— Now that LSU has been crowned the national champion — kind of — and the 2007 college football season is in the books, it’s never too early to look ahead to 2008.
Brace yourselves. You might not like what you’re about to read up here at the top.
Team to beat: Ohio State. Yes, we suffered through the last two BCS title games just like you. But we can’t get away from this idea that the third time will be the charm. It just doesn’t seem fair that a team that has gotten this far in the past two seasons returns 19 of 22 starters.
If defensive end Vernon Gholston, linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins take LSU’s 38 points in the championship game as a personal slap in the face and forgo the upcoming NFL Draft, the Buckeye defense could actually be good enough next season to stand up to a SEC team.
Offensively, you’d be hard pressed to find a returning group better than quarterback Todd Boeckman, tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells and wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline.
In addition, the Buckeyes have another schedule that’s tailor-made for BCS success. Yes, it’s time to roll your eyes. Although they will participate in a titanic showdown at USC, the rest of the non-conference slate includes Youngstown State, Ohio and Troy. And in league play, Ohio State gets Penn State and Michigan at home.
Others in the running to get to the title game: USC, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. Pete Carroll says his desire is to “win forever.” That might be a bit out of line, but there is certainly no evidence that his Trojans won’t contend for the national title for the rest of this decade. Even if USC loses to a highly-ranked Ohio State team on Sept. 13, the Trojans could easily work their way into the title game and a possible rematch with the Buckeyes. That would make the Rose Bowl weep as they serve up something comparable to Arizona State-Illinois.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno returning among eight starters on offense, along with nine on defense, the Georgia Bulldogs are chomping at the bit to get back on the field in 2008. Their total domination of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl wasn’t nearly as impressive as the six-game winning steak they closed the regular season with.
Doing the same type of thing in 2008 will be extremely difficult as the tail end of the slate includes a stretch of four consecutive games away from Athens, which includes visits to LSU and Auburn, in addition to the annual slugfest with Florida in Jacksonville. But if the next college football season is remotely similar to this recent one, SEC teams are allowed to lose one or even two games and get a shot at the national title.
Florida was one of those teams on the wrong side of Georgia’s streak, but the Gators will be back with vengeance in 2008. Sure the Capital One Bowl wasn’t Florida’s finest hour, but it will serve as motivation for Tim Tebow and the rest of the Gators during the offseason. Having nine starters back on defense never hurts either.
Oklahoma’s entire offensive line, including three All-Big 12 performers, returns to provide the foundation for a dynamic offense led by quarterback Sam Bradford, who gives the Sooners the luxury of having some continuity under center for the first time in a while. Sprinkle in running back DeMarco Murray and you’ve got an offense that will rise to the top of the explosive Big 12.
Dark horse: Clemson. If the Tigers can patch up their offensive line and keep the one-two punch of James Davis and C.J. Spiller in school, their attack could be sensational. On the other side of the football, Clemson’s defense returns nine starters, seven of which will be seniors. This is Tommy Bowden’s big chance to make some serious noise. He’s been due for a while.
The “Hawaii” of 2008: Brigham Young. Fresh off an 11-2 season, which included a 17-16 Las Vegas Bowl victory over UCLA, the Cougars will play the Bruins again on Sept. 13, a week after opening the season at Washington. With QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga leading the charge, BYU could come out of the gate 2-0 with some early respect (unlike Hawaii, which beat Washington in December). If they do, the Cougars will only have themselves to blame if they don’t charge through their Mountain West Conference schedule on the way to 12-0.
The “Notre Dame” of 2008: Michigan. Due to a weak non-conference schedule that includes Utah, Miami (Ohio), Notre Dame and Toledo, it won’t be a three-win season, but there will be a rocky transition period for the Wolverines as they get used to Rich Rodriguez’s offensive system and the way he goes about his business. He’s quite a departure from Lloyd Carr. Merely playing in only their second non-New Year’s Day bowl game since 1995 will be enough of a drop off in Ann Arbor to merit this dubious selection.
Already looking forward to these early games: Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Aug. 30; and Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13, 2008. Watching the un-BCS-worthy Illini take on the Tigers, who were snubbed by the BCS, will be interesting. Then, two weeks later, we’ll enjoy a game that could get replayed in January.
The Buckeyes, who’ll benefit from a pair of glorified scrimmages before venturing out to Los Angeles, will have a slight advantage. The Trojans, who have a tough season-opener at Virginia (Aug. 30), will still be tinkering with their less-experience lineup throughout September.
New coach most likely to succeed: Rick Neuheisel. His predecessor led UCLA to five consecutive bowl games and even won a few games that he shouldn’t have. But, Karl Dorrell lost way too many games that he had no business losing. That won’t happen under Neuheisel. His track record — on the field of play only — shows that he has the ability to keep a steady course and come up with something big from time to time. That’s just what’s required in Westwood between basketball seasons.
New coach most likely to fail: Whoever takes over at Hawaii. June Jones was a miracle worker. He did more with less than anyone in college football history. One visit to the Warrior football facilities and a simple glance at the budget is all you need to be convinced of that. Jones also was able to attract talented defensive coordinators such as Jerry Glanville and Greg McMackin in an attempt to balance out his offensive brilliance. The new man in Honolulu is in for tough times.
Heisman favorite: Ohio State tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells. If the Buckeyes have the season that they’re expected to have, a healthy Wells will be a frontrunner from start to finish. His ability is unquestioned and his candidacy contains all the necessary elements.
Tebow is so good and such a cult figure that he’s virtually assured a return trip to New York, but one of his teammates will be the biggest reason he doesn’t repeat. Tailback Emmanuel Moody, a transfer from USC, will take some of the load — and repeated poundings — off Tebow’s broad shoulders. There won’t be another 20-20.
The “Tebows” of 2008: Moreno and Bradford. With class-bias now out of the way, how about another sophomore winning the Heisman? As the centerpieces of their respective teams, Moreno or Bradford could easily make strong runs if they’re playing for title contenders late in the season.
Other Heisman contenders: Texas running back Jamaal Charles, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, West Virginia quarterback Pat White and Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell. Charles has all the ability in the world and could be in for a monstrous season. Daniel will need someone to replace Tiger running back Tony Temple for him to have the same type of season that made him a finalist in 2007, but it’s entirely possible. White will have his work cut out for him during the transitional period in Morgantown, but he’s such a special player. You can’t count him out. Harrell will have outrageous statistics, putting him into the middle of what promises to be a lively debate.