Commentary

What's hot (and not) for 2007

Originally Published: August 6, 2007
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The 2007 college football season opens with several traditional rivals trading places. Notre Dame entered the 2006 season under the spotlight, with coach Charlie Weis and quarterback Brady Quinn expected to lead a Fighting Irish revival. No one really knew what to expect from Southern California a year ago, after the Trojans lost 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart.

This season, with Quinn, receiver Jeff Samardzija and several other key pieces leaving South Bend, Notre Dame might struggle to win six games. Meanwhile, the Trojans are the consensus favorite to win another national championship, with quarterback John David Booty and the country's best defense returning for Troy.

Michigan and Ohio State also are trading places in 2007. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 for most of last season, and quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr seemingly entered 2006 on the hot seat, after a couple of subpar seasons. Of course, Carr's seat didn't cool off after the Buckeyes beat Michigan for the fifth time in six years to win the Big Ten championship.

But the Wolverines are the hot team in the Big Ten this season with quarterback Chad Henne, tailback Mike Hart, offensive tackle Jake Long and receiver Mario Manningham returning to school. The Buckeyes must replace Smith and receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez, which will be no easy task.

Here's a look at what's "hot" and "not" as we prepare for the kickoff to 2007:

What's Hot and Not for the 2007 College Football Season
HOT
NOT
USC. Heisman Trophy candidate John David Booty. Prep All-America running backs stacked up like club sandwiches. The best defense in the country. And of course, the Song Girls. Maybe Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh wasn't exaggerating when he called the Trojans the best team in college football -- ever. Notre Dame. No Brady Quinn. No Jeff Samardzija. No defense. Another tough schedule. The Fighting Irish might struggle to reach a bowl game this season, let alone win their first postseason game since the 1994 Cotton Bowl.
Running backs. Arkansas' Darren McFadden, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, Rutgers' Ray Rice, Michigan's Mike Hart, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Virginia Tech's Branden Ore, Boise State's Ian Johnson, and Clemson's one-two punch of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. One of them might be toting home the Heisman Trophy in December. Defensive tackles. Space-eating defensive linemen are becoming dinosaurs in college football, and are now harder to find on the recruiting trail than star quarterbacks. It's no coincidence that three of the country's top teams are led by All-America linemen: LSU (Glenn Dorsey), Texas (Frank Okam) and USC (Sedrick Ellis).
Grudge matches. Several coaches will meet their former teams in much-anticipated contests this season. LSU vs. Nick Saban's Alabama. Boston College vs. Tom O'Brien's NC State. Rice vs. Todd Graham's Tulsa. Miami vs. Butch Davis' North Carolina. Oregon State vs. Dennis Erickson's Arizona State. Weak openers. Fans of most of the country's strongest teams will have to wait until the second week of the season to get excited. USC opens against Idaho. Texas plays Arkansas State. Florida plays Western Kentucky. Ohio State plays Division I-AA Youngstown State. Louisville plays Murray State. Rutgers faces Buffalo. Zzzzzzz.
Big 12 QBs. The Big 12 has its strongest crop of quarterbacks in years. Texas' Colt McCoy, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee, Oklahoma State's Bobby Reid, Kansas State's Josh Freeman, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell and Nebraska's Sam Keller. So much for three yards and a cloud of Southwest dust. ACC QBs. Here's the big reason the ACC has struggled in post-expansion: No one can play quarterback. Boston College's Matt Ryan is the league's only bona fide star under center, and Wake Forest's Riley Skinner is the ACC's second-best passer. Even former QB factories Florida State and Miami can't find the solution. Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee have had their shots for the Noles. Kyle Wright has struggled for the Canes.
Boise State. With Ian Johnson returning, the Broncos have a legitimate chance to go unbeaten in two consecutive regular seasons. Home games against Southern Miss (Sept. 27) and San Jose State (Nov. 3) are potential obstacles, along with road games at Washington (Sept. 8) and Hawaii (Nov. 23). At least we know Boise State will keep us on the edge of our seats along the way. Tulane. The Green Wave went undefeated under Tommy Bowden in 1997, but have struggled since. Worse, the school fired coach Chris Scelfo, who deserved a medal of honor and lifetime contract for what he endured in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Tulane hired former UCLA coach Bob Toledo to rebuild its program.
WAC. Not only does the WAC have two teams (Boise State and Hawaii) talented enough to reach the BCS, but it also has two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates. The Broncos' Johnson led the country with 25 rushing touchdowns last season, and Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan broke an NCAA single-season record with 58 touchdown passes in 14 games. MAC. The league that once prided itself on being a pack of giant-killers has fallen behind the Mountain West, WAC and Conference USA in overall strength. Former upstarts Miami (Ohio), Ohio and Bowling Green have fallen off the map, and the league is home to three of the country's worst teams: Buffalo, Eastern Michigan and Temple.
Bluegrass quarterbacks. Who would have imagined Kentucky being home to the best quarterbacks in the Big East (Louisville's Brian Brohm) and SEC (Kentucky's Andre' Woodson)? Magnolia coaches. Ole Miss' Ed Orgeron and Mississippi State's Sly Croom enter the season on the hot seat, after they led their teams to 13 victories -- the past two seasons combined.
Michigan. The Wolverines have one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks (Henne), tailbacks (Hart) and receivers (Manningham) going into the 2007 season. Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks (Smith), tailbacks (Antonio Pittman) and receivers (actually two, Ginn and Gonzalez) from the 2006 season. At least Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is 5-1 versus Lloyd Carr.
Big East. The conference everybody loved to dismiss before 2006 is must-see TV this fall with three Top 25 teams (Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia) and a potential sleeper (South Florida). The league is littered with Heisman candidates (WVU's Slaton and Pat White, Louisville's Brohm and Rutgers' Rice) and great young coaches (WVU's Rich Rodriguez, Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe and Rutgers' Greg Schiano). Big Ten. Outside of Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and reloading Ohio State, few Big Ten teams have a legitimate chance of making the postseason. Michigan State and Minnesota have new coaches, and Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern continue to struggle. No wonder people are jumping off the Big Ten bandwagon.
Clock stops. College football returns to the old clock rules, in which the clock stops after a change in possession and doesn't start back up until kickoffs are fielded. Stadiums on the West Coast and in Hawaii might need triple-digit scoreboards this fall. Clock is ticking. These coaches enter the 2007 season needing to win big: Clemson's Bowden, Mississippi State's Croom, Ole Miss' Orgeron, Duke's Ted Roof, Purdue's Joe Tiller, Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione, Virginia's Al Groh and Washington State's Bill Doba.
Gators and Frogs. Florida's Gators are the defending national champions and might have enough firepower on offense to be a contender again. TCU's Horned Frogs have one of the country's most underrated defenses and have their sights set on crashing the BCS party. Hogs and Horns. Who would have guessed winning the SEC West would lead to such a summer of discontent in Arkansas? Hogs coach Houston Nutt better win the SEC to save his job -- and his privacy. The Longhorns figure to battle Oklahoma for first place in the Big 12 South. But the offseason was littered with off-field problems; eight Texas players have been arrested since Vince Young led the Longhorns to a win over USC in the 2005 BCS title game.
Stepping up. Appalachian State, the two-time defending Division I-AA national champion, steps up in competition to play Michigan in the Big House on Sept. 1. And the Mountaineers will keep it close. Stepping down. Even with Brennan, Hawaii might be out of the BCS race before the season even begins. The WAC schedule won't be enough for the Warriors to overcome two games against I-AA Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern.
Comebacks. These players are rebounding from injuries that sidelined them for all or parts of 2006: Wake Forest running back Micah Andrews, Notre Dame running back James Aldridge, Nebraska cornerback Zack Bowman, Georgia running back Thomas Brown, Texas guard Cedric Dockery, Arkansas linebacker Freddie Fairchild, Utah quarterback Brian Johnson, USC safety Josh Pinkard and UCLA QB Ben Olson. Setbacks. These star players are sidelined for the 2007 season because of injuries or academics: Miami safety Anthony Reddick, Wake Forest linebacker Eric Berry, Syracuse running back Delone Carter, Maryland tackle Jared Gaither, NC State tight end Anthony Hill, Tennessee safety Demetrice Morley, Virginia receiver Kevin Ogletree, Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver and Oklahoma State receiver Artrell Woods.
Transfer quarterbacks. Several teams have transfer players in the mix at quarterback: Nebraska's Sam Keller (from Arizona State), Cincinnati's Ben Mauk (Wake Forest), Baylor's Michael Machen (Kent State), BYU's Max Hall (Arizona State), Maryland's Josh Portis (Florida), Houston's Al Pena (Oklahoma State) and Wisconsin's Allan Evridge (Kansas State). Struggling quarterbacks. These quarterbacks are hoping to turn around their careers after largely struggling in 2006: Virginia Tech's Sean Glennon, Miami's Kyle Wright, Florida State's Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee, Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter, Oregon's Dennis Dixon, Ole Miss' Brent Schaeffer, Auburn's Brandon Cox, Iowa State's Bret Meyer, and South Carolina's Blake Mitchell.
Freshman running backs. These runners might be household names by the end of the season: Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, Hawaii's Kealoha Pilares, Miami's Graig Cooper, Notre Dame's Armando Allen, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, Southern Mississippi's Antwain Easterling, South Florida's Mike Ford, USC's Joe McKnight and West Virginia's Noel Devine. Running on empty. Duke and Florida International, the only Division I-A teams to finish 0-12 in 2006, might be hard-pressed to find a victory in 2007. The Blue Devils play nonconference games against Connecticut, Northwestern, Navy and Notre Dame. The Golden Panthers play Penn State, Maryland, Miami, Kansas and Arkansas, all but the Terrapins coming on the road. Ouch.
Week 2. A weekend full of great conference and nonconference fare, including potential upsets from coast to coast. Virginia Tech at LSU. South Carolina at Georgia. NC State at Boston College. Miami at Oklahoma. TCU at Texas. Boise State at Washington. Nebraska at Wake Forest. South Florida at Auburn. Big Ten in December. Big Ten coaches could have approved a proposal to add a bye week and extend the regular season into December. Instead, Big Ten fans won't get their football fix after Thanksgiving Day once again. And then we'll spend the rest of the holidays hearing about Big Ten teams dealing with long layoffs before bowl games.
Nick Saban. The former Miami Dolphins coach left the NFL to return to college football at Alabama, where Crimson Tide fans -- and every competing coach in the SEC -- are watching his every move. Bobby Petrino. The former Louisville coach, who always seemed to be seeking his next job, might have gotten what he deserved. He left a potential national championship team for the Atlanta Falcons, who probably won't have their star quarterback the entire season.
Kickoff returns. A new NCAA rule moves kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30, which will make returns one of the most exciting plays in college football again. Players such as Indiana's Marcus Thigpen, NC State's Darrell Blackman and Middle Tennessee's Damon Nickson become that much more dangerous. Text messages. A new NCAA rule that bans text messages to potential recruits has college coaches telling high school players: C U L8R.
LSU. Even without quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick and one of four teammates to go in the first round of the NFL draft, the Tigers are overwhelming favorites in the SEC. SMU. On the 20th anniversary of receiving the NCAA's death penalty, the Mustangs are still fighting to work their way back to respectability.
BCS. Whether Michigan fans want to admit it or not, the BCS got it right in 2006. Just ask Ohio State. Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen. Hansen is now the biggest obstacle standing in the way of a "plus-one" format in determining college football's national champion.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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