Friday, August 27, 2004

Forecasting the season easy as


By Dustin Dow / Enquirer staff writer

USC quarterback Matt Leinart.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Georgia mascot Uga VI sports a black jersey.
AP Photo/John Bazemore

Nebraska football coach Bill Callahan exchanges high-fives.
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

A is for Air Attack in Southern California

Sure, the Trojans possess a mighty running game, but returning quarterback Matt Leinart (right) is eager to display the arm that could land USC back atop the polls in January.

B is for Between the Hedges.

The Georgia Bulldogs won't give up much ground with one of the best defenses in the country. A productive offense this season makes Georgia a preseason favorite to win it all.

C is for California Dreaming

They're talking PAC-10 title in Berkley and for good reason. The Golden Bears were the only team to beat USC last year, and the best players from that team are back this year.

D is for December ...

... which is when Nebraska has played its bowl game the past two seasons, a reality that makes Husker fans ashamed. Former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan (left) has the pressure-packed job of returning the pride to the prominent program in his first season.

E is for Ear Plugs...

... that will be needed when Oklahoma crosses the Red River on Oct. 9 to play Texas in Dallas. Four straight losses in this game alone have separated Texas from the nation's elite programs. Oklahoma, meanwhile, clearly has a psychological edge over the Longhorns.

F is for Freight Train ...

... which is what it feels like when Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson lays a hit on an unsuspecting receiver. With 132 tackles as a sophomore last year, Jackson should be a force in the ACC this year.

G is for Great Expectations ...

... at West Virginia, which has recorded a 12-2 Big East record the past two years and is poised to win the league title outright this year under coach Rich Rodriguez. Quarterback Rasheed Marshall (right) could sneak into the Heisman race.

H is for Hands ...

... and no receiving core has better hands combined with talent than Michigan. Senior Braylon Edwards leads the way, but he's got plenty of company, and Michigan has plenty of big-play potential.

I is for Indestructible ...

... an apt description of Florida State's offensive line, which returns all seven starters. Their strength should keep FSU atop the ACC and possibly the polls.

J is for Juke ...

... or the moves that Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis will be making against Big Ten linebackers - if his ankles stay healthy in his senior season. He missed five full games and portions of four others last season.

K is for Kicking game ...

... which is in great shape at Ole Miss, where Lou Groza Award winner Jonathan Nichols is back. Senior punter Cody Ridgeway also returns after booting punts an average of 44.2 yards last year.

L is for Lousy scheduling ...

... by the ACC office, which sends Clemson on the road to Florida State, Virginia and Miami (Fla.), as if the fourth road game at Duke is supposed to compensate the Tigers for being the only ACC team that has to travel to both FSU and Miami this year.

M is for Milestone Makeover ...

... and none was more significant in the offseason than at Mississippi State, where Sylvester Croom (right) became the first black head coach in Southeastern Conference history. Croom is one of just five black head coaches in Division I-A.

N is for New quarterback ...

... at Miami U, where Josh Betts replaces the irreplaceable Ben Roethlisberger. Betts doesn't have to be perfect, but with standout receivers Martin Nance and Michael Larkin, Betts must get the ball to them.

O is for Overtime thrillers.

Sure, they're long, and if Arkansas is playing, they can be as long as two games. But they're a heck of a lot more exciting than the NFL's version, and they're more effective at putting off having to mow the grass.

P is for Polls.

The two human ones (media and coaches') are 41 percent more important this year in the BCS formula. Supposedly, this change will prevent debacles such as last season, when USC was No. 1 in both human polls, yet somehow found itself not invited to the national championship game. We'll wait until January to see if the new system works.

Q is for Questionable decisions ...

... made by Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick (right), who won't be playing this season after a tumultuous offseason that included arrests for marijuana possession and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

R is for Repeat winner ...

... which is what Oklahoma quarterback Jason White (right) is trying to become after returning to defend his Heisman Trophy. With White back behind center for his senior year, he's the early favorite for the Heisman, and Oklahoma is the preseason pick for the national title.

S is for Speed ...

... and no running back shows it better than Kansas State's Darren Sproles, who blends his quickness with an extra bit of power when necessary.

T is for Toledo ...

... which might be the best team in Ohio not located in Columbus. The Rockets love to roll up the score and get a chance to prove the team's strength on Sept. 4 with a trip to Minnesota.

U is for Unsportsmanlike conduct ...

... at Miami, Fla., where alleged fire extinguishing recruit Willie Williams was admitted with "academic conditions that he must meet." Please. Of all places, Miami - which bolted from the Big East for monetary reasons - is the least likely to be believed when it says academics are more important than winning.

V is for Victory.

Army's looking for one, just one win, when it enters its Sept. 11 game against Louisville with the nation's longest losing streak at 15 games.

W is for Welcome back.

That's what Southern Miss coaches told linebacker Michael Boley when he chose to return for his senior year rather than enter the NFL draft. After recording 151 tackles and 11 sacks last year, Boley could find himself a first-team All-American.

X is for Xylophone ...

... and other marching band instruments - like the trombone - that make college football Saturdays unlike any other American sport. Just be sure they're off the field before halftime is over.

Y is for the Yeomen ...

... of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, which defeated Ohio State 7-6 in 1921, the last time OSU lost to an in-state opponent. Cincinnati and new coach Mark Dantonio, a former Buckeye assistant, get a crack at OSU Sept. 4.