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Getting Back to Business

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus 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.

Larry Coker
Miami's head coach Larry Coker holds up the National Championship trophy after winning the Rose Bowl this year.
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 coveted trophy.

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 consideration.

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 attack.

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 again.

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 season.

It can't come soon enough.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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