Brace yourselves. You might not like what you’re about to read up here at the top.
Team to beat: Ohio State. Yes, we suffered through the last two BCS title games just like you. But we can’t get away from this idea that the third time will be the charm. It just doesn’t seem fair that a team that has gotten this far in the past two seasons returns 19 of 22 starters.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins have taken LSU’s 38 points in the championship game as a personal slap in the face and passed on the upcoming NFL Draft, meaning the Buckeye defense could actually be good enough next season to stand up to a SEC team.
Offensively, you’d be hard pressed to find a returning group better than quarterback Todd Boeckman, tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells and wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline.
In addition, the Buckeyes have another schedule that’s tailor-made for BCS success. Yes, it’s time to roll your eyes. Although they will participate in a titanic showdown at USC, the rest of the non-conference slate includes Youngstown State, Ohio and Troy. And in league play, Ohio State gets Penn State and Michigan at home.
Others in the running to get to the title game: USC, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. Pete Carroll says his desire is to “win forever.” That might be a bit out of line, but there is certainly no evidence that his Trojans won’t contend for the national title for the rest of this decade. Even if USC loses to a highly-ranked Ohio State team on Sept. 13, the Trojans could easily work their way into the title game and a possible rematch with the Buckeyes. That would make the Rose Bowl weep as they serve up something comparable to Arizona State-Illinois.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno returning among eight starters on offense, along with nine on defense, the Georgia Bulldogs are chomping at the bit to get back on the field in 2008. Their total domination of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl wasn’t nearly as impressive as the six-game winning steak they closed the regular season with.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Florida was one of those teams on the wrong side of Georgia’s streak, but the Gators will be back with vengeance in 2008. Sure the Capital One Bowl wasn’t Florida’s finest hour, but it will serve as motivation for Tim Tebow and the rest of the Gators during the offseason. Having nine starters back on defense never hurts either.
Dark horse: Clemson. The return of running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller give the Tigers reason to believe their attack could be sensational. On the other side of the football, Clemson’s defense returns nine starters, seven of which will be seniors. This is Tommy Bowden’s big chance to make some serious noise. He’s been due for a while.
The “Hawaii” of 2008: Brigham Young. Fresh off an 11-2 season, which included a 17-16 Las Vegas Bowl victory over UCLA, the Cougars will play the Bruins again on Sept. 13, a week after opening the season at Washington. With QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga leading the charge, BYU could come out of the gate 2-0 with some early respect (unlike Hawaii, which beat Washington in December). If they do, the Cougars will only have themselves to blame if they don’t charge through their Mountain West Conference schedule on the way to 12-0.
The “Notre Dame” of 2008: Michigan. Due to a weak non-conference schedule that includes Utah, Miami (Ohio), Notre Dame and Toledo, it won’t be a three-win season, but there will be a rocky transition period for the Wolverines as they get used to Rich Rodriguez’s offensive system and the way he goes about his business. He’s quite a departure from Lloyd Carr. Merely playing in only their second non-New Year’s Day bowl game since 1995 will be enough of a drop off in Ann Arbor to merit this dubious selection.
Already looking forward to these early games: Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Aug. 30; and Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13, 2008. Watching the un-BCS-worthy Illini take on the Tigers, who were snubbed by the BCS, will be interesting. Then, two weeks later, we’ll enjoy a game that could get replayed in January.
The Buckeyes, who’ll benefit from a pair of glorified scrimmages before venturing out to Los Angeles, will have a slight advantage. The Trojans, who have a tough season-opener at Virginia (Aug. 30), will still be tinkering with their less-experience lineup throughout September.
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