Sunday, August 20, 2006

TANBR's College Football Preview

So the updating has been scarce since I'm starting a new job and Jelly has some personal stuff going on. I happen to have just the thing to tide you over until Al Harrington finally signs with someone. We haven't done any kind of football coverage yet, so here's guest columnist PT with his own top twenty-five rankings:

-Tank

Contenders

1. Ohio State
When your biggest problem is replacing nine defensive seniors with a top-five recruiting class, I think you'll be OK. I honestly can't remember the last time a perennial Big Ten power was legitimately bad enough on defense to lose a conference title--- oh, wait, Michigan, every year since 1997. Of course, they'll have to replace uber-linebacker, -human being, -Musberger crush, -Laura Quinn husband, -deity A.J. Hawk. The talent dropoff is not too drastic to not work in Tressel's system: the Buckeyes’ defense has been steadfast since 2002, when even The Hawk was a mere high school senior. Remember, it was only two years ago that we saw a pretty solid yet unproven defense keep it together with a godawful offense led by Justin Zwick at quarterback. So, really, the past has proven that if the offense is set under Tressel, anything can happen.


august- (adj.) this mofo

Eight offensive starters return, including the core specialists of superathlete Ted Ginn, Jr., quarterback Troy Smith, and running back Antonio Pittman. A complaint last year was that Ginn was not getting enough touches, certainly a reasonable reaction to a somewhat expected dilemma in OC Jim Bollman's system. Why mess with the success of a conservative, role-playing offense that won a title in 2002, you know? Well, because it's a much more athletic offense now as compared to four years ago (when
Maurice Clarett was the Buckeyes' offensive star). And I believe Tressel and Bollman have slowly realized that, after a floundering 2004 season and shaky 2005 start. Their improvements in offensive philosophy culminated in three quarters of dominance in a 34-20 win over Notre Dame.

And believe me, nothing's more underrated than bowl success carrying over into season success the following year; just ask Texas. Speaking of, there's a scrimmage in Austin on September 9, which is kind of a big deal to some people. And I've got a ticket. Can't predict the outcome yet, solely because I can't predict the Texas offense yet. Even if the Buckeyes lose, it won't be enough to keep them from the title game, which may feature two one-loss teams for the first time since the 2003 season (more on this later).

2. West Virginia
I spent a good amount of time trying to come up with this one. That essentially means there's somewhat of a dropoff between Ohio State and the next four or five in my mind-- Texas, USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Notre Dame could have easily gone here. It's more of a gut feeling than anything, and I'm well aware that it's en vogue to hop on the Pat White/Steve Slaton Whitest-Sounding Names Bandwagon. It's a two-fold reason I can see the Mountaineers making a trip to Tempe (only if undefeated):

A. Their schedule is mild at best. They essentially have two months of tune-ups before playing the Big East Title Game at Louisville, the likes of which include Eastern Washington, East Carolina, and Mississippi State. The downside is, slip up on November 2 (which is a Thursday ESPN game, quite possibly the best ever) and your season is history. I know Louisville can probably keep up with their offense since they've got the dude who backed up the dude with the blind parents, Brian Brohm, and a future first-round RB named Bush. But I like West Virginia because they've been there before. They secured a BCS bid last year almost without even trying; while Louisville desperately needs it. Oh, yeah, and they won a road game against a highly favored Georgia team (bowl-carry-over-to-next-season-success thing).

B. They've had the perfect progession for a title contender. They've got some very young specialty players who have tasted success from the very beginning, and even the seniors know what mediocrity they've come from. 2003: Gator Bowl Loss, Maryland 41-7. 2004: Gator Bowl loss, FSU 30-18. I guess what I'm saying is that this might provide the last two pieces of the puzzle they need to put together a legitimate run at the title: offensive talent, offensive creativity, decent defense, motivating coach, experience, young leadership.

3. Auburn
I'll employ a quote of one of my newly-married good friends:
Don't want to talk about it. It's a lot easier to come to this conclusion two months before the season starts, anyway. Sure, I'm saying that now, but ask me how my number three pick's season is going on Sunday, September 17, and I probably won't even answer the phone or get out of bed. I just hope I'm wrong here.

They've got a really favorable schedule, and will probably only lose one game in the regular season (my guess is either at South Carolina or at Alabama). They've got a quarterback named Cox, which means a probable new record of penis references from the stands in Columbia, SC on September 28. He's not very good, but, then again, Jason Campbell wasn't frickin' Johnny Unitas back in 2004. Auburn has never handled
preseason praise well recently, so I'm going to put them as reasonably high as possible.

A Sociology Grade Below

4. Texas

Hook 'em! Texas would be ranked number one in the pretty cool-sounding names preseason poll, that's for sure. Limas Sweed returns for his senior season as a wide receiver, while Jevan Snead is the likely frontrunner over Colt McCoy to replace virtuoso talent Vince Young at quarterback. Ramonce Taylor, Jamaal Charles, and Selvin Young will be splitting the tailback duties, trying to make up for those 1000+ yards lost with Young's departure. Charles is clearly the most talented of the group, a Heisman mention in some circles even, but I'm pretty sure Mack Brown wants to hear himself say, "Romance! Get in 'er!" a few times a game (Ramonce has since left the team (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2529138 [Ed. note: But why ruin a good joke at Mack Brown's expense?]). Texas returns a load of talent and experience on both lines, especially, and has the type of athletic, versatile skill position players to counteract any growing pains from integrating freshmen and sophomores.

Their schedule features two huge games, and two losses could subjugate Texas to the Cotton or lower by October 8. However, they'll face a game-old Ohio State defense at home--which always helps when you're trying to integrate a new quarterback--as well as Oklahoma in The Shootout. Something tells me Texas fans will up their attendance in Dallas by five or ten percent with the "Hey... we can win this thing now!" mentality.

However, there are two Longhorn weaknesses that stand out for me. First, I'm kind of worried that Mack Brown, having attained what I (nor he) never thought possible, will either relax and take a deep breath or start making even more ridiculous coaching decisions. Don't ask me why, but I can see Mack doing things like putting Sweed and Snead at midfield to return a punt, or accidentally injuring Snead for the remainder of the season by calling five consecutive QB waggles. Then again, he seems like the type of guy who could actually be more successful with no pressure at all. I don't know. Second, the amount of leadership and intangibles Vince Young provided (especially on the biggest stages) is rather unprecedented; does Texas eke out a win in Columbus by three without Young? Or does the defense even feel motivated enough to will a turnover-on-downs in the title game? I say no. Without Young, this year or last, Texas is nothing more than 9-2s and Holiday Bowls until proven otherwise.

5. USC
No way, without Bush and Leinart and White (always an afterthought)? Take a look at the Trojan schedule this year; I’ll just get right to it. There’s a ninety percent chance that they’re 9-0 before perhaps the only two games which might feature BCS top-25 teams. In other words, there’s no room for error for Petey.

Leinart will most likely be replaced by Evangel alum John David Booty, mostly because he’s been lying in wait for three years, and, uh, he didn’t
rape some girl. Dirty Sanchez has his helmet on in case of injury, however. Bush and White will be replaced by a stable of no-names to non-Pac-10ers, Chauncey Washington, C.J. Gable, and Stafon Johnson to name a few. Wide receiver looks to be the area of offense the Trojans will be most confident about, as pre-season All-everything Dwayne Jarrett and reliable #2 Steve Smith return for veteran seasons.


Ironically, Sanchez gave his victim an "Angry Dragon," fearing that his eponymous maneuver was played out.
The defense can’t be much worse than last year, and Petey’s ego took a step back when he pretty much hired a defensive coordinator to do his old job for him. Regardless, the Trojans have landed top-three recruiting classes since 2004, and those recruits represent the junior, sophomore, and freshmen classes. That’s a pretty good sign that the talent dropoff might not be too much of an issue.

However, don’t expect Booty or Sanchez to seamlessly replace Leinart as quarterback. People forget how big a deal it was for Leinart to replace Heisman winner Carson Palmer in 2003, and the Trojans only got better. College programs don’t have that kind of luck two times in a row. Then again, what am I saying? USC is a ‘college program’ just about as much as Frostee Rucker is ‘consensual.’

6.
Oklahoma
I think we’ve all forgotten what Adrian Peterson’s capable of when healthy; the man has rushed for over 3000 yards in a season and a half. I’ll stop here with Peterson, since I’ve already predicted the Heisman is his to lose.

Rhett Bomar will be handing off to Peterson, and that may be his best quality right now. In Bomar’s defense, however, he is playing with a spotty offensive line and did manage to secure Holiday Bowl MVP, which is either proudly displayed in plain sight at his parents’ or gathering dust in the storage closet of a Tempe, AZ dive bar bathroom. (Since this article’s inception, Bomar has been dismissed from the team, leaving OU without a quarterback and making my low-ball prediction for the Sooners even more reasonable.)

The defense is manned by stars Rufus Alexander (LB), Reggie Smith (CB) and C.J. Ah You (DE), with a few legitimate defensive starters returning from injury.

Oklahoma has only gotten better since last year’s Red River Shootout, as well as much better than twenty months ago. And yes, they’re still regrouping from that Orange Bowl loss. Getting paced on the sport’s biggest stage really does a lot to a program’s morale, recruiting, and general state of optimism; just ask Big Red in Lincoln. Oklahoma’s steady improvement is enough to offset any homefield advantage in Eugene. A month or so later comes the Shootout in Dallas; I just don’t feel in my heart of hearts that Mack Brown can outcoach Bob Stoops with a pretty level amount of talent between the two squads. If Oklahoma can find a quarterback who won’t fuck up all the time (they’re eyeing wide receiver Paul Thompson to take over), AP will give a solid performance en route to a close win. Then it’s pretty smooth coasting, with favorable home games bringing up the rear for the most part. So sign me up for Adrian Peterson this mid-December, although I’m a little leery of a guy with problems such as this:

“Peterson apparently needed stitches in his forehead in the third quarter [of the Holiday Bowl] after he hit it on the back of a teammate's helmet while celebrating a big play. He was treated on the bench, and when he stood up, had a big bandage on his forehead.”

7.
Notre Dame
Wake up the echoes! Let the Irish ultrahype continue all the way through Gameday live in Atlanta (?). There might be more people at Gameday than Bobby Dodd Stadium can accommodate.

Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn exceeded all expectations last year, redefining Irish offensive records en route to a Fiesta Bowl drubbing at the hands of an OSU. Sound familiar? The pessimist in me is holding out on the Weis Bandwagon until after year two. Then again, Weis and the Irish had a solid, top-10 recruiting class last year, which is something Willingham was never able to do.

Who would have predicted a year ago that Quinn and favorite target Jeff Samardzija could be top-five picks in an NFL draft? Get used to that combination; barring injury, the pair should exceed the 1249 yards and 15 TDs they connected on last year.

Defense remains the primary concern, as the same secondary who was scorched by Smith-to-Ginn/Holmes in the Fiesta returns fairly intact. Even with another difficult schedule, if the Irish can get past a worrisome road opener in Atlanta, followed by Penn State and Michigan games which must feature a good homefield advantage and a makeshift defense, they could likely coast until the November 25 showdown in Los Angeles.

Sanchez reportedly attends Notre Dame games in his spare time.

Nothing Wrong With 9-3

8. Florida
(Cue contrived Nike Football reference): I bet Urban Meyer wishes he had Briscoe High’s quarterback instead of his current one. Not that his current one is any Jesse Palmer or Ingle Martin, mind you. Currently, Chris Leak’s legacy will be one of missed opportunities and Outback bowls.

Enter stud recruit Tim Tebow who fits the Urban Renewal (so lame) to a T (even lamer). My prediction is that Tebow takes over for Leak—or at least splits time—by the sixth or seventh game. Maybe he starts at Alltel.

Get it?
Not sure if it's exactly fair to Chris Leak, being that Florida's schedule is godawful in the month of October (Alabama, LSU, at Auburn, bye, Georgia in consecutive weeks). Then again, the Leak versus Tebow quarterback "controversy" is a consummate display of differences between what's successful at the pro level and what's successful at the collegiate level. Now, I'm not saying Leak is the next Carson Palmer (or even the next Matt Schaub); I'm just saying Leak represents everything Jim Mora, Jr. wants Michael Vick to be right now. Unfortunately, he'll have to suffer one more year of awkward college ball with yet another terrrabull offensive line before he makes a solid pro backup as a fourth-round pick. Florida is able to win 3 of those aforementioned games; in my opinion, they only need to win two (Georgia and a West team) to win the East.

As for defense, well, the unit returns six starters from a squad that ranked 18th nationally and looks to be the most steadfast (along with wide receiver) on a team where a young influx of blue-chippers is imminent.
9. LSU
Look for a position-specific Tiger preview to come out shortly.
10. California
Some offensive questions and a lack of top-ten experience is the only thing holding the Golden Bears back this year. Marshawn Lynch seems to be everyone's I-know-a-little-more-than-you Heisman pick for 2006, and rightfully so-- he's pretty much the only back in a rushing attack which ranked ninth in the nation last year. Also, Cal welcomes back three uber-fast wideouts on a unit that notched 22 receiving touchdowns last year.

However, three offensive lineman need to be replaced, which might affect Lynch's rushing output or something. Also, they don't have a quarterback yet. 2005 starter Nate Longshore injured himself against Sacramento State last year (yikes), Joe Ayoob (that just sounds like a backup's name) threw 14 INTs and was subsequently benched, and Steve Levy threw a pint glass at someone in an Irish pub. I agree, Jeff-- it really is Quarterback U.

The defense returns seven starters from a squad that allowed 21.2 ppg last season; this is the Pac-10, mind you. Cal faces a stiff road challenge in Knoxville with the season opener, but if the quarterback can refrain from mistakes (get your pint glasses ready, UT), a strong running game and defense will quell any early visions of a Vol turnaround. After that, it's fairly smooth sailing until UCLA at home and USC on the road.

Vying for Conference Titles and Trying to Save a Job or Two
11. Miami
I can't rank a team with this much offensive talent-- and returning defensive success-- much lower. Kyle Wright has one season of experience under his belt, and I can remember thinking to myself that Wright didn't look half bad in his first start in the godawful Labor Day Classic. Oh well, at least this one didn't involve punches to Michael Bubis and proclamations of controlling everything. It's just that Wright's line was terrabull last year, and, not unlike Florida, almost completely starts from scratch in 2006. Add six new assistants to the offensive staff, injury-prone Tyrone Moss at running back, and the norm of lazy-yet-freakishly-athletic wide receivers to the dubious mix. This year's Miami team seems like a hazy Xerox of the 2001 semi-pro 'Canes.

And then the defense takes the field. Six return from a squad ranking top-five in nearly every statistical category including points allowed (14.3 ppg). The defensive backfield ranked first in the nation last year for passing yards allowed, led by freshman phenom Kenny Phillips and wily, heat-packing veteran Brandon Meriweather. Which reminds me... how is the NCAA so up in arms over where Reggie Bush lived and what classes Auburn running backs take while Miami players are roaming the streets with loaded guns? And shooting them?

Miami faces Florida State at home and Louisville on the road, and then can ease on the gas midway through the schedule. A focused Miami team would win its last 9 games by an average of fifteen points or higher. Just typing 'focused Miami team' causes me to smirk, however. Watch out for Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, or Boston College to nip 'em in the rear! LOLZ
12. Michigan
It seems like every year Michigan is pre-rated in the top eight or higher, and every year they fail to exceed or meet expectations (some notable exceptions are 1997 and 2003). This year might be their biggest underestimation, if that is at all possible, in recent memory. Critics have failed to forget that Chad Henne and Mike Hart are now juniors with two full years (injuries excepted) of experience under their belts. The Wolverines also return two wideouts who bring experience and big plays to the offense—Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham.

The defense is shaky, as usual, but features six returning starters and an experienced defensive backfield which has been the heart of the Michigan defense—or its undoing—in the past.

Michigan’s schedule features road games at Notre Dame, at Penn State, and at Ohio State. The way the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry has been going, it’s almost expected that Michigan can pull out a victory in South Bend. 10-2 seems realistic for the Wolverines; anything less and Lloyd Carr could be packing up. It’s shocking that a program with such a storied past could give someone like Carr a mulligan last year. Michigan hasn’t played with anything resembling toughness since Charles Woodson and Mighty Brian Griese were strolling Ann Arbor.

13.
Louisville
I keep thinking Louisville had a terrible year last year for some reason, like barely qualifying to make a bowl or something. It turns out they went 9-2 in the regular season, losing a shocker at South Florida and a heartbreaker at West Virginia. They made the Gator Bowl, led most of the way, and got
stomped on in the end by a Virginia Tech team trying to salvage something.

Back for 2006 are Brian Brohm, Michael Bush, and Mario Urrutia, the three-headed offensive threat of Bobby Petrino which is more than capable of dislodging West Virginia from the throne. The offense returns eight starters and must replace three offensive linemen. But Louisville has never been the type of offense to rely heavily on the play of its offensive line—most of Louisville’s successes involve quick throws, speed to the outside, and deception.

The defense returns seven starters and must replace All-Everything Elvis Dumervil. At least, for now, the phrase “Elvis has entered the building” does not exist in Dave O’Brien’s catalogue when covering the one Louisville game I watch per year.

The schedule works out nicely for Louisville, facing quality teams like Miami and West Virginia at the Papa John Stadium. Win those two games, and Louisville most certainly will be headed to the Orange or Sugar in January.

14. Georgia
It’s the start of the Joe Tereshinski III Reign in Athens! The one positive for Joey, who looked downright awful against Florida last year, is that the bar is set so low for him, almost anything mediocre seems absolutely amazing. He’s pretty much college football’s Kyle Orton.

Enter Matthew Stafford, the Elite 11 stud of a quarterback who seems poised to take over the Bulldog offense by the Florida game. Luckily for each quarterback, there’s a stable of running backs—Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, and Danny Ware—who have been at Georgia for a combined eighteen years.

The defense is never really an issue with Mark Richt; this year’s front seven returns three linebackers and a defensive end, and the defensive backfield only returns Tra Battle, probably the perfect name for an SEC rover.

Georgia should be 5-0 before Tennessee comes to Athens and could be 8-0 before heading off to Jacksonville. One loss in the SEC should wrap up the SEC East nicely again for the Dawgs, unless that one loss comes at the hands of Florida.

15. Florida State
Essentially a transition year for the ‘Noles, this season could still be conducive towards nine or ten wins and a possible ACC title defense. And are you as excited about Myron Rolle as I am? Florida State only returns five players on either side of the ball, and most of the growing pains will be felt on the defensive side.

Broderick Bunkley, A.J. Nicholson, and Ernie Sims are all in training camps now, and replacing this all-star defense is the number one priority in Tallahassee. With two of its first three games against potentially high-powered offenses in Miami and Clemson, these transitions may put FSU out of the conference title hunt before the season really starts.

Drew Weatherford did an about-face and became a legitimately good ACC quarterback last season, rewriting Philip Rivers’ freshman ACC records. Lorenzo Booker returns at running back, which may not matter at all, since Florida State’s offensive line has been suspect in recent memory.

Miami, Clemson, Boston College and Florida represent the speed bumps on FSU’s schedule, while the rest should be cut-and-dry wins for the ‘Noles. Right? Well, this is the same team that lost to Virginia and N.C. State last year, as well. Expect another one of those inexplicable ACC losses, making FSU’c chances of repeating as ACC champs even slimmer.

Rounding Out the Top 25

16. Iowa
17. Clemson
18. Tennessee
19. Oregon
20. Virginia Tech
21. TCU
22. UCLA
23. Texas Tech
24. Alabama
25. Nebraska

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