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Tuesday, August 29th 2006

CFB Preseason Round-Up

Yeehaw! Get your lassos! What we have coming in the days leading up to the start of the season is this lengthy post on the state of college football post camp, a second post with my predictions for the season, and then a preview of Saturday’s game at Arkansas.

This is so long, I can’t read all of this! Summarize it for me:

  • USC Has Some Mighty Fine Young Tailbacks, Lets See How Quick They Learn
  • The Risky Games For USC Aren’t Cal & Notre Dame, They’re Arkansas, Nebraska and Arizona
  • Notre Dame Is Overrated
  • Brady Quinn Is Still A Great Quarterback and My Heisman Pick
  • No Frosh QB Has Led A Team To A National Title In 20+ Years…
  • …and Colt McCoy Isn’t The One To Break The Streak
  • Texas Will Not Win The Big 12 (My Complete Predictions In Next Post)
  • UCLA Sucks At Football
  • The Pundits Love tOSU and Notre Dame

Now on to all the links to commentary, video, and my unverified claims that you can handle!

Trojan News
Well, camp is finally over, Carroll has seen all the Freshmen and set the depth chart. The surprises include Byers lossing the starting left guard spot. As well there’s Rey Maualuga pressing team captain Oscar Lua to start at MLB (but that one was more expected).

As we mentioned from the Herbies, CJ Gable, a freshman tailback has had a great camp. In fact if Chauncey can’t go for Arkansas, CJ will start.

USC running back Chauncey Washington, the projected starter in Saturday’s game at Arkansas, returned to practice Monday after missing most of fall camp because of a tight hamstring.

The redshirt junior was projected to be the starter at the start of camp, but his injury gave freshman running back C.J. Gable a chance to move up the depth chart and be named starter if Washington can’t go.

Tailback is a touchy spot. We have three high ranked freshman recruits. Coming out of highschool, in terms of talent, they probably would’ve been ranked – 1. Stafon Johnson 2. CJ Gable 3. Emmanuel Moody. But camp offered some surprises,

When I caught up with nearly hoarse USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin between practices Thursday, he couldn’t stop raving about the three freshman tailbacks. “You couldn’t come to a scrimmage or watch film right now and be more excited,” said Kiffin. “A lot of times if you recruit three players at one position, you’re bound to make a mistake on one. One is usually not as good as you thought. All three [of the freshmen] could be good players for us. And they each bring something different.”

But the runner who’s really excited Kiffin is Moody, who had a deceiving 28 yards on eight carries. “He made some Reggie-type plays – stop, start, get loose and make guys miss. He’ll run 30 yards to get 11,” said Kiffin. “But he’s also got ball-security issues and doesn’t run plays exactly right.” Gable, meanwhile, has proven to be the best receiver of the three.

Stafon has been relegated to the Scout team, Moody has shown amazing moves and looks like a slasher, drawing early comparisons to Reggie Bush (probably a little premature), but the most mature back, the one who apparently knows what he’s suppose to do besides having the talent has been Gable who is right behind Washington for the Arkansas game.

CJ Gable In High School

Chauncey Washington is a product of the recruiting class that brought USC Lendale White and Reggie Bush and was ranked even higher, coming out of high school, than Lendale. He’s been plaqued by injuries and academic ineligibility. But now his chance has come, if he’s healthy.

Late in camp, Allen Bradford (recruited as LB) also was moved to tailback to provide a power runner. He has impressed in the position and should get some carries on September 2nd.

The QB starting position was less of a battle than some might have expected. JD Booty got the nod early. He deserves it, waiting for three years behind Leinart. Still, both him and Mark Sanchez had their problems during camp. The QB play is the second major question for the season.

Still take a look at this video (H/T TrojanWire) of John David Booty, especially some of his passes during scrum play USC’s 70 pt. rout of Arkansas last season.

The defense looks mean. Lawrence Jackson is on everyone’s AA list. Along with Sedrick Ellison he makes up the defensive line. For the first time USC may play some 3-4 to be able to get 4 linebackers on the field to take advantage of our incredible depth at that position. During an interview/chat on ESPN Jackson highlighted the improvement of the defense,

johnny (san francisco, ca): fight on lawrence…how do you think the defense has improved from last year?

SportsNation Lawrence Jackson: Experience might be the No. 1 thing. The guys know more and the more you know the faster you play. You don’t think, you just go. Our defensive speed has improved. We have some guys that are really athletic at some key positions that are going to really help us.

Check out the complete chat for some nuggets mixed in with a lot of “say the right, bland thing,” from the very respect LJ who doesn’t make any astounding specific predictions for the Trojans beyond success.

In these first few games it could very well be the defense will have to keep the Trojans in it.

Over at Conquest Chronicles they go over some last minute news posting from the Times and the Daily News. A lot of it is what I’ve mentioned above but you can go directly to the sources.

Of course, as a Top 10 team (view the polls), highlights of the USC season are prominent on most major sports sites. Over at College Football News they sum the Trojans up with

Even with all the question marks, the Trojans should be in the mix for yet another national title appearance thanks to great coaching, great players, and a great schedule that’s tailor-made for a championship. Then again, the same was said about Miami going into the 2004 season.

They question the offensive line more than the new guys at the skill positions,

Key player to a successful season: Senior OT Kyle Williams and sophomore OF Chilo Rachal. Throw junior Alatini Malu in the mix, as well. Much will be made out of the replacements at quarterback and running back, but there are also some big-time shoes to fill on the line of the line with Winston Justice and Taitusi Lutui off to the NFL. The machine could break down in a hurry if Williams, Rachal and Malu don’t shine on the right side.

I don’t agree with that assessment. With Byers (more than a capable guard last year) getting beaten out, I think it shows some talent in the depth USC has on the line. Plus, Rachal in particular I think has more than shown flashes. As well, with some of the problems seen during scrimmages at QB (granted they were going up against great defense), I think the biggest question mark is how well and how quickly John David Booty gets into his rhythm.

The CNNSI preview of the Trojans tries to make news,

Replacing a pair of departed Heisman winners, quarterback Matt Leinart (2004) and tailback Reggie Bush (’05), could be even harder than coach Pete Carroll imagined. The players most likely to fill the voids have been hindered by injury, ineligibility and legal problems during the off-season, leaving the Trojans more unsettled in the backfield than they have been since 2003, when Leinart won a three-way battle to succeed Carson Palmer.

That might make USC appear vulnerable after winning or sharing the national championship in 2003 and ’04 and losing in the title game last year, but as usual Carroll has plenty of young, talented players waiting in the wings. If he can keep a few of them on the field, the Trojans should be in the hunt for yet another title.

This despite the fact all the legal troubles had been cleared by the time this was published. They make no real predictions on USC’s success this season.

The most exstensive and indepth summary of the upcoming season may be over at Rivals.com (a subscription is required). It is also the most biased. However, I think every true Trojan fan views the season about like this,

[T]his USC program saw losses on a similar scale [to losing Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart] preceding the 2003 season – Heisman Trophy winning QB Carson Palmer, All-American safety Troy Polamalu and a set of experienced, quality running backs all wrapped up their eligibility on Jan. 2, 2003, with an Orange Bowl whipping of Iowa that capped an 11-2 season. What did that 2003 regular season bring? Just a new backfield, a better, healthier defense and a national championship.

So forgive Carroll and the rest of us who have been around his version of USC football history if we are all confident that these new Trojans can step up and challenge again – not only for a fifth straight Pac-10 crown, but also for a third national title in four years. The Trojans’ 2006 campaign begins next weekend – on Saturday, Sept. 2, with a 5:45 p.m. (PDT) kickoff at Arkansas in Fayetteville (ESPN).

Despite all the hype surrounding Cal and Notre Dame, USC’s biggest tests are probably early in the season. This is especially true for the offense, which will probably (pending injury) see a significant learning curve. The most dangerous dates of the season may be September 2nd and September 16th.

Enemy News
The hype is all on Notre Dame. As College Football News points out,

The season will be a success if … Notre Dame plays for the national title.

Key game: November 25th at USC. Notre Dame could lose to Georgia Tech in the opener and still end up playing for the national title. It can’t lose in the regular season finale to USC and hope to have a shot at the big prize. Lost in the magnificence of last year’s classic is that the Irish have lost its last four to the Trojans.

They’re #2 and #3 in the polls respectively and have the nation’s leader in Heisman hype. He’s leading easily in the standings over at ESPN certainly is the focus of discussion at CNNSI as well.

The bloggers over at Blue Grey Sky show just how much this season means and how much Notre dame fans expect. You can take a look at their predictions, no matter how wacky some of them are…

Michael – UF-ND. Leak vs. Quinn, Meyer vs. Weis, etc in the BCS championship game Weis brings back Lou for one game to coach the defense, and he comes up with some specialty defense (a la ’92 Sugar Bowl) to stop the vaunted spread option. Ron Zook is Weis’s personal guest at the game.

Everyone’s question for the Irish is their defense. They’re not exactly the brightest guys (as even Zibokowski admits) but more importantly they lack team speed. As the CNNSI Notre Dame preview tells us,

Notre Dame, which was humbled by the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl last January. In that 34-20 win, Ohio State amassed 617 yards of total offense. So with 10 starters back on the Irish defense its Fiesta performance raises the question: Is that a good thing?

Zbikowski says it is. Several of the Buckeyes’ big plays were the result of “mental breakdowns,” he says — miscues that were addressed during spring drills, when the defense “got back to basics.” After the Fiesta Bowl loss, the party line coming out of South Bend was: It’s not that we’re not fast; it’s that we didn’t play fast.

Just in case the Irish aren’t as fast as they think they are, there’s a Plan B. Included in the 2006 recruiting class are two of the nation’s top corners, Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls. “I don’t care if the guy playing is a freshman or a senior,” says coach Charlie Weis. “I want the best guys out there.”

Is Notre Dame merely a feel good story? They certainly hung with the Trojans last year, but who did that say more about considering Fresno St. did the same but proved of less mettle the rest of the season. The Irish weren’t exactly dominant in their victories last season, squeezing past a number of mediocore teams.

Brady Quinn is a great quarterback but can Jeff Samardzija repeat last year against better competition. What about the defense?

Personally, and unfortunately I’ve come to this conclusion about all of the “opponents” I’m profiling in this section, this is giong to be a down year for Notre Dame. Personally I’m with this piece over at FoxSports – Notre Dame is overrated.

3. The Suspicion That Notre Dame Is Overrated Because Everybody Wants a Great Story like “Notre Dame Is Back!”


Nothing against Notre Dame. Nothing against Quinn. Nothing against Weis.

But it’s fair to wonder if a team by any other name would be just as hyped. This is a program that hasn’t won a bowl game since President Clinton’s first term. Sure, the Irish finished No. 6 in the country and almost upset USC, but their last game was a bad loss to Ohio State and they finished 9-3 — a strong 9-3, but still 9-3. Remember, Willingham had a similar first year.

Also, the schedule is filled with mines: Georgia Tech and USC on the road; Michigan, Penn State, Purdue and UCLA at home. And I didn’t even mention Michigan State, which has dominated Notre Dame in recent years.

Swirl that around your mouth for a second: Michigan State, which has defined mediocrity for most of the last few decades, has dominated Notre Dame. The Spartans have won five straight games in South Bend. That’s not to say Notre Dame can’t win the national championship, just that the Irish might be a tad overrated.

Then again, maybe Notre Dame is just that good. That’s the beauty of sports: as the season unfolds, we’ll find out.

VERDICT: It’s been a long time since crowds chanted “overrated” during a Notre Dame game. Maybe this is the year.

As Brady Quinn and throngs of Irish fans admit, nothing short of coming into Los Angeles Colliseum in November as the #1 team and leaving as the #1 team will prove me wrong. Because nothing short of a national title berth will be acceptable this year.

But that ain’t going to happen in South Bend. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me to see them lose to Georgia Tech this opening weekend.

Moving on.

The Bruins get only a sliver of space. Why? Because they’re still not any good. In fact over at the most prominent Bruin CFB blog, Bruins Nation, even they aren’t drinking “the Karl Dorrel Kool Aid.

Uh if getting better players is the best way to improve a program what exactly Dorrell had been doing his first three years to close the talent gap with USC? Well he was so spectacular that the talent gap widened not just against USC but we also fell behind Cal. Ok so this year we are off to a good start. That is nice. But any hard core college football fans knows it’s not how you start, but how you finish. In other words if we end up having another 6-7 win season with no wins against USC, all that early season momentum is going to dissipate in the recruiting trail, and then come next August Dorrell’s supporters will be looking forward to – not 2007 – but 2008 season. Yes, it will be the “next” next year.

But anyways it’s a new season. Everyone is excited. We haven’t drunk the Dorrell Kool Aid yet, but will try to stay positive. So I will end with this portion of the article:

Still, they have some expectations of Karl – 9 Wins & Beating SC. But any look at their posts reveals how likely that is. I think they’d settle for sub nine wins and a victory over USC, especially if the Trojans come into the game with only a loss or two and a mid-high Top 25 ranking.

Over at College Football News, they basically claim UCLA can’t repeat its marvelous previous season (a season which despite all their wins they were blown out by the Trojans).

By almost any measure, UCLA had a fabulous year full of thrilling comebacks, a win over Oklahoma, and a Sun Bowl victory over Northwestern, but yet another march to the BCS by USC and a humiliating 66-14 loss to the hated Trojans put a sour note on last year. The biggest problem now isn’t trying to keep up with the Joneses, or, the Carrolls, it’s trying to be as good as last year.

They have significantly lower expectations than Bruins Nation.

The season will be a success if … UCLA finishes in the top four of the Pac 10. There are simply way, way too many question marks and way too much youth to reasonable expect a run for the Pac 10 title. The rest of the league is too good for the Bruins to finish second, but a top four finish would mean the program didn’t slide all that much before what should be a big 2007.

What do I think? I think that is about right. USC, Cal, Oregon, ASU – UCLA probably can’t expect to finish higher than any of those teams with a new tailback, quarterback, and plenty of new palyers on the defensive side. These guys aren’t exactly Trojan caliber either, so we’re not working with a bunch of blue chips here.

I’m skipping Cal and moving right to the University of Texas. Wha–?!

So, not a rival and not an opponent, but sitting at a Univesity of Texas medical school and with jackasses for internet fans, I just couldn’t help taking a look at the Longhorn season.

The Longhorns return monster depth. Despite losing players like Huff, they have a great defense especially in the front four and in the secondary. The tailback position is loaded, and more experienced now (despite losing Ramonce Taylor), and the offensive line is one of the best in the nation.

So, what isn’t to like? Well, like I said, it has been more than 20 years since a frosh QB led a team to the national championship. And I have absolutely zero faith in Colt McCoy, who has now been named the started.

Longhorns fans shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that the talent around him will make up for the jitters and inexperience when he steps onto the college field for the second time in his entire life against incredibly talented Ohio St, the consensus number one team in the country. Mandel is right on the money over at CNNSI, echoing my comment.

Yeah The Longhorn’s Looks Good In This Highly Selective Video But Watch McCoy & Snead Make The “Tough” Throws

Over at the College Football News preview, they lay out the problems the Longhorns face,

Had Vince Young decided to come back for his senior season, there’d be no reason to play the 2006 season. Texas would walk through the year on the way to a second-straight championship and a 34-game winning streak. Oh sure, many would point to USC last year and Miami of a few years ago to show that greatest-of-all-time teams are beatable … nyuh-uh. This would’ve been 1995 Nebraska all over again.

But Young is off making millions as a Tennessee Titan and life does go on. The biggest question of the 2006 season is if freshmen quarterbacks Colt McCoy (a redshirt freshman) and Jevan Snead can do enough with the talent around them to keep the machine rolling. As good as Texas was last year, it wouldn’t have beaten Ohio State without Young, and if it had somehow made it to Pasadena, it sure as shoot wouldn’t have hung around with USC.

The obvious, no Vince Young. USC has proven they can replace great players and Heisman winners, but there is no one waiting in the wings for Mack Brown.

CNNSI lays the key to Texas’ chances at the feet of its monster offensive line.

They have depth everywhere but at quarterback, where Young’s successor will be either redshirt freshman Colt McCoy or true freshman Jevan Snead, both of whom lack not only Young’s experience but also his running skills. For Texas’s 20-game winning streak to continue, its offensive linemen will have to provide extra protection for the QB and work harder to clear a path on rushing plays.

An important consideration, but even with a dominant line they’re not getting through this season unsatched and into Tempe. Mack Brown can spin it any which way, but when Vince left so did any chance of him repeating.

“If Vince had come back, we would be more complacent because all the talk would have been about us repeating,” says coach Mack Brown. “With him leaving, that has not been an issue. There is no doubt — this team can win a national championship.”

In fact I am making a stunner of a prediction (more to come in my college football prediction post later on) but I don’t think Texas will win the Big 12. There I said it.

Still, you’d barely notice there’s any concern if you hit up Burnt Orange Nation. Even with a title they have trouble living in the present. Their “wishes” for the upcoming college football season mentions the Trojans more than the Longhorns almost!

2. The focus this season will be back on the game and not on the scandals of this off season.
My memory is not that good but I can’t remember a single off season with as many off the field distractions. From Reggie Bush’s House Gate and Dwayne Jarrett’s living situation to Adrian Peterson’s free Lexus and Rhett Bomar’s underserved paychecks to the more recent suspensions and near suspensions at Auburn, Miami, Notre Dame, etc, (I’m sure I am missing some), the past eight months have been littered with stories highlighting all the wrong things. Let’s all hope the media’s tune is changed as the season kicks off this week. I want to hear about the kid who survived Katrina to make it back on the football field or watch the walk-on place kicker nail the game winner or cheer on the coach who finally claims his first conference or national championship.

3. The Heisman trophy will be decided by play on the field and not by a predetermined media love fest.
We were all front row spectators to the USC media love fest last season. That drama has been well chronicled at BON. As easy as it is for the MSM to promote a team for the national crown, the gravitational pull toward a single player is even stronger, (especially if that player plays for a national power with its own TV network). Who was the last Notre Dame player to win the Heisman? Tim Brown 1987. Nearly twenty years is way too long some would say. Let’s hope that Brady Quinn, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Troy Smith, Chris Leak, Pat White, and all the rest of the best players in the country receive a legitimate and equal shot to win the Heisman this season.

Their front page still has prominent links to this and this and this (wherein Matt Leinart gets accused of sexual assault). Nevermind the falsehood of that ancient internet rumor, but do we need to mention this? The fact Texas fielded the most intellectually challenged NFL draft pick ever?

…then it’s unfortunate that you’re wearing #10. It’s being reported by profootballtalk.com that Vince Young scored a six on the Wonderlic test. That’s six. S-i-x. 6.

Let’s ask The Wizard of Odds what that means:

The average score for a player at the combine is 19. The average score overall hundreds of corporations use the Wonderlic is 21. But a score under 10 is an indication of literacy problems. Former Iowa State running back Darren Davis reportedly has the record for lowest score, a 4. Former Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski reportedly got a 9.

They sure are full of confidence in their defense over there, but imagining Colt McCoy leading them to thirty points against Ohio St?(Even in overtime) They better wake up.

I said it in the spring, and I’m sticking with it now. Texas has enough offense to score on the new Buckeye defense, and only a fool would bet against Gene Chizik at this point. Texas wakes up on September 10th the new #1 team in the nation, thanks to a 30-24 win.

Pundit Predictions
I’ve already mentioned but I’ll link to it again, the majority over at ESPN think USC will win the PAC 10, but only a single pundit thinks we’ll play for the national title.

The closes thing to a consensus? Ohio St in Tempe in 2007. Maybe someone should send a link to Burnt Orange Nation.

Stunningly USC gets massive respect from College Football News, with a prediction for the Trojans to play in the national championship.

BCS Championship Game
Glendale, AZ
Glendale Stadium
January 8, 2007, Fox
BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2
Bowl Projection: USC vs. Auburn
USC, who has to beat Nebraska, Cal and Notre Dame to get the national respect to get to Glendale, would just barely beat out Texas, the ACC Champion, and Louisville to take one spot. If things work out as projected, the Trojans will have played eight bowl bound teams. A blowout over Notre Dame, if it happens, would seal the invite.

Auburn is due. Like LSU, Texas and Ohio State over the past few years, Auburn has been knocking on the door long enough to finally get the right breaks to get a shot at the title. With many still feeling the Tigers got screwed over a few years ago, the voters would give the Tigers the nod if everything else is equal. The schedule works out well getting LSU, Florida and Georgia at home, but there can’t be a loss to Alabama in the regular season finale.

And where might the opponents I profiled above be on this list? No UCLA and Notre Dame is all the way down in the Gator Bowl. Texas plays in the Fiesta (just a week too early).

These pundits basically just throw darts at a wall. The real money is in simulations! Mandel’s effort to simulate the season on his PlayStation found Nebraska (?!) and Virginia Tech playing for the national championship.
Strange; but then again many writers think this “wide open” season may shape up to be just that.

Well He Dresses Snappy Enough But Can He Coach Nebraska To Tempe?

Beyond the bowl predictions several lists have been compiled of the most interesting games of the season. I’ve already mentioned how USC appears in 3 of the top 15 games according to CNNSI. A more lengthy list over at ESPN finds the same three must watch Trojan games

vs. Nebraska
vs. Cal
vs. Notre Dame

All at home, as I previously posted.

Last but not least, the Heisman hype has started. One of my favorite college football blogs, Heismanpundit has released his preseason rankings (incredibly accurate) and like ESPN and CNNSI (well, trust me he will be #1 when they start ranking) has Brady Quinn hoisting that huge trophy in New York. Even MSNBC (yeah, I trust them for my sports news) has Quinn for the Heisman. How much more obvious can it be?! What does HP have to say?

Quinn is the perfect Heisman candidate. He is a senior quarterback playing for the quintessential traditional power. That team also happens to be considered a legitimate national title contender. He has very high name recognition, but has not yet become oversaturated the way Matt Leinart was last year. He is in an offense that will get him a ton of yards and touchdowns and he will do it on TV every week with the eyes of the college football world upon him. He plays a position that is as glamorous and storied as it gets. What’s more, he is likeable guy.

The Heisman Trophy is his to lose. He is the default candidate, meaning that if no other player blows the field away and he does what he is supposed to do (and the Irish don’t suffer an unforeseen collapse), he will win going away.

We’re getting old school now, 4 of the last 5 come from USC or Notre Dame with a Quinn victory. None of this FSU or Wisconsin BS.

Trust Me, They Can’t Wait To Stick This Face on The Heisman Webpage

And that is a run down of the upcoming Trojan season and the state of college football in general. A later post will have exstensive predictions (and I promise not to edit it as I get further and further from being accurate as the season goes on).