Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The 2005 season is upon us and while every Division IA team is currently tied in the standings, with every squad having a shot at their respective conference championship, the reality of it is that only a handful of teams will be in the mix when the season winds down. With that in mind, here are some of the more pressing questions heading into the new campaign.
CAN USC WIN ITS THIRD STRAIGHT NATIONAL TITLE? Conventional wisdom would suggest that winning a third consecutive national championship, especially in today's game is impossible, but I'm guessing that Pete Carroll doesn't subscribe to that line of thinking. Neither should you in this case. The Trojans have lost quite a bit on the defensive side of the ball, but the offense is loaded. USC may not win in the glaring fashion that it did most of the time in 2004, but with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and a whole slew of talented receivers, this team is more than capable of going undefeated again. The Rose Bowl isn't far from the USC campus and a trip to Pasadena is certainly in reach.
CAN TEXAS FINALLY WIN THE BIG 12? Batman had the Joker, Superman had Lex Luther, and Mack Brown has Bob Stoops. The Longhorns have had some highly successful seasons of late, but the team from Austin has missed out on the top prize, mostly due to its inability to "get over the hump" against Oklahoma. The Sooners have owned the Longhorns over the last half decade, but the tide may be turning. Texas could finally have the team and more importantly, the team leader, to climb the Big 12 mountain. Vince Young is a remarkable talent under center for Texas and although the team loses All-American Cedric Benson, this is now Young's team and with a talented and deep offensive line, Young should provide the team with a significant edge heading into the October 8th matchup with the Sooners. Winning that game should propel the Longhorns to a conference crown and possible national title shot.
WHO WILL WIN THE HEISMAN TROPHY? Is there any reason to believe that last year's winner Matt Leinart won't be right up there in the mix again in 2005? Of course, the talented lefty will garner a great deal of attention in 2005, but with more emphasis on teammate Reggie Bush, they may actually cancel one another out. The obvious player that will benefit from that is Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. With great size and speed, the youngster burst on the scene in Norman as a true freshman, posting a record 1,925 yards, finishing right behind Leinart for the Heisman. The Sooners will rely more on Peterson this season with a new QB in town and the added workload should be enough to push him past the competition at the season's end.
Pete Carroll's USC squad may not win in the glaring fashion that it did most of the time in 2004, but with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and a whole slew of talented receivers, this team is more than capable of going undefeated again.
WILL CHARLIE WEIS MAKE AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT AT NOTRE DAME? A lot of people thought that Ty Willingham was given a raw deal in South Bend, including me. That being said, Charlie Weis may be just what the Irish need to return to glory. A Notre Dame alum with a pedigree, Weis certainly is one of the most qualified to take over the reins at such a prestigious institution. An offensive mind with a real knack for cultivating talent, Weis should have this team playing better from the get-go. It may not reflect in the win/loss column this season, but he will put his stamp on this team from game one.
HOW WILL STEVE SPURRIER FARE IN THE SEC THIS YEAR? Spurrier is back in the SEC, but will be shackled a bit to get things started, as his team simply lacks the kind of overall talent that he was accustomed to in Gainesville. The other coaches in the conference certainly remember Spurrier's penchant from running up the score on them and will be more than happy to return the favor. South Carolina is a fine place to get back into the college game, but Spurrier will struggle in 2005, especially with road games at Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas.
WHAT TEAMS WILL HAVE THE BCS SWEATING IN 2005? It was Utah last year that finished undefeated on the season and made their case for a BCS bowl game. Not only did they get into the Fiesta Bowl, but they punished Pittsburgh in that game, showing the football world that non-BCS conferences cannot go unnoticed. This season, there will be a couple of teams that could follow the Utes lead. The likely candidates include Bowling Green from the MAC and Boise State from the WAC. The Falcons open up against Wisconsin, but with QB Omar Jacobs under center, a win in Madison is certainly attainable, leading to what could be a magical season. The Broncos are on a similar course, with their toughest test coming at Georgia to open things up. A win over the Bulldogs could set up an undefeated campaign in Idaho.
IS THE HARRIS POLL GOING TO SOLVE ANYTHING? The answer is of course, no! The Harris Poll will do the exact same thing that the AP Poll did? Nothing. Polls are not how the national title should be decided. A playoff system is the only way to resolve the issues at hand, but we all know that the current powers that be will never allow that to happen.
WHICH COACHES ARE ON THE HOT SEAT? Mike Shula at Alabama. Tommy Bowden at Clemson, Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech. All these coaches have had limited success, but have not been able to bring their teams to elite status. Other coaches that have had even more success, but continue to see there names on such lists are Mack Brown at Texas and Larry Coker at Miami. Most alumni would love to have the kind of success rate that both Brown and Coker have enjoyed at their respective schools. However, expectations are so much higher in Coral Gables and Austin and anything short of a national title appearance stirs up the faithful. An interesting name is Joe Paterno at Penn State. Although his teams have certainly struggled of late, we all know that the seat that Paterno sits on in Happy Valley has no temperature gauge.
WHICH TEAMS HAVE THE TOUGHEST SCHEDULES? Being in the SEC itself, puts most of those teams on this list, but barring the pitfalls of an SEC slate, here are a couple of teams that will struggle week-in and week-out with a grueling schedule. John Bunting's North Carolina Tar Heels have one of the most ambitious schedules in the country, with non- league games against Wisconsin, Utah and Louisville, in addition to ACC road tilts at Miami, Virginia Tech, NC State and Georgia Tech. Notre Dame has no conference affiliation, but certainly makes up for it with games against Big Ten powers Michigan and Purdue, in addition to USC, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
WHAT ARE THE MOST INTRIGUING GAMES HEADING INTO THE SEASON? Early season bouts pitting Miami at Florida State and Texas at Ohio State will clear up the national title picture in a hurry. The Red River Shootout between the Longhorns and Sooners is always a thrill, as is the series between Florida and Georgia and Florida and Tennessee. USC against California is sure to be another barn-burner, along with Miami at Virginia Tech. Games with interesting subplots include the Florida Gators coming to Columbia to take on Spurrier's Gamecocks, as well as Notre Dame traveling to the Pacific Northwest for a showdown with former coach Ty Willingham and the Washington Huskies.