John Roberts College Football

Friday, August 05, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the Big Twelve

The power of the Big Twelve has been questioned since the last time college football was played on the field. USC's humbling of Oklahoma in the national championship game, along with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M getting beat down in the bowl games, threw some doubt on the strength of the Big Twelve South. Throw in the fact that the Big Twelve North hadn't been respected all year, and suddenly the conference looked to be in shambles. Expect the North to rebound a little bit this year and the South to continue to look good during the regular season. But for the Big Twelve, nothing will be determined until the bowl games.

NORTH
1. Iowa State (8-3, 5-3)- The Cyclones haven't won an unshared conference title since the very early 1900's. This may be the year that they at least win the division. Bret Meyer returns at quarterback as a sophomore and looks to get the team over the hump that they could not get over a year ago. Meyer is a solid and athletic quarterback. It won't hurt the offense any that Stevie Hicks is back to run the ball. He's a junior and ran for over 1000 yards last year. Todd Blythe is coming off offseason knee surgery, but says he'll be ready to be the go-to receiver by September 3 against Illinois State. The Cyclones are very deep at the receiver spot, as Austin Flynn and Jon Davis also appear prepared to be all-stars. The defense is lead by the defensive line of Nick Leaders and Brent Curvey. Tim Dobbins is a spectacular linebacker. Safeties Nik Mosher and Steve Paris are lightening fast. The defense was solid last year, and could be just as solid this year. If the offense can score more than 20.5 points per game (like they did a year ago), then the Cyclones have a chance to be very good. By October 2, we could know all we need to know about Iowa State. By that point they will have hosted in state rival Iowa, who they always play tough. They pay a visit to Nebraska on October 1 in a key North Division game. A visit to Missouri on October 15 also looms, but home dates with Kansas State and Colorado in November could spark the Cyclones to the division title.

2. Colorado (6-5, 4-4)- The Buffaloes return Joel Klatt at quarterback and he needs to improve on 11:15 touchdown to interception ratio. The offensive line returns three starters along with tight end Joe Klopfenstein, one of the teams best receivers. Lawrence Vickers returns at fullback, but the tailback position is uncertain. Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis are the favorites to start there. Evan Judge is a returning starter at wide receiver, but it is time to see what some of these younger receivers are made out of. The defense returns ten starters from a year ago. James Garee will anchor the very physical defensive line. Vaka Manupuna is also ready to lead the line. The linebackers may be the strength of the defense. Jordon Dizon and Thaddeus Washington are excellent players on it, while Brian Iwuh lead the team in tackles a year ago. There is also a lot of depth there for the Buffs. Lorenzo Sims is the team's best corner back, and while the rest of the secondary has experience, it also finished 105 in the country in passing yards per game a year ago. The Buffs got to the Big Twelve Championship Game a year ago using almost smoke and mirrors. After all the team finished 81 in scoring offense and 85 in total offense, while finishing 61 in scoring defense and 94 in total defense. This year, the Buffaloes may not get those same breaks. This is a good team and should be the favorite in the North, but not so much that the North is anything but wide open.

3. Missouri (7-4, 4-4)- The Tigers are lead by Brad Smith at quarterback. Last year, the Tigers focused on making him a passing threat. With the disappointment that was last season, they have installed an offense that will give him the opportunity to do what he does best- improvise. The offense is supposed to get the ball to the athletic receivers, Sean Coffey and Will Franklin. It also focuses on getting the ball in the hands of two new running backs, Tony Temple and Marcus Woods. Both should be very solid this year. The offensive line returns three starters, including Tony Palmer, who is one of the best in the conference. The Missouri defensive line has just one starter returning. That starter is Xzavie Jackson, who has potential to be an all-conference performer. They have quality depth, but it is mostly inexperienced. The linebackers will featur Marcus Bacon and Dedrick Harrington, who did start at times a year ago. Derrick Ming will also be a nice addition. Jason Simpson returns in the secondary, and he is a solid safety. Marcus King is also back and looking to make an impact. In the wide open North, visits to Kansas, Colorado, and Kansas State make the schedule difficult. Like a year ago, the Tigers probably have the most talent of any team in the division. Like a year ago, they may not live up to that potential. If not now for Mizzou, when?

4. Nebraska (3-5, 5-6)- That Corn Coast Offense didn't work too well last year, as the Huskers missed a bowl game. Bill Callahan, the Huskers head coach, knows that the pressure is on. Fortunately, he has Cory Ross to build his offense around. The senior running back is one of the most underrated backs in Nebraska history. The offensive line returns three starters, and should provide a bit of a return to the Cornhuskers glory days of offensive lines. The receivers need to get more involved in the offense, but Terrence Nunn has shown sparks. Junior college transfer Zac Taylor takes over the offense at quarterback. He was recruited just to run this offense, so he should perform better than Joe Dailey did a year ago. The defensive line is lead by big Adam Carriker. He is a beast that could wreak havoc all year in opponents backfields. The defensive line looks like a potential strength this year. The linebackers are lead by Stewart Bradley, who is a solid but not spectacular linebacker. Daniel Bullocks is a very talented safety, but the rest of the secondary is inexperienced. Nebraska must go to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado in their own division, and games against Wake Forest and Pittsburgh to start the year are far from guaranteed wins. This team could put it all together and win the North, or they could suffer through another year of anonymity and a losing record.

5. Kansas State (5-6, 3-5)- The quarterback situation is the big question mark in the Wildcats camp. Dylan Meier has a little bit more passing proficiency, but is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Allen Webb has a little bit more running ability and athleticism. The concern for them regardless is if anyone can protect them. The line returns just one starter and is inexperienced all around. The receivers could be the strength of the offense with Jermaine Moreira and Yamon Figurs both returning, and Davin Dennis and Jordy Nelson provide quality depth. The running back spot is unsettled, but Thomas Clayton and Carlos Alsup both have some potential. The defense will be lead by the linebackers. Ted Sims comes back from injury, Marvin Simmons is a hitter, Brandon Archer is a playmaker and if Matt Butler can come off of offseason surgery and be healthy, he is a player as well. The Wildcats defensive line could show some improvement with Scott Edmonds (who lead the team with seven sacks a year ago) returning, and Tearrius George trying to restore the Wildcats good name on defense. The secondary is a solid group with no real standouts at this point. The defense is good enough to get this team in contention in the Big Twelve North, but the offense lags behind. If Meier and Webb can come through and play solidly, there is no reason htis team can't compete in the North. Going to Iowa State and Nebraska is no fun, and the Wildcats should be 3-0 (Florida International, at Marshall, North Texas) heading to Oklahoma on October 1. That will be when we find out how good this year's 'Cats are.

6. Kansas (4-7, 1-7)- The Jayhawks have a solid offensive line that returns three starters, including several potential stars. The receivers might be the best in Kansas history with Mark Simmons, Brian Murph, and Marcus Herford. So what's wrong with the Jayhawks offense? The quarterback and running back positions need to find some positive consistency. Adam Barmann and Jason Swanson should battle for the starting quarterback job. It was Barmann's last year until he went down with an injury, but he often looked confused on the field. Kerry Meier could also contend for the job. He is an incoming freshman who everyone wants to redshirt, but he may be thrust into the action immediately. The defense could be the best in the conference. The linebackers return Nick Reid, a headhunter who could be the best in the Big Twelve. He is joined by Kevin Kane and Banks Floodman. Charles Gordon is one of the top corners in all of college football, and he returns looking to do better than his seven interceptions from a year ago. Jermial Ashley and Tim Allen return on the defensive line, and Charlton Keith is not a returning starter, but has shown flashes of brilliance. The Jayhawks defense is good enough to win the North. If the offense shows even the slightest sign of life, they could contend in the North. Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa State all visit Kansas. Iowa State comes in for the last game of the year, and if the Jayhawks get just enough good breaks, then that could be for the North title. Last year, the Jayhawks lost five games by six points or less. Turn those into wins this year, and you will be looking at the next participants in the Big Twelve Championship Game.

SOUTH

1. Oklahoma (9-2, 7-1)- The Sooners have Rhett Romar, Tommy Grady and Paul Thompson replacing Jason White at quarterback, so do not feel too sorry for them. They are all very gifted quarterbacks. The offensive line returns three starters, and all should be solid starters. It is the other two positions that leave some doubt. Travis Wilson and Jejuan Rankins need to become even more reliable stars at the receiver position. Adrian Peterson had a monster freshman year running the football. If he continues that dominance, he may become the first to ever win the Heisman as a sophomore. The defense is lead by the return of Dusty Dvoracek on the line. Larry Birdine and Carl Pendleton are nice complements on the line. Clint Ingram, Rufus Alexander, and Zach Latimer all provide solid leadership at linebacker, but there is virtually no experience behind them. The secondary was last seen last year getting bombs thrown on it against USC. Or maybe it was last seen against Colorado in the Big Twelve Championship Game, because most of the Orange Bowl it looked like USC was just playing catch with themselves. Marcus Walker is a potential shut down corner, but this group must improve. The Sooners have to go to UCLA early in the year, which could provide a good indication of where they are right now. Of course, the Texas game looms just a couple of weeks later, but trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech make this an even more formidable schedule.

2. Texas (9-2, 7-1)- With Vince Young returning at quarterback, the Longhorns should be OK. He had his coming out party in the Rose Bowl. If he plays like that this year, the 'Horns could be looking at a return trip to the Rose Bowl...to play for the national title. The offensive line looks to be the best in the Mack Brown era with four returning starters. Selvin Young is taking over at running back and Ramonce Taylor will provide a nice backup. Both are very solid and very fast. The receivers are a big question mark, with tight end David Thomas the teams leading returning receiver. The defense could be lead by the linebacker Aaron Harris. He has 118 tackles last year. The rest of the linebackers are a question mark. The secondary is very deep and could be the strength of the defense this year. The defensive line will be lead by Rod Wright and Larry Dibbles. Rod Wright has the potential to dominate games. Tim Crowder had 4.5 sacks a year ago. The Longhorns have to go to Ohio State on September 10 in a huge game. A trip to Texas A&M late in the year will not be fun. Of course, in the end, it always comes down to the game against Oklahoma on October 8. Can the 'Horns finally break the curse?

3. Texas A&M (8-3, 6-2)- Reggie McNeal is as athletic of a quarterback as they come. He improved a lot last year, and his continued development is the key to the Aggies success this year. He also has speedy, deep threats at receiver. Deqawn Mobley, L'Tydrick Riley, and Earvin Taylor all appear to be ready to breakout at receiver. The offensive line returns four starters and looks to be very physical and very solid. Courtney Lewis returns at running back, and while there are questions about him, he shows a spark every now and then that makes people believe this could be one of the best backfields in America. The defensive line is lead by Red Bryant and Jason Jack. Both have potential to be all-conference players. Running the ball will not be easy against that Aggies front. The starting linebackers are solid, lead by Archie McDaniel, Lee Foliaki, and Justin Warren. The secondary is a weak spot for the defense, except for Jaxson Appel, who is one of the better safeties in the conference. The secondary got torched at times last year. Losses to Baylor, Tennessee, and Utah all seemed to establish that this team needed better consistency. The road trip to Clemson on September 3 could be one of the truly underrated games of the first day and one of the most fun to watch. Their season comes down to their final three games, when they visit Texas Tech and Oklahoma and play host to Texas. The rest is just preparation for that final exam.

4. Texas Tech (8-3, 5-3)- The Red Raiders have now established one thing. It does not matter if they lose their quarterback. Someone will step in just fine. Cody Hodges appears ready to step in, but Graham Harrell is still in competition with him for the starting job. Jarrett Hicks, Cody Fuller, Danny Amendola, and Joel Filani provide a very deep and established receiving group. Taurean Henderson returns at running back. He is a threat to do just about anything, as he can run and catch very well. The offensive line must be rebuiilt with just two returning starters, but who better to build around than Manny Ramirez? The line needs to get experience quickly. The defense made a huge leap to #46 in the country a year ago. That should continue with seven starters back. The defensive line features Chris Hudler, Dek Bake, Seth Nitschmann, and Keyunta Dawson. That group is as good of a whole group as they come, and they should lead the defense. John Saldi and Brock Stratton also have a lot of experience at linebacker. The secondary is also a strength. Vincent Weeks is an excellent safety. Khalid Naziruddin lead the team in tackles a year ago from his corner spot. The Red Raiders made a name for themselves by beating California in the Holiday Bowl a year ago. They have a decent schedule with a trip to Nebraska on October 8 being their toughest game in the first six games. After that, trips to Texas and Oklahoma State, plus home dates with Texas &M and Oklahoma make the closing kick very tough.

5. Oklahoma State (7-4, 4-4)- The quarterback situation for the Cowboys is interesting. Donovan Woods started a year ago, but was often used merely as a decoy. That leaves room for the new staff to pick Bobby Reid as the starter. Reid is a freshman with a ton of potential. Woods showed off his potential during the Oklahoma game a year ago, where he made several huge plays. D'Juan Woods returns at wide receiver, and he's one of the best in the country. The rest of the receivers are inexperienced. The running game will be lead by Mike Hamilton, Julius Crosslin, and Seymore Shaw. All are big backs. The offensive line returns four starters. The defense is lead by the linebackers. Paul Duren, Lawrence Pinson, and Pagitte McGee have a lot of starting experience. Vernon Grant and Daniel McLemore are very talented corners, but are small. The defensive line is the weak spot. Ryan McBean, a junior college transfer, could be the key. If he develops like they expect, the line could be more of a force. Trips to Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Iowa State are not going to be fun for the Cowboys. Home dates with Colorado, Missouri, Texas, and Texas Tech add even more fun to the schedule. This is not going to be the best year the Cowboys have ever had, but there is plenty of potential there to get this team back to another bowl game.

6. Baylor (3-8, 0-8)- The Bears will be lead by Paul Mosley at tailback. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry a year ago, and that should only get better this year. The reason that should improve is because the offensive line should be a real strength this year. Due to players returning from injury and junior college transfers, this group will not look the same as last year, but should be way more dominant. The receivers are pretty good, lead by Dominique Zeigler. The quarterback situation is dicey. Shawn Bell is the new starter, and he had his shining moment a year ago when he completed the touchdown pass and two point conversion that beat Texas A&M. The defense will be lead by the secondary. Maurice Lane and Maurice Linguist are the best players out there. The linebackers graduated their starters, but Colin Allred and Jamaal Harper played a lot last year. Montez Murphy is an NFL prospect on the defensive line. The line needs to show some improvement on the whole this year. The Bears could be capable of stealing a game or two they shouldn't, like the Texas A&M win a year ago. With road trips to SMU and Army and a home date with Samford to start the season, there is hope for a 3-0 September. A trip to Texas A&M comes next, and we all know they can't beat the Aggies, right?

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
The Cyclones might just be happy to be there after the disappointing finish to last year. The North is closer to the South this year than they were last year. Oklahoma will play well and win, but it probably won't be the cakewalk last year's game was. Oklahoma 31, Iowa State 20.

ALL BIG TWELVE

Offense
QB Vince Young, Texas
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
RB Cory Ross, Nebraska
WR D'Juan Woods, Oklahoma State
WR Jarrett Hicks, Texas Tech
TE Joe Klopfstein, Colorado
OL Tony Palmer, Missouri
OL Corey Hilliard, Oklahoma State
OL Aaron Brant, Iowa State
OL Darin Joseph, Oklahoma
OL Justin Blalock, Texas

Defense
DL Dustin Dvoracek, Oklahoma
DL Jason Jack, Texas A&M
DL Rod Wright, Texas
DL Johnny Jolly, Texas A&M
LB Nick Reid, Kansas
LB Anthony Harris, Texas
LB Brian Iwuh, Colorado
DB Jaxson Appel, Texas A&M
DB Charles Gordon, Kansas
DB Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska
DB Jason Simpson, Missouri

Specialists
K Todd Pegram, Texas A&M
P Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor
PR Danny Amendola, Texas Tech
KR Willie Andrews, Baylor

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the Mountain West

In the Mountain West, everything has changed. Utah, the team that finally cracked the BCS a year ago, has a new quarterback and a new coach. TCU has joined the conference. Suddenly the conference is talking about automatic BCS bids. With the Big East struggling and C-USA losing many of its good teams, there is reason to believe that the Mountain West might just be the sixth best conference in the country.

1. Utah (8-3, 7-1)- For the Utes, it begins and ends with Brian Johnson. If he can continue the legacy that Alex Smith left behind at quarterback, then the Utes will be very successful. With three offensive linemen back, he should have plenty of time back there to throw. The receivers will have to step into the big shoes left by Paris Warren and Steve Savoy. Travis LaTendresse and John Madsen will be filling the void. Quinton Ganther is the new running back. He rushed for 654 yards a year ago and should fill in quite nicely. On defense, Marques Ledbetter and Steve Fiftia played excellent on the defensive line and should continue to improve. Spencer Toone stars at the rover position. He is a critical player in the Utes scheme. Eric Weddle is moving to this third position in three years when he will be starting at free safety this fall. He should have a lot of success. The Utes play Arizona and at North Carolina out of conference this year, two teams that they also played last year. It will not be easy to win the Mountain West again, with road trips to BYU and Colorado State making the schedule challenging. But home dates with Wyoming and New Mexico do add a bit of an extra edge for the Utes.

2. Wyoming (7-4, 6-2)- There is talk in Cowboys camp of something that has not happened in quite a while- winning the conference title. The talent is there. Corey Bramlet has become a superstar at quarterback and has worked out of his brother's (Casey) shadow. The offensive line returns four starters and should be very solid. The wide receivers are very talented. Jovon Bouknight leads the way and could easily be heading towards an NFL career. The running game will feature Wynel Seldon and J.R. Moore early on, at least until Ivan Harrison and Joe Harris can recover from their offseason knee surgeries. The defense has potentially the best secondary in the conference. Derrick Martin, Terrance Butler, Ron Rockett, and John Wendling are all returning starters. Three starters also return on the defensive line. Dusty Hoffschneider lead the way last year against the run, and is expected to do it again. The linebacker position has a lot of depth despite the fact that Austin Hall is the only returning starter. A trip to Florida to open the year might be a better game than people think, and a later visit to Ole Miss could produce a second straight season with a win over the SEC school. But the season will be made or broken with a four game stretch that sees New Mexico and BYU come to Laramie, and they will sandwich games at Colorado State and Utah.

3. BYU (7-4, 6-2)- The Cougars have quite the quarterback battle going on. John Beck, Matt Berry, and Jason Beck (no relation) are battling for the top spot. John Beck has been named the starter, but the merry-go-round went on last year and it will be interesting to see if it continues. The offensive line was a major weakness last year, but with three starters back and blocking assingments simplified, this unit could be a dominant force. The running game is lead by Curtis Brown, who could explode this season. Todd Watkins is the big play wide receiver, and he is the only one the Cougars need. He averaged 20.0 yards per catch last year, and anyone who watched the Cougars play know what a threat he is. The defense will be lead by Cameron Jensen at middle linebacker. He has the potential to lead a dominant unit this season. Manaia Brown has shown a lot of promise at defensive end. The secondary is still the major question for the Cougars to answer. If it develops, then the Cougars secondary has a shot to be very, very good. The Cougars go to Wyoming and New Mexico, but get Utah and Colorado State at home. Boston College comes calling on September 3, and a visit to Notre Dame looms on October 22. This team should be much better and could provide a return to the glory days of sorts.

4. New Mexico (6-5, 5-3)- The Lobos offense really depends on the health of DonTrell Moore, their start running back, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery. He is expected to be ready by opening day against UNLV. Kole McKamey is being asked to take more on this year from his quarterback position. He is going to be used as a second running back and try to spread the field. The wide receivers need to step up if they are going to be successful. Hank Bassett did quite well last year, but Marcus Smith, Anthony Carter, and Chris Brawley all need to come through. The offensive line returns three starters. On defense, the defensive line has become a strength. There is a ton of depth and Evroy Thompson is the big man that leads it all. The linebackers are lead by Michael Mohoric, who is a former walk-on. Michael Tuohy's move from defensive line to linebacker also helps the linebackers. The secondary has two excellent corners in Jerrell Malone and Gabriel Fulbright. There is plenty of depth in the secondary as well. Trips to Missouri, UTEP, Wyoming, and Utah make this one of the most daunting schedules the Lobos may have ever faced. If they can find a way to split with Wyoming and Utah, then they will be right in the hunt for the conference title down until the very end.

5. Colorado State (5-6, 4-4)- The running game will be the key to the Rams offense this season. Jimmy Green has the most returning experience, but Kyle Bell looked great in the spring. Gartrell Johnson III looks to make an impact and UCLA transfer Nnamdi Ohaeri looks to have a say in who will be starting as well. Last year the team averaged only 3.1 yards per rush, which explains why they went 4-7. They will be running behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Quarterback Justin Holland looks prepared to have a breakout year, especially if he can cut down on his ten interceptions. The receivers are lead by David Anderson, who has a ton of potential. The defense will be lead by the secondary and the linebackers. Jahmal Hall, Courteney Jones, and Luke Adkins return at linebacker. Brandon Cathy, Robert Herbert and Ben Stratton return in the secondary. The weakness is in the defensive line, which allowed 221.7 yards per game on the ground last year, good for 111 in the country. Blake Smith will be the key to if the run defense improves, and Terrance Carter must provide good solid senior leadership. The schedule features trips to Colorado and Minnesota, along with New Mexico and BYU. But Utah and Wyoming both come to Colorado State, which means the Rams have a chance to make some serious noise in the Mountain West. They play all four Mountain West teams ahead of them in consecutive weeks from October 8 through October 28. Success in those games will determine how close the Rams are to winning the conference.

6. Air Force (4-7, 3-5)- Shaun Carney returns at quarterback and could have a very nice season. He is only a sophomore, but appears prepared to lead the team for the next several years and put together a very nice career. Adam Fitch, a converted quarterback, is expected to be one of the starters at running back. The offensive line returns five starters, which is always key in the Falcons run-first offense. Jason Brown is a receiver that could help change the Falcons into a more balanced team. He has given up baseball to focus on football, and that could lead to a big senior season. Denny Poland and Mark Carlson play defensive back and lead the defense. They will be counted on for a lot of leadership as two of the starting seniors on the defense. Marcus Brown appears to be prepared to have a breakout season at linebacker. Gilberto Perez and Russ Mitscherling are expected to have great years on the defensive line. For the Falcons, the defense must improve. They ranked last in the conference a year ago. Fisher DeBerry is a good coach. It appears the Falcons may still be a year away from being back to their normal selves, which means this year's team may not go to a bowl game, but watch out for them in 2006.

7. San Diego State (4-8, 3-5)- Lynell Hamilton will be returning from a season missed due to injury, but if he picks up where he left off, the running game for the Aztecs will be as good as ever. The offensive line looks to be the real strength of the offense with all the players have significant experience, along with a lot of depth. Jeff Webb and Robert Ortiz provide some solid play at the receiver spot. The key will be the quarterback position. Kevin O'Connell started the last five games last year, but sat the spring out recovering from shoulder surgery. Darren Mougey stepped in and played great in the spring. Suddenly, there was a quarterback controversy on the Aztecs hands. Either should be good picks. The defense has some major question marks. The safety position and the linebacker position were decimated by graduation. Marcus Demps has moved from corner to safety and Jacob Elimimian should be back to his 2003 form at corner. The defensive line is anchored by Antwan Applewhite, who has the potential to become the next star of the defense. If the defense can come around, this team has potential to become a real darkhorse in the Mountain West race. However, this team is young everywhere but on the offensive line. That probably means they are about a year away from really competing.

8. TCU (4-7, 2-6)- The Horned Frogs are coming off an unexpected down season. Now, it will be up to Tye Gunn and the rest of the Horned Frogs to turn it around. Gunn has a long list of medical problems, but when he's been healthy, he has played great at quarterback. Unlike before, there is no experience behind him, so he must stay healthy. Lonta Hobbs and Robert Merrill are one of the best running back tandems in the country. Cory Rodgers has already established himself as one of the top receivers in school history and looks to build on that legacy this year. The offensive line only return two starters and there is not a lot of depth anywhere. This is a major cause for concern when your quarterback has the medical history that Gunn has. The defensive line has a lot of experience with Ranorris Ray and Jared Kesler leading the way. The linebackers will be lead by David Hawthorne, who needs to have an immediate impact. The secondary gave up 304 yards per game through the air last year, ranking dead last in the country by an incredibly 22.8 yards per game. The major players are all returning and the coaching staff hopes that the year's experience will make all the difference. The schedule opens at Oklahoma. If they can recover from that pasting (unlike what happened last year after the 70-35 beating Texas Tech handed them), then the Horned Frogs have the talent to be a pleasant surprise this year in the Mountain West.

9. UNLV (2-9, 0-8)- After a decent performance in an 18-3 loss to Wisconsin last year, the team could never get it turned around. After a 2-9 season, everything is back at square one with the coming of new head coach, Mike Sanford, the former offensive coordinator at Utah. Shane Steichen and Jarrod Jackson will battle for the starting quarterback job. Steichen is the returning starter, but struggled badly last year at times. The offensive line returns three starters that should be able to provide some protection. Alvin Marshall is expected to be a big play receiver in the new offense. The key will be finding someone to replace Dominique Dorsey, the MWC rushing champ from a year ago. Erick Jackson looked just as impressive as Dorsey in practice at times a year ago, and Ohio State transfer JaJa Riley should provide some immediate competition for Jackson. The defensive line is the anchor of the defense. There is experience and depth there. Leon Moore and Howie Fuimaono will be the forces up front. The Rebels top six linebackers all graduated, which creates quite a void. All-American safety Jamaal Brimmer is also gone. Joe Miklos is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He forced four fumbles a year ago and also had two interceptions. The schedule is a little easier this year (Idaho and Nevada replace Tennessee and Wisconsin), so getting things off to a good start is possible. But this team looks to be several years away from really competing.

ALL MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
Offense
QB Corey Bramlett, Wyoming
RB DonTrell Moore, New Mexico
RB Lonta Hobbs, TCU
WR Jovon Bouknight, Wyoming
WR Todd Watkins, BYU
TE John Wadkoswki, Wyoming
OL Jesse Boone, Utah
OL Ryan Cook, New Mexico
OL Lance Reynolds Jr., BYU
OL Ross Weaver, Air Force
OL Jon Wilson, Air Force

Defense
DL Steve Fiftia, Utah
DL Marques Ledbetter, Utah
DL Dusty Hoffschneider, Wyoming
DL Marcus Parker, New Mexico
LB Michael Mohoric, New Mexico
LB Spencer Toone, Utah
LB Cameron Jensen, BYU
DB Gabriel Fulbright, New Mexico
DB Eric Weddle, Utah
DB Derrick Martin, Wyoming
DB Ben Stratton, Colorado State

Speciaists
K Deroc Yaussi, Wyoming
P Adam Brooks, Wyoming
PR Hoost Marsh, Wyoming
KR Justin Walker, Utah

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at Conference USA

Conference USA has changed dramatically since the last viewing. Louisville, Cincinnati, TCU, South Florida, and Army are all out. UTEP, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, Marshall, and UCF are all in. Now there are two divisions and a conference championship game. The conference had fought and clawed it's way up to being considered a near BCS conference, just behind the Big East. Now, the conference has to earn all that respect all over again, as some of their biggest name programs are gone. The fight to earn respect has to start somewhere, and so it begins here.

EAST
1. Memphis (8-3, 6-2)- This pick all hinges on the fact that DeAngelo Williams is returning for the Tigers. The running back decided to come back for his senior year. If he can stay healthy, the team has a real shot to win the division. The offensive line returns just two starters, but Blake Butler is an all conference candidate at center. The receivers are lead by Maurice Avery and Ryan Scott, who both can make plays. The quarterback situation is dicey, with Patrick Byrne in the lead and Will Hudgens close on his heels. The defense is anchored by the linebackers, Tim Goodwell, Quinton McCrary, and Carlton Baker. They underachieved last year, but are expected to be big leaders this year. The defensive line returns just one starter. The secondary was one of the worst in Division 1-A last year, but they are all a year older, and they signed six defensive backs during recruiting. Memphis gets UAB and UTEP at home, but must go to Southern Miss. The Tigers will have a shot to win the division, but their defense and quarterback are the big question marks.

2. UAB (8-3, 6-2)- Darrell Hackney stayed healthy last year and UAB finally made it to a bowl game. He is one of the most underrated players in the country. Roddy White, his favorite receiver, went to the NFL, but Reggie Lindsey looks ready to step into his shoes. The offensive line returns four starters. Dan Burks and Corey White return at running back and look quite capable to put up big numbers behind this line. The defense is anchored by Larry McSwain, who had 11.5 sacks a year ago. The secondary should be improved over last year with the healthy return of Carlos Hendricks at defensive back. The linebackers are the major concern for the Blazers defense. They need to find playmakers after five linebackers graduated last year. UAB must go to Tennessee in the first week of the season. A home date with Southern Miss, and road dates with Memphis and UTEP await this bunch. The schedule provides a bit of trouble, but this team looks primed to make a run at the CUSA title.

3. Southern Miss (6-5, 5-3)- Dutin Almond is back at quarterback for the Golden Eagles. He's played a lot of football for them, but last year was a big disappointment. Antwon Courington and Anthony Perine, the two top receivers from a year ago, are both back, and both are expected to make big things happen. The offensive line returns just two starters and look a little thin. The fullback will be Anthony Harris, after his position change from tailback. Larry Thomas will become the tailback, and he averaged 6.9 yards per carry last year as Harris' backup. The defensive line was a real weak spot a year ago when they gave up 175.1 yards per game on the ground. Coach Jeff Bower thinks that Terrance Ford can become a run stopper. The linebackers are all new with Kevis Coley, Trevis Coley, and Naton Stewart. The secondary looks to be the team's biggest strength with John Eubanks being one of the teams best players. Visits to Alabama, UAB, Houston, North Carolina State, and Marshall do not make this schedule easy. They get Memphis at home and this team will have a shot to win the division...if their schedule doesn't punish them first.

4. Marshall (6-5, 4-4)- The Thundering Herd picked a bad year to move to Conference USA. They have a new head coach in Mark Snyder and only six returning starters. Only two offensive lineman return, but they will be asked to block for a new quarterback, which will be either Jimmy Skinner, Bernard Morris, or Derek Devine. The running backs are lead by Ahmad Bradshaw, who appears to be a star in waiting. The wide receivers are lead by Emmanuel Spann, if he comes back healthy from a knee injury. Marcus Fitzgerald (brother of Larry) looks to be another potential all star. The defense is anchored by the secondary. Chris Royal and Curtis Keyes were two of the top safeties in the MAC last year and look to return with a vengeance this year. The rest of the defense will be made up of new starters. The linebackers look a little more well developed than the undersized defensive line at this point. The Herd gets Kansas State, UAB, and Southern Miss at home, while they go on the road to face Virginia Tech, UTEP, and Memphis. If everything falls into place, this is a team that could contend for a division title. More than likely, they will be fighting to get to a bowl game again.

5. East Carolina (3-8, 2-6)- The Pirates return three offensive lineman and should give them and new coach Skip Holtz something to build from. They are a solid unit. Chris Johnson returns at running back, and should, if given the opportunity to run, put up some good numbers. The quarterback is a problem spot. Davon Drew was Holtz' favorite quarterback in the spring. The receivers are lead by Bobby Good, Brian Howard, Kevin Roach, and transfer Aundrae Allison. The offense looks pretty good if they can find a quarterback. The defense is held together by middle linebacker Chris Moore. The defensive line is lead by Shauntae Hunt, a solid senior. The secondary could be a strength this year. Zach Baker, Kyle Chase, Jamor Flournoy, Erode Jean, Kasey Ross and Demetrius Hodges all could be very good. For the Pirates to be competitive (which has to be Holtz' goal for this season), the defense needs to step up, and the quarterback has to play better. The turnovers have to stop. It might take a year to get Holtz' system firmly in place, but this is a program on the rise.

6. UCF (1-10, 0-8)- George O'Leary was very disappointed with his team last year. Even if they make improvements, don't expect it to show up too much in the win column. The offensive line had been revamped and returns five starters. O'Leary threw it all up in the air with a competitive spring practice. With all five starters back and none of them seniors, this group may still be a year away from true dominance. Steven Moffett is a solid quarterback, but needs to find a way to get the Golden Knights into the endzone more. The favorite to be the starting tailback is Dontavius Wilcox. The receivers have big play ability in Brandon Marshall and Mike Walker. The defensive line was very weak a year ago. All the starters return, include sophomores Keith Shologan and Emeka Okammor. This group may be a year away from dominance as well. The linebackers could be constantly shifting througout the year with three signees expected to make an immediate impact. The secondary is young, but is expected to be faster and more athletic. This team looks like it is a year away from really making a jump in the win column. The whole world will find out quickly. The Golden Knights open on Thursday night on ESPN in primetime against South Carolina in Steve Spurrier's first game as Gamecocks head coach.

WEST
1. UTEP (10-1, 7-1)- Jordan Palmer returns at quarterback and looks to come out even more from the spotlight of his older brother, Carson. The running game should also be solid with UCLA transfer, Tyler Ebell battling with Matt Austin and Marcus Thomas for the starting job. The receivers are also a great group, with Jason Boyd, Chris Francies, Chris Marrow, and Johnnie Lee Higgins all coming back to contribute to this solid passing offense. The offensive line is the question mark on offense, with just two starters back. The defense is lead by Chris Mineo and Zach West at the defensive tackle positions. The linebackers wil be good with Thomas Howard leading the way in the middle. He is an amazing athlete. James Delgrado returns healthy at cornerback. Quintin Demps was a freshman All-American last year and he returns at safety. The team goes to Memphis and hosts UAB and New Mexico in their toughest games. This team has the ingredients to go on a big run and go undefeated, like Utah did a year ago.

2. Tulane (7-4, 6-2)- Lester Ricard looks to be quite the impressive quarterback after he ranked ninth in passing efficiency a year ago. The receivers, though, are very inexperienced, lead by Damarcus Davis. The running game looks to be in good hands with Matt Forte and Jovon Jackson. The offensive line returns four starters. The defensive line will be lead by sophomores Antonio Harris and Avery Williams. The linebackers hold the defense together with Antonio Mason and Anthony Cannon. The secondary needs to be more physical, but is being lead by Sean Lucas and Israel Route at the corner spots. The Green Wave get UTEP at home, along with Houston. The road trip to Southern Miss will not be friendly. They have a shot to make some noise and win the division, but it would be surprising.

3. Houston (7-4, 6-2)- The Cougar offense should put up points in bunches, as long as the offensive line comes through. Four starters are back, but they allowed 44 sacks a year ago. Quarterback Kevin Kolb is a tremendous amount of fun to watch. He has a gun of an arm, and suffered a bit of a sophomore slump last year. Anthony Evans is back to full strength after battling injuries last year. He could be one of the more underrated running backs in the country. Donnie Avery, Ricky Wilson, and Vincent Marshall all provide tremendous depth at wide receiver. The defense is switching to the 3-4 this year. The front line looks solid with Kade Lane, Marquay Love, and Gerard Richard, but there is very little depth. The linebackers suffered a big hit when Lance Everson went down with a knee injury in spring practice. Wade Koehl may be the best linebacker on the team. The secondary is suffering from graduation and injury and makes it a bit of an adventure back there. Like Tulane, Houston's offense looks explosive, but the defense could hold them back. Oregon comes calling early in the year in what could be a very exciting game. A win and the Cougars are on the national map. Trips to UTEP and Tulane hurt their chances for a conference crown, though.

4. Tulsa (3-8, 2-6)- Uril Parrish and Brandon Diles are excellent running backs and will lead the run-first offense, particularly as the Golden Hurricanes break in a new quarterback. The quarterback is likely to be Paul Smith, but David Johnson is still in contention. The offensive line returns three starters and should be a solid unit yet again. Garrett Mills could be an All-American at tight end, but the receivers are lacking. Ashlan Davis is the top returning receiver and Ryan Bugg and Idris Moss are big play threats. The defense is looking to build itself around defensive lineman Brandon Lohr and linebacker Nick Bunting. The team ranked 106 in Division 1-A in rush defense last year and must improve. The key will be getting others to help out Lohr up front and Bunting at linebacker. In the secondary, Bobby Blackshire and Kedrick Alexander (who returns from a year long suspension) make this a very dangerous secondary. The Hurricanes have a chance to be good. Opening with Minnesota and Oklahoma make this schedule pretty brutal, as do road games with Southern Miss, UTEP, and Tulane. It will not be easy for this team to ever get any consistency this year.

5. SMU (2-9, 2-6)- The Mustangs have an amazing 19 starters back, including all eleven on offense. The amazing thing is that there are still only three seniors on the offense. Quarterback Tony Eckert is one of them. Jerad Romo is also in the running to start at quarterback. He is also a senior, and uses his feet to get him out of trouble. Eckert was the team's leading passer last year, while Romo was the team's leading rusher. This may say something about the running game. This year, Cedrick Dorsey is looking to make a major impact at running back. He has all the tools to be a solid option. Bobby Chase is a top wide receiver and Ryan Kennedy is a good option at tight end. The offensive line has five returning starters, but has to improve. Depth is also a concern on the line. The defensive line only recorded 10 sacks a year ago, so Don Ieremia-Stansbury moved from linebacker to end in the spring in hopes of improving the defense. The linebackers are solid with D.D. Lee and Wilton McCray leading the way. The secondary is anchored by two four year starters, Rolando Humphrey and Jamey Harper. The Mustangs have a chance to be very good. Wins over Baylor and TCU to open the season would give them a lot of confidence heading to Texas A&M and possibly set the team up for a run at a bowl game. However, the odds are they are still young and will struggle again.

6. Rice (2-9, 2-6)- The offensive line returns just one starter, but many others have starting experience for the Owls. Joel Armstrong returns at quarterback, but Chase Clement is pushing him for playing time already. Coach Ken Hatfield is very excited about both quarterbacks. Quinton Smith and Marcus Rucker should provide a lot of yards on the ground in this option offense. No one has stepped forward in the battle for a starting receiver spot. The defense line is lead by John Syptak, who had eight sacks a year ago. The linebackers are small, but have a lot of experience. Adam Herrin, Omeke Alikor and Buck Casson all started a year ago. The secondary has a year more experience now, so that alone should help the team improve. Last year, the Owls gave up 34.3 points per game (104 in the country), but allowed just 364.6 yards per game (good for 50 in the country). The defense needs to do a better job of keeping the other team out of the endzone to give the Owls a chance. Road trips to UCLA and Texas open the year, followed by a home game against Navy and then a road trip to UAB. If they can survive that stretch without too many injuries or too bruised of egos, then this team could make a run at a bowl game.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
UTEP will battle Memphis in the first C-USA Championship Game. Memphis will run the ball well with DeAngelo Williams, but in the end Jordan Palmer and the Miners are too much as UTEP wins, 28-20.

ALL C-USA
Offense
QB Darrell Hackney, UAB
RB Anthony Evans, Houston
RB DeAngelo Williams, Memphis
WR Jason Boyd, UTEP
WR Antwon Courington, Southern Miss
TE Garrett Mills, Tulsa
OL Matt Baustic, UAB
OL Toby Bullock, Marshall
OL Jeff Perrett, Tulsa
OL Josh House, UTEP
OL George Batiste, Southern Miss

Defense
DL John Syptak, Rice
DL Chris Mineo, UTEP
DL Larry McSwain, UAB
DL Brandon Lohr, Tulsa
LB Thomas Howard, UTEP
LB Chris Moore, East Carolina
LB Anthony Cannon, Tulane
DB John Eubanks, Southern Miss
DB Rolando Humphrey, SMU
DB Curtis Keyes, Marshall
DB Erode Jean, East Carolina

Specialists
K Stephen Gostkowski, Memphis
P Chris Beckman, Tulane
KR Ashlan Davis, Tulsa
PR Reggie Lindsey, UAB

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Preseason 2005: The Preview Schedule

I apologize for not posting this earlier.

Here is the schedule of previews coming up on this site.

August 2- ACC
August 3- Conference USA
August 4- Mountain West
August 5- Big Twelve

August 8- Big East
August 9- Sun Belt
August 10- Pac Ten
August 11- WAC
August 12- Independents

August 15- Big Ten
August 16- MAC
August 17- SEC
August 18- Heisman & All-American picks
August 19- Rank all the teams, 1-119

August 22- BIG Games (top five games)- September
August 23- BIG Games- October
August 24- BIG Games- November
August 25- Overlooked Games- September
August 26- Dream World- How college football should be

That brings us up to the week of the first games. During the season, here will be the weekly schedule.

Monday- Weekend in Review (includes Rankings, Team of the Week, Player of the Week, Game of the Week, Upset of the Week, and a look at the top stories from the weekend)
Tuesday- A look at any of Monday night's games, Heisman Update
Wednesday- A look at any of Tuesday night's games, Conference Roundup
Thursday- A look at any of Wednesday night's games, the Saturday Set-up (a look at the TV schedule for Saturday and why each game is one to watch)
Friday- A look at any of Thursday night's games, picks on the Weekend Stars (Top players, games, and teams of the coming Saturday).

Preseason 2005: A Look at the ACC

The ACC has changed significantly since the last time we saw it. Now, Boston College is on board, and now there are two divisions- the Atlantic and the Coastal. This conference has become one of the best in the country. With Virginia Tech being the surprise winner last year in their first year in the conference, now every second tier team is playing the disrespect card this offseason. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

ATLANTIC:
1. Boston College (9-2, 6-2)- Quinton Porter and Matt Ryan will get the first shot at running the offense, but the five returning starters on the offensive line will give them plenty of time to throw the ball. Will Blackmon played defense last year, but moves to wide receiver this year, and provides some explosion on that side of the ball. The strength of the offense, other than the offensive line, is clearly at running back, where L.V. Whitworth, Andre Callender, and A.J. Brooks all started games last year. The defense is lead by the beast, Mathias Kiwanuka, and the three returning linebackers. That makes this defense as stout as there is. The secondary does not have a lot of experience and is a potential weak spot. If Boston College survives back to back weeks at the end of September (at home against Florida State and then at Clemson), then this team should be the favorite in the Atlantic Division

2. Florida State (8-3, 6-2)- Wyatt Sexton is out, and Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford are battling for the starting quarterback job. It will come down to the final days of fall practice to decide it. The receivers are equally inexperienced. The offensive line returns just two starters. Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker are very solid running backs. With Ernie Sims off the team at linebacker, the defense doesn't look nearly as strong either. Still, Buster Davis, Samd McGrew, and A.J. Nicholson are solid options. Antonio Cromartie was All-ACC last year, even though he didn't start. The defensive line needs some work. This team will be the favorite in the Atlantic Division, but only because of their name. There is still plenty of talent, but this may be the year the 'Noles fall to 7-4 or 6-5.

3. North Carolina State (7-4, 4-4)- The offense for the Wolfpack was downright pathetic last year. With Jay Davis and Marcus Stone both having a year more experience, there is a chance for an upgrade on that side of the ball. The offensive line, which had trouble staying healthy last year, could be the key to that upgrade. If they remain healthy and can keep Davis (the likely starter) on his feet, then the Pack could move the ball reasonably well. Sterling Hicks and Brian Clark have a lot of big play ability at receiver. At running back, Reggie Davis is a solid, bruising runner, and he is backed up by Darrell Blackman and Bobby Washington. All three run hard and well. The defense was ranked number one in the country last year, and with all four defensive line starters back, look to be solid again. Oliver Hoyte is a solid linebacker and the leader of the defense. The secondary looks a little suspect. Road trips to Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Boston College make winning the division very tough. Still there is enough talent to make a push.

4. Clemson (7-4, 4-4)- The Tigers were supposed to be great last year and wound up struggling. Charlie Whitehurst can take a lot of the blame on his shoulders. The quarterback looks poised for a breakout season to propel himself up the NFL Draft charts. The offensive line returns three starters and has a lot of depth. The running game is lead by budding superstar, Reggie Merriweather. The receivers are lead by Chansi Stuckey and may be the biggest weakness on the offense. The defense is good, but not great. The loss of Justin Miller really hurts, as does the loss of Eric Coleman, Leroy Hill and Maurice Fountain. Anthony Waters leads a decent linebacker corp. Tye Hill returns in the secondary, and the defensive line looks to be capable of getting some pressure on the quarterback. It's a brutal schedule for Clemson early (Texas A&M, at Maryland, Miami, Boston College, at Wake Forest, at North Carolina State), but if they survive that, they seem to have the talent in place to make an Auburn-like run a year after they were supposed to.

5. Wake Forest (5-6, 3-5)- The Demon Deacons have a ton of offensive questions. Cory Randolph and Ben Mauk are battling for the quarterback job. Nate Morton, the leading returning receiver, sat out the spring with a leg injury, but should be well enough to put up big numbers this year. The offensive line should be a strength, with a lot of returning experience. Chris Barclay will enjoy that. The school record holder already for yards and touchdowns returns for his senior season and could thrust himself onto the national scene with a big year. The defense looks to be the best in recent years for Wake Forest. Solid recruiting has built up a lot of depth at linebacker. Jonathan Abbate is the standout at that position. The defensive line is a little thin, but has Matt Robinson and Jeremy Thompson prepared to improve on their solid freshman years. The safeties of John Gattis and Patrick Ghee are very good, but the corners are unproven. Wake Forest has a shot to be a real surprise team this year. If Nebraska is not drastically improved, a win at Lincoln on September 10 is not out of the question. That means that a 4-0 start heading into the home game against Clemson is not out of the question. Look out if this team gets rolling early.

6. Maryland (5-6, 2-6)- Sam Hollenbach and Jordan Steffy are battling for the quarterback position. Mario Merrills is the favorite to be the starting running back. Derrick Fenner and JoJo Walker are solid, but not great, options at receiver. The offensive line is solid, lead by Stephon Heyer at left tackle. The defense was great last year, and with D'Qwell Jackson back at linebacker, this defense should still be solid. Of course, the defensive line is a little thin after the loss of Shawne Merriman. The secondary looks a little shaky as well after losing three starters. This is a very interesting year for Ralph Friedgen. If Maryland truly has been built into a solid program, they should bounce back from last year's disappointment and be a solid bowl team this year. If not, another losing season is definitely a possibility. We'll find out early when Clemson, West Virginia and Wake Forest all battle Maryland by the end of September.

COASTAL:
1. Virginia Tech (10-1, 7-1)- The Hokies are lead by Marcus Vick at quarterback. If he has finally matured into a stable influence, then he has potential to have a huge season. The offensive line is a big question mark, but with Vick back there, he has a chance to run away from the pressure. Throwing the ball to Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman makes Vick's job easier, as does handing the ball off to Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes. This offense looks to be improved over last year as long as Vick plays adequately. The defense is lead by a solid front, lead by Darryl Tapp at defensive end. Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall are both excellent linebackers and are both only sophomores. The secondary presents a major area of concern. Jimmy Williams played great last year and will have to play just as well this year to make up for the loss of other key players. The toughest road games for the Hokies are at North Carolina State and at Virginia, while Miami and Boston College both come to their place. This is as easy of a schedule as you get in the ACC, and the Hokies should take advantage.

2. Miami (10-1, 7-1)- The quarterback position could be improved now that Brock Berlin is gone. Kyle Wright is probably going to be the favorite to take over the position. He will have a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal. Sinorice Moss, Ryan Moore, and Lance Leggett are very solid receiving options. Tyrone Moss and Quadtrine Hill both are good runners. Moss is not the speedster Miami fans are used to. The offensive line returns Eric Winston after he blew out his knee last year. With three other starters back on the offensive line, the only major concern is at center. The defense should be stout, particularly if they figure out how to stop the run. Thomas Carroll, Baraka Atkins, and Orien Harris are the keys to that. Rocky McIntosh is a great linebacker, but the best linebacker might just be Willie Williams, the controversial 2004 recruit who sat out last year. The secondary lost Antrel Rolle, but could be even better. Devin Hester steps into Rolle's shoes, and he has been spectacular when he got to play. Kelly Jennings is another solid corner. The schedule opens with road trips to Florida State and Clemson. Later on, they must visit Virginia Tech. Not an easy schedule, but a winnable schedule nonetheless. This looks like a Miami team that could return them to their glory days.

3. Georgia Tech (8-3, 6-2)- Reggie Ball returns at quarterback, and if he can just get more consistent, this may be a darkhorse pick to win the national title. With Calvin Johnson to throw to, and P.J. Daniels to hand the ball off to, there may not be a better collection of skill position players in the ACC. The offensive line is the question mark. Only two starters return, and they need to grow up quick with this tough opening schedule. The defense ranked twelfth in the country a year ago. Nine starters are back. Eric Henderson, Travis Parker, and Joe Anoai are all excellent on the defensive line. Gerris Wilkinson lead the team in tackles last year, and should put out more punishment this year at linebacker. The secondary should be as good as there is with Reuben Houston and Chris Reis leading the way. The schedule opens at Auburn, North Carolina, Connecticut, and at Virginia Tech. Road trips to Miami and Virginia follow, along with a home game against Georgia. It doesn't get much tougher than that. This could be the Clemson of last year- a team that is a Top Ten team on talent in the preseason, but the schedule just eats them alive and kills their record.

4. Virginia (5-6, 2-6)- This Cavaliers team has a shot to be really good, but they have such a tough schedule, they may not survive it. Marques Hagans returns at quarterback. He is an athletic quarterback. Wali Lundy is the tailback and he is a great running back. The offensive line returns three starters and should be a strength. The receivers are a weakness, as Deyon Williams is the biggest playmaker out there. It's time for the receivers to start producing. The defense returns Ahmad Brooks at linebacker, which should make that position a strength. Kai Parham also returns at linebacker, making this a solid duo. Brennan Schmidt returns for his fourth year as a starter on the defensive line. Tony Franklin and Marcus Hamilton struggled at times in the secondary last year, but got better as the year went on. The safeties are young and inexperienced. With road trips to Maryland, Boston College, and Miami on the schedule, to go along with home games against Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech, this team has a very tough schedule. They looked bad against Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Miami last year, not to mention the loss to Fresno State in the bowl game. They have to improve over last years 8-4 team, or else this year's team (thanks to their schedule) is looking at a losing record.

5. North Carolina (3-8, 1-7)- One of the great feel good stories of last year was the Tar Heels rise from the ashes to be a bowl team from the ACC, including a win over previously unbeaten Miami. The offense lost a lot. One of those places was not on the offensive line, where four previous starters return. Also, receiver is a very deep position on this team, with Derrele Mitchell and Jarwarski Pollock both returning. They are a good, speedy group. However, Matt Baker is the new quarterback. If he can find a way to get the receivers the ball, he'll be OK. Running backs Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards are both decent options. The defense could hinge on how well the defensive line holds up. The return of Chase Page from injury should help that. The senior linebackers look to improve, lead by Doug Justice and Jeff Longhany. The secondary is fast and the safeties are hard hitters. Coach John Bunting thinks the defense should be much improved, which means there may not be as much fall off as most seem to think there will be this year for the Tar Heels. An out of conference schedule that includes Wisconsin, Louisville, and Utah will not help the Heels get any easy wins.

6. Duke (2-9, 0-8)- Mike Schneider returns at quarterback, but needs to show a lot of improvement to hold onto his job. Cedric Dargan is an above average running back when he is healthy. Tight end Ben Patrick might be the bright spot on the offense. Ronnie Elliott is a pretty good receiver. The offensive line needs a lot of work, with just one returning starter. The defense is lead by the defensive line, which was a weakness last year. Phillip Alexander is returning from injury and should be a force on the line. John Talley is a great cornerback that should find a lot of interceptions this year. The linebackers are undersized and need to start making more big plays on the defense. If they can beat East Carolina, VMI, and Navy, the Blue Devils have a chance to start 3-2. After that, it is all downhill, but a nice start would be a nice change for the Blue Devils.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
How well will this game be attended? All the way from Boston and Virginia, all the way down to Jacksonville, Florida. This could be interesting. In the end, Vick and the stout Hokies defense will provide plenty of punishment, giving the Hokies a 21-13 win over the Eagles.

ALL ACC
Offense
QB Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson
RB Chris Barclay, Wake Forest
RB P.J. Daniels, Georgia Tech
WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
WR Eddie Royal, Virginia Tech
TE Jeff King, Virginia Tech
OL Eric Winston, Miami
OL D'Brickshaw Ferguson, Virginia
OL Will Montgomery, Virginia Tech
OL Leroy Harris, North Carolina State
OL Steve Vallos, Wake Forest

Defense
DL Mathia Kiwanuka, Boston College
DL Darryl Tapp, North Carolina State
DL Orien Harris, Miami
DL Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech
LB Ahmad Brooks, Virginia
LB D'Qwell Jackson, Maryland
LB Gerris Wilkinson, Georgia Tech
DB Antonio Cromartie, Florida State
DB Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech
DB Kelly Jennings, Miami
DB Tye Hill, Clemson

Specialists
K Brandon Pace, Virginia Tech
P Adam Podlesh, Maryland
KR Will Blackmon, Boston College
PR Devin Hester, Miami

Monday, August 01, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Brief Look at USC

It is getting close to that time. It will be the magical time of year that college football hits its stride again. In a little over five months from now, the national champion will be crowned in Pasadena, California.

A lot has changed since the end of last season. The AP Poll pulled out of the BCS rankings, and ESPN took its name off of the Coaches Poll since they agreed to publish their rankings just after the last week of the season. The AP Poll was replaced in the BCS rankings by the Harris Poll, which will not come out until late September, and will be voted on by former players, coaches, and media members. How will this effect the system? Not one bit. The system still has the same flaws as before and will look exactly the same on paper as last year's formula did.

The biggest question heading into the season is whether or not USC can win another national title. If they win it this year, they would become the first team ever to win three consecutive AP Poll national titles. It is a touchy subject over whether or not they will have truly won three straight as LSU won the BCS and Coaches titles in 2003, while USC won the AP title. USC is popularly considered the "real" national champion from 2003, hence people talking about their possibility for a threepeat.

However, the Trojans have some question marks. The biggest is just how important was Norm Chow to the offense? The former offensive coordinator took a job with the NFL's Tennessee Titans this offseason, and his importance cannot be overstated. He will be missed. But with how experienced and how good the Trojans are, does it matter? Who will beat them? Arizona State? Oregon? Hawaii? Arkansas? California? UCLA? Notre Dame? There is no one on their schedule that should be less than a touchdown underdog to them. Of course, that means very little if they do not win their games.

Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush make up one of the best backfields in America. Combine that with the actual starting running back, LenDale White, and a solid but young receiving group, and this offense could be the most explosive in the country. It doesn't hurt things any that this defense is still among the nation's best, even though Maneul Wright's defection to the NFL severely hurts their depth at defensive line. This team is loaded at every position, and has to be considered the favorite and the preseason number one team in the country.

The number two spot is wildly unpredictable. Tennessee, Texas, LSU, Florida, Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan have all been listed as number two by different publications. Each team has very large expectations for the coming year. We'll dive into those teams later on in the week. Also, look for the biggest games of September, the most overlooked games of September, and my picks on the coming season. All that and more will be coming in the weeks ahead as we countdown to the beginning of the season.