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Football hit me Saturday

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Football hit me like Tom Novak Saturday morning.

I woke up to open windows and cool air; an overcast sky. 68 degree weather. I was instantly thrusted back to the late 90s when I’d wake up late on Saturdays with the windows open and the leaves on our front yard maple becoming a telling hue of amber. I could almost hear snare drums snapping from the living room TV where my dad would be watching the early Big Ten games.

Football hit me like the season’s first tunnel walk Saturday afternoon.

I drove west on I-80 with the windows down from Omaha to Lincoln, listening Gary Clarke Jr. as high as my car stereo allowed. The number of times I’ve made this drive is comparable to the number of consecutive sellouts Nebraska owns, but this drive was special. I never thought the sight of dried brittle cornstalks along the interstate could invoke so much anticipation and excitement. I’m not old enough to feel fall in my bones, but I could feel it in my mind.

Football hit me like a wild pitch Saturday afternoon as I traveled to Haymarket Park to cover my final baseball game of the season.

I’ve developed a love for baseball I never thought I’d have over the past three months, but I knew it was time for football when I found myself wondering what the strong safety was doing batting seventh for the Saltdogs. I had to pause for a moment before I remembered that SS still means shortstop for 10 more days. The designated hitter I interviewed after the game (a Missouri native) told me he could feel the fans counting down the days to the Huskers’ first kickoff.

Football hit me like a 4-year NCAA bowl ban Saturday night.

It was a bittersweet realization that this might be my last season of traditional fandom of college football. By season’s end, I may even be working as a reporter covering football in some aspect. It’s likely going to be my last round of Saturdays for a long time that I get to sit in one spot for 11 hours and cycle anxiously between CBS, FOX and ESPN. While I’m ready to begin a career covering the thing that I love most, I’ll miss the sensation on the of plopping down on the couch with a cold red cup and watching the scores roll across the bottom of the screen after walking back from Memorial Stadium; voice hoarse and adrenaline still pumping.

Football hit me like a four-team playoff Sunday morning when I woke up and really thought about the next chapter of football in my life.

As I sit here typing I dream, no, expect to be doing it for a living one day. Since pursuing a journalistic career, I’ve come to the conclusion on my own that if you’re paid to do what you used to do in your free time, there’s no such thing as work. Like the playoff, it will be different, but I think it’s for the best.

Autumn is when I’m at my finest and when I think life is at its finest. The air is cool and dry and the sun is gentle and warm. Nebraska is tenfold more beautiful and vibrant in the fall, and UNL campus is an even more concentrated sample. Tradition and camaraderie are palpable, like simpler times.

I only know two words that do justice the ecstasy of fall.

Football season.



Quick hits:

-I’m glad to see Augusta National finally allowed two women to become members, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a South Carolina businesswoman. Even though this had become somewhat of a nonissue after the Masters thanks to some brilliant PR work by the Augusta board, they still overturned an archaic and flawed tradition. My thoughts were that once it got to the point when Augusta’s only argument for disallowing women was the strength and duration of the traditional, the argument is no longer valid. Slavery was once a strong tradition too.

-I’m excited that the role of ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore is expanding this fall. He’s always had a great voice and has done a good job of transcending boxing in my mind – something his voice was always synonymous with me for. Brad Nessler is still my favorite (not because of NCAA football, I don’t even play video games) but I’m glad Tessitore will be heard more.

-I can’t remember entering a football season in Nebraska that felt quite this way in a long time. I’m not sure if the fan base is becoming more polarized with expectations and opinions of Bo Pelini or if standards are genuinely low this year. There are a lot of people I’ve spoken too that wouldn’t be shocked with a .500 record for Nebraska.

-I’ve always liked Lane Kiffin in some strange sense, but I like him a lot more now. You have to respect a coach who can build a title contender with what he’s working with, even if it is in Southern California. This Gregg Doyel column didn’t hurt his cause either. Finally, I love and admire his stance on the coach’s poll. Having coaches rank teams is ridiculous. How many times has Bo Pelini said on record that he doesn’t even watch football? “I’m a baseball guy” is his usually response to questions about watching sports.

-Sam McKewon of the Omaha World Herald had a fantastic passage in his Monday football report about Nick Saban’s method with some really simple but telling numbers. Definitely worth the quick read.

-I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for the NFL this year. My AFC might look like a real division this year, and the NFC North is going to be a blast to watch. I can’t wait to see if it’s the Giants again or some other team that upsets the Patriots in the Super Bowl after they rip through the moist towelette known as the AFC East. Give me Justin Blackmon for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Melvin Ingram on defense.

Categories: Random Links

Solution to the ‘problem’ that’s not going anywhere, Part I

August 6, 2012 2 comments

Bo Pelini and I don’t have much in common as far as life goes. Next to nothing would be safe to say.

But the one thing we have in common (to a certain degree) is that our jobs reach an audience larger than our immediate personal and professional circles. Even still we have our differences there, because Pelini’s audience is significantly bigger than mine. Hopefully my audience can compare someday.

Sometimes Bo expresses his opinions, and sometimes I get to express my opinions in an editorial column. I haven’t had many published, but I know three things about expressing my opinion to a large audience of strangers; (1) don’t talk down to your audience, (2)don’t tell your audience how they should feel and (3) don’t tell your audience what to do.

So when Pelini told reporters at Big Ten Media Days that the Nebraska football program receives a “constant barrage” of criticism (good and bad) I want one thing: Honesty. I want the people surrounding the football program to preach what they practice.

It’s no secret that the football team lives in a fishbowl, as Zach Lee said. Every move is analyzed and scrutinized, written about and commented on. That won’t change, no matter how bad Pelini wants.

My colleague Steve Sipple and the World Herald’s Tom Shatel each wrote similar columns in response to Bo’s remarks about the fans and outside influence. Shatel told him to embrace it, Sipple said deal with it. Because again, Twitter, Facebook, message boards and Husker fandom aren’t going anywhere.

I wouldn’t be the first to call Pelini stubborn, but I would be in the minority calling him stupid. Idiots don’t become millionaire D-1 head football coaches.

That’s why it confuses me when Bo shuns the media with short, often curt answers. Whenever a reporter asks an “X’s and O’s” type question, his response is always something along the lines of “you wouldn’t understand.” His trademark response is “what do you think?”

Remember what I said about not talking down to your audience?

So I’m confused when he thinks that if he’s he shuts out media enough, they’ll go away. We’re not going anywhere. Husker Football drives the bus in Nebraska. Without the revenue generated from NU football, I probably wouldn’t have a job.

Fans may coddle their head coach and defend him to the ‘death’ on ESPN message boards, but they aren’t concerned with keeping him content. They want wins. These they want wins immediately.

So I get puzzled when a smart man thinks any of this is going to change.

Fans won’t stop being fickle. NU will continue to be the 1985 Bears when they win and the 1976 Buccaneers when they lose. It’s fair for the fans supporting your program to expect an explanation when you lose to 5-7 Texas or 6-6 Northwestern. Especially when one of them is the most talked up game in five years.

Pelini and his team have found themselves in some wins that were unexpected, but more of the surprises were losses. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the coach trying to justify a 9-7 loss to Iowa State after all those turnovers.

So what’s my ground-breaking solution? Honesty. And I’m not being sarcastic when I say ground-breaking.

How many coaches went on the record and said “We read the newspapers and pay attention to ESPN”? None. But they all do pay attention. A Husker quarterback once told me his favorite sites were ESPN and anything college-football related. After that infamous loss to Northwestern in 2011, receiver Kenny Bell told me the players don’t pay attention to the haters. By the time I packed up my notes and tape recorder to write my story six blocks away, he was on twitter responding to individuals calling Nebraska a bad offensive team. Most tweets were ended with “SMDH”.

It’s hard to imagine NU’s flat play in the loss to the “revenge game” against Texas in 2010 didn’t involve the overblown anticipation and hype.

Countless times Bo has stressed that he doesn’t “pay attention to media or newspapers”.

You remember Bo’s tirade on Dirk Chatelain of the World Herald after Nebraska’s comeback win over Ohio State in 2011. He began his attack on Dirk by telling him that he read his article, and Martinez played well despite the criticism.

Sounds to me like they’re paying attention.

Pelini made a step in the right direction at Big Ten media days acknowledging that his team is influenced by the fans, namely social media. To his credit, he does have the power to ban Twitter from his players. He’s exercised that right before. I thought he was completely reasonable in doing so after Eric Martin’s bone-headed tweets about players needing stipend checks to survive college. Apparently a free degree isn’t enough anymore.

I’m sure the thought of taking advice on how to run a football team from a lowly reporter would make Bo cringe, but it wouldn’t hurt to take the suggestions into consideration.

Deal with it, as Sipple said, because it’s not going anywhere.

Embrace it, as Shatel said, because it’s not hard to use it to your advantage.

Be honest about it, as I said, because you’re currently not fooling anyone.

Fans won’t always appreciate reasoning for wins and losses, but they will always appreciate honesty.

Categories: Random Links

Anatomy of an underdog

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s tough to find anything the city of Omaha loves more than the College World Series. If I had to name one thing, it would be an underdog.

It’s human nature to pull for the comeback, root for the little guy, see the proverbial David bean Goliath. In Omaha where I’m proud to say I’m from, this holds truer than anywhere I’ve ever been. But it’s also been easy to root for the underdogs in Omaha.

Look back to 2006, the first of Oregon State’s national title runs. It wouldn’t have mattered if they came from Corvallis, Oregon or Tampa, Florida.

You try not rooting for a longshot team named the Beavers.

After the Beavers’ run ended, along came the 8-seed Fresno State Bulldogs. Again, easy pickings with a 8-seed cracking the bracket, especially when the other seven teams were traditionally perennial powerhouses. Fresno State was the poor kid at the private school.

2009 got a bit sticky with Southern Miss and Virginia. Southern Miss was the obvious pick save Virginia, whose coach Brian O’Connor hailed from none other than Omaha, NE. Neither team took home the hardware and fandom had a pretty even split.

Next year’s Omaha baby was another can of corn – the TCU Horned Frogs. Football helped put the school’s name in the media, but it wouldn’t have mattered. TCU was the obvious choice, especially with All-American pitcher Matt Purke, the dude with the goofy athletic glasses and even goofier demeanor. Like 2009, the other seven participants were mainstays.

Last year’s might have been the easiest choice of them all, California. The Golden Bear baseball program was in hospice before the (quite literally) nothing-to-lose squad went and made the big dance on the big diamond. M. Night Shaymalan thought it was an outrageous twist. If you live in or near Omaha, you still don’t go very long between Cal baseball hat sightings.

This year Omaha is burdened with a Sophie’s Choice-esque decision; Stony Brook or Kent State. The MAC Champion Golden Flashes or the (allow me a moment to look up Stony Brook’s conference) American East Cinderellas?

Kent State looked like Omaha’s team early in the super regional round when they stole game one from Oregon. Before Omahans had a chance to preorder their Golden Flashes attire, Stony Brook took down annual Omaha visitor LSU clinching their spot in the College World Series.

It’s going to be tough for Omaha to spurn Stony Brook, a team name you usually only saw on the ticker once per college football Saturday when they’re playing Colgate.

There’s also that fact that Stony Brook had a very impressive tournament run, making them look far more likely to outlast Kent State, and justify that $28 Seawolves t-shirt that no one is going to be believe you owned before this week. I mean, they did beat LSU. Everyone wants to say they picked the eventual winner – but to also pick a Cinderella team? You could feel smug and good about yourself at the same time!

Tigers coach Paul Manieri said there might not be a better baseball team out there than Stony Brook. Maybe he really thinks the Seawolves can win it all. Or yaybe he’s just trying to justify to the country the fact that the class of the SEC just lost to a team named after a small generic body of water. You decide.

So Omaha and CWS patrons, you must choose. You can go the absolutist route and root for Stony Brook in their first ever trip the greatest show on dirt. Or you could take the pro-underdog hipster route and route for Kent State because everyone else will be rooting for Stony Brook. You can go the vintage route and dig up the Florida, Florida State, South Carolina, UCLA or Arizona hat. You could take the nostalgic path and root for former NU coach Dave Van Horn and Arkansas. Something tells me that won’t be happening.

Personally I’m pulling for UCLA, because those blue and gold Red Sox knock-off hats are just the cat’s pajamas.

Categories: Random Links

On Walden Water Hazard

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

For my Idol, Rick Reilly

Believe it or not, I’m not a good golfer, and by simply being a human being, odds are you aren’t either. But do I have fun golfing? You bet an over-ketchup’d hot dog and $6 Michelob Ultra I do.

I’ve learned that there are two kinds of weekend golfers; those who go to have fun, and those who actually have the fun. I used to be the former.

But at least now I can stand back and laugh when my divot flies further than my ball.

One summer one of my best friends taught me how to put together a decent golf swing. I was better than most beginners. I thought next the April I’d be taking the Green Jacket off Tiger Woods’ back. Imagine Tiger’s relief that summer when he donned the Green Jacket and I was still searching for my ball in the tall grass.

I used to shell out $40 on Sunday for fits of rage between rides in a golf cart because I’m about as good at golf as Carl Lewis is at singing anthems. If donating golf balls to water hazards was tax deductible, there’d be a foundation named after me. There are archaeologists in Egypt who haven’t dug through as much sand as I have. I’ve sliced more golf balls than a driving range mower blade.

I used to be that pretentious ass who went through putters of 32 inches, 36 inches and 34 inches before I figured out the inches that really matter are the six between my ears.

Malcolm Gladwell, a man wiser than you and me once said it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft. If you’re my age, you should be worried about hitting the books, not hitting the fairway. If you’re my dad’s age, well, you probably don’t have 10,000 hours of free time left anyways. So chill out and enjoy the scenery between strokes – before you have one.

Let the CEOs buy the expensive Callaways at Sports MegaStore Incorporated, because the clubs you’re using affect your score about as much as the bag you carry them around in. You’re not going to be the next Tiger Woods. You’re not even going to be the next Austin Bowen. (The guy who finished dead last on last year’s Hooters Tour, which yes, is a real thing) And for the love of Hogan, don’t waste $15 on a sleeve of golf balls that’ll be lost before your next outing is over.

Save your money for those $6 Michelob Ultras, and tip that pretty blonde beer cart girl; she won’t judge you for cracking a beer at 10 a.m. on a Sunday.

Categories: Random Links

The athlete’s sacrifices for greatness and what it means to the fan

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Some time ago when a player was great, he or she was beloved. Now they are questioned.

In the microscope today’s athlete lives under, a publicist’s job is a lot harder. It seems like corruption and scandal soiled sports at every level in recent years, but the phenomenon is nothing new.

Cam Newton will forever be remembered as one (if not THE) greatest college football players ever, and will always live under the dark cloud of the “pay for play” scandal he allegedly took part in at Auburn. Pete Carroll’s USC teams of the mid-2000’s were the closest thing to a dynasty college football has seen since Florida State and Nebraska in the 90’s, and will always be accompanied by the ugly asterisk of stripped national titles and awards after investigation of the program.

Tiger Woods was arguably on the fast track to ousting Michael Jordan as the greatest professional athlete of all time, before, well, you know the story. And the aforementioned Jordan? His arrogance and penchant for grudge-holding set me over the metaphoric edge today when I read Thomas Lake of Sports Illustrated’s profile of Clifton “Pop” Herring, Jordan’s high school coach who “cut” him, motivating Michael to become the greatest.

If you want to spare 12 pages of profile, the article brings to light the actual details of Jordan’s high school playing career. Jordan’s sophomore year, Coach Herring gave 6-foot-7-inch sophomore Leroy Smith the last spot on the varsity in order to give Laney High School the height they desperately needed in the middle. Jordan landed on the JV team for just one year.

If you’ve listened to Jordan speak about what drives him, you’ve heard about his high school coach that “cut” him, the coach that MJ set out “to prove wrong.” That’s Coach Herring.

That’s the same coach that welcomed Jordan into his home whenever he wanted, feeding him, lending him his truck. And placed him on varsity just one year later. The coach that helped him find his way to the University of North Carolina.


I’m a fan of Cam Newton. I watched USC in amazement when Pete Carroll (who I still believe is a magnificent coach) led the Trojans during their run last decade. I still maintain that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever to walk the planet and will watch him walk Augusta until the day he can’t walk anymore or my eyes can’t see him do it. I’ll never forget watching Air Jordan sink the jumper against Utah in the finals as child, not even knowing why I loved him so much.

I’m a fan of theses athletes, not necessarily of these people. So what about their sacrifices?

If you like sports in any capacity, you know you don’t succeed without making sacrifices. The hours put in, the money spent, the heartache endured – but what else? What about socially? emotionally? Psychologically?

Larry Bird was great at the cost of his childhood. Bird didn’t have friends, so he played around the world by himself until he was perfect. When he was perfect, he played around the world by himself until every shot hit nothing but net.

Todd Marinovich, one time USC quarterback also sacrificed his entire childhood to become the quarterback he was as a Trojan. He succumbed to addiction of hard drugs for years after fizzling out of the NFL. Did he sacrifice his stability? His sanity?

Tiger Woods also sacrificed his childhood. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his famed book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master one’s craft, which usually comes sometime around your mid thirties. By all accounts, Woods likely had those 10,000 hours in before he had a driver’s license.

Michael Jordan’s fuel comes from a persistent need to disprove people, from unfathomable grudges. Did he sacrifice his reputation? His likability? After years of arrogance, he affirmed the belief with his NBA Hall of Fame acceptance speech “crediting” his success to all those who “doubted” him.

There’s countless examples that make you wonder exactly what it is a great player sacrificed to become who they are. Would Jordan be the greatest without the angst raging inside of him there to fuel him? If Woods hadn’t grown up with such an intense resolve, personality and competitiveness, would he be the short-tempered champion he is today? Would Larry Bird go down as one of the purest shooters to hit the hardwood if he had friends like any normal kid?


 Sadly in today’s sport’s world not only is everything scoured by the media, but also scandal selling a hell of a lot more papers than good news. But the phenomenon is nothing new.

Corruption in sports has been around much longer than me, and much longer than my parents. And their parents, and their parents’ parents. It’s the same with unpleasant secrets and details about our beloved athletes and the sacrifices they made. Even Joe DiMaggio discreetly smoked his cigarettes in the dugout to keep kids from seeing him. These days, he couldn’t buy a pack of cigarettes without being hounded by cameras.

So remember, in this generation, one that seems riddled with scandals that bring down the greats, try to remember we’re not in a dark age of sports. We’re living in what I like the call the “Dark Knight” days of sports, and the coach’s office is Gotham City. Perpetrators of corruption in scandal in sports are taking notice and thinking twice.

Remember, you can’t put every great athlete’s sacrifice down on a spreadsheet. You may not like it, but some players may have sacrificed a value you hold dear in order to become who they are, whether intentional or not. Being great comes at an incredible cost, and it isn’t always pleasant or likable. Be careful of who your “role model” is because as we’re seeing in recent years, less and less athletes are as worthy to be role models as we once thought.

Remember, it’s not our generation of athletes, it’s our generation of awareness. Some would rather not know what their favorite athlete is really like; for times more like that of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Remember these athletes have made great sacrifices to become the champion that you and I are not.


If you have any interest in Michael Jordan, and I mean any, do yourself a favor and read the Sport’s Illustrated article linked above. It’s a beautifully written piece about the coach that according to Jordan “cut him” and underestimated him. It’s a prime example of why I personally try to be strictly a fan of the player not the person.

Categories: Rant, Uncategorized

Week One Top 25

September 4, 2011 Leave a comment

1. Alabama

2. Oklahoma

3. LSU

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oregon

7. Texas A&M

8. Virginia Tech

9. Oklahoma State

10. Wisconsin

11. Florida State

12. Arkansas

13. Ohio State

14. South Carolina

16. Florida

17. Penn State

18. Nebraska

19. Baylor

20. Mississippi State

21. Houston

22. Michigan State

23. Arizona State

24. Northwestern

25. Central Florida

Important Things Preseason Top 20

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I get it. Preseason polls are worthless and meaningless. But I like making up a poll to look back on at the end of the season to see how well I analyzed teams before they play.

1. Oklahoma

The Sooners’ offense, led by quarterback Landry Jones will draw comparisons to OU’s 2008 offense. Tailback Roy Finch is finally living up to the hype coming out of high school, and be the key opening up their potent passing attack consisting of the best wide receiver tandem in the country – Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills. Depth and experience on defense will make the loss of linebacker Travis Lewis sting a lot less than you may think. There’s might be an undefeated BCS conference school this season, which could give OU room for a loss at Florida State, Oklahoma State, or at home against Texas A&M.

2. Alabama

Bama’s beatdown of a solid Michigan State squad in last year’s bowl game was a preview of the Tide in 2011.  The defense will be legendary thanks to 10 returning starters and at least five potential first round draft picks – linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Donte Hightower, safeties Robert Lester and Mark Barron, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Their offense could easily be pedestrian after losing quarterback Greg McElroy, receiver and top 10 draft pick Julio Jones, first round pick and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, and first round draft pick offensive tackle James Carpenter. However, tailback Trent Richardson will look like Ricky Williams in a Crimson Jersey. Even if the offense is average, if they can score 14 points per game the defense will win games for them.

3. Oregon

The Ducks’ are in good shape to be the one-loss team that makes it to the BCS title game. Even if they do lose to highly-ranked LSU in the season opener, thye won’t fall far, and the past has shown us that losing a game early is far better than losing one late in the season. Even so, I predict them to win that game, but they have potential losses at Stanford and traps games at Washington at home against USC. The two keys on offense are back – quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James. They are the cogs that make Chip Kelly’s prolific offenses work, and will overcome the lack of depth at other skill positions. Thomas won’t have his safety net of a receiver in Jeff Maehl, but Oregon has talent at every position that just need some snaps.

4. Stanford

All the pieces are there for the Cardinal to continue their dominance post-Jim Harbaugh. Junior quarterback Andrew Luck is head and shoulders above any quarterback in the game, and would be a starter on half of the NFL’s sqauds. Their pro style offense will be dominant in the Pac-12, a conference that lacks elite defenses, aside from Stanford potentially. Jim Harbaugh quietly build up a great defense before he left, and most of the key members return. They’ll cruise through the first seven games before a potential road block at USC, where Monte Kiffin’s defense should never be counted out. They get Oregon at home in the middle of November, when the Ducks’ offense may be scouted by. Maybe.

5. Texas A&M

The only Big 12 team that could have a better offense than Oklahoma is undoubtedly A&M. They became a championship-caliber unit when Ryan Tannehill took the reins at quarterback, throwing to potentially the best three-man wide receiving squad in th nation – Jeff Fuller, Ryan Swope, and Uzoma Nuwachukwu. They’ll sport the best running back duo in the conference with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. The wrecking crew defense will see a resurgence under second-year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, a defensive genius who will be the head coach of a major program in the next five years. They get Oklahoma State at home, and shoud be able to handle Arkansas at home early in the season. A November trip to Oklahoma will be the games that costs the Aggies the Big 12 Championship.

6. Florida State

Jimbo Fisher’s squad has everything it takes to rip through the ACC like a wet napkin. However, Oklahoma comes to town September 17 and will give the Seminoles their one and only loss. Other than that, the schedule sets up nicely for them, likely without a single ranked opponent in conference play. They do travel to Florida in the final game of the season, when Will Muschamp’s Gators may be rolling by, but FSU is still the better team. The defense is only going to continue getting better under Mark Stoops, and the studs in the back seven are finally going to shine, especially corner Greg Reid. The offense, led by E.J. Manuel should start playing consistently at the level they showed flashes of last year. Seminole fans can start buying their Orange Bowl tickets as soon as they go on sale.

7. Boise State

As long Chris Petersen is the coach and Kellen Moore is the quarterback, the Broncos are basically a lock for the top 10. Moore, a Heisman finalist, will surpass Colt McCoy as the all-time leader for games won as a starter. He may have lost his top two receiving targets Titus Young and Austin Pettis to the NFL, but the offensive line is tested. Tailback Doug Martin returns after rushing for over 1100 yards in 2010. Boise’s defensive line is deep, talented, and experienced, and should be able to shut down nearly all of their opponents. They have losable games starting week one when they travel to Georgia, where they Bulldogs have high expectations this year. They have their third game against TCU in the last four years, which looks to be a defensive showdown. Finally, they have a potential trap game late in the season against San Diego State, led by potential first round draft pick Ryan Lindley and sophomore sensation tailback Ronnie Hillman, who rushed for over 1500 yards as a true freshman in 2010.

8. Virginia Tech

The Hokies’ schedule is an absolute cakewalk. Florida State may not play a ranked opponent in conference play, but VT probably won’t play a ranked opponent all season. If first year quarterback Logan Thomas is half as good as experts like Ryan McGee and Bruce Feldman say he is, the Hokies have no excuse not to go 12-0 in the regualar season. Bud Foster’s perennial elite defense will be headlined by all-ACC corner and potential first round draft pick Jayron Hosely. The offense may have lost Tyrod Taylor and tailbacks Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, but the top four receivers all return. Unfortunately for VT, they will meet a deeper and more talented Florida State in the ACC Championship for their first loss.

9. LSU

LSU can’t keep having the ridiculous luck that they’ve had under Les Miles, right? I don’t think so. While the Tigers’ defense should be stout, the offense lost their leading rusher tailback Stevan Ridley to the NFL. The next leading rusher after him? Quarterback Jordan Jefferson, with 383 yards. As a quarterback, Jefferson is still pedestrian. He has weapons around him however, in receivers Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard. Jefferson may be sub-par as a passer, but his supporting cast will make him better, and the defense under John Chavis will be second only in the SEC to Alabama. If they weren’t in the SEC West with games at Mississipi State, West Virginia, and Alabama, and home games against Oregon, Florida, and Arkansas, they would be in my top five.

10. TCU

The Frogs’ defense will be stout as ever under Gary Patterson and defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas, which would usually merit a top five ranking. But former quarterback Andy Dalton, the reason TCU emerged as a perennial powerhouse in the last three years has moved on to the NFL.  The loss of receiver and ace kick returner Jeremy Kerley will show as well. Their top receiver Josh Boyce and leading rusher Ed Wesley will provide reliable target and safety for first year quarterback Casey Paschall. And yet again, like LSU, TCU’s defense will be good enough to win 11 games. An October game against San Diego State will be a tough but winnable game for the Frogs, and the only should come at the hands of Boise State in the 10th game of the season.

11. Oklahoma State

Brandon Weeden to Justing Blackmon would be good for nine wins at almost any school.  In the top heavy Big 12 it should be good enough for 10 wins. The Cowboy air attack will as potent as ever under Mike Gundy, but offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson is gone to West Virginia. And perhaps even more damaging is the loss of tailback Kendall Hunter, who rushed for over 4000 yards during his career in Stillwater. Without the rushing prowess that Hunter brought, I have a hard time believing freeing up the passing game as easily, OSU’s offensive line will be great yet again, anchored by all-Big 12 tackle Levy Adcock.  But with Mike Gundy running the offense again, they will find ways to use the weapons they have.

12. Wisconsin

Bringing in former NC State star quarterback Russell Wilson to replace now San Diego Charger Scott Tolzien certainly give the Badgers a boost, but the Badgers have too much to replace to make a national championship run. All-American tackle Gabe Carimi is gone to the NFL as well as guard John Moffit. They also lost tight end and leading receiver Lance Kendricks, tailback John Clay, and receiver David Gilreath. But Wilson still has targets outside and a solid running back tandem of James White and Montee Ball, as long as Bret Bielema is the coach the offensive line will be great. The defense also lost valuable members in J.J. Watt and safety Jay Valai, but Wisconsin’s defense has relied on good fundamentals, not just superstars. Wisconsin should win the Big Ten, but much of the season relies on how well Russell Wilson does with the little preparation time that he’s had.

13. South Carolina

This year’s squad is in line to be Steve Spurrier’s best team he’s fielded as head coach at South Carolina, and they will be SEC East Champions again. An early test against an improved Georgia team should give a good impression of where they stand, but it only gets tougher with games at Mississippi State and Arkansas, and home games against Florida, Auburn, and Clemson. The offense should be the best in a long time with inconsistent but tested quarterback Stephen Garcia, All-Everything receiver Alshon Jefferey, and tailback Marcus Lattimore. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson strong unit will be headlined potential first round pick Stephon Gilmore. If they play to their ability, the Gamecocks could go undefeated in the regular season, but until Spurrier’s team shows consistency they could be between 8-4 to 11-1 in the tough SEC.

14. Nebraska

Not surprisingly, defense looks to be the Huskers’ cornerstone in Bo Pelini’s fourth year as head coach. With an All-American at all three levels of the defense – defensive tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David, and corner Alfonzo Dennard – Carl Pelini will have his deepest unit yet. The offense is what has kept Nebraska from reaching elite status under Pelini, but new offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s aggressive mindset has Husker fans hopeful. If early 2010 sensation quarterback Taylor Martinez has improved in the passing game in the off season, the weapons and speed are there for the offense to be in the top half of the Big Ten. The Huskers will win the new Legends division, but key games at Wisconsin and Penn State and home games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa will show if they’re good enough to win the Big Ten in their first season there.

15. Arkansas

The entire off season at Arkansas seemed to center on the transition from former quarterback Ryan Mallett to Tyler Wilson, some saying that he could be even better than Mallett. Personally, I don’t buy that, but from what the experts have been writing after seeing him in action, it sounds like the Hogs could have the best offense in the SEC. However, starting tailback  Knile Davis, who most heralded as the top back in the conference, tore a tendon and is lost for the season. The bulk of the carries will now go to Ronnie Wingo JR., a once a highly touted back in his own right. As if that wasn’t enough the worry about, they have a brutal schedule with home games against Texas A&M and South Carolina, and Mississippi State, and road visits to Alabama and LSU. They will be a very good team, but won’t walk away from those five games without at least two losses or more.

16. Michigan State

The Spartans got exposed as possibly overrated last year after being spanked by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. However, they have talent and experience coming back across the board as should be improved from last year. The offense should be potent with the impressive backfield of quarterback Kirk Cousins and tailback Edwin Baker, despite the loss of offensive coordinator Don Treadwell. The defense, anchored by star defensive tackle Jerel Worthy should be stout as MSU continues its recent tradition of producing great linebackers. If not for a difficult schedule with games at an improving Notre Dame, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern, and home games against Wisconsin and Michigan. If they can pull off some upsets in conference play, especially one at Nebraska, they could win the Legends division.

17. Florida

The country should be frightened at how good Florida is going to be in the coming years with the dream team of a coaching staff that they have. For the time being, it is still Muchamp and Weis’ first year as coaches there. The talent is all there across the board, but much of the defensive back seven is raw and unexperienced, with safety Will Hill being the biggest exception. The offense could be very good under Weis with quarterback John Brantley, tailback Jeff Demps, and receivers Deonte Cooper and Andre Dubose. The strongest point of the defense is speed, not size, which can make the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense difficult. They should be playing at a high level by the second half of the season, unfortunately for them, games against Georgia, Alabama, and at LSU are in the first eight games. After that they play at South Carolina and home against in-state rival Florida State.

18. USC

Hate on Lane Kiffin all you want, but he’s a fine offensive mind and quarterback coach, and he’s got an virtuoso at the helm of his offense in Matt Barkley. The reason Barkley doesn’t receive the credit he deserves is overshadowing of Andrew Luck. Kiffin will have the stacked Trojans firing on all cylinders this year on offense, and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will field the best defense in the Pac 12. USC has a veteran offensive line anchored by first round lock Matt Kalil, and tailback Dillon Baxter will be a household name by the middle of October. They should be 7-0 when Stanford rolls into town and hands them their first loss if they avoid potential trap losses to Stanford, Utah, and Arizona State. Their trip to Oregon will be the second loss of the season. They may not be able to compete in the post season, but they will be top dog in the Pac 12 South

19. Missouri

They may have lost quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the first round of the NFL draft, but Missouri should be an even better all-around team in 2011. Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel has quietly brought a resurgence to the Tiger defense in the last two years, leading them to a 6th-ranked scoring defense in 2010. The coaching is there, and they have the most talented defensive line in the Big 12.  If first year quarterback James Franklin plays like the flashes he showed in 2010, Missouri’s stacked receiving corps will make him look even better. They return their top four receivers, including All-American tight end Michael Egnew and 800+ yard receiver T.J. Moe. The bad news for Missouri is the schedule, with away games at Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Even the home game against Oklahoma State could be a loss. They should pull off one of those upsets, but if not a 9-3 record probably won’t even score them a Cotton Bowl bid behind OU, OSU and A&M.

20. Ohio State

Amidst the tattoo gate scandal, many people think the punishments were going to affect the football team more than it actually will. It cost them Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel, but most parts of the football team are actually still there. I would rank them higher if not for the seniors lost to the draft, no the loss of Pryor and Tressel. They lost five players to the draft, not including free agent signing of receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. The remaining players players on defense are still great players, including linebackers Andrew Sweat and Tyler Moeller. The offense will have a first year quarterback after the quarterback battle ends. On offense they return tailback Boom Herron and tight end Jake Stoneburner at skill positions, and J.B. Shugarts and All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams on the offensive line. They get Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Penn State at home, but have to travel to Nebraska as the Huskers’ first Big Ten opponent.


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