Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
4. South Carolina
6. Mississippi State
TOP FIVE STORYLINES IN THE SEC
Tebow "defends" the H*i*m*n. They'd rather he were defending the national championship, but Florida fans have to settle for having one of the most explosive players in recent history in college football. Tim Tebow (in the photograph) won the H*i*m*n because he led the best offense in the nation in the nation's toughest conference. Tebow totaled 55 touchdowns and threw just six picks in 350 passes. This year will be just as good for the Gators' offense, as USC transfer Emmanuel Moody bolsters the running game, and Tebow works with the likes of Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, and Cornelius Ingram in the passing attack. Sure, defenses now have 13 games worth of film with Tebow at QB, but Urban Meyer is a smart, innovative coach, and there aren't many QBs in the nation who are better-suited for their offenses than Tebow.
Troubles at Alabama. An obviously and somewhat understandably defensive coach Nick Saban addressed concerns over Alabama's offseason disciplinary issues at SEC Media Day. He's on track in saying that the media tends to forget about the positives, but they do that because the negatives usually outweigh them. Nothing angers a fanbase more than players in the program who haven't earned the right to represent the program. And if Saban doesn't stop losing games to Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State, his contract won't be fat enough to overcome further off-field problems. At Alabama, you're either winning or you're on the hot seat. There is no third direction.
Cat fight! There are two sets of Tigers in the SEC. One of them just won a second national championship in five years. The other is averaging ten wins over the last ten years, and is probably a slight favorite in the SEC West this year. We'll start with defending national champion LSU. These Tigers probably lost too much top-end talent to be favored to repeat. Another strong QB, Matt Flynn, is gone, as are top rusher Jacob Hester, athletic Early Doucet, along with leading tacklers Craig Steltz, Ali Highsmith, and line star Glenn Dorsey. If they're to be in the SEC title game again, it's going to be on the back of their new starting QB, likely to be either Andrew Hatch or Jarrett Lee. The two split time in the spring game. Auburn, meanwhile, returns a load of experience from a team that won four of its last five after a last-second loss to LSU. Tommy Tuberville's Tigers bring back 16 starters, including leading rusher Ben Tate and top receiver Rodgeriqus Smith. Kodi Burns and Chris Todd will have a great battle in camp for the starting QB job, with Burns presenting more athletic ability. Whoever wins the job has plenty to work with in the new spread offense.
Spurrier's quarterback problem. The offense implemented and mastered by Steve Spurrier (right) needs top-notch QB play leading it. If South Carolina's spring game is any indication, this could be a rough year for the Gamecocks. The most talented of Spurrier's bunch this year is redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, but he's suspended until August 15 and is unlikely to steal the starting job in less than two weeks of practice. That is, unless sophomore Chris Smelley and junior Tommy Beecher continue to underwhelm. As you can see, Spurrier has a problem on his hands. The defense is in place for Carolina to make a run, and there is plenty of skill-position talent, but if Spurrier can't solve the quandary under center, the Gamecocks will be on the edge of bowl eligibility again.
Nutt or Petrino? Arkansas got rid of Houston Nutt for really no good reason. There were some issues in the program, but it wasn't anything that caused the team to be bad, and the Razorbacks weren't loaded with troublemaking players. However, talented backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones parlayed 1,000-yard seasons in Nutt's offense into first-round status in the NFL Draft. If there's anything good about the turnover, it means Bobby Petrino can more easily transition into his wide-open offense. Petrino quit on the Atlanta Falcons, and he deserved every bit of criticism he got for the move. However, his decision was born out of the mistake he made in leaving college football to begin with. Petrino has to build his offense around the iffy Casey Dick this fall, but he should have no trouble eventually making a winner out of the Razorbacks. Nutt moved to Ole Miss to replace the fired Ed Orgeron. While Orgeron wasn't much of a game coach, he did prove himself as a recruiter, and Nutt will benefit from that. I don't have the guts to pick them ahead of Alabama, because I'd still like to think Saban can win nine games with even an average football team. However, it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Nutt get the Rebels to the upper half of the West Division in short order.
BEST OF THE REST
Georgia figures to be a preseason number one team, thanks to the play of QB Matt Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno (pictured), and defenders like Geno Atkins, Dannell Ellerbe, and C.J. Byrd. The Bulldogs have to survive early-season trips to South Carolina and Arizona State, but they're a top contender in the SEC and in the country. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe left for Duke, so Tennessee reloads with new coordinator Dave Clawson and tries to replace long-time starting QB Erik Ainge. The Volunteers struggled for much of the year on defense, and that may be the key to their season. Losing top-notch talents like QB Andre Woodson and RB Rafael Little hurts Kentucky a great deal. The Wildcats just don't have the depth in their program to replace both. Struggling Vanderbilt replaces 13 starters, including top receiver Earl Bennett, but the administration has shown great patience with coach Bobby Johnson. He's really doing a solid job, despite his 20-50 record. How far they've come without reaching a postseason game should show how bad this program truly was before Johnson arrived. It was a pleasant surprise to see Mississippi State in a bowl game last year, but it will be a tough task to repeat the feat. They scraped by in three of their regular-season wins, and still got blown out by LSU, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Sylvester Croom gets 14 starters back, but this team could easily post an inferior record while playing better football.
PRESEASON AWARDS AND NOTABLES
Offensive Player of the Year: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Defensive Player of the Year: Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Houston Nutt, Mississippi
Coach on the Hot Seat: Nick Saban, Alabama
Best Non-Conference Game: Auburn at West Virginia, October 23
Worst Non-Conference Game: Tennessee-Martin at Auburn, November 8