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5-minute Guide To '99

Whoa, Nellie! Expect the unexpected -- even when it involves familiar faces -- in what promises to be a wild and woolly year

Top 25 | The Master List | Lower Divisions
Five Minute Guide to '99

By John Walters

Sports IllustratedConfusing. Disorienting. Survey the landscape of this college football season, and suddenly you're as lost as those three kids in The Blair Witch Project. Ricky Williams is gone; Ricky Williams is back. Keith Jackson , the voice of college football, was history, but then -- Whoa, Nellie! -- he chose to return to the airwaves, working exclusively games in the Pac-10.

Speaking of the Pac-10 , the Cal quarterback is Samuel Clemons , not to be confused with Samuel Clemens , who wrote Life on the Mississippi, on the banks of which the national champion will be crowned on Jan. 4 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Speaking of life on the Mississippi -- and of reports of one's demise being greatly exaggerated -- Josh Booty will suit up for LSU. Five years ago Booty was one of the country's most prized high school quarterbacks, more sought after even than Peyton Manning. But after committing to the Tigers, Booty signed to play third base in the Florida Marlins' organization. Now 24 and humbled by minor league pitching (career batting average: .198), the 6'3", 235-pound Booty will have no trouble establishing a rapport with LSU's top receiver, his younger brother Abram.

Speaking of booty, Rick Neuheisel left Colorado last January to sign a seven-figure contract to coach Washington. The fair-haired, guitar-strumming Neuheisel's hasty exodus struck a sour note with folks in Boulder, including some in Buffs uniforms who will play against their old coach when the Huskies host Colorado on Sept. 25. Is Neuheisel Seattle's most misunderstood guitarist since Kurt Cobain ? Or is he a Music Man-style mercenary not to be trusted?

Speaking of Lou Holtz, why is the former Notre Dame coach wearing a USC cap? Because the 62-year-old Holtz, who's two years removed from the game's most storied program, is the new coach at South Carolina. The Gamecocks were 1-10 a year ago.

Speaking of coaches of retirement age, Penn State's Joe Paterno is 72. Florida State's Bobby Bowden is 69. One, if not both, could well be on the Superdome sidelines on Jan. 4. As near as anyone can figure, Bobby will make history by coaching against his son Tommy , the new head man at Clemson, when the Seminoles visit Death Valley on Oct. 23.

Speaking of new coaches, 30 headset wearers -- many of them familiar names -- will be guiding their teams for the first time. John Robinson , always at home in a USC cap, will roll the dice at UNLV, which has crapped out in 17 straight games. Dennis Erickson , who won national championships at Miami in 1989 and '91 before heading to the NFL, takes over at Oregon State. If Erickson simply produces a winning season, something not seen in Corvallis since '71, he'll win over the Beaver believers.

Speaking of faith, why are so many ardent disciples of Catholicism suddenly embracing numerology? Notre Dame fans, cognizant that the Fighting Irish won national championships in 1966, '77 and '88, are persuaded that '99 is their year. Plus, this is Bob Davie 's third year as Notre Dame's coach, and four of his predecessors, Frank Leahy , Ara Parseghian , Dan Devine and Holtz, finished No. 1 in their third seasons in South Bend. Then again, none of them had to play the defending national champion on its turf, as the Irish must on Nov. 6 in Knoxville.

Speaking of Tennessee, will the Vols have luck on their side in 1999 as they did in Week 6 of '98, when Arkansas fumbled the ball away while running the clock out? Vols quarterback Tee Martin is happy to trade Lady Luck for the reappearance of running back Jamal Lewis . Now a junior, Lewis was averaging 6.8 yards per carry before tearing up his right knee against Auburn midway through Tennessee's national title run.

Speaking of returning rushers , Ricky Williams is back. Not the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas, but the Texas Tech dynamo who averaged 143.8 yards per game a year ago. Last fall Williams the Longhorn set NCAA career records for touchdowns (72) and rushing yardage (6,279). Those standards are in danger of finding new homes in Oxford, Ohio, where Miami's Travis Prentice needs 17 touchdowns to pass Williams, and in Madison, where Wisconsin's Ron Dayne needs 1,717 yards to put his name atop the alltime rushing list.

Speaking of new homes, Pittsburgh plays its final season at Pitt Stadium and Southern Methodist its last in the Cotton Bowl. Colorado has installed grass at Folsom Field, which should please Ralphie the Buffalo . Hawaii will play more home games (nine) than any other school, while Idaho, hoping to bolster its bank account, will play zero in-state. The Vandals' home games will be at Washington State's Martin Stadium in nearby Pullman, where the seats are three times more numerous than those in the Kibbie Dome.

Speaking of economy, inflation threatens the game. Division I-A has added two schools -- Buffalo and Middle Tennessee State -- and one bowl, the Mobile Alabama Bowl, which will be held in Mobile, Ala., but whose title has no comma ... which gives us pause. As does this new rule (1-4-5-r): Visible bandannas on the field of play or in the end zone are illegal. Does that mean that every time a referee throws a flag he is committing a penalty?

Of course not. Expect the expected -- Florida coach Steve Spurrier will lift his visor and run a hand through his hair shortly before demoting a quarterback; Virginia Tech will block a punt, as it did eight times last year; and Purdue's brilliant quarterback, Drew Brees , will create a stiff wind with his arm. But rely on the unexpected, such as Arkansas's aforementioned gaffe, for the thrills. Nothing in college football, not even this guide, is perfect except for Memphis kicker Ryan White 's leg (he was 38 for 38 on field goals and extra points in 1998) and ESPN announcer Chris Fowler 's coif.

Top 25 | The Master List | Lower Divisions
Five Minute Guide to '99

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