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Despite its pathologies and the god-awful method it uses to determine a national champion, there's nothing like college football. The purpose of SI's recent cross-country sweep was to remind ourselves of what we love most about the game and its traditions. And that we love it even more when those traditions are improved upon. After decades trapped in amber, it seemed, the Pac-10 added two members, welcoming Colorado and Utah. Second-year commissioner Larry Scott, it turned out, was just getting warmed up. He and his staff negotiated a stunning $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox.
Your reigning conference champions, the Oregon Ducks, open against LSU in the so-called Willie Lyles Bowl. (Lyles is the controversial "scout"—he's also been called a "street agent"—who has cashed large checks from both Oregon and LSU.)
As long as we're talking about stretching the rules, fairness requires that we give equal time to those notorious reprobates at Boise State, who have had to schlep a bit of baggage to their new conference, the Mountain West. In the spring the Broncos found infractions in their football, track and field and women's tennis programs. Their football crimes? For several years incoming players participating in voluntary summer workouts had knowingly and with malice aforethought ... crashed on the sofas and floors of Broncos players, who often compounded the offense by ... feeding their guests. Hope the mac-and-cheese tasted good, fellas, because such room and board is against NCAA rules.
Boise opens in Atlanta against Georgia, one of the most intriguing nonconference matchups of the season. Six years ago the Bulldogs demolished the Broncos 48--13, letting the upstarts from the WAC know they weren't ready for prime time. Are they ready now? Yes, says Dawgs coach Mark Richt, who told a Georgia radio station that there's "a drastic difference between their personnel today and their personnel in 2005—just the size and the strength and the speed."
The best Bulldog ever, one Herschel Junior Walker, placed second in the Heisman balloting in 1981, then won it in '82. That's the last time a Heisman runner-up won the trophy the following year. Stanford's Andrew Luck, last year's runner-up, is this year's front-runner and the source of plenty of good feeling in Palo Alto.
"He's in a sweet spot," says Chris Huston, a.k.a., the Heisman Pundit. "He's not underexposed, he's not overexposed. Sometimes it feels like the front-runner is obnoxiously foisted upon us—like Tim Tebow the year after he won it—so there ends up being a backlash. Luck doesn't have that problem."
He continues: "He's got great backstory: a once-and-future first-round NFL draft pick who came back to school to get his degree in architectural design. While it's true he's playing for a team that's not a 'traditional power,' it's also true that the quarterbacking job at Stanford is a storied position. He had a great Orange Bowl and is playing for a likely top 10 team. His numbers [3,338 yards, 32 TDs] were great last year, but not so great that they can't be topped."
Cardinal coaches spent the off-season vigilant for signs of complacency. "It's human nature to let your guard down a little bit," says offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. "So what we're emphasizing to these guys—some of whom didn't play a whole bunch last year but are still wearing their Orange Bowl rings—is that this is gonna be the toughest thing they've ever done. This is a new journey."
To smooth it out, Hamilton gave Luck an off-season assignment: to watch every snap of every pass play executed last season by Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. "Plus a lot of Tom Brady film," adds Hamilton.
Luck was happy to take on the assignment. Really, other than participating in spring drills and taking four courses in his major, what else did he have to do?