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• CENTERS OF ATTENTION
With the departures of four-year staples Tim Tebow (Florida) and Colt McCoy (Texas), the door has opened for a new set of star quarterbacks. But whereas Tebow and McCoy were two faces of the spread-offense craze, most of this season's anticipated standouts—Washington's Jake Locker, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Arkansas's Ryan Mallett and Florida State's Christian Ponder—are traditional pro-style passers. Even Texas, which has lined up almost exclusively in the shotgun since the start of the Vince Young era, will be putting new starter Garrett Gilbert under center more often to rejuvenate its running game. Fans who enjoy watching fleet-footed quarterbacks will want to pay attention to Navy's Ricky Dobbs, Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, the preseason Heisman favorite (page 55).
• CATCH THEM IF YOU CAN
SEC teams have won the past four BCS championships, with Florida (in 2008) and Alabama (in '09) encountering little resistance in conference play, in which the two combined to go 31--1 over the past two seasons. The Gators and the Tide, who need to replace a combined 25 starters, may be more vulnerable in the SEC this year, but is anyone up for the challenge? Georgia, coming off a disappointing 8--5 season, may take a run in the East division if redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray proves to be the real deal. Arkansas and Auburn hope to ride high-powered offenses in the West. But the biggest enigma may be LSU, which keeps racking up top five recruiting classes but has gone just 8--8 in SEC play since winning the '07 BCS title. Junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson needs to show more consistency if coach Les Miles hopes to turn the Tigers back into contenders.
• CAN LANE KIFFIN COACH?
Now in his third high-profile head coaching job, following brief stints with the Oakland Raiders (2007--08) and Tennessee ('09), USC's 35-year-old coach has demonstrated a penchant for getting under other coaches' skins but has yet to prove he can beat them, going 5--15 with the Raiders and 7--6 with the Vols. At USC, however, he takes over a roster loaded with former five-star recruits, most notably sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley. Kiffin will need to produce at least a 10-win season to start disproving his doubters.
• RICH ROD'S LAST STAND
Three years ago Rich Rodriguez was one of the nation's most renowned coaches, leading West Virginia to a 32--5 record from 2005 through '07 behind his prolific spread-option offense. Since leaving for Michigan, however, Rodriguez has endured consecutive losing seasons, criticism from former players and NCAA investigations at both his current and former employers, accusing him of failing "to promote an atmosphere of compliance." The Wolverines, 1--7 in the Big Ten last year, need to show major improvement if Rodriguez hopes to make it back for a fourth season. Athletic sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson is making a push to replace last year's starter, Tate Forcier. Rodriguez had better hope Robinson's the second coming of his former West Virginia star pupil, Pat White.
• OREGON'S WINDING TRAIL
When coach Chip Kelly suspended quarterback and Heisman contender Jeremiah Masoli for the season in March after Masoli pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary (he was later kicked off the team and has since enrolled at Ole Miss), many assumed the Ducks would sink in the Pac-10 standings. But Oregon still brings back 15 starters from last season's Rose Bowl squad, including game-breaking running back LaMichael James, who teams with fellow sophomore Kenjon Barner to form arguably the nation's fastest backfield. Both of the candidates to replace Masoli—senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas—have previous game experience. The Ducks have no shortage of firepower.