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Who fits the national title mold?

Defending champ Trojans do, but the same can't be said for Tigers

Posted: Wednesday August 4, 2004 10:19AM; Updated: Wednesday August 4, 2004 10:19AM

Applying's Myths and Realities about national champions, Stewart Mandel picks out five teams -- some expected contenders, some potential "sleepers" -- that might fit the mold in 2004, and three teams that might not.

Five that fit the title mold ...

  Reggie Bush
Big things are expected from USC sophomore Reggie Bush.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
2004 Preview
Myths, realities of title teams
What does it really take to win a national championship?
By Stewart Mandel
Applying the formula
Five teams that fit the mold in 2004, and three "contenders" that don't.
By Stewart Mandel
Profile of a Champion: A statistical breakdown of the 12 national champions from the past 10 years.
Athlon 2004 Previews: All 117 I-A teams
TV Guide: 10 games to watch in '04
National TV schedule | '04-'05 bowl schedule
 And much more ...
8/5  Return of the RBs
8/6  The true freshmen
8/10  SI's Top 25
8/11  ACC preview
8/12  Big 12 preview
8/13  Big East preview
8/16  Big Ten preview
8/17  Pac-10 preview
8/18  SEC preview
8/19  C-USA, Mt. West, MAC
8/20  Inds., WAC, Sun Belt
8/23  SI's All-Americans
8/24  SI's Heisman Preview
8/25  Bowl Projections
8/26's Crystal Ball
8/30  Power Rankings

USC: The Trojans should be dominant yet again in both stopping the run and producing sacks and turnovers, since their projected starting front seven were all major contributors a year ago. They also have no shortage of playmakers, highlighted by sophomore tailback/receiver Reggie Bush, and a favorable schedule that, on paper, includes just one daunting road game (at Washington State). The only concern: Whether USC's inexperienced offensive line can be anywhere near as dominant as their defensive counterparts.

GEORGIA: The Dawgs should field a prototypical big-play defense, led by All-America DE David Pollack, LB Odell Thurman and safety Thomas Davis. On offense, wide receivers Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown are potential game-breakers. Although no SEC schedule is ever easy, Georgia at least has the luxury of facing LSU and Tennessee at home. The biggest question mark is the O-linemen -- if they've improved from last season, QB David Greene will be less likely to throw interceptions.

OKLAHOMA: While it doesn't hurt that the Sooners have returning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White back at quarterback, the real strength of this team is the staggering amount of experience on its lines, including senior defensive ends Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson and senior O-linemen Jammal Brown and Vince Carter. OU has playmakers galore in the form of Mark Clayton and Brandon Jones, as well as a loaded secondary. Biggest concern: Oklahoma's tough schedule, which includes trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

VIRGINIA: The Cavs, 8-5 last season, have all the ingredients for a breakthrough. Their offensive and defensive lines, so young the past two years, are now both experienced and talented. Look for guard Elton Brown, tight end Heath Miller and defensive end Chris Canty all to have big years. The linebacking trio is among the finest in the country and should help produce turnovers. Quarterback Marques Hagans needs to avoid mistakes, and a couple of playmakers need to emerge on offense. It's not inconceivable that Virginia could be 7-1 heading into a Nov. 13 home date with Miami.

WEST VIRGINIA: With Miami off to the ACC, the Mountaineers' schedule is almost laughable. Their toughest opponent, Maryland, is at home. The presence of touted tailback Kay-Jay Harris and five starting offensive linemen should allow QB Rasheed Marshall to play keep-away, then launch an occasional big strike to receiver Chris Henry. And while West Virginia's defense gave up nearly 400 yards per game last season, it produced enough turnovers to hold down opponents' scores. Biggest question: whether the defense can produce more than 17 sacks.

... and three assumed contenders
that might not:

  Skyler Green
LSU wide receiver Skyler Green will be catching balls from a brand-new starting quarterback in 2004.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

LSU: The Tigers' 2003 national championship came largely on the strength of a dominant defensive line, but that unit lost two stalwarts in tackles Chad Lavalais and Marquise Hill. Their replacements are untested. The schedule also isn't as kind this season, with trips to Auburn, Georgia and Florida within the first six weeks.

FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles have struggled at times to stop the run the past few seasons, and while linebackers Ernie Sims and A.J. Nicholson are seen as stars-in-the-making, the front seven as a whole is inexperienced. And while FSU has no shortage of playmakers on offense, quarterback Chris Rix has shown a penchant for committing crucial turnovers.

MIAMI: As strange as this sounds, the 'Canes go into this season with no proven playmakers, not to mention a quarterback, Brock Berlin, who threw 17 interceptions last season. They also take a severe step up in the scheduling department in their first ACC season, visiting Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Virginia, and hosting tough non-conference foe Louisvile.

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