The Hangman occupies a chilling place in the collective mindset of western civilization.
For all too long, and far too often, the image of the "last person to let you down" permeated the idea of law and order in this nation and others.
Whatever the reason, the idea of a verdict leading to the final dispensing of justice by an unknown individual took hold in modern culture.
Eventually the concept evolved into a byword word regarding having to answer for one's shortcomings in life.
In time, even the children became involved by creating a word puzzle that sentences an opponent to eventual defeat one step at a time.
Slowly, inexorably, the base of the gallows is built, the derrick erected, the rope hung and finally the person is left to swing in utter defeat.
Using these concepts as our guide we shall construct our own assessment of various conference members and determine the progress of teams.
An evaluation of how close each will be to success or demise in 2011.
The Hangman will now dispense final verdicts on the future of college football teams in the PAC-12, SEC, and Big Ten conferences.
Longtime followers of West Coast football view the creation of the new Pac-12 conference as an opportunity to draw national interest for a league championship contest.
The Pac-12 has divided the enormous territory of the conference into separate divisions containing six schools. These will be identified as North and South.
The North may be the strongest division in America this season with members including Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, California and Washington State.
The South Division features Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, UCLA and Southern California,
Mountain Time Zone hubs Denver and Salt Lake City will increase regional awareness, but some of the older rivalries have to be curtailed due to logistics.
The conference could not have picked a better year for its debut as the Pac-12 will present two of the most powerful teams in the country with the Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks.
Expect the new Pac-12 to put on a show (see picture) for the rest of the nation as the juggernauts in Palo Alto and Eugene are not all the conference has to offer in 2011.
Utah, now three seasons removed from destroying Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, will provide an instant boost of national respect.
The Utes tripped over their own press notices last year. After starting out 8-0, Utah stumbled at the finish, losing to TCU, Boise State and at Notre Dame.
Arizona State returns virtually every player from 2010 and is under a "must-win" dictum pronounced by alumni and coaching staff alike.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley saw his usually well-regarded defense torn to shreds at times in 2010. The former Alabama star under coach Bear Bryant has vowed not to have a repeat performance in Corvallis.
California will strive to make improvement as respected coach Jeff Tedford enters his 10th season at Berkeley, but it is the unlikely duo of Arizona and Washington, possessing size and experience, that should create an intense competition for conference bowl positioning.
At one time, in the not too distant past, Southern California was a football dynasty under former headman Pete Carroll. But that seems like a lifetime ago for an undisciplined Trojan squad that stumbled its way to an 8-5 mark in 2010.
UCLA hoped to rejuvenate its once-marquee program by reviving the head coaching career of alum Rick Neuheisel. Unfortunately for fans of the Bruins, the experiment has been an unmitigated disaster with 22 losses in 37 games under the reign of their one-time star quarterback.
Washington State and Colorado will each finish last in the divisional breakdown of the Pac-12. The Buffaloes at least have an excuse: It is their first season in the conference.
The Hangman's Verdict:
The South Division
No. 1: Arizona State
No. 2: Arizona
No. 3: Utah
No. 4: Southern California
No. 5: UCLA
No. 6: Colorado
The North Division
No. 1: Stanford
No. 2: Oregon
No. 3: Oregon State
No. 4: Washington
No. 5: California
No. 6: Washington State
The Southeastern Conference has been riding high for the past five seasons of college football.
Time, and the loss of major superstars to the NFL draft, indicate that will end in 2011.
The two most recent BCS champions, Auburn and Alabama, lost the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners, Cam Newton and Mark Ingram, to professional football.
No current player in college football can replace Newton so that is a complete net loss.
Ingram will be missed in Tuscaloosa.
The Flint, Michigan, native led the 2010 Tide in yards running and rushing touchdowns with 13. More TDs than the two most experienced returning running backs scored by rushing put together.
Tide receiver Julio Jones will also be missed; he led Alabama with 78 receptions and seven touchdowns in 2010. Those totals are more than than the two most experienced returning receivers put together.
In addition to these key losses, there are major concerns at quarterback where experience is lacking.
The same goes for the Auburn Tigers, riding a 15-game winning streak into this fall.
The cry of War Eagle can still be heard echoing through the desert of Arizona. The fans of the Tigers can merely wish defensive stalwart Nick Fairley had decided to return for his senior season.
With only half a dozen starters returning for the Tigers, Auburn will need a face lift in a hurry to keep its competitive edge over Alabama from last year.
The loss of Newton will be offset to a degree by the adjustments of fine coach Gene Chizik, but the Tigers are nowhere near the pigskin dreadnought of 2010, a unit described by some observers to be the most powerful and talented SEC team of the BCS era.
With the BCS Championship, undefeated season, and No. 1 overall NFL draft selection, who can argue?
Mississippi fell completely apart in 2010. The year began with a loss to Jacksonville State and ended with a defeat at the hands of arch-rival Mississippi State.
During this abysmal performance the Rebels surrendered 422 points and lost eight games.
With only Southern Illinois and Louisiana Tech as possible wins on the schedule, 2011 looks like more of the same around The Grove.
Arkansas made hay while the sun was shining with quarterback Ryan Mallett calling the shots. The question in Fayetteville is the same as with Auburn and Alabama: Who will replace last year's starting quarterback?
Not to fear, Hog-Callers, with the typically soft out-of-conference schedule preferred by SEC teams, the Razorbacks could well match the win total of last season's Sugar Bowl squad.
After dispensing justice to the SEC West schools listed above (see picture), we are left with the two strongest teams in the division, and the ones most likely to battle it out for a position in the conference championship game.
Those two are Mississippi State and Louisiana State.
Coach Dan Mullen has worked wonders in Starkville and has the returning talent and experience to take the Bulldogs to a BCS Bowl game.
Coach Les Miles leads an LSU program that is tied with Florida for the most BCS national championships in college football history.
At the end of this go around, the Tigers just could find themselves alone in that position.
The Hangman's Verdict for the SEC West:
No. 1: LSU
No. 2: Mississippi State
No. 3: (Tie) Auburn and Alabama
No. 5: Arkansas
No. 6: Ole Miss
Defending SEC East champion South Carolina has the most experienced returning quarterback in the league with fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia.
He will join the best player in the conference, sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, and the best coach in Steve Spurrier, who has won more SEC games in history than anyone outside of Paul Bryant.
The Gamecocks have more returning players at every place that matters than any other team in the entire 12-team SEC.
In this almost-Twilight Zone atmosphere (see picture), we find a myriad of outfits competing for "best of the rest" designation.
The battle for second in the SEC East shapes up as a four-team race to avoid fifth place and reach for the best available bowl game.
Kentucky is displaying a winning attitude with striking new uniforms, a commitment to pigskin excellence with effective recruiting and the proven leadership skills of head coach Joker Phillips.
Morgan Newton will take over as the full time quarterback and the defense returns the top 11 men who led the Wildcats in tackles during 2010.
Tennessee has a surprising number of weapons returning for up-and-coming coach Derek Dooley.
The major problem for the Vols will be to solve a porous defense that gave up more than 25 points a game and improve a running game that ranked 109th in the nation last season.
Florida, fading fast from the nation's elite and reaching at straws with the hiring of a man to run the program who who has never been a head coach previously, enters the new season with hopes of becoming bowl eligible.
The Gainesville situation is reminiscent of ESPN analyst Beano Cook predicting "Ron Powlus will win two Heisman Trophies at Notre Dame" because of what the person did before stepping on the field and actually having to do the job.
The Bulldogs have the advantage over the Gators in coaching, quarterback, depth and experience.
Signal caller Aaron Murray commands coach Mark Richt's offense. In the 2010 regular season, only South Carolina held Georgia to single digits in scoring.
Replacements for receivers A.J. Green and Kris Durham need to be found but place kicker Blair Walsh is there if the Bulldog offense bogs down and punter Drew Butler is a whiz at bottling up the opposition.
Vanderbilt, by far the weakest team in the entire SEC, is looking at small college opponent Elon as its only sure victory this year.
The Hangman's Verdict for the SEC East:
No. 1: South Carolina
No. 2: Kentucky
No. 3: (Tie) Georgia and Tennessee
No. 5: Florida
No. 6: Vanderbilt
The Big Ten Conference is now divided into two divisions, each containing six schools.
That makes 12. But the conference is still the Big Ten. In fact, the Big 12 now has only 10 teams, but that is a tale for another time.
The new Big Ten incorporates two divisions, known as Legions and Leaders, to produce a conference championship game at season's end.
This year the title clash will be played in Indianapolis, but do not look for either team from the Hoosier State to be there. If Purdue or Indiana qualify for any postseason action it will be a surprise.
The Leaders Division took a blow to the chin, or rope to the neck (see picture), with the unfortunate news regarding Ohio State and the subsequent separation from coach Jim Tressel.
The Buckeyes appeared to have the answer to the SEC riddle of success in the recent BCS Championship contests with quarterback Terrell Pryor and a host of outstanding lettermen returning from their Sugar Bowl Championship squad of 2010.
Not to be.
The exile of Tressel, the exit of Pryor and the eventual problems that have surfaced regarding the NCAA have left the Buckeyes in the unfamiliar territory known as the middle of the road.
Ohio State will win enough games to qualify for a bowl bid, but the chase for the league championship is in jeopardy and the quest for the BCS title out of the question.
Wisconsin, a heavyweight who is always a bowl committee favorite, looks to benefit the most from the trouble at Ohio State.
The Badgers have a tremendous running game to go with standout receiver Nick Toon. The line will be solid, as always. Defensively, Wisky has all the tools to become one of the finest units in the land.
All Wisconsin lacks is a productive and experienced quarterback.
Guess who is coming to dinner in Madison?
Say hello to sensational quarterback Russell Wilson: of N.C. State fame, already earned his degree in Raleigh, plays professional baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization, and has one year of college football eligibility remaining.
Wilson, a three-time All-ACC player, has passed for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns while rushing for 1,089 yards and 17 touchdowns in his career.
Bingo. Wisconsin is the team to beat in the Big Ten, if not the entire country.
Penn State is back in the hunt for major bowl action.
Improved speed, on both sides of the line, has been noted during the spring. Drastic improvements defensively and in the kick coverage give an impression of the return to old time Penn State football.
A relatively soft out-of-conference schedule—only Alabama figures to give this group any competition and that game will be played in Beaver Stadium—should jump start coach Joe Paterno's young Lions to an undefeated record before going into conference play.
Two 6'5" defensive linemen ready to rebound from sub-par seasons are NFL prospects Devon Still and Jack "The Ripper" Crawford. With the emergence of 323-pound James Terry and 6'6" Eric Latimore as run stoppers in the spring contest, Penn State is taking dead aim at a BCS bowl game.
With a horde of returning lettermen in tow, the Nittany Lions will improve upon last year's 7-5 regular season record and contend for the Leaders Division championship.
Look for Penn State to be the sleeper, if you can call a team that with the best coach in the nation.
Illinois has a fascinating coach in Ron Zook, a superior player in sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and an offense that can score in bundles.
Illini offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is hoping for a balanced attack operating behind an improved line. Defensively, Illinois hopes to hold opponents to fewer than 24 points a game, which it surrendered in 2010.
Purdue is lacking in every aspect of the game. Blame has vacillated from location dynamics to coaching inefficiencies to lack of support from a nationwide alumni base.
The Indiana Hoosiers can't complain; they are in the same poorhouse.
The Hangman's Verdict for the Big Ten Leaders Division:
No. 1: Wisconsin
No. 2: Penn State
No. 3: Ohio State
No. 4: Illinois
No. 5: Purdue
No. 6: Indiana
The Big Ten welcomes a new member as Nebraska joins the conference in the Legends Division.
There is no doubt the Cornhuskers have the pedigree for participating as a "legend" since the Big Red suffered through no losing seasons from 1962 until the arrival of dreadful ex-coach Bill Callahan in 2004.
The past three seasons have been good ones for Nebraska and coach Bo Pelini, but good is not acceptable in football-crazy Lincoln.
Despite the trials of unfamiliar and uncomfortable road environments, the Cornhuskers have everything it takes to sweep aside the rest of the division in 2011.
Before Nebraska gets used to its place all alone under a Big Ten harvest moon (see picture) there is the issue of "learning the ropes" for a neophyte in any situation.
Michigan State may eventually create havoc for Pelini's road warriors when the Huskers visit East Lansing in late October.
Kirk Cousins returns at quarterback along with the three top ground gainers and excellent receiver B.J. Cunningham. The defense returns six starters and many experienced lettermen who are ready to play.
The Spartans put together a superb regular season last year but folded up like a tent in the Capital One Bowl. Eager to make amends, look for Michigan State to again play the role of spoiler in the Big Ten.
Iowa lost much talent on defense and must replace key offensive weapons as well, but this is not coach Kirk Ferentz's first rodeo.
Quarterback James Vandenberg is ready to lead the Hawkeye offense and is out to prove he can get the job done on the field. Known as "Mr. Vantastic" in high school, two years of meager college action only results in a huge question mark under center.
The defensive line is a work in progress but the linebacker corps is a team strength.
Hawkeye fans will likely remember this season as one where preseason expectations were surpassed by results on the field.
Northwestern surrendered 29 points a game in 2010 and will need a big year from quarterback Dan Persa to have any hope of outscoring their opponents this season.
The Wildcats have attempted to break into the big time under fine coach Pat Fitzgerald but a rugged slate of games in 2011 may put those hopes on ice for another year.
The Michigan Wolverines acquired the services of demanding coach Brady Hoke and there is little doubt improvement is in the future.
Ace quarterback Denard Robinson returns to run new offensive coordinator Al Borges' balanced attack. The Wolverines will reap the benefits from no less than six potential starters at running back, including Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw, to accent a bevvy of fine pass receivers.
What can one say about college football's all-time winningest program in 2011? At best the hope for a break-even season and escaping the cellar of its new division home.
Minnesota has a beautiful stadium, a historical program, lots of optimism and good size.
Those attributes will get the Golden Gophers respect, if not a large number of wins this year.
The Hangman's Verdict for the Big 10 Legends Division:
No. 1: Nebraska
No. 2: (Tie) Michigan State and Iowa
No. 4: (Tie) Michigan and Northwestern
No. 6: Minnesota
The 36 teams reviewed in this article will not all be successful in 2011. There will be winners, losers and middle-of-the-road operations.
Seeking to locate the solution to a great season can be daunting. Injuries, road games, poor weather and team morale can have a paralyzing effect on even the most glorious of good intentions.
With an eye toward the unexpected happening, let's project an eventual outcome for this group of schools.
A final verdict delivered by the Hangman (see picture).
No. 1: Most likely to go undefeated: Stanford Cardinal
No. 2: Most likely to have the least number of wins: Vanderbilt Commodores
No. 3: Most likely to have a coaching change during the season: UCLA Bruins
No. 4: Most likely to have a coaching change at the end of the season: Georgia Bulldogs
No. 5: Most likely to have surprise impact player of the year: Wisconsin Badgers
No. 6: Most likely to have a disappointing season: Florida Gators
No. 7: Most likely to have a surprisingly good season: Arizona Wildcats
No. 8: Most likely to suffer from the unexpected loss of any 2010 player: Ohio State Buckeyes
No. 9: Most likely to have internal strife: Arizona State Sun Devils
No. 10: Most underrated player: Derek Moye, wide receiver for the Penn State Nittany Lions
No.11: Most underrated coach: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Bulldogs