- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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Welcome to the 2011 college football season.
Now, figure out whether to laugh or cry.
College football has never been more popular and has never seemed more troubled. There is a revolution taking place on the field, where the no-huddle, spread-the-field philosophy has made offenses more prolific and more exciting than ever. But there hasn't been a similar evolution off the field, where the old rules for recruiting, staff size and social media have made the sport's administrators appear out of touch, if not downright ossified.
The reality is that the product is attracting fans in unprecedented numbers. The perception is that college football is the most screwed up it has been since the days of the wild, wild southwest 30 years ago.
It seems almost counterintuitive. The TV ratings are higher. The TV contracts are richer, even as the economy continues to sputter. A percentage of fans and commentators cry for a postseason playoff even as the BCS system has fueled the sport's growth spurt.
The siege of bad news and controversy has assaulted the sport from all sides. As is the nature of bureaucracies, problems are born daily while solutions take years to gestate. The NCAA presidential retreat this week is supposed to begin a discussion of how to cure what ails intercollegiate athletics. The answers will not be delivered overnight.
In the meantime, we propose a New Deal for college football. Why a New Deal? Because the last one began to lift our nation out of a depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt promised a New Deal when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in Chicago in 1932. If there's anything this nation -- the College Football Nation -- needs today, it's a hand up out of the depression weighing it down like leaden shoulder pads.
Let's face it, people. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And Anger -- Cal punter Bryan Anger.
Since Memorial Day alone, NCAA violations have forced two of the game's most successful coaches out of the game. Jim Tressel of Ohio State and Butch Davis of North Carolina have won 320 games between them. Say hello to Luke Fickell and Everett Withers, the replacements who will have a hard time erasing the "interim" from their titles.
A third coach, Bill Stewart of West Virginia, forced himself out in June, a year ahead of schedule. Dana Holgorsen originally came in as the offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting who could shake the Mountaineers out of their scoreboard woes. This season, Holgorsen must hope that a sudden influx of points will wash away the hard feelings over the transition of power.
If the points don't work, perhaps the inaugural year of beer sales at Milan Puskar Stadium will help.
Four of the top seven conferences have new members. Nebraska has been picked to win the Big Ten before the Huskers ever play a game in it. While you are busy studying which Big Ten teams are Legends and which are Leaders -- and when you figure that out, let me know -- the Pacific-12 will kick off play with Utah and Colorado.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 start their conference championship games this season as the Big 12 starts life without one. All three think they have discovered the keys to success, and maybe they're right.
Boise State resumes its climb up the social ladder by leaving the WAC for the Mountain West, only to find that TCU is packing its bags for the Big East and BYU is already out the door. Although "The Book of Mormon" is a Broadway smash, the Cougars have borrowed a page from the Gospel according to St. Knute. BYU, like Notre Dame, has gone out on its own.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is trying something new. He postponed the NFL draft and instant wealth to return for his redshirt junior year. Luck, the Heisman runner-up last season, will try to smooth the path for new Cardinal coach David Shaw. He takes over a team that finished 12-1 and No. 4 in the nation, and his fans expect more of the same. That's really not new at all, is it?
Auburn needs a new quarterback to replace the player who beat Luck, the famous, infamous Cam Newton, as well as a replacement for Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley at defensive tackle. There will be a lot of new starters for the defending champions, who lost 31 contributing players from last season.
Newton began last season as a question mark and ended it as one of the most celebrated players in recent history. If you're looking for a similar leap out of anonymity this season, keep an eye on players such as Boston College tailback Montel Harris, Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner, Alabama guard Barrett Jones and Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David. All are expected to compete for national awards.
Freshman tailbacks Malcolm Brown of Texas, Isaiah Crowell of Georgia and Brandon Williams of Oklahoma are expected to contribute, if not star, this season. There's an old bit of football wisdom that states that the farther a player lines up from the ball, the quicker he can contribute. That rule doesn't apply to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's top recruit this past February. Clowney is expected to play immediately.
The NCAA Football Rule Book has one significant new rule. In an effort to tamp down player emotions even further, if a celebration occurs while the ball is live, the penalty will be marked off from the spot of the foul instead of at the end of the play. That means touchdowns can be taken off the scoreboard, in which case, coaches can be taken off the field in straitjackets.
You can bet that will happen. The former celebration rule decided a game as recently as the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl. Syracuse won 36-34 when a celebration call against Kansas State forced the Wildcats to attempt a tying two-point conversion from the 18-yard line.
Syracuse also lost its season opener to Oklahoma on a celebration call in 1994, the first year the rule went into effect. The coach of the Orange that year, Paul Pasqualoni, returns to college football after seven seasons in the NFL. He is, at 61, a new coach.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
The siege of bad news and controversy has assaulted college football from all sides. We propose a New Deal for 2011: new conferences, new coaches, new stars.