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First-half impressions

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The first half of the 2003 college football season is now in the books and it has been a wild one to say the least. The top of the poll looks solid, but it is the jockeying for position after that which has made this year so intriguing. Throw in a major conference expansion, a mid-major uprising and an open door regarding the Heisman Trophy and this could very well be one of the great finishes for college football in recent memory.

SOONER THE BETTER: With the recent dismantling of Texas in the Red River Shootout, it is apparent that this year's Sears Trophy is Oklahoma's to lose. The Sooners completely destroyed what was supposed to be a solid Longhorn squad, routing UT 65-13 this past weekend. The team has breezed through its schedule thus far, except for a seven-point win against Alabama in week two. With a lethal offense highlighted by a savvy signal-caller and explosive running attack, not to mention one of the nation's strongest defenses, there isn't much stopping the Sooners en route to a Sugar Bowl appearance. This team is getting better as the season wears on, a scary thought for the rest of the competition down the stretch.

DEPTH PERCEPTION: When you lose three All-Americans on the offensive side of the football, with all three coming at skill positions (QB, RB and WR), a step back is not only likely, but expected, right? Well, not if you reside in Coral Gables. The Miami Hurricanes have lost just once in the last three seasons and that coming in overtime in the national title game last year. The team has not only lost players to the NFL, but now must deal with the recent loss of star tailback Frank Gore. So what do the Hurricanes do? They completely dominate the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee over the weekend, serving notice as to who is the best team in the Sunshine State. There is just one more real stumbling block between Miami and the Sugar Bowl, that coming in a few weeks against Virginia Tech. A third straight national title game is certainly within reach of Miami, a true testament to Larry Coker's depth in South Florida.

Jason White
Jason White has thrown for over 1,700 yards this season along with 20 TDs and just three INTs for the top-ranked Sooners.
MID-MAJOR MACHISMO: It has become commonplace for the nation's elite teams to schedule soft non-conference foes to pad the stats and keep national title aspirations out of harms way. Unfortunately (depending on your rooting interests), the Mid-American Conference is no longer a source for such patsies, as the MAC has stood up this year and served notice that the conference needs to be taken seriously. There are as many as five teams in the league with big wins this year, including key wins over BCS eligible programs. Northern Illinois is the posterchild for the conference right now, with two wins over ranked foes. The Huskies find themselves in the top-25, a real shot in the arm for a conference dying for respect.

IN THE MONEY: The ACC is regarded as one of the top basketball conferences in the nation and league commissioner John Swofford wanted football to be seen in the same light. Well, he has it now, as the ACC went fishing this year and landed three of the biggest fish in the sea. Earlier, the ACC invited both Miami and Virginia Tech to the conference and both accepted. With the recent admission of Boston College to the party, the ACC is now a bona fide powerhouse in college football, rivaling any conference in the country. With 12 teams now in-house, the ACC will be able to split into two divisions and add a money-making conference title game to the mix.

RECEIVING ATTENTION: The college ranks are the NFL's minor league system and each year, there is a distinct strength in the draft. A few years ago it was the quarterbacks (Couch, McNabb, Culpepper, Brooks, etc) that defined the draft. Recently, it has been defense. Last year a pair of talented wideouts were taken high (Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson) and both have paid immediate dividends for their respective teams. That momentum should carry over as this could very well be another year for receivers. The depth at the wideout position could be overwhelming. There are a trio of Williams, in Texas' Roy, USC's Mike and Washington's Reggie. Then there is Larry Fitzgerald in Pittsburgh and Rashaun Woods from Oklahoma State. A sixth pass catcher can be found in Miami tight end Kellen Winslow. Providing all six make themselves eligible for the next NFL Draft, all of them will go in the first round and could very well be taken in the first-half of the round.

WIDE OPEN RACE: It is mid-October and there is no clear-cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy. There are several in the running, but the favorites have all had there lapses this year, making this a hard race to judge. Michigan's Chris Perry was the early favorite, but he didn't show up in the loss to Oregon. NC State's Philip Rivers has been getting it done since stepping on the field in Raleigh, but this is not an award for the best career in college football. Rivers' team already has three losses on the year and that certainly will tarnish any of his numbers when it comes time to vote for the award. The flavors of the week include Oklahoma QB Jason White, Texas Tech QB B.J. Symons, Pittsburgh WR Larry Fitzgerald, Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones and believe it or not, a tight end in Miami's Kellen Winslow. White will probably lead his team to the Sugar Bowl. Symons' numbers are off the charts, but he plays for a mediocre squad. Same goes for Fitzgerald. Jones could steal this thing, especially with a strong finish and Winslow is not only the best tight end in the country, but arguably the best player. The cream should rise to the top in the next few weeks.

BCS HORIZON: The BCS may just elude any controversy this season, if the second half of the season follows the first. The undefeated teams number five right now and two of those (TCU and Northern Illinois) are not BCS eligible. Two others (Miami and Virginia Tech) face off against one another in a few weeks, setting up a scenario for the only pair of deserving undefeated teams to square off in New Orleans for the national title. No one can complain if Oklahoma takes on either the Hurricanes or Hokies for the national title. Of course, if something should happen along the way to throw a monkey wrench in the works, there are several one-loss teams that will scream at the top of their lungs that they belong in the title game. Only time will tell.

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

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