What's hot (and not) for 2009
What's hot in college football in 2009? Florida, Big 12 quarterbacks and neutral-site games.
What's not? Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, soft schedules and Big 12 tiebreakers.
Here's a closer look at what's hot and not as we get closer to the 2009 season:
WHAT'S HOT AND NOT FOR THE 2009 COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON
|Florida: The defending national champion Gators are an overwhelming favorite to win their third BCS national title in four seasons. With quarterback Tim Tebow and 11 starters coming back on defense, Florida is once again college football's team to beat.||Iowa State: The Cyclones carry a 10-game losing streak into the 2009 season. Former coach Gene Chizik somehow parlayed the dubious streak into the Auburn job and was replaced by Paul Rhoads at ISU. The Cyclones will try to snap their skid Sept. 3 when they host FCS opponent North Dakota State.|
|Big 12 quarterbacks: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. Texas' Colt McCoy. Kansas' Todd Reesing. Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson. Baylor's Robert Griffin. You won't find a more impressive collection of quarterbacks anywhere in the country.||Big 12 defenses: The Big 12 is all about generating offense and scoring lots of points. None of the league's teams finished in the top 50 in total defense last season, with nine finishing 78th or worse.|
|Tyrod: Virginia Tech goes into the season as a top-10 team and dark horse candidate to win the BCS title. Junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who stirs on-field memories of Michael Vick, is a big reason why the Hokies have such high hopes.||Rich Rod: Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez's first season in Ann Arbor was a complete disaster. The Wolverines finished 3-9 in 2008, their first losing season since 1967 and the most losses in school history. The only way this season could be worse? Lose to Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan in the Big House.|
|Berries: Tennessee has launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for junior Eric Berry and deservedly so. There isn't a better ball-hawking safety in college football; Berry has 12 career picks and needs only 15 interception return yards to break the NCAA career record. His 13-year-old brother, Evan, has already committed to play for the Vols in 2013.||Apples: Washington and Washington State were a combined 2-23 in 2008. The Huskies open the season against LSU and a loss would tie the Pac-10 record with 15 consecutive defeats. The Cougars' only victory over an FBS team in 2008 came against the Huskies, a 16-13 overtime win in the Apple Cup.|
|Triple option: Coach Paul Johnson's triple-option spread offense worked miracles at Georgia Tech last season. The Yellow Jackets finished 9-4 and beat rival Georgia for the first time in eight seasons. Georgia Tech was fourth in the country in rushing, averaging nearly 275 yards per game. With tailback Jonathan Dwyer coming back, Tech could be even better in 2009.||Double trouble: Iowa State, Washington and Washington State were the only teams from FBS conferences to lose 10 games or more in 2008. Idaho, Miami (Ohio), North Texas, San Diego State, SMU, Tulane and Western Kentucky also pulled off the dubious feat. We're betting things won't be much better for many of them in 2009.|
|Coaches-in-waiting: Purdue's Danny Hope and Oregon's Chip Kelly have been handed the keys to their programs after learning under their predecessors in 2008. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Kentucky's Joker Phillips, Maryland's James Franklin and Texas' Will Muschamp will still be riding shotgun this season.||Coaches in trouble: Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Virginia's Al Groh, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, Indiana's Bill Lynch, Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe and Texas A&M's Mike Sherman are among the coaches who could really use big seasons to save their jobs.|
|SEC defenses: The league is still won with black-and-blue defenses. Arkansas was the only SEC team that didn't finish in the top 40 in total defense in 2008. A half-dozen SEC teams finished in the top 25, including Tennessee (tied-third), Alabama (tied-third), Florida (ninth), South Carolina (13th), Ole Miss (19th) and Georgia (22nd).||SEC offenses: Great defenses or awful offenses? Only two SEC teams finished in the top 25 in total offense in 2009: Florida (15th) and Georgia (22nd). The rest of the league's offenses were downright pedestrian. In fact, five of the SEC's 12 teams finished 100th or worse in total offense: Auburn (104th), Kentucky (106th), Mississippi State (113th), Tennessee (115th) and Vanderbilt (117th).|
|Neutral-site games: Along with traditional rivalry games, neutral-site contests dot the 2009 schedule. Alabama and Virginia Tech in Atlanta. BYU and Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas. Illinois and Missouri in St. Louis. Arkansas and Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. Notre Dame and Washington State in San Antonio.||Home cooking: Auburn, Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Tennessee are among eight teams from BCS conferences that will play eight home games in 2009. Of the aforementioned teams, only the Volunteers leave home before the fifth game of the season. Way to challenge yourselves, guys.|
|Week 6: College football fans need to circle Oct. 10 on their calendars. Two SEC games that Saturday might go a long way in determining the conference champion and which teams remain in the BCS national title hunt. Alabama plays at Ole Miss. Florida plays at LSU. Elsewhere, Georgia Tech travels to FSU in a key ACC game, and Michigan plays at Iowa in a Big Ten contest.||Week 2: The second Saturday of September features the season's marquee nonconference game: Southern California at Ohio State. But most of the sport's other powers are playing cupcakes in forgettable nonconference games. Oklahoma plays Idaho State. Florida plays Troy. Texas plays at Wyoming. Cal hosts Eastern Washington. Alabama hosts Florida International. Yawn.|
|Fridge's thinner waistline: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has dropped nearly 100 pounds since October with an improved diet and exercise.||Fridge's thinner offensive line: If the Terrapins are going to match last season's 8-5 record, they'll have to replace three starters on the offensive line.|
|Tiffin: With a new quarterback and offensive line, Alabama might have to ask senior kicker Leigh Tiffin to do more this season. He made 20 of 29 field goal attempts last season, including a 54-yarder. With a little more consistency, Tiffin might become the SEC's best kicker in 2009.||Kiffin: Has new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin been writing checks his team can't cash this season? Kiffin has gone after nearly everyone in the SEC, accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating and poaching assistants from Alabama and South Carolina. Kiffin brought the Vols more attention, but he also made himself Public Enemy No. 1 in the SEC.|
|Miami home games: Prior to the 2008 season, the Hurricanes left the crumbling Orange Bowl -- their home for seven decades -- for Dolphin Stadium. Because of a recent naming-rights agreement, they'll play this season in a stadium named for a beer owned by singer Jimmy Buffett. It doesn't get much cooler than that.||Minnesota home games: For the first time since 1981, the Gophers will play their home games in open air, where temperatures will undoubtedly be much, much cooler. For the past 27 seasons, Minnesota played its home games inside the Metrodome. This season, the Gophers are moving to TCF Bank Stadium, a sparkling 50,805-seat venue that sits on campus and is long overdue.|
|Stillwater: The home of Oklahoma State could become one of college football's hotbeds this season. The Cowboys are ranked No. 11 in the preseason coaches' poll and have one of the sport's most explosive offenses. OSU will also unveil newly renovated Boone Pickens Stadium this fall.||Rough waters: It wasn't too long ago that June Jones and Colt Brennan were leading Hawaii to a BCS bowl game. That now seems like decades ago. The Rainbow Warriors went 7-7 in 2008, losing to Notre Dame 49-21 in the Hawaii Bowl. Coach Greg McMackin starts the season on a 30-day suspension for making a gay slur.|
|Best: California junior Jahvid Best is the country's top returning runner with 131.7 rushing yards per game in 2008. He averaged better than eight yards per carry last season and is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. If Best runs that well again, the Bears might end their 50-year Rose Bowl drought.||Worst: In coach June Jones' first season in 2008, SMU ranked last among FBS teams in rushing, averaging 41.4 yards per game. The Mustangs ran in neutral in Jones' run-and-shoot offense, a big reason they finished 1-11. The school that produced Eric Dickerson and Craig James averaged a paltry 2.29 yards per carry.|
|Red River Rivalry: The Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas has rarely featured as much anticipation and animosity. The Longhorns are still peeved about beating the Sooners head-to-head last season, but then losing a three-way tiebreaker in the Big 12 South. The Sooners are upset the Longhorns won't quit whining about it. The teams meet Oct. 17.||Big 12 tiebreakers: Is anyone else hoping for another three-way tie in the Big 12 South this season? The league's coaches and athletic directors voted against changing the three-team tiebreaker this summer, once again leaving the Big 12 open to ridicule and controversy.|
|Home jerseys: USC coach Pete Carroll won't have to burn timeouts anymore. Under new NCAA rules, visiting teams will be allowed to wear their home jerseys, as long as they receive permission in writing from their opponent prior to the season.||Rugby-style punters: If looking rather silly on national TV wasn't enough risk, rugby-style punters are now open game in the open field. Under new NCAA rules, players who punt on the run are no longer afforded roughing-the-kicker protection once they leave the tackle box.|
|Going home: Legendary coach Bill Snyder left retirement to return to Kansas State, where two decades ago he transformed one of the sport's worst programs into a consistent winner. The 69-year-old coach won 136 games in 17 seasons in his first stint; the Wildcats had won 137 games in 54 seasons before him. Kansas State now plays its games at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.||Leaving home: Tennessee and Auburn probably needed coaching changes to revive their programs, but the SEC season won't seem the same without Phillip Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville on the sideline. Fulmer won 152 games at his alma mater, leading the Volunteers to the 1998 national championship. Tuberville won 85 games in 10 seasons on the Plains, and his 2004 team finished 13-0.|
|Boise State: The Broncos came within two points of finishing unbeaten for the second time in three seasons in 2008. With quarterback Kellen Moore coming back, the Broncos will again be a threat to crash the BCS party. Boise State's biggest game is its first one: home against Oregon on Sept. 3.||Ball State: The Cardinals won their first 12 games in 2008, before losing to Buffalo in the MAC championship game and Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl. Coach Brady Hoke left for San Diego State, and 11 starters left the team, including record-setting quarterback Nate Davis. New coach Stan Parrish will have his hands full in 2009.|
|Fast risers: Programs such as Baylor, NC State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss and Stanford seem ready to make moves up their respective conferences' food chains.||Free fallers: Programs like Auburn, Boston College, Connecticut, Missouri, Northwestern and Purdue might be facing big rebuilding jobs in 2009.|
|Comebacks: Welcome back a handful of difference-makers returning from injuries: Georgia OT Trinton Sturdivant and DT Jeff Owens, Oklahoma LB Ryan Reynolds, Washington QB Jake Locker, Notre Dame OT Paul Duncan, Penn State LB Sean Lee and Miami S Randy Phillips, among others.||Dismissals: A few teams will have to overcome the loss of onetime major contributors who left their teams for a variety of reasons: FSU WR Preston Parker, Indiana QB Kellen Lewis, Tennessee S Demetrice Morley, Alabama LB Prince Hall, Purdue QB Justin Siller and Boston College QB Dominique Davis.|
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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