Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There is no more avid fan in America, then
the one that prefers the collegiate game over its professional counterpart.
Rivalries are not just formed on the playing field, but rather in living rooms
across the country, where recruiting players is done with ruthless aggression.
Miami, Florida and Florida State are a perfect example of this, as all three
programs leave no stone unturned in the Sunshine State, to land the best the
state has to offer (and it has a lot to offer). It certainly would be easier
to find Bigfoot, or the Lochness Monster, rather than a Miami fan that also
likes Florida and Florida State, or a Gator alum that is passive when it comes
to the Hurricanes or Seminoles. No, you won't find an FSU fanatic that enjoys
the way Miami or Florida plays the game either. Border wars hold no more
significance than in college football.
Because of that, predicting a college football season is never easy and is
always open to criticism, both good and bad (mostly bad).
Although I know this going in, I will not tread lightly, as putting my neck on
the line comes with the territory.
The 2002 season is inching closer and closer and here are just a few things to
EXPECT BIG THINGS: The Big 12 holds the key to the 2002 season, as it very
well could have the top two programs in the country. Oklahoma is just two
years removed from a national title and Bob Stoops has a full cupboard again
in Norman and will probably start the season as the top team in the land. The
defense lost All-Americans Roy Williams and Rocky Calmus, but the offense
will be so much better this season, that it may not matter. OU's biggest
threat will come from Red River rival Texas. The Longhorns are primed for a
huge season with the Golden Boy (Chris Simms) at the helm. With some of the
nation's most explosive offensive weapons and a stingy defense, Mack Brown may
finally ascend the Big 12 mountain and take home the conference crown, while
earning a trip to the Fiesta Bowl in January. Serious threats will come from
another pair of Big 12 preseason top-10 teams in Colorado and Texas A&M. The
Buffs are the defending conference champs and have a ton of talent returning.
The Aggies are the wildcard, as a seasoned team on both sides of the ball may
just shock everyone and win the league crown.
Where exactly will Nebraska end up? The Huskers are still smarting from the
absolute whipping laid on them by the Hurricanes in the Rose Bowl. Frank
Solich must try to fill the huge hole left by Eric Crouch (easier said than
done), but with home tilts against Texas and Colorado, not to mention road
trips to Penn State, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State,
things will not be the same in Lincoln this year. Is it possible that Nebraska
is only the fifth-best team in the conference?
SUNNY DAYS: Bobby Bowden's team lost four games in 2001. It still sounds a
little weird saying that. With a 9-4 campaign last year, the Seminoles failed
to win at least 10 games for the first time in 14 seasons, not to mention
losing their stranglehold on the ACC title. It will be a brief decline, as the
2002 season will see the 'Noles back in the national title picture. FSU is
loaded on both sides of the football and may have the best offensive and
defensive lines in the country. With a young, but now experienced Chris Rix
under center and a whole host of weapons at his disposal, this team could put
up huge numbers this season en route to a Fiesta Bowl appearance.
Bobby Bowden's Seminoles failed to win at least 10 games for the first time in 14 seasons last year.
The defending national champs will look to repeat, but it certainly won't be
easy for Miami. The team benefited from the nation's best offensive line and
secondary last year and relied heavily on both units to win the national
title. Larry Coker's team still has a great deal of talent, but the Hurricanes
will have a tough time becoming the top team in their state, let alone the
nation this season.
The Florida Gators will be an enigma to start out the season. How can you
lose talents like wideouts Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell on offense and
defensive end Alex Brown and cornerback Lito Sheppard on defense, not to
mention head coach Steve Spurrier and not take a step back? The answer of
course is Rex Grossman. Last year's surprise Heisman candidate is a legitimate
threat to win it this season and it's only a matter of time before he locks in
on his new favorite targets. The team will probably use the running game a bit
more and that can only make Grossman that much more dangerous. While the
Gators may just be the third-best team in the state of Florida, they could
still wind up with a top-10 finish.
RETURN TO FORM: The SEC took a step back last season, as Tennessee knocked off
Florida, while LSU took out Tennessee, leaving no one left standing when the
music stopped. This year, the SEC should get back in the national hunt, with
as many as four teams from the conference hovering around the top-10 all
The best of the bunch could very well be the Volunteers. Sure there have been
numerous offseason setbacks, but Fulmer's offense could be one of the
country's finest. The only question is whether the defense can keep pace.
The aforementioned Gators will once again fight tooth and nail with Tennessee
for SEC East supremacy and first-year coach Ron Zook will look to make an
immediate impact in the league, letting everyone know that Florida football
will thrive in the post-Spurrier era.
Like the Volunteers, Georgia will get a chance to climb to the top of the
league standings, behind a potent offense. The Bulldogs will need their
defensive unit to show up each week, but this offense can blow away any team,
including the Vols and Gators in the East.
Finally, Lou Holtz has the kind of program in South Carolina that could make a
serious run at the big boys (Florida, Tennessee, Georgia). The Gamecocks will
run the ball down team's throats and the old adage the speed kills certainly
applies in Columbia this season. One thing is for sure, USC football will
certainly be fun to watch in 2002.
The West doesn't hold the trump cards that the East does, but that certainly
won't stop teams like Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss from proving the SEC is back.
ON THE HORIZON: With unthinkable campaigns by teams like Fresno State (11-3),
BYU (12-2), Washington State (10-2) and Hawaii (9-3) last year, the pattern
has been set for underdog teams to follow. Who will be this year's surprise
This very well could be the year that Mike Price's Cougars take it all in the
Pac-10. Last season's success was rather unexpected, but a loaded team led by
a Heisman Trophy candidate (Jason Gesser) could have the program finally
taking it all after year's of cellar-dwelling.
Florida State should win the ACC, but NC State could very well be this year's
Maryland. The Terps shocked the nation as they went home with the league crown
in 2001. The Wolfpack are similar in many regards this season and Chuck
Amato's team could very well be atop the standings when all is said and done.
NC State did go into Tallahassee and win last year (the first league opponent
to do so).
Utah and Colorado State are the teams to beat in the Mountain West, with both
programs looking to build on winning seasons in 2001.
The WAC could have a new look at the top of the standings as well, with Boise
State and Louisiana Tech coming into the season with a great deal of optimism.
The Broncos were supposed to take a step back last season, but quarterback
Ryan Dinwiddie proved to be a suitable field-general. With Dinwiddie
returning, along with the team's top rusher (Brock Forsey) and wideout (Jay
Swillie), the Bronco offense will certainly put points on the board.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: Picking the league champs before the season is not easy
and certainly open for opinion, but here goes:
ACC - Florida State
Big East - Miami-Florida
Big Ten - Ohio State
Big 12 - Texas
Conference USA - Louisville
Mid-American - Marshall
Mountain West - Utah
Pac-10 - USC
SEC - Tennessee
Sunbelt - Middle Tennessee State
WAC - Boise State
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org.