Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Questions From An Elliptical Plane

Bruce Ciskie recently posed some great Round Table Questions for the upcoming college football season. Even though I'm a little late to the party, I brought chips and some onion dip. While I possess neither Bruce's knowledge nor eloquence, I figured I'd give y'all my thoughts.

Which preseason college football magazine is your favorite?

To be honest, I try to avoid them. I know, I know, I'm nuts. But after years of reading the Sporting News (which is always, always wrong) or Lindy's or Athlon (again, always wrong), I just gave up. So much of the originality of the coverage these days has been supplanted by the internet. If I want to learn about Texas I go to BON, Florida has EDSBS, Georgia I go to Dawg Sports, etc. At this point you're better off reading the local paper or football site to get an idea of what's going on. So many of the preseason magazines do little more than provide information that has been on the web for months on glossy paper with a few more photographs. For knowledgeable fans, generally we've got a pretty good idea of where our team fits in the national rankings anyway. The magazines are there simply to confirm or deny our assumptions.

However, of the magazines out there the gold standard is Phil Steele's preview. Somehow there's always a tidbit or two in there that hasn't found its way onto the chat boards and his accuracy goes without question.

The rest are kindling for those end of season bonfires.

What team is being supremely overrated in the preseason rankings?

Ohio State. I'm not saying this as a Michigan fan, I'm saying this as a football fan. Offense is fun to watch, but if you can't play defense at some point you're going to fall flat on your face. Buckeye Commentary had a great piece on why this isn't a concern. I totally disagree. Linebacking corp? Gone. Safeties and corners? Gone. D line? Gone. Breaking in nine new starters, with an early road game in Austin is asking too much. McSweatervest always has a great defense. He's too good a coach for them to be Herrmann bad. But, the largest number of starters he's had to replace is 7. He is basically replacing his whole defense with guys who, at most, have limited experience. You could count on the defense last year to get that final stop, or that final three and out when you needed it. There was experience and aged to perfection 1st round talent. This year there's talent. That's it. That's not enough.

ESPN and the preseason magazines, seem to think the above concerns aren't really that bad. Everyone points to the great offense that Ohio State will have this year as the reason for their supreme ranking. That offense benefited greatly from the field position given to it by its top 5 defense. Without the turnovers and three and outs, regardless of the talent on behind center, its going to be harder to score points.

Another reason the offense may not be as good as advertised is the absence of Santonio Holmes. Holmes had 11 of OSU's 18 receiving touchdowns. He led the team with 53 receptions. He was to Ohio State what Avant was to Michigan. The critical piece that made the rest of the offense work. Holmes caught the crucial passes. Holmes ran the danger routes. Holmes had that break away extra gear. He was the total college package. As dynamic as Ted Ginn is, without Holmes to clear one side of the field for him, defenses are going to key on him without fear that Gonzalez is going to beat them down the field. Together Ginn and Gonzalez accounted for the other 7 receiving touchdowns OSU scored. No one else found the endzone in the air. Two of OSU's top receivers are gone (Holmes and Pittman) and there isn't a star on the other side of Ginn.

While I'm sold on the OSU running game and quarterback, the receiving corps however is a big question mark. Had Ginn produced a monster year last year (4 TD's doesn't cut it) rather than doing his best Steve Breaston imitation, I'd think differently. But he didn't, and I'm not buying the conventional wisdom that a finesse guy like Ginn is going to overnight become the hard nosed possession receiver the OSU offense requires. Gonzalez will catch the ball. Ginn will stretch the field. But neither of them has that second intangible that made Holmes special and the OSU offense work.

Ohio State is extremely talented. They will score points. They'll probably win the Big Ten. But I can't see them holding up a crystal football at the end of the year. This team would have been better served as an #8. The gigantic target they're gonna wear this year will prove to be too much. 10-2 or 9-3. But they're not number 1.

Honorable Mention: Notre Dame. They've been hammered on by everyone. I echo those sentiments. The fatman racks up three more losses again this season.

Turn the tables. Who is underrated?

A couple of teams leap to mind.

To risk the ire of Orson, there is no way Tennessee can possibly be as bad as they were last year. If so, the cheetoes are going to hit the fan around Ole Rocky Top.

Steele has LSU ranked 21st. No way. Even though both lines have to be rebuilt, the Bengals will lay a hurtin on someone this year and end up in the top 10 but out of NC contention.

Nebraska will also surprise. If they can keep Zach Taylor out of the hospital (note to Nebraska's O-line: blocking = good), the Huskers will own the pathetic Big XII north. The Huskers showed guts and heart against a vastly more athletic Michigan team during the Alamo bowl. With that win and solid season behind them, Nebraska may finally be able to break away from the Solich years.

Nebraska's schedule is an absolute joke:
09/02 La Tech
09/09 Nicholls St
09/16 USC
09/23 Troy
09/30 Kansas
10/07 at Iowa St
10/14 at Kansas St
10/21 Texas
10/28 at Oklahoma St
11/04 Missouri
11/11 at Texas A&M
11/24 Colorado

With Texas and USC as Nebraska's only "penciled" in losses, this team should go 11-3 with losses to USC and Texas (twice, Big XII championship game). They've got two "tough" road games at Iowa State and A&M, but Nebraska will end up higher in the rankings anyone's giving them credit for. Because the USC and Texas games are at Nebraska its possible they could pull out an upset (singular) too.

Honorable to Boston College. The potential to play Miami twice within 9 days (ACC championship game) hurts them a tad. Still, they're loaded this year.

Which conference will be the best in 2006?

Big XII is too top heavy. So's the Big Ten. SEC is good but not great.

I'd have to say in terms of competitiveness the ACC will be the best this year. Expect Maryland to bounce back. Boston College has some experience under its belt and a favorable schedule. Florida State and Miami are, well, Florida State and Miami. Virginia Tech as well.

Then tack on an emerging Clemson team, and two hungry Virginia and Georgia Tech teams. That's seven teams out of 12 that will deliver good years.

SEC and Big 11 Ten tied for a close second.

Which "non-BCS" conference will be the best in 2006?

Who cares? Let's say Conference USA at random.

Which non-BCS conference team will have the best season?

I'm going with SMU. No reason. I just want to see the ponies gallop back into the limelight. The offense woke up at the end of the season and SMU looks like its on the verge of a winning season for the first time since receiving the death penalty 19 years ago.

Let's get your first read on this one...who will win the H*i*m*n? Oh, by the way, players whose last names begin with the letter "Q" are ineligible.

If healthy, Tyrone Prothro. Certifiable Bad Ass. However, his gruesome injury last year will probably rob him of some of his electrifying talent. Too bad. Man, he's fun to watch.

Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma and Troy Smith of Ohio State are my front runners. Smith is a slightly slower but better throwing version of Vince Young. Peterson, if he's got a line, will end up the No. 1 pick in the draft and probably walk away with the award (provided OU beats Texas). If either team produces, these two will be at the forefront all year long.

Dark Horse Candidates: Mike Hart. When healthy, as good as Peterson. Look at his freshman year numbers. They're almost identical to Peterson's, and Hart did that with a freshman QB. Injuries hampered him last year, but a successful Michigan team gets him a DAC invite. Also, Brian Brohm of Louisville. (HT: I'm a Realist).


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