You can count on this in college football

You can count on this in college football

You can count on this in college football
CollegeFootballNews.com

From the new kickoff rules to USC losing a game to who'll be playing QB for Notre Dame by season's end, College Football News gives us three things (and then some) they're sure will happen this year.

Q: Give three things you're absolutely sure of going into this year.

Pete Fiutak

1. There will be plenty of fireworks on kickoffs.
Everyone made a big deal out of the clock rule changes last year (which were changed back this year), but that was nothing compared to what's about to happen. Teams and coaches get a limited amount of time to work on the basics, much less fine tune the special teams. Those who aren't strong in kickoff coverage are going to get ripped apart now that kickoffs are starting from the 30 instead of the 35. Those teams with elite returners are going to have a serious advantage, since there won't be many touchbacks. Expect a three-game adjustment period with some very ugly results for some.

2. USC will lose a game.
Not only is USC the most talented team in America, but it's not even close. The second, third, and even fourth stringers are better than most teams' starters, and it's gotten to the point to where other major teams are bragging when they get a player recruited by USC, as if it's now the gold standard. Even with all that talent that's come through Pete Carroll's program, the team has only gone tape-to-tape once without a loss, and this year's team isn't the 2004 squad.

While it's hard to come up with any one game that screams for a possible upset, remember, no one saw the near-miss against Fresno State coming two years ago. No one predicted the loss to Oregon State last year. USC needing a win to play for the national title is like Tiger with a lead on Sunday — it's over — but UCLA had other ideas last season.

Predicting a loss at Nebraska on September 15th is too obvious. The same goes for the November 10th showdown at Cal. It's going to happen, but it's going to be when everyone is assuming a Trojan win, like at Oregon the week after the trip to Notre Dame, or at Arizona State before the showdown against UCLA ... or in the BCS Championship.

3. This year will be better than last year.
It won't be 2005, but it'll be a lot more entertaining than 2006. College football historians will easily be able sum up last year. Ohio State was No. 1 and wasn't really challenged until the Michigan game, Troy Smith won one of the most boring Heisman races ever, and then Florida obliterated the Buckeyes when the sports world was paying attention to the NFL playoffs. Things will be far different this year, with a far more entertaining Heisman race, a national title chase — at least for the number two spot if USC rocks out of the gate — that'll be terrific, and overall, better teams and conferences. It'll be a wild ride.

John Harris

1. More points will be scored this season in the Big 12 South than in any other year.
The offensive talent in that half of the conference is overflowing. Texas returns seven offensive starters, not including star running back Jamaal Charles; Oklahoma returns eight starters, not including star running back Allen Patrick and upcoming stud DeMarco Murray; Texas A&M returns nine starters, not including star Mike Goodson; Oklahoma State returns one of the best QB-RB-WR trios in the nation with Bobby Reid, Dantrell Savage and Adarius Bowman; and Texas Tech has QB Graham Harrell returning. And Baylor ... well, okay so Baylor isn't nearly as potent, but you get the point, right? Add to that the fact that each team has serious defensive question marks and it's a fairly safe bet that the scoreboards will be exploding in '07.

2. Notre Dame's Evan Sharpley may start the season as the Irish starting quarterback, but he won't finish it that way.
Remember Todd Helton in 1994 at Tennessee? Held the seat warm for some kid named Manning (in addition to another freshman, Branndon Stewart), then went and played major league baseball. If Jimmy Clausen isn't starting by the USC game, then he's either a fraud or Demetrius Jones is the real deal. Notre Dame has a monster first half of the season, but a manageable second half, one that should allow for Clausen to get experience, some Ws and a bowl trip under his belt. Essentially, he can prep for a strong 2008 season.

3. Florida's Tim Tebow will throw the ball much better than anyone anticipates. Oh, and one more, no university recruiting video will ever be worse than the Appalachian State "Hot, Hot, Hot" video. Just go to YouTube and feel the heat.

How's your team look?

Get ready for the college football season with our 119 teams in 119 days series. And stay tuned as our series of conference previews unfolds. 

Richard Cirminiello

1. USC will win the Pac-10 in a walk. Although Cal and UCLA are quality programs, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is nowhere more pronounced than it is in this conference. And while the Trojans have retooled for another monster run toward a national championship, the other nine programs are packed so tightly that they'll cannibalize one another every Saturday.

2. Week-in and week-out, the SEC will show the rest of the nation why it's still the deepest, most talented, and most exciting conference in America.
Don't even waste your time debating otherwise. College programs are only as good as their leaders, and the SEC boasts a Murderer's Row of head coaches that includes Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Phil Fulmer, Les Miles, and Tommy Tuberville. Enough said.

3. Moving the kickoff back five yards to the 30 will prove to be a very good rule change for the game.

Let's see, dramatically fewer touchbacks and more open-field touches for some of college football's most exciting athletes — yup, that's the definition of a win-win, particularly for fans.

We're also 98% sure that ...

Michigan will lose a game this year that it's not supposed to. Yeah, the Wolverines are all the rage in the Big Ten and the offense will be nifty, but that offense wasn't enough to overcome a defense that got ripped by Ohio State and USC late in 2006. You know, the same defense that's trying to replace its best pass rusher, run stuffer, linebacker, and cornerback.

This will be the final collegiate season for Arkansas' Darren McFadden, Miami's Calais Campbell, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins. They'll be joined by another three dozen or so juniors and redshirt sophomores that leave school early in order to be eligible for the 2008 NFL Draft.

This, however, will not be the final season for Penn State's Joe Paterno, provided the program can get a temporary restraining order that keeps Andrew Quarless from coming within 50 feet of the head coach. Quarless is the Nittany Lion tight end that inadvertently made contact with Paterno twice in 2006, including one that fractured the octogenarian's leg in a November loss to Wisconsin.

For Alabama and its legions of loyal fans, Nick Saban will wind up being worth every penny and all of the aggravation endured to land him. Whether you like him or not, or believe his fat contract is a new sign of the Apocalypse is irrelevant. The man knows how to build staffs, recruit talent, and win. And that's all the folks around Tuscaloosa will need to know.

Just because they're light on returning starters does not mean Florida and Ohio State, last year's top two teams, will fall as far as some are suggesting. Both the Gators and Buckeyes are too well coached and recruit too well for that to happen. Instead, prepare for the next wave of mega stars that includes names like Chris Wells, Brandon Spikes, Louis Murphy, and Lawrence Wilson, to name a few.

Even without Adrian Peterson, the Oklahoma running game will be as good as ever. Running behind one of the nation's nastiest offensive lines, the tandem of senior Allen Patrick and redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray won't be far behind the dynamite one-two punches playing at Arkansas, Clemson, and Texas A&M.

There isn't a team on the West Virginia schedule that will slow down the Mountaineer offense, provided QB Patrick White and RB Steve Slaton can stay healthy for an entire season. White and Slaton are two of the best home run hitters in the country, and the former is way underrated as an efficient downfield passer. Toss in the occasional change-of-pace from thundering FB Owen Schmitt, and you've once again got the ingredients of an unstoppable attack in 2007.

Hawaii's Colt Brennan will break a ton more career passing records while becoming the first quarterback in NCAA history to throw 50 or more touchdown passes in consecutive seasons. Brennan's much more than just a system quarterback, he gets back his top three receivers and won't face a really good pass defense all season long. Plus, June Jones may not be so quick to pull Brennan in blowouts as the Warriors try to impress those voters who control their BCS fate.

By the first week of December, Cal's Jeff Tedford will be on the short list of at least one NFL GM that's looking to fill a head coaching opening. These days, you can set your calendar by the interest in the Papa Bear.

Out of Kyle Wright, Kirby Freeman, Drew Weatherford, and Xavier Lee, neither Miami nor Florida State will be able to find a quarterback that can build a bridge to the glory days when both passing games were virtually unstoppable. While there are player development issues on both campuses, could it be that some offensive recruits get way overhyped just because they received offers from the 'Canes and 'Noles?

Those counting on Georgia Tech to plummet simply because Calvin Johnson is in Detroit are about to be very surprised. Erratic quarterback Reggie Ball is also gone, which is good news, both lines are terrific, and running back Tashard Choice is about to make a surprise run at All-America honors. The Jackets get Virginia Tech at Bobby Dodd, so don't count out a run for a second straight Coastal Division crown.

Georgia QB Matthew Stafford will make huge strides from his true freshman season. While some of the things that used to work in high school didn't last year, Stafford will improve his decision making, cut down on his mistakes, and take the next step toward becoming the face of the Bulldog program and a high NFL draft choice in 2010.

Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter will rebound nicely from last year's erratic sophomore season, in which very little went right on or off the field. The nation's pass efficiency leader in 2005, he'll get a much-needed boost from the presence of new head coach Dennis Erickson and an improved receiving corps that figures to be much more consistent than last season.

"This year's Boise State" will never materialize. TCU is the best of the non-BCS programs, but an early-season trip to Austin will end the Frogs' dreams of a perfect season and a January bowl game. Ditto Southern Miss, which draws Tennessee on Sept. 8. Hawaii has the right schedule to go 12-0, but the wrong schedule to get enough respect from pollsters to earn an automatic at-large invite to a major bowl. Think Tulane circa 1998.

Either West Virginia or Louisville will win the Big East. Yes, Rutgers will prove it's no one-hit wonder, but it's asking too much for the Knights to win the league when the expectations are much, much higher than before last year's magical season.

Texas QB Colt McCoy will blossom into a bona fide star in 2007. The coaching staff didn't throw too much at the first-year starter last season, and yet he still accounted for 31 touchdowns to just seven picks in an abbreviated redshirt freshman season. With a year in the vault and a great supporting cast, he's liable to author the best passing season ever for a Longhorn quarterback.

UCLA will finish the season on the wrong side of preseason expectations. Sure there's plenty of returning talent, but the offense once again lacks game-breakers and Karl Dorrell still has to prove he's a big-time coach before the Bruins can be stamped a legit top 10 team.

After slipping in this area a year ago, USC will once again rank among the nation's leaders in takeaways. What do you get when you combine the nation's best defense with opponents playing catch up for three quarters? Plenty of errant passes, poor decisions and balls left on the ground.

Missouri QB Chase Daniel won't win the Heisman, but he'll put up Heisman-like numbers in year two running the Tiger spread offense. As last season proved, he's a hand-in-glove fit for the offense, and the skill position talent around him is outstanding. Bank on a number of offensive records falling in Columbia this season.

While new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will have a positive impact on the Florida State offense, it won't be as profound as Seminole fans would like in year one. Until the program gets better blocking and more consistency from its quarterbacks, it's going to look prolific against the UABs and Dukes, and average against the Alabamas and Clemsons. One thing that's absolutely certain is that no matter how bad things get, no one in Northern Florida will be pining for the return of Jeff Bowden.

Pittsburgh will once again underachieve as soon as the schedule stiffens in the second half of the year. It's been only two years, but the early returns on Dave Wannstedt, now 11-12 at his alma mater, have not been promising, even as his recruiting classes shine. Plus, there's a palpable feeling in that locker room dividing Wanny's kids and Walt Harris' recruits. It bears watching, especially if the Panthers lose a game they shouldn't early on in the year.

Utah QB Brian Johnson will pick up where he left off in 2005 and torch the rest of the Mountain West. After wisely taking off last year to heal his surgically repaired knee, he's bigger, stronger, and more prepared to explode than at any point in his career.

Cal WR/PR DeSean Jackson will assume the unofficial title of "college football's most electrifying player." Whether he's fielding punts or running routes, no player in the country is more dangerous or more fun to watch.

North Carolina State will make markedly fewer penalties, turnovers, and generally silly mistakes under first-year head coach Tom O'Brien than it did when Chuck Amato was roaming the sidelines. A classic disciplinarian, the Wolfpack veterans will be suffering from a case of culture shock in 2007.

If not in the opener against Georgia Tech, at some point this season, true freshman Jimmy Clausen will make his debut as the Notre Dame starting quarterback. He's the franchise in South Bend, and there's no better time to begin the Clausen era than in a year when the Irish likely won't be fighting for a BCS bowl game.

Boston College QB Matt Ryan will flourish in Jeff Jagodzinski's new passer friendly offense and be head-and-shoulders better than every other hurler in the quarterback-starved ACC. He's a vastly underrated quarterback that might be a household name if he didn't play in a pro sports town and was surrounded by more playmaking receivers.

While it probably won't show up in the final standings, the off-season hires of Butch Davis, Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh will all wind up being really shrewd moves by North Carolina, Cincinnati and Stanford, respectively. Check back in on these guys in 2008 after they've had a year to learn the personnel and implement their systems.

At least one player that's getting absolutely no Heisman attention in August will wind up in the top 10 when votes are tallied in December. That's been the trend so far in the 21st century.

If he hasn't already, Lee Corso will officially jump the shark with his antics this fall. It was fun for awhile, but am I the only person that's gotten really tired of his shtick? Kirk Herbstreit, meanwhile, will continue to be the most rock-solid, informative broadcaster in all of college football.

Brent Musburger will say "Beanie" at least 40 times during an Ohio State game, sending scores of college students playing a Musburger drinking game into a wicked state of inebriation on campuses across the country.

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