Team to beat: USC. The Trojans return 10 starters to a defensive unit that made Michigan melt. The only thing tougher than scoring points against USC next season will be the actual schedule that the Trojans will face. With road games at Nebraska, Washington, Notre Dame, Oregon, California and Arizona State, Pete Carroll will have to clean up his act away from the Coliseum, having lost two of his last three road games.
Quarterback John David Booty won’t have Dwayne Jarrett or Steve Smith to throw to in 2007, but Carroll’s superb recruiting classes have a way of adequately filling shoes no matter how big. Imposing wide receivers Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton (one of 15 true freshmen to get their feet wet in 2006) are about to become famous.
After an expected down year, the Trojans running game should be back in business next season as all the youngsters take it to another level. These tailbacks won’t remind people of the Reggie Bush-LenDale White combo, but they’ll be enough for the offense to earn the “unstoppable” tag.
Others in the running to get to New Orleans: Michigan, Ohio State, Texas and, yes, Florida. Like USC, the Wolverines return a lot of talent. Probably just enough for Lloyd Carr to make it close versus Ohio State and lose in a BCS game ... again. So, you got to put the Buckeyes in the mix as well.
Texas could be very good in its second go-around with Colt McCoy at the controls if the running game improves. But the Longhorns will have to hope that incoming co-defensive coordinator Larry MacDuff can shore up the secondary.
Dark horses: Virginia Tech and Nebraska. Having learned valuable lessons during their two-week bobble this past season, the Hokies, who pitched four shutouts in 2006, should be the frontrunners in the ACC next season. Don’t dwell over the loss to Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl too much. That’s just the kind of offseason ploy Frank Beamer needs to get his team prepared properly for a crucial trip to LSU on Sept. 8.
If Bill Callahan can plug some big holes on defense and QB Sam Keller, a talented transfer from Arizona State, meshes into the Huskers’ stacked offense, Nebraska could build toward something special.
Most devastating departure: JaMarcus Russell from LSU. If he had stayed, the Tigers would have made a strong run at staying in-state for the big one next Jan. 8. LSU is still well stocked and won’t have to navigate through the death-march road schedule that is had last season, but Russell was the linchpin to a special year.
Heisman favorites: Arkansas RB Darren McFadden. Last year’s runner-up has the head start and he’ll continue to build his highlight reel all the way to New York. Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm will be another contender. Russell would have likely won the award had he stayed in Baton Rouge.
Other Heisman contenders: USC QB John David Booty, Hawaii QB Colt Brennan and West Virginia RB Steve Slaton. It used to be that the quarterback at Notre Dame was an automatic Heisman contender. That extra benefit now belongs to USC’s signalcallers.
Although June Jones’ passing circus won’t be seen on TV much, Brennan’s stats will get plenty of attention now that his Q rating has been given a boost. But there is doubt that he’ll play in enough fourth quarters to post the ungodly numbers needed to win.
If they gave an award out to the player that is the most fun to watch, that would go to Florida QB Tim Tebow. Can you imagine him taking all the snaps next season? That is going to be something else.
New ACC coach that matters most: Miami rookie head coach Randy Shannon edges out North Carolina’s Butch Davis and NC State’s Tom O’Brien. Shannon will try to do what Davis did at Miami in the late 1990s. The Hurricanes still have their usual boatload of talent. Clearly not to the level of the 2001 squad, but Shannon will be expected to bring stability if not excellence to the program immediately.
The Wolfpack surprised many by plucking O’Brien from within their own league. Another bad decision in Raleigh, especially in light of the Davis hire at UNC.
New coaches most likely to succeed: Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson. Saban might be a flimflammer, but he’s just what the doctor ordered for the Crimson Tide. With top-notch recruiters Kevin Steele and Lance Thompson recently added to his coaching staff, Saban will have Alabama back in style in short order. Tommy Tuberville can’t be a happy camper.
We’re not sure how long it will take for Erickson to pose a threat to USC’s dominance in the Pac-10, but he’ll surely do better against ranked teams than the 2-19 that Dirk Koetter was able to muster. The pieces are there for Erickson to work his quick-fix magic.
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Saban hurt by colleagues' comments?
DPS: Alabama head coach Nick Saban was recently trash-talked by colleagues, and he tells Dan Patrick what he think of these comments.
BCS title game
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