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Posted: Wednesday August 20, 2008 10:59AM; Updated: Thursday August 21, 2008 1:24AM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Worthy of the hype? Ten I'd like to see live up to their billings in 2008

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Georgia junior quarterback Matthew Stafford is being hailed as a possible No. 1 draft pick despite being a career 54-percent passer.
Georgia junior quarterback Matthew Stafford is being hailed as a possible No. 1 draft pick despite being a career 54-percent passer.
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Over the past few months, I saw the trailer for Tropic Thunder roughly three dozen times. I read the glowing Entertainment Weekly cover story and various other reviews hailing director/co-star Ben Stiller's creation as a comedic tour de force, Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as darn near Oscar-worthy and Tom Cruise's surprise role as downright scene-stealing.

Finally, I went and saw the movie ... and found it to be even more brilliant than advertised. Do you realize how rare that is?

In college football, we don't wait for the movie to come out to start beating the drum. The hype machine begins building the minute the previous season ends. For the players, it often starts as recruits. That's a lot to live up to, which is why, for every Tim Tebow, there's a Kyle Wright; why the most hyped team of my era, the 2005 USC Trojans, did not win a national title; and why the most hyped coach in recent memory, Charlie Weis, is coming off a 3-9 season.

With the start of the 2008 season just over a week away, here are 10 players, coaches and an offense I'm most eager to see live up to the hype. In Tugg Speedman-terms, will they be the next Scorcher I or the next Simple Jack?

1) DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma. The Sooners' running back was undeniably impressive in limited duty as a freshman, but coach Bob Stoops raised the bar even higher with his recent comment that "it's hard to say who's more talented," Murray or ... Adrian Peterson. No pressure, DeMarco.

2) Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia. He was the nation's top-rated quarterback recruit two years ago, and now he's being projected as a possible No. 1 draft pick. That's a lot of acclaim for a guy who thus far is a career 54-percent passer. One can only presume his Carson Palmer breakthrough is forthcoming.

3) Joe McKnight, RB, USC. He's long been dubbed the next Reggie Bush and showed flashes of such in last season's Rose Bowl. If the parallels are true, McKnight will undoubtedly catch three touchdown passes in USC's opener against Virginia a la Bush's sophomore opener against Virginia Tech.

4) Tony Franklin, offensive coordinator, Auburn. An Auburn fan e-mailed me this week suggesting the Tigers could be "the best team to run the spread since it became popular." While that might sound delusional, it's not far off the buzz surrounding Auburn's new coordinator despite the fact that he's taking over an offense that ranked 97th last season.

5) BYU. Hopefully you read Cory McCartney's piece on the Cougars' status as 2008's most likely BCS buster. There's a lot to like about BYU -- consecutive 11-2 seasons, a powerful offense -- but is it possible we're making too much of a team that last year lost to a highly mediocre UCLA team in the regular season, then beat the Bruins by one point in the Las Vegas Bowl?

6) Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. The word out of Alabama camp -- where the Tide could be playing Slip 'N Slide for all we know; such is the veil of secrecy under which Nick Saban's team operates -- is that the Tide's ballyhooed freshman receiver can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Hopefully we'll find out in Alabama's opener against Clemson.

7) The "Spread HD." That's the phrase Penn State QB coach Jay Paterno coined to describe the Nittany Lions' 2008 offense. The plan is for Darryl Clark to make like Michael Robinson and replicate the "highly diverse" 2005 offense. If not, Paterno has already devised his own punch line: "Huge dud."

8) LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon. While Oregon's QB derby is the talk of the town, there's been little mention of the seemingly huge void left by RB Jonathan Stewart. That says a lot about the expectations being placed on this touted juco transfer, who tore up the Ducks' spring camp but has leveled off more recently.

9) Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator, Texas. For the third time in five years, Texas is trotting out a renowned new defensive coordinator with plans to transform the 'Horns into a faster, more aggressive bunch. Judging by Muschamp's track record at LSU and Auburn, Texas' D should be guaranteed to jump from 52nd to fifth.

10) Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame. You can't get more hype than this. Notre Dame's savior QB spent most his freshman season on his backside thanks to a set of hapless blockers. It was hardly his fault. But under Weis' tutelage, you have to figure the purported "next John Elway" will find a way to throw for 3,500 yards and 30 TDs.

Not in the script, you say? As famed Australian actor Kirk Lazarus once proclaimed: "I don't read the script -- the script reads me!"

I have no doubt the aforementioned transcendent stars will figure out what that means.

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