NCAAFB Conference Previews

NCAAFB Conference Previews

Big East Preview
Marc Lawrence

The BIG EAST CONFERENCE may not be large in stature but its come up huge in bowl games the last two years (8-2). It’s also performed better in non-conference play the last three seasons (81-37) than any other group in BIG EAST history. Yet when it comes to notoriety they still maintain an unsavory lack of respect among the other major conferences. Word of caution: respect the BIG EAST.

Here is my take on the BIG EAST for 2008.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team’s name (returning QB’s designated with an *).

BIG EAST

CINCINNATI - *7 / 6

Team Theme – WARNING: UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Bearcat boss Brian Kelly, the program builder, has certainly made his mark. After leading Grand Valley State to successive national championships in 2002 and 2003, Kelly’s Division 1-A teams have each improved their win-loss record from the previous season each of the last four years. He earned a MAC title with Central Michigan in three short years and will have the Bearcats in Big East title contention very soon. He will, however, be put to the test this year when his team takes on five opponents who either won or shared a conference title in 2007, including three that played in a BCS bowl game. With QB Ben Mauck gone, SR Dustin Garza (former two-year starter) is favored to capture starting honors over Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. After leading Cincinnati to 10 wins last year for the first time since 1951 his four-year improvement record will be tested to the max.

PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (11/14)

CONNECTICUT - *9 / 8

Team Theme – MARKING THEIR SPOT

It’s easy to understand why head coach Randy Edsall’s name is mentioned annually in new coach-talk. In six years since moving to Division 1-A football, the Huskies are 41-31. In four years in the Big East, they have made two bowl games and won a conference championship. Last year, they ended in fifth place for the best turnaround in the nation (4-8 to 9-5). With 17 starters back from last year’s squad, including QB Tyler Lorenzen (only 6 INTs), the future is bright in Storrs. So are the chances when West Virginia invades Rentschler Field this year. Not only are they 28-8 in this stadium, they are also 13-7 SU in November since 2002, including 9-1 at home. If the Huskies weren’t a piss-poor 12-25 SU against winning teams we’d snap the rubberband against the Hillbillies. Instead, we’ll simply play it by the book.

PLAY ON: vs. West Virginia (11/1) - *KEY as dog

LOUISVILLE – 5 / 9

Team Theme - WHITE OUT

Fans in Louisville now know the full meaning of the word ‘slime bucket’. Look it up in the dictionary and you’re likely to see a picture of Bobby Petrino, the ex-Cardinal head coach who bolted Louisville for Atlanta and then Atlanta for Arkansas – all in less than a year. (Check back next year for the latest itinerary). Steve Kragthorpe was hired from Tulsa to rub away the memory, only his pencil came without an eraser. After a deeply disappointing 6-6 campaign last year, Kragthorpe promptly hired four new assistants, including new DC Ron English. Certainly the loss of 4-year starting QB Brian Brohm (50 TD’s and 4,000 yards last season) and the coaching shakeup makes this a tenuous season for Coach K. Remember, though, Tulsa was 2-21 before they hired him. He put them back on the map and, given time, he’ll do the same here.

PLAY ON: vs. Syracuse (11/1) – KEY*

PITTSBURGH - *8 / 7

Team Theme – WANNY FULL WANNY FULL

For the first time since his arrival to the Steel City three years ago, there’s a buzz about the Pitt campus and Dave Wannstedt is digging it. It started when the Panthers stunned cross-town rival West Virginia as 28-point underdogs in the season finale last year. Despite three non-winning seasons, Wannstedt was awarded a contract extension immediately following the season-ending win over the Mountaineers. It’s been said that if you were to look up ‘rewarding mediocrity’ you’d see a picture of mustachioed Dave. With a strong cast of characters returning, including RB LeSean McCoy, the leading freshman back in the nation with 1,320 rushing yards last season, the buzz is growing to a crescendo. Also back are three quarterbacks who started at least one game each last season and all of the wide receivers. On the stop-unit SR LB Scott McKillup will once again look to lead the nation in tackles. Let’s hope Wanny doesn’t provide a buzz-kill.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Iowa (9/20)

RUTGERS - *7 / 8

Team Theme – SHOOTING STARS

Now that the Sopranos are history maybe Greg Schiano can finally escape the Jersey Boss’ ties. After seven seasons of calling the shots, Schiano has his Knights pretty much where he wants them to be – at the top of the heap. Sure, revenues (read: wins) may have been down a bit last year but hey, things are down everywhere in these tough times. Besides, for the first time ever, Rutgers has gone to three straight bowl games. Schiano loses his big gun with the graduation loss of RB Ray Rice. He’ll rely on SR QB Mike Teel, who is 21-8 as a starter, to carry the load in ’08. It could be worse. At least he woke up this morning and he’s got a gun.

PLAYAGAINST: vs. Pittsburgh (10/25)

SOUTH FLORIDA - *10 / 6

Team Theme – BULL ROAR!

In a season of firsts, the Bulls charged to a school best No. 2 ranking in the polls last year but, like most of the No. 2’s that lost a record-breaking ten times, they couldn’t stay there. The 2007 edition of the Bulls recorded a home sellout, a Top 5 ranking and an appearance in the BCS rankings - all USF firsts. More firsts should follow with a 2008 team that returns 62 lettermen, including ten offensive starters. All-conference JR QB Matt Grothe has made his mark while bruising SO RB Mike Ford, an all-state record holder, is ready to burst on the scene. A bad spot in the schedule rears its head, however, when they close out the campaign against avenging West Virginia after tackling three revenge games of their own just prior to the Mountaineers. At that point, the Bulls could be sapped.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. West Virginia (12/6) – KEY*

SYRACUSE - *7 / 6

Team Theme - SLIP SLIDING AWAY

It’s the 4th anniversary of Greg Robinson’s hire at Syracuse. It’s also the fifth anniversary of Syracuse’s last good year. That leads to the “somebody please explain” question of the year: How is it Robinson is to be still employed as a college football head coach and Jeff Bower is not? Like everyone, we’d love to see the pictures Robinson has locked up in his vault. One thing we know for sure is that the Orange will need to start strong if Robinson is retained after this season. After a four-game home game homestand in September, Syracuse wraps up the season (and most likely Robinson’s career) with five road games in its last seven matches and four bowl teams - plus Notre Dame - for its final seven opponents. Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. West Virginia (10/11)

WEST VIRGINIA - *8 / 4

Team Theme – STAYING PAT

When a team loses an All-American running back, its top wide receiver, an entire secondary, its top two defensive linemen and its coach, “rebuilding” should be the order of the day. That’s hardly the case with West Virginia this year. Instead, under new coach Bill Stewart, who replaced Rich Rodriguez in a malicious split, the Mountaineers have visions of a third Big East title the last four years. Heisman-hopeful QB Pat White, a three-year starter who has rushed for 3.507 yards in his career, teams with explosive RB Noel Devine, who steps in for Steve Slaton, to form a lethal backfield. Behind an experienced offensive line that returns intact, West-by-God looks for a fourth straight AP Top 10 finish in 2008. They’re that good.

PLAY ON: vs. Pittsburgh (11/28) - *KEY

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ACC Preview
Marc Lawrence   

If the ACC wishes to become the power conference it’s basketball brethren is they will need to start winning bowl games at a clip better than last year’s 2-6 collective effort. Despite last season’s down-year, the conference looks as deep as it’s been since Boston College, Miami, Florida and Virginia Tech bolted the Big East.

Here is my take on the ACC for 2008.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team’s name (returning QB’s designated with an *).

ACC

BOSTON COLLEGE – 6 / 7

Team Theme – JAGGED EDGE

Eight was the magic number for the Eagles last year. Under first year coach Jeff Jagodzinski, BC opened the year with eight straight wins, only to finish 3-4. One of the three wins in that 3-4 finish, though, was an eighth straight bowl victory, the longest current skein in the nation. Their No. 2 ranking on October 2nd represented the highest spot awarded in the polls in Boston College annals since 1942. The biggest task at hand this year will be replacing QB Matt Ryan, the 3rd pick in the NFL draft. Ryan was 25-7 as a starter, the Big East Player of the Year, and a Johnny Unitas award winner. They also lose a pair of 4-year starting RB’s in Andre Caldwell and L.V. Whitworth. With few edges, and some mighty big shoes to fill, it would be no surprise should J-God suffer through a sophomore slump in ’08.

PLAY AGAINST: as favorite vs. NC State (10/4)

CLEMSON - *7 / 8

Team Theme – WEATHER RELATED

Weather forecasts in and around Clemson this fall will be filled with "Thunder and Lightning" prognostications as James Davis and C. J. Spiller return to form the nation's best RB tandem. But, it's the AIR that will cause the most excitement. QB Cullen Harper set 22 single season school marks while leading the ACC in passing efficiency (65%), while throwing 27 TD passes against only six interceptions. And that’s not to mention a well-fortified Top 10 ranked defense that appears stronger than ever. If it sounds like we’ve been down this path before with Tommy Bowden’s Tigers, it’s because we have. It’s the M.O. that accompanies Bowden each year. It’s also what you learn to expect when your team has been bowl-eligible all nine years under your command. The forecast for 2008: hot and humid with partly cloudy skies.

PASS

DUKE - *7 / 10

Team Theme –THE CUT(CLIFF)ING EDGE

The Roof (Phil) collapsed in Durham and a new repairman has been brought in to fix the damage. His name is David Cutcliffe and his resume as a handyman is extensive. He mentored Super Bowl ring owners Peyton and Eli Manning at Tennessee and Ole Miss respectively. Amazingly, in his tenure as a head coach with the Rebels, he coached Ole Miss in five bowl games, all of which were wins and pointspread covers! This year’s Blue Devils lose five starters from last year’s squad, the fewest in the ACC. JR QB Thaddeus Lewis keys the offense while the defense returns 10 starters from a unit that ranked 24th in the nation in tackles for a loss last season. A strong start is imperative considering they open with four straight home games. Look for them to nail down an early win or two.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Virginia (9/27)

FLORIDA STATE - *8 / 7

Team Theme – FISHING FOR JIMBO

If you’re an ostrich and have your head stuck in the sand refusing to believe FSU’s downfall this decade consider this: When the Seminoles visited Virginia Tech last season it marked the first time since 1983 (282 games) that FSU was installed as an underdog in back-to-back regular season games. Enough said. Another mediocre 7-6 season has the faithful whispering in Tallahassee these days. How long before OC Jimbo Fisher takes the reins? As long as Bobby Bowden is neck-and-neck with Joe Paterno for all-time wins as a head coach, that’s how long. It’s hard to knock 31 consecutive winning seasons, 26 straight bowl games and 373 career wins. Meanwhile, Drew Weatherford is back for his senior season. His 7,411 career passing yards is 6th best among active QB’s, and his 3 INTs in 318 pass attempts was best in the nation last year. And the race is on.

PLAY ON: vs. Clemson (11/8) - *KEY if dog

GEORGIA TECH – 5 / 4

Team Theme – YOU DOESN’T HAS TO CALL ME JOHNSON

Seven straight seven-win seasons were not enough to save Chan Gailey's job in Atlanta. Neither were the seven straight bowl games in which his teams played. Perhaps it was the five straight-up defeats as a favorite last season that got him ousted. Whatever the case, Gailey is out and former Navy head coach Paul Johnson is in. Johnson brings a glossy 107-39 record as a head coach. His team led the nation in rushing each of the last three years (the first team to ever do so). In fact his squad had a better record the last five years than Florida, Tennessee and Wisconsin. He’ll turn to SO RB Jonathon Dwyer to lead the ground brigade. Dwyer backed up Tashard Choice (led SEC in rushing the last two years) while rushing for 9 TDs last year. The Techsters are ready to take the next step forward and Johnson’s their man.

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia (10/25)

MARYLAND - 7 / 6

Team Theme – MISSION IMPROBABLE

Terps were the epitome of a squad on a mission last year when they rebounded from a pair of five-win seasons the previous two years to a bowl winning nine-win team. They were also the first team to defeat both Florida State and Miami Florida in the same season since 1985. Incredibly, they accomplished the feat despite falling 70 YPG on offense and 10 YPG on defense while winning the stats in only TWO GAMES. The biggest loss is QB Sam Hollenbach, who tossed for more than 5,000 yards in his career. Two-year backup Jordan Steffy steps in. Bottom line is we’ll be looking to fade the Fridge on the heels of the aforementioned inside-out winning season.

PLAY AGAINST: as favs vs. Florida International (9/8)

MIAMI FLORIDA – 4 / 6

Team Theme – UGLY BETTY

Now that was ugly. In the most hyped moment in UM football history, the final game ever played at the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes laid down and died in a disgraceful 44-0 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers. It marked the worst home defeat since 1944 and was one of four SU losses as a favorite under first year coach Randy Shannon, the most ever in school history. Those ignominies conjure questions about whether Shannon is in over his head. We do know the Canes scored the best recruiting class in the country last year (primarily players from Northwestern High School, Florida’s state champs) and they will tackle eight bowlers this year (of who, by the way, went 1-7 their bowl games). With no quarterback on the roster that has ever taken a snap in a major college game, we can’t see this “Ugly Betty” getting any prettier this season.

PLAY ON: vs, Virginia (11/1) – KEY*

NORTH CAROLINA - *10 / 8

Team Theme – BOOT CAMP

The megabucks showered upon Butch Davis by UNC to lure him to Chapel Hill last year might pale in comparison to the daily tab being run up by this country in the war on Iraq. But at least Davis is making a noticeable difference with his 18-and-19 year olds. The Tar Heels were the 4th youngest team in the nation last year with 45 of 80 players being freshmen or sophomores. To their credit, six of their eight losses were by 7 or less points. 18 returning starters, led by SO QB T. J. Yates, who passed for 2.655 yards last season (the 4th highest total by a freshman in ACC history), represent the most experience in the conference. With eight battles on tap against foes that were in post-season combat last year, UNC may not win the war but at least it’ll come home alive.

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia (10/18)

NORTH CAROLINA STATE - *5 / 4

Team Theme – MISSION POSSIBLE

When Tom O’Brien decided to make the journey south to Raleigh, NC last year he brought with him a list of goals and a veteran coaching staff to help achieve them. None of the three - O’Brien, the goals or the staff - was well received following a 1-5 start when injuries hampered the team from the onset. “We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish last year, but we have a head start this year. The players now know our terminology and our schemes. They understand what their jobs and responsibilities are,” said O’Brien. With former head coaches Mike Archer (DC) and Andy McCollom (LB) teaching the defensive schemes, and O’Brien calling the signals, the Wolfpack is in good hands and will look to build on last year’s 4-2 finish. After having an 8-year bowl skein snapped in 2007, this becomes O’Brien’s “mission year” and we’re certainly not going to step in front of his charges.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Maryland (10/25)

VIRGINIA – 6 / 5

Team Theme – HOW DEEP THOU AREN’T

For a team that was a season ending win away from capturing an ACC Coastal Division title last year, the Cavaliers look to be in deep s**t in 2008. A tumultuous off-season, coupled with a schedule that features eight bowlers from last year has coach Al Groh concerned. "We have a very challenging road in front us," says Groh. The Cavs were the surprise team in the ACC in 2007 when they won an NCAA record five games by two or fewer points. Immediately after blowing a late lead to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl, Virginia saw a half-a-dozen players declared ineligible for academic or legal troubles. After walking a fine line last year, Groh’s gang looks like they’re in it up to their eyeballs in 2008.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Clemson (11/22)

VIRGINIA TECH - *7 / 4

Team Theme - POCKET ACES

For a team that lost every wide receiver who caught a pass last year, Virginia Tech seems unfazed. It could be because the Hokie defense has allowed 258.7 YPG the last four years – tops in the nation. Or maybe it’s the fact the coach Frank Beamer is 3rd among active coaches in victories (209) behind only Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. Four 10-win seasons in a row, and fifteen consecutive bowl games, instills that kind of confidence. Beamer has said that instead of operating with last year’s two-headed QB’s (Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor), one of them will win the No.1 honor in fall camp. Somehow you get the feeling it really doesn’t matter because, when push comes to shove, the Hokies will be 10-game winners again in 2008.

PLAY ON: vs. Boston College (10/18)

WAKE FOREST - *6 / 9

Team Theme – A SUDDEN AWAKENING

If you aren’t impressed with the job Jim Grobe has done with the Deacon Demons, you should be. Since Grobe came aboard, Wake won its first ACC title since 1970, won a game in Florida for the first time since 1959, won 20 games the last two years for the first time in school history and swept its Tobacco Road rivalry for the first time ever victories over North Carolina, NC State and Duke each of the last two seasons. In addition, Grobe took Wake bowling in back-to-back years for the first time ever last season. It doesn't look like the "Firsts" are going to stop anytime soon. Fifteen starters are back, including QB Riley Skinner who led the nation in passing percentage last year (72.4% completions). The beat goes on.

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia (11/8)

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Big Ten Preview
Marc Lawrence

The Big 10 Conference has been an Ohio State love fest the last three years where the Buckeyes have gone 22-2 in conference play while capturing three straight titles. Another championship would put them in elite company, tying Michigan with four consecutive crowns.

Better yet, no team in its 112-year history has ever stood alone atop the BIG 10 CONFERENCE three straight years, a feat the Buckeyes will look to accomplish this season. With Michigan changing coaches and complexion, Ohio State figures to make history this year.

Here is my take on the BIG 10 for 2008.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team’s name (returning QB’s designated with an *).

BIG 10

ILLINOIS - *6 / 6


Team Theme – JUICED UP!

Last year's national improvement champion (2-10 to 9-4) has to be feeling pretty giddy these days. Not only do they dodge the conference powers (Ohio State and Michigan) this season, they welcome seven starters back from an offense that increased 8 points and 80 yards per game last year. Heading the attack is JR QB Juice Williams, who saw his pass completion rise from 40% to 57% from his freshman to sophomore years last season. Accompanying him is WR Arrelious Benn, the Big 10 Freshman of the Year, and SR C Ryan McDonald, who has started 36 games in a row. Illinois, the Big 10's rushing leader in each of the last two years, figures to replace star RB Rashard Mendenhall, an early entry into the NFL draft. With nary a change in the coaching staff, Ron Zook needs mostly to guard against complacency.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wisconsin (10/25)


INDIANA - *6 / 7

Team Theme – LYNCH MOB

It’s amazing what the first winning season in 12 years will do for a football program. So enamored with interim coach Bill Lynch for that effort, Indiana inked him to a four-year contract. His goal this season will be to return the Hoosiers to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1991. Behind a schedule laced with eight home games, including four to open the season, we wouldn’t bet against this mob. JR QB Kellen Lewis returns with impressive numbers. Lewis not only passed for 3,043 yards and 28 TD’s, he also rushed for 736 yards (11th in the league) while scoring 9 TD’s. By our count those are ‘Tebow-type’ numbers. And lest we forget, the seniors on this squad represent the first class recruited by the late Terry Hoeppner. Once again they will be going all out to ‘win one for the Hoepper’.

PLAY ON: vs. Ball State (9/20)


IOWA - *8 / 5

Team Theme – BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!

After six straight bowl seasons, a six-win effort was not enough to extend the streak last year. As a result the Hawkeyes were home for the holidays for the first time since 2000. "We've seen good, we've seen bad," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Bad came last year when injuries and inexperience forced Ferentz to play 31 true or redshirt freshmen. Good comes this year in that last year’s youngsters are now experienced. The schedule is extremely favorable, too. In addition to hosting seven games, and avoiding Ohio State and Michigan, they open up with five non-winners from last season. Toss in a full deck (52) of returning lettermen (16 more than last year) and suddenly Captain Kirk looks ready to be beamed back up. Besides, how can you not cheer for a coach who donated $400K to Iowa’s Children’s Hospital?

PLAY ON: vs. Indiana (10/11)


MICHIGAN – 3 / 7

Team Theme – IN CARR CERATED

With much fanfare, and a resolve to beat Ohio State, the all-time winningest school in Division 1-A history welcomes Rich Rodriguez to Ann Arbor. Rest assured, there is a lot on the line - Thirty-three straight bowl games, twenty-three straight winning seasons and the best record in the Big 10 (71-17) the last ten years. So why is it Lloyd Carr is out and Rodriguez in, you ask? Try Carr's record against Ohio State (1-5 since Jim Tressel took over in Columbus). To make matters worse, Rodriguez lost prize recruit Terrelle Pryor to the Buckeyes when the celebrated QB chose Jim over Rich. A word of caution before hunting with the Wolves and their new no-huddle spread offense this season. This marks Rodriguez’ 4th stop as a head coach. His other three teams suffered losing seasons in his first year. Shriek!

PLAY ON: vs. Ohio State (11/22)


MICHIGAN STATE - *6 / 5

Team Theme – EAST LANSING TWO-STEP

Contained in last year’s preview of the 2007 Spartans was a litany of goals outlined by Mark Dantonio in his first year with MSU. It’s no surprise that each and every objective was achieved. He eliminated the spread offense in favor of a more traditional philosophy. He insisted his team play with a purpose and a passion. He brought consistency back to the program. “I think the best (sic) thing I want to do as a head coach, and we as a (sic) staff, is maintain that hunger for excellence and that drive for excellence. Take two steps forward, not one step back. Two steps forward, then take another, ” says Dantonio. Now you know why this guy is a winner. His 7-6 record last year came against opponents with a combined record of 75-57 (.568). All six losses were by 7 or less points. The 2nd step is on its way.

PLAY ON: vs. Iowa (10/4) – *KEY off underdog win


MINNESOTA - *8 / 7

Team Theme – GARDEN FRESH

In a nutshell, last year's atrocious 1-11 record under first-year head coach Tim Brewster was like a newly planted garden washed away by a torrential downpour. Nine freshmen started at Michigan, eight freshmen started against Illinois, and seven freshmen started at Iowa and against Wisconsin. Its no wonder the Gophers finished dead last in the nation in total team defense. Brewster brought in former Duke head coach Phil Roof to fertilize the defense and, although seven starters are back from last year’s unit, the word is he figures to start eight new freshmen (there’s that word again) or JUCO transfers. On the plus side, SO QB Adam Weber will be in his 2nd year running the spread offense. He started all 12 games as a freshman last year and looked really comfortable directing the attack this spring. Punky’s obviously a firm believer that you reap what you sow.

PLAY ON: vs. Northwestern (11/1) - *KEY dog 7 > points


NORTHWESTERN - *8 / 7

Team Theme – SCENT OF A WINNER

If you’re like us and enjoy sniffing out ‘sleeper teams’, you have to like the scent of the Wildcats this year. Bowl-eligible last season, they return their leading passer, fifth-year SR QB C.J. Bacher, leading receivers (all three) and leading running back, Tyrell Sutton. Bacher is the Big 10's leading returning passer (3,656 yards last season) and figures to benefit greatly from new OC Mike McCall's expertise. Formerly with Bowling Green, McCall developed Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs, two record setting Falcon QB's. Sutton is the league's leading returning RB with 2,996 yards. On the other side of the ball, new DC Mike Hankiwitz (from Wisconsin) has 25 years of experience as a defensive boss with 14 of his teams ranking in the Top 25 nationally in total defense. Northwestern will play seven home games again this year and is expected to go into Game Five with a 4-0 record. There's a lot to like about the 2008 version of the Wildcats.

PLAY ON: vs. Duke (9/6)


OHIO STATE - *9 / 9

Team Theme – IN TRESSEL WE TRUST

It’s not often you will find alumni, fans and the media on the same flag-waving bandwagon after their team has been smoked two years in a row in national championship games. Then again, it’s not often you will find the same team making back-to-back appearances in a BCS title game. There’s a love affair going on in Columbus and head coach Jim Tressel is the focus of attention. Since his arrival in 2001, Ohio State has defeated hated-rival Michigan six of seven times. In fact, when the Buckeyes meet Michigan on 11/22 this season it will have been 1812 days since the Wolves last defeated the Buckeyes on a football field. To arrive at the Battle of 1812 unscathed, however, OSU will need to win some tough fights this season (at USC and at Wisconsin). The addition of star recruit QB Terrelle Pryor certainly helps. Having faith and a deeply talented team does too.

PLAY ON: vs. Illinois (11/15)


PENN STATE – 8 / 7


Team Theme – TIME MARCHES ON

Here’s a stat to chew on: Since Joe Paterno became the head coach at Penn State in 1966 there have been 817 head coaching changes in Division-1 football programs – an average of more than six per team. And if you think the octogenarian is slipping, guess again. His teams are 29-9 the last three seasons while his defense is ranked No. 4 overall the last four years, allowing 297 YPG. The good news is seven defensive starters are back. Better news is the return of eight starters on offense, including all five linemen. Eight teams that played in bowl games last season dot the schedule. Fortunately for JoePa, five of them come to Happy Valley. With 372 career wins, just one shy of Bobby Bowden, Paterno continues to stalk immortality his way – one win at a time.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wisconsin (10/11)


PURDUE - *6 / 6

Team Theme – BOLTIN’ JOE

The best thing to happen to the Purdue football program in a dozen years is about to come to a halt and it is disappointing news. Joe Tiller will step down as the Boilermakers head coach at season’s end. He’ll walk away with his head held high knowing he has brought the program back to and beyond respectability. And he did it with an offense that refused to be stopped. In 137 games with Tiller, Purdue has gained 500 or more yards 39 times, or 28.5% of the time. He’ll look to add to those numbers behind the top gunslinger in the Big 10, QB Curtis Painter – the 2nd active leading passer in yards (8,763). When he plays his final game at home against Indiana they should be playing the Who’s top-selling hit “I Can See For Miles and Miles” in honor of the yards and yards of success he’s brought to Purdue.

PLAY ON: vs. Indiana (11/22) - *KEY


WISCONSIN – 8 / 9

Team Theme – HOLEY ROLLERS

How is it that a team who appears to have major holes at the quarterback and wide receiver positions can be considered a major threat in its conference race? Simple. When that team happens to be the 3rd winningest program in the conference the last eleven years and owns a powerful ground game, it’s a threat. Bret Bielma, the 3rd youngest Division 1-A coach, will rely on a defense that returns nine starters, including seven seniors, this season. But Bielma’s bread and butter is JR RB P.J. Hill, who has rushed for 2,805 yards and 31 TD’s in his first two seasons. A full compliment of talented RB’s are in place behind Hill. Holes? What holes?

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Michigan State (11/1)

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

Big 12 Preview
Marc Lawrence

Since playing the expansion card in 1999 the BIG 12 CONFERENCE has become a main player in the BCS picture. They've proven that quality, not quantity, earns national championships while the loop continues to get stronger by the season. Once again the Sooners and Longhorns figure to be in the big picture while a handful of other teams look anxious to take the next step.

Here is my take on the BIG 12 for 2008.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team's name (returning QB's designated with an *)

BIG 12

BAYLOR - *9 / 6

Team Theme - THE ART OF SOMETHING NEW

When Art Briles accepted the job at Baylor he realized immediately the need to change the look of the team. "We're going to be a tough football team, because that's something we can control," said Briles. He's also faces a tough decision on his quarterback. Returning QB Blake Szymanski started 10 games last year and set numerous school records. Miami transfer Kirby Freeman wants the ball, as does freshman phenom Robert Griffin. With nine starters back on the attack, offense will not be the problem. The defense, on the other hand, may be. It ranked 11th in the conference in passing and 11th in rushing YPG. This note on Briles: he is 11-4-1 ATS as a favorite of more than 10 points and 4-11-1 ATS as a favorite of 10 or less points. Until we know who's leading the charge, we'll stay in hibernation.

PASS

COLORADO - *7 / 8

Team Theme - YOU CAN'T BUFFALO A BUFFALO

Give them their due. On the heels of a disastrous 2-10 campaign in 2006, the Buffaloes fielded the 3rd youngest team in the nation last year (34 of 58 players were underclassmen). Nonetheless, Colorado responded with class when they landed a berth in the 2007 Independence Bowl. The arrival of much ballyhooed RB Darrell Scott, their prized recruit, figures to show immediate results. However, in order to continue their ascent under head coach Dan Hawkins, they will need more consistent play from his son, SO QB Cody Hawkins, who will engineer a new no-huddle offense. Losses on the defensive side of the ball, including LB Jordon Dizon, the Big 12's leading tackler and recently dismissed starting LB Jake Duren, are cause for concern against a schedule laced with eight winning teams from last season. Hawkins and Hawkins will need to be at their best in order to best last year's results.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Kansas (10/11)

IOWA STATE - 7 / 7

Team Theme - HOPE AND A PRAYER

Despite winning two of their final three games of the season the Hawkeyes, especially 2nd year mentor Gene Chizik remains realistic about their chances. "There are many growing pains ahead," Chizik said. "I (sic) feel athletically, we are still a little bit off where we need to be." In other words his offense sucks and, to make matters worse, he loses QB Bret Myers (48 consecutive starts) and WR Todd Blythe, the all-time passing and receiving leaders in Cyclone history. Even with that formidable duo they struggled mightily on offense last year, averaging just 18 PPG to rank 111th nationally. Moreover, Chizik, a former defensive coordinator at Texas, was unable to improve the soft ISU defense last year. The hope is four starters back from the offensive line, coupled with the return of the top three running backs, will ignite the attack. A prayer would likely stand a better chance.

PASS

KANSAS - *6 / 9

Team Theme - TIPPING THE SCALES

The mighty Mangino was worth his weight in gold leading the Jayhawks to the 2nd best turnaround (6-6 to 12-1) in the nation last year. They came this close to playing for the national championship, finishing 3rd in the BCS polls, before whacking Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. It marked KU's first January bowl game since 1968. They're back and loaded for more with 15 returning starters, including nine players from a defense that improved 61 YPG. QB Todd Reesing will be a strong candidate for multiple awards in 2008. He threw for 3,486 yards and 33 TDs last season while improving the offense 14 points and 106 YPG. With seven home games, and no back-to-back road trips, once again the scales tip heavily in Mangino's favor. If they aren't pulverized by the man himself, that is.

PLAY ON: vs. Missouri (11/29)

KANSAS STATE - *7 / 5

Team Theme - TWO STEP PROGRAM

A 4-2 start, together with a 20-point win at Texas (KSU's first win ever at a Top 10 program), was spoiled by an 0-4 finish last season. It made for a bumpy ride in Ron Prince's 2nd season in Manhattan. He'll look to get back on track in '08 with an experienced offense, including an offensive line featuring seven players who made multiple starts in 2007. That wall will protect QB Josh Freeman, a 2nd year starter who passed for a school record 3.353 yards last year. Unfortunately, while the Wildcats manage to escape the wrath of Texas, they tackle a five game road schedule peppered with five bowl-eligible teams. With one step up and one step back in his first two seasons, this should prove to be an important year for Prince's positioning on college football's coaching rung.

PLAY ON: vs. Nebraska (11/15)

MISSOURI - *6 / 10

Team Theme - COTTONELLE

A school record 12 wins was good enough to earn the Tigers a No. 4 ranking in the final AP polls, the highest ever in school history. Along the way, the Cotton Bowl champions fractured several school marks in 2007 while winning their first Big 12 North division title, notching 12 wins in a row and playing in its first New Years Day bowl game since 1966. It's no wonder Gary Pinkel is excited about the return of 16 starters from that team, including QB Chase Daniel, who finished 4th in last year's Heisman Trophy race. Daniel earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors when he tossed for over 4,300 yards and 33 TD's last season. On a roll, and an odds-on choice to repeat the feat in 2008, Missouri now becomes the hunted. The question begs: Will they s**t their pants or add to their laurels?

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Illinois (8/30)

NEBRASKA - 6 / 6

Team Theme - FUGGETABOUDIT

You know things aren't going your way when a team that failed to score 70 points against you the entire decade of the '70's lays 76 on you in one game. Or when your team suffers its worst home loss since 1958. Or when you need a win to become bowl eligible and you get outscored 34-0 in the 2nd half of the contest. That's the horror story written by Bill Callahan during his final season with the Cornhuskers last year. The worst football season in Nebraska annals since 1961 is mercifully in the history books and a new era begins with Bo Pellini in 2008. Apparently, Husker fans have short memories. That was never more evident than the throng of 80,119 in attendance at the SPRING GAME this April ($3 tickets were selling for as much as $95). Five straight home games to open the season should help cement the amnesia.

PLAY ON: vs. Missouri (10/4) - *KEY as dog of 3 > points

OKLAHOMA - *8 / 6


Team Theme - STOP STOOPS

Sooner coach Bob Stoops does not believe in standing pat. He continuously tinkers, looking for ways to improve his team's lot. Oklahoma became the first team to win consecutive Big 12 titles, was the second-highest scoring team in OU history last season and now owns both the most wins in the nation this decade (90) and the best home record in the land. Despite those magnificent accomplishments, Stoops will be running a new modified no-huddle offense in 2008. SO QB Sam Bradford led the nation in passing efficiency last season (176.53) and his 36 TD's (with only 8 INT's) broke the freshman record by 7. With seven of the eight two-deep offensive linemen back, including all five starters, Bradford could put up electrifying numbers in '08. And it doesn't hurt, either, that the Big 12 defensive player of the year the past two seasons has been a Sooner. If Stoops stops changing, Stoops stops improving.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas Tech (11/22) - *KEY favored 10 < points

OKLAHOMA STATE - *8 / 6

Team Theme - STEPPING OUT

The motto on the cover of the OSU Spring Prospectus sums up the Cowboys' current status: "There is no more famous step in sports than the next step." You need to take it in order to get to the next level and for Mike Gundy and the Cowboys it's time to step up. The building blocks have been established with back-to-back bowl wins. And last year's 7-6 winning effort was especially impressive considering it came against the 5th toughest schedule in the land. There's no rest for the wicked and OSU will square off against nine teams this year that were bowl-eligible last season. A potent offense (2nd best in school history in 2007) is lead by QB Zac Robinson who set a school record with 3.671 yards of total offense last year. Beware of the Zac attack!

PLAY ON: vs. Texas (10/25)

TEXAS - *6 / 4

Team Theme - THE REAL BIG BROWN

Already the 3rd all-time winningest program in major college football (820-316-33), the Longhorns just happen to rank No. 1 in this category the last ten years (103-25). That's directly attributable to head coach Mack Brown and his nation-leading seven consecutive 10-win seasons. It all climaxed last year when Texas rolled past Arizona State, 53-34, in the Holiday Bowl, marking its 4th straight bowl victory - the most in school history. Leading the charge in 2008 will be JR QB Colt McCoy who is 20-6 in his college career as a starter. Biggest news was importing Auburn's Will Muschamp as the new defensive coordinator. His no-nonsense approach should work wonders with a unit that allowed 37.5 PPG and 482.5 PPG over the last four games last year.

PLAY ON vs. Texas A&M (11/27)

TEXAS A&M - *5 / 6

Team Theme - INSIDE NEWS

Not sure whether it was the underhandedness of his "insiders' newsletter" or a mediocre 32-29 record in six years with the Aggies that led to Dennis Franchione's dismissal. Whatever, he's out and Mike Sherman is in as the Aggies' new boss with a lucrative 7-year contract at $1.8M per. The former Aggie OL coach (two different shifts) and, for the first six years of this decade, the head coach of the Packers, does appear concerned that his team returns the fewest starters in the Big 12 this season. SR QB Stephen McGee led the Aggies and all Big 12 QB's in rushing last year, while 6' 285 lb SR RB Javorskie Lane figures to get plenty of carries. Now that's the inside scoop.

PASS

TEXAS TECH - *10 / 8

Team Theme - TURN IT LOOSE!

If the Red Raider players have to drive the team bus back from a late night game this season our guess is they'd be pulled over by state troopers - for driving loaded. The Big-12's leader with 15 straight bowl-eligible seasons features thirty-six players returning from last year's two-deep roster. The senior-laden offense, which had just 16 three-and-outs last year, is manned by record-setting SR QB Graham Harrell, the top active signal caller in the nation with 89 TD passes (48 last year). He's also first among active QB's in passing yards with 10,682 (5,505 last year). To top it off, 2007 Biletnikoff award-winning WR Michael Crabtree (a 6' 3" 210 lb sophomore) is back. A 9th straight bowl game appears inevitable. A BCS bowl game? Good call.

PLAY ON: vs. Oklahoma State (11/8)

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Conference USA Preview
By Marc Lawrence

CONFERENCE USA features 12 nationally prominent, tradition-rich members, a combination that enhances programs that are steeped in athletic success and academic prowess. In other words, they are academically refined but pigskin poor. We call them the not-yet-ready-for prime-time-bunch… the CUSA.

Here is my take on the CONFERENCE USA for 2008.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team’s name (returning QB’s designated with an *).

CUSA

ALABAMA BIRMINGHAM - *8 / 9

Team Theme – TRUE LIES

After losing 30 seniors from his 2006 squad, head coach Neil Callaway was forced to play 14 true freshmen last season. The result was a tumultuous two-win season in which the Blazers surrendered season high – or second high – yardage on eight different occasions. The good news (or bad, depending on your perspective) is that UAB returns nine defensive starters to go with eight of the same on offense. The young offensive line allowed just 16 sacks last year, the second lowest in the league. SR QB Joe Webb not only tossed 15 touchdown passes but also caught 30 passes for 459 yards and 3 TD’s. With no less than nine bowl-eligible opponents dotting the schedule, you’d only be lying to yourself if you expect the Blazers to contend for anything other than the cellar in ’08.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Tulane (11/15)

CENTRAL FLORIDA – 5 / 9
Team Theme – THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE KNIGHT

It’s a cause-and-effect formula that works year in and year out in football, on any level. Namely, good things happen when you hurry the opposing quarterback. Not only does it lead to sacks (and lost yardage) but it also creates turnovers (read: interceptions). Its no coincidence UCF recorded the third best turnaround in the nation last year (from 4-8 to 10-4). The defense had 25.5 sacks to lead the CUSA and also a school record 24 interceptions, third best in the land. The good news for two-time National Coach of the Year George O’Leary is the return of nine starters from last year’s defense, including all four linemen. They’ll need to plug a few holes on offense, however, with the loss of QB Kyle Israel and star RB Kevin Smith. They also need to address a potential malady that developed in Spring Camp of a player dying from reported over-exertion. The heat is on.

PLAY ON: vs. East Carolina (11/2)

EAST CAROLINA - *6 / 9
Team Theme – A PIRATES BOUNTY
   
When is it that a team has the makings of a dynamo, you ask? Try one that features a roster with more than 50% upper classmen (24 seniors; 29 juniors) that tied or broke 39 individual records the previous season. Utilizing a two-headed quarterback system, head coach Skip Holtz wholeheartedly welcomes the return of signal callers Rob Kass and Patrick Pinkney. Together they put more points and touchdowns on the scoreboard in one season than any other team in ECU history. Losing Chris Johnson, the nation's all-purpose yardage leader last year, certainly hurts as will opening the season in Charlotte against ACC Champ Virginia Tech and following that with a home game against Big East boss West Virginia. After the dust settles, though, a bounty awaits when Pirates set sail against a winnable slate of opposition. Ships ahoy.

PLAY ON: vs. Virginia Tech (8/30)

HOUSTON - *6 / 8
Team Theme – EBONY OR IVORY – IT DOESN’T MATTER

If new coach Kevin Sumlin were white would it have been appropriate for Houston to announce that a Caucasian American was hired to replace former mentor Art Briles? So, then why is it that the shoe fits simply because he’s African American? It doesn’t. What fits is the fact that Sumlin, the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma the last five years, is a good hire. Along with 56 returning lettermen, he'll benefit from having soph QB Case Keenum directing an offense that was outgained in only one game last season. Keenum, the CUSA Freshman of the Year, played in eleven games last season, starting six of them. Interestingly, the 8-5 Cougars were outgained only ONE TIME last season. After getting his feet wet against winning teams in four of the first five games to begin the new campaign, Sumlin will close out against losers in six of seven games to conclude the season. Now that’s what we would call a black-and-white schedule.

PASS

MEMPHIS – 7 / 9
Team Theme – GO WEST, YOUNG MAN

The Tigers entered the 2007 season as a “Mission Team” and they delivered. Off a disastrous effort in 2006, and on the heels of three solid winning seasons prior to that, Memphis rebounded with vigor and tied Central Florida for the third-best turnaround (2-10 to 7-5) in the nation last year. Behind 52 letter winners and 16 returning starters in 2008, including an offensive line with four seniors and one junior, Tommy West and Memphis should be able to continue the roll. Rest assured, he will have his team pumped to the max when they take on Arkansas State the last week in September. The Tigers lost to the Warhawks, 35-31, last season after leading 31-6 at the half. Against a schedule that features only four teams with winning records last year, Memphis looks to score early and often this year.

PLAY ON: vs. Arkansas State (9/27)

RICE - *8 / 6
Team Theme – BAIL MAKER

First year coach David Bailiff’s defense failed to make many arrests last season. After finishing the year dead last in total team defense, Bailiff realized a change was needed. And he liked what he saw in the spring game. "At times, I thought the defense showed just how much it has improved. You saw some extremely hard, violent tackles," said Bailiff. The quick-strike offense is led by the best passing tandem in CUSA in QB Chase Clement and WR Jarrett Dillard. Clement, the fifth active QB in TD passes (55), broke 18 school records while Jarrett gained 1,000 yards for the second straight season last year. Remember, this team scored a school record 377 points last year, yet finished 3-9 with that rotten defense. It can only get better.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Houston (11/29)

SMU – 5 / 5
Team Theme – PONY EXPRESS

SMU ponied up $10M to lure June Jones and his run-and-shoot offense out of Hawaii. Especially appealing to the magnates who wrote the check is the fact he took a 0-12 Hawaii team to 9-4 in his first year on the island. With eight teams in their final 10 games that were bowlers last year, SMU needs to wins early. Despite the fact QB Justin Willis missed spring camp while on indefinite suspension, Jones is not worried about a potential trouble spot at the most important position on the team. "We'll find a quarterback," Jones said. "There are only two types of quarterbacks: One who gets better during the game and one who gets worse. We'll be fine. The system works." For $2 Million a year, it had better work - and fast.

PASS

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI – 6 / 4
Team Theme – A NEW HAT IN HATTIESBURG

A tip of the fedora to outgoing coach Jeff Bower at Southern Mississippi. In 18 years as the head coach of the Golden Eagles, Bower compiled a sterling 117-84-1 record, including 14 straight winning seasons and bowl games nine of the last ten years to close out a terrific career. The question we wonder is – why? “I want you to know there is a lot of fight left in Jeff Bower and I am not done yet,” Bower said. Sounds like an involuntary retirement to us. Nonetheless, Larry Fedora, the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State the last three years, steps into a large pair of shoes. He spurned assistant coach overtures from LSU and Alabama to move to Hattiesburg. Larry’s ready to put the lid on the Bower-years.

PLAY ON: vs. Rice (10/18)

TEXAS EL PASO - *5 / 8
Team Theme – THE RIGHT PRICE

We like the way Mike Price thinks. To him, UTEP is not an extension school of Texas. It’s the University of Texas at El Paso and that school will host the University of Texas (at Austin) in its home opener this year. He will also remind his team that despite last year’s 4-7 record they were only eight points from being bowl-eligible. The Achilles heel was its No. 117 ranked defense, one that allowed season high yardage on five occasions. New DC Osia Lewis was hired and will employ a new 3-3-5 defensive scheme. Price thinks QB Trevor Vittatoe (3,101 passing yards as a freshman last year) and WR Jeff Moturi are as good a combination as any in the league. No argument here. More times than not, Price is right.

PLAY AGAINST: as a dog vs. East Carolina (11/29)

TULANE - *8 / 7
Team Theme – WAVE CRASH

Certain stats are a fact of life. Drink too much alcohol - you suffer. Miscalculate your taxes and an IRS man is knocking on your door. In college football, you lose a running back that rushed for over 4,000 the last two seasons and you’re hurting. So it is at Tulane where the Green waves goodbye to star RB Matt Forte, a second round pick by the Chicago Bears this spring. While JR Anthony Scelfo is listed on the charts as the returning QB, the job is up for grabs after Scelfo missed spring camp to play baseball. With four of their final five games on the road against teams that bowled last year, a sixth straight losing season looks inevitable.

PASS

TULSA – 9 / 5
Team Theme – GRAHAM CRACKERS

After winning ten games in his first year as head coach at Tulsa, including CUSA West Division and the GMAC bowl, Todd Graham realizes a repeat performance would be stretching matters, especially with 5,000 yard passer Paul Smith, the leader of the nation’s top-ranked offense last season, graduated. His replacement? The job is up for grabs and the talk about it never ends. "We need to build a statue of him and quit talking about him. It's killing us," said Graham. A bigger concern is finding six new starters for a defense that allowed six different opponents to score at least 40 points last season. "We had the No. 1 offense in the country, but to win a championship, we have to have a championship defense,” contends Graham. We couldn’t agree more.

PLAY AGAINST: as double-digit favorite vs. Rice (10/4)

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

Independents Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Like last year, just three teams make up the INDEPENDENTS, yet all three have a strong say on the outcome of the National Championship BCS game for 2008 when they take on no less than 15 combined opponents that sported winning records last season. Rest assured, without a conference affiliation, this self-governing group holds plenty of veto power when it comes to dashing the dreams of many BCS Championship Game aspirants.

Here is my take on the INDEPENDENTS for 2008. Returning starters are listed alongside each team's name (returning QB's designated with an *).

INDEPENDENTS

ARMY - *4 / 5

Team Theme - BUILDING BROCKS

At first glance, nine returning starters doesn't appear to be enough, not for a team that has suffered eleven losing years in a row, averaging less than three wins per season. A deeper look paints a different picture. 2nd year coach Stan Brock was forced to use seven different starting combinations on the OL in 2007. As a result five players return who started at least one game. So does JR QB Carson Williams who started 10 games for the Cadets last year. They've added new wrinkles to the playbook during the off-season. "I don't think it's a secret that we've worked hard on our offensive scheme," contends Brock. With continuity on the sidelines (read: no coaching changes), and a team that tied with Navy for fewest penalties per game last season (4.0), look for continued improvement from this disciplined contingent.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas A&M (9/27)

NAVY - *4 / 8
Team Theme - HOLO-HOLOCAUST

Polynesia has made its way to the Navy, and it looks to be a perfect fit. New head coach Ken Niumatalolo is the first Samoan coach in Division 1-A football history, while 5'11" native Hawaiian QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has helped the Middies become the first team in NCAA history to lead the nation in rushing three straight years. Niumatalolo takes over for Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech) knowing he's got some huge running shoes to fill. Five straight bowl games and five straight Commander-In-Chief trophies are on the line. Not to mention that the Midshipmen finally defeated Notre Dame for the first time in 45 tries last season. In fact, Navy has been so dominant the past five seasons they actually own a better road record than Florida, Tennessee and Wisconsin! As they say on the islands, this team is holoholo (on a ride).

PLAY ON: vs. Ball State (9/5)

NOTRE DAME - *9 / 7
Team Theme - TO HELL WITH MICHIGAN

In spite of his gruff demeanor in the past and last year's dreadful season, Charlie Weis is doing his best to change his public persona. Normally defensive everywhere other than the playing field, he realizes this year's team will not be as good as next year's, but knows there will be improvement. Maybe its humility, maybe not, but Charlie is talking a different tune these days. The best move he made in the off-season was hiring Jon Tenuta as the new DC. The former Georgia Tech defensive specialist couldn't have got here soon enough. Weis' previous four teams have allowed an average 366 YPG, hardly the kind credentials associated with good teams. With SO QB Jimmy Claussen another year wiser and off a strong showing in spring camp, here's hoping - for Charlie's sake - the memories of last year's 38-0 losses at the hands of Michigan and USC remain in the past.

PLAY ON: as dog vs. Michigan (9/13)

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

Mid-American Conference Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Entering its 62nd year of gridiron competition (hey, they’re older than me), the MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE returns to a balanced schedule, meaning each team will play eight conference games in 2008. Better yet, all three MAC bowl teams from last season (Ball State, Bowling Green and Central Michigan) return record-setting QB’s.

Here is my take on the MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE for 2008.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team’s name (returning QB’s designated with an *).

MAC

AKRON - *8 / 5

Team Theme – FLAT TIRES

After enjoying the sweet taste of success his first two campaigns with the Zips, head coach J.D. Brookhart suffered the bitterness of defeat more often than not in his last two years at the Akron helm. He doesn’t like it, but the fact of the matter is he had better get used to it. Finishing dead last in total offense in the conference last year (and No. 111 in the nation), Akron will look to returning QB Chris Jaqueman and the top two kick returners in the nation, KR Bryan Williams and PR Andre Jones, to put points on the board. In a puzzling move, Williams, also the team’s leading RB last season, shifts to DB on ’08. A reeling team - Akron won one of its final six games SU, ATS and ITS (In The Stats) last year – with a lost offense leaves little to like with these retreads.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Kent State (10/4)

BALL STATE - *9 / 6
Team Theme – BIGGER CAJONES THAN EVER

The Testicular Ones put the pedal to the metal when the offense posted 27 or more points nine times last season. Behind star QB Nate Davis and the MAC's best receiving tandem (Dante Love - second in the nation in all-purpose yardage last year - and TE Darius Hill - at least 10 TD catches in each of the last two years), the Gonads set school records for points scored, passing yards, completions and touchdowns. That resulted in seven wins and a coveted bowl bid, their first since 1996. Back for more with the offense still loaded, Davis (30 TD’s and only 6 INT’s last year) will look to improve the swollen Gonads’ record for the 4th straight year. Yeah, they’ve got some big ones. With only four of this season’s opponents coming off a winning season, this should be a spotlight year for the guys from Muncie.

PLAY ON: vs. Miami, OH (11/11)

BOWLING GREEN - *8 / 9
Team Theme – BIRDS OF A FEATHER

The Falcons were flying high at season’s end last year, winning their final four games before being trashed by Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl game. Nonetheless, the BeeGee’s welcome back 17 starters from last year’s squad, including QB Tyler Sheehan, a 3rd team all-MAC performer. Sheehan completed 303 of 476 passes, good for 3,264 yards and 23 TD’s last season. In addition, the top three RB’s (1,607 yards combined) are also back. On the other side of the ball nine starters are on hand, including the entire secondary. The co-MAC East Division champs have a lot to look forward to this season, including an 11-point only-home-loss revenge game against Ohio U. That loss snapped a 5-game SU and 8-game ATS series win streak. Against a featherweight schedule (only one opponent with a winning record last year), look for the birds of prey to swoop into title contention.

PLAY ON: vs. Ohio U (11/8)

BUFFALO - *10 / 8
Team Theme – ELEVATOR UP

Immediately after tying for the MAC East Division title last year, the Bulls promptly inked head coach Turner Gill to a contract extension through 2012. Wise move. The MAC Coach of the Year has taken Buffalo from the outhouse to almost the penthouse in three short years. Next on the agenda: a winning season. Included among 18 returning starters this season are four all-MAC performers, not to mention SR QB Drew Willy and JR RB James Starks. Willy completed 68.4% pf his passes for over 2,500 yards last season, while Starks became the first-ever Bulls’ running back to gain 1,000 rushing yards in a season. In order to achieve their goal, Buffalo will need to put back-to-back wins together with some degree of regularity, something they’ve accomplished one time (last year) since 2001. Therefore, we’ll wait until it happens before we plunge.

PASS

CENTRAL MICHIGAN - *8 / 8
Team Theme – CHIPS AHOY!

It ain’t broke, and there’s no need to fix it. That’s the good news in Mt. Pleasant these days after the Chippewas became the first team in school history to land successive bowl berths. Better news is the entire coaching staff returns but the best news is QB Dan LeFevour also comes back. Thunder Dan, a two-time all-MAC selection, became the second player in Division 1-A history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season (Vince Young was the other). He’s surrounded by other formidable weapons in RB Ontario Sneed (2,315 career rush yards and 28 TD’s) and WR Antonio Brown, the MAC Freshman of the Year, who set a school record with 102 receptions. Together they will look to become only the second MAC team to win three straight championship games. That’s why head coach Butch Jones was inked to a 5-year contract extension through 2012. Wise move.

PLAY ON: vs. Purdue (9/20)

EASTERN MICHIGAN - *7 / 7
Team Theme – SPEADING THEIR WINGS

It’s called making the most of a mediocre season. Sure, the Eagles were only 4-8 last year but, you’d never know it after reading the spring prospectus. According to the booklet they won the Michigan Mid-American trophy with wins over Central and Western Michigan. They finished in 3rd place is the MAC West Division at 3-2. “We have improved as a team from a strength and speed perspective,” states head coach Jeff Genyk. 6’ 4” SR QB Andy Schmitt, who started 10 of 11 games, is back after tossing 14 TDs against 6 INTs last year. In one of the quirkiest series of all, the 2004, ‘05 and ‘06 games against Central Michigan ended in overtime. Last year, Eastern won a 51-48 slugfest in regulation. Go figure. Until they learn to outstat opponents (2-10 ITS last year), we’ll wait for them to make the turn.

PASS

KENT STATE - *7 / 8
Team Theme – GOLDEN RETREIVERS

To go 3-9, while outgaining seven of twelve opponents, is perplexing. To go 0-7 SU and ATS in your final seven games is agonizing. Vacillating somewhere between the two emotions is Kent State head coach Doug Martin. Surely he’s scratching his head wondering how his team could lose SIX TIMES straight-up as a favorite in the same season. But the Flashes did just that accounting for the perplexion and agony associated with their 2007 season. Fifteen starters will try to make amends this season, including SR QB Julian Edleman and star RB Eugene Jarvis, the MAC’s leading rusher with 1,669 yards. A well-fortified defense includes six seniors and seven juniors on the front seven. Behind a solid recruiting class last season, and with paybacks galore in store in 2008, look for Flashes to be golden in revenge this season.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Miami Oh (10/25)

MARSHALL – 8 / 8
Team Theme – PENNY LOAFERS

Mark Snyder knew he was stepping into some mighty big shoes when he inherited the head coaching job from Bob Pruett three years ago. Pruett left an indelible 94-23 mark on the program in his nine years on the sidelines. By our count, no matter how you size it up, Snyder has some catching up to do - and he’d better do it fast. 4-7, 5-7 and 3-9 seasons are not the sort of numbers you bring to the bargaining table when contract extension talks come up. A star player for the Thundering Herd and former defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Jim Tressel, Snyder gets a huge boost on the DL with the return of 2006 CUSA Defensive Player of the Year Albert McClellan and Montel Glasco. Both starters sat out last year with injuries and figure to bolster a soft rush defense.

PLAY ON: as dog vs. Cincinnati (10/3)

MIAMI OHIO - *8 / 9
Team Theme – MONTGOMERY IN

Startling fact: Miami ranks No. 16 on the all-time winningest Division 1-A program list at 648-367-44. Like Memphis, the RedHawks were a “Mission Team” in 2007 only they failed to make it to a bowl game after a loss against Central Michigan in the MAC championship denied them both the opportunity to become bowlers and a winning season. Nonetheless, Shane Montgomery has this team pointed in the right direction and is salivating to get back on the field. He’ll take 18 seniors and 17 returning starters with him, including protégé Daniel Raudabaugh (who started seven games behind center in 2007). Montgomery was a star QB at NC State and still holds the school records for most passing yards in a game. Six home games (none back-to-back) for the first time in school history makes Miami the team to beat in the East.

PLAY ON: vs. Ohio U (11/28)

NORTHERN ILLINOIS - *9 / 11
Team Theme – KILLER DOGS

After racking up seven winning seasons in a row, head coach Joe Novak picked up his ball and went home following last year’s disastrous 2-10 effort. His retirement paved the way for the hiring of Jerry Kill (what a great name for a coach) and it will be up to him to remove the stench of that dismal season. Kill moves north from Southern Illinois where he built the Salukis into a Division 1-AA power, while guiding them to the playoffs each of the last five years. Surprisingly, he takes over a squad that owns the 11th best conference record in the nation (33-14 .702) since 2002. Perhaps the most puzzling loss on last year’s slate was a 25-point setback at Central Michigan, a game in which NIU outstatted the Chippewas, 521-381. We like the Huskies’ chances to notch a 9th straight home win over the Chips (last home loss: 1977).

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Central Michigan (11/12) - *KEY off win

OHIO U – 8 / 7
Team Theme – SOLICH EN’ UP

After playing and coaching at Nebraska, Frank Solich realizes first and foremost that in order to win defense is ‘priority one’. That became painfully evident last season when the Bobcats regressed over 100 YPG defensively and slipped from a nine-win bowler to a .500 wannabe. A brutal early season schedule means this year’s squad must rely heavily on a deep secondary and linebacker corps to help navigate its way into October. Despite a cast of 68 returning lettermen, the Bobbies lose QB Brad Bower and RB Kalvin McRae from last year’s squad. McRae, a 1st team all-MAC performer, leaves with 4,398 yards – 5th all-time in MAC annals. Thus, this is as a good a time as any for Solich to employ his new spread offense. But nothing works if the defense doesn’t – and that’s the bottom line.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Kent State (10/11)

TEMPLE - *10 / 11
Team Theme – THE MIDAS TOUCH

When the Big Tuna sends praise your way it’s always a good thing. Another good thing was Temple's hiring of Al Golden to resurrect the football program. “Temple is fortunate to have a person and a coach of his caliber leading its program. Al has always been an outstanding defensive football coach,” said Bill Parcells. That’s confirmed by the fact that last year Golden played more underclassmen (47 freshmen and sophomores) than any team in the nation, but still finished one-game shy of a share for the MAC East Division title. A walloping 21 starters return, including both lines. With only four opponents on this year’s schedule who sported winning records last year, it could be a golden time for the Owls in 2008.

PLAY ON: vs. Army (8/20)

TOLEDO - *6 / 8
Team Theme – LOCKED AND LOADED

A 0-3 start and a 0-2 finish, coupled with a rash of injuries to the defense, led to the Rockets first losing season ever under Tom Amstutz last year. Rest assured, the big guy is not a happy camper and is anxious to make amends “We’re adding players into our defense that are in the all-league category. It hurt us last season… but for this season it gives our defense as lot of depth,” said Amstutz. The eight returning defensive starters are actually ten if you include those who missed last season. On the other side of the ball, JR QB Aaron Opelt, a 3rd year starter, will be locked on all-MAC WR’s Stephen Williams and Nick Moore. Last year’s pain could be this year’s gain for the Rockets.

PLAY ON: vs. Bowling Green (11/28)

WESTERN MICHIGAN - *8 / 10
Team Theme – KILLER HILLER

A quick glance at last year’s stats explains a lot. Despite an offense that improved 78 YPG behind the return of 2005 MAC Freshman of the Year QB Tim Hiller (missed 2006 season with knee ligaments), the Broncos ended the year 5-7 because of a defense that declined 124 YPG. The good news is eight starters are back on offense. The bad news is 10 starters are back from that decaying defense. WMU closed out the disappointing 2007 season with back-to-back wins, one at Iowa that denied the Hawkeyes a bowl berth, so there is cause for hope. With only three winning teams from last year on this year’s schedule (zippo in the first seven games), and with Killer Hiller back “on the mound”, don’t be surprised should the Broncos surprise in 2008.

PLAY ON: vs. Central Michigan (10/18)

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Mountain West Preview
By Marc Lawrence 

In case you missed it last year - geography refresher: ranging in altitudes from 7 feet to 7,220 feet, the MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE looks to be growing to new heights. BYU is perched atop and ready to reclaim it's position in the Conference pecking order, while TCU and Utah might have something to say about who sits where in the MWC this year. The bottom line is this mini-Conference is scaling to new levels.

Returning starters are listed alongside each team's name (returning QB's designated with an *).

MWC

AIR FORCE - 3 / 5

Team Theme - NO THUMBS UP

If "Rookie of the Year" were an award for first-year college football coaches, Troy Calhoun would have been a hands-down winner last season. He not only orchestrated the 4th best turnaround in the nation (4-8 to 9-4), the Academy graduate also shattered the school record for most wins by a first year coach and was one of only eight new coaches (out of 23) to secure a bowl bid. He'll need to prove his worth this year, though, when he welcomes back just 23 lettermen, only eight of which were starters. Among those missing is 4-year starting QB Shaun Carney, RB Chad Hall (MWC offensive player of the year) and three all-conference defensive starters. We see the classic sophomore slump coming. Put your thumb away, Troy. There will be no free rides this season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Utah (9/20)

BYU - *10 / 4
Team Theme - A PERFECT 10

With 10 starters back on a senior-lade offense, the Cougars open the 2008 season riding a 10-game win streak, the longest in the nation. They also have their sights set on playing in nothing less than a BCS bowl game. "We've been good the last two seasons, and now, we're looking to be great. Anybody who wants to be great will never be satisfied with being 11-2," said DL Jon Jorgenson. 18-1 in their last 19 conference games (tied with Ohio State for nation's best) and 16 conference wins in a row can instill that sort of confidence. And, if you can believe it, the Mormons actually own a better record on the MWC road (24-9) than at home (22-11). QB Max Hall tossed for 3,848 yards last year, the most of any sophomore in the land and RB Harvey Unga gained 1,211 yards on the ground - as a freshman. Yeah, they're that good.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Utah (11/22)

COLORADO STATE - 7 / 5
Team Theme - RAM RODDER

Iconic head coach Sonny Lubick has finally settled into his rocking chair. In his stead, Steve Fairchild takes over. Fairchild, a former Rams quarterback and 2nd all-time passer in conference history behind BYU's Jim McMahon, has spent the past five seasons as offensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills. "We are going to play an exciting brand of football… I guarantee we will be a physical team that can stretch the field offensively," says Fairchild. He'll need to achieve those promises without the services of QB Caleb Hanie, who led the MWC in passing efficiency last year. His backup SR Bill Farris, looks to be the logical contender to fill his shoes. Although it may take time, the bottom line is that Fairchild will prove to be a good hire. With four of their six road games this season coming against 2007 bowl teams, the Rams will have to prove themselves before we bite.

PASS

NEW MEXICO - *6 / 6
Team Theme - CLUBBER LONG

The dean of MWC coaches, Rocky Long, capped off his best season ever with the Lobos last year, going 9-4, and delivered a 23-0 knockout punch over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl - the Lobos first post-season win in 46 years. "I thought last year's team over-achieved… a lot of that success had to do with the senior leadership. There were a lot of playmakers in last year's senior class," said Long. They're gone this year, however, and he'll need to fill the holes of the departed. Listed among the missing starters are four offensive linemen, both wide receivers and the top four linebackers. The Lobos do return their top three yardage producers in QB Donavan Porterie (3,000 passing yards), and RB's Rodney Ferguson (all-MWC) and Paul Baker (MVP in last year's bowl game). Don't count Rocky out just yet.

PLAY ON: vs. BYU (11/2)

SAN DIEGO ST - 4 / 8
Team Theme - FRY BABY

Last year in this space we outlined the fact that coaches out of the Hayden Fry coaching tree take time to develop. We noted his pupils (Chuck Long included) were 14-65 in the first year and 24-45 in the second year of their careers. All of them, Fry included, needed at least three years before enjoying a winning season. Long fell right in line in his 2nd season last year going 4-8 after his team took the gas in its final three games. According to the family tree, its Long's turn to reap what he has sown in his first two years at SDSU. Long will rely on the MWC's 2nd best passing offense. That's okay by Chuck. He's a Fry baby and he knows what's in the cards.

PLAY ON: vs. Air Force (10/11)

TCU - *7 / 6

Team Theme - NICE LEGS

If teams were ranked solely by their record the Frogs would be No. 13 in the poll with a 87-35 mark over the last ten years, including nine bowl games and three straight bowl wins. Better yet this team is 39-6 straight-up at home at Amon G. Carter Stadium this decade. And it all starts with Gary Patterson, perhaps the most unsung coach in college football, with four Top 25 finishes in his seven-year stint. He is understandably excited about SO QB Andy Dalton who broke numerous TCU passing records in his freshman year. SR RB Aaron Brown returns off an injury plagued campaign with 2.049 career-rushing yards. It's clear, the Frogs once again have a leg up on the rest of the Mountain West.

PLAY ON: vs. Utah (11/6)

UNLV - *9 / 5
Team Theme - STUCK ON TWO

Like home market prices in Las Vegas, the Rebels bottomed out when they emptied out, going 0-8, to conclude a 4th straight two-win season last year. Head coach Mike Sanford has been responsible for the last three years and realizes he is squarely on the hot-seat. "We've all worked very hard to get this program in position to become a consistent winner and we expect to get over the hump this year," states Sanford. Seven home games, for the first time since the 1970's, and a bevy of returning starters leaves no room for excuses. His fate will be in the hands of sophomore QB's Travis Dixon (last year's starter) and Omar Clayton. Here's hoping RB Frank 'The Tank' Summers (5'10" 240 lbs) has a say in the matter.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Utah (9/6) - *KEY

UTAH - *8 / 6
Team Theme - SPREADING IT ON THICK

"Utah plans to lay it on thick this season with the return of several key players from the injured list. The spread offense, run so effectively by the 2003-05 Utes gave way to a hybrid model, customized to personnel, the last two years…Utah's playbook will swell to the size it was in 2005." Taken directly from the spring prospectus, those words best summarize a team loaded with size, speed, experience and all-conference accolades at virtually every position. 5th-year SR QB Brian Johnson will look to make it eight straight bowl wins for the Utes. "We've got to win the Mountain West Conference title; that is our barometer… a lot of positives have happened, but the championship has eluded us, and that's where our focus is," says head coach Kyle Whittingham.

PLAY ON: vs. Oregon State (10/2)

WYOMING * 8 / 7
Team Theme - MAKE A WISH

Joe Glenn has been around long enough to realize you win games by playing a tough physical brand of football, and you win championships by winning games away from home. "The key for us is we've got to learn to win on the road," Glenn says. "We do have seven home games, and four out of our first five are at home… we've got to go on the road the second half of the season and finish stronger if we want to compete for a bowl game." He plans to accomplish that behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. "All we needed were some birthdays," Glenn says of a line that now will start two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. It's time to blow out the candles.

PLAY ON: vs. Utah (10/11)

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Pac 10 Preview
Marc Lawrence

Another whirlwind of action is on tap inside the PAC 10 CONFERENCE in 2008 when 140 starters from last year return (out of a possible 240, including kickers). New to the scene will be a pair new head coaches, Paul Wulff at his alma mater Washington State and Rick Neuheisel, back in the league at his alma mater UCLA. The question is whether anyone is capable of turning back the powerful Trojans of USC. With only four starters back on offense, is USC rebuilding or simply reloading?

Returning starters are listed alongside each team's name (returning QB's designated with an *).

PAC 10

ARIZONA - *10 / 3

Team Theme - SONNY DAYS AHEAD

True to his word, new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes pumped life into Arizona's lethargic attack last season, scoring 11 PPG and gaining 132 YPG more than the '06 squad. The defense, however, took a hiatus (slipped 46 YPG) and, as a result, the Wildcats took a backward step. The good news is they managed to hold powerful USC to a season low 276 yards in one of four losses they suffered by a touchdown or less last year (three by 4 combined points). Ten returning starters on offense, including SR QB Willie Tuitama, figure to have a better grasp of Dykes' spread offense. Now if head coach Mike Stoops can somehow overcome his tendency for slow starts (5-11 first 4 games / 10-6 final 4 games) the locals just might go wild over these Cats.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Oregon (11/15)
   
ARIZONA STATE - *7 / 7
Team Theme: CHEF DENNIS

The king of home cooking, Dennis Erickson, welcomes another fortuitous schedule in '08 when his troops play host on seven occasions, including four in a row to open the campaign. To amplify, Erickson is 48-28-3 ATS at home as a college football head coach, including 34-13 when playing off a double-digit win. He is also a three-time PAC 10 Coach of the Year - with three different teams - and one of only two coaches to ever beat a No.1 ranked team three times in his career (Lou Holtz the other). In what has become a solid pattern, Denny's teams started 8-0 last season before fizzling to a 2-3 finish. We weren't surprised. His teams are now 25-33-1 ATS from Game Ten out, including a dismal 6-17 as a visitor. SR QB Rudy Carpenter is the nation's second-best active quarterback in TD passes (65) and needs 2,620 passing yards to become ASU's all-time leader. It helps that his favorite target, WR Michael Jones, who led the nation in TD frequency, will return. Bon appetit.

PLAY ON: vs. vs. Oregon (10/25)

CALIFORNIA - *5 / 9
Team Theme - GOLDILOCKS

Cal started last season like the fierce Papa Bear winning each of its first five games without hardly breaking a sweat. Then came that little blonde bitch in the form of an Oregon State Beaver and she turned Papa into Baby. Cal lost that game when backup QB Kevin Riley blew a game-tying field goal attempt by running out the clock. The Baby Bears lost five of the next six without a single cover before beating Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Rest assured, that loss to OSU will surely be a "circle game" this year. Cal not only returns nine starters on defense, it brings back QB Nate Longshore, who, incidentally, did not play in that Oregon State game. Longshore has won more games than any other Cal QB since 1958. We're betting that California's four losses as a favorite (second only to Kent State) will bring Papa back to the fore.

PLAY ON: vs. Oregon St (11/15) - *KEY

OREGON - 6 / 8
Team Theme - SORE EAGLES

There's a saying that especially applied to Oregon's football fortunes last season. It says, "You can't send a duck to eagle school." You could not have sold that adage to any of the Duck faithful who were flying high along with the No. 2 ranked team in the nation at 8-1 in mid-November last year. At least not before disaster struck in the desert. Star QB Dennis Dixon went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Arizona game and Oregon's hopes of soaring to new heights came crashing to the ground. The upside to the tragic finish occurred when Oregon, behind 6' 6" QB Justin Roper, responded with a 35-point win (as 6-points dogs) over South Florida in the Sun Bowl. That gives Mike Bellotti, the longest tenured coach in the Pac-10, reason to believe his team will be back up and flying before you know it. PLAY ON: vs. UCLA (10/11)

OREGON STATE - 9 / 3
Team Theme - BEER & BEAVER

Here's a bar bet guaranteed to send a free beer or two your way: Name the Pac 10 team with the best record in October, November and December the last two years. Answer - you're reading about them - the Beavers at 15-3. It's attributed to the fact that last year was the first time since 1969 OSU has finished with back-to-back winning seasons in conference play. It was capped off with their 4th straight bowl win, increasing head coach Mike Riley's career record to 7-0 in bowl games he's coached. Neat stuff, eh? This year, though, the task will be tougher because they tackle eight teams that went to bowl games last year. A defense that held five opponents to season low yards last year stands ready for the task. Hey bartender, make it two to go for the road, would ya?

PLAY ON: vs. Arizona State (11/1)

SOUTHERN CAL - 4 / 7
Team Theme - United States Champions

The numbers say it all - six-consecutive AP Top 4 finishes, BCS bowls, Pac-10 titles and 11-win seasons. Whew! With only 11 starters lost from last year's 11-win squad, Peter Carroll is hardly concerned. That's because eighteen returning players have career starts. Included are Butkus candidate LB's Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, the defensive MVP's of the last two Rose Bowls. On the offensive side, C.J. Gable - said to be the next Reggie Bush - and Joe McKnight form a lethal running back combination. Not only does this team own the best road record in college football the last five seasons (30-5), they are 29-1 at home. Toss in Carroll's 23-0 SU and 19-5 ATS mark in November and you can understand why USC fans are spoiled to the max.

PLAY ON: vs. Stanford (11/15)

STANFORD - *8 / 9
Team Theme - FOREIGNATE

Stanford won just four games all season under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh but Cardinal fans are optimistic because two of those wins came against California and USC. Those wins stamped Harbaugh as a rising young coach and Stanford as a team others in the Pac 10 conference need to respect. It's still been seven years since they've last appeared in a bowl game but the Cardinal is getting closer. Last year's 4-8 record was a full three game improvement over the 2006 squad, thus validating Harbaugh's hire. As Harbaugh said, "The greatest improvement made in a program comes from Season One to Season Two. Nothing stands still; you are either getting better or getting worse." In Stanford's case, we feel it's the former.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Arizona (10/11)

UCLA - *5 / 5
Team Theme - Q B OR NOT Q B

Talk about a buzz-kill. After all the hoopla surrounding the hiring of flamboyant coach Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins were as deflated as Tom Scott's air mattress when QB's Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson were carted off the playing field after being injured in spring practice. "I'm OK, under the circumstances. These are two tough setbacks… I have full confidence in (OC) Norm Chow," Neuheisel said. "We're going to find a way to play that position well." The good news is Olson may be back in time for fall camp. With nine opponents who won nine or more games last season dotting this year's itinerary and 25 seniors gone from last year's team, tricky Ricky will need his best sleight-of-hand stuff right off the bat.

PLAY ON: vs. BYU (9/13)

WASHINGTON - *7 / 6
Team Theme - HAM HOCKS

Another coach on the hot seat would be Huskies' mentor Ty Willingham who, in three years with Washington, is still looking for his first winning season. To make matters tough again, UW will tackle eight opponents that played in bowl games last season, including three in a row to open the season. The Ham will put his faith and trust in SO QB Jake Locker, the Pac 10 Freshman of the Year. Locker set a conference record when he rushed for 986 yards (and 13 TD's) last season but he'll need to improve on a sub-par 47% completion mark. With Willingham a classic good dog / bad favorite coach (30-16 ATS taking points on the road; 19-30 laying points at home), we'll play those cards accordingly.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Arizona (10/4)

WASHINGTON STATE - 6 / 8
Team Theme - WULFF WILL HULFF AND PULFF…

After getting a first glimpse of his team in spring practice, new head coach Paul Wulff commented, "I like to think our best football is ahead of us, but we have a long way to go." Compared to the Eastern Washington teams he led to the playoffs three of the last four years, Wulff realizes his Cougars will need time for his new no-huddle offense to take hold. Redshirt SR QB Gary Rogers replaces Alex Brink. His main target will be WR Brandon Gibson who led the Pac 10 with 1,180 yards last season. Meanwhile, the Cougars will be counting on a shift back to the '4-3' to patch a defense that slipped 64 YPG last season. The re-building begins.

PASS

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

Sean Higgs Big 10 Conference Preview
By: Sean Higgs     Date: Jul 26, 2008
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Sean Higgs

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Big 10 Preview

1 Ohio State -----The Buckeyes were a young team last year and now have lost 2 straight National Championships. This year, with 19 starters back from last year squad, Ohio State should get over that last hurdle. Beanie Wells is my #1 rated RB in the nation and is running behind a great offensive line. Senior leadership in QB Todd Boeckman will lead this offensive unit. The defense led by senior ILB James Laurinaitis and CB Malcolm Jenkins will be nothing short of stingy. A tough September road trip to USC on Sept. 13 will look to see who has the early inside track to the National Championship Game in Miami.

2 Wisconsin --- HC Bret Bielema get both OSU and PSU at home and they will be their biggest challenge. Badgers have won 3 of the last 5 vs Buckeyes, but it will be asking a lot of Wiscy this year to knock out a tough conference foe at home. Badgers led by RB PJ Hill who if healthy will team with soph Zach Brown to pound the ball the Wiscy way. Nine returning starters on defense make it a strong unit.

3 Penn State --- Nittany Lions will look to open it up with a spread set, but with road games at both OSU and Wiscy, this team will now where it stands mid-October. Penn State is still loaded and should get to the 10 win mark.

4 Iowa ---- Hawkeyes miss Ohio State so that saves them a loss. Strong defense led by Mitch King and Matt Kroul will lead this team to a winning record.

5 Michigan ---- New HC Rich Rodriguez brings new schemes to both sides of the ball, while losing to the NFL, his starting QB.RB,WR, and OT to name a few. Won't take too long to get the Wolverines back on track. The defensive brings back 7 starters so they should be able to stay in games.

6 Illinois --- I am a big Ron Zook fan. A good D led by Will Davis, the Illini will be a tough foe. The offense will continue to grow with Juice Williams leading the attack. The big loss is at RB and with road games at Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, will they have enough toughness to pound the ball and use the clock in games they won last year?

7 Michigan State --- Year 2 with HC Mark D'Antonio begins and the offensive led by QB Brian Hoyer and RB Javon Ringer will put up numbers. They lost some talent in the receiving department, but the defense will be the key. Spartans may be a surprise upstart team this season. I look for them to get to their second straight bowl.

8 Purdue --- Boilermakers bring the offense with QB Curtis Painter. Painter will shatter all Purdue passing records. RBs Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor will provide some balance. The defense will still be a problem and must improve. It is HC Joe Tiller's last season, so expect high emotion with every game.

9 Northwestern ---- Northwestern brings back QB CJ Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton to lead their attack. Look for lots of crooked numbers by the Wildcats. Defense will be very leaky and their will be a few shootouts but I think they may climb into a bowl. 10 Indiana --- Hoosiers have a serious QB problem with Kellen Lewis suspended. I do not see them getting to .500 this season.

11 Minnesota --- Golden Gophers went 1-11 last year. They can only get better. Year 2 can only be better for HC Tim Brewster. They should be pumped and bitter against everyone they play this year.

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Sean Higgs Big 12 Conference Preview
By: Sean Higgs     Date: Jul 26, 2008
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Sean Higgs of VegasTopDogs.com is in the midst of his NCAAF Conference Preview Be sure to check each day for a new conference highlighted.

Big 12 North

1 Missouri --- Tigers could have been playing for the National Championship last year but got blasted by the Sooners. Tigers don't get Oklahoma in the regular season, but they do hit the road to play Texas and Kansas. QB Chase Daniel and his prime target WR Jeremy Maclin should lead their offense to victory. The Tigers have 8 starters back on defense led by Senior safety William Moore. 2 Kansas ---- Jayhawks off a great season and have 15 returning starters. They do face Oklahoma, Texas and Tex Tech plus a South Florida and Missouri. We will see just how real this team is and if last year was a flash in the pan.

3 Colorado ---- The Buffs are led by HC Dan Hawkins son, QB Codey. Colorado should get back to a bowl after posting 6 wins last year, the next step should be a low-tier bowl.

4 Nebraska ---- New HC Bo Pellini will bring back the running game to Norman. That's a blessing in itself since the defense was extremely disappointing. They do play a difficult schedule, but a winning record should be in their grasp.

5 Kansas State ---- Wildcats are bringing in tons of juco-talent this season. HC Ron Prince is in his 3rd year at the school, and should be getting his type of players. A bowl should be within reach.

6 Iowa State --- HC Gene Chizeke enters year 2 off a 3-9 season. He can take solace in the fact his young group beat arch rival Iowa and K State and Colorado. This year, with half his letterman lost, he will be lucky to get those 3 wins again.

South

1 Oklahoma --- I really like this Sooner team. This is a balanced team led by Sophomore QB Sam Bradford who as a freshman led the NCAA in pass efficiency. Oklahoma will be looking to get back to the National Championship Game for the 4th time in 8 years.

2 Texas Tech --- Looking at 18 returning starters and QB Graham Harrell to have great year. They have my #1 WR in Michael Crabtree and with this explosive offense, we will see lots of fireworks. By my projections, I have them at a perfect 10-0 heading into a showdown at Oklahoma.

3 Texas --- Longhorns have the toughest schedule in the South, so I will put them here. HC Mack Brown will Oct 11 vs Oklahoma what kind of year he will have. New DC from Auburn, Will Muschamp will shore up a leaky D and could make Texas a surprise to show up in the title game.

4 Oklahoma State ---- Cowboys should improve from last year but with road games at Missouri, Texas and Texas Tech, and with a defense that allowed 40+ plus points 4 times, plus games of 38 and 39, it won't make significant strides.

5 Texas A&M ---- A&M will be under new HC Mike Sherman and with him a new offense and defense. Playing in this tough conference, I expect them to be better than Baylor, but the new coach needs to get his players in this system.

6 Baylor --- The Baylor Bears. Sometimes it doesn't seem fair when some teams show up in some divisions. With new HC Art Briles, the suffering will continue in this stacked conference. This team went 3-9 last year and I feel that they would be lucky to reach that plateau this season.

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Sean Higgs' Big East Conference Breakdown
By: Sean Higgs     Date: Jul 22, 2008
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Sean Higgs

Big East Breakdown

Yesterday we covered the ACC, tomorrow we will tackle the Big Ten. Today, all eyes on the Big East

1 South Florida--- My projections have SoFla going undefeated heading into a showdown with West Va December 6th. QB Matt Grothe has another solid year under his belt and will continue to develop nicely. Bulls have a solid O and their defense is led by stud DE George Selvie.

2 West Virginia--- West Va. looks to regroup after a rough offseason. HC Rich Rodriguez went off to Michigan and new HC Bill Stewart will look to senior QB Pat White to run the new offense. I would have had this group higher if not for the regime change.

3 Pittsburgh--- Let's hope this is the year HC Dave Wannstedt gets it together. A nice upset of West Va at the end of last season should carry over to start the year. Panthers have a great defense led by Senior MLB Scott McKillop who led the nation in tackles last season. They had some tough losses last season, and if they turn out in their favor this year, they will win 10 games.

4 UConn--- HC Edsall brings back 17 starters and has his most talented and experienced team. Led by Senior QB Lorenzen and stud RBs Andre Dixon and Donald Brown this team has some thunder. The bad news is that the end of the schedule is brutal, and we will see just how good this Huskie team is.

5 Rutgers--- Now that Ray Rice has left the building, QB Mike Teel will lead the offense with a pair of WRs in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. The defense under HC Gregg Shiano should be as good as advertised. The RB is at best questionable, but they should get to a bowl again.

6 Louisville--- The Cards have the fewest returning starters in the Big East. QB Hunter Cantwell is a pretty good signal caller and with pretty good depth at the RB position, the offense will be in decent shape. The young defense will take some hits this year.

7 Cincy--- Bearcats had a nice season ending up with 10 wins. I do not forcast a repeat of those numbers. This should be a tough year 2 for HC Brian Kelly.

8 Syracuse---- Anyone remember when SU was respected? HC Robinson has finished last in the Big East the last 3 years. Now in year 4, his west coast offense should finally start paying off some dividends. The talent level is still not there to compete with the top teams here, but they should impove on last seasons two wins.

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Sean Higgs' NCAA Football Conference Previews..
By: Sean Higgs     Date: Jul 20, 2008
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Sean Higgs' will start with the

ACC Atlantic Division

1 Clemson Tigers--- I love this Clemson team. I have them #5 in my Pre-Season poll and feel that, if focused, this team can run the table and go undefeated. They have a great RB tandem with Dacis and Spiller, my #1 rated ACC QB in Harper, a solid D-line and perhaps the conference's best secondary unit.

2 Wake Forest--- HC Grobe does a helluva job. I feel this is his best team yet. Wake has a great D lead by ball-hawking CB Alphonso Smith who had 8 picks last season. Sophomore RB Josh Adams looks like the real deal after busting out for 953 years last season.

3 Florida State--- HC Bobby Bowden looks to rebound after a down year. 'Noles don't travel out of Florida until mid October with a favorable schedule. A big game at home vs Wake early then Clemson late will tell the tale of this FSU bunch.

4 Maryland --- Terps are bringing back 46 letterman from a young team last year. HC Ralph Friedgen will be looking at a West Coast Offense to pile the points. My AI simulators say they get about 8 wins this seasons.

5 Boston College --- BC loses a big piece in QB Matt Ryan and he will be sorely missed. I cannot see this team coming close to the 11 wins they posted last season, mainly due to their big hearted QB now playing in the NFL.

6 NC State--- This team lost a ton of their talent. When you lose 5 of your 6 top tacklers, your defense will have a problem. They only won 3 ACC games last season, and it would shock me if they topped that this year.

ACC Coastal Division

1 North Carolina --- Like what HC Butch Davis has done here. They are getting 18 starters back for their 2nd year coach and with a year under their belts, I look for them to pull out some wins, when last season they were heartbreak losses. 2 Va Tech --- HC Beamer doesn't rebuild, he just reloads. And with only 10 starters back for him, he will have his work cut out. As is the norm in Blacksburg, D and special teams will reign supreme. The QB situation is up in the air, but the Hokies are always dangerous.

3 Miami--- Here comes the U. Second year HC Randy Shannon has mucho talent in South Florida. The 'Canes have 48 letterman returning, including 18 seniors. Look for this bunch to be back in bowl.

4 Georgia Tech-- Yellow Jackets have a first year head coach. Not a good sign for a young team that will be learing a new system. They also have games at Clemson and Georgia. Could be a long year in Atlanta.

5 Duke Blue Devils-- The Dukies get 17 starters back. They can't possibly be worse then last years 1-11 team!

6 Virginia --- The Cavs lose some big guns on the defensive side of the ball. Virgina has a tough schedule and I do not think they come close to the 9 wins they posted last season, maybe half, maybe.

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

By: Sean Higgs     Date: Jul 27, 2008
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Sean Higgs

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Conference USA

1 East Carolina --- HC Skip Holtz has 15 starters back and should top last seasons 8 wins. The schedule shapes up nicely as they get most of the bottom feeders on the road. Two tough opening games against Va Tech and West Va will show just how far this program has come, or needs to go.

2 Central Florida --- The Knights lose a huge piece of offensive with RB Kevin Smith going pro. But the defense is the heart of this year's club. Also with a new QB I don't see them matching last season's run. Their D is solid and will keep them within reach in most games.

3 Memphis --- Tigers come back with 16 starters and will clearly improve over last season. QB Arkelon Hall Jr will have a field day when he takes off behind his great O line. WRs Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton combined for 16 TDs last season and will improve on that number. The defensive is anchored by DT Clinton McDonald and SS Tony Bell, a pair of senior leaders ready to take this team to their next level.

4 Marshall ---- HC Mark Snyder will welcome back 2006 CUSA Defensive Player of the year Albert McClellan with open arms. After missing last season with a knee injury, he will lift the play of everyone around him. New coordinators on both sides of the ball will make this team much better than last years 3-9 version.

5 Southern Miss ---- The Golden Eagles welcome new HC Larry Fedora to Hattiesburg. The coach will be happy to see electric RB Damon Fletcher tearing up opposing defenses. On the defensive side of the ball MLB Gerald McRath was CUSA POY last season, which is great news since there are 4 new starters on the D-line.

6 UAB --- HC Neil Callaway comes into year two off a tough 2-10 season. While UAB will be better than last year, I see another rebuilding year, and no shot of climbing out of the basement. FS Will Dunbar will be a bright spot in a long year for the Blazers.

C-USA West

1 Tulsa --- Tulsa HC Todd Graham comes off a great 10-4 year and should improve on that number. The offense is stacked with RB Tarrion Adams and 3 solid WRs in Marion, Shelly and Johnson. The offensive line is a solid, veteran group. The QB spot goes to David Johnson, who has 63 career pass attempts. If he slides into the spot, the Golden Hurricane should run the table here.

2 Houston ---- QB Casey Keenum will lead new HC Kevin Sumlin's bunch. This team outgained opponents by nearly 140 yards a game. If they can adjust to their new coach, they shouldn't skip a beat. The offense is a little inexperienced, but the talent level is there. Cougars had the best defense in the conference last season and should be a huge strength this year.

3 Rice --- The Owls look good with senior QB Chase Clement tossing the ball to 2nd team All-America Jarrett Dillard. Offense won't be the problem for HC Dave Bailiff's bunch. The Owl D was ranked 118th in the nation. With some of the worse D's in this division, the offense should be able to win a few shootouts.

4 SMU --- Mustangs went an atrocious 1-11 last year, but with 41 returning letterman and new HC June Jones at the wheel, junior QB Justin Willis will be airing it out. The defense was almost as bad as their record ranking in at 116 in the country. That won't get you more than 1 wins in many seasons.

5 UTEP --- Another team off a poor (4-8) season. This team has talent at the skill positions. A new defense will be bought it to cause some mayhem, since last years D was ranked a miserable 117th in the country.

6 Tulane --- QB questions linger and HC Bob Toledo does have 14 starters back. Losing RB Matt Forte to the NFL will hurt since he was their offensive workload last year. The O-line brings back 4 starters, it will be a long year. They could easily finish with a better record (4-8) than last season.

Sean Higgs will tackle the PAC-10 Conference next.

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

Welcome to the site Mr Bojangles and thanks for the contributions, we appreciate it!

;D

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thanks

i love looking for peoples previews of stuff

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We appreciate the contributions for sure.

I may have the most popular forum where nobody ever says shit, just reads.

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as long as the traffic is there and people like the site
thats all that matters

someone once told me

Silence is golden!

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Re: NCAAFB Conference Previews

By: Sean Higgs     Date: Jul 30, 2008
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Sean Higgs

VegasTopDogs

SEC East Preview

1 Florida --- With Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow back, the Gators are a trendy title contender. Gators have my #1 rated offensive and will have a vastly improved defense. Last year's team was young and inexperienced. Now, with 16 returning starters, HC Urban Meyer has more talent on this squad than any other team he has led. Florida should be playing in their home state for a shot at the BCS Title.

2 Georgia --- Love the Bulldogs. This years bunch is even more talented. QB Matt Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno will lead this devastating offensive. They do play the 3rd toughest schedule this year with games at Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Auburn. They would have been higher but this is the SEC and every team has a shot every week.

3 South Carolina ---- Spurrier's group collapsed after a 6-1 start found them #8 in the polls. This year, Gamecocks should be able to win some of those games they lost last season. With 10 starters back on 10, they should easily top 6 wins and get to a decent bowl.

4 Tennessee --- The Vols may surprise with 14 starters back but reaching last years 10 wins will be tough. With road games at #1 in the West Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina plus Florida on the schedule, it will take a couple of major upsets to build off last year.

5 Kentucky ---- Wildcats lose QB Andre Woodson to the draft and have just 4 returning offensive starters. That won't get the job done in this conference. The defense should be strong with 8 starters back but the loss on their offense will be too much to overcome.

6 Vanderbilt ---- Commodores are clearly rebuilding with just 9 starters back. They can very easily go winless in the conference.

SEC West

1 Auburn --- HC Tommy Tuberville brings back 16 starters from last years 9-4 team. They get the Vols and Georgia at home, but a road match-up at West Va looms. But no Florida! This team has won or shared the SEC West title 5 of the last 8 years. Talent and winning is not a problem here. Could very well be in the National Championship hunt if they win SEC Title.

2 LSU ---- Tigers have won 2 National Titles the last 5 years. Pretty impressive. Tough games at Florida and South Carolina, plus a game vs Georgia will make this a non-title year. Les Miles is a terrific coach and it would be no shock for LSU to be a National Title darkhorse.

3 Mississippi --- Houston Nutt takes over a deep, talented team with 16 returning starters. RB Enrique Davis may not be McFadden, but he will make some highlight reels.

4 Alabama --- HC Nick Sabean comes off what I think is a bad year going 7-6. They do have tough road games vs Clemson, Georgia, and LSU. With 12 starters back, they should top last seasons win total.

5 Mississippi State ---- Last year the Bulldogs won 8 games and this scrappy bunch is more talented and another year older, so they should get to another bowl.

6 Arkansas ---- Need to know a good go-against team. How about the Razorbacks. New HC Bobby Petrino is back from getting mauled in the NFL. Their offense loses their entire stud backfield. To add insult to injury, they will be moving from a run over you team to a pass happy squad. Long year in Fayetteville.

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