10 Things, Preseason
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This year, I've decided to change it up a bit. Instead of the SEC Rundown, every Tuesday I'll have the top ten games, players, and story lines from the previous weekend in all of college football - not just the SEC. Feel free to voice all comments, suggestions, etc because that's what it's all about. Without further ado, I present you the preseason edition, which gives the top ten story lines to watch this season. Enjoy...
1. Will the champs repeat?
Ever since the Tide held up their first BCS trophy, and their first national title in 17 years, the Bama Nation and football fans across the country wanted to know the same thing – will they do it again? It’s asked every year, but in actuality, there has only been one team in the last 50 years to win back to back consensus national titles – Nebraska, ’94 and ’95. That includes the 25 years Bear Bryant roamed the sidelines. That includes Pete Carroll’s run in the PAC 10. That covers the entire head coaching careers of Paterno and Bowden. History is not on their side.
Nick Saban, though, is known as a defensive mastermind. While the offense returns all of its firepower from 2009, it’s the dominant defense that lost all but two starters, including coach-on-the-field Rolando McClain. Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have to pull a rabbit from the proverbial hat to hold off the rest of the SEC.
2. And the 2010 Heisman goes to…
…not Mark Ingram? It’s not likely Ingram will take the hardware a second year in a row – if for no other reason than Trent Richardson, his backup that many consider as good if not better. If recent history is any indication it will be a sophomore. Ingram, like Bradford and Tebow before him, was an underclassman when he won it last year. If a running back is to take it, Deon Lewis from Pitt is a good bet. If you think a quarterback will bring home the hardware, you're not alone and there are plenty to chose from. Kellen Moore (Boise State), Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State), Ryan Mallet (Arkansas), Jake Locker (Washington), and Case Keenum (Houston) all have Heisman hopes.
No matter what happens, it's going to be fun seeing who lives up to the hype, as this year's vote may be the closest one ever, especially if two or three of the above mentioned players are on undefeated teams come season's end.
Which one? Boise State has been the flavor of the decade, winning two BCS bowls in four years. Last year, TCU joined them in the Fiesta Bowl in the first year two teams from non-AQ schools received BCS bids. THis year, both teams start in the Top 10. They look to have some competition, though. Houston is hoping Keenum leads them to perfection in Conference USA. Notre Dame is hoping Brian Kelly can have more success with the team in his first year than Weis did in his last. In fact, Weis and Willingham, the last two head coaches for the Fighting Irish won 10 games in their first year.
Utah and BYU both have hopes of downing TCU and carrying the Mountain West Conference flag into the BCS. Dark horse candidates Navy and Temple both also have outside shots. Navy quietly won 10 games last year, and could make it undefeated if they survive Air Force, Notre Dame, and a couple mid-level ACC teams. Temple returned from a mediocre 5-7 record in '08 to go 9-4 (7-1 in the MAC) last year. Add three or four wins again and the Owls could be knocking on the door as well.
4. NCAA Investigations
No football season in recent memory will be as affected by NCAA sanctions, or the threat thereof, than the 2010 season. First, USC has the hammer dropped on them, making them the first program since Alabama in 2003 to be banned from postseason play (the Tide went 4-9 that year). Sure, USC's run of dominance in the PAC-10 ended last year, but they were poised to reclaim the Rose Bowl birth until sanctions relegated them to the role of spoiler for someone else.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's Marvin Austin might be the most infamous individual of the off season. It was his tweets and FaceBook posts that alerted investigators of the little gathering of college amateurs and NFL agents in Miami. As a result, Austin is suspended indefinitely for being a "distraction to the team", and the Tarheels could be without as many as nine projected starters when the open with LSU. In a season where they could contend for the ACC crown, now their season might be over before it begins.
Not too far away, Marcel Dareus, who was the Defensive MVP of the national championship game and is best known for his pirouette and subsequent touchdown late in the second quarter against the Longhorns, was also implicated in the Miami party. His status is in doubt, and a very bad situation it is for the defending champs who already have so much to replace on defense. Elsewhere in the SEC, South Carolina is dealing with a number of players who took discounted rates at a local hotel - casting their futures in doubt as well.
There you have it - four potential teams in three different BCS conferences already behind the eight ball to one degree or another. That's not including player arrests and injuries all across the country.
And the season hasn't even started yet...
5. Mark Herzlich
Finally, with all the negativity this off season, from sanctions to suspensions to realignment, here is a true feel good story. No matter what team you root for or where your loyalties lie, you've no doubt heard of Mark Herzlich by now. The Boston College linebacker and ACC Defensive Player of the Year missed all of 2009 while fighting Ewing's sarcoma - a rare cancer that attacks bone or soft tissue. He was projected to resume team activities this year when a broken foot sidelined hi earlier this year. The Boston Herald reported Sunday that Herzlich has participated in non-contact drills and would return to full contact practice as soon as Tuesday. A better example of overcoming odds doesn't exist anywhere else in the sport, and it's a testament to his physical strength when he was first diagnosed, his determination not to quit, and the power of family and faith.
May we all look and Boston College's #94 as a shining example of all that is good with college football.
6. Husker Revenge x 2
Last year, the Huskers came within one second of shattering Texas' hopes of a national title and gaining their first Big Twelve championship since 1999. Less than a year later, they decided to turn their backs on the oligarchy that is the Big Twelve and join the Big Ten effective the 2011 season. They get their much anticipated rematch during the regular season this year, and it's in Lincoln. In what will be the biggest game Husker Nation has witnessed since, well last year's championship game they look to go out winners against the team they view as the spoiled brat who has to have it his way. If they can parlay that a win into a birth in the last Big Twelve championship game they'll be eligible for, they will have the chance to stick it to Texas one more time. The alternative, if history is any indication, is a chance to play Bob Stoops and Oklahoma and relive what was one of the better rivalries of all-time way back when.
No matter how it works out, if Nebraska can have success, there's no doubt the rest of the country will look at the Big Twelve championship game with the same intensity they did Ohio St-Michigan when they met as #1 and #2 a few years ago.
7. Year of the QB
As I mentioned earlier, the number of top quarterback talent returing this year is truly staggering. In a year that saw the departure of the winning-est college QB in history (Colt McCoy - 45 wins), his Heisman winning rival (Sam Bradford), and one of the most talented players to ever take a snap (Tim Tebow), there might be even more talent coming back this year.
For one, it's quite possible that all five Heisman finalists will be quarterbacks. Every voting region has a darling that should compete for the trophy. Besides Locker, Mallet, and Pryor, Christian Ponder (FSU) and Landry Jones (OU) look to put up big numbers and be in the discussion.
Beyond the Heisman, McCoy's record might not stand much longer than this year. Kellen Moore has won 26 games in two years, and could reach 50 wins before he leaves the blue turf. He could also wind up, statistically speaking, the best quarterback to ever play the game, as he currently leads the country in efficiency, though Case Keenum has him in total yards.
Whether it's a result of "system" QB's or there's just that much raw talent out there, this figures to be one of the most talent rich years at the position in recent memory.
8. Pivotal Season for the SEC
For the last four years, the rest of the country has had to listen to fans in the SEC (and more specifically LSU, Florida, and Alabama) rant and rave about how they are the best. In the biggest game each of those four years, it's been true. This year may be different. The middle of the pack is catching up to the top. Arkansas only lost by a field goal to Florida last year and Alabama needed a fourth quarter miracle drive to topple rival Auburn. Both the Tigers and Razorbacks figure to be major players in the SEC this season, and with good reason. If they can steal a win against the Tide or the Gators, this might be the first year since 2005 without an SEC representative on the big stage.
Also, with the bevy of talent scattered throughout this great land, there are plenty of teams ready to take the leap, whether against the SEC or not. Boise State hopes to be the first have not to have - and they aren't alone just in that category. The Big Ten looks to build on winning two BCS games after going 0-6 the last three years. The is turning parity to power. Even the Pac-10 is having new faces contend for the title, with three teams finishing within two games of the title. This could indeed be the year that the rest of the country catches up to the SEC.
But God help them if they don't. If you thought it was bad after 4 years in a row, it'll be worse if the streak reaches five.
9. New BCS Faces
The boards and columns are abuzz every off season with potential BCS "busters", but what about the dark horses from the power conferences? What about those who never fail to falter when favored? Here are a few teams from each of the AQ conferences that have never won a BCS bowl game:
ACC: Georgia Tech - After reaching their first BCS bowl game last season, the Yellow Jackets look to step it up a notch and be only the second ACC team to win a BCS bowl game in the last 10 years.
Big Ten: Wisconsin - I know, I know. Technically they have won a BCS game (two, actually), but by my criteria, the best fit was Illinois and they won't even have a coach by the time the first BCS game starts. That, and Wisconsin hasn't been to a BCS game since the 2000 Rose Bowl, so a 10 year drought is good enough for me. The Badgers were one of four 10+ win programs in the Big Ten last year, and the only one of the four that hasn't been to the BCS in the last couple years. They are due, and if they can make it through back to back dates with Ohio State and at Iowa, they could take the Big Ten all by themselves.
Big 12: Texas A&M - For a team that has won more than seven games in a season exactly once since 2001, a BCS birth would be more than a blessing. For a team with potentially the most productive offense in the Big 12, it may actually work. It's a long shot, though, since the last five weeks of the season include Oklahoma, Nebraska, at Texas, and the Big 12 title game. If they can win enough of the first three to make it to the fourth, anything could happen.
Big East: Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/Connecticut - All three of these teams have been both horrible and borderline great the past 5-10 years, and all three have just as good a chance at winning the conference to play for their first BCS win ever.
Pac-10: Arizona - The Wildcats finished tied for second in the conference and have improved their conference record each of the last two years. If they can continue improving and steal a win like Iowa, even if they fail to win the conference, they could be an at-large selection for the BCS.
SEC: Auburn - True, I'm known as an Alabama fan through and through. I'm also not blind. From last year to this year, both the Tide and Tigers have more questions than answers. Both have potentially great offenses and unproven defenses. If Bama is the measure of what the rest of the SEC needs to be, one needs to look no further than last year's heart-stopping finish at Jordan-Hare. If the Tigers have improved their defense, and Cam Newton pans out at QB, this team could be special.
10. Erin Andrews on Gameday
Finally, the sideline girl we've watched for years comes to our favorite (or, at least mine) college football show. Erin will join Lee, Kirk, Chris and Desmond to break down the days games and generally look better than those guys ever could. Speaking of Gameday, it's this Saturday. Get your beverage(s) of choice, sit back in your favorite chair, and get ready for the next installment of our favorite past time and the reason we are all here on this site to begin with - FOOTBALL IS BACK
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