August 29, 2007

2007 All-Bo Shue Team

2007 Preseason First Team All-Bo Shue


QB – John David Booty, Sr. USC

RB – Darren McFadden, Sr. Arkansas

RB – Jonathan Stewart, Jr. Oregon

WR – Limas Sweed, Sr. Texas

WR – Mario Manningham, Jr. Michigan

TE – Fred Davis, Sr. USC

C – John Sullivan, Sr. Notre Dame

G – Jordan Grimes, Sr. Purdue

G – Will Arnold, Sr. LSU

T – Sam Baker, Sr. USC

T – Jake Long, Sr. Michigan

K – Alexis Serna, Sr. Oregon State

KR – Felix Jones, Jr. Arkansas


DE – Lawrence Jackson, Sr. USC

DT – Frank Okam, Sr. Texas

DT – Sedrick Ellis, Sr. USC

DE – Derrick Harvey, Jr. Florida

LB – Keith Rivers, Sr. USC

LB – Rey Maualuga, Jr. USC

LB – Dan Connor, Sr. Penn State

CB – Terrell Thomas, Sr. USC

CB – Antoine Cason, Sr. Arizona

FS – Kenny Phillips, Jr. Miami (Fla.)

SS – Myron Rolle, So. Florida State

P – Britton Colquitt, Jr. Tennessee

PR – DeSean Jackson, Jr. California

2007 Preseason Second Team All-Bo Shue


QB – Brian Brohm, Sr. Louisville

RB – Steve Slaton, Jr. West Virginia

RB – Mike Hart, Sr. Michigan

WR – DeSean Jackson, Jr. California

WR – Adarius Bowman, Sr. Oklahoma State

TE – Martellus Bennett, Jr. Texas A&M

C – Adam Spieker, Sr. Missouri

G – Cedric Dockery, Jr. Texas

G – Chilo Rachal, Jr. USC

T – Alex Boone, Jr. Ohio State

T – Andre Smith, So. Alabama

K – Sam Swank, Jr. Wake Forest

KR – Jonathan Steward, Jr. Oregon


DE – Tommy Blake, Sr. TCU

DT – DeMario Pressley, Jr. NC State

DT – Glenn Dorsey, Sr. LSU

DE – Bruce Davis, Sr. UCLA

LB – Ali Highsmith, Sr. LSU

LB – Vince Hall, Sr. Virginia Tech

LB – James Laurinaitis, Jr. Ohio State

CB – Justin King, Jr. Penn State

CB – Brandon Flowers, Jr. Virginia Tech

FS – Taylor Mays, So. USC

SS – Tom Zbikowski, Sr. Notre Dame

P – Geoff Price, Sr. Notre Dame

PR – Rafael Little, Sr. Kentucky

August 28, 2007

2007 College Football TOP 25 Predictions

Main factors going into my top 25 picks include the team’s talent, chemistry, and schedule. My predictions are for rankings at the end of the year, after all the bowl games. Regular season predicted records will be in parenthesis following the team names. Why should you believe in my predictions? Here is the track record of my predictions from 2005 and last year:

* In 2005, neither Alabama or Penn State were in the preseason top 25 of the AP and Coache’s polls, but I had them ranked #14 and 13 respectively in my rankings. They ended up finishing #8 and #3 respectively at the end of the year.

* Last year, I predicted that there might not be an undefeated National Champion. This happened to be the truth as Florida won the title despite a loss. Although I had Florida outside of the top 10, I predicted that they will improve in Meyer’s second year as head coach; however, nobody expected them to win the national title with such a brutal schedule!

* Texas was my pick for #1 last year. I expected them to lose one of the road games against Nebraska or Texas Tech, possibly Kansas State. Although Texas handled Nebraska and Tech, they did stumble against KSU as I predicted.

* I had USC losing to a weaker Pac 10 team on the road after demolishing Arkansas in the opener. Both happened, but instead of losing to Arizona according to my predictions, they lost to Oregon State.

* I had Louisville as a one-loss team in 2006 losing only to Rutgers. Louisville ended the season with a 12-1 record (including bowl game) with the only loss against, guess who? Rutgers.

* I expected Auburn to finish #5 with a 10-2 record (not including bowl). They finished #9 AP and #8 Coaches with an 11-2 (bowl) record. My predicted losses were against lesser opponents in South Carolina and Arkansas while beating powerhouses LSU and Florida. They managed to beat both LSU and Florida, lost to Arkansas, but unfortunately lost to Georgia instead of South Carolina for their second loss. Well, close enough.

* A list of big games that I predicted correctly: Louisville beat West Virginia, Louisville beat Miami, Tennessee beat California, Auburn beat LSU, Auburn beat Florida, Florida State beat Miami, Florida beat LSU, Ohio State beat Michigan, Notre Dame beat Penn State, Ohio State beat Penn State. And what I considered to be major upsets: Rutgers beat Louisville, Arkansas beat Auburn, Arkansas beat Tennessee, Wisconsin beat Penn State, Boston College beat Virginia Tech.

* My preseason rankings for 2006 beat both Phil Steele and Athlon in terms of accuracy and only trailed Sporting News out of the three.

1. USC (12-0)

Strong offensive backfield and a stronger defense, need I say more? Prior to last season, USC has been in the +20s in turnovers, but only +4 last year, dropping them to a 2-loss season. Head coach Pete Carroll stresses forcing turnovers so I expect that number to jump up to the plus high-teens to the twenties again. Don’t be surprised if half of the Pac 10 All-Conference Defensive Team are Trojans by the end of the year. RB Emmanuel Moody (#6RB, meaning 6th ranked recruit at the RB position when he came out of high school) and Marc Tyler (#1RB) won’t play due to injuries (Moody will transfer), but nobody is losing sleep as the backfield is deeper than the Agent Smiths in whichever Matrix sequel that is. Sr. Chauncey Washington (#12RB) and so. Stafon Johnson (#3RB) should start the season, but freshman Joe McKnight (#3DB) might take over the tailback position by the end of the year. One interesting fact is freshman sensation QB Mitch Mustain of Arkansas transferred to USC during the offseason. Watch out for the game at Oregon right after going to South Bend. The game at Arizona State right before the grudge game against UCLA might also be dangerous. We’ve seen USC eat up non-conference BCS teams in the last five years, Nebraska should be no different this year.

2. Penn State (12-0)

You won’t see Penn State this high in any preseason polls, but this is a team that had their only losses come against top ten teams either at the time of the game or at the end of the season. Tony Hunt is gone at RB, but this will the Anthony Morelli’s (#6QB) breakout year. The Lions lose nearly 25 sacks on defense, but MLB Dan Connor (#3LB) leads a group of green yet talented defenders. The defensive backs are the best in the Big Ten with three returning starters and sophomore AJ Wallace (#4DB) is the projected corner replacement. CB Justin King (#4DB) will be a Thorpe Finalist and might notch a few receptions as a flanker. Penn State’s hardest game comes at Michigan, however I expect them to win against a worn down Wolverines team that faces Notre Dame and Oregon in the previous two weeks. The most dangerous game is the following week at Illinois, where a sleeper Illioni team might sneak up on a few of the big boys this year. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all comes to the 100,000 plus Death Valley crowd. Penn State finishes the season with two road games, but against lowly Temple and lifeless MSU.

3. Virginia Tech (11-1) lose at Georgia Tech

No, Virginia Tech’s football team will not be better just because of what happened on campus in the spring. However, it might give the players a boost at the beginning of the season, but will take a mental toll towards season’s end. The offense returns virtually everyone and the defense returns all the key parts. QB Sean Glennon had a year to mature and will be complemented by RB Branden Ore. The strength of the defense resides in the linebacking core of Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. They are joined by CBs Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris (#5) to form a terrific defensive back seven. Creating turnovers will be a key as last year, Virginia Tech combined for -7 in turnovers in their only three losses. I expect Tech to upset LSU early on and lose the road game to Georgia Tech for their only blemish.

4. Texas (10-2) lose to Nebraska, at Oklahoma State

Colt McCoy’s (#11QB) injury derailed Texas’ hope for the Big 12 Championship. They lose some linemen and DBs, but replaces them with more talented ones. The offensive line gets Cedric Dockery (#10OL) back from injury and Tony Hills. The defensive back unit could not have gotten any worse at the end of the year giving up five 300 yard passing game including 519 to Texas Tech. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik left for Iowa State as Larry MacDuff and Duane Akina takes his place. The schedule is manageable, but suspensions in the offseason will affect the Longhorns on the field. Sergio Kindle (#1LB) and Henry Melton (#13RB) were arrested for driving under the influence and probably will be in Mac Brown’s dog house for the season. I expect a tough game early against TCU, followed by the showdown in Dallas against Oklahoma. The Longhorns should get through the first half, but will be upset at home by Nebraska and the following week against OSU. I expect them to be fully prepared for the game against A&M in College Station after having a week off.

5. Rutgers (11-1) lose at Louisville

Last year’s post game image at Rutgers Stadium after the win against #3 Louisville is what every fan wants to experience. Ray Rice and crew are back for more in 2007. They don’t have FB Brian Leonard anymore, but I think QB Mike Teel is ready to be a play maker instead of just someone to hand Rice the ball. They need to retool a bit on defense, but the first three games will allow them to do so. Two true freshmen might contribute right away in guard Anthony Davis (#7OL) and linebacker Manny Abreu (#15LB). The game against USF will be tough coming on a short week (the game is on Thursday). Then, West Virginia comes into town the following week. Even if Rutgers wins both, they still need to watch out for the game at Connecticut. There was a similar situation last year when the Scarlet Knights got blown out at Cincinnati one week after upsetting #3 Louisville and rising to #7 in the polls. The showdown in Louisville is the last game of the season after a bye week. The Cardinal offense might be too much for the defense to handle.

6. Michigan (10-2) lose to Penn State, at Michigan State

The offense returns with all the skills positions, but the defense loses key veterans. We all know what Chad Henne (#1QB), Mike Hart (#11RB), and Mario Manningham (#6WR) can do from the last few years. They receive protection from a solid line led by All-American candidate Jake Long. It seems like WR Adrian Arrington who had 8 TD receptions in 2006 will will start in the opener after being suspended for the spring. Main concern will be on the defense. The question is whether Michigan can reload after losing key players Prescott Burgess, Leon Hall, and LaMarr Woodley. Even with last year’s defense, the Wolverines surrendered 707 passing yards in the last two games against Ohio State and USC. The defense is why I do not have Michigan in the top 5. They can potentially go 0-3 in the last three games against Michigan State and Wisconsin on the road and Ohio State at home.

7. West Virginia (10-2) lose at South Florida, at Rutgers

The Mountaineers became everyone’s dark horse national title winner a year ago with the dynamic duo of Steve Slaton and Pat White. Their annual match up with Louisville is becoming a great rivalry since both teams are expected to be undefeated going into it. The personnel is pretty much in tack for another run at the championship, but I doubt if their defense will hold up. Last season, the Mountaineers surrendered an average of 315 passing yards per game in the last 6, going 4-2, but could easily be 2-4. I don’t think West Virginia will win the Big East due to their schedule. The season opens with four of the first six games on the road. They will lose against South Florida for the second year and expect Rutgers to take out the frustration from last year’s triple OT loss in this year’s game in New Brunswick. If not careful, Cincinnati might pull off an upset, catching the Mountaineers off guard after the victory vs. Louisville.

8. Georgia Tech (10-2) lose at Miami, Georgia

Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson are gone, but coming back is a stout defense that held ten opponents under 92 yards rushing. Sr. linebacker Philip Wheeler leads the group that returns eight starters. Everyone expect Tech to have a drop off on offense, but I believe they’ll be better. RB Tashard Choice is coming off of a spectacular season. I expect him to be better in 2007 with the middle of the offensive line staying intact. QB Reggie Ball was a four-year starter, but his erratic 44.4% completions in 2006 won’t be missed. I expect Taylor Bennett to do a fine job stepping in. Another Johnson, James Johnson will be the go-to receiver. Although not the All-American Calvin was, he is good enough to keep the chains moving. Despite only a 9-5 record, last year was a tremendous success where the Yellow Jackets beat Virginia Tech and Miami while reaching the ACC Championship game. The blowout loss to Clemson was the only sore point as the defense yielded an uncharacteristic 321 rushing yards. The other four losses were 4 points to Notre Dame, 3 points to Georgia, 3 points to Wake Forest and 3 points in the bowl to West Virginia (despite giving up 311 rushing yards). In the last three losses to Georgia, WF, and WVU, Tech suffered -2 in turnovers in all three games. In 2007, Tech will avenge the losses to ND and Clemson, but will lose at Miami on the end of back-to-back away games. They will be fully prepared for Virginia Tech. Georgia will once again get the better of their in-state rivals, but Tech will capture the ACC by beating Clemson a second time.

9. Oklahoma (10-2) lose to Texas, at Texas Tech

This will be Oklahoma’s best team since 2004. Add a manageable schedule to that and you get another 10-win season and possibly a national title. I think the running back situation is actually pretty even with last year despite losing Adrian Peterson. Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray (#5RB) will fill in and do well since there won’t be as much expectation. Patrick did a great job filling in for Peterson last year and will build upon that. The QB situation is still undecided, but this is a school where Jason White won the Heisman, so does it really matter who plays QB? As long as they’re surrounded by weapons in the form of All-American Malcolm Kelly (#4WR) and Juaquin Iglesias. Last year’s defense did not pressure the quarterback much with a season high of five against lowly Baylor. This year’s team loses Rufus Alexander, Zach Latimer, CJ Ah You, and Larry Birdine. Although they have one of the best secondaries in the country, it will mean nothing unless the front seven gels. In the last three games last year, OU narrowly escaped Oklahoma State and Nebraska, needing +5 turnover margin to beat Nebraska 21-7, before losing to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl we all know too well. All the big games against Miami, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State are at home, with the annual Red River Rivalry against Texas at the neutral Cotton bowl. I expect OU to win all their home games although Miami, Missouri, and Texas A&M will all be tough ones. The Sooners will also lose in Lubbock where Texas Tech will pick apart the secondary without much pressure up front.

10. LSU (9-3) lose to Virginia Tech, at Kentucky, Auburn

Everyone wants to see a Les Miles vs. Pete Carroll media day right before the BCS Championship Game, but if you ask me, Miles isn’t even on the same level yet. He inherited a talented team and probably will win with Saban’s players much like Urban Meyer won with Ron Zook’s players, but as we saw last year, it’s hard to come up unscathed in the SEC, not to mention having a title contender as a non-conference game. I don’t expect a drop off at the QB position. This team does not appear to have any holes except for the lack of turnovers forced. All-American LaRon Landry leaves some big shoes to fill. Unlike QB JaMarcus Russell’s replacement Matt Flynn, who is a sr. with starting experience, Landry’s replacements Curtis Taylor and Danny McCray combined for 45 tackles in their entire career. However, the inexperience at safety will be made up by a pressuring defensive line and a pair of senior cornerbacks in the passing game. The running defense will be anchored by sr. tackle Glenn Dorsey (#7DL)and sr. linebacker Ali Highsmith. LSU finished last year at #3 in the polls after demolishing an overrated Notre Dame team 41-14. That is the only impressive win they had. Against the four ranked teams they played, they lost to Auburn 3-7 and Florida 10-23. They did beat Tennessee 28-24 and Arkansas 31-26, however, they could have lost to Tennessee if not for a TD with 9 seconds left. The Tigers also had to squeeze out a win in OT against lowly Mississippi at home. I expect them to lose to Kentucky led by gun-slinger QB Andre Woodson in a game sandwiched between games against Florida and Auburn. Despite two conference losses, I rank LSU above some two-loss teams since I expect them to win the SEC and go to the Sugar Bowl.

11. TCU (11-1) lose at Texas

This defense is good enough to maintain a .500 record in a BCS conference, not to mention the Mountain West Conference. It all starts with defensive ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, a pair of 1st Team MWC for the past two seasons. They will likely be first day draft choices in the next NFL draft. Other than Blake and Ortiz, there are seven more returning starters. This unit succumbed to only 61 rushing yards per game in 2007! While breaking in a new QB, the load will be on jr. running back Aaron Brown. The schedule pits TCU against three BCS conference foes in Baylor, Texas, and Stanford. I expect the Horned Frogs to breeze past Baylor and Stanford while losing a close one to Texas. The conference slate is not as easy as you might think. The game against Utah will likely determine the conference champs. The visit to Provo against BYU will also be crucial. TCU is my pick for the non-BCS conference team to make a BCS bowl game.

12. Florida State (10-2) lose at Clemson, at Virginia Tech

Unlike previous years, this Florida State team will not be expected to challege for the national title. However, I believe this team will do well without the expectations. We all know FSU is loaded with talent, so the change at offensive coordinator could rejuvenate the club. Jimbo Fisher comes over from LSU to groom Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee. The offense should put up bigger numbers under Fisher while the defense is as stout as ever with eight returning starters. Safety Myron Rolle is one of the best and one of my favorite college players today. The schedule is pretty tough, opening on the road at Clemson as Labor Day Monday’s primetime featured game. After opening the season against Miami for the last few years, Clemson should not pose as a problem. However, Florida State will drop a pair on the road towards the end of the season. Boston College will sneak up on the Seminoles as they anticipate for Virginia Tech the following weekend.

13. Tennessee (10-2) lose at California, at Florida

Boy it was tough picking out the SEC East winner. Four teams were in consideration, but all four with doubts. Georgia has a young QB plus heavy losses on the defensive line and linebacker positions. Florida only returns two starters on defense. South Carolina is still unproven even though they’ve made big improvements under two years with Spurrier as head coach. Tennessee wins by default with the least amount of doubts. The only blatant weakness for the Volunteers is at wide outs. They lose the top three receivers including first round pick Robert Meachem, but then again, Tennessee has never had a problem finding the next go-to guy at WR. The defense should be a rock with an experienced linebacking crew headed by Jerod Mayo. They must improve on the 147 rushing ypg given up last year. With both starting DEs returning and a pair of upperclassmen (JT Mapu and Demonte Bolden) at DT, I expect production to improve. The schedule is brutal early on, but a lot better than the rest of the SEC West. Tennessee faced Cal and Florida on the road in September, but only has one tough road game the rest of the year at Alabama. The Crimson Tide had some players suspended at the beginning of the year so I expect Tennessee to exploit that in October. Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas all comes to Knoxville this season.

14. Missouri (10-2) lose at Oklahoma, Texas A&M

Everyone is talking about the Big 12 South since possibly five of the six teams from the South will make it to a bowl game. Nobody is talking about the North Division, and even if they are, Nebraska is headlining all the papers with a new-age aerial attack. Overshadowed by all of this is a solid Missouri team led by dark horse Heisman candidate Chase Daniels (#7QB). Daniels and RB Tony Temple (#4QB) will combine for more than 2,500 rushing yards in 2007. The three leading receivers also returns this season. There is no doubt Missouri can score with the best of them, but the defense returns only five starters while losing five of the top seven tacklers including Xzavie Jackson and Brian Smith who combined for 15 sacks. Despite that, the defensive line is still full of capable players such as Evander Hood and Lorenzo Williams. The schedule starts off with the potential of an upset by Illinois. The battle of the Big 12 North comes in a game against Nebraska. Since the game is in Columbia, MO following a bye week for Missouri, I’ll take them over the Huskers. The two losses will come against Big 12 opponents at Oklahoma and against Texas A&M.

15. Boise State (11-1) lose at Fresno State

Boise State will take a step back this year with the departure of Jared Zabransky, the top four leading receivers, and some key players on the defensive line. However, running back Ian Johnson is back to add to his 3rd Team All-American sophomoric performance from a year ago. The offensive line returns fairly intact to allow the new position players to settle down. The toughest games will be in-conference opponents Fresno State and Nevada. I don’t think another undefeated season is in the making due to so much personnel loss, but I do expect Boise State to beat their 3rd BCS Conference opponent in the last three years (Washington). An end-of-the-year trip to Hawaii might determine who goes to a BCS game.

16. Florida (9-3) lose at LSU, at South Carolina, Florida State

What Florida did last year is simply phenomenal. Urban Meyer’s Gators went from not even in the championship conversation to handing Ohio State a beat down for the ages. The defense surrendered 82 yards of total offense in the Championship Game! Unfortunately, that same defense only returns two starters, one being All-American candidate Derrick Harvey (#4DL). This year, Meyer will have his own QB (Tim Tebow) and RB (Kestahn Moore). We will see how his personnel fair compared to mostly Ron Zooks players from the previous two years. I don’t see a repeat champion as Florida has Tennessee, Auburn, and Florida State at home, LSU and South Carolina on the road, and Georgia at a neutral site. However, it’ll be interesting to see Urban Meyer sticking at a place for more than two years (left Bowling Green and Utah after two seasons prior to coming to Florida). Although Florida did win the national title last year, I can’t see why both polls have Florida in the top 10 (#6 in AP, #3 in USA Today). We’re talking about a team with only eight returning starters!

17. Iowa (9-3) lose at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Illinois

Iowa has been disappointing the last two seasons after finishing three years in a row in the top ten. Albert Young back at RB with talented Jake Christensen (#6QB) to lead a potent offense with a rebuilt offensive line. I am not concerned due to Ferentz’s background as an excellent offensive line coach. Plenty of blue-chippers will get a shot at starting on the line and will succeed at it. The defense returns eight, including leading tackler, Mike Klinkenborg. The team had -11 in turnovers last season. This should improve in 2007. Iowa definitely has the talent and the schedule to win it all (does not have to play Michigan or Ohio State). However, they do not get a bye week all year, ending the season on November 17th. We all saw what happened when Ohio State had the long layoff between last year’s Michigan game and the BCS Championship game. I expect Iowa to lose whatever bowl game they go to.

18. Ohio State (9-3) lose at Purdue, at Penn State, at Michigan

In 2007, everyone will remember the Buckeyes team that got lit up in the BCS Championship game instead of the one that went 12-0 and dominated the regular season. If not for the numerous weeks between the Michigan game and the National Championship game, I think Ohio State would have won the game easily (another reason for a conference championship game). Despite all that, we tend to forget what a great job head coach Jim Tressel and defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio did with a defense that returned only two starters! The Key to that defense, James Laurinaitis is back, as are most of the defensive backs. The offense loses Heisman winner Troy Smith, leading rusher Antonio Pittman, wide receivers Ted Gin and Anthony Gonzalez. The offensive line stars left tackle Alex Boone (#2OL) and should relieve some growing pains surely to be experienced by running backs Chris Wells (#1RB) and Maurice Wells (#11RB). Instead of the high-scoring offense seen last year, I expect Ohio State to play Tressel ball again, which is a sufficient offense based on a stout defense. In the close win against Michigan and the loss against Florida last year, Ohio State was -5 in turnovers while going +14 in other games. The schedule is harder this year, having key conference games against Penn State and Michigan on the road. The Buckeyes do get Wisconsin at home. I think anything more than 9 wins is just too much to ask for from this young offensive squad.

19. UCLA (9-3) lose at Utah, at Oregon St., at USC

UCLA has a very good returning defense for 2007. They only lose Justin Hickman who had 12.5 sacks last year, but Bruce Davis returns with his 12.5 sacks at the other DE position. Chris Horton returns as the leading tackler at the SS spot. The offense also returns 10 starters including former #1 prospect out of high school Ben Olson (#1QB). Lots of expectations are being built up for the 2007 Bruins. I don’t think they’ll respond well to the pressure, especially with two early games where BYU and Utah might sneak up on them. From previous years, we know that the Pac 10 is a pretty even conference. Even USC could not avoid unexpected upsets from Oregon State and UCLA last year. I won’t be surprised if the Bruins drop one to Washington, Washinton State, Arizona, or Arizona State.

20. Clemson (9-3) lose at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, at South Carolina

I pick Clemson to be in the top 25 mainly due to the combo backs James Davis and CJ Spiller who combined for 2125 rushing yards last year. However, they must replace QB Will Proctor and unanimous All-American defensive end Gaines Adams. Cullen Harper is the starting QB for now until hot recruit Willy Korn (#2QB) gets a grasp of the offense. The defense returns five of the front seven. Replacing Adams is Ricky Sapp (#5LB) who had four sacks as a true frosh. Both CBs depart, but Clemson has a track record of finishing strong in the pass defense category. They were torched by the aerial attack of South Carolina and Kentucky last year, so I expect the unit to be weaker until the CB position gets more experience. The Tigers are set to start a pair of sophomores at CB against Florida State in Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor. The Florida State game is Clemson’s opener, and what a way to open the season than to play a division rival on Labor Day Monday night. I expect Clemson to squeeze by in a defensive struggle. The schedule then drifts off into three sub-par teams in Louisiana Monroe, Furman, and NC State before getting Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech back-to-back. The rest of the season should be no competition with the exception of Boston College and South Carolina. The Gamecocks had 492 yards on Clemson last year on a balanced attack (208 rushing, 284 passing) and should give them problems again in 2007.

21. Louisville (8-4) lose at Cincinnati, at West Virginia, at USF, Rutgers

Head coach Bobby Petrino is gone to coach the Vick-less Falcons, but Brian Brohm (#8QB) stayed for his senior year. He will be coached by former Tulsa HC Steve Kragthorpe who has a history of coaching QBs with the Buffalo Bills. Kragthorpe was able to turn the Tulsa squad around to three-eight win seasons after back-to-back one win seasons under previous coach Keith Burns. The offensive coordinators will be Brian’s older brother Jeff Brohm and Charlie Stubbs. Mario Urrutia will be Brohm’s main target while Anthony Allen will get the first shot to replace Michael Bush and Kolby Smith at running back. The defense loses four of the top five tacklers including first round pick Amobi Okoye. They do get Miami transfer Willie Williams (#1LB) at linebacker. I like the new head coach and the offense, but the defense is in for a struggle against offensive-minded teams like West Virginia and USF. The schedule is easy early on, with the potential of having Louisville in the top five with a 6-0 start. The game at Cincinnati is a potential upset with the Wildcats returning eight starters on either side of the ball. This is the team that only lost by six last year at Louisville. From there, the bottom might fall out with back-to-back road games against WVU and USF, not to mention Pittsburgh and Rutgers at home.

22. California (9-3) lose at UCLA, at Arizona St., USC

Jeff Tedford is an offensive-minded coach with all his weapons back in QB Nate Longshore, RB Justin Forsett, and WR DeSean Jackson (#1WR). Forsett was not a starter, but ran for 626 last year and 999 yards in 2005 behind Marshawn Lynch. However, the defense loses Desmond Bishop, Daymeion Hughes, and Brandon Mebane. Even with the defensive trio, the Golden Bears surrendered 366 ypg last year. I see California as the prototypical Pac 10 team in 2007; all offense and no defense. I’ll give them the opener vs. Tennessee, but they might not break .500 this year.

23. Miami (8-4) lose at Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, at Florida St., at Virginia Tech

The cupboard is full with 16 returning starters, nine on offense. QB Kyle Wright has one last shot at redemption being the number one QB prospect out of high school. Edgerrin James’ cousin Javarris James rushed for over 800 yards as a freshman and will be the featured back in 2007. Lance Leggett and Sam Shields can both run sub-4.4s at WR. The offensive line is massive with plenty of blue chippers. The defense is led by All-American candidates Calais Campbell at DE and Kenny Phillips (#2DB) at safety. All in all, this team is loaded with talent, but after a disappointing 7-6 season and a fired head coach, Miami needs to prove to everyone they can still dominate. The defense was solid all year long in 2006 giving up an average of 68 rushing ypg and 188 passing ypg. Against Miami's defense, nobody passed for more than 300 (including Brian Brohm of Louisville, only 294), and only Virginia rushed for over 100 yards. However, the offense only averaged 3.5 yards per carry on the year with 197 passing ypg. The team’s nose dive after the Duke game is mainly due to turnovers. In the last five regular season games, the Hurricanes had a -11 turnover ratio resulting in a 1-4 record. Even in the game against Duke where 13 players were suspended, Miami needed a +4 turnover ratio to barely beat the Blue Devils 20-15. I expect Miami’s defense to get them back to an eight-win team in 2007. Everyone on the schedule is beatable, depending mostly on the performance of the offense.

24. Oklahoma State (9-3) lose at Texas A&M, Nebraska, at Oklahoma

Bobby Reid (#5QB), Dantrell Savage (#11RB JC), and Adarius Bowman (#16WR) makes one of the best triumvirates in college football today. Keith Toston added 631 rushing yards as a true freshman running back last year and will provide Savage with plenty of support. The defense returns seven starters, but none on the front line. Nathan Peterson does return with eight sacks from last year at defensive end. This year’s star recruit Richetti Jones (#9DL) might see some time at end as well. The schedule starts on the road against Georgia and ends on the road against Oklahoma; it is not a walk in the park by any means. However, they do have Division I-AA Sam Houston State in between games with Texas Tech and Texas A&M. They have a terrific shot at upsetting Texas at home since they get the Longhorns after an off-week right after Texas’ tilt against Nebraska. I almost picked OSU to upset OU in their annual showdown, but looking back, OSU last beat OU in 2002 and that was in Stillwater. This year’s game is in Norman where OU dominated the last two games with a combined 94-23 scoring margin.

25. Illinois (9-3) lose to Missouri, Penn State, Michigan

Ron Zook’s recruiting prowess will have him beating Wisconsin and Ohio State this year. I expect Isiah “Juice” Williams (#11QB) to improve in his second year at QB along with blue-chip freshman Arrelious Benn (#1WR). Nine starters return on defense to form one of the more veteran squads in the Big Ten. Despite finishing last in the conference, Illinois actually outgained opponents by 24 ypg, which was 4th best in the conference! The Illioni suffered negative turnover ratios in the last five years. That has to change and will change in 2007 to make them a winning team. The team will struggle out of the gate against a top ten-caliber Missouri team, but they will shock everyone by beating Wisconsin at home and Ohio State on the road. The 4-0 finish according to my prediction will land them in a bowl and great momentum for 2008.

August 24, 2007

2007 College Football Preview

A year ago, I was still feeling the aftershocks of enduring one of my alma maters schooling my other alma mater. What a difference a year makes!

Before I get started on my Top 25 prediction, I would like to comment on a few things about college football 2007.

1) The Trojans of USC are back! There are a lot of doubters out there due to their youth and haters due to their recent success, but believe me, this team is more substance than hype in 2007. The team is built on a defense that could go down as the best of all time while the offense revolves around a senior quarterback and great line. That is how success starts in college football. The biggest concerns are at the kicker position and whether USC can generate enough turnovers. I’m not worried about either; who needs a kicker when you have an offense and defense like SC? I guarantee USC will not lose a game this year due to its kicking game. Pete Carroll’s teams are known for being 20+ in the turnover category. Last year was a fluke.

2) No one outside of the BCS Conferences should even dream about winning the Heisman. Writers have always wanted to make the Heisman trophy a best player contest, but let’s face the truth, it is about the team they play for as well. A lot of players from non-BCS schools garnished attention for the award like Steve McNair from Alcorn State and Ladanian Tomlinson of TCU, but no one from a non-BCS team has made a serious push for the award since Marshall Faulk of San Diego State back in 1992. Even then, he lost to Gino Torretta, a good but not great QB playing for a great Miami team. Players like Randy Moss and Alex Smith made it as Heisman finalists, but did not have realistic chances of winning. So for all the Colt Brennan fans, just give up already. At least he can still look forward to an NFL career, something few Heisman-winning QBs can say.

3) Ranking the conferences: 1. Pac 10 – 2, 2-t. Big East – 7, 2-t. ACC – 7, 4. Big 12 – 8, 5-t. SEC – 9, 5-t. Big Ten – 9. That is the number of non-Division I-A schools each conference plays. Since each conference does not have the same number of teams, if we calculate the average number of non-DI-A schools each team in each conference plays, we will have the following: 1. Pac 10 – 0.200 per team, 2. ACC – 0.583, 3. Big 12 – 0.667, 4-t. SEC – 0.750, 4-t. Big Ten – 0.750, 6. Big East – 0.875. One thing we can see from this conference ranking is that the Pac 10 is by far the conference that schedules the least cupcake teams. It is one thing for Indiana and Baylor to schedule Indiana State and Texas State, but it is another for traditional powerhouses expecting to challenge for the the national title to schedule I-AA teams. Florida, Auburn, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State should be ashamed of themselves for scheduling Western Kentucky, Tennessee Tech, Appalachian State, The Citadel, and Youngstown State. Apparently Auburn did not learn from their mistake of scheduling The Citadel in 2004 when they were left out of the championship by once again scheduling a cupcake in Tennessee Tech. I applaud Miami (Fl) for taking on Oklahoma and Texas A&M, Tennessee and California for their two-game series, Florida State and Alabama for their series, UCLA for taking on strong mid-majors in BYU and Utah, Oregon for playing Michigan following their series with Oklahoma a year ago, and Syracuse for playing three BCS out of conference teams (Washington, Iowa, and Illinois). These teams gives us what fans want to see and should be the model for other athletic directors.

I definitely will have less time to work on this year’s preview, but having written last year’s preview saves me much time for this year. I won’t have time to review every team in the 6 major conferences, but I will give a brief overview for the top 25 teams and where they will end up in the polls at the end of the season. The preview will be up before Thursday’s kickoffs!

March 09, 2007

NCAA Tournament Field Predictions

I haven't done this in three years, but the presence of USC, Texas, and Tennessee is enough reason for me to forecast the 65 teams that will make up the field. I wanted to squeeze this in before the selection committee announces the official teams so I can say "Ha! I told you!". So here are my 65 teams that will make it to the NCAA Tournament. I have grouped the teams according to their conference, with the conference tournament champion as the first team and the rest of the teams according to their predicted seeding in the tournament.

I will also mention the last five teams in and last five out of the tournament at the end.

A-EAST Albany

ACC North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland,
Boston College, Duke

A-SUN Belmont

A-10 George Washington, Xavier

BIG 12 Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State

BIG EAST Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Marquette,
Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova

BIG SKY Weber StateBIG SOUTH Winthrop

BIG TEN Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State,

BIG WEST Long Beach State

CAA VCU, Old Dominion, Drexel

CUSA Memphis

HORIZON Wright State, Butler

IVY Penn

MAAC Niagara

MID-CONT Oral Roberts

MAC Miami (OH)

MEAC Florida A&M

MVC Creighton, Southern Illinois, Missouri State

MWC Brigham Young, UNLV

NEC Central Connecticut State

OVC Eastern Kentucky

PAC 10 Oregon, UCLA, Washington State, USC, Arizona

PATRIOT Holy Cross

SEC Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky


SOUTHLAND *Texas A&M Corpus Christi

SWAC Jackson State

SUN BELT North Texas

WCC Gonzaga

WAC New Mexico State, Nevada

* or winner of Texas A&M CC and Northwestern State

Before Saturday, I thought this year's field is fairly weak at the bottom. Lots of the teams would have been bubbled out in other years but made the field this year. However, with a round of upsets in conference tournament finals, some of those bubble teams were knocked out. The automatic qualifier for New Mexico State, Wright State, and George Washington means three spots were taken from West Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State, which were my last three teams out. Now, let's see how accurate my predictions are!

February 05, 2007

Manning Gets His

Watching the Super Bowl without your favorite team (don't worry, Buffalo will be back in five years!) could leave you caring less about what happens. Not the case this year. If you are a fan of football, you should have cared about this Super Bowl for the simple fact that one of the most deserving athletes of our time has finally reached the pinnacle of his sport.

True, I might be biased being a Vols fan, but I believe Manning's first Super Bowl closely resembles John Elway's first title where everyone felt happy and relieved for him.

Manning has been criticized since his college days at Tennessee due to his inability to beat arch-rival Florida. Then Gators' coach Steve Spurrier once said "you can't spell Citrus without UT," to add insult to injury since every loss to Florida meant Manning and the Vols would have to play for the second best bowl for an SEC team, the Citrus Bowl.

Despite winning two Citrus Bowls, Manning's college career came to a bitter end. Even though the Vols lost to Florida, they made it to the Orange Bowl due to two conference losses by Florida. This was Manning's last chance to win a big game as a Volunteer, but things did not go as scripted as Nebraska pounded Tennessee en route to winning a share of the National Title. Other than losing his last college game, Manning also had to settle for second place in the Heisman voting despite going into the season as the favorite.

When it was time to put his college career behind him, Manning became the number one draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. It would be a blessing for many, but could also be a curse having to deal with lofty expectations. Manning lived up to those expectations by turning the Colts into a 13-3 team in his second year in the league. Despite leading the Colts into the playoffs as a high seed consistently over the years, being a perennial Pro-Bowler, and winning the MVP twice, Manning's sub-par post season performances are what people remember. His inability to beat counterpart Tom Brady and the Patriots has critics labeling Manning as one of the great athletes to never win the big game much like Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.

But just as it seems like Manning's window for redemption is shrinking with the departure of workhorse running back Edgerrin James, the Colts are again off to a fast 9-0 start in 2006. However, the Colts' slowed down as the regular season came to a close as their run defense struggled mightily. Even the lowly Texans were able to beat the Colts with Ron Dayne powering the running game.

By the time playoffs finally began, the Colts drew a tough matchup against one of the best running teams in Kansas City. Not many teams gave Indy a chance while many expected Larry Johnson of the Chiefs to go for 200 yards on the ground. Manning's critics were out again as the quarterback threw three interceptions in the game. However, the Indianapolis defense held Johnson to a meager 32 yards in a 23-8 victory.

Manning threw two more interceptions against the Ravens the following week, but once again, the Colts won with defense and the best kicker in football, Adam Vinatieri, who scored all 15 points for Indianapolis.

The following week had Manning facing arch rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots who are coming off a huge win to knock off number one seeded San Diego. Manning finally outshined Brady by passing for over 300 yards and accounted for two touchdowns. Colts reached the Super Bowl after beating New England 38-34.

Sunday's game against Chicago spelled doom for Manning and the Colts' offense as non-stop rain drenched south Florida. It looked like deja vu all over again for Manning as he threw an interception in the first series while trailing 7-0. Even after scoring, the clutch Vinatieri uncharacteristically went on to miss the extra point and a field goal later in the game. In the end, what was considered the weak link in the Colts' offense during the preseason clinched and sealed the Super Bowl win for Manning. The combination of rookie running back Joseph Addai and James' long -time backup Dominic Rhodes combined for 190 rushing yards and 74 receiving yards.

Peyton Manning's Odyssey towards the Super Bowl was complete when it was most unexpected. It brings joy to not just the Colts fans, but also Vols fans like myself and football fans regardless of their allegiance, because this is the story of a nice guy finally finishing first. Manning's Super Bowl win not only unloaded the immense weight of expectation from his shoulders, it also alleviated pressure built up from his father's career. Peyton's dad Archie was also a great NFL quarterback, but was never on a competitive team. I'm sure Peyton will enjoy this win with his father and brother Eli who plays for the Giants.

So to Peyton Manning, congratulations!

November 15, 2006

Big Game Preview

Michigan vs. Ohio State, I'm sure, is on the minds of all college football fans right about now. But the game that could be just as big in determining who appears in the national title game is California vs. Southern California. There are an ample of other good games including the two games, Maryland vs. Boston College and Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest, that will decide who will meet Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Alabama will try to upset Auburn in the traditional Iron Bowl. Some might be indifferent, but I am interested in seeing how the big 3 in the Big East, Rutgers, Louisville, and West Virginia, will do in their games this week. As for the other national title contenders, Notre Dame, Florida, Arkansas, Wisconsin, and LSU, they'll be playing Division II schools (yes, I count Buffalo as a D-II school), a military institute, and really bad Mississippi teams.

Michigan at Ohio State

It seems like years ago that Michigan beat then-number-two Notre Dame at South Bend and Ohio State demolished then-number-two Texas in Austin. The two schools have ever since disappeared from the headlines despite being number one and number two. There were some close calls, but there was never a doubt that the matchup in Columbus on November 18 was going to be the unprecedented regular season finale of a #1 Ohio State team against a #2 Michigan team. This game has built up enough hype to unseat the Texas vs. USC game earlier this year as the most hyped game ever! However, I will enjoy watching this game to the fullest while eating pre-Thanksgiving turkey and drinking beers with my friends. Sorry, but I’m not a big enough fan to dissect this game like the way I did the Texas/USC game. Let me just point out a few things that came to my head while thinking about this game.

1. Could there be a rematch in January?

We all know the winner is guaranteed a spot in the National Championship game, but few of us realize that the loser is not necessarily out of the national championship picture! The last time something like this happened was when Florida lost to Florida St. in the 1996 finale, but beat the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl to clinch the national title. Since the Michigan/Ohio State game will be the last game of the regular season for both sides, there are plenty of opportunities for other teams vying for the second spot to be beat, especially considering most of those teams will have to play a conference championship game.

Here’s the remaining schedule of other teams with a chance to play in the BCS Championship game:
1. Florida – at Florida State, SEC Championship game
2. USC – vs Cal, vs Notre Dame, at UCLA
3. Notre Dame – at USC
4. Arkansas – vs LSU, SEC Championship game
5. Rutgers – at West Virginia
6. West Virginia – vs South Florida, vs Rutgers
7. Louisville – at Pitt, UConn

Let’s assume the loser of the Michigan/Ohio State won’t drop lower than 5th behind Florida, USC, Notre Dame, and Arkansas in the AP and USA Today polls (ahead of Rutgers, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), the following scenario will ascend the losing team back into the #2 spot by bowl season: If Florida loses to Arkansas in the SEC Championship game, Arkansas loses to LSU prior to the matchup against Florida, Notre Dame loses to USC, USC loses to Cal or UCLA. Although it seems like a complicated what-if-situation, all those things are very likely to happen; there aren’t any David vs. Goliath events that need to happen.

But when the above happens, there will be a debate of whether an unbeaten Rutgers deserves to go to the national championship game. Well, the easiest solution is if Rutgers to lose to West Virginia in Morgantown, however, if Rutgers win, it will be a strong resume-building win against a top-10 team on the road. Wisconsin will also have a legit bid at the #2 BCS spot only if Ohio State loses to Michigan. Since Michigan beat Wisconsin earlier, the Wolverines will without a doubt be on top of the Badgers if both are one-loss teams.

2. Is this where the Heisman is won or lost?

Troy Smith has been the hands-down favorite to win the 2006 Heisman Trophy from day one. Many people think the Michigan game will make or break his quest for the Heisman, but I think he’s already won it. The closest competitions are Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn and Michigan’s Mike Hart. Quinn has good stats in every game this year and has only thrown interceptions in two games, but Notre Dame has a loss and three close wins (against Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and UCLA) where as Ohio State’s only close call was against Illinois. Hart is enjoying a fine junior season, but having to give up some carries to Kevin Grady and Jerome Jackson might have cost him some votes.

Rutgers’ Ray Rice and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden will also garner attention from Heisman voters, but neither players play at high-profiled football programs like a Ohio State, Notre Dame, or Michigan. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance, but both players will likely need to win out their remaining games and post monstrous numbers against tough opponents (Rice against West Virginia and McFadden against LSU and Florida). One or two more 200-yard, 3 touchdown performances by either backs will significantly help their causes. But even then, Troy Smith will need a 3 for 20, 5 interception-caliber game to open the door for Quinn, Hart, McFadden, and Rice.

3. I told you so!

Ok, I have to blow my own horn a little here. If you have read my season preview back in September, you would’ve known that I had Ohio State #3 (only behind my beloved Texas and USC) and Michigan #13. I don’t ask for credit picking Ohio State high since everyone had them as the favorites since pre-season, however, not the same with Michigan. Even though I had Michigan outside the top 10, they were my dark horse pick. Here’s what I wrote about them:

Prediction – Many suspects that Lloyd Carr’s job is in jeopardy after a 7-5 season in 2005 and losing to Ohio State for the 4th time in 5 tries. This will be a crucial year for Carr, and I think he will respond positively by challenging Ohio State for the Big Ten championship. I predict Michigan to lose road games at Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State, but all those are definitely winnable games. Michigan is my dark horse pick for the National Championship since they are much like the 2004 Auburn Tigers coming off of a disappointing season. As you remember, the 2004 Auburn team went from preseason favorites to win the championship to a 7-5 squad at the end of the year. No body really expected much out of them the following year despite having the core of the group back. Head coach Tommy Tuberville’s job was also in limbo after rumors that Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino will take his job. All Auburn did was going 13-0 in 2004. The most obvious similarities between the 2006 Wolverines and the 2004 Tigers is that both has a very good QB, 2 dominating running backs, an All-American caliber corner, and head coaches on the hot seat.

Well, that’s all from me. ENJOY THE GAME!

September 01, 2006

2006 College Football Preview

I believe I have finally recovered from the bittersweet, ultra-hyped, emotionally-exhausting, yet unforgettable 2005 college football season. Speculations of the USC-Texas matchup lasted almost the entire season which became a game of a lifetime, but nevertheless, left me worn out and indifferent as a fan of both teams due to the amount of hype for the game. The thing I hated most was the bickering between USC and UT with the lack of recognition for Reggie Bush’s Heisman win from Vince Young and the complete lack of class from Matt Leinart during his Rose Bowl post-game interview. Although a lesser game for the average fan, I enjoyed the 2004 National Championship game much more when one of my teams (USC) completely destroyed the arch rival (Oklahoma) of my other team (Texas). I hope 2006 would be a less mentally stressful season by not pitting USC, Texas, or Tennessee against each other, yet if either two gets to the championship game, what a feat it would be, since none are heavy favorites like last year.

I definitely will have less time to work on this year’s preview, but having written last year’s preview saves me much time for this year. I won’t have time to review every team in the 6 major conferences, but I will give my prediction for the top 15 teams at the end of the season with full reviews followed by teams 16-25 without reviews.

TOP 25

Main factors going into my top 25 picks include the team’s talent, chemistry, and schedule. There is not a solid pick for the top team this year, so it is likely that there won’t be an undefeated national champion this year, meaning teams with early tough games are still likely in the chase after a loss. Predicted regular season records are in ( ) after the team name followed by who I think they will lose to.

1. Texas (11-1) lose at Nebraska (or Texas Tech)

Offense – Everyone tends to write off Texas as a contender just because Vince Young is gone, but recruiting gurus should know that the state of Texas churns out football talent like they do cattle, and a majority of them goes to the University of Texas. Colt McCoy (#11QB) and Jevan Snead (#4QB) will attempt to do the impossible and replace Vince Young. One would expect a significant drop in production from the QB spot, but in recent years, several great QBs have been replaced by adequate successors such as Carson Palmer by Matt Leinart at USC, Chris Simms by Vince Young at Texas, David Greene by DJ Shockley at Georgia, Stefan LeFors by Brian Brohm at Louisville, Kyle Boller by Aaron Rodgers at Cal, and Rex Grossman by Chris Leak at Florida. McCoy will get the 1st start of the season after having a great off season, but Snead will definitely see some playing time. I believe a good offense is based on a good offensive line. The Texas OL should not see a significant drop off despite losing tackle Jonathan Scott and guard Will Allen. Tackle Justin Blalock (#7OL), center Lyle Sendlein, and guard Kasey Studdard will lead the way here. Running behind it will be sophomore sensation Jamaal Charles (#6RB), Henry Melton, and 5th year senior Selvin Young. Speedster Ramonce Taylor will transfer due to academic and legal troubles and will be missed, but his departure will not be crippling to the Longhorns. Mack Brown will likely start Selvin Young at the beginning of the season, but it would be ludicrous to think Charles getting less than 15 carries a game. The experienced OL will give whoever the QB enough time to throw to a deep and under-appreciated group of receivers. Limas Sweed (#17WR), Billy Pittman, Nate Jones (#21WR), and Jordan Shipley (#7WR) are the main receivers. I expect one of these receivers will become a go-to receiver by midseason. Sweed seems like that person with the acrobatic touchdown catch in the 4th quarter against Ohio State last year.

Defense – Texas has always had good defensive lines with past players like Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers, Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs, and Rod Wright. This year’s line is no different with DT Frank Okam (#2DL), DE Tim Crowder (#17DL), DE Brian Robison, DE Brian Orakpo, and blue chip recruit DE Eddie Jones (#2DL). Okam and Crowder are the cream of the crop All-American candidates. Returning starters Robert Killebrew (#15LB) and Rashad Bobino will be joined by another highly touted recruit Sergio Kindle (#1LB), who was in for the spring. The 6-4 225 Kindle played linebacker and running back in high school and has the makings to become one of Texas’ all time greats. Thorpe Award winner Michael Huff (1st round Oakland) and Cedric Griffin (2nd round Minnesota) are playing on Sundays now, but FS Michael Griffin (#20DB), CB Tarell Brown (#11DB), and CB Aaron Ross has the coaches sleeping just fine at night.

Prediction – I expect Texas to fully play to their potentials now that Mack Brown got the monkey off of his back by winning the national championship. I expect offensive coordinator Greg Davis to be more aggressive with his play calling in big games (against Ohio State and Oklahoma). The schedule is a tough grind for Texas, but I’m not worried about Ohio State or Oklahoma, instead, I’m worried about the 3 road games in 4 games in late October and early November where Texas has to play Nebraska, Texas Tech, and a potentially dangerous Kansas State team in that stretch on the road. I expect Texas to start the season 7-0, but stumble against either Nebraska or Texas Tech. But despite the loss, the Longhorns will still win the Big XII Championship game and repeat as the National Champions.

2. USC (11-1) lose at Arizona

Offense – Skeptics are out on the Trojans’ ability to reload on offense. Who wouldn’t when they lose Heisman trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, all-time USC touchdown leader Lendale White, All-American linemen Winston Justice, Deuce Lutui, Fred Matua, and senior TE Dominique Byrd? This sounds like the 2003 season when similarly, the Trojans had to replace a Heisman trophy-winning QB (Carson Palmer), two starting RBs (Sultan McCullough and Malaefou MacKenzie), and 4 year starter guard Zach Wilson. The similarity doesn’t just stop there. With all the changes in 2003, the WR corps returns 2-1000 yard receivers in stud Mike Williams and senior Keary Colbert. Likewise, the only constant on the 2006 Trojan offense is the receiving corps. Stud Dwayne Jarrett (#4WR) and senior WR Steve Smith (#3WR) are both potential All-Americans who bring experience, size, speed, and leadership to the young offense. Backing them up are former high school stars Patrick Turner (#3WR), TE Fred Davis (#3WR), and true frosh David Ausberry (#2WR), Jamere Holland (#4), and Vidal Hazelton (#6WR) who might see the most action out of the frosh WRs. Throwing to these golden targets is former top high school QB prospect John David Booty (#1QB). After 3 years of waiting, it is finally Booty’s turn to run things. Despite back problems, Booty has been named the starter over Mark Sanchez (#2QB) who might be the next John David Booty, a QB with the skills, but no playing time. In 2003, two true frosh took over at running back. I look for the same this year as true frosh Stafon Johnson (#3RB), Emmanuel Moody (#6RB), Allen Bradford (#3LB), and CJ Gable (#9RB) all looked impressive in August scrimmages. However, the starting job is not theirs yet. In 2003, White and Bush were impressive as freshmen, but Hershel Dennis started all 12 games. I expect Chauncey Washington (#12RB) and Desmond Reed to battle for the starting job at running back. All-Conference-caliber linemen Ryan Kalil and Sam Baker return to anchor a talented group which includes former #1 offensive line prospect Jeff Byers, Chilo Rachal, Kyle Williams, and Drew Radovich (#5OL).

Defense – Continuing the eerie resemblance of the 2003 season, the strong safety position is open for competition with the departure of 3 year starter and All-American Darnell Bing. 2003 saw a similar situation when senior Troy Polamalu, who was the heart and soul of the defense, graduated. There is rumor that LB Dallas Sartz will be moving to the SS position, but Kevin Ellison and true frosh Allen Bradford, who has yet to settle on a position, might also take the position. Josh Pinkard has the FS position locked up while the corners will be manned by Kevin Thomas, Cary Harris, and Terrell Thomas amongst others. The linebackers will be very strong with no significant losses from last year. Keith Rivers (#2LB) is my pick for USC’s defensive MVP in 2006. Oscar Lua, Brian Cushing (#5LB), Thomas Williams (#8LB), Rey Maualuga (#1LB), and Sartz will combine for the majority of the playing time at linebacker. The defensive line has two future top picks on it in DT Sedrick Ellis (#8DL) and DE Lawrence Jackson (#6DL). Jr. Jeff Schweiger (#3DL) is no slouch either.

Prediction – I had a tough time predicting USC’s 11-1 record for 2006. There is no way USC can go undefeated again with so many uncertainties, yet the Trojans host the 4 most likely teams to beat them in Nebraska, Arizona State, California, and Notre Dame. Arkansas is a dangerous road game but there’s no way they can upset USC with a rookie QB and offensive coordinator and without star RB Darren McFadden. So I settled on Arizona. Yes, coming off of back to back 3-win seasons, I expect them to beat USC in Tucson in much of the same fashion as how Cal upset USC in 2003. I think it is interesting to point out that not only is the 2006 Trojans very similar to the 2003 Trojans, they are virtually mirror images of the 2005 Auburn Tigers! Auburn lost QB Jason Campbell, RB Carnell Williams, and RB Ronnie Brown in the 2005 draft and ended up losing to Georgia Tech in its first game in 2005 against a tough non-conference team (Georgia Tech). However, they did bounce back and ended with a 9-2 record. The Trojans (who beat Campbell, Williams, and Brown’s Tigers in 2003) also face a stiff non-conference opponent to start the season (Arkansas) on the road. In 2003, nobody gave USC a chance on the road against a top 5 Auburn team and all they did was demolish them 23-0. Expect the same this year.

3. Ohio State (10-2) lose at Texas, at Iowa

Offense – One of the finest offensive machines in the country, The Ohio State Buckeyes are the early favorites for the National Championship due to it. Troy Smith leads the way as the pre-season All-American at quarterback. His ability to beat opponents with his legs and arm will cause much chaos in opposing defenses. After alternating series with Justin Zwick (#7QB) in the game against Texas where head coach Jim Tressel opted for Zwick over Smith for the last series (Zwick was sacked for a safety as Ohio State lost by 3 points), Smith took over the rest of the season and dazzled. He will be protected well by 4 returning starters on the line. The left tackle position will be handed to the prize of last year’s recruiting class, Alex Boone (#2OL) who started 4 games last year. The running backs possess depth and talent as incumbent Antonio Pittman returns from a 1331 yard season. He is backed up by Maurice Wells (#11RB) and true frosh Chris Wells (#1RB). The wide receiver duo of Anthony Gonzalez (4.29 in the 40) and Ted Ginn Jr. (4.22 in 40) will keep the safeties honest. Senior WR Roy Hall has a 6-3, 240 frame that he uses as a good down-field blocker.

Defense – None of the defensive back 7 returns in 2006. Although DTs David Patterson (#11DL) and Quinn Pitcock (#11DL) will anchor the line sufficiently, there won’t be much support behind them. It’s hard to replace AJ Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, and Bobby Carpenter, all of whom were drafted by the NFL. However, John Kerr returns as the WLB. If you remember, Kerr had 114 tackles as a true frosh at Indiana before transferring to Ohio State 2 seasons ago. And as a true powerhouse program, there will be plenty of talents to fill the spots. It’s just a matter of whether they’ll fulfill their potentials this season for Ohio State to play for the National Championship. Just to name some names in the front seven, DE Jay Richardson, DE Vernon Gholston, DE Lawrence Wilson, DE Alex Barrow, MLB James Laurinaitis, SLB Marcus Freeman, and MLB Larry Grant. Ashton Youboty, Donte Whitner, and Nate Salley are all gone from the secondary in pursuit for NFL careers. They’ll likely be replaced by a handful of underclassmen in rFr. Andre Amos, So. Malcolm Jenkins, So. Jamario O’Neal, So. Nick Patterson, rFr. Anderson Russell, and others.

Prediction – As the experts say, offense sells tickets and defense wins championships right? Well, it seems like both the AP and coaches disregarded this common knowledge. They can’t be serious in picking a team that is returning only 2 starters on defense to win the National Championship. With this young and uncoordinated defense, I won’t be surprised if Ohio State loses their first 2 games, however, I think the Buckeyes will narrowly escape Northern Illinois like they did Marshall in 2004 and San Diego State in 2003. No such luck against Texas in Austin, as Texas will take over the #1 position in both polls with a victory. I also think Iowa will beat Ohio State after a tough win against Penn State. OSU should cruise to the bowl game the remainder of the way. Michigan will be a tough game, but the defense should have gelled by then, and the game is in the Horseshoe. I admit this is a talented offense, but to think Jim Tressel has an explosive offense is just too weird. Tressel is known for being a conservative, ground-pounding, defensive-oriented coach.

4. Louisville (11-1) lose at Rutgers

Offense – All the talk in the Big East is about how West Virginia is going to take that next step and challenge for the National Championship after beating Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl. However, I think Louisville will be the team to beat with their balanced offense featuring pro-style QB Brian Brohm (#8QB) and big back Michael Bush (1,877 rushing yards in last 2 yrs). Last year was the first year when both players assumed full-time duty at their respective positions, so I expect them to put up gaudy numbers this year. Mario Urrutia will prove to be a dangerous deep threat at WR if he stays healthy this year. Although the skills positions are loaded, the offensive line is questionable as the squad loses 36 starts from last year in Travis Leffew, Jason Spitz, and Jeremy Darveau. A pair of JC transfers will fill in after sitting out last year. They are tackles Marcus Gordon and Marcel Benson, each with a 6-6, 315+ pound frame, but they might have to battle a pair of sophomores in T George Bussey and G Danny Barlowe. Sr. Renardo Foster (6-7, 322) will also get a shot at the tackle position.

Defense – All 4 starters from the secondary are back. Even though last year’s squad ranked a lowly #83 in passing defense, there’s no replacement for experience as CB Rod Council, CB William Gay, SS Jon Russell, and FS Brandon Sharp combines for 51 starts in their collegiate careers. Nate Harris leads returning players with 66 tackles and 7 sacks from last year at the MLB position. Abe Brown at WLB has great speed (4.45) along with his 2 year starting experience. It’s good and dandy that 6 of 7 starters return from the back 7, but the big question on defense is: Who is going to replace Dumervil and Stanley? Elvis Dumervil, 1st team All-American, 2005 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, takes his 20 sacks from the defensive end position last year to the NFL. Defensive tackle Montavious Stanley was a run stuffer who also was drafted by the NFL. Without these two on the line, the superb linebackers might be neutralized by opposing blockers who work their way past the line. On the bright side, Amobi Okoye is an All-American caliber lineman who can help mold youngsters like Adrian Grady, LT Walker, Deantwan Whitehead, and Aundre Henderson.

Prediction – The reason I pick Louisville over West Virginia is because of their balanced attack I already mentioned, the fact they play WV at home, and the fact that Louisville would have already played a big game against Miami prior to the matchup against WV. Last year, Louisville blew a 17 point lead in the 4th quarter against the Mountaineers at Morgantown. Two years ago, Louisville almost shocked Miami in their own backyard, proving that they can hang with the big boys. I’m sure this team has learned from those experiences. You might ask, if you predict them to beat Miami and West Virginia, the 2 toughest opponents the Cardinals will face all year, what prevents you from placing them in the BCS Championship game? With big victories, come big let downs. There are 2 very dangerous games following Miami and West Virginia, at Kansas State and at Rutgers. I think Louisville will sneak by KSU, but Rutgers and their running game behind Ray Rice and Brian Leonard will be too much for the young defensive line. But when it comes down to it, I just don’t think they play a strong enough schedule in the Big East.

5. Auburn (10-2) lose at South Carolina, Arkansas

Offense – Last year would have been a spectacular season if not for the 1st and last games, losing to Georgia tech to end a 15-game winning streak and losing to an inferior Wisconsin team in what was Barry Alvarez’s last game. Auburn was able to win with pretty much the same formula as when QB Jason Campbell and RBs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown were still on campus, run the ball and pass just enough to keep defenses honest. Although QB Brandon Cox (#20QB) is no Jason Campbell, he proved to be an efficient enough QB to keep Auburn on the winning side. After getting 1 year under his belt, he will be looked upon for a bigger role in 2006. The focus of most opposing defenses will be RB Kenny Irons. The South Carolina transfer didn’t raise many eyebrows at the beginning of 2005, but finished with 1,293 rushing yards, beating out some decent backs in the process (Brad Lester, Tre Smith, and Carl Stewart). This is considered to be one of the best groups of RBs in the country, but I don’t think there is anyone outstanding other than maybe Irons. This group won’t have the luxury of running behind LT Marcus McNeil (2nd round SD), but guards Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth are back. WRs Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu will definitely be missed despite putting up less than 800 yards combined in 2005. Courtney Taylor is back from injury and is looking to live up to expectations. Frosh Tim Hawthorne (#7WR) is looking to make a splash in his 1st year, but will likely be playing behind Rodgeriqus Smith, Montez Billings (#20WR), Robert Dunn, and James Swinton.

Defense – The defense loses 2 All-Conference players in Stanley McClover and TJ Jackson, but returns Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves at the end positions. The duo combined for 10.5 sacks in 2005. Will Herring returns as the leading tackler from 2005 and 2nd Team All-SEC selection at safety. He will be converted to a linebacker this year, joined by Karibi Dede who started 12 games last year. Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon (#3DB) is a pair of DB converted to LB who are expected to fill the 3rd spot at linebacker. The secondary will be a strong one with 3 returning starters despite losing 2004 starter Montavis Pitts who only started 1 game last year. The senior Pitts has decided to transfer after being charged with DUI. Despite that, David Irons (2nd Team All-SEC) and Jonathan Wilhite should be more than adequate at the CB positions. Eric Brock and Aairon Savage will be the safeties. One area the secondary needs to improve upon is getting interceptions. Last year, no one on the team had more than 1 interception.

Prediction – To win the SEC, Auburn must do better than the -3 turnover ratio from last year. The Tigers were victims to 5 turnovers and 11 penalties against Georgia Tech in last year’s opener loss. It’s a shame how the scheduling committee in college football pits big games early in the season before teams warm up. Several examples include Tennessee-Florida (3rd week), Miami-Florida State (1st week), and Auburn-LSU (3rd week). These games not only have national title implications, but are also decides the winner of the conference and division! I think Auburn will win at home against LSU but lose in back-to-back weekends at South Carolina and Arkansas. The Gamecocks are the toughest road test for the Tigers while Arkansas would have Darren McFadden back by early October when they take on the Tigers. Auburn also goes to Tuscaloosa to take on arch rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl, but it hasn’t been much of a rivalry as of late where Auburn has won 4 straight. Florida and Georgia both comes to Auburn and should both put up a good fight, but I think Tommy Tuberville will be ready for both games.

6. West Virginia (11-1) lose at Louisville

Offense – QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton burst onto the college football scene last year by combining for 2,080 yards on the ground, leading WV to an 11-1 record and a BCS bowl win. This year, many are counting on White and Slaton to accomplish even more, but I say, beware of the sophomore slump! We’ve seen it before, young 1st year players explode against opponents who didn’t expect them to do so only to have mediocre 2nd years. All the preseason hype will have that effect on White and Slaton as opposing defensive coordinators will without a doubt gameplan to stop this poor man’s version of Tommy Frazier and Lawrence Phillips. Center Dan Mozes is an All-American candidate leading the offensive line, which will be strong up the middle, but weaker on the edges with 2 new tackles starting. The receivers are more seasoned this year, featuring speedster Brandon Myles. No body put up big receiving numbers last year due to the new QB situation. In fact, WV did not record a 200 passing yard game all year and completed less than 10 passes 6 times! This unit should pick up the production in 2006 or it will get awfully difficult for the running game once defenders start stacking the line of scrimmage.

Defense – WV runs a 3-3-5 defense where an extra defensive back, called the Bandit, helps the passing game. The defensive line is quite impressive in 2005, yielding only 2.9 ypc, but could be misleading. WV held its first 4 opponents to under 100 yards rushing, but against the big boys, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Georgia, the Mountaineers gave up 214, 182, and 224 respectively. Georgia ran for a whopping 8.0 ypc in the bowl game. DE Craig Wilson and DT Keilein Dykes returns as the starters. Several senior linebackers, Jay Henry, Kevin McLee, and Barry Wright will help the line in run defense. The defensive backfield only has SS Eric Wicks returning. This is another area that whittled as the season progressed, giving up 1006 passing yards and only recording 4 sacks in the last 4 games.

Prediction – WV plays virtually nobody for their non-conference slate. The toughest opponent might be Maryland at home. This is another touted team for the BCS Championship due to a good offense and easy schedule. Again, nobody looked at the porous defense and good luck from last year (+14 in turnovers). I expect Louisville to manhandle West Virginia after suffering the bitter, humiliating come-from-behind victory last year in Morgantown. I expect WV to win the rest of their games, but the 3 games wrapping up the season at Pittsburgh, against South Florida, and Rutgers will all be tossups. I have them at #6 in the poll since they start the season very high in both the AP and Coaches’ polls, meaning if they can go 11-1, they’ll be up there in the standings.

7. Miami (10-2) lose to Florida State, Louisville

Offense – This is the year #1 prospect QB Kyle Wright should live up to his potentials. As a junior, Wright enters his 2nd season as a starter after suffering a season full of sacks and injuries in 2005. If Wright is to break out, he would have done it without much help from his teammates. Starting RB Tyrone Moss (#2RB) has been suspended for the first 2 games of the season. Starting receiver Ryan Moore (#2WR) has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Larry Coker. The only returning starter on the line is center Anthony Wollschlager. This might actually be a good thing considering last year’s line gave up 35 sacks despite producing 2 NFL draft picks in RT Rashad Butler (3rd round CAR) and LT Eric Winston (3rd round HOU). Kyle Wright was sacked 9 times in last year’s game against Florida St. 2006 might be déjà vu all over again. One of the few bright spots on the offense is tight end Greg Olsen (#1TE) who looks to follow in the footsteps (on the field) of former Canes Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. I also look forward to seeing RB Charlie Jones (#8RB) and WR Lance Leggett (#11WR) step up in the absence of Moss and Moore.

Defense – Rocky McIntosh, Orien Harris, and Devin Hester are gone from the defense, but what’s left could form one of the best defenses in the country. Led by Baraka Atkins and Bryan Pata on the ends, the line should put up typical Hurricane numbers of 3 ypc and 30+ sacks on the season. LB Tavares Gooden (#7LB) returns from injury to anchor a very fine linebacking group featuring returning starter Jon Beason, Willie Williams (#1LB), and Romeo Davis among other talents. The front seven is a formidable group, however, what makes the Canes an elite defensive team is their secondary. Brandon Meriweather and sophomore Kenny Phillips (#2DB) are the best safety tandem in the country, combining for 202 tackles in 2005. They will makeup for the youth at cornerback where Kelly Jennings (1st round SEA) and Devin Hester (2nd round CHI) played last year.

Prediction – 2 of the first 3 games in 2006 will decide Miami’s fate for the season. Games against Florida State and at Louisville will be major hurdles to Miami’s quest for a championship year, especially when Tyrone Moss and Ryan Moore are suspended. Moss will be back for the Louisville game, but he will need to produce immediately. Miami also breaks in a new offensive coordinator so it might take longer for the offense to get rolling. Sandwiched between 4 road games toward the end of the season is a game against Virginia Tech at home that will decide the ACC Coastal Division. I believe if Miami manages to beat Florida State and Louisville early on, there’s no question they will beat Virginia Tech as well for a possible unbeaten season, however, I think the odds of that is too great, and Miami will lose 2 of the 3 crucial games. If Miami loses 4, this will be Larry Coker’s last year in Miami. Despite having an amazing record and a National Championship, Coker mostly won with prior coach Butch Davis’ players and program. Coker did maintain the recruiting magic of the Davis era, but has struggled to meet high expectations. Last year’s humiliating defeat to LSU in the Peach Bowl by the score of 40-3 really did not sit well with fans and critics.

8. Tennessee (10-2) lose at South Carolina, at Arkansas

Offense – The word is that QB Erik Ainge improved under new QB coach and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. By new, I actually mean this will be Cutcliffe’s 7th season as OC in Knoxville after serving as the OC from 1993-98 under Fulmer, followed by 6 years as the head coach at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe was responsible for the development of 2 overall #1 NFL draft picks in Peyton and Eli Manning. Last year’s, often controversial, rotation of QBs between Ainge and Rick Clausen led to a disastrous 5-6 season where Ainge never got into any kind of rhythm only completing 45.5% of his passes. Although Ainge will be pushed by Jonathan Crompton (#3QB), the starting QB job is his to lose. The injury to starting RB Gerald Riggs last year helped returning starter Arian Foster develop into a go-to back and the next in the long line of great Tennessee backs. Foster is looking for his 6th straight 100-yard game to start his career in the opener against Cal, but despite the production, there are a handful of talented backs chasing Foster in rFr. Montario Hardesty (#22RB), rFr. LaMarcus Coker (#18RB), and So. Ja’Kouri Williams (#15RB). Former offensive lineman, current head coach Phillip Fulmer ensures another talented OL, led by LT Arron Sears, who made my All-American team (See previous post). Center David Ligon moved to LG while Michael Frogg fills his spot. Eric Young (#4OL) and Anthony Parker makes up the right side of the line. Other talented linemen include C Josh McNeil (#9OL), G Jacques McClendon (#9OL), and T Chris Scott (#7OL). The receivers underachieved last year with the rotating QBs, but Robert Meachem (#5WR), Jayson Swain (#7WR), and Bret Smith (#10WR) should rebound nicely.

Defense – 5 starters were lost to the NFL draft in CB Jason Allen (1st round MIA), DE Parys Haralson (5th round SF), LB Omar Gaither (5th round PHI), DT Jesse Mahelona (5th round TEN), and LB Kevin Simon (7th round WAS). However, plenty of talents will be back including DT Justin Harrell who was 2nd Team All-SEC. He will be joined by blue-chippers Demonte Bolden (#6DL) and Turk McBride (#3DL). It will be tougher to replace last year’s linebackers, but Jerod Mayo (#22LB), Ryan Carl, and Marvin Mitchell will get first stabs at the jobs. Backups include Rico McCoy (#8LB), Ellix Wilson, and Adam Myers-White (#12DB). Jason Allen is gone, but everyone else from the secondary returns as InQuoris Johnson and Jonathan Wade will be the corners and Antwan Stewart and Jonathan Hefney the safeties. The star of last year’s recruiting class Demetrice Morley (#7DB) will also chip in at safety.

Prediction – Although Tennessee suffered a weak recruiting season due to the 5-6 record, the cupboard is far from empty. There are former top ten high school players at virtually every position and they usually go 2 or 3 deep. The defense was very good last year, yielding only 2.5 ypc and 907 totally rushing yards. In terms of the offense, I believe Cutcliffe will turn things around. The schedule is tough as always. The Volunteers has been scheduling the big boys for non-conference games in the last few years (Notre Dame in ’01, ’04, and ’05, Syracuse in ’01, Miami in ’02 and ’03). This will continue as California comes to town for the season opener (Tennessee will play at Cal in 2007, NC State, and UCLA in 2008). Cal hasn’t won any significant big games on the road recently, so I think Tennessee will handle them in Neyland. Although a tough schedule, the big games are fairly spread out, giving the Vols enough time to prepare for each. However, the downside of this is the potential to overlook weaker opponents. I think the first 4 games at home will be won despite 2 of them being top ten opponents. The only losses I believe will be to arch-nemesis Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks and a talented Arkansas team, who might have found a QB by the November 11th game time. It will be a successful season if the Vols beat Florida, Georgia, and win a bowl game. I think they have enough talent and the right coaches to do those things.

9. California (9-3) lose at Tennessee, Arizona State, at USC

Offense – Jeff Tedford is known as a QB coach who excels in the passing game, but in the last few years, the running game has been his forte. For 3 straight years, Cal has had the leading rusher go over 1,000 yards and the backup over 600 yards. The trend started in 2003 when Adimchinobe Echemandu had 1,195 yards and JJ Arrington 607. In 2004, Arrington returned with an amazing 2,018 yards overshadowing then-sophomore Marshawn Lynch’s 628 yards. Last year, Lynch had 1,246 yards while his back up Justin Forsett had 999 on the ground. This year, both Lynch and Forsett are back to undoubtedly become the 2nd pair of 1,000 yard rushing teammates from the Pac-10 in 2 years (USC’s Bush and White both went over 1,000 yards last year). Part of the Cal running success is due to the offensive line. They lose 3 NFL draft picks including the rock from last year, tackle Ryan O’Callaghan. Erik Robertson and Scott Smith returns as starters while inexperienced players will battle for the other 3 spots. T Andrew Cameron, C Alex Mack, and G Noris Malele will start in the season opener, but expect Mike Tepper, Mike Gibson, and Bryan Deemer to push them. The QB position was up for grabs among Nate Longshore (#18QB), Joe Ayoob (JC#6QB), Steve Levy and Kyle Reed. Longshore, who was the starter last year until he broke a leg in the opener, won the job in the end. He will be throwing to highly touted WR DeSean Jackson (#1WR), Robert Jordan, and Lavelle Hawkins (JC#5WR), all of whom are capable playmakers.

Defense – Everyone says nobody (but USC) in the Pac-10 plays defense. Cal came close to joining USC last year, but still gave up 360 yards a game and 29 points per game in the last 7 games of the season including the bowl game. I expect big changes this year as speed and size are evident on the defense. The D-line returns all 4 starters headed by All-American candidate at tackle Brandon Mebane. The line of DE Abu Ma’afala, DT Matthew Malele (#14DL), DE Nu’u Tafisi (JC#21DL), and Mebane combined for 12.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Ma’afala was able to beat out last year’s starter Phillip Mbakogu (#11DL) who had 5.5 sacks last year. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (JC#3LB) is on many people’s list for best linebackers in the nation and is joined by Justin Moye and Worrell Williams. The defensive back is manned by a savvy All-American caliber senior in Daymeion Hughes who had 12 passes broken up and 5 interceptions last year.

Prediction – Writers are pegging the Golden Bears as a dark horse for the National Championship. They’ve got the offense and defense to beat anyone and a schedule tough enough to be respected by poll voters. But before talks of National Championship, they have to prove they’re 2nd best in the Pac-10 first. Everyone expect Cal to give USC fits last year, but all they did was lose 35-10 and go 4-4 in conference to finish a disappointing 4th in the conference. The 2006 road schedule will be killer, going to Tennessee’s 100,000 plus crowd, Washington State, and USC. I think the offensive line won’t have enough time to gel and the offense will sputter against the Vols. Arizona State will be a tough game after cakewalk Portland State. The last 2 road games of the season could spell losing streak for Cal since Arizona is a rising team in the Pac-10 and USC, well, they’re USC. I don’t think this will be Cal’s year, but I respect what Tedford has done with the program, turning average high school prospects into productive college players at a demanding academic institute. You can tell Tedford wants to engage stiffer competition by scheduling Tennessee for a home-and-home and Minnesota in 2006.

10. LSU (9-3) lose at Auburn, at Florida, at Tennessee

Offense – As a Texas fan, it’s funny and ironic to think that top QB prospect Ryan Perrilloux (#1QB) from last year picked LSU over Texas because he wanted to play right away. A year later, he’s the 3rd string QB at LSU where he would have likely been the starter at Texas. This is good news for LSU fans nevertheless. Starter JaMarcus Russell (#4QB) suffered injuries toward the end of the season but regained his starter status. Backup Matt Flynn (#17QB) led the 40-3 demolition of Miami in the Peach Bowl in place of Russell. Protecting them will be a slightly weaker line after the departure of Andrew Whitworth, Rudy Niswanger, and Nate Livings. Back are Brian Johnson and Will Arnold as the guards. rFr Ciron Black (#21OL) will be the blindside protector of Russell. The running production will be a bit down this year. Joseph Addai is gone while Justin Vincent (#9RB) and Alley Broussard (#8RB) are both coming back from ACL injuries. Broussard is the likely starter after having almost a year to recover from his injury. True frosh Charles Scott comes in as the #7 prospect in the country. On paper, LSU has the most talented group of receivers in the country, comprised of Early Doucet (#1WR), Xavier Carter (#2WR), and Amp Hill (#12WR), however, none of the three will start. Instead, Seniors Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe will remain starters.

Defense – The defense put up some good numbers last year, holding opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game while registering 38 sacks. Somehow, Appalachian State rushed for 176 against the defense despite being shutout by the Tigers. Only DE Chase Pittman and LB Ali Highsmith are back starting in the front 7. Despite losing 3 draft picks on the line, LSU has traditionally been strong here. There are many highly touted players including Glenn Dorsey (#7DL), Ricky Jean-Francois (#14DL), Marlon Favorite (#19DL), Tyson Jackson, Charles Alexander, and Tremaine Johnson. The linebacking unit makes up experience with talent where Darry Beckwith (#20LB) and Luke Sanders (#9LB) will start alongside Highsmith. Making up for the inexperience up front is the best secondary in the SEC. LaRon Landry (#18DB) leads this unit as one of the best free safeties in the country. SS Jessie Daniels and CB Chevis Jackson are returning starters. Jonathan Zenon fills the other CB position after getting in 4 starts last year.

Prediction – LSU only has 4 road games this year. Unfortunately, they are against Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas. I predict the Tigers will lose all of those games except against Arkansas. The reasons are the 3-headed monster at quarterback, the injuries at running back, the underachieving receivers, and a doubtful line. Defense will keep these games from being blow outs, but defenses at Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee are equally good. The home schedule might look like a breeze but Arizona and Fresno State look like potential upsets. Alabama also has a decent chance of squeezing out a win in Baton Rouge.

11. Penn State (9-3) lose at Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin

Offense – Michael Robinson’s senior season rejuvenated a traditional power house with an 11-1 record. This year, the team will be handed to QB Anthony Morelli (#6QB) who I called to start last year over Robinson. Morelli is less agile but has the size (6-4, 220) and arm to be an NFL QB. His targets will be a trio of sophomores in blue chipper Derrick Williams (#1DB), Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood. If 2006 is anything like 2005, expect true frosh Chris Bell (#5WR) to chip in some catches. Williams was electric at times last year, but will need to recover from a broken arm. With Morelli’s arm and all the speed at WR, I expect Penn State to score lots of points through the year. Tony Hunt was a receiver but converted to RB and had 1,047 rushing yards last year. The line is a bit weaker this year losing 4 starters during the offseason, but the most important part returns in LT Levi Brown with 34 career starts.

Defense – Penn State has the best linebackers in the country. With 3 returning starters, I think the 2006 Lions linebackers are even better than the 2005 Ohio State Buckeye linebackers. The star of the group is OLB Paul Posluszny, who won the Butkus and Bednarik awards, turned down the NFL and returns for his senior season. OLB Dan Connor (#3LB) can fly with 4.55 speed. He started the last 7 games last year after being suspended during the first 3. Tim Shaw started all 12 last year and will be the MLB. Not only are the starters impressive, this is also a deep group with Jerome Hayes, Tyrell Sales, and Sean Lee. The D-line loses Tamba Hai (1st round KC) and only returns Jay Alford as the starting DT who had 8.5 sacks last year. Similarly, the defensive backfield loses all 4 starters including star CB Alan Zemaitis (4th round TB). Justin King (#4DB) will start at CB and is expected to excel at the position. Sophomores Tony Davis, Spencer Ridenhour, and senior Donnie Johnson are the other projected starters back there.

Prediction – Joe Paterno did the unexpected last year to go 11-1 after combining for 7 wins in the previous 2 years. Penn State came within 1 second from going 12-0 as Michigan miraculously scored a touchdown to beat the Nittany Lions. A lot of last year’s core are gone in QB Michael Robinson, DE Tamba Hali, and CB Alan Zemaitis, but Penn state returns virtually all the position players on offense and the best linebackers in the country. The season starts with a couple of tough road games at Notre Dame and at Ohio State. If Penn State can split these two, it will setup nicely for the rest of the season. I expect Penn State to over look Minnesota right before they beat Michigan at home. Wisconsin is another team that can sneak up on the Lions. This is a season where lots of sophomores and freshmen on the team can develop into star players. Next year should be a title hopeful year for the Lions.

12. Florida (9-3) lose at Tennessee, at Auburn, at Florida State

Offense – Chris Leak (#2QB) returns for his senior year and 2nd year under the Urban Meyer regime. Although Meyer brings in star recruit Tim Tebow (#3QB) who is more mobile, I expect the QB job to be Leak’s to lose. All the receivers return other than leading receiver Chad Jackson (2nd round NE). Andre Caldwell (#1WR), Dallas Baker, and Jemalle Cornelius (#14WR) will be more than capable to make up for the lost of Jackson. The back up receivers are also very talented in Kenneth Tookes, who might start, Nyan Boateng (#8WR), and Percy Harvin (#1WR), this year’s star recruit. DeShawn Wynn (#8RB) returns as a senior starter at RB although the running game has not been very good averaging only 3.9 ypc last year. The RB group doesn’t look very impressive in the spring, so don’t be surprised if youngsters Markus Manson, Kestahn Moore, Chevron Walker, or Mon Williams see more action as the season progresses. Another area of concern is the offensive line, losing every starter besides C Steve Rissler who moves over from guard. There will be talented players playing the line, but the lack of experience will definitely hurt.

Defense – There are lots of experience on the defensive line. DE Joe Cohen, DT Steven Harris, and DT Marcus Thomas return as starters while DE Ray McDonald will be returning from an injury to reclaim his starting job at defensive end in 2006. Earl Everett (#12LB) and Brandon Siler (#22DL) return as the leading tacklers from 2005. Siler already has 3 years of starting experience despite being only a junior. The defensive backfield loses 3 starters but has talented Reggie Lewis, Avery Atkins (#14DB), Kyle Jackson (#5DB) and Tony Joiner vying for those starting spots. Starting free safety Reggie Nelson (#10DB) brings back 46 tackles and 4 sacks. This unit should be the best defense in the SEC.

Prediction – Traditionally, the Urban Meyer effect is really felt in his 2nd year at a school. I expect the same here at Florida, however, it is awfully hard to improve on a 9-3 season. I do expect the offense to run a lot smoother in the second year. The defense will be solid but what’s keeping this from a 10-win season is that Florida has too many big road games. Florida goes to Tennessee, Auburn, and Florida State this year and plays Georgia in a neutral site (Jacksonville, FL). I expect Auburn to lose those road games, but they will beat Georgia and LSU (LSU is the homecoming game, imagine that!). What is with squeezing in Western Carolina in late November?

13. Michigan (9-3) lose at Notre Dame, at Penn State, at Ohio State

Offense – Most of the offensive weapons return from an unfulfilling 2005 season. QB Chad Henne (#1QB) barely completed over half of his passes (51.4%) in the 4 losses to Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State despite a good 23 to 8 TD/INT ratio on the year. RB Mike Hart (#11RB) had a sensational freshman year in 2004, but was plagued by injuries last year and only had 662 yards on the ground. Highly touted freshman Kevin Grady (#2RB) filled in for Hart and had 483 yards in 2 starts. With the O-line returning T Jake Long and G Adam Kraus, I expect both the running game and passing game to improve. WR Jason Avant led the team with 1007 yards last season and will be missed in 2006, but Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham (#6WR) are both back. Other receivers include Adrian Arrington (#10WR), Carl Tabb (#12WR), and Doug Dutch (#14WR). The offensive line replaces 3 starters, but got replenished with a good recruiting class including Stephen Schilling (#4OL) and Justin Boren (#11OL).

Defense – The Wolverines run a 3-4 defense which is rarely used in college. Alan Branch returns with his 5 sacks at the end position. Although Gabe Watson is gone at the nose, Terrance Taylor (#11DL) and Marques Walton will compete for that position. Will Johnson (#29DE) will likely start at the other DE position although LB LaMarr Woodley (#2LB) often lines up as a DE with success as can be seen from his 7 sacks last year. Top tackler LB Dave Harris is back along with LB Prescott Burgess (#1DB) who was the #3 tackler last year. CB Leon Hall (#23DB) has been tagged by many as a preseason All-American. He will be joined by So. Morgan Trent who got in 3 starts last year at cornerback. Safeties Jamar Adams and Ryan Mundy (#5DB) are back for 2006. Last year, Mundy was lost due to injury but the Wolverines did surprisingly well without him. They will definitely get a boost with the return of Mundy.

Prediction – Many suspects that Lloyd Carr’s job is in jeopardy after a 7-5 season in 2005 and losing to Ohio State for the 4th time in 5 tries. This will be a crucial year for Carr, and I think he will respond positively by challenging Ohio State for the Big Ten championship. I predict Michigan to lose road games at Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State, but all those are definitely winnable games. Michigan is my dark horse pick for the National Championship since they are much like the 2004 Auburn Tigers coming off of a disappointing season. As you remember, the 2004 Auburn team went from preseason favorites to win the championship to a 7-5 squad at the end of the year. No body really expected much out of them the following year despite having the core of the group back. Head coach Tommy Tuberville’s job was also in limbo after rumors that Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino will take his job. All Auburn did was going 13-0 in 2004. The most obvious similarities between the 2006 Wolverines and the 2004 Tigers is that both has a very good QB, 2 dominating running backs, an All-American caliber corner, and head coaches on the hot seat.

14. Notre Dame (8-4) at Georgia Tech, Penn State, at Michigan State, at USC

Offense – Senior QB Brady Quinn (#12QB) is projected to have a phenomenal season after blossoming under Charlie Weis last year. His favorite target, WR Jeff Samardzija (#22WR) had only 24 catches in 2 years prior to last year, when he caught 77 for 1249 yards and 15 touchdowns. The underappreciated running game is spearheaded by Darius Walker (#13RB) and will be supplemented by Travis Thomas (#22RB) and true frosh sensation James Aldridge (#2RB). Although I really like Darius Walker, the running game has disappeared from time to time last year, gaining 44 yards against BYU, 48 against Tennessee, and 62 against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl loss. LT Ryan Harris (#18OL) anchors a line that has much talent, but limited experience. This year’s recruiting class includes 3 top offensive linemen in Sam Young (#1OL), Matt Carufel (#5OL), and Chris Stewart (#14OL). If the line holds up, this will be the top offense in the country.

Defense – There are many skeptics for the Irish defense in 2006. After seeing Ohio State record big play after big play against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, speed has been the question for this squad. This year, CB Ambrose Wooden (#8CB) and SS Tom Zbikowski (#9QB) are returning starters, both having sub-4.3 speed. CB Mike Richardson and FS Chinedum Ndukwe are both returning starters in the backfield. This group gave up at least 300 yards passing in 5 straight games last year, including 408 yards on only 19 completions at Washington. ND fans are counting last year’s experience will lead to better results in 2006. The defensive line has many blue-chippers lining up, featuring team leader in sacks last year, Victor Abiamiri (#1DL) with 8. DTs Trevor Laws, Derek Landri, and DE Ronald Talley are the other projected starters. Maurice Crum is the only returning starter at linebacker where he’ll be joined by Joe Brockington and Anthony Vernaglia, forming a fairly weak linebacking corps.

Projection – Many polls list Notre Dame as preseason #1. Once again, those are the ones who fell in love with the offense and turned the other cheek on defense. Everyone remembered what an amazing game they played against USC, but they forget that Reggie Bush ran all over the defense in that game. In the 4th quarter on the crucial 4th down play near midfield, Notre Dame’s defensive backfield not only didn’t stop the conversion, they gave up a huge play that allowed the Trojans to get inside the redzone. Things didn’t improve as the season went on. Notre Dame gave up 317 passing yards to BYU, 239 yards rushing to Navy, and 347 passing to Stanford. Although those were all wins for the Irish, it showed how vulnerable Notre Dame is against good offensive teams. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon after they started the season 2-0 against ranked teams Pittsburgh and Michigan, 2 teams that combined for an underachieving 12-11 in 2005. Last year’s Fiesta Bowl was a reality check for Charlie Weis and crew, losing 34-20 to Ohio State, who racked up 617 total yards against Notre Dame. 2005 was a dream season for the Irish, but it seems eerily similar to 2002 when Tyrone Willingham went 10-2 and got blown out of the bowl game and fell to a 5-7 season in 2003. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar record in 2006.

15. Virginia Tech (8-4) lose at Boston College, Clemson, at Miami, at Wake Forest

Offense – There aren’t any big names on offense this year. Sean Glennon was named the starter after battling Cory Holt and Ike Whitaker (#9QB). All three are underclassmen who don’t bring a lick of experience and would rely heavily on the other 10 men on the field for the Hokies to have any chance to compete. The running backs also feature 2 sophomores and a redshirt freshman competing for the job. Branden Ore ran for 647 yards as a redshirt last year, but might have to share times with George Bell (#14RB). WRs Eddie Royal and Josh Morgan will be the targets for Glennon. The two will be joined by David Clowney who was the leading receiver from last year. The line loses 3 starters and doesn’t look like they will improve upon the 4.1 ypc and 34 sacks allowed from last year. Yeah, so basically, the VT offense looks like they’ll compete for the most anemic offense in the country.

Defense – As usual, the Hokies should have a pretty good defense, but the pressure is greater this year to make up for the lack of offensive firepower. Last year’s squad held 10 straight opponents under 160 yards passing at one point. 5 starters return from that defense, led by linebacker Vince Hall (#9LB) who led the team with 112 tackles last year. Xavier Adibi (#11LB) returns with 69 tackles in 2005 where rover Aaron Rouse returns with 77 tackles from last year. Chris Ellis is the only returning starter on the DL while the other 3 positions will be filled with semi-talented juniors and seniors. After losing NFL draft picks Jimmy Williams and Justin Hamilton, there might be a slight drop off in the secondary, but despite that, CB Brandon Flowers, Roland Minor, Victor Harris (#5DB), Safeties DJ Parker and Rouse will continue the trend of VT’s good pass defense. And it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tech’s special teams. Punter Nic Schmitt, who squats 605 (not a typo, 605 pounds!), will punt and possibly kick as well.

Prediction – So why is this team with an abysmal offense ranked in the top 10? Tech starts the season against Northeaster, UNC, Duke, and Cincinnati. That should be plenty of time for Frank Beamer and his staff to solidify the question marks (and there are many of them) on offense. Despite the youth, the running game should be able to carry the Hokies’ offense through those first 4 games. The defense could very well pitch 4 shutouts against the early opponents. However, after an off weak, a game at Boston College will be very tough. The back to back game against Clemson and at Miami just 2 weeks later will officially end Tech’s chances for the national title. The last road game at Wake Forest looks like an easy win, but I think the losses to Clemson and Miami will demoralize the team enough for the Demon Deacons to swoop in for a win.

16. Iowa
17. Arkansas
18. Florida State
19. Georgia
20. Nebraska
21. Utah
22. Texas Tech
23. Oklahoma
24. Clemson
25. Arizona

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