College Football: Top Six Story Lines Heading Into The 2008 Season

James ReesAnalyst IJuly 30, 2008

It’s inescapable this time of year—that intense feeling of anticipation for college football.  At this moment, as most programs prepare for the start of training camp, fans all across the country are submersing themselves in oceans of speculation. 

How will our defense look this season?  Will the running game hold up?  I heard our new offensive coordinator is a flat-out genius.  You think we got a shot to win it all? 

You know you’ve heard it.  It’s the chatter that fills the airways of sports talk radio.  It’s the debate you’ve been having with your buddies for the past two months.  It’s the topic your awkward relatives ask you about in hopes of roping you into conversation.

It’s the big fat elephant sitting in the middle of the room, except this time no one is trying to ignore it.  College football season is here and people are ready to talk about it. 

So with that said, as we ready ourselves for the start of the 2008 season, let’s take a look at six intriguing story lines heading into the season.

No. 6:  Does USF have what it takes to unseat West Virginia as king of the Big East?

The Bulls shocked everyone with their meteoric rise to No. 2 in the nation in Week 7 last season. 

The Mountaineers paid it forward with their devastating loss to Pitt in the final week, costing them a shot at the national title. 

Both teams contributed greatly to what was one of the most tumultuous college football seasons ever.  But that was last year and this is this year. 

So does USF have the potential this season to give WVU trouble in the Big East? 

I think so.  West Virginia has the best team in the Big East.  They have the best players and the most talent.  But do they have the mental toughness to take on all comers, including teams like Pitt?  I doubt it.

USF is a team on the rise, with a fiery coach and a senior QB Matt Grothe calling the shots.  If they’re defense can stay on the level it was last season, they have a great chance to claim the Big East title.

No. 5:  How will Michigan look running the spread offense?

When you think of Michigan football you think hard-nosed, physical, pound-you- until-you-drop type football, right?  Well, think again.

Rich Rodriguez is the new sheriff in Ann Arbor now and he’s brought a little something with him from the mountains of West Virginia.  It’s called the spread offense.

Hold your horses though Wolverine fans, I wouldn’t get to psyched about the make- over just yet.  Michigan is still at least a year away from threatening anyone in the Big Ten, especially with the instillation of this new offense. 

Right now the Wolverines have players who were recruited to play the old type of offense.  It’ll take Rodriguez at least two recruiting classes before his new scheme starts to pay dividends.

But by then the whole Big Ten might be running the spread.  Ohio State did just sign all-world duel threat quarterback Terrell Pryor, right? 

Speaking of the Buckeyes…

No. 4: Does the winner of the USC, Ohio State game have the inside track to get to Miami?

Week 3, Sept. 13.  All eyes will be focused on the Coliseum where the Buckeyes and Trojans will duke it out Rose Bowl style. 

If Ohio State wins, they’ll have little trouble waltzing through their Big Ten schedule all the way to the Orange Bowl.  At Wisconsin and at Illinois are the only potential roadblocks.   

If USC wins, they also will have minimal resistance from their conference.  With all their “tough” conference games at home, the Trojans are set up nicely for a title run. 

But with an untested quarterback I can see USC maybe slipping up somewhere along the way, ruining their shot to play for a championship.       

That’s okay though, apparently the Trojans don’t need to play in a championship game to win a title (see 2003).

No. 3:  What will the Big 12 look like this season?

It seems as if the days when the Big 12 was owned by Oklahoma and Texas are over.  Although the Sooners won the conference championship last season, Missouri and Kansas burst onto the scene as serious contenders.

The Jayhawks and Tigers are both returning experienced quarterbacks and should pick up where they left off a year ago.     

Texas Tech, led by two Heisman candidates (Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree), is expected to be right in the mix this season. 

And what about the Cornhuskers?  Can first-year coach Bo Pelini make Nebraska competitive this season?

Whatever comes of the Big 12 this season, we now one thing for sure:  It’s not a two-horse race anymore.

No. 2:  Is Clemson the best team in the ACC?

Clemson is loaded with talent, but in a rather disproportionate way.  Think about a girl you’ve met who has great legs and a great figure, but a not-so-much face; or a delicious, tender steak you devour that comes with only so-so garlic mashed potatoes.

That’s the way Clemson is this season.  They’ve got the goods, but not all the way across the board. 

Cullen Harper, CJ Spiller and James Davis form a talented backfield of preseason all-ACCers.  Senior wide receiver Aaron Kelly will be a force, as well. 

Too bad they don’t have anyone to block for them.  Clemson must replace four starters from an O-line that was pretty average last season.

On defense, they return three of four starters to the D-line including fifth-year seniors Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson.  The Tigers’ secondary is stout as well returning four starters from a squad that led the ACC in passing defense last season.

The down side?  They must replace last year’s top four linebackers.  Their two most experienced linebackers, Kavell Conner and Scotty Cooper have just four career starts between them. 

So the Tigers have some good, but they’ve also got some bad.  They still might have enough though to make it through the ACC. 

No. 1:  Will the winner of the SEC East play for a national championship?

It’s a battle of titans in the SEC East this year.  Both Georgia and Florida are filled to the brim with talent and experience.  

Florida has Tim Tebow who, contrary to his coach’s sentiments, isn’t the best college football player of his era.  But he might be the best player in the conference. 

The Gators will be scary good on offense now that they’ve got a decent running back in Chris Rainey.  And they’re defense, which suffered last season because of inexperience, should be a much more confidant group. 

Georgia has as much talent as any team in the country.  They’ve got a future first-round pick in QB Matthew Stafford and a preseason Heisman candidate at running back.

Their defense is loaded, as well.

Both teams are championship caliber, so if either wins the SEC with just one loss, they’ll be a shoe-in for Miami. 

Easier said than done, of course.           






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