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Entries in Previews (6)


SEC Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- SEC previews must be difficult for newspaper writers bound by spacial limitations because there are so many good teams, players, coaches, games and possibilities to talk about.

So let me cut right through any mystery and jump on the Florida bandwagon. The Gators will win another national championship this year.

If Tim Tebow has a healthy senior year, he'll go down as the best quarterback to ever play college football. And Urban Meyer is the best young coach in the game right now. And I haven't even mentioned Florida's defense, which is fast and mean and physical and overall nasty. I would not want to meet them in a dark alley, or even in a packed church on a Sunday morning.

The SEC is so deep that only Mississippi State is a guarantee not to earn a bowl berth. Kentucky, a joke of a program until the last few years, could very well finish last in the East, but still is a threat to earn a postseason invitation somewhere. That's a testament to the league's top-to-bottom superiority.

I like what Mark Richt has done at Georgia in terms of scheduling. He sought out an away date at Arizona State to open last season, and will kick off at Oklahoma State this year. The Bulldogs should challenge Florida in the East, but probably won't beat them head to head at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Oct. 31.

Keep an eye this season on Knoxville, where new Vols coach Lane Kiffin made plenty of enemies long before his first game. Things will be just as interesting at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks will only be decent, but you can never sleep on Steve Spurrier. Even Vanderbilt will be a player in the East with 17 starters returning from a team that earned the school's first bowl win in more than 50 years.

And then there's the West, where LSU and Alabama will battle it out once again. Some are picking Ole Miss, led by quarterback Jevan Snead, to surprise, but like North Carolina in the ACC, I'll believe it when I see it. Arkansas returns 18 starters and should be solid on both sides of the ball. Auburn -- remember the Tigers? -- will struggle in new coach Gene Chizik's first season.


South Carolina

Ole Miss
Mississippi State



PAC 10 Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- What do you call a USC team that loses its quarterback and a host of stars on defense?


Until someone else wins the PAC 10, the league belongs to the Trojans, winners of seven straight conference crowns. And while USC is certainly down this year, it still will win seven or eight games in blowout fashion, and let its colors, its name, its Yankees-like mystique get it over the hump in a couple of others.

But the problem for the men of Troy, even with its stacked teams of recent years, has been a tendency to just not show up for one or two games each season under Pete Carroll, otherwise known as the best coach in the sport the last decade.

Southern Cal will get a large boost of confidence with an early season win at Ohio State, and will march through its conference foes -- not unblemished -- successfully enough to claim another league championship and earn a spot in yet another BCS bowl game.

Another full stable of backs, led by Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, will take the pressure off whoever wins the quarterback job at USC. They'll need to score bunches of points to overcome the loss of eight defensive starters, but when was scoring a problem for the Trojans?

As has been the case in many recent seasons, California and Oregon will be Southern Cal's toughest competition, and the Trojans pay each a visit this season. USC won't stumble at Cal on Oct. 3, though, because the Bears don't win big games, and then when the Trojans visit Autzen Stadium on Oct. 31, it will be too late in the season for USC not to appreciate what's at stake.

Cal returns 15 starters and features Jahvid Best, one of the nation's top running backs, as well as a defense that will likely be the league's top unit. Meanwhile, the skill-position parts and a generous schedule are firmly in place for Oregon, but the offensive line could be problematic.

Arizona and Oregon State also will be playing for bowl games. It would be nice if Washington could be Washington again, but that's far from happening this year.


Oregon State
Arizona State
Washington State



Big XII Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- Big XII fans make up 50 percent of the obnoxiousness that is the "best-conference" debate. I think we know where the other half lives.

I've never understood this argument. Who cares what the best conference is? Do Packers fans pound their chests about the NFC Central? Did Rays fans repeat an "AL East" chant during their surprising October run last year? It's just ridiculous.

What is also ridiculous is the amount of talent at quarterback -- again -- in the Big XII. Not only is Heisman winner Sam Bradford back at Oklahoma, and not only is Colt McCoy back at Texas, but so too are Kansas' Todd Reesing and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson, and even Baylor has a QB you'll hear a lot about this year named Robert Griffin.

But a quarterback can't win the conference by himself. He needs a supporting cast, and that's precisely why I think Oklahoma State will be the surprise pick this year.

We've seen some seriously prolific offenses in the Big XII the last few years, but the Cowboys will be better than all of them. Robinson is merely one of three Heisman hopefuls in that OSU backfield. Running back Kendall Hunter and wideout Dez Bryant combined for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns last year, and will pose nightmares for Big XII defenses, which aren't collectively all that good against even mediocre offenses.

Oklahoma State gets a great test right out of the gate when Georgia visits, then gets Texas at home in October and closes at Oklahoma on Nov. 28. If this offense stays healthy, it will win the South Division and play Nebraska in the conference championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 5.

Texas Tech and Missouri were cute the last two years, but without Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel, both teams should fall back to their more familiar reality. And though Nebraska appears to be the best of the North, that doesn't mean Kansas can't pull the upset when the Huskers pay Lawrence a late-season visit and claim a spot in the title game. It's not like Nebraska hasn't underachieved the last seven years or so.


Kansas State
Iowa State

Oklahoma State
Texas Tech
Texas A&M

BEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE: Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 17


Big Ten Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- Until just a few years ago, Michigan and Ohio State were always the preseason picks in the Big Ten. The only question was the order in which they would finish, and that was often decided on the third or fourth Saturday in November.

And while the Buckeyes have remained among the national elite, it's Penn State's return to prominence in recent years that has offered the most resistance for OSU. Michigan, meanwhile, is still rebuilding under second-year coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines won't be a factor this year but should rejoin the conversation in 2010.

The Nittany Lions have won 40 games the last four seasons, and I expect them to win the Big Ten outright this year, and finish the regular season with a 12-0 record by virtue of an incredibly friendly schedule.

Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster form one of the nation's more dangerous duos, and will lead a PSU team that plays only four times away from home. The Lions miss Wisconsin and get Ohio State and Iowa at home. If they're nervous in Happy Valley about losing seven defensive starters, Penn State opens with Akron, Syracuse and Temple to get things sorted out while the weather's still warm.

Ohio State, however, will not spend September getting full on cupcakes. Something about a team from Southern California on Sept. 12? It's funny that the Buckeyes often get blasted for scheduling weak sisters before conference play. All coach Jim Tressel has done is sought out home-and-home series with Texas and USC the last few years, and on future ledgers he's arranged dates with Miami, California, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

But those games will be then, and this is now. Second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor is now under a high-powered microscope in Columbus. He'll make good progress from last season, but it won't be enough to overcome the losses of Beanie Wells and Brian Robiskie on offense. Too, OSU's defense will have to replace a lot of talent, and while the Buckeyes get nine games to prepare for Penn State, the Lions will be too much in Happy Valley come November.

Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois could throw a wrench into the order of things in yet another unimpressive season in the Big Ten.


Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

BEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE: Ohio State at Penn State, Nov. 7


Big East Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- I still can't believe what's happened to the Big East since November 2006.

Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers were all 8-0 and among the top 10 teams in the country. They were all scheduled to play each other in the season's final weeks, but none escaped unblemished; all were knocked from BCS Championship game contention.

And the league has not been the same since.

My alma mater of all teams, Cincinnati, repped the Big East in the Orange Bowl last year, and played listlessly in a loss to Virginia Tech. The Bearcats have one of the nation's more exciting players returning in WR/KR Mardy Gilyard, but losing 10 starters on defense usually prevents teams from repeating as league champs.

Rutgers has shown that 2006 was just one good year, and Louisville fans can't wait to get rid of coach Steve Kragthorpe, who's made a mess of the success John L. Smith built and Bobby Petrino furthered.

That leaves West Virginia, whose Mountaineers will climb back to the top of the league once more in 2009.

Four-year starter Pat White leaves a gaping hole at quarterback, and the offensive line is thin, but electric running back Noel Devine will still be a threat to hit the century mark every time out. When White and Steve Slaton were backfield mates for three years, WVU beat -- actually pounded -- teams with offense. That won't be the case this season, but the Mountaineers bring back eight starters from a stingy defense, which we've heard wins championships.

Don't sleep on Pittsburgh, which just can't seem to meet expectations under Dave Wannstedt. But his defense will be comparable to that of WVU's, and will hide the shortcomings of an inexperienced offensive attack.

South Florida will be solid again in 2009, with quarterback Matt Grothe at the helm and sackmaster George Selvie causing havoc from the defensive side of the ball. If the gunslingin' Grothe can curb his mistakes and Selvie can stay healthy, the two stars who lifted USF all the way to a No. 2 ranking in 2007 will certainly help the Bulls contend in what appears to be a wide-open Big East.



BEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE: Pittsburgh at West Virginia, Nov. 27.


ACC Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- When using the term "continued success" about an ACC football powerhouse, there was a time not long ago when you would have used those words to describe Florida State.

But it's Virginia Tech that will enjoy continued membership among the national elite while the Seminoles could very well return to such status after a couple of off years and an overall downslide as it relates to the sport's landscape.

FSU and Virginia Tech should steamroll through the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, respectively, and square off in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 5 in Tampa.

With the graduation of Sean Glennon, Tyrod Taylor doesn't have to worry about splitting time at quarterback. The 2009 squad is finally his team. With a 13-2 career mark as a starter, this could be the year the speedy junior starts to remind Tech fans of the dual-threat capabilities of Michael Vick.

While Taylor will lead the offense, coach Frank Beamer's bread will again be buttered on defense and special teams this year, thanks in large part to Jason Worilds. Worilds changed his name from Jason Adjepong two years ago, and will change plenty of games this year with his rare combination of speed and strength. This guy is a huge playmaker; expect to hear his name in connection with sacks, turnovers and even a blocked kick or two this season.

Early season tilts at Alabama and against Nebraska will help the Hokies get ready for the ACC grind, if you want to call it a grind. This league certainly isn't the SEC or the Big XII, but home dates with Miami and Boston College and a visit to Georgia Tech will offer enough credible tests to put the defending Orange Bowl champs in the BCS mix once again.

Speaking of tests, that FSU student-athletes cheated on one several years ago could cost legendary coach Bobby Bowden as many as 14 wins. The school has appealed the NCAA's ruling to strip Bowden of the victories, a move that would reduce the coach's win total from 382 to 368. Penn State's Joe Paterno stands at No. 1 with 383 victories.

Regardless of what shakes out, the Seminoles could field their best team in years this season. Long gone from Tallahassee are 11-1 seasons; FSU is just 23-16 in the last three years, but an explosive offense could help return the Seminoles to the national spotlight.

Quarterback Christian Ponder is back, as is the entire offensive line in front of him. In all, seven starters return from last year's unit that averaged 33 points and 372 yards per game. Only five starters return on defense, so Ponder will need to continue to lead the growth of the offense.

FSU also will have to overcome a difficult schedule, especially on the road. The Seminoles visit BYU, Boston College, Clemson and Florida, and also play Miami and Georgia Tech this season. It's one of the most difficult schedules in Division I this year.

Elsewhere around the league, Georgia Tech is getting some attention thanks to running back Jonathan Dwyer, who's on many preseason Heisman watch lists. Boston College and Clemson surely have high hopes as they do every summer, but they're certain to finish a disappointing 8-4 at best, as they seem to do every fall. North Carolina is getting some precious preseason pub, but I'm not ready to jump on its bandwagong yet. The ACC continues to make gradual improvement this year, but definitely won't send 10 teams to bowl games like it did in 2008, an NCAA record for one league.


Florida State
Boston College
Wake Forest
North Carolina State

Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech
North Carolina

BEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, Oct. 17