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|1. It has been 20 years since SMU began serving its death penalty, and Phil Bennett's sixth Mustang team will be a contender for the West Division championship. SMU has a talented quarterback in Justin Willis, a veteran offensive line protecting him and eight starters returning on defense. This could be the year that the Ghost of Violations Past is exorcised, once and for all.
2. Their names are Blake Joseph and Trevor Vittatoe. Don't recognize them. They are the leading candidates to replace four-year starting quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Jordan Palmer at Houston and UTEP, respectively. Joseph, a redshirt sophomore who saw mop-up duty in two games last season and sat for the last 11, is a big piece in the Cougars' puzzle. If he can keep pace with his experienced teammates, the Cougars can repeat in the C-USA West.
3. P.J. Hill of Wisconsin grabbed most of the publicity as a freshman tailback last season, but Damion Fletcher of Southern Mississippi rushed for 1,388 yards, the most by a Golden Eagle in 24 years, and 11 touchdowns. Here's the deal. The Southern Miss offensive line that started in the GMAC Bowl had 147 career starts. This fall's offensive line will have barely a quarter of that. What if Fletcher improves and no one can tell because the holes aren't there?
|1. Todd Graham bolted back to Tulsa after leading Rice to one of the most unexpected turnarounds in recent college football history. Former Texas State coach David Bailiff inherits talented Owls skill players such as receiver Jarett Dillard and quarterback Chase Clement, but depth is a concern across the board. After learning a new system under Graham, the Owls have to do it again. How quickly will the defense transition from a 3-3-5 alignment to a 4-2-5 scheme?
2. Given what former Tulane coach Chris Scelfo went through in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Green Wave should have given him a lifetime contract. Instead, the New Orleans school gave Scelfo a pink slip after last season's 4-8 finish. Former UCLA coach Bob Toledo takes over and inherits a program that still has a long way to go in recovery. Eight starters are back on defense, but a new quarterback must be found. Four straight home games to open the 2007 season gives the Green Wave a chance to improve.
3. Former Georgia offensive line coach Neil Callaway wasn't the popular choice to replace Watson Brown at Alabama-Birmingham (Blazers fans targeted former UAB offensive coordinator Pat Sullivan or current FSU offensive guru Jimbo Fisher). But Callaway was the right choice for the school that is still struggling to compete in Division I-A. Callaway played at Alabama and coached at his alma mater and Auburn and will install a tougher brand of football. With a schedule that includes road games at Michigan State, Florida State, Mississippi State and Tulsa in the first five contests, UAB fans will have to exercise patience.