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Monday, August 4, 2008
What's hot (and not) for 2008

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

What's hot for college football in 2008? Big 12 quarterbacks. SEC rivalries. Game-changing running backs.

What's not so hot as preseason camps open across the country this week? Off-the-field arrests. Big 12 defenses. Rich Rodriguez.

Here's a closer look at what's hot and what's not in college football in 2008:

What's Hot and Not for the 2008 College Football Season
HOT
NOT
Beanie Wells Tailbacks: Ohio State's Beanie Wells. Georgia's Knowshon Moreno. Clemson's James Davis and C.J. Spiller. West Virginia's Noel Devine. Pitt's LeSean McCoy. Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray. USC's Joe McKnight. Odds are good that one of them will take home the Heisman Trophy. SEC quarterbacks: At least the ones not named Tim Tebow or Matthew Stafford. Although Florida and Georgia are set at the position, every other team in the league is replacing its starting QB or wishes it could replace the guy coming back. Kentucky lost Andre' Woodson. Tennessee lost Erik Ainge. LSU lost Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux.
Cocktails: Georgia and Florida have never faced each other when both were unbeaten. If each team can navigate its way through the first two months of the season, they both might be undefeated when they play in Jacksonville on Nov. 1. The SEC East title (and a possible national championship) could be on the line. Iron supplements: Alabama's Nick Saban has stolen headlines since becoming the Crimson Tide's coach, but Auburn's Tommy Tuberville owns the Iron Bowl. The Auburn coach will be going for seven in a row when the teams play at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 29.
Brian ToalComebacks: Several big-name players will attempt to make comebacks from injuries, suspensions and illnesses that sidelined them for most or all of the 2007 season. South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley is coming back. So are Syracuse tailback Delone Carter, Tennessee safety Demetrice Morley, Pitt receiver Derek Kinder, Oregon State receiver Sammie Stroughter, Boston College linebacker Brian Toal and Oklahoma State receiver Artrell Woods. Ryan PerrillouxFarewells: Poor grades and other off-the-field indiscretions prematurely ended the careers of several top players during the offseason. Among the players who departed their schools: LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, Alabama linebacker Jimmy Johns, Penn State defensive tackle Chris Baker, Syracuse receiver Mike Williams, Virginia defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell, Virginia Tech tailback Branden Ore and Mississippi State guard Mike Brown.
Ohio State: Beanie Wells. James Laurinaitis. Malcolm Jenkins. Terrelle Pryor. Jim Tressel. Sweater vests. The Buckeyes seem armed for a third straight appearance in a BCS title game -- if they can get past USC on Sept. 13. Michigan: Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington are all gone. So is Lloyd Carr. And Rich Rodriguez cost the Wolverines a lot more than they expected.
Backyard Brawl: The interstate series became a rivalry again after Pitt stunned West Virginia 13-9 last season, knocking the Mountaineers out of the BCS title game. The Big East championship might be on the line when the teams play again at Heinz Field on Nov. 28. Offseason brawls: Off-the-field problems and arrests ruined offseasons at several schools, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Penn State, Virginia and West Virginia. Many coaches couldn't wait for preseason practices to begin.
Chase DanielBig 12 QBs: Many of the sport's best passers have zip codes in the Southwest. Missouri's Chase Daniel. Texas' Colt McCoy. Kansas' Todd Reesing. Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson. Bo PeliniBig 12 defenses: Great quarterbacks or lousy defenses? Only one Big 12 team ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense in 2007 -- No. 12 Kansas. Nine Big 12 teams ranked No. 52 or worse, including No. 101 Oklahoma State, No. 110 Baylor and No. 112 Nebraska.
Notre Dame: The Irish are still hot under the collar about a terrible 2007 season. With more experience and a better schedule, Notre Dame will turn up the heat on opponents in 2008. Hawaii: No June Jones. No Colt Brennan. No game-breaking receivers. The Warriors probably won't be able to outscore opponents anymore, so new coach Greg McMackin will have to rely on his team's defense during his first season.
Week 3: Kansas at South Florida on Friday, Sept. 12 is only a weekend appetizer. Saturday's schedule includes Michigan at Notre Dame, Arkansas at Texas, UCLA at BYU, Oregon at Purdue, Georgia at South Carolina, Oklahoma at Washington, Wisconsin at Fresno State and, of course, Ohio State at USC. Week 2: Most fans will probably feel unsatisfied after the lineup of games on Sept. 6. The best offerings? Ole Miss at Wake Forest. Cincinnati at Oklahoma. Oregon State at Penn State. Miami at Florida. Doesn't that leave you hungry for more?
Troy: USC season-ticket holders will enjoy this home schedule in 2008: Ohio State, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington, Cal and Notre Dame. Tuscaloosa: Alabama fans paid thousands of dollars to watch this slate in 2008: Tulane, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas State, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers stunned Michigan 34-32 in the Big House to start the 2007 season. On Aug. 30, three-time defending FCS national champ Appalachian State gets a crack at defending BCS champion LSU. I-AA states: More than a few BCS contenders will open the season against lightweights. Georgia plays Georgia Southern. West Virginia plays Villanova. Ohio State plays Youngstown State. Oklahoma faces Chattanooga. Texas Tech plays Eastern Washington.
Pat Hill Bulldogs: Georgia opens the season ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in its history. Fresno State has its best team in years and might be good enough to crash the BCS party. Mike Stoops Wildcats: Arizona might have to win big to save coach Mike Stoops, who is 17-29 in four seasons. Kansas State's Ron Prince is 12-13 in two seasons and looked desperate after signing 19 juco transfers.
No huddle: Several more schools will be moving to a no-huddle offense to put more points on the scoreboard. Even traditional running teams like Auburn, Oklahoma and Tennessee will have a spread look this coming season. No defense: Nebraska hired LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to save its program. Louisville, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin hope hiring new defensive coordinators will fix their woes.
Steve SpurrierSEC coaches: The league's lineup of coaches looks like a roster of Roman generals. Five SEC coaches have won national titles: Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, LSU's Les Miles, Florida's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban. Throw in Georgia's Mark Richt, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino and the SEC has more star power than the AFC East. Tyrone WillinghamCoaches on the hot seat: These guys probably need to win big this season to save their jobs: Washington's Ty Willingham, Wyoming's Joe Glenn, Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, San Diego State's Chuck Long and UNLV's Mike Sanford.
Darrell ScottFabulous freshmen: Several blue-chip recruits are poised to contribute right away: Alabama's Julio Jones, Georgia's A.J. Green, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, Florida's Omar Hunter, Oklahoma's R.J. Washington, Colorado's Darrell Scott and LSU's Patrick Johnson. Drew Weatherford Seniors on the spot: Many veterans have one more chance at erasing mediocre college careers: Alabama's John Parker Wilson, Arkansas' Casey Dick, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee, FSU's Drew Weatherford, Virginia Tech's Sean Glennon, California's Nate Longshore and UCLA's Ben Olson.
Succession plans: This will be Purdue coach Joe Tiller's final season, and Danny Hope has already been named his successor-in-waiting. It won't be too long before Jimbo Fisher replaces Bobby Bowden at FSU and Joker Phillips succeeds Rich Brooks at Kentucky. Arkansas is already lining up possible replacements for Bobby Petrino. Secession plans: Expansion hasn't worked out the way the ACC thought it would. Since the ACC raided the Big East for Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, it could be argued the league has regressed. The ACC has lost its last eight BCS bowl games and hasn't earned a BCS at-large berth in 10 seasons.
Ron Zook Ron Zook: The coach everyone in the SEC loved to laugh at has turned the Big Ten upside down, after beating Ohio State and playing in the Rose Bowl last season. Rich Rodriguez Rich Rodriguez: Has a college football divorce ever ended so messy? Has any other coach been so passionately hated in two states (West Virginia and Ohio)?
New looks: From California to Georgia Tech to Michigan to Tennessee, dozens of teams will be sporting new uniforms in 2008. Several teams -- even Vanderbilt -- will sport multiple variations of their jerseys during the season. Face masks: No more five-yard penalties for grasping an opponent's face mask. All such infractions will be of the 15-yard variety -- as long as there is twisting, turning or pulling.
Utah: Life isn't the only thing elevated in Utah, where expectations are sky high for BYU. With quarterback Max Hall and most of the offense returning, the Cougars have their sights set on crashing the BCS. But in-state rival Utah and quarterback Brian Johnson might be standing in the way at season's end. Washington: The state's two Pac-10 teams went a combined 9-16 last season and might be worse in 2008. New Cougars coach Paul Wulff inherits a team short on talent and scholarships (the NCAA took away eight because of poor academic performance). Washington coach Tyrone Willingham might need a winning record to save his job. It won't be easy with BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame on the schedule.
Fast risers: Programs like Texas Tech, Fresno State, BYU and North Carolina seem to be on the verge of taking a big step forward. Free fallers: Many programs, including Arkansas, Texas A&M and Virginia, face major rebuilding jobs in 2008.
June Jones Change of pace: Georgia Tech is adding Paul Johnson's triple-option spread offense. Auburn is going from three yards and a cloud of dust to Tony Franklin's spread offense. June Jones took the run 'n' shoot from Hawaii to SMU. Joe Paterno Status quo: Fans are growing restless at Florida State and Penn State, where Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are trying to outlast each other. Each legendary coach could use a big year to quiet their critics.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.