Commentary

POWER 16

Updated: July 10, 2012, 2:59 PM ET
By BRUCE FELDMAN, MIKE GOTTFRIED, MIKE KUCHAR, JIM DONNAN, LIAM MCHUGH, BOB DAVIE, MIKE KUCHAR, BOB DAVEY, LIAM MCHUGH, BOB DAVEY, TRAVIS HANEY, JIM DONNAN, PAT FORDE, MIKE GOTTFRIED, TRAVIS HANEY, MIKE GOTTFRIED, PATE FORDE, BILL CURRY, MIKE GOTTFRIED, IVAN

WITH INSTANT REPLAY FINALLY EMBRACED BY ALL SIX BCS CONFERENCES AND LIKELY BY EVERY BOWL GAME, IT SHOULDN'T SURPRISE YOU THAT OUR POWER 16 HAS A KIND OF DEJA VU LOOK ABOUT IT, AND NOT JUST AT THE VERY TOP. IF OUR ESPN BRAIN TRUST KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT-AND WE'RE ASSUMING THEY DO-A FAMILIAR GROUP OF TEAMS WILL HAVE RISEN BY NEXT JANUARY. YOU MAY NOT BE CONVINCED NOW. BUT SOMETIME THIS WINTER YOU'RE GOING TO BE NERVOUSLY THUMBING YOUR REMOTE AS YOU WAIT TO SEE IF YOUR TEAM'S LASTGASP TOUCHDOWN WILL BE OVERTURNED. AND IN THAT MOMENT, YOU'LL REALIZE THIS: THE FOLLOWING PREVIEWS HIT ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS.

REWIND: 2004 REVIEW

FAST FORWARD: REASON TO BELIEVE

PAUSE: CAUSE FOR CONCERN

PLAY: HOW THEY BEAT YOU

STOP: HOW YOU BEAT THEM

1 USC (13-0, 8-0 Pac-10, Final BCS: 1)

Doubt USC's dominance? Cue up the first half of that 55-19 smashing of No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, then get back to us.

A terrifying thought: the Trojans return four starters from the nation's best offensive line and they get back their most gifted hog, junior RT Winston Justice (he served a yearlong suspension following an incident with a pellet gun). Justice's return offsets the loss to a hip injury of G Jeff Byers, a four-time starter as a true freshman. Justice (6'6", 300) spent last fall sparring at famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach's gym, which may explain why this spring he had some very unlinemanlike numbers: 39-inch vert, a 4.79 40, 13% body fat. "Sometimes you think you're bigger than you really are," he says. "After my team won a championship without me, I learned football is not forever."

Losing O-coordinator Norm Chow stings, but the defection of D-line coach Ed Orgeron may cause the real pain. His line produced a whopping 68 sacks over the past two years. But DTs Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and Manny Wright bolted after struggling in the classroom. On the bright side, Pete Carroll loved watching 285-pound soph Sedrick Ellis knife through gaps and gobble up double-teams this spring.

In Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Chris McFoy and Whitney Lewis, USC has a squadron of topflight pass catchers. The Trojans also have a guy named Reggie Bush, whose job description says running back but who might be the best wideout on the roster. Watch for the Bush shift that buried Virginia Tech with three long TD catches a year ago. USC lines up in a two-back set, then Bush shifts to wide receiver. Suddenly, a poor linebacker or safety is stuck in a massive mismatch. And if you bump over a cornerback who can run with Bush, who do you have to keep up with Jarrett? No one, that's who.

Yes, Bush burned VaTech. Still, nobody had a better defensive game plan against the Trojans last season. The Hokies got vertical push from their D-line and slanted linemen into gaps to claw at Matt Leinart and screw up his timing. As for Bush well, all 11 defenders better know where he is before the snap.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at Hawaii Sept. 17 vs. Arkansas Sept. 24 at Oregon Oct. 1 at Arizona State Oct. 8 vs. Arizona Oct. 15 at Notre Dame Oct. 22 at Washington Oct. 29 vs. Washington State Nov. 5 vs. Stanford Nov. 12 at Cal Nov. 19 vs. Fresno State Dec. 3 vs. UCLA

2 Texas (11-1, 7-1 Big 12, Final BCS: 4)

The Horns went 11-1 and won a 38-37 Rose Bowl thrill ride against Michigan. Alas, UT again botched the one that matters, to Oklahoma, 12-0.

How good is the Longhorns O-line? So good that this spring, line coach Mac McWhorter had to stop handing out his "Top Hog" T-shirts for pancake blocks and snot-bubblers. He simply ran out. "I started using them as dishrags," says All-Big 12 LT Jonathan Scott. The big boys up front, who average 6'5", 314 pounds, steamrolled opponents so well that the offense rushed for 299 ypg last season. Only C Jason Glynn is gone, and his replacement, junior Lyle Sendlein, has played in 23 games. While Scott and his All-Big 12 bookend, Justin Blalock, will likely get most of the pub, RG Will Allen will be the heart and soul of the unit. "A real throwback," says McWhorter. "He represents the physical mentality we have here." Fit that on a T-shirt.

So QB Vince Young and RB Selvin Young will rack up yardage. But if 2004 showed anything, it's that to win the Big 12 and beyond, you need help from the passing game. Last season, no Texas receiver had 40 catches for the first time since 1997. All-Big 12 senior TE David Thomas is the returning leader in receptions (25), yards (430) and TD grabs (five). When D's load eight men up front to stop Young, Thomas has to be ready to make them pay in play-action. And Young has to be able to find him. -MIKE KUCHAR

New co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, fresh off an undefeated season at Auburn, could hand his headset to the band director and take a nap and the Horns would still stuff their opponents. But Chizik isn't much for lazing. He loves to play sevenman fronts, even against three wideouts. He often shows only six, until Sam LB Eric Foreman or FS Michael Griffin slides into the box just before the snap. UT's path-pavers up front, DTs Rodrique Wright and Larry Dibbles, cause devastation at the line of scrimmage, leaving it for a solid group of linebackers, led by cruncher Aaron Harris in the middle, to mop things up.

Try some two-back sets with guys who can run outside the tackles. And a good tight end can cause problems for this D. Split or shift him out in the slot, away from twin wide receivers, and turn him loose in the secondary. Run screens, draws and delays to slow down the inside pressure. It hurts, but you have to assign three players to block Wright and Dibbles. They're just too good.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Sept. 10 at Ohio State Sept. 17 vs. Rice Oct. 1 at Missouri Oct. 8 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas) Oct. 15 vs. Colorado Oct. 22 vs. Texas Tech Oct. 29 at Oklahoma State Nov. 5 at Baylor Nov. 12 vs. Kansas Nov. 25 at Texas A&M

3 Michigan (9-3, 7-1 Big Ten, Final BCS: 13)

With true freshmen at QB and RB, Michigan broke out 9-1 but broke down at the end with back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Texas.

Neither pregame speeches nor postseason honors have done the trick. So what exactly can Michigan's coaches do to rouse NT Gabe Watson? The 6'4", 331-pound senior should be the Big Ten's most disruptive D-lineman, but too often he looks like he'd rather be somewhere else. "There's no one I'd compare him to-he's the biggest and strongest we've had," says coach Lloyd Carr. "But the question is, will he be a great player?" The answer will determine the Wolverines' success. What does Watson have to say for himself? The school's sports information department couldn't seem to find him either. With his college career coming to a close, maybe the looming millions will light a fire under Big Gabe. "It doesn't matter what his motivation is," Carr says. "It just matters that he has it."

With Marlin Jackson, Markus Curry and Ernest Shazor all off to the NFL, Michigan's four top DBs have a combined 25 starts. The team is counting on junior CB Leon Hall, a former four-star recruit with 4.42 speed and a 33-inch vertical jump, not to mention 5 INTs in 25 career games. "Leon has a chance to be one of the most outstanding corners we've had," Carr says. That's a pretty high bar.

Mike Hart won the starting running back job a year ago because, simply put, he was the most aggressive runner on the roster. He rarely loses yardage (only 32 negative yards) and runs the outside zone, power and draw equally well. At 5'9", 192, Hart can hide behind the monster O-line (average per man: 6'5", 315). He's most effective in the power scheme, a hard-hitting play that involves down blocks from the front-side linemen and a kick-out block from the fullback before Hart follows his lead into the alley.

Michigan is again loaded at wideout with Steve Breaston and Jason Avant. But your best chance to stop this team is to shut down Hart. Outnumber their linemen and commit a safety to the running game. Neutralize Hart-good luck, nobody could do it in 2004- and take your chances with QB Chad Henne.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Northern Illinois Sept. 10 vs. Notre Dame Sept. 17 vs. Eastern Michigan Sept. 24 at Wisconsin Oct. 1 at Michigan State Oct. 8 vs. Minnesota Oct. 15 vs. Penn State Oct. 22 at Iowa Oct. 29 at Northwestern Nov. 12 vs. Indiana Nov. 19 vs. Ohio State

4 Virginia Tech (10-3, 7-1 ACC, Final BCS: 8)

The Hokies were kings of the ACC in their first season as members. And their nonconference L's were no disgrace: USC and Auburn.

The wait is over. Really. The Marcus Vick Era has begun. With his much-publicized offseason distractions behind him (he pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and reckless driving, and no contest to marijuana possession), Vick has been officially entrusted with the Hokies' offense. His zero career starts is a concern, but his supporting cast certainly has the experience to help him succeed. WRs Josh Hyman (27 catches, 491 yards) and Eddie Royal (28, 470) and sure-handed All-ACC TE Jeff King (25, 304) form what Frank Beamer calls the best catching corps he's ever had. And although Vick still has to win over Hokie Nation, he hasn't lost his teammates. "He's grown up a whole lot," says senior captain DE Darryl Tapp. "I see it. It's only a matter of time until the rest of the world sees it too."

While others worry about Vick, Beamer will save his concern for the O-line, his first group since 2002 that doesn't return a first- or secondteam all-conference player. LT Jimmy Martin is back to stretch his team record of 33 straight starts, while former walk-on Will Montgomery moves from center to left guard to make room for junior Danny McGrath.

Beamer's teams have blocked an astounding 105 kicks (53 punts, 31 FGs, 21 PATs), resulting in 18 TDs. Nobody does it better. Nobody's close. The punt block unit, "Pride and Joy," isn't unique, so its success has to be chalked up to emphasis and personnel. Beamer is one of the few DI-A head coaches who doubles as special-teams coach. And unlike most programs, VaTech puts its best players on special teams. That means anyone from Tapp to LB Xavier Adibi to talented WRs Josh Morgan and David Clowney could join Beamer's Pride and Joy this fall.

Protection is key, so slow VaTech's punt block by altering your snap counts. Spend game week coaxing all 11 of your kick-team members to take their assignments as a personal challenge. Don't bother to overhaul your blocking schemes; it won't work. Just stress technique. That's easy enough, right?

SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 at North Carolina State Sept. 10 at Duke Sept. 17 vs. Ohio Sept. 24 vs. Georgia Tech Oct. 1 at West Virginia Oct. 8 vs. Marshall Oct. 20 at Maryland Oct. 27 vs. Boston College Nov. 5 vs. Miami Nov. 19 at Virginia Nov. 26 vs. North Carolina

5 Ohio State (8-4, 4-4 Big Ten, Final BCS: 25)

A 3-0 start was followed by three straight losses. But OSU went 5-1 down the stretch, including a home win over Michigan.

After keeping the Buckeyes afloat with 4 TDs and 87 ypg in their first six games, Santonio Holmes went from turf-burner to second option. "Early on, he was about the only guy making plays," says Jim Tressel. That was before game-changing CB Ted Ginn Jr. started to line up regularly on both sides of the ball. His 59-yard TD grab against Indiana on Oct. 23 pretty much ensured sidekick status for Holmes (41.5 ypg, 3 TDs in the final six games). But Tressel knows OSU can't live on Ginn alone. As always, he'll play it close to the sweater vest, but the coach will surely exploit the attention Ginn garners. Who will be the beneficiary? Holmes, of course. "We need to recognize when Santonio's being singled," Tressel says, "and go to him."

Tressel wants to play two running backs who will combine for 1,700 yards. Problem is, the top returning runner, sophomore Antonio Pittman, mustered less than a quarter of that (381 yards). Expect the Buckeyes to lean heavily on true freshman Maurice Wells, who rushed for 5,955 yards and 55 TDs in his career at Sandalwood High in Jacksonville. Can a 5'10", 185-pound 18-year-old withstand the Big Ten grind? "A lot of people said Michael Hart couldn't handle it," Tressel says. Fair point.

Few teams have the linebackers OSU does. There's so much talent that the defense will dabble in the 3-4 and experiment with LB Bobby Carpenter at DE just to get the best Bucks on the field. Watch for "Field Florida Fire," a signature OSU blitz that sends Anthony Schlegel, the Air Force transfer whom OSU coaches call the best natural leader they've ever seen, inside the OT. As the tackle blocks down on Schlegel, Carpenter blitzes outside. One or both usually come free.

It's impossible to game-plan away from the linebackers- they're everywhere. Your guys have to at least be able to pick out the zone blitz. Use four- and five-wideout sets to force a nickel D and take your chances with future first-rounder LB A.J. Hawk or Carpenter on a receiver. But do what you do. Don't let the blitzes destroy your offense.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Miami (Ohio) Sept. 10 vs, Texas Sept. 17 vs. San Diego State Sept. 24 vs. Iowa Oct. 8 at Penn State Oct. 15 vs. Michigan State Oct. 22 at Indiana Oct. 29 at Minnesota Nov. 5 vs. Illinois Nov. 12 vs. Northwestern Nov. 19 at Michigan

6 Tennessee (10-3, 7-1 SEC, Final BCS: 15)

That 19-14 win at Georgia would have been enough to make 2004 a success. But there was more: an SEC East title and a Cotton Bowl clocking of Texas A&M.

Nobody knows how the blaze started, but it did a number on Jesse Mahelona's apartment this March. Luckily, he and his roomies weren't home, but all those lost family photos really burned the Vols' All-America defensive tackle. In his despair, the 6'2", 297-pound Hawaiian hulk accidentally ripped a handrail off a fire truck on the scene. Along with a snappy first step and vice grips for hands, that kind of intensity is what jumped Mahelona from nobody at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., to scary SEC machine (18.5 TFLs). After his best friend and an uncle died last season, Mahelona almost ditched Knoxville before reconsidering. "It would have been selfish to go like that," he says. "To run when things go wrong, what would that show about me?" Now, it's the SEC's running backs whose feet will be to the fire.

For a team with BCS aspirations-for anyone, really-ranking 98th in kickoff returns and 104th on punt returns is laughable. But soph CB Inquoris "Inky" Johnson may stave off further embarrassment. In the spring game, Johnson busted one punt for an 84-yard TD and lugged another 43 yards.

Good luck catching a personnel edge against D-coordinator John Chavis. Out of his base 4-3, UT's Bear fronts (eight-man fronts) and an array of blitzes start with Mahelona. He busts into the backfield or ties up blockers so that LBs Omar Gaither, Kevin Simon and Jason Mitchell can roam free. The three run like safeties, hit like semis. Then there's the SEC's most versatile D-back, senior Jason Allen, a devastating "alley" player on run support.

A smart QB who can check out of bad plays can keep you from being stoned on a bad call. But without a poised O-line, even a brain is gonna look stupid. Have screens and misdirections ready. But if Chavis spies a pattern, it's all over.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Alabama-Birmingham Sept. 17 at Florida Sept. 24 at LSU Oct. 1 vs. Mississippi Oct. 8 vs. Georgia Oct. 22 at Alabama Oct. 29 vs. South Carolina Nov. 5 at Notre Dame Nov. 12 vs. Memphis Nov. 19 vs. Vanderbilt Nov. 26 at Kentucky

7 Miami (9-3, 5-3 ACC, Final BCS: 14)

Its anticipated takeover of the ACC never transpired, but Miami's 9-3 record did include a sweep of the dreaded Noles and Gators.

Save the everything-happens-for-a-reason logic for your ex. Eric Winston and his mended left knee don't want to hear it. "People tried to tell me that after I got hurt," the left tackle says. "I wanted to fight them. I didn't get hurt for a reason-it was an accident." Can you blame him for not looking at a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and quadriceps as a blessing? Last December, in the middle of a relentless rehab, the 6'7", 312-pound former tight end considered the draft before opting to return to school. Nice turn of events for Miami, which breaks in the new starting backfield of QB Kyle Wright and RB Tyrone Moss.

Miami allowed-gasp-six 100-yard rushers last season and 3.8 ypc, its most porous showing since 1997. Now undersize junior Baraka Atkins (6'4", 264) shifts inside to pair with supersize (300- pound) run-stuffer DT Orien Harris. That will put added pressure on Harris, who missed spring ball with a dinged-up shoulder. "He's ready to have an outstanding season," says head coach Larry Coker. "And that's important. We're not very deep."

Junior Devin Hester is as exciting as any player in the nation, especially on punt returns. Miami sets him up to score three ways: with a 10-man rush that forces the kicking team to hold its blocks longer, giving Hester a lot of space to operate; by rushing five from one end and setting up a return on the other; and by doubling the wide gunners to give Hester time to pick out a seam.

The counter is simple: don't kick it to Hester. Punt to the short side of the field to limit the turf at his disposal. Or split your two gunners to one side and kick in that direction. And don't ever sweat a 30-yard directional punt out of bounds.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 at Florida State Sept. 17 at Clemson Sept. 24 vs. Colorado Oct. 1 vs. South Florida Oct. 8 vs. Duke Oct. 15 at Temple Oct. 22 vs. Georgia Tech Oct. 29 vs. North Carolina Nov. 5 at Virginia Tech Nov. 17 at Wake Forest Nov. 26 vs. Virginia

8 Florida (7-5, 4-4 SEC, Final BCS: 23)

Four of the Gators' losses were by a touchdown or less; the only exception was the 27-10 Zookless loss to Miami in the Peach Bowl.

Chad Jackson's 22.3 yards per catch was a school record. Problem is, the live-wire wideout caught only 29 passes. In all, Jackson has seven career TDs on just 32 catches. But he may double both totals this year in Urban Meyer's wide-open attack. "He's our playmaker," says the new coach. "When anybody asks, 'Who made that play?' the answer is going to be Chad Jackson." And you know what's scary about that? Jackson hauled in only the third-most yardage in this spring's 34-28 shootout. He, Andre Caldwell and Dallas Baker combined for 21 catches, 370 yards and 5 TDs. Scarier still, the Gators have even more firepower waiting in the wings. Junior Jemalle Cornelius had two more TDs in the game, and the coaching staff loves redshirt frosh Michael McIntosh.

Opposing offenses have learned not to bother shutdown CB Dee Webb (three picks, 10 breakups). But if the spring game is any indication, the Gators desperately need someone who can do the job on the other corner. If Vernell Brown gets the nod, he will undoubtedly be, at 5'8", 165, among the nation's smallest starters.

Chris Leak has one of the strongest guns in the country. He's mastered blitz reads and his receivers are terrific. But the key to the offense will be Meyer's option package. There's a chance Leak will come screaming around the corner with a pitch man at his disposal, and that means you can forget about blitzing. But you can also forget about the season if Leak gets crushed on one of his jaunts to the outside. If he goes down, the offense may get turned over to true frosh Josh Portis.

Leak has shown he's a great passer, so challenge the Gators to run the option. Meyer's QB at Utah, Alex Smith, was big enough to absorb all the hits. Leak isn't. When Miami used line twists to get in his face in the Peach Bowl, he looked uncomfortable. So make him carry the ball and then make him pay. It's certainly better than the alternative. Give him time in the pocket and he'll pick you apart with those receivers.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Wyoming Sept. 10 vs. Louisiana Tech Sept. 17 vs. Tennessee Sept. 24 at Kentucky Oct. 1 at Alabama Oct. 8 vs. Mississippi State Oct. 15 at LSU Oct. 29 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville) Nov. 5 vs. Vanderbilt Nov. 12 at South Carolina Nov. 26 vs. Florida State

9 LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC, Final BCS: 11)

The successful Nick Saban Era ended on a last-second loss to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl.

No matter who gets the call at quarterback, the game plan is the same: hand off the ball. RBs Justin Vincent, Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey have combined for 3,535 career rushing yards. Even with junior Alley Broussard out (knee injury), they just may be the best corps east of USC. For the past two years, they've shared carries, star turns and depth-chart fluctuations. And none of them seems to mind. "There really isn't any competition among us," Addai says. "We all want to win ball games." With a loaded offensive line, they will continue to get what they want. Seniors T Andrew Whitworth and G Nate Livings are both All-America candidates, and anchor C Rudy Niswanger is a summa cum laude grad who postponed med school to come back. That backfield or a bunch of stinky cadavers? You don't need to be a brain surgeon to make that call.

At some point, though, LSU is going to have to throw it. And true freshman Ryan Perrilloux and sophomores JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn don't exactly inspire confidence. Russell shared the job last year, and the best he could do was 151 passing yards against Arkansas State. Flynn threw only 10 garbage-time passes. But coach Les Miles is disinclined to begin his tenure with a true frosh under center. "The older guys have the advantage," he admits. Actually, for now, the secondaries do.

Expect to see new D-coordinator Bo Pelini keep some of the same schemes Saban used, especially "4-3 Fire Blitz, Cover 3." The objective of this zone blitz is to overwhelm and outnumber one side of the O-line. LSU will send anybody, even a safety or boundary corner, as long as they outnumber blockers by at least one. LSU players are excellent at adjusting on the fly and morphing from a three-deep zone into man-free coverage, and that takes away the hitch routes QBs often check into when they see a blitz coming.

The best way to combat the Saban blitz is to have an unpredictable and balanced attack. Bring in a comprehensive rushing game, with no runner emphasized, and make sure your QB throws on rhythm. Traps, options and power running will give up some lost-yardage plays, but they'll also find creases in the blitz for big gains.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. North Texas Sept. 10 vs. Arizona State Sept. 24 vs. Tennessee Oct. 1 at Mississippi State Oct. 8 at Vanderbilt Oct. 15 vs. Florida Oct. 22 vs. Auburn Nov. 5 vs. Appalachian State Nov. 12 at Alabama Nov. 19 at Mississippi Nov. 25 vs. Arkansas

10 Oklahoma (12-1, 8-0 Big 12, Final BCS: 2)

Aliens abducted the mighty Sooners and hapless clones were swamped by USC in the Orange Bowl.

Which OU offensive lineman had the best season in 2004, Outland-winning OT Jammal Brown or All-America C Vince Carter? Line coach Kevin Wilson's answer: G Davin Joseph. The 6'3", 306-pound senior returns to lead an O-line that remains a strength despite the loss of those other guys. After three seasons at guard, Joseph is excited about taking over Brown's left tackle spot. But don't let his cheery disposition lull you-by Thursday of game week, this former Florida high school heavyweight wrestling champ is unapproachable. "I get short with people," Joseph says. "I don't even talk on the phone." How dialed in does he get? He missed just three blocking assignments all last season.

If they're going to make another BCS run, you'd figure settling on a QB would be a top priority. Fans want redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar, and last year's backup, soph Tommy Grady, is also in the mix. But the smart money is on Paul Thompson, a dual-threat junior who redshirted in 2004. Then again, how hard is it to turn and hand off to Adrian Peterson?

Peterson batters teams from OU's power off-tackle and countertrey packages. Expect more heaping doses of him. The running game starts with the linemen. They use huge splits for their zone blocking scheme. At the snap, they need to take only one step before engaging their guys. On the side the play is called for, OU blocks down and pulls the backside guard. Dominating FB J.D. Runnels takes out a safety or linebacker to spring Peterson into the second level of the defense.

Go to school on USC's plan. Put eight or nine guys in the box and blast linemen through those huge gaps. Don't give Peterson space; penetration at the line eliminates his cutback lanes. Neutralize him and the offense crumbles.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. TCU Sept. 10 vs. Tulsa Sept. 17 at UCLA Oct. 1 vs. Kansas State Oct. 8 vs. Texas (in Dallas) Oct. 15 vs. Kansas (in Kansas City) Oct. 22 vs. Baylor Oct. 29 at Nebraska Nov. 12 vs. Texas A&M Nov. 19 at Texas Tech Nov. 26 vs. Oklahoma State

11 Iowa (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten, Final BCS: 12)

With no running game, the Hawkeyes still went 6-0 at home and took a memorable Capital One Bowl vs. LSU.

Back in 2000, Chad Greenway was helping out on the family farm and quarterbacking a nine-man team in Mount Vernon, S.D., to two state titles. Some 1,900 miles away, Abdul Hodge was an all-state linebacker for Fort Lauderdale's Boyd Anderson High who had never been to the Midwest. Today, Hodge is an all-conference first-teamer looking to lead the Hawkeyes in tackles for a third straight year, and Greenway (6'4", 234 pounds) is his unitmate, an All-America who would have been a first-round pick if he'd jumped this spring. Coach Kirk Ferentz's famed willingness to recruit anyone, anywhere, landed him one of the nation's top linebacking tandems. Still, Iowa gets no respect. "Year after year we're ranked the same," says Greenway. "Year after year we beat them." Anytime, anywhere.

All four starters from the defensive line are gone, and their replacements- freshman Matt Kroul and sophomores Kenny Iwebema, George Eshareturi and Bryan Mattison-had zero sacks and only nine tackles last year. "We'll use six to eight guys to fill those holes," says Ferentz. "It's a work in progress."

QB Drew Tate is a good, gutsy athlete, and his coaches have figured out how to use him. Absent a ground game (72.6 ypg, No. 116), Iowa kept Tate whole by keeping him on the go. In the last five Big Ten games of 2004, he ran 18 bootlegs and 24 sprintouts, almost always to his right. If a running back doesn't magically appear, Iowa will keep Tate moving again.

Watch out for telegraphed plays. When the running back shifts to the weak or strong side, it's a sprintout. And the linemen's stances can tell you whether they are going to pull and block on a bootleg. Tate always scrambles with one hand on the ball, so go ahead and take a swipe at it from behind. And he likes to ball-fake, so don't jump and stay in contain lanes. This guy never slides. Go to the whistle.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Ball State Sept. 10 at Iowa State Sept. 17 vs. Northern Iowa Sept. 24 at Ohio State Oct. 1 vs. Illinois Oct. 8 at Purdue Oct. 15 vs. Indiana Oct. 22 vs. Michigan Nov. 5 at Northwestern Nov. 12 at Wisconsin Nov. 19 vs. Minnesota

12 Louisville (11-1, 8-0 C-USA, Final BCS: 10)

Louisville finished in the Top 10 for the first time and set an NCAA record with 55-plus points in five straight games.

Sandy-haired Brian Brohm went platinum this off-season. "A little summer sun," insists the soph QB. Actually, his bottle blond is all that's counterfeit about the guy. Brohm's potential is why Louisville has been tapped to top the Big East despite losing six players to the NFL draft, including Stefan LeFors, the national passing efficiency leader. Brohm turned down Notre Dame and Tennessee to play where his dad, Oscar, and big bros Jeff (UL's QBs coach) and Greg (director of football ops) starred. Last season, Brohm hit 67% of his passes for 819 yards and 6 TDs. Says coach Bobby Petrino, "The confidence he showed was great." But that was just a taste of what's to come. This should be another season to dye for.

The Brohms aren't the only sibs in town. Antoine and Brandon Sharp share an apartment and half of a revamped defensive backfield as the two starting safeties. The new guys, from the Sharps to redshirt freshman CB Rod Council, can fly. And that satisfies the appetite of D-coordinator Mike Cassity. "The cupboard is not bare," he says.

Like his left coast namesake, Reggie, Michael Bush does it all. The former all-world high school QB is now a 250-pound omniback. Most plays he's at running back, but he also motions out of the backfield and lines up as a shotgun QB. He even returned two kicks in 2004. When he's toting the rock, look for counter-treys and speed options. When he's flanked out, watch for halfback options routes, screens and crosses. But don't be shocked if Petrino puts Brohm in the shotgun alongside Bush, then sends the QB in motion as Bush gets the snap before tucking behind OT Travis Leffew.

Make sure everyone knows Bush's number (it's 19) and that they bark out his whereabouts before the snap. Your guys have to recognize Louisville's barrage of schemes: Posse (3 WRs, 1 RB), 21 (2 WRs, 2 RBs, 1 TE), Ace (2 TEs, 1 RB, 2 WRs) and Gang (3 WRs, 2 RBs). But limit your calls and focus on outexecuting them.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 at Kentucky Sept. 17 vs. Oregon State Sept. 24 at South Florida Oct. 1 vs. Florida Atlantic Oct. 8 vs. North Carolina Oct. 15 at West Virginia Oct. 22 at Cincinnati Nov. 3 vs. Pittsburgh Nov. 11 vs. Rutgers Nov. 26 vs. Syracuse Dec. 3 at Connecticut

13 Purdue (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten, Final BCS: unranked)

Shoulda, woulda, coulda: Purdue's five losses were by a total of just 14 points.

The Boilermakers spent the off-season kicking themselves about those close losses. "We were in position to make plays and didn't make them," coach Joe Tiller says. "The question is why?" He thinks defensive inexperience was the downfall. But with all 11 starters back, Tiller now sees the unit as the solution, not the problem. The catalysts are DEs Ray Edwards and Anthony Spencer, who combined for 15.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups and five forced fumbles. Edwards (6'6", 270) has the speed and long arms to cause chaos off the edge. Spencer checks in at 6'3", 263, and runs a 4.8 40. In the first half of a 41-16 beatdown of Notre Dame, he had two sacks, a tip and a forced fumble before leaving the game, stopped by the only guy on the field who could do it: Edwards, who accidentally kicked him.

Purdue's pass defense allowed a Tiller-worst 240 ypg last season. There's not much to brag about when a defensive back leads the team in tackles (SS Bernard Pollard had 96). CB Brian Hickman got better as the year went on, but may not be good enough to keep his job from backup Zach Logan, a redshirt sophomore who beat Ted Ginn Jr. for the 2004 Ohio prep 400-meter title. Logan was solid this spring while Hickman sat out to heal from foot surgery.

Skeptics once wondered if Tiller's offense could work in the Big Ten. They're not wondering anymore. His favorite pass play, the bubble screen, serves much like a run. Purdue splits three wideouts to one side, stationing one a step or two behind the others. QB Brandon Kirsch zips the ball to the backed-up receiver, who follows his two teammates downfield. The play works so well because, unlike in the NFL, receivers can block downfield when the ball is caught behind the line.

Trying to stop the bubble screen is like trying to stop a handoff before it happens. But it can be done. Man coverage discourages Purdue from running it. In zone, box the receiver in for containment and let pursuit guys rally to the ball. And in any scheme, punish the receiver after the catch. He'll think twice the next time he snags the bubble screen.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 10 vs. Akron Sept. 17 at Arizona Sept. 24 at Minnesota Oct. 1 vs. Notre Dame Oct. 8 vs. Iowa Oct. 15 vs. Northwestern Oct. 22 at Wisconsin Oct. 29 at Penn State Nov. 5 vs. Michigan State Nov. 12 vs. Illinois Nov. 19 at Indiana

14 Georgia (10-2, 6-2 SEC, Final BCS: 7)

UGA, a preseason Top 3 in 2004, stumbled against Auburn and Tennessee. That loss to the 12-point underdog Vols still stings.

Georgia fans have always loved QB D.J. Shockley for what he can do. But they also love him for what he hasn't done: whine or transfer despite four years on the pine behind popular starter David Greene. Now, it's Shockley's turn. Yes, Greene left Athens with a 42-10 record and the most wins ever by a college QB, while Shockley begins his senior season exactly 0-0 as a starter. And although the schoolboy hero from North Clayton (Ga.) High has sub-4.6 speed and has thrown 10 touchdowns to only four picks, he still needs to work on his reads. But coach Mark Richt isn't yearning for the past. "You have to be an accurate passer, a good decisionmaker able to handle the pressure and a leader," Richt says. "D.J.'s got all those things."

Only one returning receiver, junior Sean Bailey, caught more than 10 passes in 2004. Sophomore A.J. Bryant, a former Elite 11 QB who missed five games last season with a foot injury, will do much better than that. Bryant (6'2", 185) added 10 pounds and earned most-improved receiver honors in spring ball. But even Richt admits his wideouts are unproven. "If it were me," he says, "I'd play in single coverage to see if we can make plays."

"Under, Cover 3" forces your offense to be perfect. In the scheme, standout DTs Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson shift toward the weak side of the offensive line while one of the ends, Will Thompson or Quentin Moses, shifts outside the offensive tackle. This gives UGA a three-on-three matchup along the line. LBs Tony Taylor and Danny Verdun Wheeler stack up behind each end, making it very difficult for the O-line to get at them. Rover Tra Battle creeps up until he's almost a fourth linebacker, as the rest of the secondary drops into three-deep. With essentially an eight-man front and three backs, long passes don't have time to develop. Offenses have to be flawless to move the ball. And sooner or later, most will make a mistake.

Strong running teams have hammered away at Georgia's defense. Both Auburn (37 carries for 186 yards) and DI-AA Georgia Southern (63 for 294) hurt them last year with long, exhausting drives. When faced with a potent ground game, the Bulldog safeties have to move up toward the line of scrimmage, and that exposes the secondary to play-action.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 vs. Boise State Sept. 10 vs. South Carolina Sept. 17 vs. Louisiana-Monroe Sept. 24 at Mississippi State Oct. 8 at Tennessee Oct. 15 at Vanderbilt Oct. 22 vs. Arkansas Oct. 29 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville) Nov. 12 vs. Auburn Nov. 19 vs. Kentucky Nov. 26 at Georgia Tech

15 Florida State (9-3, 6-2 ACC, Final BCS: 16)

The Noles snuck into the Top 16 again, despite an offense (25.2 ppg) that was their worst since 1981.

If he were at any other school, senior RB Leon Washington would be a Heisman candidate. Instead, the former football Mr. Florida will again split carries with junior Lorenzo Booker. (The two combined for 1,838 yards in 2004.) At least he and Booker will get more lugs while the Noles try to untangle their QB mess. And given the opportunity, Washington will put up big stats. After a separated shoulder cost him two games last fall, he ended the season with 195 yards on 12 carries in a 30-18 Gator Bowl win over West Virginia. "When I'm healthy, I'm one of the best backs in the country," he says. Even if he is just one of the best in FSU's backfield.

Got a suggestion about who should be the QB? Bobby Bowden is listening. With Wyatt Sexton out for the year while recovering from Lyme disease, even Bowden has no idea which redshirt frosh, Xavier Lee or Drew Weatherford, he'll choose. "They're dead even," he says. "We might flip a coin."

FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews loves to call "4-3 Jet, 11 Coverage." With the secondary in man-to-man, rover Kyler Hall sneaks up to the line. That creates an eight-man front that outnumbers blockers. At the snap, the defensive tackles explode into the gaps, gobbling up linemen as the linebackers roam free- especially Ernie Sims and his 4.39 speed.

Nobody carps about 60-minute intensity more than Andrews. And that means your only chance against FSU's D is to be more intense than they are on every down. Block them. Drive the football. Don't turn the ball over. Option systems work best against the Noles because they slow pursuit and open up play-action. But if you don't match their grit and determination, the system is irrelevant.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 vs. Miami Sept. 10 vs. The Citadel Sept. 17 at Boston College Oct. 1 vs. Syracuse Oct. 8 vs. Wake Forest Oct. 15 at Virginia Oct. 22 at Duke Oct. 29 vs. Maryland Nov. 5 vs. North Carolina State Nov. 12 at Clemson Nov. 26 at Florida

16 TexasA&M (7-5, 5-3 Big 12, Final BCS: 20)

The Aggies weren't that far from escaping mediocrity; three of their losses were to Top 5 teams (Utah, Texas, Oklahoma).

Coach Dennis Franchione knows what he wants: a multiple offense, an aggressive defense and toughness on both sides. He's still working on the last two, but the first one he has down cold. After two herky-jerky seasons, QB Reggie McNeal (4.30 40) finally got up to speed with the coach's disciplined approach, setting school records for passing yards (2,791) and QB rushing yards (718). More important, he threw only 4 INTs in 344 attempts. Unlike the other Heisman-contending QB in the Lone Star State, no one questions McNeal's ability to direct an aerial attack. "Reggie's judgment makes you unafraid to call anything at any time or in any field position," Fran says. And get this: McNeal was named A&M's most improved player this spring.

Fran jokes that it only seems like his top tackler, senior FS Jaxson Appel, has been around for 15 years. But don't ask him to riff on the rest of a pass defense that ranked 93rd in the nation. Redshirt freshman Danny Gorrer has the size (six feet, 178) and speed (4.38) to someday be a dominant corner. That day better come in early September.

Nobody does trick plays like Franchione. His go-to gadget is "Gun Slot Left, 15 H Reverse," a running back-to-wide receiver reverse. McNeal starts in the shotgun. On the presnap read, he checks the contain man to the reverse side. That's his man. McNeal hands to RB Courtney Lewis, who darts to the left as the QB drifts in the other direction. Slot receiver Jason Carter takes the ball from Lewis deep in the backfield and reads McNeal's block-if the QB ices the contain man, Carter is off.

Franchione feasts on gap-infested D's by pinpointing careless defenders. So preach and practice contain responsibility. Get your contain man upfield on every play, locating the ball. Make sure he sees the ballcarrier break toward the line of scrimmage before he pursues. If the play is coming his way, he has to force it back toward the defense's original pursuit. He'll have 50 pounds on the skinny QB bearing down on him. All the end needs to do is stay spaced and make the tackle.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at Clemson Sept. 17 vs. SMU Sept. 24 vs. Texas State Oct. 1 vs. Baylor Oct. 8 at Colorado Oct. 15 vs. Oklahoma State Oct. 22 at Kansas State Oct. 29 vs. Iowa State Nov. 5 at Texas Tech Nov. 12 at Oklahoma Nov. 25 vs. Texas