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THE BACK AND FORTH: COLLEGE STUDENTS TALK COLLEGE FOOTBALL (GENIUS!)

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[Ed's note: If you're a college football fan AND a college student, check this out.]

Our colleagues up in Bristol have a lot of experts covering college football: Chris, Lee, and Kirk can break down a Saturday with anyone, and the blogsphere on ESPN.Com contains roughly a half-century of reporting experience. Still, none of those people are presently students at major schools. In an effort to gain that perspective, we reached out to three college paper sports editors: Brian Steele at the University of Florida, Matt Gottfried at Ohio State, and Michael Fitzpatrick at the University of Georgia. Between 'em, they represent teams in the last two BCS title games (OSU's been there twice!) and the team most favored to be in Miami this January 8th. They went Back and Forth on their schools, other contenders, the state of the BCS at ten and the atmosphere of the games. Below, the kids—ok, they're 20-somethings—have their say.

The Magazine: Two-part question to start. First: what's the best team in your conference aside from your school, and what's the best team nationally aside from you?

Brian Steele (UF):
It's obvious that Florida and Georgia are the two best teams in the SEC. LSU would be up there if they didn't have a Harvard JV quarterback starting for them. Georgia deserves all the preseason accolades they're getting. They bring back a lot of their team from last season, and match up very well against Florida. The Bulldogs can control the clock with Moreno, and Stafford is showing signs that he can be a top-flight quarterback.

Oklahoma isn't the No.1 team right now, but they have a very good shot at being there at the end of the season. Texas isn't as good as they usually are, and it's hard to tell if Missouri is for real or not. The Sooners defense is strong enough to shut down Texas Tech and Harrell. Ohio State is overrated, and USC can be tripped up in one of the Pac-10's shootouts.

Michael Fitzpatrick (UGA):
Aside from Georgia, the best team in the SEC is the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers are boosted by a very favorable schedule that doesn't include Florida and has Georgia, Tennessee and LSU at home. Sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns will fit right into new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin's spread offense and will give opposing defenses fits. Senior tailback Brad Lester and senior wideout James Swinton will help carry the Tigers all the way to Atlanta barring an unforeseen injury. Having 15 returning starters—seven on offense, eight on defense—from last season doesn't hurt either.

Oklahoma is the best team in the country that doesn't reside in the SEC. Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray could both be Heisman candidates this year and as always, Oklahoma's stout defense will help it control some of those other high profile offenses in the Big-12. Oklahoma has no real question marks on either side of the ball and should be a legitimate contender to be playing in Miami on January 8.

Matt Gottfried (OSU):
Aside from Big Ten favorite Ohio State and suspension-prone Penn State, no team returns as many starters (19) as Wisconsin this season. The Badgers possess one of college football's top running backs in P.J. Hill (2,805 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns last two years) and sport one of the weakest non-conference schedules with Akron, Marshall and Cal Poly all coming to Madison. They will, however, make a surprise trip to Fresno State in their toughest road challenge of the season.

Nationally, I don't think any other team in the Big Ten sports the kind of opportunity Ohio State has to return to its third-straight BCS Title appearance. I had to laugh when you said the Buckeyes are overrated. Really? The same reasons you used to justify Oklahoma as being the nation's top team can also be applied to the Buckeyes. Ohio State's defense ranks second to none, especially with the return of All-Americans James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins—not to mention Lawrence Wilson, who is coming back from a week-one, season-ending injury last year. And USC can be tripped up in a Pac-10 shootout? Oh really, that's a bold statement since last time I checked there were one or two upsets in EVERY major conference last season. Ohio State returns 20 starters this season. And finally, just like in 2005 and 2006, college football's biggest non-conference game in September will determine one-side of the BCS title picture. The other half will be up to Oklahoma and Georgia and whether or not it can escape its conference slates with an unblemished record.

The Magazine: Sweet, this got heated. Let's talk strengths of your school. What are your biggest advantages? And, to keep things even, what are your biggest weaknesses?

Brian Steele (UF):
As for Florida's strengths, maybe you've heard of Tim Tebow. There's not much more that needs to be said than that. If he stays healthy, he's going to leave Gainesville as one of the best players in college football history, at least statistically.

Aside from the QB, Louis Murphy isn't getting much recognition right now, but he could have a Dallas Baker/Chad Jackson type of season. Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody also have a ton of potential in the run game. If Urban Meyer could just stop his man love for Kestahn Moore and give those two guys the ball every running play, it'll be a speed nightmare for opponents.

Right now the defensive tackle spot is a mess. Javier Estopinian, probably the top run stopper last year until he went down with a torn ACL, is still recovering from surgery. It looks like Meyer is hoping freshman Omar Hunter is the next Glenn Dorsey—and soon. That's not a good sign when a freshman needs to produce in a big way. The coaches are saying the line is a lot better, but the first test is when Graig Cooper and Miami visit Gainesville. If they can't shut down Miami, Knowshon Moreno is going to be salivating.

Michael Fitzpatrick (UGA):
First off—I cannot understand why the Big-10 continues to have these delusions of grandeur. The last time I checked, whenever Ohio State plays a team from a real conference, they get their tails kicked. When OSU loses to USC, the best they will get will be a trip to the Rose Bowl, because they will not be given a third opportunity to get embarrassed by an SEC team.

And please don't get me started about the hypocrisy of saying Wisconsin has a weak non-conference schedule. Yes, OSU plays at USC, but look at the rest of their schedule and last year's. Youngstown State? Ohio? Washington? It must be hard to play a schedule that difficult. How do they do it? The BCS game will include USC, Oklahoma, or one of the top-4 SEC teams.

Georgia has probably the most talented team in the country from top-to-bottom. Redshirt freshman Caleb King is just as good as Knowshon Moreno and the Bulldogs possess one of the deepest wide-out cores in the country. Matthew Stafford will finally achieve the greatness that was predicted for him and the offensive line will only continue to mature.

However, Georgia plays the toughest schedule in the country and will never be afforded an opportunity to relax. Every game could be a trip-up, especially that four week stretch that includes trips to LSU, Jacksonville, Kentucky and Auburn in consecutive weeks.

Matt Gottfried (OSU):
Anytime a team returns 20 starters, odds are it has the potential to do something special. Add in the fact that the core of that team has appeared in back-to-back National Champions, and it's no wonder expectations are so high for the Buckeyes.

But those expectations begin and end with quarterback Todd Boeckman, who made the most of his first season at the helm of the Buckeyes' offense a year ago. The senior completed nearly 64-percent of his passes for more than 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns. Yet down the final stretch, Boeckman trailed off as the offense sputtered against teams like Illinois, Michigan and LSU. In order for Ohio State to return to the title game, Boeckman will have to pull off a Craig Krenzel-esque season and do everything but lose the game. With Heisman hopeful Chris Wells and the wide receiver trio of Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline and Ray Small, Boeckman needs only to exist in the few seconds it takes to get his playmakers the ball. The only loss Ohio State had on offense from last year's 41st best scoring team was lineman Kirk Barton. All the Buckeyes did to address that weakness was sign two of the top offensive linemen in the country this off-season.

The Buckeyes' biggest hurdle this season will obviously occur on Sept. 13th when they travel to Pasadena to take on USC. But barring a Trojan blowout, Ohio State should be set for its third-straight BCS Championship appearance. Though a loss to the Trojans would make it difficult for Ohio State to return to the title game, the possibility can't be ruled out. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes are more poised than ever to restore power to one of the nation's most depreciated conferences.

The Magazine: The BCS is turning ten right about now. Obviously it's a very controversial system. As students at major BCS powers—all three of your schools have been to a BCS game, or a BCS title game, within the past two years—how do you feel about it?

Michael Fitzpatrick (UGA):
Personally I think the BCS is a mess. I think it relies too much on a computer to decide the national championship than the games themselves. However, every year it sparks controversy which just increases the drama and intensity of anti-BCS fans. Even though it will never change, I think that a plus-one system would be best.

In fact, the post-season is already set up for it. Keep the beloved New Orleans Bowl and the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl and all the other ridiculous early-bowl games that no one watches but are SO important.

Use the four BCS bowls (Sugar, Fiesta, Rose and Orange) and play a four team playoff with the winners playing in the BCS Championship Game. I don't see why that would be so difficult, but it will never happen.

And also, I believe that the Big-10, Pac-10 and Big East should either add a 12th school and play a conference championship game or they should be ineligible from playing for the championship. It is not fair to the Big-12, ACC, and SEC to play an extra game. But that will never happen either.

Matt Gottfried (OSU):
While I agree a plus-one system is best for college football, I think forcing conferences to host a championship game is ludicrous. For the majority of major conferences, college football is just as much a business as it is an avenue for athletes to display their skills. While I would like to see a team like Notre Dame in the Big Ten, there are hardly enough quality independent teams out there to plug into the above mentioned conferences. Plus, your gripe isn't about the amount of games they play, it's the fact conferences like the SEC and Big 12 play later into the season and thus have less time to recover for the bowl games. Well, there is a simple solution to that: eliminate one regular season game. This not only trims those schedules down to 12 games like every other team, but it also allows that extra week of rest it so desperately craves. And if that's not fair enough, a team in the Big Ten or Pac-10 could simply just add another non-conference game to give them 13 games on the schedule and push their season back one more week.

As for the current BCS system, I'm not quite sure there is better option. Sure a playoff system would be nice, but is it really feasible? Being from OSU, it's hard for me to argue against a system that has allowed Ohio State to reach the BCS Championship the past two years, so I'm not going to pretend I want it to change. At the same time, I'm not naïve enough to believe the Buckeyes were the second-best team in football last year. But based on the current system, there is no doubt Ohio State was the most deserving team at the time. I think a plus-one system like would have placed the top two teams in the championship game – or at least eliminated all false pretenses as to whether or not the two teams DESERVED to be there. Regardless of the direction the NCAA takes, there are always going to be people bashing the system. So why change what has been working more times than not?

Brian Steele (UF):
Who wants to know the best team in college football is? I'd like to.

So put in a playoff system. I'm not saying I know all the financial hurts it could cause some corporate sponsorships with bowls, but I do know the hype that a college football playoff would receive is insane. Even if it's just four teams, that's good enough. It would be eight at most. Any undefeated team has the right to have a shot at the national championship—even Boise State. Who's to say they're not the best? Isn't that why sports are played? To put two teams out on a field, court or rink and see who outplays the other. Letting polls be a factor in deciding who gets to be the best isn't right. Because, as we should all know, sports writers are wrong all the time.

Michael Fitzpatrick (UGA):
Let it be known, a Georgia and Florida guy can agree on something. Coaches voting with agendas should not decide who plays in the championship. The games should. The teams that should have been in the BCS game last year were Ohio State and Georgia—they were No. 3 and No. 4 when No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia lost in the same weekend.

Matt Gottfried (OSU):
I agree to disagree. The games themselves should indeed decide who plays in the game and not an "expert" opinion, but how can a team possibly play for a BCS title when it can't even PLAY for its conference title? You said it before: "I believe that the Big-10, Pac-10 and Big East should either add a 12th school and play a conference championship game or they should be ineligible from playing for the championship." So based on that criteria, Georgia wouldn't even be eligible for the championship game because they didn't play in the "13th game." Therefore, the title game should have been between LSU and Oklahoma - the two major conference championship winners. I guess Brian was correct, sports writers are always wrong—even when we are right.

The Magazine: Nice, we like animosity (kidding!) Often, when people talk about college football, they speak of the atmosphere of the game. Do any of you have a story that speaks to that? Bear in mind: we work for Disney.

Michael Fitzpatrick (UGA):
This is my first year at UGA, so I lack any great Gameday experience. I am sure looking forward to November 1st in Jacksonville, though.

Matt Gottfried (OSU):
You know the feeling you get deep down in your stomach when it's third-and-goal and the final minutes are quickly ticking away on the clock? Your team is winning by four measly points and the opponent has effortlessly marched 82 yards down the field with just two yards separating an unprecedented win from a heart wrenching defeat. Your heart races and the adrenaline takes off - completely eliminating any thoughts of frostbite from the sub-freezing temperatures. It's a feeling reserved for only the biggest moments on the grandest of stages. Now, take that moment and multiply it by 20. That's what it felt like to be at the Horseshoe on Nov. 18th, 2006.

Every single play seemed just like that moment. With every snap of the ball - with every tick on the clock - the crowd banged its feet on the aluminum seats and screamed at the top of its lungs. It didn't matter if it was first-and-10 or fourth-and-goal—every play mattered. Every yard counted. It was college football at its best.

In all the big games I've been to—the past two national championships, the Indians' 12-3 trouncing of the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS, the Cavaliers' upset of the Pistons in 2007 playoffs—nothing registered close to that of No. 1 Ohio State vs No. 2 Michigan on that chilly autumn afternoon.

It was after the game that was truly remarkable.

Basic logic says you can't fit 1,000 wound up teenagers into a narrow exit tunnel at your traditional stadium complex, but nothing was going to keep the Buckeye faithful off the field that night. As thousands of fans steam rolled into one of the south end tunnels, they came to a startling roadblock at the other end: a row of cops and ushers barricading the exit. No matter. In what seemed like complete unison, the crowd rotated 180-degrees and took off toward the adjacent tunnel. And this is where the most exhilarating moment of the night came for me. I was lifted a foot off the ground, not by outstretched arms, but by shoulders. Yes, there were so many students crammed into that tunnel that the mere strength of the bodies tightly squeezed together lifted me into the air as the momentum carried me for seconds. It was like nothing I've experienced before.

By the time we reached the next tunnel, the stadium's defense force had surrendered. In fact, the ushers' primary responsibility shifted to catching students as they were flushed out the other end and down the aisles. It was a moment rivaled by no other. And as I tucked a piece of the stadium turf under my arm like so many other fans, I couldn't help but stand in awe at the massive sea of red. I never wanted to leave the stadium that night.