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A fresh start in '08?

As calendar turns, breakout stars await their turn

Posted: Thursday December 27, 2007 1:56PM; Updated: Thursday December 27, 2007 1:56PM
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Will sprinter Allyson Felix, 22, be the face of American sport in 2008?
Will sprinter Allyson Felix, 22, be the face of American sport in 2008?
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2007 Year In Review
TAYLOR: A Year of Ill Repute
ARMSTRONG: No Closure, Only Questions
GALLERY: Breakout Stars
GALLERY: Games of the Year
GALLERY: Swan Songs
GALLERY: The Year in Pictures
GALLERY: Pro Champions of the Year

Here we are, a sporting community, readying ourselves for a new year, tip-toeing around needles, pending testimonies and an ever-increasing number of allegations. And yet, when the ball drops and the calendar flips to 2008, the slate will not be cleansed.

Probes will persist, further malfeasances will fester and Jessica Simpson may turn out to be Tony Romo's Yoko Ono. For those seeking closure, perhaps the sports scene is not the best avenue to go down. Over the next 12 months, new names will introduce themselves, both under oath and over the public address system. It will be up to the fans whether to fall in love again, or hold the players and games to a heightened standard.

From the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing to the Patriots' continued run at perfection, the number of stars with sky's-the-limit potential in 2008 is promising. Out of the Pacific Northwest, Portland's Brandon Roy continues to be a burgeoning basketball power; live from South Beach, the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez seemingly improves daily; and then there is Patrick Kane, the Windy City's new breath of fresh air on ice. All have impressed thus far, all will be expected to do even better.

In the 22-year-old Allyson Felix, comes purity, dressed in red, white and blue, sprinting gracefully down the fast lane to possible Olympic fame. Looking to lead off her four-medal odyssey (200 and 400, plus relays in each race) and outsprint the looming shadows left by the chemically-enhanced Marion Jones, Felix, a Los Angeles-native who won the 200-meter silver in Athens, carries American sprint hopes into the Orient.

Still lamented in some Boston circles as the Red Sox prospect traded for Josh Beckett, Ramirez has ensconced himself in Florida's lineup as a five-tool All-Star. As part of his encore to winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year, the 23-year-old Dominican native came one home run short of becoming the third player to hit at least 30 home runs and steal 50 bases. He also raised his batting average 40 points.

Though scouts and college coaches have anointed Kansas State's Michael Beasley as next in line to be one-and-done in the Big 12, the 6-foot-10 forward has kept conversations with last year's phenomenon Kevin Durant strictly simplistic. "We don't talk about basketball," says Beasley. "It's not important to us. We talk about dumb stuff like SpongeBob or something. I don't know. We're just being kids." Whether it is Manhattan, Kan., for another year or New York City for June's NBA Draft, this kid will see the business end of sports soon enough.

Kane, the 19-year-old right wing for the Blackhawks, who wears No. 88 for his birth year, is one of the leading candidates to win this season's Calder Trophy. Slight in build (5-foot-10, 165 pounds), he has teamed with fellow rookie lineman Jonathan Toews to help usher a new hockey optimism in the Second City, where the locals last won a playoff series 11 years ago. A playoff run assembled by the kids could wake up the franchise's long-sleeping faithful: The current Cup drought stands at 45 years and counting.

Across the football landscape, the immediate focus will be on the Patriots. Can they find perfection, or will the Colts or Chargers end their quest for immortality? Emerging forces such as Viking rusher Adrian Peterson and Texans defensive end Mario Williams should continue to see their stars rise.

On the lawns, hardcourts and greens, perfection issues persist, as well. Roger Federer and Justine Henin neared it last year. Can they fill the holes in their resumes? Will clay forever foil The Fed? How much closer will Tiger Woods pull to pouncing on the Golden Bear's career-slam total?

Do not forget about the collegians. Though UCLA has reached the last two Final Fours, only to lose to Billy Donovan's Gators en route to their own back-to-back titles, can this be the year Ben Howland's Bruins cut down the nets? Superman Tim Tebow returns to Gainesville. Is another Heisman on the horizon? The only thing that is certain for next year is that somewhere, on some college campus, a rising star coach will Nick Saban-it out of town for a more lucrative, more powerful situation.

So here we are, readying ourselves to turn over a new calendar page. Many things on the sporting landscape will remain unchanged. To be sure, new names will surface, records will be set and a skeptical eye will be cast on all that occurs. For those seeking closure, the questions will continue. For those eyeing the future, a new door -- or is it a Pandora's box? -- is opening.