Sunday, November 27, 2005


Not much changed this past week ... most notable? USC and Penn State continue to swap places #2/#3. LSU and Ohio State also are swapping #6/#7. Remember that Penn State and Ohio State are done with their regular season of play; USC and LSU both have one more game to play. Should USC and LSU win their last games, both should pass over their Big 10 competitors to finish the regular season.

How secure is Texas? Even with a loss to Colorado next week (and assuming that USC remains undefeated), Texas should still have enough ITW points to finish at #2.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Nominations Now Open for the BIG TOM TURKEY AWARD

The ITW is now accepting nominations for the BIG TOM TURKEY AWARD (BTTA). The BTTA is awarded to the Div. IA team that most "underachieved" for the season. The BTTA is not necessarily the winless team but may be the team that just does not live up to its reputation.

2004's BTTA winner: Illinois Fighting "an unnamed mascot in order to comply with the NCAA's recent rules to protect the integrity and spirit of the Native American peoples". In 2005, Illinois has improved under a new coach to a 2-9 record and ranks at #105 AITW out of 119. ... an improvement?

Let's throw out some other possibilities ... Duke? Syracuse? Kentucky? Ole Miss? Washington State? Indiana? Cincinnati? Arkansas? Arizona? Oregon State? OK State? Tennessee? Arizona State? Kansas State? Pitt? Purdue? ... It's your choice ... email me ( or post here for everyone to see.

The more witty ... the more cruel ... the better.

Week 12 - USC passes Penn State for #2 in ITW

WEEK 12, Nov. 20, 2005
Los Angeles

USC overtook Penn St. for the #2 position in the ITW (AITW and PITW). While both USC and Penn St. won on Saturday, the "quality" of USC's win over Fresno State (previously, #25 AITW) catapulted the Trojans - just barely - over the Nittany Lions. Penn State defeated Michigan State (previously, #60 AITW). The separation between Penn State and USC is just 3 points on the AITW.

Other points of interest:

-- TCU hangs around at #5 AITW. The Horned Frogs are 10-1 ... you wonder what would have been had they beat SMU? Would we be talking a BCS Buster (a la Utah)?

-- Ohio State moves up to #6 AITW from #10 with the wine over Michigan #19 AITW. Michigan is the best 4 loss team, according to the ITW.

-- Miami (Fla.) staggers to #8 AITW from #5 after the Hurricanes loss to GA Tech.

-- There are 2 undefeated teams: Texas and USC -- after this week, both are occupying the top 2 spots.

-- There are 7 one-loss teams: (in order according to the AITW) Penn State, VA Tech, TCU, LSU, UCLA, Oregon, West VA.

-- AITW's 2-Loss Superstars: Ohio State and Miami (Fla.). Both rank within the top 10 and are ahead of many one-loss teams ... quality does matter.

-- Does Notre Dame deserve a BCS bowl? Despite the Irish's win over the Syracuse Orangemen (sorry ... I mean ... Orange ... or, perhaps, we should just say Orange-women given Syracuse's dismal #114 AITW rank?), the Irish fell 3 places to #15 AITW. Is ND the best 2-loss team? No ... try Ohio State, Miami, Auburn, Alabama, or Georgia. Are there more deserving 1-loss teams? I think the Oregon Ducks might have something to say for that ...

-- How good is the Big 10? 4 teams rank in the top 25 of the AITW. Same number as the Big 12. One more than Pac 10. One less than the SEC and the ACC. But, 3 more than the lowly Big East. ... Why do I bring this up? Because it points out, that despite the media reports, the major conferences (Big East - which shouldn't be a major conference) are very competitive ... Even more interesting -- the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have 12 teams, compared to 11 for the Big 10 and 10 for the Pac 10 ...

-- "Mid-Major" Superstar: I never did like the term "mid-major" -- especially after the addition of South Florida, Cincinnati and UConn to the ranks of the Major Big East ... the irony is that Rutgers and South Florida will probably end up at a better bowl than TCU. Unlike years past, TCU is the only "mid major" in the top 25 of the AITW.


Monday, November 14, 2005

WEEK 11 ITW -- Texas Still On Top

The ITW for Week 11 (Games played through 11/13/05) is out and few changes occured from last week. Most notable: Alabama fell from #5 in the AITW to #8. Texas still leads the way with a large lead over #2 Penn State - with one game remaining, it is probably that, even with a loss to Texas A&M, Texas would still be #2 in the AITW. USC continues to trail Penn State but the gap is likely to shrink if USC continues to win and, most likely, USC will overtake Penn State for the #2 AITW spot. USC has remaining games against Fresno State (AITW #25) and UCLA (AITW #9).

For the complete ITW this week, visit

Friday, November 11, 2005

A New Human Poll - Master Coaches Survey

Check out:

The Master Coaches Survey is a poll with voters who know something about college football -- all are coaches and, unlike the Harris Poll, all are winners with conference championships and national titles. Here are the voters: Bo Schembechler, John Robinson, LaVell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Frank Kush, Dick MacPherson, John Cooper, Bill Mallory, Don Nehlen, John Ralston, George Welsh, Gene Stallings, Pat Dye, Vince Dooley, R.C. Slocum and Don James.

Check out some of the audio interviews with the former coaches ... great analysis and insight.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What is the ITW telling us this year?

The ITW is probably less predictive of the BCS computers or the polls than it has been in any of the prior 3 years. It is hard to say why this is the case. Perhaps, though, it has to do with the penalty that the ITW places on teams that play inferior opponents, esp. those in Division IAA. The ITW provides no inherited wins for a win over a DivIAA--essentially, this means that a win over any Div IAA is like playing a winless Div IA team. Perhaps the other ranking systems don't take this into account?

The ITW is strongly in favor of endorsing a ban on Div IA teams playing Div IAA teams. The "automatic" win (Except in the case of Stanford) should not count and should not be considered for bowls. As more teams in the major BCS conferences play Div IAA opponents, the overall quality of all teams becomes more suspect.

Perhaps, this year, the ITW is picking up on some of this suspect quality?

Is a playoff really necessary?

The ITW has always been about a playoff to determine a national champion. There are many arguments against a playoff but most are ludicrous. The only one that I can understand is that each week's game will diminish in importance. This is the problem in college basketball--does it really matter whether a team wins the conference championship? what really matters is their placement in the tournament. With college football, one or two losses would be the most that a team could probably have to reach a playoff round -- but compare this to this year where teams need to be undefeated to make the championship ... something to consider. feel free to comment.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

What classy fans are all about -- GO Bulldogs!

Read this article (Below) about what Georgia fans did (or tried to do) for a Boise St. football player. These are some real classy and patriotic fans. I wish that all fans could be like Georgia's (makes you wonder what Cal fans would do under similar circumstances?).

Go Bulldogs!

Head in the sand

By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
August 19, 2005

On Sept. 3, Georgia will host Boise State in football, the most anticipated game in Boise State history. Starting for Boise will be sophomore guard Tad Miller.

Tad's father, Dan, is a retired police lieutenant who currently works in Iraq training Iraqi police officers. Dan is planning to fly halfway around the world, at the cost of $2,700, to make the big game.

All of this was detailed in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article last week and when Georgia fan Sam Hendrix read it online, he had an idea.

"It hit me that he shouldn't have to bear the cost of the flight," says Hendrix, a 57-year-old marketing consultant from Signal Mountain, Tenn. "I was struck by the fact that not only was he serving the country, but as a parent this might be the best athletic moment of his son's career."

So Hendrix posted on the message board on his favorite website,


"I said, 'You know guys, let's all kick in $100, get 25-30 of us and pay this guy's way to Sanford Stadium in recognition of what he is doing for the country.'"

The response was overwhelming. Within minutes the money was pledged, not all $100 bids. Some Georgia undergrads offered $20 each. A few people only had $50 to spare. It was a community effort. A great idea. Everyone agreed.

Until someone posted a joke, "what if this is against NCAA rules?"

Someone checked with the compliance officers at both schools. Guess what?

"We were in violation of two NCAA rules," Hendrix says. Athletes are prohibited from having friends or family receive free travel. In theory, the rule makes sense; you can't have boosters flying a player's mom and dad in for games. Allowing such would provide an unfair advantage to the big schools that can afford it.

"I understand the intent of the rule," Hendrix says.

He just can't understand the NCAA. The rule is designed to stop boosters for helping out players for their team, not the other team. Tad Miller doesn't play for Georgia. He plays for Georgia's opponent.

Yet somehow, someway, by chipping in to this cause, all of those rabid Georgia fans who want nothing more than to beat Boise State somehow would have become official Boise State boosters.

And by showing respect and goodwill in paying Dan Miller's airfare, they would have put Boise State at risk of NCAA probation.

"If I had known it was that easy to get a team in trouble, I would have done this to Tennessee a long time ago," Hendrix jokes.

The NCAA has no official word on this as it only comments on actual rule violations, not speculative ones. The NCAA never ruled in this case because there was no case: The Georgia fans gave up so Boise wouldn't get sanctioned. It turns out Miller's airfare will be paid for by his company, which provides two trips home a year.

But Hendrix remains dismayed. The NCAA often gets things wrong it arrogantly thinks it is getting right. Hendrix would have violated the letter of a NCAA law, but certainly not its spirit. And as a serious college football fan, he knows many schools excel by doing the opposite: obeying the letter of the law but trampling fair play.

"It's pretty ludicrous," he says. "And this was in the week with the politically correct ruling banning Indian mascots. We've lost touch with reality. This is not what the NCAA should be involved in."

No it shouldn't. But it is. It always is. Almost two years after NCAA president Myles Brand vowed the culture would change, little has.

The NCAA is too busy making money and imposing its view of a politically correct society to make common-sense rulings in favor of Dan and Tad Miller.

It is spending time extending the football season to 12 games so players can pay for bloated campus salaries instead of accommodating an act of goodwill that benefits one of those players and his far-off father.

Simply put, it is so busy trying to do things it shouldn't do that it has no time left over for things it should.

"Of all the things," Hendrix says, "you wouldn't think helping out someone serving America in Iraq would be considered abnormal."

No, you wouldn't. But Myles Brand's NCAA would.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send him a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush's video blog (vlog):

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Saw a link to this article -,694/42.html - this is a keeper for all USC fans. (Must admit - it is a bit too much, but entertaining nevertheless)

Vol. 11, No. 2,694 - The American Reporter - August 4, 2005

College Football
by Steven Travers
Am,erican Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
LOS ANGELES -- The 2005 college football season is right around the corner. Pete Carroll's University of Southern California Trojans completed the most perfect season in collegiate football history in 2004 and enter the new campaign bidding for three titles: (1) Greatest single-season college football team of all time; (2) Greatest college football dynasty of all time; and (3) Greatest historical college football program of all time. Lofty titles, to be sure.

Controversial and worthy of argument? You bet. Justifiable hype? You got that right, too.

There have been many "perfect" teams; that is, teams that went undefeated and untied en route to a consensus National Championship. USC itself has enjoyed their fair share of these kinds of wire-to-wire perfect seasons. But the stars were never aligned for any team quite like the 2004 Trojans (with the exception of the 2005 Trojans). First of all, they were the sixth team to be ranked number one in the nation from the pre-season polls through the bowl games.

USC is the only team to do it twice. The 1972 Trojans, considered by many to be the greatest team of all time, accomplished the feat. But SC was also ranked number one from the end of the 2003 regular season through the bowls, carried that right through 2004 without interruption, and every pre-season collegiate football publication in America has them ranked a consensus number one going into the upcoming season.

The 2005 Trojans boast the Heisman Trophy winner, two-time senior All-American quarterback Matt Leinart. His teammate, All-American junior running back Reggie Bush, was a New York finalist for the award. USC won a repeat National Championship, a feat rarely done. They have a nations-longest 22-game winning streak. They beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, a game that was previewed as the greatest game in college football history. No less an expert than Lee Corso said the Trojans' performance vs. the Sooners was the best he has ever seen. Period.

Possibly, Nebraska's thrashing of Florida in the National Championship game of January 1996 was as impressive. Possibly.

The 1944-45 Army Cadets featured a similar winning streak and two Heisman winners, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. There are other teams that compare, but nobody has done it quite the way Carroll's team is doing it. A few came close. The 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers featured an undefeated regular season that included winners of the Heisman and Outland Trophies. They lost to Miami in the Orange Bowl. The 2003 Oklahoma Sooners looked to be on a similar path, but their Heisman winner, Jason White, faltered in the Big 12 championship game as well as the Orange Bowl.

In light of USC's recent dominance, it is worth considering their place in history. Not just the current Trojans, but USC's football program going back to the beginning of the 20th Century. It is time to take the mantel of "greatest program in the history of college football" away from the struggling Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and lay it squarely with the deserving new champions from USC. Furthermore, USC continues to lay claim to the greatest historical athletic program in college history, as well.

The two-time defending National Champions are a dynasty. Leinart returns for his senior year, having turned down a for-sure number one draft selection in 2005. The team will be better than they were last season. Leinart may or may not be the Heisman favorite (as he was all of last year), but he will become a three-time All-American. He could walk away from his career with more honors than any player ever; three National Championships (?), two Heismans (?), the Johnny Unitas Award, the Walter Camp Award, the Maxwell Trophy, the Davey O'Brien Award, et al. He could be the number one pick in the NFL 2006 draft.

Leinart's top competition for the Heisman and the '06 number one draft pick (and team MVP) will be last year's team MVP, Bush. Leinart and Bush are the favorites (along with Oklahoma's Adrian Petersen) for the coveted Heisman come December. It could very likely be another re-match of the Trojans vs. the Sooners; Leinart and Bush vs. Petersen; on Pasadena's Rose Bowl turf come January in the BCS National Championship game. No matter how impressive Oklahoma may be in the regular season, they would enter such a matchup with heavy psychology working against them.

As for Bush, he will have to make similar decisions next January like the one Leinart made earlier this year. Bush may be looking at being the NFL's top pick, or close to it. He is being favorably compared to the Raiders' Hall of Fame-to-be wide receiver Tim Brown, an all-purpose superstar in the Bush mode when he starred at Notre Dame in the 1980s. Bush also may be compelled to stay in school for the same reasons Leinart did, only more so. Bush may want to be go after a fourth straight National Championship, Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak (which can be equaled in USC's last regular season game of 2006), a third straight All-American season, a second straight Heisman, and all the other bells and whistles that go with such greatness. All followed by a pro number one draft selection in 2007, which would make him USC's third number one pick in five years (Carson Palmer, 2003; Leinart, 2006; Bush, 2007).

The 2003-04 Trojans are very possibly the greatest two-year dynasty ever. If they win a third title in 2005, that will be a first. They lost a couple of linebackers, but aside from Leinart and Bush, running backs LenDale White and Herschel Dennis return, the whole offensive line returns, the tight ends and receivers are back, and the defense will be, for the most part, experienced.

The 2005 Trojans have the potential to be the greatest single-season team ever assembled, better even than the 1972 Trojans. Soph-to-be Jeff Byers was the nation's best lineman coming out of high school and could win the Outland Trophy before graduating. Soph-to-be linebacker Keith Rivers was the top prep at his position and may garner a Butkus trophy some day.

After Leinart leaves for the NFL, USC will re-tool at quarterback with one of two blue chip recruits. In 2005, John David Booty will be a red-shirt sophomore. He was the top prep quarterback in America at Louisiana's Evangel Christian High School. His competition? Mark Sanchez, the top prep quarterback in the U.S. at Mission Viejo High (the nation's number two team) in Orange County, California in 2004. USC has had the number one recruiting class in the country for four years in a row.

The 2004 class was considered the greatest of all time. The 2005 class is almost as good. The pipeline is endless. In light of the fact that they enter this season ranked number one, favored to win their third National Championship in a row, they are worthy of continued hype. Consider that if Troy runs the table in '05, their winning streak will probably be 35.

With either Booty or Sanchez living up to the challenge, maybe with senior running back Bush winning the Heisman and starring with a cast headlined by juniors Rivers and Byers, the 2006 Trojans could challenge Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak of the 1950s. Now we are looking at four National Championships in a row, but wait, there is more. Booty could quarterback the team in 2006 and 2007. Sanchez would be a red-shirt junior and senior in 2008-09. Considering that the last two SC quarterbacks (Carson Palmer in 2002 and Leinart in '04) won the Heisman, USC could conceivably come away with four more of the trophies before the end of this decade.

The scenario could be:

2005: Senior quarterback Matt Leinart, USC. 2006: Senior running back Reggie Bush, USC. 2007: Senior USC quarterback John David Booty, USC (Oklahoma running back Adrian Petersen will be a pro by then). 2009: Senior quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC.

Number one NFL draft picks? Aside from Leinart and Bush, consider Rivers, Byers, Booty, Sanchez…these are just the obvious possibilities. Let's go back to Carson Palmer and the 2002 Trojans. Palmer won the Heisman and was the NFL's number one draft choice. He is currently starting for the Cincinnati Bengals after signing a $14 million bonus. The 2002 Trojans finished 11-2, were co-Pacific 10 champs, and won the Orange Bowl. They finished fourth in the nation, but the pundits were in agreement that by that season's end, they were the best team in the country, even though Ohio State defeated a lackluster Miami squad in the BCS title game. Had their been a play-off, SC would have won.

In 2003, USC won the National Championship when the AP coaches' poll voted them number one following a victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Considering that they had a spectacular wide receiver, Mike Williams, a comparison of the 2003 and 2004 teams may very well favor the '03 squad. The '05 team, however, will be better than anybody - ever!

How good is SC? Consider that the All-American Williams had his NCAA eligibility taken away prior to 2004. Had he played, he would have been in New York instead of Bush, and he may well have won the Heisman. Bush just took his place and the beat went on. Speaking of first round picks, Williams was the top selection of the Minnesota Vikings despite being out of the limelight for one year. Future drafts promise to be SC highlight films. Every year. But wait, there's still more.

Coach of the Year? In 2003 year it was Carroll. The only reason he does not win it every year is because they like to spread those kinds of things around. Give it to him every second year. This guy has gone through Troy's old nemeses, UCLA and Notre Dame, like Patton's Army charging through the Low Countries.

In four years, he has presided over (through January 4, 2005) back-to-back National titles, two Heisman winners, one NFL number one draft pick, two Orange Bowl titles, one Rose Bowl title, four bowl appearances, three Pac 10 championships, four national-best recruiting classes, a wire-to-wire number one perfect season, a 22-game winning streak, a number one poll ranking for 15 weeks running (and still counting), three straight undefeated Novembers and (take your pick) records of 25-1 (2003-04), 36-3 (2002-04) or 33-1 (since October, 2002). Those are the facts. After that comes the speculation, the predictions, the hype. Has any coach ever done more in his first four years? Probably not.

By the end of 2006, the line on Carroll could be, in six seasons, a re-Pete turned into a three-Pete turned into a fourth consecutive National Championships, four Heisman winners, three NFL number one draft choices, two Rose Bowl titles, six bowl appearances, five Pac-10 titles, six national-best recruiting classes, three wire-to-wire number one poll rankings (45 weeks and counting), five straight undefeated Novembers, and records of 51-1 (2003-06), 62-3 (2002-06), 59-1 since October of 2002, 48-0 since October 2003, and 68-9 in his career.

That does not even count the full promise of his last couple national-best recruiting classes reaching the fruition of their senior years, led by the likes of Booty and Sanchez adding to the list of Heismans, national titles and NFL number one picks. Nobody has ever been this good.

When a team is this incredible, however, watch not just for undefeated seasons and National Championships, but watch out for college kids reading their press clippings and being shot at from all sides by a nation of teams out to beat them. It happened to the aforementioned Cornhuskers and the Sooners. Carroll's team had their share of off-field problems this last winter. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow split. A few players ran into problems with grades and the law.

Legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant won three National Championships in the 1960s, including back-to-back titles from 1964-65. In 1966, Ken Stabler led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season, but the "Catholic vote" gave the title to Notre Dame. In the next couple of seasons, amid social change in the South and throughout the nation, Bear's program faltered. What happened?

"We won National Championships with underdogs," recalls former Bryant assistant coach Clem Gryska. "The talent was not the best, but we played as a team. When we started winning on a national level, everybody wanted to come here; kids from Florida, California, the Midwest. They were stars but brought prima donna attitudes, and we lost because of that. We only started winning again when we went back to the basics." That meant integrating the program and winning two national titles in the 1970s.

In 1979, USC entered the season as the consensus number one. Experts were saying that team, like this season's, could contend for the title "greatest college football team ever." They were the defending co-National Champions and heralded that season's Heisman Trophy winner, Charles White, along with other stalwarts like Anthony Munoz. Not quite mid-way into the season, they took on Stanford at the Coliseum. At halftime the Trojans led 21-0 en route to another stomping. In the second half, freshman quarterback John Elway directed the Cardinal to three touchdowns, SC's offense stalled, and that 21-21 tie (before the advent of overtime) was just enough to deny them the national title along with the "greatest ever" label.

In 1980, the best prep quarterback available was Escondido, California's Sean Salisbury. SC legend Sam Cunningham told his alma mater about his brother, Randall, in Santa Barbara, and asked if he would start. He was told Randall would be offered a ride but the job was Salisbury's. Randall went to UNLV and then made millions with the NFL's Eagles. Salisbury was a bust. SC lost coach John Robinson to the Rams, went on probation, and took 20 years to recover fully.

Troy thought they were back when, in 1987-88 under Larry Smith, they went to back-to-back Rose Bowls, were 10-0 going into the '88 Notre Dame game, featured Junior Seau, and recruited the all-time prep passing leader, Todd Marinovich. By 1990, Marinovich was a problem child and in '91 they lost to Memphis State!

Notre Dame under Lou Holtz won it all in 1988, and seemed on the verge of a real dynasty. Then came Ron Paulus, who never won any of the "two or three Heismans" Beano Cook predicted of him.

In January, 2003, defending National Champion Miami rode a 34-game winning streak into the BCS Fiesta Bowl. Had they won, they would have achieved the rare back-to-back championship and been a team for the ages. So close, yet so far. Ohio State beat them, and in the last two seasons the Hurricanes have been human.

These are just two of many examples that USC should look to and consider cautionary tales. It does not take much to derail a team when they are riding in the clouds. Bad recruiting (will Booty and Sanchez be another Salisbury and Paulus?), drugs (Marinovich), coaches leaving for the NFL (Robinson did and some say Carroll considers his pro work undone), NCAA violations (their first-half '80s teams), or just a slip against great competition ('79 SC, '83 Nebraska, '02 Miami, '03-'04 Oklahoma) can be enough to derail a team and separate the great from the legendary.

Unlike the NFL, a single loss (or tie) can upset the apple cart. USC is the hottest ticket in America's hottest town, the toast of Hollywood, the biggest thing in a media hothouse that does not have a pro football franchise and whose NBA team is yesterday. They set the all-time USC attendance record in 2003 and broke that in 2004. For 20-year old student-athletes, this is a major challenge, but they overcame it in 2004 and, under Carroll, appear capable of continuing their focus.

It is fun to talk about, and at SC, a school that went through a long (13 years or 20 years, depending on your standards) down period, it is especially fun. Their fans are about as giddy as the Republicans when Dwight Eisenhower saved that party after 20 years of the New Deal in 1952.

In light of USC's new status, below is the All-Time College Football Top 25 rankings, followed by the Top 25 Greatest Single-Season teams in college football history. The greatest college football teams are listed chronologically; the best team for each decade; the best single-season team each decade, followed by great programs in back-to-back, three-year, five-year, 10/15-year and 20/25-year periods; the most prominent dynasties and the coaches behind them; and for good measure the Top 25 Collegiate Athletic Programs of All-Time, the Top College Basketball Programs, and the Top 20 College Baseball Programs ever. A few prep dynasties are mentioned for good measure.

It is subjective and opinionated. It is meant to stir debate, controversy and argument. It is not written in stone. Extra credit goes to the more modern powers. Miami's success in the 1980s is more impressive than Cal's "Wonder Teams" after World War I. Oklahoma's current run is as almost as impressive as the one they accomplished in the 1950s. The game has changed. Competition, money, television, scholarship limits, NCAA rules, recruiting violations and parity all play a part in this evaluation. To the extent that the so-called "modern era" began, trace it to 1960, which is subjective, yes, but as good an embarkation point as any. It was in the 1960s when the players starting getting bigger, the equipment up to speed, the coaching techniques improved, and the color of the player's skin became increasingly something other than white.

Based upon history, one is increasingly impressed with USC. Overall, Notre Dame's ranking as the greatest college football program of all time has to take a back seat to their biggest rivals from the West Coast. The Irish still have the most National Championships (SC now has 11), the most Heisman Trophy winners (seven to SC's and Ohio State's six), holds a 42-29-5 lead over the Trojans in their inter-sectional rivalry, and trace their glory days back to when Knute Rockne invented the forward pass in time to beat favored Army in 1913. However, Notre Dame has struggled too much in the modern decades.

Notre Dame was the best college team under Rockne in the decade of the 1920s and under Frank Leahy in the 1940s. They had another major "era of Ara" (Parseghian) in the 1960s and '70s, and are listed among the top two-year dynasties (1946-47), 5-year dynasties (1943-47, 1973-77) and have three dynasties that are included among the 10/15-year period. Furthermore, they are Notre Dame, and all that that stands for: "Win one for the Gipper," the Catholic Church, "Touchdown Jesus," Ronald Reagan, "Rudy," "subway alumni," the Four Horsemen outlined against a blue-gray October sky, "wake up the echoes..." Notre Dame's fans are the most intense and loyal. They are the team that played in Yankee Stadium, in Soldier Field, at the Coliseum. Many of their historic games were against SC. The tradition of these two teams are the best and the oldest.

For decades, the number two team was Southern California. This was not a coincidence. No rivalry in sports (or politics or war, probably) has done so much to elevate both sides as the USC-Notre Dame tradition. It put both schools on the national map. It pits, as SC assistant coach Marv Goux put it, "the best of the East vs. the best of the West." It matches the Catholic school with their Midwestern values against the flash 'n dazzle of Hollywood, and it has never failed to live up to expectations.

Beginning in the 1980s, however, SC dropped while Notre Dame stayed at or near the top throughout the Lou Holtz era. Other contenders emerged. Miami and Florida State ascended to the top. Nebraska left opponents in the dust. Programs like Alabama and Oklahoma had, like SC, faltered, but regained their footing. Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and other teams, many in the South, rose in prominence. This was a direct result of integration and its impact has been very positive, but a school like Southern California could no longer lay claim to black athletes that were spurned by the SEC or the Southwestern Conference.

SC began to win awards and recognition for its academic excellence, and it became an article of faith that this was the trade-off; great football teams and great students are not mutually compatible. All of it was B.S. Pete Carroll proved that.

Five years ago, a Top 25 listing of the Greatest College Football Programs of All-Time would have shown USC to have slipped. However, in light of their National Championships and continuing favored status, Troy is now ahead of Notre Dame and in the top spot.

Long dynasties are hard to come by in college football, but as the following lists show, SC has a long history of doing just that. It is for this reason, combined with the glow of being Notre Dame's biggest rival, its great inter-city tradition with UCLA, and a history that goes back farther than almost any program (Michigan and Notre Dame are the only schools that go back as far and are still powers) that Southern California is not just first all-time in football but first among all athletic programs (and first by a wide margin in baseball).

The Greatest College Football Team in history is generally considered to be John McKay's 1972 Trojans. Just ask Keith Jackson, who ought to know. In addition, SC claims the best single-season team in the 1920s (1928), '30s (1931) and 2000s (2004). They are considered the best team of the decade of the 1930s, 1960s, 1970s, and now the 2000s.

Further proof of SC's ability to maintain a tradition is their consistency. The top dynasty period in history was the John McKay/John Robinson era lasting from the early 1960s until the 1980s. The Howard Jones "Thundering Herd" teams of the 1920s and '30s also ranks highly.

The best back-to-back teams ever? How about USC (2003-04), Oklahoma (1955-56), Nebraska (1994-95), Notre Dame (1946-47), Army (1944-45), Nebraska (1970-71) and Alabama (1978-79)?

Among the best three-year periods ever, none is better than SC's run from 1972-74 (how about SC from 2002-04, or after next year from 2003-05?). Oklahoma deserves mention from 1971-73, or 1973-75. Among 5/6-year periods, consider three of Troy's eras (1967-72, the best of anybody, followed by 1974-79 and 1928-32).

The best 10/15-year period? USC from 1967 to 1979, but that is not all. Also ranked is the period 1962-72 and 1928-39. Among great long-term dynasties (20/25 years), nobody beats Southern California from 1962-81, when they won five National Championships and four Heisman Trophies. The Trojans easily have the most professionals, the most first round draft picks, the most Hall of Famers, the most Pro Bowlers and the most All-Americans. They are, undisputedly, a football factory. The empirical evidence cannot be argued against.

On top of all this, USC counts the most Major League baseball players, the most baseball Hall of Famers, the most All-Stars and various dominant players. Despite not being known for basketball, a disproportionate number of Trojans from the 1940s and '50s are considered hoops pioneers. The "triangle offense" was invented at SC, and such stalwarts as Bill Sharman, Alex Hannum and Tex Winter played together before induction in Springfield. USC also boasts (along with UCLA) the most Olympians, the most Olympic champions, and if they had been a country in 1976, they would have placed third in total medals at the Montreal Games.

Alabama fans certainly would argue against Trojan football hegemony, and they have plenty of ammunition. They were a national power as far back as the 1930s when Don Hutson starred there. However, they slipped (as did USC during the same years) until the Bear Bryant era. Bryant's dominant period, lasting from 1961 to 1979, parallels McKay's (and Robinson's) and is as impressive as any ever. However, the Tide was all white until SC's Sam "Bam" Cunningham showed them, in Bear's own (alleged) words, "what a football player looks like" in 1970. After SC's 42-21 victory at Birmingham, L.A. Times sports columnist Jim Murray welcomed 'Bama "back into the Union."

The Crimson Tide experienced a down period after Bear departed, regained its place with the 1992 national title, but inexplicably fell from grace for another decade after that. Their recent embarrassment in hiring Mike Price only to fire him for cavorting with strippers is indicative of their malaise.

Oklahoma's teams in the 1950s dominated as thoroughly as any in history, but that was a long time ago. They were not a major power prior to that decade. The Chuck Fairbanks/Barry Switzer teams of the 1970s and '80s were as impressive as any that have ever taken the field (and pockmarked by scandal and probation), but they became downright mediocre after Brian Bozworth's departure. Bob Stoops, however, has them right back where they were before, and then some.

Miami is rated highly based purely on unreal dominance in the 1980s and for maintaining an 18-year run from 1983-2001 ('02) that approaches SC's 1962-81 dynasty. However, until Howard Schnellenberger (by whatever means he did it) made them a power in '83, they were a college football lightweight, plus their championship rosters too often resembled police reports.

Ohio State is sixth and could be higher. However, until Woody Hayes came along, Michigan, not Ohio State, was the dominant Big 10 team. Woody's long tenure is very impressive, lasting from his 1954 National Championship (split with UCLA) until Archie Griffin's second Heisman campaign (1975). The 1968 Buckeyes are one of the most storied teams in history, good enough to dominate O.J. Simpson and defending National Champion USC in the Rose Bowl. But Woody's teams always fell short after that. They would go undefeated, average 40-plus points a game, and make Sports Illustrated covers, but in Pasadena every New Year's Day, it seemed, their "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense was no match for Pat Haden, John Sciarra, or whoever SC or UCLA threw at them.

Penn State (7) has been a consistent national power under Joe Paterno since 1968, when they were in the middle of a 30-game winning streak. Their "weak" East Coast schedule cost them a couple of national titles, but the 1980s were Joe Pa's time. They have fallen precipitously in later years, and while they have played football in Happy Valley a long time (the Lions lost to USC, 24-3, in the first game at the modern Rose Bowl stadium in 1923), they do not have a tradition that goes back like SC or Notre Dame, either.

Nebraska is a relative Johnny-come-lately. Nobody knew much about the Cornhuskers until Bob Devaney's mythical 1970-71 National Championship squads (Omaha's Gale Sayers spurned the program because they "weren't that good"). The Devaney/Tom Osborne era is unbelievable, starting with a long winning streak in the early '70s, but not devoid of criticism. Osborne may be just below Jesus Christ in Nebraska today, but Big Red fans took the Lord's name in vain aplenty when he consistently lost big games in the 1970s and '80s. Still, the 1971 and '95 squads rank as two of the top three teams in history, and Cornhusker dominance from 1993-97 was extraordinary (60-3, three National Championships).

Michigan has a hallowed tradition. They were college football's first powerhouse, beating Stanford in the first Rose Bowl, 49-0 in 1902. When the Big 10 started playing the Pacific Coast Conference after World War II, Michigan laid waste to the "soft" West Coast teams, which included pastings of some very good Pappy Waldorf teams from Cal in the Rose Bowl games of the late '40s.

However, the Wolverines lost their place to Woody until Bo Schembechler came along. The Michigan teams of the 1970s mirrored Woody's - often unbeaten with gaudy stats until a pick-your-choice Pac 8 team (Stanford, USC, Washington) would dismantle them in Pasadena. In 1997 they finally won a National Championship and are a program of the first rate, but not number one.

Texas is a bit of a mystery. Darrell Royal's Longhorns won two National Championships (1963 and 1969, the last all-white titlist), and had a big winning streak that ended against Notre Dame in the 1971 Cotton Bowl, but Earl Campbell's team lost to Joe Montana when the Irish "stole" the 1977 National Championship (going from fifth to first on January 2, 1978). Texas has never repeated despite occasionally being favored, but they usually are slightly disappointing.

Florida State was a girl's school until Burt Reynolds broke the gender barrier in 1952. Tennessee has a great tradition. The Heisman Trophy is named after their coach in the 1930s, and they won the title in 1998. LSU has two titles. Florida made a bid for supremacy under Steve Spurrier but seem to lose the big game more often than not.

Michigan State under Duffy Daugherty from 1965-66 broke color barriers and challenged for greatness, but Gary Beban and UCLA beat them in the 1966 Rose Bowl, and they tied Notre Dame in the 1966 "game of the century." Georgia's fans are nuts, and the team is darn good most of the time. Auburn and UCLA are two of a kind. They each have won one National Championship, and have all the advantages - weather, facilities, recruiting, talent - only to labor in the shadow of historical behemoths (USC over UCLA, Alabama over Auburn).

The Arkansas Razorbacks are always fun. The 1991 Washington Huskies were the 22nd best single-season team ever, the Don James era was terrific, but they usually only go so far. Cal is so yesterday. Brick Muller's memory died an ugly death when the school became the de facto staging grounds of American Communism circa 1964-70.

The Pitt Panthers were great in the 1930s and in Tony Dorsett's 1976 Heisman season. Minnesota is forgotten except for a five-year stretch prior to World War II. The Army Cadets once dominated whenever there was a world war being fought (?), and Stanford has Pop Warner, Ernie Nevers, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Bill Walsh and the "Vow Boys." BYU won the 1984 National Championship and sports a long tradition of "bombs away" quarterbacks, led by Jim McMahon and Steve Young.

All-Time Top 25
1. Southern California Trojans 2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 6. Oklahoma Sooners 4. Alabama Crimson Tide 5. Miami Hurricanes 7. Ohio State Buckeyes 7. Penn State Nittany Lions 8. Nebraska Cornhuskers 9. Michigan Wolverines 10. Texas Longhorns 11. Florida State Seminoles 12. Tennessee Volunteers 13. Auburn Tigers 14. Louisiana State Tigers 15. Florida Gators 16. Michigan State Spartans 17. Georgia Bulldogs 18. UCLA Bruins 19. Arkansas Razorbacks 20. Washington Huskies 21. California Golden Bears 22. Pittsburgh Panthers 23. Minnesota Golden Gophers 24. Stanford Indians/Cardinal 25. Brigham Young Cougars

Greatest single-season teams
1. 1972 Southern California Trojans 2. 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers 3. 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers 4. 2004 Southern California Trojans 5. 1989 Miami Hurricanes 6. 1999 Florida State Seminoles 7. 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 8. 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide 9. 1956 Oklahoma Sooners 10. 2001 Miami Hurricanes 11. 1986 Penn State Nittany Lions 12. 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes 13. 1969 Texas Longhorns 14. 1947 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 15. 1945 Army Cadets 16. 1931 Southern California Trojans 17. 1975 Oklahoma Sooners 18. 1919 California Golden Bears 19. 1973 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 20. 1948 Michigan Wolverines 21. 1928 Southern California Trojans 22. 1991 Washington Huskies 23. 1985 Oklahoma Sooners 24. 1976 Pittsburgh Panthers 25. 1962 Southern California Trojans

1901 Michigan Wolverines 1919 California Golden Bears 1924 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1928 Southern California Trojans 1931 Southern California Trojans 1945 Army Cadets 1947 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1948 Michigan Wolverines 1956 Oklahoma Sooners 1962 Southern California Trojans 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes 1969 Texas Longhorns 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers 1972 Southern California Trojans 1973 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1975 Oklahoma Sooners 1976 Pittsburgh Panthers 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide 1985 Oklahoma Sooners 1986 Penn State Nittany Lions 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1989 Miami Hurricanes 1991 Washington Huskies 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers 1999 Florida State Seminoles 2001 Miami Hurricanes 2004 Southern California Trojans

By Decades (single year)
1900s: 1901 Michigan Wolverines 1910s: 1919 California Golden Bears 1920s: 1928 Southern California Trojans 1930s: 1931 Southern California Trojans 1940s: 1947 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1950s: 1956 Oklahoma Sooners 1960s: 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes 1970s: 1972 Southern California Trojans 1980s: 1989 Miami Hurricanes 1990s: 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers 2000s: 2004 Southern California Trojans

By Decades
1900s: Michigan Wolverines 1910s: California Golden Bears 1920s: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1930s: Southern California Trojans 1940s: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1950s: Oklahoma Sooners 1960s: Alabama Crimson Tide 1970s: Southern California Trojans 1980s: Miami Hurricanes 1990s: Florida State Seminoles 2000s: Southern California Trojans

1. Southern California under John McKay & John Robinson (1960s-80s) 2. Miami (1980s-2000s) 3. Alabama under Bear Bryant (1960s-80s) 4. Ohio State under Woody Hayes (1950s-70s) 5. Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson (1950s) 6. Nebraska under Bob Devaney & Tom Osborne (1970s-'90s) 7. Penn State under Joe Paterno (1960s-90s) 8. Oklahoma under Chuck Fairbanks & Barry Switzer (1970s-'80s) 9. Notre Dame under Knute Rockne (1920s) 10. Notre Dame under Frank Leahy (1940s) 11. Southern California's "Thundering Herd" under Howard Jones (1920s-30s) 12. Notre Dame under Ara Parseghian (1960s-70s) 13. Florida State under Bobby Bowden (1990s) 14. Texas under Darrell Royal (1960s-70s) 15. Michigan under Bo Schembechler (1960s-80s) 16. California's "Wonder Teams" under Andy Smith (1918-22) 17. Army under Red Blaike (mid-1940s) 18. Minnesota under Bernie Biernbaum (1930s, early '40s) 19. Stanford under Pop Warner (1920s) 20. Michigan's "point-a-minute" teams under Fritz Carlisle (1900s) 21. Southern California under Pete Carroll (2000s)

Best two-year period
1. Oklahoma (1955-56) 2. Nebraska (1994-95) 3. Southern California Trojans (2003-04) 4. Notre Dame (1946-47) 5. Army (1944-45) 6. Alabama (1978-79) 7. Oklahoma (1974-75)

Best three-year periods
1. Southern California (1972-74) 2. Miami (1987-89) 3. California (1919-22) 4. Southern California (1930-32) 5. Oklahoma Sooners (1954-56) 6. Army (1944-46) 7. Alabama (1964-66)

Best 5/6-year periods
1. Southern California (1967-72) 2. Miami (1987-91) 3. Notre Dame (1973-77) 4. Notre Dame (1943-47) 5. Southern California (1974-79) 6. Alabama (1961-66) 7. Penn State (1982-86) 8. Southern California (1928-32) 9. Minnesota (1936-41) 10. Oklahoma (1971-75) 5. Southern California (1962-67) 6. Nebraska (1993-97)

Best 10/15-year periods
1. Southern California Trojans (1967-81) 2. Miami Hurricanes (1983-91) 3. Southern California Trojans (1962-72) 4. Oklahoma Sooners (1950s) 5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1920s) 6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1940s) 7. Florida State Seminoles (1990s) 8. Penn State Nittany Lions (1982-91) 9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1966-77) 10. Oklahoma Sooners (1974-85) 11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (1990s) 12. Southern California Trojans (1928-39) 13. Alabama Crimson Tide (1964-79)

Best 20/25-year periods
1. Southern California Trojans (1962-81) 2. Miami Hurricanes (1983-2001) 3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1964-88) 4. Alabama Crimson Tide (1961-79) 5. Ohio State Buckeyes (1954-75)

"Close but no cigar"(Honorable Mention)
1913 Army Cadets, 1938 Duke Blue Devils, 1930s Tennessee, 1947-49 California Golden Bears, 1954 UCLA Bruins, 1966 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans, 1967-69 Southern California Trojans, 1971 Oklahoma Sooners, 1969-75 Ohio State Buckeyes, 1969-78 Michigan Wolverines, 1978-79 Southern California Trojans, 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2003-04 Oklahoma Sooners, 1971-75 Oklahoma Sooners There are some other useful categories that place the great football champions in context. These are some that should be mentioned:

All-time Greatest College Athletics Programs
1. Southern California Trojans 2. UCLA Bruins 3. Texas Longhorns 4. Miami Hurricanes 5. Michigan Wolverines 6. Alabama Crimson Tide 7. Ohio State Buckeyes 8. Florida State Seminoles 9. Stanford Indians/Cardinal 10. Oklahoma Sooners 11. Louisiana State Tigers 12. Tennessee Volunteers 13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 14. Penn State Nittany Lions 15. Arkansas Razorbacks 16. Florida Gators 17. Indiana Hoosiers 18. Georgia Bulldogs 19. Texas A&M Aggies 20. Oklahoma State Cowboys 21. Arizona State Sun Devils 22. Auburn Tigers 23. Duke Blue Devils 24. North Carolina Tar Heels 25. Syracuse Orangemen 26. California Golden Bears 27. Brigham Young Cougars

All-Time College Basketball Programs
2. UCLA Bruins 3. Indiana Hoosiers 4. North Carolina Tar Heels 5. Duke Blue Devils 6. Kentucky Wildcats 7. Kansas Jayhawks 8. Michigan Wolverines 9. Ohio State Buckeyes 10. Virginia Cavaliers 11. Michigan State Spartans 12. Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels 13. Louisville Cardinals 14. Arizona Wildcats 15. Stanford Cardinal 16. West Virginia Squires 17. San Francisco Dons 18. Syracuse Orangemen

All-Time College Baseball programs
1. Southern California Trojans 2. Texas Longhorns 3. Cal State Fullerton Titans 4. Arizona State Sun Devils 5. Miami Hurricanes 6. Stanford Indians/Cardinal 7. Louisiana State Tigers 8. Florida State Seminoles 9. Oklahoma State Cowboys 10. Florida Gators 11. Mississippi State Bulldogs 12. Texas A&M Aggies 13. Arkansas Razorbacks 14. Arizona Wildcats 15. Georgia Bulldogs 16. Oklahoma Sooners 17. California Golden Bears 18. Fresno State Bulldogs 19. Michigan Wolverines 20. Clemson Tigers And here are a few of the greatest high school teams of all time, just for future reference:

Prep football
De La Salle H.S. (Concord, Calif.) Mater Dei H.S. (Santa Ana, Calif.) Poly High School (Long Beach, Calif.) Moeller H.S. (Cincinnati, O)

Prep basketball
Verbum Dei H.S. (Los Angeles, Calif.) Crenshaw H.S. (Los Angeles, Calif.) Mater Dei H.S. (Santa Ana, Calif.) Cardinal Gibbons H.S. (Baltimore, MD.) De Matha H.S. (Hiattsville, MD.) Power Memorial Academy (New York, N.Y.) McClymonds H.S. (Oakland, Calif.)

Prep baseball
Lakewood H.S. (Calif.) Redwood H.S. (Larkspur, Calif.) Sharpstown H.S. (Houston, Tex.) Rancho Bernardo H.S. (San Diego, Calif.) Fremont H.S. (Los Angeles, Calif.) Serra H.S. (San Mateo. Calif.) Steven Travers is the author of "Barry Bonds: Baseball's Superman" and the upcoming "The Game That Changed A Nation," the true story of how the 1970 USC-Alabama football game helped end segregation in the Deep South. He is a USC graduate who starred as a pitcher on its baseball team, and most recently was a sports writer for the San Francisco Examiner. He has contributed to The American Reporter since 2000.

Copyright 2005 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Good article on pre-season conferences

Spring Preview: 2005 issues
Story Tools:

Now that National Signing Day has come and gone, we can focus on spring. There are several questions facing the college football world as teams across the nation prepare for spring drills.
USC is going to be everyone's No. 1, but can the Trojans be beaten and who are the challengers to the throne?
Talk about having a bull's-eye on your back, USC is going to have to take everyone's best shot and more. I know I said this about a million times over the last year, but don't forget that USC was pushed extremely hard in five games (Virginia Tech, Stanford, California, Oregon State and UCLA) and aren't necessarily above the type of braincramp that plagues almost all seemingly unbeatable teams. So who can beat the defending national champs? Arkansas, Arizona and UCLA are the three toughest home games, but they aren't anything USC can't handle. However, there are four road games that will be extremely dangerous at Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame (yes, that Notre Dame) and Cal. The Ducks have their best team in a few years with a veteran QB in Kellen Clemens playing in Autzen. Arizona State will be a preseason top 10 team, Notre Dame will be looking for a huge win under Charlie Weis (don't forget that the Irish beat Michigan and Tennessee last year), and Cal has given USC nightmares over the last two seasons. Even so, I wouldn't pick against Leinart and the boys this year.
So who out there can honestly challenge for the national title? Tennessee is loaded, but early road trips to Florida and LSU along with road dates at Notre Dame and Alabama could make an undefeated season next to impossible. Iowa has to go to Ohio State; so does Texas. The Buckeyes have a relatively easy road if they can get by the nasty homes dates with the Horns and Hawks, but there's that little showdown at Michigan to close things out that could ruin a dream year. Oklahoma won't be nearly as good as it was the last few years, but the schedule isn't bad outside of road games at UCLA, Nebraska and Texas Tech along with the Red River Shootout. Which leaves me with my alternative pick for the national title: Virginia Tech. If Marcus Vick plays up to his billing, this is a monster of a team that should be even better than last year's ACC champion. The schedule helps with the toughest road games at Maryland and Virginia (not that bad), missing Florida State and getting Georgia Tech, Boston College and Miami at home.
Is there any reason for a Heisman race? Shouldn't we just give it to Leinart and save us all the time and effort?
Maybe not. If USC goes unbeaten and Leinart does what he did over the last two years, yeah, it's over. But if No. 11 slips, there are several worthy candidates from Reggie Bush to Adrian Peterson to Vince Young to Ted Ginn Jr. ready to step up. Forget about Bush; he'll never beat out Leinart if the two are performing at the same level. Peterson has to deal with a new offensive line and no Jason White to take the heat off. Young has to beat Ohio State and Oklahoma to have a chance; good luck. Ginn Jr. has a great shot if he proves to be the difference maker in the really big games and comes up with a few highlight reel moments. Watch out for Minnesota RB Laurence Maroney who has the backfield all to himself with Marion Barber III going off early to the NFL. The Gopher line will be excellent and the passing game more than solid to keep Maroney from seeing seven and eight man fronts.
To beat the stars already mentioned, a player will have to put up ungodly numbers on a top team. Florida State RB Leon Washington could be worthy if Lorenzo Booker doesn't take too many carries away. Missouri QB Brad Smith could be a finalist if he reverts back to his old form and leads the Tigers to the Big XII title. Tennessee RB Gerald Riggs Jr. could be a finalist if he turns out to be the focal point of a Vol offense that wins the SEC title. Iowa QB Drew Tate will be in the mix if he leads the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten title, but his numbers aren't going to be all that great compared to other top quarterbacks. Michigan's Mike Hart, if he stays healthy all year, will have great buzz and should crank out a 1,500-yard season. Five other candidates to keep an eye on: Arizona State QB Sam Keller, Texas A&M QB Reggie McNeal, Florida QB Chris Leak, California RB Marshawn Lynch, and the winner of the Texas Tech quarterback derby.
How much better will Notre Dame be under Charlie Weis?
It's easy to forget after the Ty Willingham debacle how close Notre Dame was to having a mega-record last year. The Irish only lost to BYU by three in the opener and lost nailbiters to Boston College and Pittsburgh that could've gone either way. Had ND pulled those three games out, it would've been 9-2 with only losses to Purdue and USC and monster wins over Michigan and Tennessee. Yes, the Irish were roughly three plays away from probably being in the BCS (remember the special rules set up for Notre Dame) and ensuring Willingham would be around for at least another five years. So is Notre Dame that close to being an elite team needing a little more guidance, or is there still a ton of work to be done? Both.
Notre Dame is probably closer to being really good than many people believe, but this isn't going to be the turnaround season. First of all, Weis will have to take the lumps all new college head coaches have to. He'll be behind the eight-ball a bit after all his duties with the Patriots. Second, Brady Quinn is growing into a good quarterback, but he's not Tom Brady and he'll have to learn the Weis playbook in a hurry. Third, the schedule is a nightmare to start off with playing Pittsburgh, Michigan, Washington and Purdue on the road in the first five games. The home date to break things up is against a solid Michigan State team. The final five games are at home, but they're against USC, Tennessee, and improved BYU and Syracuse teams along with Navy. Don't forget that it took a few miracles for the Willingham era to get off to a flying start and it's asking a lot for Weis to get the same breaks. My best early guess? 7-4 losing to Michigan, USC and Tennessee and losing at least once against Michigan State, at Purdue, BYU and Syracuse.
Does anyone actually know who's playing in each conference?
Pens and pencils ready ...
ACC: Boston College moves over from the Big East creating a 12-team league. The Atlantic Division has BC, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, NC State and Wake Forest, the Coastal Division has Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech
Big East: The old teams sticking around: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia. The new teams coming in: Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida
Big Ten: no changes
Big XII: no changes
Conference USA East: UAB, UCF (new), East Carolina, Marshall (new), Memphis, Southern Miss.
Conference USA West: Houston, Rice (new), SMU (new), UTEP (new), Tulane, Tulsa (new)
Independents: Navy and Notre Dame sticking around, Army and Temple are new
MAC East: Akron, Buffalo, Kent State, Miami University, Ohio
MAC West Ball St, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan
Mountain West: same nine teams now adding TCU
Pac-10: no changes
SEC no changes
Sun Belt: Arkansas State, UL Lafayette, UL Monroe, MTSU, North Texas and Troy sticking, Florida Atlantic and Florida International coming in
WAC: Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, San Jose State sticking, Idaho, New Mexico State, Utah State coming in
Auburn and Virginia Tech came out of nowhere to be BCS stars last year. Who will be this year's BCS sleepers?
Here's the likely preseason favorite and sleeper for each BCS conference ...
ACC - Likely favorite: Florida State, Miami or Virginia Tech. Sleeper: Georgia Tech. The schedule is a bear, but the Yellow Jacket defense should be the league's best (or else very, very close) while the offense should be better.
Big East - Likely favorite: Louisville or Pittsburgh. Sleeper: Syracuse. New head coach Greg Robinson should add a charge to the defense. The offense should be better even with the loss of Walter Reyes.
Big XII - Likely favorite: Oklahoma or Texas. Sleeper: Missouri. I know, we did this dance last year. Brad Smith is a senior and the defense should once again be one of the league's best. The schedule works out well if the Tigers can get past Texas in the Big XII opener in Columbia. The other two games from the South are against the division's likely bottom two teams (at Oklahoma State and against Baylor).
Big Ten - Likely favorite: Ohio State, Iowa or Michigan. Sleeper: Just about everyone else. Expect the Big Ten to be the nation's most improved league from top to bottom with only Wisconsin and Indiana looking worse than 2004. Minnesota has its best team yet under Glen Mason, Purdue's defense will be among the league's best, Penn State's defense will be the league's best, and Michigan State's offense will be one of the nation's most explosive.
Pac-10 - Likely favorite: USC. Sleeper: Arizona State. This could be the most talented Sun Devil team ever and USC comes to Tempe.
SEC - Likely favorite: Tennessee, Georgia, Florida or LSU. Sleeper: Alabama. Assuming Brodie Croyle is back to 100%, the Tide will be loaded with a fantastic defense and a far more effective offense. The schedule is nice and helpful with the toughest SEC games at Bama until the season finale at Auburn. On the down side, those tough SEC home dates include Florida, Tennessee and LSU.
If those are the BCS conference favorites and sleepers, who are the teams in the "mid-majors" ready to pull a Utah and crash the party?
None of them. For a non-BCS conference team to get into the BCS, a team has to go unbeaten looking like a killer the entire way and there must be a few major wins on the slate. Boise State starts out its season at Georgia, at Oregon State and against Bowling Green; there's no way the Blue Turf Warriors go unbeaten in those three and if they do, they still have to deal with possibly the best Fresno State team ever. The Bulldogs have to prove they can beat the Broncos and have to go on the road to face Oregon. Unfortunately, even an unbeaten FSU team might not make the dance this year because of the light WAC. BYU might make a good run at it if it can beat Boston College in the opener and win at Notre Dame. No MAC or Sun Belt team will get enough love if it goes unbeaten in their average leagues and none of the Conference USA teams look strong enough to go unbeaten. So what about Utah? There's no way there won't be at least a little bit of a drop-off after losing Urban Meyer, Alex Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
Which new coach is going to make the biggest impact?
Here's a ranking of the coaching changes, from biggest bang to who'll make the least amount of impact...
There was a whopping 22 head coaching changes this off-season. Who will be this year's Mike Price and who will be George O'Leary? Some teams, like Notre Dame and Ole Miss, don't need a night-and-day turnaround, so it's not quite right to say that Charlie Weis and Ed Orgeron will have a huge impact right away. Maybe down the road they can get their respective teams over the hump, but not this year. Obviously Les Miles at LSU and Kyle Whittingham at Utah won't be able to take their programs much higher than they're already at.
This might be obscure, but I'm most interested in seeing what Hal Mumme does with New Mexico State. The exiled former Kentucky coach and his wide-open offense will fit in perfectly with the old days of the WAC even though he doesn't necessarily have the personnel. San Jose State has nowhere to go but up, so Dick Tomey should be able to do a lot right away if he can improve the defense. As far as this year is concerned, here's roughly how I'd rank them in terms of turning things around right away: 1. Hal Mumme, New Mexico State 2. Dick Tomey, San Jose State 3. Ron Zook, Illinois 4. Greg Robinson, Syracuse 5. Frank Solich, Ohio 6. Bronco Mendenhall, BYU (but mostly because he inherits a loaded team) 7. Skip Holtz, East Carolina 8. Urban Meyer, Florida (see Mendenhall at BYU) 9. Tyrone Willingham, Washington 10. Bill Cubit, Western Michigan 11. Mike Sanford, UNLV 12. Walt Harris, Stanford 13. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina 14. Terry Hoeppner, Indiana (he'd be higher if he didn't inherit such a lousy situation) 15. Brent Guy, Utah State 16. Charlie Weis, Notre Dame 17. Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh 18. Shane Montgomery, Miami (OH) 19. Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss 20. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State 21. Les Miles, LSU 22. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Which coaches are on the hottest seats?
In this new world of win-now-or-else (just ask David Cutcliffe, John Thompson and Ty Willingham about that), here are ten coaches with fan bases that expect a 3-0 record even before the year starts. These guys might not necessarily be fired if they have a bad season, but the pressure-cooker is turned up several degrees for these high-profile coaches at big-time programs...
1. Bill Callahan, Nebraska: He has a monster recruiting class coming in, but he still has to get the Huskers back to a bowl and in serious contention for the Big XII title to stop the Big Red fans from seeing red. Don't forget that many are still ticked over the way the Frank Solich firing went down. 2. Rich Brooks, Kentucky: UK might as well begin its coaching search. 3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri: If it isn't going to happen now, when will it? Pinkel's handling of the adversity of last year didn't exactly inspire a whole bunch of confidence. 4. Karl Dorrell, UCLA: There's no shame in being second-banana to USC; there are 117 other D-I teams in the same boat. However, the bowl loss to Wyoming hasn't played well with the Bruin fans who have had to sit and eat it while their friends and coworkers from the "University of Spoiled Children" own the college football world. 5. Tommy Bowden, Clemson: After getting a nice contract after a good end-of-the-year run in 2003 and being bowl eligible 2004, Bowden needs to prove he can make this an ACC title contending team. With Mr. Spurrier taking over at South Carolina, Bowden's boys had better be in for a good season or the program could quickly take on second-class citizenship status in its own state as well as its conference. 6. Charlie Weis, Notre Dame: He has three years and there had better be signs of a major turnaround this season. 7. Larry Coker, Miami (FL): Miami has gone two years without playing for a national championship and lost the ACC title last season at home. Coker won't be fired, but many Hurricane fans are starting to grumble. 8. Houston Nutt, Arkansas: There's such a thing as being at a program too long. Arkansas was in a rebuilding phase last season, but Nutt had better get his team in a position to challenge for the West title this year. Hog fans have been patient and always feel like their team gets overlooked. However, they want more and a bowl season is a must. 9. Mike Shula, Alabama: Half the Tide fans chalk up the first few years of the Shula era as a time to fight through the program's past sins. Others are still steamed Brodie Croyle was playing in a meaningless game. This year's Bama team is good enough to win the West which means the pressure is now on. 10. Bobby Bowden, Florida State: Of course the winningest D-I coach of all-time won't get canned, but he'll have to deal with another year of tremendous scrutiny if the offense doesn't improve and if there's still a sense that nepotism is keeping the program down.
Give three relatively unknown players who'll be college football household names in 2005?
1. Marshawn Lynch, RB California - Even though J.J. Arrington was busy tearing off a 2,000-yard season, there were many around the Cal program, including head coach Jeff Tedford, saying Lynch had the ability to be the Bears' best offensive player. Lynch averaged a ridiculous 9.1 yards per carry rushing for 602 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman; now he'll be the focal point of the attack. 2. Sam Keller, QB Arizona State - Keller took over for an injured Andrew Walter and almost pulled the Arizona game out of the fire. He then outdueled Purdue's Kyle Orton in the Sun Bowl throwing for 370 yards and three touchdowns engineering a brilliant game-winning drive. Now he'll run one of the best ASU teams ever and will have Derek Hagan to throw to. 3. Cody Hodges, QB Texas Tech - The gig isn't his yet and he'll have some serious competition this spring. Even so, Hodges is poised and ready to lead the nation's most prolific passing offense and has some serious veteran weapons around him to make it all happen.
After the way the last two years have gone, someone is going to get screwed out of the national title. Who's it going to be this year?
We know for sure that if USC goes unbeaten, it'll be in the Rose Bowl no matter how well the rest of the world plays. As we learned last year, if you're preseason number one, you're not going to drop without a loss. It's hard to say now who'll get hosed out of the national title this year, but there are few very good teams you can all but cross off your list thanks to scheduling of a D-IAA team that'll destroy the strength of schedule component. Auburn's biggest downfall in its beef about being left out of the 2005 national title game was a cupcake non-conference schedule that included Division I-AA The Citadel. This year, Cal has Sacramento State, Florida State will play The Citadel five days after Miami, Iowa will play Northern Iowa, Nebraska opens with Maine, NC State plays Eastern Kentucky, Oregon plays Montana (yes, it's right to rip teams even if they play good D-IAA teams), Oregon State plays Portland State, Texas A&M plays Texas State, and for the winner of the creamiest non-conference schedule, Texas Tech plays Sam Houston State and Indiana State. That's not to say these teams can't get to Pasadena, but they'll need just about everyone else to lose at least one game.
What will be the best conference in 2005?
I spent six months last year campaigning for the ACC as college football's superconference and was sort of let down. Then again, it was a bad year for every league in 2004 as no one, outside of the Big XII South, was particularly great. 2005 will be a bounce-back year as the SEC, Big XII and Big Ten look better than ever.
1. SEC : Call this a squeamish pick and I won't argue if you want to say it'll be the ACC, Big XII or Big Ten. The top is really loaded while the middle isn't all that bad. Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and LSU are national title contenders, Auburn and Alabama are a shade below, South Carolina and Arkansas are a step below them, Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren't going to be horrible, and Kentucky and Vandy will be Kentucky and Vandy. Ten above-average to superior teams makes for a killer league.
2. ACC : Miami and Florida State weren't nearly as bad as many made them out to be last year and they'll be at least as good in 2005. Virginia Tech is even more loaded than last year's title team. Georgia Tech and Virginia will have two of the nation's top defenses, Clemson won't be bad, and Maryland and NC State are sure to regain their pre-2004 form. Add a very, very, very good Boston College team to the mix and this league will be hard to beat.
3. Big Ten : The Big Ten could quickly vault to the top if Wisconsin reloads, Penn State finds an offense and Illinois finds its mojo under Ron Zook. Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa are all tremendous, while Purdue and Minnesota will be in the hunt for the title. Michigan State will be fun and Northwestern will ruin at least one team's season.
4. Big XII : The North still might not be all that great, but a ton of experience returns. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will take a mini-step back weakening the league, but Texas A&M and Texas Tech should be better. Do you really believe in Texas? The game at Ohio State will go a long way to determining where the Big XII ranks in the overall pecking order.
5. Pac-10 : The Pac 10 stunk last year and will be average this season. Of course USC is unbelievable and Arizona State looks great, but there's not a whole bunch else to get jazzed up about. Oregon, Cal and UCLA should be solid and Arizona and Stanford should be improved.
6. Mountain West : Big East fans despise this sort of talk and the Mountain West did nothing to earn top six status last year. Utah won't do that again, but it'll still be strong. BYU returns so much experience it's scary. New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado State have the potential to be very good and the addition of TCU helps.
7. Big East : Pittsburgh and Louisville will duke it out for conference superiority and Syracuse will be in for a rebound year. You can have the rest of the league. West Virginia and Cincinnati replace just about everyone, and South Florida and Rutgers are no big whoop. UConn probably deserves more respect than it's getting here.
8. WAC : Only because Fresno State and Boise State will be legitimate top 20 teams.
9. Conference USA : There are plenty of big names, but no killers this year. The addition of Marshall and UTEP will help a league without a big toe now that Sergeant Hulka (Louisville) is off to the Big East. Watch out for UAB and Tulane.
10. MAC : Bowling Green will flirt with the top 15 all year, Toledo and Miami are solid, and Northern Illinois will be great until it comes up with it's annual loss to Toledo. Without Marshall, the rest of the league takes a dip. 11. Sun Belt : You don't get better by adding Florida Atlantic and FIU.
What's the most important rule/policy change going into 2005?
Two big things:
1. The BCS system without the AP pollThere won't be a college football playoff, so there's no reason to dream/discuss those possibilities. But there will be a massive change to the BCS formula considering the AP took it's poll and went home. What are the options? A committee could be formed to decide who the worthy teams are. That's a good thing as long as it's a full-time job for the people handling this and there aren't any direct conference biases or ties. Second, and this is the worst possible option, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll wields more influence. That's the equivalent of a bunch of blind men judging the swimsuit portion of the Miss USA pageant. Third, more computers, more polls (maybe the Football Writers' Super 16) and more varied opinions get thrown into the mix. That would be a great thing for the fairness of the BCS, but a bad thing for fans and teams trying to figure out what needs to be done to get to the national title. It all remains to be sorted out.
2. Instant replay in the SECThe Big Ten instant replay system worked to near perfection overturning some key plays and giving a second look to some of the biggest moments of the league's season highlighted by the Scott Starks' return of a Kyle Orton fumble for a touchdown in Wisconsin's win over Purdue. The system was efficient and fair compared to the clunky NFL version that brings games to a screeching halt, forces coaching staffs to act as referees and only allows a few challenges per game. Universally, coaches, fans and officials all liked the Big Ten system as it did what it was supposed to do in making sure games were (most of the time) decided by players and not by missed, easily correctable calls. SEC coaches appear interested in implementing the system as are many in the ACC. The SEC will vote on this in March with early indications looking like it'll pass. This is a very, very good thing for college football.
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