2001 NCAA Football Preview
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Enthusiasm is back in South Bend


Matt LoVecchio threw 11 TDs and only one pick as a freshman. Jeff Gross/Allsport
  1   Notre Dame
  2   Utah State
  3   Central Florida
  4   South Florida
  5   Navy
  6   Troy State
  7   UConn
 100
Percentage of Notre Dame players from the 1995-96 freshman class to earn a degree, one of two schools nationally (Vanderbilt) to do so.
"I think we have laid as good a foundation as possible in a four-year stretch. It's absolutely mind-boggling what we're trying to do. The stage is set for the future. We've just got to do the work and prove we can win at this level."
-- South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt on his brand new I-A program.
By Stan Crawley, Special to CNNSI.com

Just when folks were talking about the demise of the Notre Dame football program, the Irish went from 5-7 in 1999 to 9-3 last year and a seven-game winning streak to the end the regular season.

Even a 41-9 loss in the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon State didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Notre Dame faithful. Entering the 2001 season, head coach Bob Davie and the Irish are ready to compete for a national championship.

No doubt, Davie will bring a team to the field this year that can compete with the nation's elite programs.

"When you look at our football team, I certainly think we have enough talent to win every Saturday," Davie said. "We had enough talent to win the Fiesta Bowl. We would have had to have played perfectly, but I think we have it built back up where we have enough talent to win. I don't see us being outmatched any week."

Davie, 30-19 at Notre Dame, is confident the Irish will be talented and dangerous this fall.

"We have some ingredients to be successful," Davie said. "[But] just having the ingredients is not always the most important thing. It's the dynamics of meshing all those things together that's important. But the bottom line, being dead hones, from a talent standpoint, this is the most talented team we've had."

Among the others, Utah State is faced with an independent schedule for the first time since the late 1970s.

Instead of following other Big West teams such as New Mexico State, Arkansas State, Idaho and North Texas to the Sun Belt Conference, Utah State decided to wait for an invitation to the Western Athletic Conference, which expanded to only 10 teams instead of 12.

South Florida and Troy State begin I-A play for the first time in 2001. And Connecticut is entering its second but might not be much better.

Central Florida continues to impress, scoring the greatest victory of its short history last season when it knocked off Alabama on the road. Navy continues to struggle, earning its only victory last year against equally hapless Army.

Central Florida wide receiver Doug Gabriel (6-2, 205) enrolled at UCF and participated in spring practice.

At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College last year, Gabriel set single-season school records for touchdowns (17) and points (104).

A second-team JUCO All-America pick by JC Gridwire, Gabriel accounted for 1,206 all-purpose yards.

The Orlando, Fla., native signed with Miami in 1998, but did not qualify. In 1999 he signed with Oregon State, but ended up going to Gulf Coast instead.


HOT: Notre Dame quarterback Matt LoVecchio

Led his team to seven consecutive victories as a true frosh.

NOT: Utah State quarterback Jeff Crosbie

Started for two seasons, but lost his job last year to Jose Fuentes.

HOT: South Florida quarterback Marquel Blackwell

Led the Bulls in rushing last year with 566 yards.

NOT: Notre Dame place-kicker Nick Setta

Made only eight of 14 field-goal attempts last year.

 
Central Florida star-in-the-making Ryan Schneider went on academic probation in the spring. He was kept out of spring ball by head coach Mike Kruczek.

Last year, Schneider completed 176 of 285 passes for 2,334 yards and 21 touchdowns. He's quickly reminding people of former UCF star Daunte Culpepper -- but he'll need to keep the grades up.


  • Utah State running back Emmett White
    White shattered the NCAA single-game record with 578 all-purpose yards against New Mexico State.

  • Notre Dame defensive lineman Anthony Weaver
    Weaver boasts more experience than anyone on the Irish roster, thanks to his 32 previous starts.
  •  
    Notre Dame will be playing seven opponents that played in bowl games a year ago (Nebraska, Purdue, Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Boston College and Tennessee). Those teams combined to finish 54-30 (.643) last year.

    "I understand our fans sitting out there and saying, 'Golly, we should be competing for the national championship and he hasn't won enough games.'" Davie said. "I don't ask them to lower their expectations at all. That's all fine. But we're going to prove you can do it [compete nationally] the right way."

     
    Last year, Utah State had a 2,000-yard passer (Fuentes), a 1,000-yard rusher (White) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Aaron Jones) for the first time since 1995. Fuentes and White both return this year. ... It won't be easy for Central Florida to match last year's 7-4 mark, because it must take to the road four of the first five weeks of the year in a murderous September opening stretch. The Golden Knights play at Clemson, at Syracuse, at Tulane and at Virginia Tech before the calendar flips to October. ... The independent ranks are just a resting place for South Florida as the Bulls will join Conference USA in 2003. ... Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls' defensive line rotation includes a familiar name in Lee Roy Selmon, Jr., the 275-pound son of the former University of Oklahoma and NFL star. ... After a 1-10 season in 2000, Navy head coach Charlie Weatherbie hired a new offensive and defensive coordinator. The new offensive coordinator is Mark Hudspeth, whose flexbone offense carried Delta State to the NCAA Division II title last year. Navy's new defensive coordinator is Rick Lantz, who served in the same post at Louisville and Virginia during the past 15 years.

    Stan Crawley covers college football for Blue Ribbon.

     

       
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