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Saturday, August 6, 2005
Updated: August 11, 11:43 AM ET
College football bigger and better than ever

By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde
ESPN.com

This discussion took place over the course of two days, from a coffee shop in downtown Chicago to a phone call from our respective homes, Ivan in Connecticut, Pat in Kentucky. The opinions expressed here are our own, and do not represent the viewpoint of the management, the busboy, or Editor Joe.

Pat: My two cents is that for all its myriad faults and outrages, I don't know if college football has ever been any more popular or intriguing.

Ivan: I guess you're right. The nature of our work is that we focus on the problems. But the turnstile count and the fact that nearly every game is televised indicates there's a huge appetite for the game. The biggest thing I've noticed is that the players get younger every year. I interviewed Pittsburgh linebacker H.B. Blades last month. I told him that since I had interviewed his dad, Bennie, at Miami 18 years ago, that there was no way I would ever write anything nice about H.B. because he made me feel too old. To his credit, he laughed. I had to pretend I wasn't serious.

I say this as a bowl guy, but the frustrating thing about the presidents and the commissioners is that they make an argument against a playoff, and they undercut that argument with their actions.
Ivan Maisel
Pat: But let's talk about a couple of the faults like ...

Ivan: This just in ... the BCS formula has changed again. Do we have the best possible system?

Pat: I'm still convinced the BCS is a flawed animal. They fix a problem and a new problem springs up.

Ivan: In other words, a Fiat.

Pat: And we can't find a good mechanic. The formula has never been quite right. I'm a playoff guy. That's the only rational solution.

Ivan: I was willing to work with you until you got to the word "rational." When has that ever meant anything in the postseason?

Pat: Shame on me for trying to go there.

Ivan: I say this as a bowl guy, but the frustrating thing about the presidents and the commissioners is that they make an argument against a playoff, and they undercut that argument with their actions. "No, we can't have a playoff. We can't go past the first week of January." Next year, the championship game goes to the second week. "No, we can't have a playoff. The season is too long." They add the 12th game. It's a good thing that their strongest argument, the sanctity of the regular season, remains intact.

Pat: There is something to that, but there's also something to the phenomenal excitement that an eight- or 16-team playoff would create.

Ivan: It might be fun. Who am I kidding? Of course, it would be fun. It ain't happening. So we're in the same old system. What do you think about the Harris poll?

Pat: The retirees' poll?

Ivan: Retirees. Ouch! You better speak up then.

Pat: Hold on, let me get the megaphone. I think it's a decent effort to look for a new alternative. Those guys may do a very good job. We'll see. We're trying to plug a hole in the dike. We should blow up the dike and start over.

Ivan: What about the use of instant replay?

Pat: I thought it worked fairly well in the Big Ten last season. It helped get some things right. At the ACC media days, they made a demonstration and made a fairly big point of their system being faster than the Big Ten's, and then they couldn't get the demonstration going. It's worrisome, only because the typical college football game is already longer than the Civil War.

Ivan: Philosophically, I have a problem that it's not I-A wide. What's out of bounds in one game may not be in the next. It's stunning to me that the NCAA Rules Committee let every conference wing it.

Pat: Something that should be reviewed -- and I admit, this is a terrible segue -- is that we've got, what, three black head coaches in I-A now?

Tyrone Willingham
Tyrone Willingham is just one of three -- yes, three -- African-American head coaches in college football.
Ivan: Three? Wow!

Pat: One of whom went to Washington when he got fired after a three-year trial run at Notre Dame. Ivan, have we made progress?

Ivan: Pat, I like that somber, anchorman tone. Unfortunately, the anchorman I'm thinking of is Ron Burgundy. You know what, there is progress. I can't even count the number of African-American coordinators anymore. On the other hand, I find it remarkable that there's a lack of staffs with a majority of black assistants. There may be one or two.

Pat: There is supposed to be natural progress from player to assistant to coordinator to head coach. The flow chart isn't working the way it's supposed to.

Ivan: There are prostate problems in college football.

Pat: Consult your physician.

Ivan: Speaking of being ill, what did you make of that NCAA stance on Indian mascots. It's just begging to be ridiculed.

Pat: I will come to the defense of the beleaguered NCAA. The two shrieks that came out of this were, one, "Political correctness," and two, "What's going to be next? A mocking of the Stanford Tree, of the Fighting Irish?" In the case of the Native Americans, we're talking about people who have had a pretty long-standing grievance. If I were an alum, it wouldn't ruin my day if Chief Osceola couldn't throw the spear down at midfield. I'm there for something else. If it makes a decent-sized chunk of people feel better by removing the mascot, I'm for it.

Ivan: Wait a minute, Pat, my tears are spilling into my laptop. Speaking as a true-blue blue-stater, I thought it was the stupidest, most ivory-towerish argument that the NCAA could pick. The way it's written, the Fighting Irish are at death's door. Well, the Irish don't care. The Seminoles, at least the ones in Florida, don't care.

Pat: If anybody can take this sort of decision and make it look bad, it's the NCAA. The language is begging to be ridiculed. It's silly to be militant over whether Chief Illiniwek can dance. Find something else to worry about.

Ivan: All right. let's talk about what's happening on the field. Starting at the top, what do you make of USC?

Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll and USC are trying to do something that's never been done -- win three straight national titles.
Pat: Definitely THE story of the year, and it's nice to have one on the field, not dealing with BCS outrage, or whatever. The thing that makes it intriguing is coaching changes. That adds a little bit of a degree of difficulty there but given their talent, they'll work their way around it.

Ivan: You know, you can't not pick them number one, for all the obvious reasons: back-to-back number ones, Heisman Trophy returning, but I have this little voice in the back of my head saying, 'It's too obvious. It's too obvious.'

Pat: There's a reason nobody's three-peated -- ever. It's hard. Things go wrong. Nothing really has gone wrong for them for two years.

Ivan: That they haven't been able to overcome. I'm not as concerned about losing Norm Chow because both Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian worked for him, and worked for him with Leinart. Leinart's been in the offense for seven, eight years now. The next kid, it may affect.

Pat: Matt could probably run it on auto-pilot. They'll find a few ways to put Reggie Bush on the field.

Ivan: I want to come back to the Reggie Bush or Ted Ginn debate, but what about the Trojan defense? They lost so much up front, the front seven.

Pat: They're also replacing those guys with high school All-Americans. The one thing they've done is play kids early, gotten them experience. They've got talented guys who have been out on the field already. And if need be, they'll just outscore people.

Ivan: What do you think will be tougher: going to Eugene on Sept. 24, or going to Tempe on Oct. 1?

Pat: I kind of think going to Eugene. I was looking at Oregon, and if Kellen Clemens comes through, with things in place there, and what [Mike] Bellotti's done, you have to think last year was a blip. They've been awfully good for a long time. They are due to get back in the race.

Ivan: Bellotti, there's a guy -- how many great jobs did he turn down? And now he's struggling.

Pat: The expectations will be there this year.

Ivan: That game [USC-Oregon] is the same day that Notre Dame goes to Washington.

Pat: Ty [Willingham] gets a chance there. That game will be fascinating.

Ivan: What will be fascinating is to see how many ways that Ty will deny that it's fascinating.

Pat: I would imagine Charlie Weis will do the same.

Ivan: If you were going to inch out on the limb, and it wasn't USC at number one ...

Pat: Hey, it scares me too much to pick Texas, given the Horns' history of failing to win the big one, so I would say Michigan, and that's relying on an overhauled secondary. Their skill position players are unbelievable --

Ivan: And the offensive line is back.

Pat: -- and that's even taking Braylon Edwards out of the mix. They've still got plenty of weapons. This is the best Big Ten in years. There are three or four teams that could win this league. Who do you like outside of USC?

Ivan: Texas, unnamed team from the Big Ten, whoever it is. Michigan has got it all on paper, but with the exception of '97, they always find a way to not get it off the paper. What I think will be interesting is what happens when Louisville runs the table in the Big East. How will the Cardinals be regarded? They will start high enough in the ranking that, if they are undefeated, they are going to move up.

Pat: They'll start in the top 10, top 12, and move up from there. They're playing in a marginally better conference. The one game they've got to hunker down for is Pittsburgh.

Ivan: When is that game?

Pat: Nov. 3, a Thursday night. Of course, it's Louisville, so they're not playing on a Saturday.

Dave Wannstedt
The similarities between Dave Wannstedt and Pete Carroll are too hard to ignore as Wannstedt takes over at Pitt.
Ivan: I have a theory that Dave Wannstedt is the new Pete Carroll. Talented assistant who fought the NFL to a draw, had two different teams, and is at the perfect school for him. It's the same profile.

Pat: Pitt has players. They should be the team that challenges Louisville.

Ivan: I don't know how you pick that league because you've got three new teams, and two new coaches at the other five.

Pat: The start-from-scratch league.

Ivan: Everybody at Texas says that Greg Robinson will be a very good head coach at Syracuse.

Pat: I'll wait and see.

Ivan: Before we forget, what else in the Big Ten? I still say, dollar for dollar, player for player, if I had a coach draft, Kirk Ferentz would be my number one pick.

Pat: I don't know if he would be my first pick, but he would be in my top three. He's definitely the top one in the Big Ten. He's the biggest reason that Iowa will be in the mix.

Ivan: What's interesting to me is that now the recruits are starting to figure it out. Now you see Iowa in the top 10, top 15 in recruiting, and he was winning 10 games a year with guys who weren't . ... Recruits can read who gets drafted, and the NFL guys all think the world of Ferentz.

Pat: There's a reason that a lot of people called him the last couple of years to see if he wanted their job.

Ivan: He's shrewd enough to have figured out that he can hide in Iowa City and not have to deal with a lot of the pressures that people in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and South Bend do.

Pat: Purdue -- is the schedule enough to make them a championship team?

Ivan: They're the smart guys' choice. 'Oh, I've analyzed the schedules, I've looked at who's returning.' Hey, Purdue, win a close game! Five games they lost by four points or fewer. Maybe that's something you have to go through to get the next step. I'll be perfectly willing to throw people off the bandwagon in order to get a seat, but I won't be on it when it leaves.

Pat: I won't either. If they get past that stretch of Minnesota-Notre Dame-Iowa from Sept. 24 to Oct. 8, we'll be taking them seriously.

Ivan: There's a really bold pronouncement on our part.

Pat (laughing): If you can beat all the best teams on your schedule ...

Ivan: Well, what about the Buckeyes? I find it interesting that Troy Smith's debut will be against Texas, in primetime. Everybody is talking about Xavier Lee having to do that at Florida State [against Miami] in his first start. This is not Troy Smith's first start, but --

Ohio State's Ted Ginn will be even more dangerous this season as he's certain to get more touches.
Pat: That will be a loaded game. Being at home will certainly help, and so will having four straight home games. That's a nice way to break in a quarterback. So is having him give the ball to Ted Ginn.

Ivan: OK, let's get back to that: Bush or Ginn?

Pat: I'll take Bush.

Ivan: Me, too. I've been getting e-mails from Buckeye fans asking what about Ted Ginn and the Heisman Trophy? I think Reggie Bush gets that do-everything first look, and rightfully so.

Pat: Yep. He was arguably the best player last year. But I don't think Bush has Ginn's ability to accelerate, run away from people. He's spectacular to watch.

Ivan: They both have that ability to switch directions without slowing down.

Pat: I'll be interested to see if they find enough ways to get Ginn the ball.

Ivan: Jim Bollman is certainly a good offensive coordinator but he's not known for his flashiness.

Pat: That was the thing with Chow. Even with all his brilliance, you didn't feel like Bush got the ball as much as he should. Ginn didn't get it that much.

Ivan: They were just very careful that they didn't use him quickly. I've been hanging around with coaches long enough to know that's never an argument you can win where a freshman is concerned.

Pat: Now it's time to bring him along quickly.

Joe Paterno
Despite all the talk, Joe Paterno isn't running away from the challenge of turning Penn State around.
Ivan: Does JoePa climb back to the top, or merely somewhere above sea level?

Pat: They're a long way from any great elevation. They feel good about their new guys, and the defense should be very good. Hopefully they can kick-start their anachronistic offense.

Ivan: The Nittany Lions should be better but the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the nation this year. Joe has called himself out. He said in the spring of '04 that this would be the year that they showed improvement. But who's kidding whom? Even if they do another 4-7, it's going take an injunction to get him out of there.

Pat: Who's going to tell Joe to go away, other than Sue?

Ivan: Not Penn State president Graham Spanier. Not athletic director Tim Curley.

Pat: Speaking of diminishing returns, what about Bobby Bowden?

Ivan: Yeah, the '90s are over but the 'Noles are favored to win their division. Bobby has put a lot of responsibility on linebacker coach Kevin Steele. You see it in zone pass coverage, which Mickey Andrews never used to run. That points to one difference between Bobby and Joe. Bobby allows for evolution in his game-planning. The 'Noles aren't what they were but they're still pretty salty.

Ivan: OK, moving on to the Big 12, the obvious question: Is this the year? Can Texas win in ... Lubbock?

Pat (laughing): They don't go to Lubbock.

Ivan: Tricked you!

Pat: Mack Brown can win 10 games in his sleep, but until he wins that 11th one, there's still that knock.

Ivan: I don't know. This is coming from someone that thinks, every year, that this is the year that Florida State beats Miami. But to me, the biggest question with Texas is, is the Other Young, the one at tailback [Selvin], going to be effective enough to take the pressure off of Vince Young? It's easy to be Vince Young when the defense has got to pay attention to Cedric Benson.

Pat: And no one has done a better job defensively against Texas than Oklahoma, and [Bob] Stoops.

Ivan: A year ago, he made Vince Young beat the Sooners, and he couldn't do it.

Pat: The Vince Young we saw in the Rose Bowl looked like a different guy, so he may have progressed. But he's going to have to. He's going to have to play at a higher level than he ever has.

Ivan: He said at midseason last year that he went into the coaches and said, 'You've got to turn me loose.' They did, and he responded, and the team responded.

Pat: He's as exciting a player as we'll see all year who will have the ball in his hands.

Ivan: That's a good point. There's no other quarterback that we know of that has proved he can do as many things. I guess if they run the table, he's a Heisman candidate.

Pat: Gotta be. If they're 12-0, and 'SC is 11-0, and they're playing in the Rose Bowl, that would be pretty good theater. As long as there isn't another SEC team that's left out because of another Big 12 team ...

Ivan (laughing): I don't think that will be the case. What do you make of the Oklahoma quarterback derby?

Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops is looking around and filling some holes at Oklahoma this season.
Pat: I don't know. I really expected Rhett Bomar to take that job in the spring. The fact that he didn't has got to be a little unsettling for Stoops' staff. It's awfully nice to have Adrian Peterson to rely on, but they'll see a lot of eight-man fronts until they prove they've got a quarterback who can make plays as well. And they've got a lot of holes to fill on the line.

Ivan: Davin Joseph is probably the best offensive lineman in the country. But he's got to show the other guys where the field is.

Pat: The other thing with them is whether they lost a little something in that defrocking by USC: a little bit of swagger, a little bit of invincibility in the Big 12. They may still have it. I will be interested to see --

Ivan: -- if the other teams learned the lessons of the Orange Bowl. That's an interesting point.

Pat: -- including you guys, ahem, in burnt orange.

Ivan: Do you think Texas A&M can make it a Big Three in the South? This year?

Pat: They've got a quarterback. They've got experience. They've got linemen. I don't know whether their talent across the board is as good as the other two. This should be the payoff year with Franchione, given the experience he's got.

Ivan: I think one of the coolest stories of the season is the Reggie McNeal-Vince Young rivalry. It goes back to high school. It's like one of those Chip Hilton deals where everybody moved to college and kept playing each other. Of course, nobody under 35 knows who Chip Hilton is.

Pat: We have a few readers older than 35.

Ivan: Take this opportunity to google Chip Hilton. We'll be here when you get back.

Pat: Still talking.

Ivan: You know that Franchione has won at all 300 stops in his coaching career, so you have to think he'll get it done.

Pat: Oh, he will. It's just a matter of when.

Bill Callahan hopes to return the Cornhuskers to an elite level.
Ivan: Nebraska -- that's the team I'm most going out on a limb for. I just think that Zac Taylor will transform that offense. He'll be able to do what Bill Callahan wants him to do as a West Coast quarterback. They'll have enough of a defense to be the best team in the Big 12 North, for whatever that's worth.

Pat: The tallest midget around. That could be. I'm going to let you stay out there on that limb.

Ivan: Wave occasionally.

Pat: I have a hard time seeing anybody in the north being good enough to be a legit top-25 team. Maybe Iowa State?

Ivan: They were one of the heartbreaking stories of last year. They got right to the precipice of the championship game, and then just screwed up in the red zone.

Pat: Remembered who they were, almost.

Ivan: So what about Colorado?

Pat: Coach [Gary] Barnett, still there, still going. ... With everything that's gone on, I don't think they're recruiting like gangbusters the last couple of years.

Ivan: That's a polite way to say it.

Pat: They've been recruiting very chastely.

Ivan: The rest of the Big 12: Brad Smith said something intriguing at the Big 12 Media Day. He's one of the few guys I've ever heard admit that the Heisman hype affected him. He lost his focus.

Pat: That whole team lost its focus, all the way up to the coach. That was as bad a job of handling expectations as I've ever seen.

Ivan: Well, they don't have to worry about that this year.

Pat: No, they don't, and they might be better off. All right, SEC. You're kind of bullish on Auburn, aren't you?

Ivan: I am bullish on Auburn, because the defense, which was the best in the nation last year in a category or two, returns relatively intact. I just think you cannot lowball the importance of the intangibles of knowing how to win close games. It's what we were talking about with Purdue. And I keep coming back to LSU last year, beating Oregon State and beating Florida. They just hung there and believed it would happen. It's clear to me how much talent LSU has but until we see how that meshes with the coaching staff, I am just reserving judgment. It may be that the first week of the year, I move LSU up to No. 2. We're allowed to do that. I just want to see how they start out.

Pat: The thing I like about LSU is all the experience on the offensive line. I think that's a great place to start, especially when you're still feeling your way around at quarterback. Three good running backs running behind a good offensive line -- if Les Miles is up to the job, and it's a big job, it takes a big guy -- then I think they should be real good.

Ivan: To Les Miles' credit, the one thing that Oklahoma State could do was run the ball. He had good backs, one after the other. He started that program at the bottom and got them all the way to somewhere near the top.

Pat: And beat Oklahoma a couple of times. He could have been Coach For Life in Stillwater just because of that.

Ivan: Speaking of a Big Two becoming a Big Three, what do you make of the Crimson Tide?

Pat: That's a dark horse in the SEC. They've got to keep their Ming-vase-brittle quarterback healthy.

Ivan (laughing): Ming Croyle ... The schedule is certainly appealing. The nonconference schedule is nothing to speak of.

Tennessee has to go to Gainesville and Baton Rouge, which I remain convinced had something to do with Fulmer not showing up in Birmingham last year. Funny how that scheduling popped up, isn't it?
Ivan Maisel

Pat: We'll see how they do against Tennessee, a thorn in their side in more ways than one. That should be a lovely scene when [Phillip] Fulmer comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium. In the East, Tennessee absolutely has the best talent. But after the offseason they had, I was a little bit wary about where their heads are, which opens the door for Florida. I'm sold on Urban Meyer.

Ivan: Aren't we all? I like them better than Tennessee. In Urban We Trust. Tennessee has to go to Gainesville and Baton Rouge, which I remain convinced had something to do with Fulmer not showing up in Birmingham last year. Funny how that scheduling popped up, isn't it?

Pat (laughing): They got him for more than $10,000! They got him where it really hurts.

Ivan: I think Florida has healthy talent the equivalent of Tennessee. There's an underground theory that Georgia is really going to take a step back.

Pat: I was subscribing to that for most of the preseason. I think they are another team, like LSU, that absolutely should be able to run the football. That will make it easier for D.J. Shockley. If Shockley plays well enough, I think they're going to be pretty good again. Their offensive line should be very good. Their running backs are very good.

Ivan: They lost some stars on defense. They don't have a [David] Pollack. The loss of him, to me, is much greater than the loss of David Greene.

Pat: I would agree with that. And then there is the Ol' Ballcoach. I'm awfully glad he's back. I don't think he's going to be much of a factor this year. There will be one game, somewhere, where the Ol' Ballcoach pulls one over and puffs out his chest like that wind-up Gamecock doll he's got.

Ivan: The first three conference games -- at Georgia, Alabama, at Auburn.

Pat: Three great chances to shock the world. Also three great chances to get steamrolled.

Ivan: It's definitely a square peg-round hole deal with his offense and those players, but this time 15 years ago, Shane Matthews was a fourth-string quarterback that nobody had heard of. I keep thinking that he won an ACC title at Duke.

Pat: One of the all-time miracles. I just don't think he walked into a very good attitude on that team in Columbia. Obviously, what happened at the end of the Holtz regime, some of the discipline problems.

Ivan: To me, the fact that there are public discipline problems means that Spurrier applied discipline, which is something that Lou evidently did not do. ... Steve, for all his loosey-goosey brashness, is actually still the son of a Southern preacher. He's got rules, and if you don't abide by them, you're gone. He's definitely old-school.

Pat: He'll hold them to a pretty fine line, and they'll benefit from that. He's got to get some players.

Ivan: So what does that leave, the ACC? OK, this is not fair for me, since you went to the ACC media days, but for a million dollars, who is in which division?

Marcus Vick
Marcus Vick is a big reason why Virginia Tech is favored to win the ACC.
Pat: I don't know. The players don't know. The coaches, some of them know. I think the conference office knows, but I'm not 100 percent sure. At one point, they had to bring in a placard with the conference alignment printed on it so that the media could do the preseason voting.

Ivan: Every other conference that is doing this is doing it geographically, so you can sit there and figure it out. You can't do that with the ACC.

Pat: That's the concession they made to Florida State and Miami, that they would be on opposite sides. It's going to make for a very confusing learning period here for everybody.

Ivan: So who is in which division?

Pat: Your Coastal Division lineup looks stronger than the Atlantic. Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke.

Ivan: I guess Georgia Tech is on the coast of what, the Chattahoochee River?

Pat: That's as close as they get. Charlottesville is not near any of the great bodies of water, either. It seems like there are always about five or six interchangeable parts in the ACC: Maryland, NC State, Virginia, Carolina, Georgia Tech. We'll see if something rises out of that morass, but the two best teams are in the same division: Miami and Virginia Tech.

Ivan: Are you convinced Miami is still Miami, for lack of a better analysis?

Pat: No, not 100 percent. I think defensively they will be very good. So fast, so many athletes. Randy Shannon is a heck of a coordinator and probably overdue becoming a head coach. Brock Berlin, people weren't quite sure how to feel about him when he left, and I'm not sure people know how to feel about Kyle Wright coming in.

Ivan: Somebody asked me if Wright is the next Ken Dorsey or the next Frank Costa, which I thought was a great analysis of northern California talent, and I don't know. I don't think anybody knows, least of all Kyle.

Pat: How about Virginia Tech?

Ivan: I think Marcus Vick doesn't have to be Michael with that defense. But we're all expecting him to be something approaching Michael. Kevin Rogers has a long line of great quarterbacks that he has developed. It's going to be interesting to see how well Marcus handles it, how well they can give him tunnel vision not to see all the outside questions and all the speculation and the expectations that we have and the public has because of who his brother is.

Pat: He's off to a good start on the tunnel vision, because they didn't bring him to media day and they turned down people that wanted to go to Blacksburg to talk to him.

Ivan: As genial as Frank Beamer is, he's pretty rigid with that stuff, especially with Marcus.

Pat: They're not going to go out of their way, especially after what happened last year. The other thing, there's the question of being the next Vick, but he's also got to follow Bryan Randall, who had a great year last year.

Ivan: I thought that was a great uncelebrated story of how they won the ACC last year. I'm sure it was celebrated in portions of Virginia, but I think it got lost in the whole Auburn-USC-Oklahoma thing. ... On the other side, Florida State's biggest loss is not Wyatt Sexton, it's cornerback Antonio Cromartie and the big defensive lineman whose name I can never remember.

Pat: Clifton Dickson? That will definitely hurt. That might be another reason why Bobby is not playing press coverage in his discipline with his linebackers who are in trouble.

Ivan: Bobby hasn't changed his view on discipline. He's been consistent.

Pat: That's true. Consistently lax.

Ivan: It maddens everybody else. It doesn't bother him. Who else in that division?

Pat: Boston College has a chance to sneak in there and give Florida State a run. The big question with them, as with so many other teams in the ACC, is quarterback. They got [Quinton] Porter, who they redshirted last year, who before that was OK. One of the things they did to help him out was move Will Blackmon, a very good cornerback, to wide receiver. He should be a full-time wide receiver, nickel back and return kicks. Mathias Kiwanuka was actually the preseason player of the year at media days.

Ivan: He's a fun player to watch. But how can a team step into a league and expect to win it, other than --

Pat: Virginia Tech?

Ivan: I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Pat: That division will have a huge game early on, Florida State at Boston College, Sept. 17. First ACC game ever for BC, at home.

Ivan: And when you're talking tradition and great rivals ...

Pat (laughing): It just jumps out at you.

Ivan: Tallahassee and Boston. These two teams really don't like each other, Pat.

Pat: OK, outside of the big six conferences, who's the best of the rest?

DeAngelo Williams
Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams is the top senior RB prospect
Ivan: I think DeAngelo Williams is a New York guy for the Heisman, and I think, in that league, speaking of great rivalries: Memphis-UTEP. Do they play each other?

Pat: Yes, UTEP comes to Memphis on Oct. 1. It's fortunate for Mike Price that UAB goes to UTEP. He doesn't have to set foot in the state of Alabama.

Ivan: He's doing well in the state of Alabama lately. It's Sports Illustrated that's not doing well. Price just won a big ruling in his libel case against the magazine.

Pat: There's another league: tell me who's in it and tell me in which divisions.

Ivan: Win a prize. DeAngelo is the real deal.

Pat: One of the fastest guys at 217 pounds that you'll see. And he has moves.

Ivan: People bring up, with a straight face, Barry Sanders.

Pat: They have a Monday game and a Tuesday game, so there will be a chance to see him when they're not competing on television against the big boys.

Ivan: Now, I dare you to make sense out of the Mountain West. It's kind of like the Big East, a lot of new coaches.

Pat: Total power vacuum, with Utah disbanding.

Ivan: I have this year's Utah: it's Wyoming.

Pat: Man, don't steal my team! That's my team. We both have them in our Top 25. I think Joe Glenn is a heck of a coach who had to toil for a long time to get his chance at a major school. If Wyoming is a major school ... no offense.

Ivan: Good save! I think you're the one who turned me on to Wyoming.

Pat: I'll be happy to take credit.

Ivan: How many guys have won NCAA titles at two levels before they got to I-A? That could be an interesting trifecta, maybe not at Wyoming, but at his next stop, wherever that is. I'm sure Utah, based on my theory about Auburn knowing how to win, ain't going anywhere. ... I think it's a transition year for the league.

Pat: How about the WAC? At the top, two good teams, Fresno State and Boise State.

Ivan: What does Boise State do in Athens?

Pat: I think they acquit themselves well. I don't know whether they have the athletes to win. From what I saw in Memphis at the Liberty Bowl against Louisville, schematically they'll give you fits. They're very well-coached, very creative, won't be afraid, won't be intimidated. But Louisville just manhandled them up front on both sides, and I think Georgia has a good chance to do the same.

Ivan: Yeah, it was very nice of our network to schedule that game at 5:30 p.m. Could it be any hotter for those mountain boys?

Pat: I'm sure Mark Richt was hoping for a 12:30 p.m. start so it could be 92 in the fourth quarter. It will be toasty.

Ivan: Can you go on the field with an I.V.? That's the question for Boise.

Pat: Watch out for Fresno State.

Ivan: They've got a lot of guys coming back, don't they?

Pat: They do. They got a lot of guys coming back, and they ended the season really well. They won six straight, including beating Virginia in the bowl game. They get a couple of shock-the-world opportunities. They go to Oregon on Sept. 17, and then, obviously, the huge one, Nov. 19, at USC.

Ivan: The Oregon game is interesting because Oregon's got USC the next week, so how much are they paying attention to Fresno State? ... All right, the MAC. Shane Montgomery at Miami. You know, it's funny. He almost got the Auburn offensive coordinator job a year ago, and turns around --

Pat: -- and gets his own program. He's got a ton of players back. They have a chance to upset the Omar Jacobs party. There are two really good quarterbacks in the league: Jacobs and [Bruce] Gradkowski.

Ivan: I automatically think of Bowling Green and Toledo as the top two, but Miami screws that up. What major-conference team gets beat by a MAC team this year?

Pat: Miami is at Ohio State to open the season. Bowling Green is at Wisconsin.

Ivan: There you go. That's probably it.

Brady Quinn
So far, Brady Quinn is making all the right moves for Notre Dame.
Pat: I was at Notre Dame for the spring game. The optimism everywhere when you change coaches is high, but Weis really seemed to be playing it very well. Courting the alumni, bringing the stars back -- he had Joe Montana, he had Tim Brown, he had Joe Theismann all there. He went around campus and talked to every dorm. I like the way he has approached the job, and I think Brady Quinn likes the way he has approached the job.

Ivan: I agree, although I did have an SEC head coach say to me that he has seen who Notre Dame is recruiting, and Charlie's going to have a tough time, if that's the kind of kid he can get into school. The kids they are recruiting now were in diapers the last time the Irish won a national championship. I don't think the name of Notre Dame means what it meant up until 10 years ago. Maybe he can recapture that. It's certainly an asset that can be recaptured. It's not there yet.

Pat: I think the thing he needs to trade on is, 'I'll put you in an offense that can make you a star.' We've seen what he can do. I think Brady Quinn is really going to benefit this year. Instead of being able to recruit off of Notre Dame's mystique right away, he'll recruit off of X's and O's.

Ivan: Yeah, we're saying the same thing! I don't think the mystique applies anymore.

Pat: They play four of their first five on the road, opening with Pittsburgh.

Ivan: They have made a conscious effort to lighten the schedule but it hasn't kicked in yet. They turned down Auburn. Auburn wanted a home-and-home. Notre Dame said no.

Pat: Hello, Middle Tennessee. Goodbye, Auburn. Wake up the echoes.

Ivan: So people can clip and save this until December?

Pat: Absolutely. And we're not going to be held accountable.