Thursday, August 30, 2007


With two days to go before their 2007 opener against Washington State, here is a brief look at the Wisconsin Badgers, which I will start with a review of the 2006 season.

Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (T-2nd)
Postseason: Beat Arkansas 17-14 in Capital One Bowl

The Badgers had an extremely successful first year under head coach Bret Bielema. Honestly, not a whole lot changed from the Barry Alvarez years, except that Wisconsin seemed to have more of a penchant for throwing the ball than in the past. Much of the credit went to QB John Stocco, who was marvelous in bringing along first year starters at wide receiver (Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan) and at tight end (Travis Beckum and Andy Crooks). Stocco played, for the most part, mistake-free football, and he had a keen understanding of coordinator Paul Chryst's offense. When he missed two games, Tyler Donovan filled in very well and led the team to two wins.

As usual, the power-running game was a key. Freshman RB P.J. Hill ran for over 1,500 yards despite being slowed by injuries in the second half of the season. Hill struggled in a few games, most notably against Michigan and Arkansas, and he wasn't nearly as effective in games where the offensive line had problems. Because of his size, Hill will never be the kind of shifty, playmaking back that some people like. Instead, he looks for a hole and runs straight-ahead. If given enough time to get his legs moving, he can be very hard to tackle. At receiver, the first-year guys were outstanding, with Hubbard and Swan both emerging as deep threats, Swan doubling as a guy who can serve as a possession receiver, and Beckum doing everything that was asked of him. Depth was lacking, but was never really tested.

All-American Joe Thomas led the way on the offensive line, earning himself top-five status in the NFL Draft. The other four starters struggled in pass-protection, sometimes leaving Stocco vulnerable to excessive physical contact. Notable in the group was the improvement of center Marcus Coleman, who got notably better as the season wore on. He'll be the only senior starter on the line this year.

Defensively, the Badgers were very good in pretty much all areas. The line did a very good job against the run, but maybe didn't generate enough pass rush. That void was filled by outside linebacker DeAndre Levy, who actually led the team with six sacks. CB Jack Ikegwuonu earned respect around college football because of his size and speed, and he lost any remaining anonymity when he ran down Arkansas star RB Darren McFadden to save a touchdown in the bowl game.

Entering 2007, the outlook is very good. Some might even say it's "rosy", though it may be too early to tell that for sure. The Badgers return 16 starters, including nine on offense, where only Stocco and Thomas were lost. Donovan takes over as the full-time starting QB, and he has all the targets back to throw to. That list is keyed by Beckum, who is getting recognition on a lot of preseason All-America lists. Hill returns, allegedly a bit slimmer but not having lost any of his power. If he can stay healthy, he could approach 2,000 yards running behind the horses Wisconsin has up front. Thomas is gone, but Coleman, guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp, and right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel return. Redshirt freshman Gabe Carimi surprised many by winning the job at Thomas' old LT position in fall camp. Listed at 292 pounds, he'll be the smallest of the Badgers' starting linemen, the rest of whom average close to 320 pounds.

On defense, starting end Joe Monty, MLB Mark Zalewski, and safeties Joe Stellmacher and Roderick Rogers have moved on. However, the core of the defense returns. DTs Nick Hayden and Jason Chapman are rock-solid, with both needing to flash a little more pass-rush ability. LE Matt Shaughnessy plays much bigger than his listed 242 pounds. The RE position has issues, as senior Jamal Cooper was suspended last week and then formally kicked off the team earlier this week. Senior Kurt Ware, a solid player who won't do much in terms of rushing the passer, appears set to start.

OLBs Levy and Jonathan Casillas return. Casillas is billed as the second-fastest player on the defense behind Ikegwuonu. He led the team in tackles for loss a year ago, and appears poised for a huge season. Elijah Hodge, younger brother of former Iowa star Abdul, takes over in the middle. Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford will hold down the starting CB spots, with freshman Aaron Henry expected to see time as the nickel back.

It's the safety positions that create the most questions for Wisconsin entering 2007. Sophomore Shane Carter (brother of Cris) and Aubrey Pleasant are the listed starters, but neither have started before, and they've combined for seven total tackles at UW. If teams are going to attack this defense early in the season, "deep middle" might be the best option for them.

The schedule favors a hot start. After Washington State this weekend, the Badgers travel to UNLV and host The Citadel before opening Big Ten play with back-to-back home games against Iowa and Michigan State. Trips to Illinois and Penn State after that could be problematic, but there is a good chance Wisconsin will be 9-0 when they travel to Columbus November 3. They follow that up by hosting Michigan and visiting Minnesota, two intense rivalry games.

Games against Washington State, UNLV, The Citadel, Michigan State, Northern Illinois, and Minnesota should be relatively easy wins. While Iowa, Illinois and Penn State will give Wisconsin trouble, those are all clearly winnable games.

This leaves those games against Ohio State and Michigan. Even though UW has won their last three in Columbus and beat Michigan the last time the two met in Madison, it's not reasonable to think they'll win both. I'll split the difference, and call for an 11-1, 7-1 season. That should be enough to get the Badgers into a BCS bowl game, perhaps the Rose Bowl if the Big Ten sends a team to the title game.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Football madness. I really am sorry to all of you who aren't into college and pro football. If you're a baseball fan, you can read the latest about that idiot managing the Brewers here. While you're there, stop and leave a comment - preferably a message of support to those who put that thing together. They deserve it, because they saw the writing on the wall before a lot of people did. And, yes, we did get Yosted again on Tuesday night. If you're a basketball fan, well go to True Hoop, because I just can't get into this FIBA thing, and nothing else is really happening in the NBA.

Hockey fans, hang tight. We're still about a month away. It's going to be fun.

College football gets started tomorrow night. Instead of being lame and trying to give you reasons why college football is better than NFL football, I've instead decided to try something different. You'll never see more than 16 NFL games in one weekend, even if you have the Sunday Ticket package. The following is a list of games I will be able to watch this Saturday alone, and it is without the benefit of a pay-per-view purchase.

East Carolina at Virginia Tech
UAB at Michigan State
Colorado State vs Colorado
Marshall at Miami (FL)
Appalachian State at Michigan
Northeastern at Northwestern
Youngstown State at Ohio State
Florida International at Penn State
Virginia at Wyoming
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Mississippi Valley State
Southern vs. Florida A&M
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame
Wake Forest at Boston College
Washington State at Wisconsin
Missouri vs. Illinois
UCLA at Stanford
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois
Western Michigan at West Virginia
Arizona at BYU
Baylor at TCU
Oklahoma State at Georgia
North Texas at Oklahoma
Purdue at Toledo
Army vs Akron
Kansas State at Auburn
Tennessee at California
Indiana State at Indiana
Bowling Green at Minnesota
New Mexico at UTEP
Idaho at USC

30 games. No extra charge to me. This doesn't count any games I can find online. I know what I'll be doing Saturday.

Stupid NCAA rules. Brian Cook had this on FanHouse earlier today. The gist: An Oklahoma recruit was shot and killed a few days back. In order to help his family pay the $9,000 for the funeral, some OU fans started up a fund to raise money. The NCAA intervened and informed the fans that such a fund is a violation of NCAA rules, unless a waiver is requested by OU - and subsequently granted.

The stupidity of this knows no bounds. The sports world in general is wrought with image problems. Even fans occasionally do things that tarnish the overall image of sports fans. For once, someone is trying to make something good come out of a horrible story, and the NCAA intervenes to end the goodness.

I understand that they have rules. But why is a waiver required in order to raise money to help a family fund a funeral for a freaking murder victim?

UMD football opener. Last year, the Bulldogs may have actually had a better team, but they took a step back in terms of record and conference standing, going 6-4 overall and 4-4 in the North Central Conference. This season, UMD opens with a ridiculously tough three-game home slate, hosting three postseason teams from a year ago (Bemidji State, Missouri Western, and South Dakota). Leading the offense for a third year is starting quarterback Ted Schlafke. The junior didn't miss a start last year, but played hurt for much of the year.

The team ended the year on a high note, beating St. Cloud State to clinch a winning season, and in the process, UMD showed off the potential to run the ball more effectively than they had all season to that point. The Bulldogs, under head coach Bubba Schweigert and offensive coordinator Phil Longo, finally get to run the same system for a second straight year. The offense should look more fluid with all their returning experience. Even though star Greg Aker is gone, the passing game will click with Schlafke at the helm.

One key will be flashing a competent running game. The Bulldogs were often bad running the ball, which put more pressure on Schlafke to make plays with his arm, and it allowed defenses to key on the passing game. There's no doubt that today's brand of football doesn't require actual offensive balance, but a team that doesn't show it can run the ball is going to have a long day, much like how a team that doesn't show it can throw the ball is often going to struggle. It's not about 50/50 balance. It's about showing you're capable of 50/50 balance.

Defensively, UMD is loaded. Senior LBs Jon Rufledt, Nate Fears, and Cody Ahmann lead the way, but junior safeties Jim Johnson and Tyler Yelk also return. It's as experienced a defense as you're going to find anywhere in the NCC, and it might be the best defense UMD has fielded under Schweigert.

As I mentioned, the schedule is tough. The three postseason opponents to kick off the season are followed by a road trip to Central Washington, who is coming off a pretty successful NCC debut. The Bulldogs also travel to Nebraska-Omaha and have a home date with North Dakota in October.

This is the final year of North Central Conference football, and it looks like UMD will be right in the thick of the title picture when November comes.


For those new to my predictions, the rules are simple. I'm going to pick all games involving Big Ten teams, and I'll make a pick on any game that involves two ranked teams. Outside of that, it's just a subjective deal by me. I try to find the potential upsets, and the interesting games. At the end, I'll debut a new feature we're going to try every week.

This week, we have a lot of games. Let's get it on!

(All games Saturday unless noted)

Utah at Oregon State (Thursday): The Utes get Brian Johnson back under center (well, in the shotgun more often than not, I guess). Oregon State is trying to slog through without top receiver Sammie Stroughter, but they're at home, and they have enough talent to win. A Utah upset would set the table for a Mountain West title run. I think the Utes have the goods to contend in their league, but they don't quite have enough muscle to pull this road upset.
The pick: Oregon State

Appalachian State at Michigan: Hey, at least the Mountaineers won a national title last year. ASU has a chance to contend again in I-AA, and they might keep this game close for a half. However, Michigan has way too much speed, skill, and depth. They'll win going away.
The pick: Michigan

Florida International at Penn State: FIU was competitive in some games last year, but was still an 0-12 disaster better known for the fight at Miami than anything they did while actually playing football. The Panthers have a new coaching staff and a more upbeat outlook. They're still no match for Penn State, and this is not a quality test for Anthony Morelli. Next week will be.
The pick: Penn State

Youngstown State at Ohio State: Good tuneup for tOSU, debuting a new QB in Todd Boeckman, who is no Troy Smith and won't have to be on this day.
The pick: Ohio State

Northeastern at Northwestern: The Wildcats came on strong late last season, and were a better team at the end than the one that lost to New Hampshire early. Northeastern isn't nearly as strong as UNH was last year, and shouldn't be much of a threat.
The pick: Northwestern

UAB at Michigan State: There are a lot of mid-majors who could really give Michigan State a run for their money early in the season. Sparty is working with a leaky defense and a new QB in Brian Hoyer. UAB might be able to control the ball for some time, but it's going to be extremely difficult for an overmatched UAB team to win this game.
The pick: Michigan State

Washington State at Wisconsin: The Badgers have very high expectations, but also a new quarterback. Washington State may be a tad overlooked in the Pac Ten, but are hardly a top-notch opponent. Wisconsin may have to win this game with their defense while the offense gets used to new starting QB Tyler Donovan. This is going to be a low-scoring game, but Wisconsin will win comfortably.
The pick: Wisconsin

Iowa at Northern Illinois (Soldier Field, Chicago): No more Drew Tate, but the way he played down the stretch last year, that might be a good thing. No more Garrett Wolfe for NIU, and that's hardly a good thing. The Huskies will achieve a greater offensive balance this year, but the adjustment to no Wolfe will take some time.
The pick: Iowa

Missouri vs Illinois (Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis): This could set up as a bit of a surprise. Illinois has bowl aspirations this year, and that 2-10 record they posted a year ago is a bit misleading. Missouri is the pick of many to win the Big 12 North. Of all the games involving Big Ten teams this week, this could be the best, and it's easily the toughest one to pick. Despite my Big Ten biases, and the fact that I do like Illinois to win seven games this year, I'm going with Missouri to win an entertaining game.
The pick: Missouri

Purdue at Toledo: The Rockets have a QB controversy, and the offense has some pressure to perform after a down year in 2006. Purdue has a ton of players back from last year's bowl team, and they are setting up for a possible run at a major bowl this year. If anything, Purdue's defense is going to set them back. If Toledo can get it together, this should be a high-scoring game.
The pick: Purdue

Indiana State at Indiana: The Hoosiers won't be that this year.
The pick: Indiana

Bowling Green at Minnesota: Debuting Gophers coach Tim Brewster has a freshman QB in Adam Weber, and this is a nice way to start his career. Bowling Green shouldn't present too many challenges for Mike Dunbar's newly-installed spread offense, but the athletic Falcons might cause the Gophers' defense a few problems. Expect Minnesota to get enough points to hold off the Falcons.
The pick: Minnesota

Colorado State vs. Colorado (Invesco Field, Denver): An improved Rams team faces an improved Buffaloes team. CU debuts coach Dan Hawkins' son, Cody, as their starting QB. The Buffaloes should have a stout defense, and even though the Rams are talented up front and at RB with the returning Kyle Bell, they don't have enough horses to hold off Colorado.
The pick: Colorado

Nevada at Nebraska: Nebraska has a tough non-conference schedule. Nevada is no pansy, and the 'Huskers travel to Wake Forest before hosting USC in two weeks. The Nebraska offense appears to have all the tools necessary to win this putrid division they're in, and Nevada should give them a nice test without scaring them too much.
The pick: Nebraska

Wake Forest at Boston College: For Wake, this is the test. Was last year a fluke? They get their young QB back with a ton of experience under his belt. They get their star RB back after a season-ending injury early last year, and coach Jim Grobe stocked that position with talented recruits. Boston College returns possibly the ACC's best QB in Matt Ryan, but will the offense gel under new coaches? I like BC at home, but not by much, and a BC win doesn't do anything to devalue what Wake accomplished last year.
The pick: Boston College

Georgia Tech at Notre Dame: Really, Charlie, it doesn't matter who the quarterback is. Your team has problems in this matchup. The Irish have lost a lot of great players, and while Georgia Tech lost Calvin Johnson, they have the makings of a great defense. That defense will chew up whatever quarterback Charlie Weis has decided to use as the Notre Dame starter, and Tech will win a close, low-scoring game...the same kind of game Notre Dame beat them in last year.
The pick: Georgia Tech

Arizona at BYU: Last year, Arizona won a very close game at home, and BYU went on to win eleven of their last twelve games. The Cougars have a new QB, but should still be able to score points in bunches. Playing at home in the altitude, BYU will turn the tables on the Wildcats, who may be playing for their coach's job this season.
The pick: BYU

Oklahoma State at Georgia: Oklahoma State is a chic upset pick for many. They have a talented young football team that is stuck playing in a tough division. Georgia, meanwhile, was a late-season surge away from not even making a bowl game last year. Both teams expect that they'll be improved, and I'm going to avoid the limb by picking the home team to win.
The pick: Georgia

Kansas State at Auburn: Kansas State surprised nicely last year, getting to the Texas Bowl. Auburn seems to be the forgotten soul of the SEC West and of major-college football in Alabama. That's still a very good, well-coached team. On paper, this one looks interesting, but I think the Tigers will win quite handily.
The pick: Auburn

Tennessee at California: This will be fun. The Volunteers embarrassed the Golden Bears in Knoxville, and Cal is out for revenge. Tennessee has new faces all over the offense, but leader Eric Ainge is back for his senior season. This game won't have last year's fireworks, and it will have a different result than we saw last year.
The pick: California

Texas Tech at SMU (Monday): There's a good chance that SMU will get back into a bowl game this year for the first time since the 1980s. This is a solid football team, but their defense is undersized and not quite athletic enough to contain Texas Tech's crazy offense. This could also be a high-scoring game, as TTU isn't exactly known for their defense, but in the end, Mike Leach's crew prevails.
The pick: Texas Tech

Florida State at Clemson (Monday): Clemson has a super one-two punch at running back, but there are issues at quarterback, as well as on defense. This is the first test for new FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who should be a significant upgrade over Jeff Bowden. Florida State has way too much offensive talent to struggle like they did last year, and Fisher will get them back playing top-quality football. And don't worry, that defense is in fine shape.
The pick: Florida State

Every week, I'm going to pick a game that follows one basic rule: Both teams involved have to be from non-BCS conferences. It's a little tougher during the "non-conference season", but we slog ahead nonetheless.

Tulsa at Louisiana-Monroe (Thursday): Tulsa has skill talent back on offense, but they have to rebuild their line. The defense looks pretty good, and it will be tested by ULM. Charlie Weatherbie's Warhawks are loaded offensively, and they'll spread out Tulsa's defense and attack. The key will be the play of ULM's defense, which should be primed for a national TV appearance at home, but may not have the skill to hold up against Tulsa's offense.
The pick: Tulsa

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


1. Navy
2. Notre Dame
3. Army
4. Western Kentucky


4. Could Western Kentucky have timed their I-A move any worse? WKU has been pretty strong in Division I-AA, so it makes a degree of sense that they would want to move up. However, the Hilltoppers lose longtime head coach Jack Harbaugh, and they lost some great offensive talent, too. Their top all-time leading rusher, Lerron Moore, departed, as did #2 all-time passer Justin Haddix. The I-A teams on the schedule are all road trips, with the exception of a likely loss to defending Sun Belt champ Troy. WKU might be able to pull an upset against the likes of Middle Tennessee, Bowling Green, Ball State, or North Texas, but will be lucky to win a game against a I-A team. Overall, WKU is looking at a 3-9/4-8 season.

3. Can Army take advantage of a quickly softening schedule? Luckily, there shouldn't be a long transition period for the players as they adjust to new head coach Stan Brock. The issue will be the level of talent. Army struggled to move the ball with any consistency, and they had a devil of a time holding on to it (-18 turnover ratio, and they only had one game where they had a plus in that department). Brock enters with a schedule that gradually becomes a bit more favorable after a stretch of three of the first four on the road, but it's still hard to imagine Army being able to coax enough wins out of the season to be bowl-eligible. A 4-8 or 5-7 finish appears more likely.

2. How big is the rebuilding job at Notre Dame? I think the Irish were lucky to be left out of the preseason polls. Notre Dame is traditionally overrated by the college football media, and it was refreshing to see them all do some research into this team. The Irish not only have to replace guys like Quinn, Walker, Samardzija, McKnight, Ndukwe, and Landri. It doesn't even matter that we don't know who the QB is yet. This schedule is nearly impossible, especially for a team on the mend. The Irish have home games with Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Boston College, and USC, along with road games against Penn State, Michigan, Purdue, and UCLA, all in the first eight weeks. That's seven bowl teams in the first eight games, with no week off. The last four games appear to be a bit of a breeze, but it won't matter much if Notre Dame is already 3-5.

1. Is Navy going to do it again? By "it", I mean "win eight or nine games and get to a decent bowl game". It looks good again this year. The Middies have a rarity this year: a junior starting quarterback who has game experience. Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada got six starts last year after Brian Hampton was injured, and he led the option attack efficiently. With all his top backs returning, including bullish fullback Adam Ballard, the Navy ground game will click to the tune of another 300-yard average. Coach Paul Johnson has to rebuild the defense, but it's been done before at Navy. They have improved size and athleticism on defense. They'll probably lose to Notre Dame again, but the Midshipmen appear ready to set sail on another successful season.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Adam Ballard, RB, Navy
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Trevor Laws, DT, Notre Dame
Preseason Coach of the Year: Paul Johnson, Navy
Bowl Bound: Notre Dame, Navy
Bowl Bubble: Army
Best Game: USC at Notre Dame, October 20
Worst Game: Delaware at Navy, October 27


Official, but comments still are welcomed.

First, here's a look at my ballot from last week:

1 Southern Cal Best talent. Probably the best coaching. Best depth.
2 Michigan Henne/Hart/Manningham have plenty of talent, experience
3 LSU Despite heavy losses, Saban left program stocked, and Miles just has to avoid screwing it up.
4 West Virginia White and Slaton are perfect fits for speed-based spread offense.
5 Wisconsin Badgers return stout defense, plenty of offensive skill
6 Florida Defending champs plug Tebow in as full-time QB.
7 Oklahoma Peterson's injury last year gave OU glimpse of 2007 starter Allen Patrick.
8 Virginia Tech Hokies need more consistent QB play, but are otherwise legitimate title threat.
9 Nebraska Callahan quietly re-building Nebraska into monster it once was.
10 Louisville Most significant coaching transition in major college football, but Brian Brohm will make sure everything is okay.
11 Texas A&M Should be among best running attacks in the nation.
12 Arkansas McFadden could do even more this season, but offseason controversy will continue to swirl.
13 Ohio State Lost a ton, but Chris Wells could be among best RBs in the country.
14 Texas QB Colt McCoy has new faces on line, and the running game will be the key.
15 California Despite loss of Marshawn Lynch, Bears poised to take a shot at USC.
16 Oregon Forgotten team in Pac 10 gets early-season test at Michigan.
17 Boise State Last year's Cinderella lost its leader, returns star Ian Johnson, and must hold off Hawai'i.
18 Auburn Defense should be a monster again.
19 Florida State Jimbo Fisher > Jeff Bowden
20 South Florida May be this year's version of Rutgers, minus the decades of crappy football.
21 Hawaii Colt Brennan didn't come back to lead a 7-5 team.
22 Penn State One of the best WR groups in the nation, but mediocre QB play could slow them down.
23 Missouri Will battle Nebraska for Big 12 North supremacy and pride.
24 Rutgers It will be very tough to build off last year's storybook run.
25 TCU Mountain West kings should reign again.

We had a roundtable this week, and thanks to some of the great bloggers in the poll, it's time to make a few changes. What I have decided on for this week is a ballot that looks like this:

1 Southern Cal --
2 Michigan --
3 LSU --
4 West Virginia --
5 Wisconsin --
6 Virginia Tech 2
7 Florida 1
8 Oklahoma 1
9 Nebraska --
10 Louisville --
11 Arkansas 1
12 Texas A&M 1
13 Florida State 6
14 Ohio State 1
15 Texas 1
16 California 1
17 Boise State --
18 Oregon 2
19 Auburn 1
20 South Florida --
21 Missouri 2
22 Rutgers 2
23 TCU 2
24 Miami (Florida) 2
25 Hawai'i 4

Dropped Out: Penn State (#22).

As you can see, I like the argument made for Florida State, and I moved them up as a result. I am similarly concerned about Hawai'i, and I'm shocked that I omitted Miami (FL) the first time around. That's fixed, too. Otherwise, I simply made some cosmetic changes.


1. Boise State
2. Hawai'i
3. San Jose State
4. New Mexico State
5. Fresno State
6. Nevada
7. Idaho
8. Utah State
9. Louisiana Tech


5. Fresno State won't do that again, will they? Seemed like everything went wrong last year for the usually-strong Bulldogs. Fresno won their opener, but proceeded to drop four straight (three by a combined nine points) before a humiliating 68-37 home loss to Hawai'i. Fresno would lose two more in a row before finally breaking the skid. The 3-1 finish left some promise for 2007, but Pat Hill has to replace a lot of bodies on defense before the Bulldogs can contend again in the WAC. QB Tom Brandstater had an up-and-down season last year, but USC transfer Michael Stuart should give him a big target in the middle of the field, and Hill has a solid core on the offensive line to work with. The usually tough non-conference schedule shows roadies to Texas A&M and Oregon, along with a home game against Kansas State. Late trips to Hawai'i and New Mexico State will be horribly difficult if Fresno doesn't shore up a leaky pass defense.

4. Will San Jose State continue to improve? The challenge now for Dick Tomey, in his third year as head coach, is to keep this team from flatlining or regressing. A number of key contributors return, especially on defense, where All-WAC LB Matt Castelo and All-American CB Dwight Lowery lead the way. QB Adam Tafralis' favorite target from last year, James Jones, is now a Green Bay Packer, but JUCO transfer David Richmond expects to see plenty of action at WR. 1,000-yard rusher Yonus Davis returns, and the interior of the offensive line should be strong. SJSU plays four straight on the road to start the season, including trips to Arizona State and Kansas State. The Spartans also draw Fresno State and Boise State on the road in WAC play, so getting back to nine wins again this year won't be easy.

3. Is any WAC defense capable of slowing down Hal Mumme's Air Raid? On the surface, only Boise State appears to have much of a shot. Mumme's offense could be more potent than ever this year, with 70-percent passer Chase Holbrook returning, along wit hall his primary receivers. In fact, the top seven pass-catchers return, having combined for 353 catches and 33 touchdowns last year. Junior Chris Williams led the country with 1,415 yards, and he scored 12 times. With no serious improvement in sight for NMSU's defense, the Aggies will try to win more than last year's four games by topping their 31 PPG average. Cutting back on a staggering total of 22 lost fumbles last year is a good first step.

2. Can Boise State avoid slipping up before their showdown at Hawai'i? If they do, the Broncos will have a shot at returning to the BCS picture one year after the Oklahoma upset. Boise has trips to Washington and Fresno State, along with potentially tough home games with Southern Mississippi and San Jose State before the November 23 trip to the islands. Junior RB Ian Johnson, who accounted for 25 scores last year, leads an offense that lost three-year starting QB Jared Zabransky. Center-field safety Marty Tadman led the team in picks last year, and both starting cornerbacks also return from last year. With all the tough games at home, it looks like Boise will again threaten to go unbeaten through the regular season. Imagine a Thanksgiving Friday night game in Hawai'i with two unbeatens. Could there be a better scene?

1. What can Colt Brennan do for an encore? The Hawai'i star hit an incredible 72.6 percent of his throws, totaled 63 touchdowns (58 passing to set an all-time record for a single-season), and threw for over 5,500 yards. The somewhat lanky Brennan returned to school despite information from scouts that he would be a mid-first round pick in the NFL Draft. He gives himself a shot at the H*i*m*n Trophy, but he also wants to lead Hawai'i to a perfect season and a shot at a BCS bowl. The schedule, featuring two I-AA teams, might not be good enough to merit that BCS opportunity, but Brennan sure does have a shot at some serious individual hardware, and he looks like the best NFL prospect June Jones has tutored in the run-and-shoot.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Colt Brennan, QB, Hawai'i
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Marty Tadman, S, Boise State
Preseason Coach of the Year: Hal Mumme, New Mexico State
Coach on the Hot Seat: Brent Guy, Utah State
Bowl Bound: Boise State, Hawai'i
Bowl Bubble: San Jose State, New Mexico State, Fresno State
Best Non-Conference Game:
Worst Non-Conference Game:


1. Troy
2. Louisiana-Monroe
3. Arkansas State
4. Florida Atlantic
5. Louisiana-Lafayette
6. Middle Tennessee
7. Florida International
8. North Texas


5. Will a Sun Belt team pull an upset? If not, it won't be for a lack of opportunity. Troy plays Oklahoma State at home, Florida Atlantic "hosts" Minnesota at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Middle Tennessee gets Virginia at home, and Florida International entertains Maryland. Troy upset Missouri in 2004, but it's been a struggle for the Sun Belt teams against BCS foes since then. For a change, it looks like more of the SBC schools are getting home games against the big boys, which will help the upset cause. But it'll take more than one upset of a clearly overrated ranked team three years ago before people are going to take this league seriously.

4. Who will rise from the middle of the pack to be a league contender? In 2004, it was Troy, a first-year member of the league. In 2005, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette rose from near the bottom to battle Louisiana-Monroe for the league title. Last year, Middle Tennessee went from 3-4 in league play to 6-1, earning a bowl bid in the process. If the trend holds, it probably predicts good fortune for someone among the group of Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Monroe, and Louisiana-Lafayette. Thanks to a returning back who topped 1,000 yards as a freshman, I'm giving the nod to Arkansas State. Reggie Arnold should continue his solid running, and coach Steve Roberts appears to have the tools necessary to field a more balanced offense this year.

3. Will Rusty Smith get FAU's offense going? Howard Schnellenberger has a potential contender on his hands. If it doesn't happen this year, it surely will next year. The Owls have ten starters back on defense, including four seniors who will be in their third year starting. Where Florida Atlantic doesn't have seniors, they have experienced juniors like MLB Frantz Joseph. Smith is expected to get the snaps at quarterback, where he shared time with Sean Clayton last year. Smith was the more accurate of the two, but the Owls need better playmaking out of that position if they're going to improve upon the 15 points per game average from 2006. The running game will be better, thanks to an experienced offensive line and junior Charles Pierre, who was honorable mention All-Sun Belt last year.

2. Can Louisiana-Monroe play enough defense to win games? The Warhawks were decent defensively last year, allowing just 22 points per game against a pretty tough schedule. That unit loses five players, including leading tackler Kevin Payne. Coach Charlie Weatherbie expects to have a very good offense, with all eleven starters back. The Warhawks averaged 34 points per game over their last four, going 3-1 in that stretch to finish 4-8. ULM will spread out opponents and attack both with the run and pass, relying on senior Calvin Dawson to run it while improved junior Kinsmon Lancaster throws. A defensive front that is short on athleticism could hurt ULM, especially early in the season. Their first four games are all tough (Tulsa at home, followed by games at Clemson, Texas A&M, and Troy).

1. Could Troy have a better setup for a repeat? After a 7-1 finish took the Trojans from the outhouse to the penthouse, they're back to try it again this year. An 0-3 start wouldn't surprise anyone, thanks to games against Arkansas, Florida, and Oklahoma State. However, the Trojans have a fast, experienced defense, and they possess the league's best player in senior QB Omar Haugabook. He hurts opponents both with his arm and his legs. The Trojans also have a favorable league schedule, getting ULM, Middle Tennessee, and FAU all at home. If Troy can overcome a deadly non-conference schedule (add a late-season game against Georgia to the earlier list), they should have plenty of ammunition for a run at the SBC crown.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Omar Haugabook, QB, Troy
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Walden, DE, Middle Tennessee
Preseason Coach of the Year: Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe
Coach on the Hot Seat: Rickey Bustle, Louisiana-Lafayette
Bowl Bound: Troy
Bowl Bubble: Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State
Best Non-Conference Game: Tulsa at Louisiana-Monroe, August 30
Worst Non-Conference Game: Grambling at Louisiana-Monroe, November 10


Is Charlie Weis arrogant or smart? It's not shocking to hear non-Notre Dame fans call head coach Charlie Weis arrogant. If you hate Notre Dame enough, you'd find something wrong with anyone they hired to coach that program. When media people start to turn on Weis, you can dismiss it as more anti-Notre Dame venom if you'd like, but it's at least worth noting.

Personally, I think Stewart Mandel makes a good point in his latest blog on Mandel notes that Weis continues to refuse to name his starting quarterback for Saturday's opener against Georgia Tech, citing the fact that not naming his starter gives him a bit of an edge on the Yellow Jackets.

For those who haven't followed this battle, overhyped freshman Jimmy Clausen is battling redshirt freshman Demetrius Jones and junior Evan Sharpley for the starting job. No one thinks that Jones and Sharpley will be able to hold off Clausen for long, but since Clausen is coming off shoulder surgery and is still learning the offense, it's not expected that he'll start the opener. Sharpley appears to be the top candidate, as Jones is more of an athlete than a passer. Weis says he's had his mind made up for a long while, but he won't tell anyone. Mandel takes him to task, and justifiably so.

We live in an era where there are no secrets. Weis' offense is well-known to most opposing defensive coordinators. I highly doubt that Georgia Tech's coaches are trembling in fear over what they'll see on Saturday. They know what Weis will try to do to them, and unless Jones unexpectedly starts, they know they'll be facing a pocket-style quarterback. This isn't rocket science.
"Give the coach credit for one thing, however: he’s managed to create far more intrigue and attention surrounding his decision than should really be merited for an unranked, rebuilding team. That said, it’s fairly obvious at this point that Sharpley, the most experienced of the bunch, will start on Saturday. Perhaps Jones and Clausen will see action as well, but no one really believes Weis, a pro-style guy to the core, is suddenly going to start running the shotgun-spread so Jones can burn people on the QB draw, and clearly Clausen (whose throwing velocity, practice observers have noted, has not been the same as the other two) is not yet healthy enough to go full-time."
Ouch. Must sting a Notre Dame fan to read "unranked, rebuilding" in a description of the Irish. But it's true.

Georgia Tech might not beat the Irish on Saturday, but I think they've already won a portion of the battle. They've somehow convinced Weis that he has to withhold the identity of his starting quarterback to gain a competitive advantage.

As for Weis' purported "arrogance", I don't have any issues with that. Every coach at that level has a certain amount of arrogance. You can get away with it when your team wins. If Notre Dame goes 5-7 at some point, and Weis is still seen as "arrogant", criticism will be much increased.

There's no doubt the guy's smart. But that doesn't mean he's perfect. I would question until I'm blue in the face the need to do what he's doing now. I think it's just to play games with the fans and media, and to keep his unranked team in the headlines for a few days leading up to their opener against an underrated ACC team.

Maybe if we keep whining, they'll do something. Every year, every NFL team lines up to play two home preseason games, ripping off their season-ticket base by charging them full admission to see a bunch of guys who will be selling insurance in two weeks (no offense to those who sell insurance for a living!). And every year, everyone complains about this. Yet nothing has ever been done.

Peter King is wonderful, and he's smart enough after all these years to know that he can get a column out of this issue almost every year. So he does.

This year, he took a couple different ideas for "fixing" the obviously broken preseason format, and he asked those around the NFL in positions of influence to offer their thoughts.

King focused on three ideas.

1. Eliminate the preseason and play 18 games in the regular season.
2. Eliminate one preseason game and play 17 games in the regular season.
3. Eliminate two preseason games and play 18 games in the regular season.

Personally, I think a fourth idea should be in play. Owners should be ordered by the league to charge no more than 25% of the regular season admission price for preseason games. Those $54 seats in, say, New York for Week One can be no more than $13.50 for a preseason game.

Frankly, I see the preseason as important, even if guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson aren't playing. It's important for coaches to let position battles play out in game situations, as well as every day in practice. There are things that happen in games that can't be easily duplicated in practice. For small-college and lightly-regarded prospects, preseason games are how jobs are earned.

Make the move, Doug. I've tried to behave myself and be patient with Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost. Someone started the obligatory, and it wasn't me.

But enough is enough. Yost refuses to do the necessary homework on his opponents, he seems clueless as to how to put his own players in positions to succeed, and it's the same old story. Same old song and dance, my friend. The Brewers are a .500 team, at least until they start playing the Cubs this week, and much of it falls on Ned's shoulders. This marks the third time in the last four years (Ned gets a mulligan on the first year because it was a disaster trying to follow up on Davey Lopes and Jerry Royster) that the Brewers have fallen flat after the All-Star break. Is it always the players' fault? If so, at what point do these collapses fall on the manager?

In one game, he refuses to put in a warmed-up left-handed relief pitcher, even though the batter is appreciably worse against lefties, to the point where his team doesn't usually let him hit against lefties. In another, he pinch-hits right-handed Bill Hall for a left-hander against a left-handed pitcher who is appreciably worse against left-handed hitters. He's too stubborn in trusting his veteran players, and he takes too long to react to a string of bad play by making a lineup change. Well, he is some of the time. Other times, he overreacts to a bad game or two by benching a starter and saying that he "can't find any consistency".

He walked out on his media responsibility Sunday without saying much of anything, and he's been increasingly terse with reporters throughout the season. Now, I'm not about to say that a manager should be fired because he's a jerk to reporters. But when it appears to be a change in attitude, it might be a sign of impending doom.

Yost needs to go, and I'm afraid my suspicions last year - that this team wouldn't win with him as a manager - are being proven true this year, thanks to his lack of development as a strategist. Now, added on to that, it's starting to look like the players are turning against him.

OMG FOOTBALL!! College football conference picks are going up as they are done. I hope to have them all done by today or tomorrow. We only have the Sun Belt, WAC, and Indies left. If nothing else, I'll post my picks on the leagues and not get too much into storylines if time is limited. NFL previews will come next week.

I'll also talk some about UMD football this week, as the Bulldogs get started on Saturday night in Duluth.

Meanwhile, enjoy the newfangled old blog. Leave comments, send me thoughts, whatever. Just don't forget to interact.

Monday, August 27, 2007


1. Florida
2. South Carolina
3. Georgia
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Kentucky


5. Will Vanderbilt end their bowl drought? It's been 25 years. The 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl was the last time Vanderbilt played in a postseason game. The Commodores narrowly missed out in 2005, collapsing after a 4-0 start to finish 5-6. Last year, Vandy beat Georgia and took Arkansas and Florida to the limit, but came up short in those two games and finished 4-8. The offense has talent and experience, led by junior quarterback Chris Nickson, who is only going to get better as he develops chemistry with his skill position talent. They have a solid running back in senior Cassen Jackson-Garrison, and all the top pass-catchers are juniors. Add in an offensive line that returns five senior starters for 2007, and you have the makings of the best offense Bobby Johnson has fielded at Vanderbilt. Oh, and there are four experienced seniors along the defensive front seven. Look out. And don't say I didn't warn you.

4. Is Eric Ainge good enough to overcome the loss of his top three receivers? Ainge was somewhat shaky in 2005, but rebounded nicely to come within a hair of 3,000 yards last year. However, Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain, and Bret Smith combined for over two-thirds of Tennessee's passing yards. The leading returning receiver is tight end Chris Brown, who caught 31 for a non-descript 7.7 yard average. Opening at California doesn't make things any easier for Ainge, as they will be hungry to avenge last year's embarrassing performance in Knoxville. There aren't any gimmes until the fourth game against Arkansas State.

3. Exactly how is Florida going to replace all that lost talent? Just seven starters return from the national championship team. Super-sophomore Tim Tebow takes over for Chris Leak at quarterback, and Kestahn Moore is the new feature back. Urban Meyer will make the most out of the talented and speedy Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin, and his new QB will benefit from a strong offensive line. On defense, the losses are even greater, as nine starters depart. Youth will rule the roost, as Meyer is likely to start at least one freshman and two sophomores. Size is an issue in the secondary, where both projected starting corners stand just 5-9. Luckily, layups against Western Kentucky and Troy start the season for the Gators before they play Tennessee in the Swamp.

2. Is this Spurrier's year? South Carolina appears poised to make a move. Senior Blake Mitchell leads the offense. Senior Cory Boyd is the primary ballcarrier. Sidney Rice is gone, but Kenny McKinley and Freddie Brown return on the outside. The defense returns everyone except safety Fred Bennett, and they add a potentially great freshman in end Clifton Geathers. Spurrier has to take his team to Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and Arkansas, so it's not a favorable schedule. But ask any Florida fan, and they'll tell you that Spurrier won't use it as an excuse. Can he get lucky enough to lead his team through this kind of schedule?

1. So who's going to win this division, anyway? Geez. Demanding questions. Florida lost enough starters to stock an average NFL team. Their leading two tacklers combined for 94 stops last year. Their leading returning rusher is now their starting quarterback, who ran for more yards than he threw for last year. South Carolina has talent, and they have Spurrier, but their quarterback is suspended for the opener, and who knows if he'll escape from the doghouse long enough to have a strong season? Georgia looked good at the end of the season, but they lost a home game to Vanderbilt along the way to a late rebound. What to make of that defense that was gutted by departures? Could Tennessee sneak up? Can Vanderbilt pull a Wake Forest? Can Kentucky make a giant leap? Put their names in a hat and draw, and you'd be just as effective in figuring this division out. It's as wide open as any conference/division in college football this year. And, yes, that's a copout if my picks stink.

1. LSU
2. Arkansas
3. Auburn
4. Alabama
5. Mississippi State
6. Mississippi


5. Which Mississippi team will begin to approach a turnaround? This is a deadly-tough division, and it's even tougher when you're trying to rebuild a program. Sly Croom has done a respectable job at Mississippi State, but he might not be around long enough to see the project through if he doesn't start winning some games. While the defense might be missing some bodies, the offense is almost perfectly intact from a year ago, giving Croom some hope of getting this team at least to five or six wins. Meanwhile, Ed Orgeron enters his third year at Ole Miss, and he does it without last year's starting QB, Brent Schaeffer, who is no longer the starter. JUCO transfer Seth Adams takes over, and all of last year's leaders return. If Ole Miss can play more consistent defense, Orgeron may have a shot of at least staying out of the West cellar.

4. Are we just going to forget about Auburn? With LSU taking the headlines among the "Tigers" in the SEC, and Nick Saban getting all the love on behalf of the Alabama contingent of the league, Auburn could be considered "flying under the radar". Seems impossible if you think back to that 5-0 start last year, but it's amazing what losing two conference home games by a combined 64-25 can do to your national profile. The Tigers won 11 last year, but lose stars at running back (Kenny Irons), wide receiver (Courtney Taylor), and on defense (Will Herring). How Brandon Cox leads the offense will be a key. Auburn gets no early breaks with non-conference home dates against Kansas State and emerging South Florida. Their only four road games are all in the SEC, but they are at Florida, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia. It would be tough to pick a tougher foursome to play on the road.

3. Did everyone forget about Darren McFadden's teammates? Sure, he's the H*i*m*n favorite. Sure, he's one of the true star players in the country. But he wasn't even the only 1,000-yard rusher on his own team last year. Not only is McFadden back, but his sidekick, Felix Jones, also returns. The Mitch Mustain drama is over, which should help clear things up at quarterback, where Casey Dick should emerge as the starter. Marcus Monk leads the receivers, and the senior looks to build on a 50-catch season. So, I would implore you to not forget about Darren McFadden's teammates. If they can figure out a way to win at Tennessee and LSU late in the season, they may find themselves back in Atlanta for another SEC title game.

2. Does Nick Saban have a Cinderella title contender on his hands? Saban's well-publicized and controversial departure from the NFL leads him back to the SEC, and it leads him to one of the most pressure-packed coaching jobs in America. The Tide posted two losing seasons under former coach Mike Shula, including last year's 6-7 finish that Shula wasn't around for (he didn't coach the team in their bowl loss to Oklahoma State). Saban arrives and finds an experienced offensive line, a returning starting quarterback, and a slew of solid receivers. If Saban can solve issues at running back, the offense will be potent. Saban's background is defense, and that's the part of this team that needs the most work. I think it's a safe assumption that Saban will get it done eventually, but I don't think it will happen right away. Saban should be able to squeeze eight or nine wins out of this season, but next year will be on everyone's radar screen, as Alabama will be a legitimate contender.

1. Can Les Miles overcome heavy skill-position losses and lead LSU to the SEC title? Absolutely. He's 22-4 at LSU, which is hardly a poor record, though for some reason, there are fans questioning his ability to lead. I buy this guy as the head coach, and LSU fans should jump on board if they haven't yet. The Tigers should have little trouble posting their sixth straight season of allowing less than 20 points per game, which will help ease the transitions on offense. Senior Matt Flynn gets the keys in place of top draft pick JaMarcus Russell. Flynn has just one start in three years, but deserves credit for waiting his turn. Early Doucet should emerge as Flynn's top target, and Keiland Williams returns at RB. The Tigers get a nice warmup on Thursday, as they travel to Mississippi State before the showdown next weekend with Virginia Tech.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
Preseason Coach of the Year: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Coach on the Hot Seat: Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State
Bowl Bound: Florida, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama
Bowl Bubble: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State
Best Non-Conference Game: Virginia Tech at LSU, September 8
Worst Non-Conference Game: Western Carolina at Alabama, September 1


Nice and simple. Just like I prefer it.

I don't have to think too much, and those who know me are aware that thinking sucks sometimes.

Brian of MGoBlog is your host. The questions are simple, and the answers follow.

Who is overrated?

Looking at the preseason poll, one team seems to stand out for me, and it's not a likely answer, I am guessing.


Why Texas? As much as I like Colt McCoy's talent and leadership, there is something worrisome about this Texas team. They lost a ton of defensive talent, and while Mack Brown keeps re-stocking this roster with Phil Steele-approved VHTs, I'm concerned about a team starting two new corners and two new defensive ends in a conference that has more than enough offensive talent.

I'm also red-flagging an offensive line that got beaten up in the last two regular-season games (both losses) to the tune of seven sacks. It's also worth noting that a line more experienced than the one they'll field this year failed to protect their quarterback or run-block effectively down the stretch. Combined total of rushing yardage for Texas in their final three games: 283 yards. Very un-Texas, if you ask me. Three starters are gone from that line, so things might be a bit hairy at times for McCoy.

Call it a hunch, but I have Texas behind both Oklahoma and A&M in the Big 12 South. Yes, I'm serious. And yes, I'm stupid.

Who is underrated?

I could pick Wisconsin here, but I'm not sure they're underrated. I tend to think I may have overrated them, actually. Another good choice for me would be Arkansas, because I do think they're a tad overlooked. However, I look at the BlogPoll and I see a startling omission.

Boise State.

They're not sexy at all. They may have gotten lucky to an extent when they beat Oklahoma. But they're good. Real good, I'd say. Ian Johnson is one of the top backs in the nation, and even without Jared Zabransky throwing, the offense is going to motor. The line is very solid, and Taylor Tharp is a good player who deserves credit for waiting his turn behind Zabransky. I like the growth I'm expecting to see out of this defense, led by safety Marty Tadman.

The schedule is better than it was last year, when all they had was the Oregon State game. Washington will be a decent test for this team, and that Southern Mississippi game in late September will be a great matchup on the smurf turf. A Thanksgiving Day weekend showdown in Hawai'i may decide the league and could be a battle of overlooked unbeatens.

An updated BlogPoll ballot will be posted tomorrow, and more conference previews are coming, too. If I'm lucky, I'll get the SEC done tonight. Again, check my WDSM blog for ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and Big 12 previews.


1. USC
2. Oregon
3. California
5. Arizona State
6. Oregon State
7. Arizona
8. Washington
9. Washington State
10. Stanford


5. Is Jim Harbaugh crazy? I mean, congrats to the guy on his first Division I-A coaching job, but he does realize that this is Stanford, right? Is he really so comfortable with his team that was 1-11 last year and hasn't had a winning season since 2001 that he can go to the media and pop off about Michigan? And annoy Pete Carroll? If there's any good for Harbaugh, one of two new head coaches in the league (Dennis Erickson of Arizona State, who should be much more successful in Year One, is the other), it's that Stanford gets their first four at home. Of course, that's balanced out by the bad news that UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona State make up three of those games. With TCU, Notre Dame, and California also adorning the home schedule, Harbaugh might be cursed with the toughest imaginable schedule for a team with eight home games out of 12. Good luck, Jim. My advice? Leave Pete Carroll and the University of Michigan alone, because you have quite a mess to deal with without causing more trouble.

4. How hot is Mike Stoops' seat? I don't buy that it's scorching yet, but Stoops has some work to do this year. Repeated attempts to start up an offense in Tucson have failed. In Stoops' three years, Arizona has scored just 18.1 points per game. That won't get it done in the offense-happy Pac Ten. The defenses have improved, and last year's unit was very good, but Stoops has had no luck getting anything going on offense in three years. A Texas Tech disciple, Sonny Dykes, takes over the offense this year, and results are expected for QB Willie Tuitama. He hit just 56 percent of his passes and threw only seven touchdowns last year, but returns talented running back Chris Jennings and the entire starting offensive line. Some have suggested that Stoops is on the hottest of hot seats at Arizona, but I think the Wildcats will do well enough this year to keep him around.

3. Can California win the league? With so many losses on defense, it's going to be tough. But don't bank on the Bears squandering their opening game like they did last year, and it's fair to expect an even better year from 3,000-yard passer Nate Longshore. DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan combined for 151 catches last year, hitting the end zone 18 times, and all three return. Justin Forsett, who hit for over 600 yards and over five yards per carry as a backup to Marshawn Lynch last year, assumes the starting job. Expect big things on offense, where the Bears should easily top 30 points per game for a sixth straight year, all under coach Jeff Tedford. It's defense where Cal will probably struggle. Desmond Bishop is now hitting people for the Green Bay Packers, Daymeion Hughes is a Colt, and LB Mickey Pimentel also departs. The three take over 250 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 12 picks with them. With two freshmen possibly pegged to start, it might be a tough go.

2. Is Oregon or UCLA a better bet to dethrone USC atop the Pac Ten? UCLA actually beat the Trojans last year, but all it did was clinch the Bruins a winning season. Karl Dorrell's team was embarrassingly bad away from the Rose Bowl last year, winning only at Arizona State and finishing 1-5 when you count the bowl loss to Florida State. That home loss to Washington State (by 22??!!??) didn't look good, either. 20 starters back this year does, adn it really looks good when you consider that Ben Olson is back and healthy under center. Oregon has Dennis Dixon at quarterback, and the athletic (and horribly-attired) Ducks have high expectations for Mike Bellotti. Dixon has Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson back to run the ball, and the underrated Jaison Williams returns at wide receiver. On defense, the key will be replacing top performers Blair Phillips and J.D. Nelson.

1. Can Pete Carroll be stopped? This program is so good right now that a running back who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated is transferring because he won't play enough in USC's rotation. Carroll's recruiting is ridiculous, and so is the player development (all the #1 classes in the world won't do any good if you don't have the coaches to make the players better). QB John David Booty returns, as does top rusher Chauncey Washington. The depth chart at running back is silly: 23 Chauncey Washington (6-1, 220, Sr.*) OR 2 C.J. Gable (6-1, 195, So.) OR 13 Stafon Johnson (6-0, 210, So.) OR 21 Allen Bradford (6-0, 225, So.) OR 29 Broderick Green (6-1, 230, Fr.) 22 Desmond Reed (5-9, 185, Sr.*) OR 4 Joe McKnight (6-0, 180, Fr.). Good luck with that, Idaho. Oh, and good luck with this, Pac Ten. Finding a weakness on this USC team will be as difficult as it would be to pick out a Hollywood celebrity at a Washington State home game.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: John David Booty, QB, USC
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Preseason Coach of the Year: Mike Bellotti, Oregon
Coach on the Hot Seat: Karl Dorrell, UCLA
Bowl Bound: USC, Oregon, California, UCLA
Bowl Bubble: Arizona State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Washington State
Best Non-Conference Game: USC at Nebraska, September 15
Worst Non-Conference Game: Idaho State at Oregon State, September 15


1. TCU
2. BYU
3. Utah
4. Colorado State
5. Wyoming
6. New Mexico
7. San Diego State
9. Air Force


5. Can Colorado State climb back up the ladder? The Rams were one of the MWC's signature programs from the league's inception. CSU ran together a string of 10 straight winning seasons until a 4-7 2004 campaign. The Rams got back off the mat by going 6-6 in 2005, but were embarrassed by Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl. An injury-hampered Colorado State team struggled to a 4-8 record last year, winning only one conference game. Oftentimes, the importance of running the ball is overstated, but the Rams were embarrassingly bad at it last year, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. Part of that issue was due to the preseason loss of star Kyle Bell, who returns from a knee injury this year. Also back is senior QB Caleb Hanie, and the Rams have a total of 18 starters back, which ties for a league high. It stands to reason that in a league where the middle is very mediocre, Colorado State has a good chance of vaulting back into bowl contention.

4. Can Troy Calhoun have success with a multiple offense at Air Force? The Falcons ran Fisher DeBerry's option for over 20 years, and they won a lot of games doing it. However, wins began to dwindle away in recent years, as DeBerry went just 13-21 in his last three years. Enter Calhoun, an alum who brings in a more varied offensive look. You'll still see option, but Calhoun promises a variance, and it doesn't appear that he'll make the same mistake Todd Berry made when he took over at Army and immediately changed from the option to a passing offense. Expect Calhoun to play to the strengths of senior QB Shaun Carney and open things up when needed. While Air Force has some athletes, they've been plagued lately by a general lack of size and speed on defense, and there's no reason to think Calhoun's leadership can change that right away.

3. What is the ceiling for Utah's offense? On paper, the Utes appear to have the ability to easily top 30 points per game. They won't score at the pace of Alex Smith's 2004 team (45.3 PPG), but if Brian Johnson can even approach the level he played at before he was injured in 2005, the Utes are going to be really good. All the pieces are back around Johnson, including feature back Darryl Poston, who will be joined in the backfield by JC transfer Matt Asiata and junior Darrell Mack. Brent Casteel leads a talented group of receivers, and the offensive line is almost intact from last year. Coach Kyle Whittingham should be able to field a strong defense, led by senior NT Gabe Long and senior LBs Malakai Mokofisi and Joe Jiannoni. The opener at Oregon State won't be easy, and neither will dates with UCLA (home) and Louisville (road), but Utah should be battle-tested when it comes time to face fellow MWC contenders TCU and BYU on the road.

2. How will BYU build on a great 2006? The Cougars, led by senior QB John Beck, rolled to wins in their last ten games, including a 38-8 thrashing of Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Beck is gone, but Arizona State transfer Max Hall is ready to assume the offense, if he can win the long battle with Brenden Gaskins for the job (no starter announced as of this writing). The Cougars have a tough early schedule to greet their new leader, with a home game against Arizona followed up by trips to UCLA and Tulsa. The Cougars will lean on their defense early, as they try to replace Beck, leading rusher Curtis Brown, and their top four receivers.

1. Is TCU capable of making a run at a BCS bowl? Considering that the Horned Frogs lost six offensive starters, including steady QB Jeff Ballard, receiver Quentily Harmon, and oft-injured RB Lonta Hobbs, it's going to be tough. The running burden falls totally on Aaron Brown now. Brown was the 2005 MWC Freshman of the Year, but he struggled through injuries last year. The quarterbacking duties are probably going to fall on sophomore Marcus Jackson, who saw limited time as a freshman. Like BYU, it's expected that TCU will go as far as their defense can take them, and Gary Patterson usually has a pretty good defense. This year should be no exception, as TCU brings back nine of the starters from a unit that held opponents to a measly 12.3 points per game last year.


Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Brian Johnson, QB, Utah
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Tommy Blake, DE, TCU
Preseason Coach of the Year: Sonny Lubick, Colorado State
Coach on the Hot Seat: Mike Sanford, UNLV
Bowl Bound: TCU, BYU, Utah
Bowl Bubble: Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico
Best Non-Conference Game: Colorado State vs. Colorado, September 1
Worst Non-Conference Game: South Carolina State at Air Force, September 1

Sunday, August 26, 2007


1. Kent State
2. Miami (Ohio)
3. Bowling Green
4. Ohio
5. Akron
6. Temple
7. Buffalo


5. How far back up the ladder will Miami climb? After 12 straight winning seasons, the RedHawks crashed hard in 2006, winning just two games and losing five games by double digits. The run game and run defense were both atrocious. Shane Montgomery has 14 starters back for another shot, including senior quarterback Mike Kokal, senior running back Brandon Murphy, and top tacklers Joey Hudson and Craig Mester. The schedule is daunting, with trips to Minnesota, Colorado, and Vanderbilt, but it's hard to imagine that Miami won't be at least three or four wins better than a year ago.

4. Is Kalvin McRae capable of carrying an entire football team? He may have to. The Ohio back topped 1,250 yards last year, despite scattershot quarterback play (combined 8 TDs and 15 picks). McRae's task might be taller this year. The steadiest of last year's quarterbacks, Austin Everson, is gone, leaving Brad Bower, an Illinois transfer who hasn't lived up to his potential in multiple shots at Ohio. Three of the top four pass-catchers are gone as well. To make matters worse, a defense that kept things together most of last year lost five top players, including leading tacklers Tyler Russ and Matt Muncy. McRae is one of the few remaining stars at Ohio, and it's up to him to keep this team above water in 2007.

3. How much of an impact will Freddie Barnes make at Bowling Green? Barnes was the starting quarterback in the Falcons' opener last year, a loss to Wisconsin. He kept the Falcons in that game for a half by running away from defenders, but was never a passing threat as a quarterback. In addition to his time there, Barnes caught 20 passes and two touchdowns last year. He's a great athlete, having run for over 400 yards. This year, head coach Gregg Brandon has a three-headed monster at quarterback, and Barnes is available as a receiver. Expect to see him work there, but don't be surprised if Brandon finds other ways to get him the ball, too. Barnes is one of those kinds of players.

2. Who will be competitive first, Temple or Buffalo? At Temple, Al Golden has 14 starters back, he played a slew of freshmen last year, and recruiting is already looking better. Buffalo's Turner Gill had one more win last year (2-10 versus 1-11), and appeared to make a few more strides as the season wore on, especially on offense. He has 18 starters back this year, and didn't have to play as many freshmen last year. Neither is likely to threaten to have a winning season this year, but both should be better. Temple's schedule isn't as tough in the early going of the season, but Buffalo may have a bit more talent this year. Call it a wash for 2007, with Temple's location giving them a bit of an upper hand in the long-run, especially if Golden is as energetic as advertised.

1. Can Kent State fix their broken special teams? The Golden Flashes were awful last year, going 2-for-10 on field goals (they hit just one of five inside 30 yards!), and averaging a pathetic 33 yards per punt. The defense will be good again, but Kent State can't afford to have poor field-goal kicking cost them easy points, and they can't afford to have poor punting cost them field position.

1. Western Michigan
2. Toledo
3. Ball State
4. Central Michigan
5. Northern Illinois
6. Eastern Michigan


5. How hot is that seat, Jeff Genyk? Eastern Michigan took a huge step back last year, getting poor play at quarterback, an often-absent running game, and no luck in close games (1-6 in games decided by 10 points or less). Genyk is just 9-25 in three years. The good thing is that he returns 39 of 48 lettermen. The bad thing is that not many offensive skill players stood out last year, and the ones that did (receivers Eric Deslauriers and Trumaine Riley) are gone. Opening with road trips to Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois in the first three weeks won't help matters much, and EMU also travels to Vanderbilt and Michigan in non-conference play. A home game against Northwestern will be played at Detroit's Ford Field, presumably to help with attendance problems. So, yeah, that seat? Hot.

4. Who will win the wide-open quarterback job at Toledo? For such a traditionally strong offense to struggle like UT did last year, you know that something was up. Injuries slowed Clint Cochran and opened the door for youngster Aaron Opelt. Opelt didn't exactly light things up, hitting just 54 percent of his throws in an offense designed to rely on completion percentage. Coach Tom Amstutz will name a starter during the week of the first game, after this preview goes online. It looks like it will be Opelt, a sophomore who has been taking the majority of the snaps on the first team. Whoever does win the job will have to be more accurate with the football. The Rockets have 16 total starters back, including a slew of skill-position talent on offense. Getting that offense clicking again will be a huge priority for Amstutz.

3. Does the old Bill Simmons Ewing Theory apply at Northern Illinois? On the surface, you would assume that it's impossible for a mid-major football school to replace a guy who ran for over 5,000 yards in his college career, including 1,928 last year on a team that regressed for the most part on offense. It might become harder to think that said mid-major school could replace that guy when they also lose their starting quarterback. Replacing Garrett Wolfe and Phil Horvath will be tough for NIU. New quarterback Dan Nicholson has his top three receivers back from last year, and it looks like junior Montell Clanton will get the first shot at being the feature back. Losing star LT Doug Free to the NFL may be as big a blow as any, but junior Jon Brost moves over from RT, and appears capable of at least not collapsing at his new position. All in all, it's a season of transition for NIU, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility to suggest another winning season.

2. Can a ton of talent overcome a coaching transition? On paper, Central Michigan appears to be one of the MAC's best. But you can't deny that Brian Kelly made a heckuvan impact on this program in three short seasons. How the players respond to new coach Butch Jones' staff is a key. The talent is there on both sides of the ball, with seven starters back both on offense and defense. Sophomore QB Dan LeFevour and junior RB Ontario Sneed key the offense, which figures to at least approach last year's 29.7 points per game average. Senior LB Red Keith leads the way on defense, with help from senior DT Steven Friend, who flashes some solid pass-rush ability from the middle. Opening with Kansas (road), Toledo (home), and Purdue (road) make the transition all the more important. A slow start could doom the season. Even a 1-2 start could flash promise for the road ahead.

1. Will Tim Hiller keep a QB controversy from blowing up at Western Michigan? Hiller was outstanding as a freshman, hitting 65 percent of his throws for 20 TDs and just three picks. A knee injury shelved him last year, and Ryan Cubit, son of head coach Bill, led the team to a bowl game. Hiller is back, but so is senior JC transfer Thomas Peregrin, who was very good in limited duty last year. For now, it looks like Hiller is the starter, but if he struggles, Bill Cubit probably won't be slow with the trigger. He has feature back Mark Bonds returning, along with star receiver Jamarko Simmons and tight end Branden Ledbetter. The Broncos won eight last year, and if Hiller can do the job, they could surpass that this year. WMU looks like the safest bet among the MAC teams to have a very strong 2007 season.


Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Nate Davis, QB, Ball State
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Hudson, LB, Miami (Ohio)
Preseason Coach of the Year: Brady Hoke, Ball State
Coach on the Hot Seat: Jeff Genyk, Eastern Michigan
Bowl Bound: Western Michigan
Bowl Bubble: Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Ball State
Best Non-Conference Game: Purdue at Toledo, September 1
Worst Non-Conference Game: Central Connecticut State at Western Michigan, September 22



Just to confuse everyone, I'll be updating both blogs for the time being. I don't even have a good answer as to why.

As you can see, my Conference USA preview is available here. The other conference previews that I have done so far can be found at my WDSM blog, which is linked here as well as on the right-hand side of this page.

I hope to hear from all of you soon.



1. Southern Mississippi
2. Central Florida
3. Memphis
4. Marshall
5. East Carolina
6. UAB


5. How will East Carolina replace their top passer and receiver? James Pinkney threw for over 2,700 yards a year ago, and Aundrae Allison caught 64 of his 232 completions, along with four of Pinkney's 12 touchdowns. Both have moved on, leaving (likely) sophomore Rob Kass as the starting QB this season. Kass hit less than 50 percent of his throws in limited duty last year. Senior Phillip Henry is the top returning receiver, and fellow senior Steven Rogers is a big-play threat for the ECU offense. The running game, dormant for most of last year, needs to be much better this year with Pinkney and Allison gone.

4. Can Memphis recover from a disastrous season? The loss of DeAngelo Williams to the NFL wasn't supposed to hurt this much. Tommy West changed defensive coordinators in the middle of the season last year, and he changed offensive coordinators in the offseason. The Tigers return from a 2-10 season with their starting quarterback, running back, and top wide receivers all back. The offensive line returns both starting tackles, and the defensive front seven is almost intact. The schedule, featuring seven home games, seems to slightly favor a turnaround, and Memphis is a better football team on paper. However, it's hard to assume that a 2-10 team will do much more than sneak into bowl eligibility.

3. Is Marshall talented enough to overcome a potentially murderous schedule? The Herd lost their best offensive player in running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but they return 14 total starters, including almost the entire defensive back seven. The first obstacle I see outside of replacing Bradshaw is the schedule, which opens with a road game at Miami, followed by a home date with West Virginia. Marshall also travels to Cincinnati in non-conference play, and the C-USA West opponents they drew were Tulsa, Rice, and Houston, who were all bowl teams last year. The 5-7 record they posted in 2006 could be an achievement in 2007. Marshall is a classic example of a team that should be better on the field than they were last year, but the record may not reflect that.

2. How much will Central Florida be improved? The Knights open a new on-campus stadium with what could be the most talented team George O'Leary has fielded. Not much went right a year ago as UCF went 4-8, but 17 starters return, including nine defensive players. The secondary looks extremely dangerous, with a combination of good size and speed. O'Leary has a new quarterback (sort of) in senior Kyle Israel. He started the last two games last year and completed 65 percent of his throws. Top rusher Kevin Smith is also back for the Knights. In a bit of a weak division, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the Knights are the best available contender to USM's perch on top.

1. What stops Southern Mississippi from running away with this division? The Golden Eagles are loaded on defense, with their top five tacklers and eight total starters back. Even where starters were lost, at cornerback, the Eagles have impressive size and strength returning. The offensive backfield is intact, with star runner Damion Fletcher back to try to improve on his 1,388 yard season in 2006. Signal-caller Jeremy Young started shaky, but was generally better in the second half of the season. Even when he struggled with his accuracy, Young still took pretty good care of the football. Road trips to Tennessee and Boise State should go a long way toward preparing USM for another Conference USA title run.

1. Houston
2. SMU
3. Tulsa
4. Rice
6. Tulane

5. Was 2006 a fluke for UTEP? The answer is unclear. On one hand, only Jordan Palmer is gone from a highly-skilled offense, and while Palmer was good last year, there looked at times to be something missing on offense. Where UTEP will be hurt this year is on defense, where seven starters are gone, and the unit was a great disappointment last year. The front seven has to do a better job of generating pressure on opposing offenses, and the secondary will improve as a result. The rest of the division, sans Tulane, looks improved, so it will be tough for the Miners to make much headway, but they should again be able to knock on the door of bowl eligibility.

4. Can SMU make the leap to being a bowl team? Absolutely. 14 starters are back from a team that narrowly missed out on the postseason with a 6-6 record last year, and coach Phil Bennett appears to have the pieces in place to make a run at eight or nine wins. The offense scored over 27 points per game, which is the highest since the famed Death Penalty in the 1980s. Sophomore QB Justin Willis is back, joined in the backfield by junior DeMyron Martin, who was injured last year and only made six starts. If Bennett can find replacements for three defensive line starters who have moved on, SMU has the makings of a surprise contender in the West.

3. Why exactly did Toledo fire Chris Scelfo? I mean, all he did was lead them through the Katrina tragedy (for those who don't know, Tulane had to play all 11 games in 2005 in different venues because of the damage done to the Louisiana Superdome) with class and dignity. Then last year, Scelfo got saddled with a very tough schedule that featured just five home games. They went 3-2 at the refurbished Superdome, but only 1-6 away from home. While the Green Wave were not competitive in three late-season losses, there were signs of impending improvement, especially on defense. Not only did Scelfo do a good job here, but the best Tulane could do for a replacement was retread Bob Toledo. Improvement won't be immediate, but Tulane will show some positive signs this year, and it won't necessarily be anything Toledo does right.

2. How smooth will the coaching transition be for Tulsa and Rice? Todd Graham awkwardly left Rice to head to Tulsa after Steve Kragthorpe left there for Louisville. It's hard to argue with Kragthorpe's decision, but Graham has made some enemies at Rice. The jilted Owls grabbed Texas State coach David Bailiff, who will keep them running a wide-open offense and hope to improve a defense that cut a touchdown off their points per game average last year (40 in 2005 down to 33), but that still has a ton of work to do. Meanwhile, Tulsa hopes to keep their success going under Graham. Kragthorpe won 29 games in four years there. The Golden Hurricane only have four starters back on offense, but two of them are star QB Paul Smith and leading rusher Courtney Tennial.

1. Is Houston still the top dog in the West? The Cougars lose four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb and top receiver Vincent Marshall, but there still is talent. The defense, bringing back seven starters, should get better, especially up front, where UH still has to do a better job. Senior running back Anthony Aldridge takes over the top job this year after averaging an eye-popping 10.1 per carry last year, and senior receivers Donnie Avery and Jeron Harvey are back to help out new starting quarterback Blake Joseph. With a strong offensive line and a super running back, Joseph should have little trouble transitioning to his new gig.

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Damion Fletcher, RB, Southern Mississippi
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Albert McClellan, DE, Marshall
Preseason Coach of the Year: Phil Bennett, SMU
Coach on the Hot Seat: Tommy West, Memphis
Bowl Bound: Southern Mississippi, Houston
Bowl Bubble: SMU, Central Florida, Tulsa, Memphis
Best Non-Conference Game: Oklahoma at Tulsa, September 21
Worst Non-Conference Game: Texas Southern at UTEP, September 22