oklahoma in that game was even a bigger surprise.  There's enough back to keep this team's success going.  

Team on the decline: Alabama.  The reasons are obvious.  They might be successful this year, but it won't be long before they feel the effects of their penalties.   

Top Offensive Player: QB Rex Grossman, Florida, QB Eli Manning, Ole Miss

Top Defensive Player: LB Bradie James, LSU

Stars on the Rise: RB Carnell Williams, Auburn, CB Ahmad Carroll, Arkansas, WR Michael Clayton, LSU

Sleeper Player to Watch: Shaud Williams, RB, Alabama

Other Schools - We've discussed the expected mid-major upstarts Marshall and Louisville so far in the preview... expect them to be top 25 teams all year, and if there's one thing I'd want to add about those two teams, keep an eye out for the other stars on those teams besides the quarterbacks.  On Marshall it's WR Darius Watts and on Louisville, it's DE DeWayne White and DB Anthony Floyd.  And watch for some of those "best players you've never heard of," including Tulane RB Mewelde Moore, Middle Tennessee State RB Dwone Hicks, Nevada RB Chance Kretschmer (who led the nation in rushing yards as a freshman last year), DT Brandon Green at Rice, WR Bernard Berrian at Fresno State, WR Kevin Curtis at Utah State, and WR Doug Gabriel at Central Florida. 

Oh, and there's one more school we need to mention... love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit no college football preview would be complete without discussing Notre Dame. 

Tyrone Willingham will try to steer the Notre Dame ship back in the right direction.  (Allsport)

I have an idea for a reality show.  For some people, it would be funny like The Osbournes, and for others, it would be a gripping, dramatic soap opera, complete with the annoying bickering that comes with reality shows.  I don't know what the title would be, but the premise is easy -- send a camera crew to follow the Notre Dame football program around for a year.  Based on the last few months alone, there would be more unexpected twists and turns in that show than a Barry Sanders touchdown run.  The show would have started off with the preseason optimism, but then would take a predictable path as the team stumbles during the season and the head coach is finally fired, but then the real shocking plot twist would come when the coach who was hired to replace him was gone within a week. 

The new coach then comes in, and things are looking up... but the new coach faces challenges as a few of his players are caught up in off-the-field problems, and then to make the coach's job a bit tougher, one of the team's quarterbacks unexpectedly transfers, leaving them with basically one experienced quarterback coming into the season.  What will happen next?  Best believe viewers will tune in to find out.

Coming back to reality from reality for a second... Notre Dame is going to be a fascinating team to watch this year.  In addition to all the issues I mentioned above, they face a rugged schedule, which includes home games against Purdue, Stanford, Michigan, Boston College, and Pittsburgh, road games against Florida State, Michigan State, and USC, and the Kickoff Classic against Maryland.  It's not going to be easy for Ty Willingham in his first year, who will try to utilize the Irish's talent in more of a West Coast-type attack.  This team has talent, but it might be a little while before they can get back on top.  I believe that Ty Willingham will do it though if he's given time.  And that's bad news for Buckeye fans since he's going to be all over Ohio when it comes to recruiting.

That's all from this end... now the waiting begins.  Hopefully we can help you make that wait a little faster!

And don't steal my show idea!  :-)

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