Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Boys of Summer are on center stage
right now on baseball diamonds across the country, but there is a small buzz
circulating campus' gridirons nationwide, that should have all you college
football junkies grinning from ear to ear. The Boys of Winter have brushed off
the dust and have gotten back to work following spring drills, and it couldn't
have come at a better time.
It has seemed like an eon since the Miami Hurricanes completely annihilated
the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Pasadena, as five months have inched by at a
snail's pace. Patience however, is a virtue (or so they say), and we will soon
be enjoying our Saturdays a whole lot more, with football reigning supreme
from the third week in August right through the New Year.
There are a number of questions to be answered, especially in light of a truly
unexpected 2001 season.
Can the Miami Hurricanes continue to mow over the competition and repeat as
national champions? The answer is a resounding yes, as Larry Coker has as deep
a team as any in the country. The Canes won't have the nation's best offensive
line or secondary as they did a year ago, but there is plenty of talent still
residing in Coral Gables and keeping Miami out of the national title picture
will not be easy. Ken Dorsey will once again vie for the Heisman and a full
compliment of receivers could just be the edge he needs to take home the
Miami's head coach Larry Coker holds up the National Championship trophy after winning the Rose Bowl this year.
How will the ACC shape up this season? Ralph Friedgen wrestled the conference
crown away from Bobby Bowden, who seemed to think the title just naturally
belonged in Tallahassee. The Terps caught lightning in a bottle a year ago,
but will have a tough time maintaining that momentum in 2002, as the team lost
its savvy signal-caller from a year ago (Shaun Hill) and took an even larger
blow to the quarterback position with the injury to Chris Kelley in the
spring. Still, the offense does have the league's top tailback in Bruce Perry
and Maryland boasts the best player in the conference in All-American
linebacker E.J. Henderson. If the defense can play like it did a year ago,
this team could give Florida State another tough time.
Bobby Bowden on the other hand, had a very inexperienced team a year ago and
it showed, as FSU dropped four games (unheard of in the Bowden Era). A veteran
group returns to Doak Campbell Stadium this year, including several explosive
playmakers who missed the 2001 campaign due to injury (Anquan Bolden and
Robert Morgan). The Seminoles will have one of the top defensive fronts in the
country and should be right up there again in terms of national title
More Sunshine State questions must be answered in Gainesville, where the
Florida Gators must find a way to remain among the nation's elite without
their leader, as Steve Spurrier has finally lunged for the NFL carrot that has
dangled in front of him for so long. The Gators have long been one of the most
explosive offensive teams in the nation, but the new head man in town
is a defensive guru in Ron Zook. The offense took several hits in the NFL
Draft, including the loss of wideouts Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, but
Zook is a seasoned coach and should be able to bring balance to the Florida
College football certainly doesn't revolve around the Sunshine State, although
three of the nation's top five could reside within the state borders when all
is said and done.
The SEC always produces great football, but who exactly will step up to take
the conference crown? The Gators are under a new regime and the Volunteers are
in the battle with NCAA investigators over rule violations, so just how well
these two teams respond to controversy remains to be seen. Don't be surprised
if Nick Saban's Bayou Bengals or Lou Holtz's Gamecocks sneak up and crash the
party. Not to mention the other Tigers (Auburn), the Bulldogs (Georgia and
Mississippi State), the Rebels (Ole Miss) or the Razorbacks (Arkansas). The
Crimson Tide are also in NCAA limbo, but Dennis Franchione is moving the team
in the right direction.
Is the Big 12 the strongest conference in the country? It would be difficult
to argue against it as there are stacked teams in Norman and Austin this
season, not to mention throwing the team from Lincoln in the mix. Can the
Golden Boy at Texas (Chris Simms) shake off a subpar season and lead the
Longhorns and himself to the Promised Land? Or will Bob Stoops and the
Sooners, or Frank Solich and the Huskers once again bask in the spotlight?
Can the Big Ten win a national championship? The conference will struggle to
keep up with the teams from the South again this season, but there is no more
brutal schedule than that of a Big Ten school. Getting through conference play
unscathed is almost unheard of these days and that in itself is a two-headed
coin. The allure of playing in front of a national audience all season long is
tempting, but finishing the season undefeated is not a realistic scenario and
could be a drawback for some of the blue chippers out there.
The Pac-10 is in the same boat, as parity is the conference's greatest
strength and weakness. Oregon, USC, Washington, Washington State, UCLA and
Stanford were all in the mix a year ago late in the season, and a similar
fate could await the Left Coast league in 2002.
What is happening in South Bend? The plight of Notre Dame could take some time
to delve into, as a program so rich in gridiron glory has fallen on hard
times. However, that being said, the team is definitely heading in the right
direction with a tough task-master in place in Tyrone Willingham. Bob Davie
had the unenviable task of following Lou Holtz and that in and of itself was
more than Davie could overcome. Willingham is the right man for the job and
his no-nonsense approach to coaching is just what the Irish need to return to
national prominence. It may take a year or two, but Irish eyes will be smiling
Fresno State was last year's Cinderella team, but with the loss of David Carr,
who was the first pick in the NFL Draft, Pat Hill's team may have turned back
into a pumpkin.
Still, the smaller conference's will provide plenty of competition for the
nation's elite and teams like Fresno State (WAC), Hawaii (WAC), BYU (Mountain
West) and Marshall (Mid-American) will remind us all why the game is played.
All in all, 2002 looks to be another banner year for the college ranks,
despite the BCS.
It's been five long months since we all enjoyed the college game, but the next
two and a half should go a little quicker.
August 22nd is the date -- Charlottesville is the place, as Colorado State
takes on Virginia in the Jim Thorpe Classic, kicking off the college football
It can't come soon enough.
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org.