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Springing forward

What I think about football headed into fall ... I think

Posted: Monday May 06, 2002 11:33 AM

Offseason Beat

Seeing as this is a column about football, and seeing as football coaches are always copying each other's good ideas, and seeing as I've been scrounging for an appropriate fashion in which to wrap up spring coverage and look ahead to the fall, I see no other choice this week but to perform a rip-off job of my own.

It's going to seem a bit gratuitous, I must warn you. But ever since Peter King began writing his Monday Morning Quarterback every week of the year, I've been fighting an urge I can resist no longer.

So, with apologies in advance to the King, here now are 10 things I think I think right now about the upcoming college football season:

1. I think it's put up or shut up time for Texas.

Thus far, Mack Brown has been a victim of his own recruiting prowess, generating a hype machine so monstrous that observers have been expecting the Longhorns to compete for the national title when, realistically, they were still a year or two away. That's no longer the case. The players from the first of UT's four straight top five recruiting seasons, 1999, are now rising seniors, and the Horns are loaded at every position, but they'll only go as far as the purported jewel of that class, Jekyl and Hyde QB Chris Simms, can take them.

2. I think the Big 12 will be the deepest conference in recent memory.

Both Texas and Oklahoma will be preseason top three, with Colorado and Nebraska not far behind. In addition, Texas A&M could have its strongest team since its '98 Big 12 title squad, and does anyone care to bet that Bill Snyder and Kansas State won't return to form after last year's struggles? Then there are returning bowl teams Texas Tech and Iowa State, which happen to boast the league's two best quarterbacks, Kliff Kingsbury and Seneca Wallace. And Oklahoma State raised eyebrows by beating the Sooners to end last season. All of which means one thing: Poor, poor Baylor.

Top 25
Oregon rises since last poll, Maryland drops out, based on QB situations:
No.  Team 
1.  Miami  
2.  Texas 
3.  Oklahoma 
4.  Tennessee 
5.  Florida St. 
6.  Florida 
7.  Oregon 
8.  Colorado 
9.  Washington 
10.  Georgia 
11.  Washington St. 
12.  Ohio State 
13.  Nebraska 
14.  Michigan 
15.  LSU 
16.  Virginia Tech 
17.  Texas A&M 
18.  Marshall 
19.  Auburn 
20.  Louisville 
21.  Michigan State 
22.  Illinois 
23.  N.C. State 
24.  Ole Miss 
25.  South Carolina 

3. I think Auburn is the SEC's sleeping giant.

Coach Tommy Tuberville has been talking awful boldly lately, raising a stir with his prediction that the Tigers will be "going to the Rose Garden" within a few years. Maybe he's onto something. This is a team, after all, that beat then-No. 1 Florida and pulled out a tough road win at Georgia last year despite having an extremely young roster. With its most notable players -- QB Jason Campbell, RB Carnell Williams, DT DeMarco Neil and LB Dontarrious Thomas -- all underclassmen, this year's crew should be destined for something better than 7-5.

4. I think it's a make-or-break year for Michigan State's Bobby Williams.

There are many who felt the school acted hastily in promoting then-associate head coach when Nick Saban bolted for LSU before the 2000 Citrus Bowl, and his first two seasons have done little to prove them wrong. Every time the Spartans have appeared on the verge of a breakthrough, like their stunning victory over Michigan last year, they follow it up with a loss to Indiana. But with the return of QB Jeff Smoker and dangerous WR Charles Rogers, the timing is right for MSU to make a run in the otherwise unimposing Big Ten.

5. Here, of course, is where I offer my "non-football thoughts of the week."

a. I noticed CNN has been periodically interviewing these two guys in Seattle who have been camping out since New Year's Day to see Star Wars: Episode II. I'm wondering, where were the cameras when I staged a similar campaign a couple years back for another sequel, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles?

b. As far as I'm concerned, Britney Spears can drink and smoke as much as she darn well pleases. A word of warning, though: If my male sportswriting colleagues who do this are any indicator, she may find out one day soon she can no longer show off that midriff.

c. Shameless plug: If you're interested in hearing some up-and-coming pop/punk bands, check out Nice Guy Records, my brother Jamie's start-up which recently won an award for best student-run company at Xavier University.

d. The novelty of The Osbournes should really be wearing off by now. So why then did I almost blow my esophagus last week laughing at the sight of Ozzy, upon seeing Jack's barbecue dinner, singing, "I want my baby-back, baby-back, baby-back ...?"

e. Finally, does anyone besides me have occasional nightmares involving the image of Charles Barkley dancing in that Coors commercial? Just wondering.

6. I think Virginia Tech will call on incoming freshman Marcus Vick sooner than expected.

If starter Grant Noel's injury is really considered that devastating, it must be because backup Bryan Randall still isn't ready. Noel hardly looked like the type of athlete Tech has come to expect as its quarterback. Little Vick, on the other hand, does, at least according to the recruiting pundits. If that's the case, and if he can grasp the offense quickly, he would make for a scary backfield lined up alongside Lee Suggs and/or Kevin Jones.

7. I don't think we've heard the last from Jason Thomas.

Sure, last season the UNLV QB fell considerably short of the hype he garnered as a sophomore, and in fact appeared at times as if he'd never before thrown a football. But now, the senior-to-be is a year removed from the shoulder surgery that bothered him last fall, finally has his own position coach, Vince Alcalde, and he looked much like his old self at the Rebels' spring game. Besides, no one with as much talent as the fleet-footed Thomas showed in 2000 could possibly stay down for too long. 8. I think opposing Pac-10 coaches would be well advised not to cross Rick Neuheisel this fall.

The Washington coach has motivated lesser teams to go on to big things than the one he's got now. Plus, he'll be pretty darn hungry following the Huskies' late-season defensive collapse last year and the ugly recruiting accusations leveled his way both by his Pac-10 adversaries after Signing Day and by the NCAA regarding his Colorado days. His sophomore receiver Reggie Williams will contend with Michigan State's Rogers for the title of best in the country.

9. I think Lou Holtz is still the most entertaining coach in the country.

During an SEC conference call with reporters last week, Holtz's cell phone cut out twice, the second time just as he was revealing running back Ryan Brewer's ankle injury. Upon returning to the call, Holtz offered this critique of his phone: "It's unbelievable. You can cross a time zone and it changes the clock instantly, but you can't get a dial tone. ... I'll send it by pigeon next time."

10. And I think Miami is still No. 1 until proven otherwise.

Who you gonna take instead? Texas, as mentioned, is loaded on paper, but it's hard to ignore the fact the Horns' star QB was benched his last game. There's a good argument for Oklahoma, except that the Sooners are banking on a QB, Jason White, who missed most of spring ball. Tennessee looks dangerous on offense but its defense is mostly shrouded in mystery, though not nearly as much as Florida is entering Ron Zook's first season. And Florida State will be back -- but all the way? That's a lot to expect.

The 'Canes, like anyone, have their own problems -- Frank Gore's injury, replacing an entire secondary -- that may cause some folks to pick against them. But when your team loses five first-round draft choices and they say next year's class could be even better, you get the benefit of the doubt in this space.

Stewart Mandel covers college football for

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