August 25, 2010

#7 Spartan Stadium, Michigan State

Final Score -- 40.25

You probably thought I'd forgotten all about the stadium countdown. Can't really blame you since the Bowl Game entry was in 2008, but any good labor of love has hurdles to clear (and I'm the Edwin Moses of procrastination). The best truly is yet to come, and I promise to finish before the BCS Selection Show. And if I don't, your website subscription will be fully reimbursed (oh wait...).

So let's pick things up in East Lansing and the home of Sparty, the stepchild program of the Auto State. Historically, there's always been plenty of talent at Michigan State with a solid pipeline to the NFL. State is always good for some big wins, but their fan base habitually avoids researching flights to Pasadena due to their penchant for late season flame-outs. The Rose has been wilting since 1987, with conference play becoming a bit of a curse for MSU fans. Want proof? The great and powerful Saban only managed one finish above 5th place in his 5 years. Too bad Notre Dame's early season Big Ten slate usually catches the Spartans at their gritty, non-dysfunctional best.

Spartan fans and players are always dialed up for the Irish, which makes road trips to East Lansing a pretty entertaining experience. The nearby lots are definitely tailgate friendly as opposed to their in-state rivals, and MSU fans/students know how to get their drink on. In fact, revelry seems to supersede tradition with fans fatalistically assuming the rug is coming out from under them at some point. Might as well enjoy the inevitable fall!

The stadium holds a handful over 75,000 and can become quite a loud and hostile environment. (Did you know: a recording of crowd noise during the 1959 ND-MSU matchup was incorporated into Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus. Not too shabby). Nothing stands out as remarkable, but the whole package delivers the big state school experience.

All WeIs contributors who've made the trip on various occasions exited with a sour taste, thanks to Herb Haygood's mad dash to victory in 2000 and 1998's deer-in-headlights 1st half (a.k.a. the greatest head coaching mismatch in the history of college football). Unfortunately, nobody was present for ND's best comeback of the 21st century, which inspired
the greatest radio meltdown in the history of the world (to my knowledge, the only time football, applesauce, Teddy Ruxpin and HR Pufnstuf have been referenced in the same soliloquy). It wouldn't be a Michigan State post without mention of Mike Valenti's contribution to the world wide web.

All in all, Spartan Stadium is an underrated stadium with a solid party atmosphere.

August 20, 2010

WEIS Roundtable: Burning Questions for the 2010 Season (Part 3)

Final installment of the college football preview as we extrapolate on some deep thoughts, that may or may not have been inspired by Jack Handey.

11) Do you think the spread offense is here to stay? What team's offense do you most enjoy watching??

Jeremy: For the foreseeable future anyway. I'm sure guys like Urban, Malzahn, Rodriguez and maybe even Kelly will continue to come up with little tweaks and changes, but the underlying idea - create unfavorable match ups and holes in the defense for the offense to exploit - seems to be here to stay. The more interesting question might be whether spread-type tendencies will continue to find their way into the NFL.

As effective as Florida's offense has been the past few years, I haven't found it too aesthetically pleasing. That might change with the Tebow Child in Denver, but I prefer watching Malzahn's offenses rip off big chunks of yardage in extremely creative ways. Hopefully we can get a few Verne/Gary games with the War Eagle this year.

Matt: I think the spread will continually evolve but I see no reason for it to go anywhere. Urban Meyer will probably tweak it this year to tailor it to the strengths of Brantley, but it will still be some incarnation of the spread. The only development that I can see making the spread go out of style is if these spread QBs keep flopping in the pros. Is Urban going to become known as the guy who gets his QBs to win in college but can't play in the NFL? Because if that's the case, then the talent pool could dry up pretty quickly. And then the spread might become a little bit like the run and shoot that teams like Houston and Texas Tech use to cover up athletic deficiencies. But I think that the good coaches who use the spread will be flexible and, in turn, the definition of the spread may change, but it will still be effective.

Honestly, I enjoyed watching the Charlie Weis offense over the last few years. Maybe it was just appreciating the talent of Floyd, Tate, Rudolph and Clausen, but when they were dialed in, you just had a feeling at times that they were totally dictating the game and had the defense on their heels. Need to see more of that under Kelly and more of an effective and opportunistic running game.

If I had to pick one other team that I enjoyed watching last year, it would surprisingly be...the Pitt Panthers. They had a workhorse back in Dion Lewis, and they just jammed him down people's throats, daring them to stop him. Last year, he got 47 carries against Cincy, 31 against Rutgers, 28 against UNC in the bowl game and 26 against West Virginia. That took the pressure off a tremendously mediocre QB in Bill Stull, who threw for 2600 yards and 21 TDs last year. For some reason, Wanny only fed Lewis the ball 19 times in a terrible loss to NC State. Until I see a more physical front seven for ND, I have to admit I'm a little bit worried about that date against Pitt in South Bend.

Doug: I'd say that the spread is here to stay, mainly because the spread is just a variation of the same college offenses that we've been seeing for 100 years. Get the ball in the hands of your most talented players and give them space to run. Once upon a time, that was the wing T or the option or any other new offense.

Florida's offense is basically the triple option out of the shotgun. They want their QB to carry the ball between the tackles, and pitch/throw it to fast RBs or WRs who can get a wall of blockers. Ditto with Michigan.

The shotgun spreads that you see from Brian Kelly or Mack Brown or other schools are the same thing, only they use the pass to advance the ball. Brian Kelly likes all these underneath routes and bubble screens and middle screens and shovel passes to get the ball to his best playmakers.

Plus, the passing games are so advanced now that no one truly runs a straight spread option the entire game, other than Navy and Georgia Tech. Every team has some sort of pass formations to get the ball down the field. The spread is just a way to have an easy base offense to do what works best in college. Get the ball to your best players.

Are there weaknesses? Yes, Mack Brown has been saying all off-season that he wants to have more of a power running game instead of always running out of the shotgun. I think there's something to be said for that. When you play a really physical team and you need to get 3 yards on 3rd down, it's nice to be able to drive somebody off the ball. The spread isn't conducive to that.

It's amazing how many teams run the spread these days: Florida, Michigan, Texas, even Notre Dame. Pretty much everyone has some form of the spread in their offense nowadays.

Personally, I like watching old school running football though, and that includes the true triple option that Georgia Tech runs. It's fun to watch, but I wouldn't want to watch that all the time. If it's not working, it's probably incredibly frustrating to watch. You have no other answer to move the football.

I'm a "run the football, play action pass" kinda guy in college, so I'm always going to be partial to a team like Alabama that just dominates up front and beats the other team up physically. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is scoring points, so I don't really care what you do as long as you execute well.

Jimmy: Define stay. Are there traces of the T-formation from the '20s still in today's game? Misdirection, multiple weapons moving around and finding space -- I'd say so. Offenses evolve once defenses catch up to their tendencies. Right now, schools are enjoying way too much success running the spread. Get used to it. And I'd even venture to say it has yet to be "perfected," as good as Tim Tebow and Alex Smith were.

The offense I most enjoy watching has to be any team that saves a page in the playbook for the Fumblerooski. Also, not that I've seen many of their games, but Boise State's offense is pure playground football at its best. The Fiesta Bowl vs. Oklahoma may have been the most entertaining display of offensive creativity in the last 20 years. I'll thoroughly enjoy tuning in to see what they have in store for the Hokies and Beavers.

As for aesthetically-pleasing offenses, I'm a sucker for the triple option attack. Maybe I'm indebted to Bill Walsh College Football for fostering this affinity, but I loved the Tony Rice-led Irish offenses, not to mention the Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch Big Red option machines. I'm glad the attack hasn't gone the way of the dinosaur as Navy and Ga. Tech keep the triple option on the endangered playbook pages list. There's something refreshing about the attitude they trot out with - "We're going to run 95% of the time and you can only hope to contain us." It's retro, daring, full of surprises and actively features the fullback getting meaningful touches.

12) Do you like the neutral site trend in college football??

Jeremy: I suppose it all depends on the teams and the venue. The Kickoff Classic game in Atlanta seems to be taking hold, and that game makes sense. Usually two good opponents and a solid destination. As it pertains to ND, Swarbrick was dealt a loaded hand when he took over. He's done an admirable job thus far in making these neutral site games interesting. If the neutral site game is the only way to get two marquee opponents together, I suppose we'll have to live with it. However, it would be a real shame to miss out on the opportunity for some great road trips to actual college campuses. Hopefully there's some middle ground out there (similar to the Miami series recently brokered with one neutral game followed by a home and home).

Matt: I think they are intriguing, but I like them better as part of a home and home package. I like what ND and Miami did, although to call Chicago "neutral" is a joke. Atlanta or Charlotte may have been a more truly neutral site, but no complaining from an ND fan.

Also, I think we have to accept there are certain match ups that come together late that don't have a chance for a home and home, but are perfectly made for a neutral site. The first one that comes to mind is this game to kick off the season in Atlanta that seems to be gaining stature. This year, it's an intriguing LSU - North Carolina game, and last year it was an even better match up (on paper) of Alabama - Virginia Tech.

However, I don't like the barnstorming concept as it applies to Notre Dame football. If you're going to set up a big game like Alabama in Atlanta or Texas in Cowboys Stadium, that's fine. But don't give me Wazzu in San Antonio or Navy in Orlando. That does nothing for the fans, the program or the broadcast partners. Reserve the neutral site games for battles between heavyweights.

Doug: Ehh. I view it as a means to an end. I'd rather see every team play six home games and six away, but those days are never coming back. If playing neutral site games leads to more games like Alabama-Michigan and Notre Dame-Miami, I can live with it. In fact, I think there should be more effort by the various conferences to set up games like this. Give me an annual ACC-SEC challenge doubleheader every September in Atlanta and maybe a Big 10-Big 12 challenge in st. Louis or Chicago. That would be great.

Still prefer games on college campuses though.

Jimmy: When used intelligently by athletic directors and media partners as a big stage to pit two powerhouses that otherwise wouldn't square off, it's a home run. When used by Kevin White as some ulterior motive to spread the "Notre Dame brand" to select regions, it's a bunt foul pop-up. Match ups should strive for equal standing between the teams, as opposed to glorified home games on on a campus. If the trend adds more marquee non-conference games in the future, sign me up. Maybe a new BCS structure (or playoff system) would create more incentive for schools to schedule heavyweights and not paperweights.

13) Has the live football experience jumped the shark? Do you still like to attend games or do you prefer being in front of a plasma at a bar or at your house? What could make the live experience better??

Jeremy: Doug is begging me to join him on the stadium music-jumbotron bandwagon, but I'm not buying it yet. Sure the ND live experience has grown stale. But it has nothing to do with band music or even the militant ushers. The product on the field has been so consistently mediocre for so long that a trip to South Bend, even from Chicago, seems like a waste of time (when curiously enough, I'm more than happy to make the drive in the summer to play a round at Warren or Blackthorn). But think back to 2005, or even 2006 - the games were exciting and the crowd was in it when the team was competitive. Heck, I even made a random November trip in 2005 for the BYU game because I loved watching that offense go up and down the field. Improve the product on the field, and people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Matt: Hmmm, interesting and difficult question. Taken from the point of view of someone who was just recently a college student at Wake Forest, the tailgate scene never gets old. I mean, it was nothing compared to game days in South Bend, but for my money, nothing beats getting to the lots early, the big game anticipation, firing up the grill, tossing the football around, the air is a little crisp, you shotgun a beer or two, constantly check your phone for scores from around the country, and basically get to act like a college kid again. Do you miss out on some huge SEC or Big 10 games while sitting in the stadium for ND-Navy (or Wake-NC State)? Sure, but the opportunity to walk the hallowed grounds, see friends from all over the country and have a great time spending a Saturday outside makes it worth it.

The NFL is a totally different ball of wax, and maybe it's because I'm just not as passionate about the Eagles as I am about college football. To me, I love posting up at a sports bar and watching the Ticket, being able to follow all of my fantasy guys, and then I'm home by 5:00 and able to get ready for school or work or whatever other terrible responsibility that you have on Monday morning. But to drive down to a cookie cutter stadium, pay astronomical rates for parking and concessions, watch a game but miss out on all the rest of the days' NFL action, then struggle with parking and get home late on a Sunday night. No thanks. Maybe once a year. Maybe. The rest of the weekends, give me the sports bar or my HDTV flat screen.

I look at it like this. How many people say to themselves or their buddies, "man, I really want to visit at least once Quest Field or Panthers Stadium." There's only one mecca and that is Lambeau Field. Whereas in college, I literally cannot wait to see games at Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and a ton of other schools. It's the reason why in my travels around the south this summer, I've taken detours off the interstate just to drive by the stadiums at South Carolina and Clemson. it's why I've followed Notre Dame football to their bowl games, to Lincoln and Knoxville and West Lafayette and everywhere else, but have never once had the inclination to road trip for an Eagles game to even Washington or New York.

Doug: For me?? No, I'm going to a million games this fall. ND games, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Bengals, maybe even Kentucky. I don't have any kids and I live in the Midwest. This is what you do in the fall. Tailgate and go to games. I will go to a game every weekend if I can. For me, going to a live college football game is still the ultimate live sports experience (maybe The Memorial is a close second these days). There's just something about being on campus, getting a feel for the energy in the air, soaking it all in, hearing the band, and just seeing the game unfold right in front of you. Every college football game is so important, so you're hanging on every play. I'm addicted to the drama of those fall Saturdays.

Having said all that, ticket demand is down across the country. Tennessee is giving away seats that were once impossible to get. ND couldn't come close to selling out in the lottery.

Part of it are these watered-down home game schedules that have become the standard. It's hard to get fans to justify dropping $75 a game per ticket for an 8 game home schedule to see the likes of Youngstown State, Akron, Toledo and Western Michigan. Fans aren't going to accept that type of product anymore. Int he 80s and 90s, you didn't have this problem. Most schools played 5-6 home games, and 5-6 road games. They played other BCS schools in non-conference play, so every game was big to some degree. You'd routinely see a team like Ohio state playing UCLA, Boston College and Texas A&M in non-conference play, or something like that. It was fantastic.

College athletic departments went too far with this stuff. They went to 12 games, trended toward 7-8 home games and introduced a slew of "buy" games that are glorified exhibitions. Fans have sort of rebelled, and that's why I think you're seeing more efforts to get these big one time showdowns at neutral sites. Those games allow you to split the revenue, get a big TV number and probably a big payday.

Fans also have so many other options. Now that everyone has internet and plasmas and sports bars with college football/NFL packages, isn't it just as much fun to go to a sports bar with your buddies and watch ALL the games? Instead of watching Notre Dame-Western Michigan in person, I'll go to a bar and watch the big SEC, Big Ten AND the ND game. It's just not worth it to go up for that game.

Ultimately, I think that's the biggest issue for college football. Attendance is still great, but it could be better. Get more compelling schedules and college football will remain a lucrative live event.

For the NFL, I think they really do have a problem with attendance. Fantasy football is so huge, and a lot of people genuinely PREFER to sit at home or go to a bar to watch the NFL. The NFL is a hundred times better as a TV sport than a live sport. When you go to a game, you can't follow all your fantasy guys or watch the other games or any of that. You're locked in. Plus, it's Sunday! I can't rally to go down to Cincinnati and tailgate for a 1pm game on a Sunday. I'd truthfully rather just get stuff done around the house, turn on the game and sort of follow it while I'm doing other stuff.

That's the biggest problem going forward for the NFL. They need to find a way to make the live experience more interactive for fans to incorporate Direct TV and fantasy and all that.

Jimmy: Two words. Pomp. Circumstance. That's what attracts me to the college game. Sure, all the money that's involved with the game clouding many of the behind-the-scene decisions makes you want to puke. But you forget all of that when you pull into a lot on a beautiful campus, mingle with opposing fans, toss some bags, enjoy some cold refreshments and tasty treats, and attend a game inside one of MANY cathedrals of the college game. The bands and student bodies provide the perfect backdrop to the experience. Traditions abound nearly everywhere you go. My list only grows longer with campuses, stadiums and rivalry games I can't wait to soak up at some point down the road. I'm a college fan through and through.

The NFL, on the other hand, has me only for fantasy purposes and the playoffs. It's become much more of a made for TV event than a moving live experience. I've been to a handful of games over the years and each time there's an emptiness involved. Don't get me wrong, the product on the field is impressive. But the NFL, like the NBA, tries too hard to sensationalize everything while
blatantly commercializing every aspect of the game. Frankly, it lacks the mystique and aura of the college game. I don't see that changing, and consequently, will never plan my falls around the NFL schedule.

14) Boise State is #2 in many preseason polls. If Boise St. runs the table this year with wins over Va. Tech and Oregon St., do you think they should play in the national championship game??

Jeremy: Long story (very) short -- sure. They deserve the lofty preseason ranking, and if they run the table with a HUGE win over what should be a solid Hokie squad, I'll back 'em. Especially if there's only one other undefeated team in the country. They'll get left out (deservedly so) if Ohio State and an SEC team run the table, which would be a real shame. I'm rooting for the Broncos to get their shot this year. They've certainly earned it.

Matt: Here comes my classic business school answer again: It Depends. It depends on what goes on around them. If Alabama, Texas and Ohio State are all undefeated, then no, Boise St is not going to the championship game. And if they are the only undefeated team, but VT and Oregon State have subpar seasons, then again, I don't see them making it to the championship. But, IF they go undefeated, and IF Virigina Tech and Oregon State go on to have good seasons (which I predict they will), and IF there are none or one other undefeated team, then I think they deserve to go and will go to Phoenix.

In the long term, Boise State really got hurt by Utah moving up to the Pac 10. Suddenly, the Mountain West was starting to resemble a real conference, with TCU, Utah, Boise, BYU (Ed. Note: not so fast my friend) and Air Force. Not great, but respectable and almost certainly likely to pick up an automatic BCS bid in the next couple of years. Now, without Utah (and BYU), there is going to be a lot of pressure on TCU and Boise to maintain their lofty standing, all the while Boise is playing much tougher competition than they faced in the WAC.

Doug: No -- This is not meant as a knock on Boise State. I have a ton of respect for what they have done. How could you not?? Boise has become a legitimately excellent college football program. They beat BCS schools regularly, crank out NFL talent and continue to win bowl games. If you have Boise State on your schedule, it's going to be a legitimately tough game no matter where you play the game. I really don't have any problem with them being ranked very high this year. They had a great year last year and return almost their entire team. Even their schedule is the most conducive "national championship caliber" schedule Boise has had. Playing Virginia Tech in a big showdown in the opener and Oregon state in week 3 is as good a non-conference schedule as any in the nation. The problem is the rest of their schedule. Brutal.

O2 @ New Mexico State
O9 Toledo
O16 @ San Jose State
O26 Louisiana Tech
N6 Hawaii
N12 @ Idaho
N19 Fresno State
N26 @ Nevada
D4 Utah State

Talk about a pupu platter. I'd say their toughest game in that stretch is Nevada, and we all saw Nevada last year. They couldln't have looked less like a high quality team.

I don't care if they go undefeated. You can't play in the championship game with that schedule. You just can't. If Alabama has one loss but wins the SEC and Boise goes undefeated, I want Bama in the title game. Same with Texas or Ohio State or any other heavy hitter. Those schools are all playing 3-4 heavyweight games a year plus several quality mid-level games. For example, Ohio State plays Miami, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa this year. And even bottom feeder schools like Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota are a different caliber than someone like La. Tech or San Jose State.

Boise doesn't have enough physical tests against deep rosters with big 300 lb. linemen and 240 lb. linebackers. We played Nevada last year, and their defensive ends were like 200 pounds. It was like playing Navy. maybe they had some good players, but the overall depth and quality of personnel isn't there.

There is no way Boise would go undefeated in a quality league. They just don't have the personnel to grind through a 12-game season like that. For that reason, I can't support them in a national championship game. A national champion should be tested physically throughout the year. A team like Boise only has to get up for a couple games.

If they beat Virginia Tech, good for them. It's a sign that they have an excellent team and should play in a very good bowl game.

Jimmy: I understand all the reasons against letting Boise State contend for the crystal ball given their second fiddle BCS status. But, if they run the table again with 2 huge non-conference victories in their belt and a 26 game winning streak, they absolutely should be given a slot in the National Championship game. If there are three undefeated teams when the dust settles at the end of the year, it would be a shame to deny the Broncos their shot at immortality.

I actually could see the weight of this scenario weigh on Boise St heavily if they get through the first stretch of the schedule unscathed. They close with 3 of their last 4 games against Idaho (bitter interstate rival competing for the Governor's Trophy), Fresno State (the Battle of the Milk Can - bet you didn't know there's a standing trophy at stake in this budding rivalry) and Nevada. 2 rivalry games and the 2nd best team in your conference. These are still college kids and emotions play a huge part in high stakes games. I predict they lose one of those three games IF they beat Oregon State and Virginia Tech. A little reverse psychology, I guess.

15) Conference Winners

ACC - Virginia Tech
Big Ten - Ohio State
Big 12 - Oklahoma
Big East - South Florida (The Fighting Skippers!)
Pac 10 - Oregon
SEC - Alabama

National Title - Ohio State vs. Alabama
Winner - Buckeyes

Matt: OK, projection time. Let's go rapid fire on these.
ACC - Virginia Tech. Too much running game, an experienced QB in Tyrod Taylor and, of course, those Beamer special teams. FSU may be one year away from returning to national prominence, although I could definitely see them making some hay under Jimbo Fisher with Christian Ponder under center. As for my second alma mater, Wake Forest, expect things to get ug ly in year one of the post-Riley Skinner era. That Orange Bowl four years back will surely be the high water mark of the Jim Grobe era and I think we'll look back in 20 years and wonder how in the hell a school like Wake Forest ever won the ACC.

Big Ten - Ohio State. I think this is the year Terrelle Pryor makes the leap, now that Tressel finally realized how to properly utilize him during the second half of the season last year. Also in contention: Wisconsin.

Big 12 - Texas. They have to go to Lubbock early, and a road trip to Lincoln is on the docket, and of course the Red River Shootout. But other than that it looks like smooth sailing for Mack Brown as he breaks in highly talented Garrett Gilbert at QB. The guy looked pretty comfortable on the big stage last year after Colt's injury, and I don't really foresee too much drop-off this year.

Big East - Pitt Panthers. The Big East is always a tough race to handicap, maybe because of the mediocrity of the whole conference, or just the general competitiveness and the true round robin format of the league. As talked about above, I wouldn't be shocked if South Florida had a surprisingly good year, and they do get the Panthers in Tampa, but I'll go with the Panthers behind Dion Lewis.

MAC - Temple. Just had to get that one in there again.

Pac 10 - If there was ever a year when a team reached out and took the reins from USC, this would be it. A team in transition with no postseason to play for. Meanwhile, Oregon has a bit of a mess with the whole Jeremiah Masoli situation, and Washington might be a year or two away from being a serious contender. So I'm going to go out on a limb and pick Oregon State to win the conference this year. They USC, Oregon and Cal at home. And while I could see them losing two games out of conference (at TCU, at, ambitious), I think they pull through in what should be another wide open year out west.

SEC - Alabama. Never doubt a Nick Saban coached team. There may be a little drop-off on the defense, but McElroy, Ingram and Jones are back to form another formidable offense.

National Championship - Alabama over Boise State. Dynasty?

ACC - Florida State
Big Ten - Ohio State
Big 12 - Texas
Big East - Cincinnati
Pac 10 - Oregon
SEC - Georgia in the East, Bama in the West -- Bama

National Champs - Ohio State

ACC - North Carolina. Call it a misguided hunch.
Big Ten - Wisconsin. I'm riding Big John Clay like a thoroughbred down the stretch for my inaugural college fantasy league. Like the Badgers prospects.
Big 12 - Oklahoma. People are kinda sleeping on how potent the Sooners offense could be.
Big East - Pitt
Pac 10 - Stanford. Harbaugh rallies the Cardinal before breaking their hearts and jumping for the best available offer.
SEC - Auburn

National Champs - Boise State. A man can dream.

August 13, 2010

WEIS Roundtable: Burning Questions for the 2010 Season (Part 2)

6) What do you consider to be the best college football head coaching job in America these days??

Jeremy: Florida and USC are up there, but for my money, it doesn’t get any better than Texas. Many people consider recruiting to be the toughest and most important part of college football, but Mack Brown is basically done with that aspect a full year before Signing Day. NCAA rules allow formal written offers to go out on September 1, and after a few “junior days” in January, Brown has 16-20 guys (almost all from talent-rich Texas) verballed to the Horns. Sure he might lose one or two along the way, and maybe he’s recruiting some of these guys too early and missing out on some late bloomers, but what a huge advantage. Plus, if he feels the facilities around Royal Stadium are slipping a bit, he merely has to snap his fingers and a brand new players’ lounge or giant Jumbotron will pop up.

The uncertainty surrounding the Big 12 hasn’t diluted the brand power of Texas at all. If anything, losing Nebraska has now made the path to the Big 12 title game even easier for the Horns. And if the Big 12 does eventually fold, there’s no doubt that Texas will land on their feet somewhere.

Matt: Texas. To me, this came down to Texas and Florida. But as we saw in all the conference alignment talk, Texas really is in a coveted and powerful position. I mean they were basically dictating the terms of how everything was going to go down. On top of that, they have incredible facilities, a great town, and they are the undisputed king of football in the football rich state of Texas. I thought about Florida, because like at Texas, Urban doesn’t even need to leave the state to recruit and these days the program kind of sells itself. But with up and coming competition from FSU, Miami and even USF, the battle for in-state talent has heated up a little bit. In Texas, they basically hand pick the guys they want and then let the rest of the country scrap over who is left.

Doug: Truthfully, I thought about saying USC here because I still think USC is the most glamorous program in college football. The talent in Southern California, the national profile, the Hollywood scene, the LA market, the lack of an NFL team in SoCal, the big ND game on the national stage. I mean, even though they might go through a really rough spot here, isn't the head coach at USC just a monster platform?? You get incredible talent, great skill guys, great QBs, great weather, and a big national spotlight. With the right coach, it's just a killer job.

I also thought about Florida here. There's just so much elite talent in Florida, it's an SEC job, super passionate fans. Florida has been such a great program for the last 20-25 years.

I even gave consideration to Notre Dame. Say what you want, but I still think coaching at ND can be the best job in the country if you can do it the right way. No coach gets more attention than the ND coach. Look at ESPN. They've been airing all kinds of Brian Kelly stuff all offseason even though we've been 15-21 the last three years. Maybe ND is a dinosaur, but maybe it's not. If ND is truly a sleeping giant that can be awoken by the right coach, it's a great job.

I'll go with Texas though. They have 22 commits already. They're done! Heck, they were done in like April. They are the undisputed king of one of three best high school football states in the country, they are a cash cow in a huge state, Austin is a great town, you got major media markets all over the place, and their fans actually have a good reputation for being extremely devoted but not as cutthroat and demanding as some other fanbases. Only thing that holds me back is that they are so regional down there, but who cares?? You can win the Big 12 every year, have as good a collection of talent as anyone in the country, and play for the national title.

Jimmy: Goin' Robert Frost on you guys. This road less taken suggests Boise State might have stealthily become the best gig in the land. For one, places like Texas, Alabama and Florida have immense pressure to meet high (often times unreasonable) expectations year in and year out. Coaches are under the microscope to churn out great, championship-caliber seasons, not merely good seasons. Meanwhile, away from the frenzied media glare in the cozy hamlet of Boise, Idaho, the Broncos have enjoyed a measure of success that's difficult to match over the last decade.

7 straight WAC Championships, dating back to 2002, and 2 Big West titles before that in '99 and '00. Since '99, Boise St has lost a total of 5 conference games. Their home record in Bronco Stadium over that same period is an astonishing 64-2 (Yes, I realize no power conference teams in their right mind are clamoring to square off on that imposing blue turf, but that's an impressive mark regardless). Building on the foundation laid by Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins, Chris Petersen has established a remarkable program that's become the nation's darling. He's 49-4 in 5 seasons at the helm with two Fiesta Bowl feathers in his cap and a pair of top 5 finishes.

Boise St. joins the Mountain West next year in their swift ascent up the power conference ladder. They're not afraid to play anybody, beefing up their non-conference slate to compensate for the dearth of MWC talent. They've become the Gonzaga of college football, a west coast hidden gem that still surprises people. Because they're well-coached, they win every game they should and enjoy taking their best shots against top teams. There's zero shame if they fall short against the Virginia Techs & Oklahomas - they're
supposed to lose. But when they win, it's huge news. They may not draw the daily (hourly? minutely?) attention the usual suspects attract, but that's not a bad thing. It means Petersen has more time to do his job and keep finding ways for David to beat Goliath, even if this David squats 500 lbs. and has a 42 inch vertical. Not a bad gig, I say.

7) Will USC remain the power program in the Pac-1o over the next five years under Lane Kiffin?? If not, who??

Jeremy: I’m pushing a serious stack of chips to the middle on Chip Kelly and the Ducks. He got off to a rough start last year, but sure enough, by the end of the year, Oregon looked like one of the best teams in the country. And many people have already penciled them into the BCS title game this year. Belotti built one heck of a foundation in Eugene, but Kelly is the guy to get the Ducks over the hump and consistently into the national title picture year in and year out. I think Sarkisian is going to do some special things at Washington as well.

I’m loving the conspiracy theories surrounding the SC program right now. For example, Haden quietly pushing for Kiffin to be hired as HC, so that Haden (as AD) could then turn around and clean house after one year under the guise of “reform.” I don’t believe that the Trojans are going to fall apart, but even that program can’t keep up the pace with all those scholarship reductions. The next few years in Troy are going to be very interesting.

Matt: I think the days of USC being a national championship contender every single year could be done for now. Part of the allure of USC was their Hollywood status, and I don’t think new AD Pat Haden wants anything to do with that. Just from hearing him on ND broadcasts and the fact that he is a Rhodes scholar and big time lawyer, I get the feeling that he is going to run a squeaky clean ship. No more of guys being bigger than the program and Snoop and Will Ferrell yukking it up on the sidelines.

The other part of the equation is that Lane Kiffin is a huge unknown. He can’t get out of his own way, and this has been going on for a few years now. The latest blowup with USC alum and universally respected Jeff Fisher is just another black mark on his somewhat tarnished resume. And on top of all that, the GUY HAS NEVER WON ANYWHERE! So forgive me if I take a wait and see approach before I declare that the Trojan dynasty will just march on under Kiffin’s watch.

Doug: No. I can't see USC having another Pete Carroll type run under Lane Kiffin. I think he'll recruit well, probably have good defenses, but they won't have that aura and magic that Pete Carroll's teams did. Kiffin is a poor man's Pete Carroll. Maybe even a homeless man's Pete Carroll. Even though he has put together a good staff with Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin, you need that straw to stir the drink.

Plus, the probation will probably be damaging over time. Once you start losing numbers, it takes away from the "culture of competition" and all that. I see USC being much more up and down under Kiffin. Probably in the 8-9 win range with maybe a Rose Bowl in there somewhere, but also easily capable of being a 5-6 win team as well.

I think the Pac 10 is going to muddle through another decade like the 90s where no one takes the crown for any extended period of time. Maybe Oregon, maybe Washington under Steve Sarkisian, maybe UCLA makes a push, maybe Stanford if Harbaugh there. It seemed like the Pac 10 had a new champion every year in the 90s, and that's how I see this going in the Pac 10 starting in 2010.

Ultimately, the Pac 10 needs USC to be USC. This is not good for the Pac 10 for USC to be down. Maybe for a little while because new programs rise to the forefront, but USC is the anchor program in that league. If USC isn't relevant, people don't really pay attention to the Pac 10. Imagine the attendance for an Oregon State-Stanford Pac 10 championship game in a couple years if you put that thing in Phoenix or San Diego. Look out. That would be ugly in epic proportions. Getting these small Pac 10 fanbases to make plans to travel across the west in the span of a week is not conducive to big crowds at neutral sites.

I expect USC to resurrect, but not in the Lane Kiffin era. Always good to be "the guy after The Guy."

Jimmy: As our generation's king of pop so eloquently stated, "What goes around comes back around." USC is getting their come-uppance for their renegade ways (Are there other renegade programs out there? Yes, but none flaunted it as brazenly as the Trojans for the last decade). Lane isn't going to like being the fall guy (again) for a California team, but karma likes to have the last word. I don't see a fairy-tale ending to his tenure (though he'd be hard-pressed to top this level of acrimonious departure - NSFW)

Oregon is the early favorite to wrestle the Pac-10 belt away from Troy. They could very easily settle into a nice little dynasty, but I see more of a parity-driven conference over the next decade, and beyond. Utah will contend immediately upon entering the conference with Washington and UCLA in the mix at the top as well. USC will compete, don't get me wrong, but their alpha dog status has been neutered for the time being.

8) Which of these slumping SEC programs is most likely to win an SEC championship in the next five years: Auburn, Tennessee, LSU or Georgia??

Jeremy: I was tempted to choose Auburn, because I think Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn will make beautiful music together. But they won’t win this year, and I don’t think Malzahn is going to be a coordinator for much longer. I’ll go with LSU, because Les Miles doesn’t have much of a shelf life, but he’ll be leaving a pretty full cupboard of talent behind for his successor. As much as I like Mark Richt, I just can’t see him getting over that Florida hump. And Tennessee is just a disaster.

Matt: Great Question! To me, winning in the next five years comes down to a few things. Is the right coach in place, and is the program already on the right path to contending a few years down the road. Obviously winning an SEC banner would mean taking out the big boys in Alabama and Florida, which is no easy task. Let’s take a look:

Coaches: Two contrasting groups of coaches with the old and the new. Auburn and Tennessee are trotting out two fresh faces in Gene Chizik and Derek Dooley. They both came out of left field when they were hired, with Chizik overseeing a two year bloodletting in Ames. But he actually had a respectable showing last year and appears to have the program headed in the right direction. Dooley never really did anything of note at La. Tech – it’s not like they were ever knocking on the BCS door a la Utah or Boise or TCU. But he’s a young guy, and has the bloodlines, so we’ll see. It just seems like that program has gotten a little out of control the last few years under Fulmer and the one year under Kiffin. Every week it seems like some guy from the Vols is showing up on the police blotter. Color me skeptical that Dooley can do anything other than challenge for the occasional Outback Bowl for the next few years.

On the other hand, we have the grizzled veterans in Les Miles and the highly debated Mark Richt. Georgia fans seem to have this notion of Richt as a classic underachiever, while most of the rest of the country thinks highly of him. I used to be in the second camp, but as the years go on, Georgia always seems to underachieve. They have never really come too close to contending for a championship. And Les Miles has seen himself go from the toast of the town with a crystal football on the trophy shelf to one bad year from being run out of town. If LSU goes 7-5 this year, there is the distinct possibility that Miles is incredibly sent packing, and I can’t say I could argue with the decision.

Advantage: Auburn and Georgia

Momentum: Since the question is the next five years, I think that what trajectory the program is currently on most definitely factors into if they will be contending for a championship banner. As I mentioned above, Auburn already has a year under their belt with Chizik, and with the much-hyped Cam Newton at QB, the future appears to be improving. Tennessee is heading backwards along with LSU, while Georgia is just treading water.

Tennessee is kind of in no man’s land when it comes to recruiting. The home state is a decent recruiting ground, but nothing too great. So they have to go down to Florida and battle down there, and try to mine some guys from Alabama and Georgia and South Carolina. Tough to make a living doing that. Just looking at the roster, most of the guys are Tennessee and Georgia guys – only 5 from Florida. You have to wonder how the talent will stack up in the SEC going forward. Auburn on the other hand has 14 Florida guys, Georgia has 16 and LSU has 5 while locking up pretty much everyone in the incredibly fertile Louisiana prospect base.

Advantage: Auburn

Outcome: I think this is a two horse race between Auburn and Georgia. Georgia plays in the easier division, with the only real competition in the foreseeable future being the mighty Gators (unless my sleeper Gamecocks rise up this year!). Meanwhile Auburn has to contend with Saban, along with LSU, Ole Miss, Arkansas and even a rejuvenated Mississippi State squad under Dan Mullen. If I had any guts, I would pick Auburn THIS year, as the schedule sets up pretty nicely, with the exception of the Iron Bowl being in Tuscaloosa. Other than that, somehow the only other road games on the schedule are to Starkville, Oxford and Lexington, which is as easy as they come in the SEC. The nonconference is a joke with the exception of a home game against Clemson. But, when forced to choose, I am going to go with Georgia. Just a much easier path to the title game coming out of the East.

Doug: I really can't say Tennessee or Auburn here. I feel bad for Tennessee at this point. Not only have they hired a relative no name, but they also have the lingering problems from the Lane Kiffin era. Recruiting is not going well so far from what I can see. They have 12 commits, and haven't landed a four star yet. Yikes.

Auburn had a really nice recruiting class and actually had a decent year last year, but can I really say Auburn with Nick Saban coaching in the same state?? I mean, that seems like a tough battle for Gene Chizik. I do like what he has done so far though. Top 5 recruiting class, they win the Outback Bowl, new identity on offense, several close losses that could have turned an 8 win season into a 10 win season.

LSU continues to crank out elite talent year after year after year, but I've lost the faith in Les Miles. He’s lost his grip on that program, and the Nick Saban era is firmly in the rearview mirror at LSU. Maybe it's unfair to Miles, but the standard at LSU is the same standard at Alabama or Florida. Win 10+ games a year and compete for/win SEC championships. You have the talent. No state produces more NFL talent per capita than Louisiana.

My bold prediction for 2010 is that Les Miles resigns as head coach at LSU. Just feeling that coming. I see them going 7-5 this year. Sort of hope I'm wrong because I like the LSU program.

That leaves me with Georgia, and that's where I wanted to be anyway. Mark Richt is a good football coach. The guy is 90-27 in Athens. He's won double digit games in six of his nine years there. Maybe he's underachieved the last couple years with the amount of talent on the roster, but I don't think you can really jump down his throat about one down year.

I haven't really studied Georgia's schedule or their returning roster, but I think they'll be good this year. New defensive coordinator, probably a team that is chapped about how last year went, and a good coach.

In fact, bold prediction here. Georgia wins the SEC East this year.

One other Georgia note: Big fan of Geno Atkins so far with the Bengals. Could be a good DT.

Jimmy: I brought the expert in for this one. Take it away Madonia... ...why Auburn will win an SEC title before UGA, LSU and UT - either this year or future years to come...

"1. Coaching - Les Miles is a moron and he is on thin ice. If LSU doesnt put up big wins this year, then LSU will find themselves breaking in a new coach and coaching staff this year. Derek Dooley will be great one day, but the previous "no discipline" coaches at Tennessee have left the program with many transfers, suspensions, etc as Dooley tries to enforce his new regime. They will be set back a few years. Mark Richt is ok, but he, like Miles, also finds himself with inpatient fan base, and another waxing at the hands of Florida could be curtains.

On the other hand, Auburn is the only SEC team to return its entire coaching staff this year. Malzahn will be a hot candidate for a head coaching job at the end of the season, especially after we win the SEC title this year--but for the time being, he is light years ahead of any OC in the conference and now he has the talent to run his system.

2. Players - Auburn not only got a top 5 recruiting class last year, and set up to do it again this year, but they got players to fill needs and this coaching staff knows how to use the talent it has. Gone are the days of Tommy Tubs moronically letting studs like Ronnie Brown, Brandon Jacobs, and Kenny Irons rot on the bench for silly reasons. This coaching staff has specific plays drawn up for the personnel that they have brought in..

3. Schedule - Auburn has 4 away games - Ole Miss, Miss St., Kentucky and Bama. The first 3 are winnable and the last one we know will be close. Only tough non-conf game is Clemson at Jordan Hare. LSU on the other hand has a brutal schedule - at Auburn, UNC, Florida, Arky. Home for Bama, West Virginia, Ole Miss, Tenn. Could easily be a good team and go 7-5. UGA similar - at South Carolina, Florida, Colorado. UT could have the hardest schedule with Oregon, Florida, Bama, LSU, Florida, UGA and Ole Miss.

4. Cam Newton - this guy is a better version of Vince Young. if he can throw an accurate 7 yard quick slant, it is curtains for everyone else and we will score 50 a game. Jefferson for LSU is a bust and UT and UGA are breaking in new starting QBs.

If you cannot tell, I have huge aspirations for this year's team...i think it will all come together and we'll have the showdown of the century vs Bama the day after thanksgiving

9) Who feels like they have been in college football longer: Jacquizz Rodgers, Noel Devine or Fill-in-the-blank Player on the Honorary Jess Settles Graduation Track??

Jeremy: I’ll go off the board and choose Greg Jones, LB from Michigan St. Guy’s been the leading tackler in East Lansing for what seems like 10 years. He’s spent way too much time snuffing out the Irish running game lately and I can’t wait for him to get to the League (or at least out of the Big Ten).

Matt: Quizz and Devine are two great names that seem to have been around forever. I really have nobody else to top those other than two QB’s: Ricky Stanzi and Tyrod Taylor. Doesn’t it seem like those guys have been under center for a long time? Stanzi, incredibly is a redshirt, so we could be seeing more of him in 2011. Taylor has been starting for three going on four years, and for Hokie fans this season is his final go round.

Doug: My Warrick Dunn Award winners for guys who feel like they have been in college football forever:

Noel Devine

Jacquizz Rodgers

Tyrod Taylor

Greg Jones

Evan Royster

Ross Homan

Terence Toliver (are you kidding me?? He's still on LSU?? Verne has been saying his name since the 90s)

Armando Allen (just assuming other fans feel that way)

Jimmy: I'll talk more about him below, but I can't believe DeMarco Murray is still in school. Does it have to be a player? Because the obvious answer is the old man in Happy Valley.

10) Who is your Heisman pick and a sleeper Heisman candidate(s) to watch out for?

Jeremy: I seriously considered Locker, but the Huskies are going to lose a couple games this year, and it seems that the Heisman has become simply an award for the best player on the nation’s best team. For that reason, I’ll go the boring route and take Terrelle Pryor. He’ll be the lead horse after a big performance in Week 2 against Miami and will keep the momentum straight through a throttling of the Wolverines in Columbus on Thanksgiving weekend.

For a sleeper, give me Tyrod Taylor of Va Tech. Ryan Williams might be the more likely candidate on that team, but the Hokies could be very powerful on offense this year, and Taylor should finally realize his giant potential.

Matt: This Heisman field is wide open, with only last year’s winner Mark Ingram returning from the Top 5 last year. Prepare for a screwy year of voting with it being so wide open, and the obvious thing to do is just predict a repeat winner. But I am going to go out on a limb and pick Kellen Moore from Boise State. IF they can beat Virginia Tech in a de facto road game to start the season, then Boise, like it or not, will be on the periphery of the national championship stage all year, so he will garner recognition.

Some sleepers to keep an eye out for: John Clay, RB from Wisconsin. Dion Lewis, RB from Pitt. Jacory Harris, QB from Miami. What the hell, Terrelle Pryor. And my favorite, Bernard Pierce, RB from the Temple Fightin’ Owls, who are projected by many to win the MAC, an incredible feat for a team that was as dormant as possible just a few short years ago. I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a native son of Philadelphia if I didn’t get Pierce and the Owls some love in this preview. In fact, don’t be shocked if the Owls walk into Happy Valley on September 25th and send shockwaves across the football landscape. If ever there was a time for the red-headed step child to take down the big brother, this is it, with Penn State appearing vulnerable while breaking in a new QB. I’m not calling for the upset, just saying keep your eye on that one…

Doug: In terms of a frontrunner, I'm not sure who to say at this point. I mean, I'm just tempted to say Mark Ingram because he's the lead back on a great team that loves to run the ball. Why wouldn't he just do big things again this year?? Maybe Trent Richardson will steal more carries from him, but I think Ingram will have a good year.

I'm intrigued by Mallett. Could put up huge numbers, but probably won't win. Ditto for Locker. I can't see him as a legit candidate if Washington only wins 6-7 games.

I see Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley emerging as stars this year. But probably not Heisman caliber.

Gotta throw out Christian Ponder as a sleeper as well. Throwing all my chips into the Florida State Seminoles bandwagon this year.

As far as a pick, I feel like there is one guy who has a combination of high-profile status on a top ranked team, and that's Terrelle Pryor. I honestly am not sure what to expect of Pryor at this point, but isn't there reason to think that he'll have a great year in 2010?? Look at how he performed in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

23 for 37 for 266 with 2tds and 1INT, 20 rushes for 72 yards

Just a monster game, and he looked like a completely different player. If he's cranking out 300-350 yards of total offense a game and making big plays, he'll be right in the mix.

Pryor has the pedigree. He was the #1 recruit in the nation. You can see the talent. People are sort of waiting for him to break out. Now it's just a question of whether he can consistently perform at a high level like he did against Oregon.

Pryor was barely a functional player the last month of the season. I'm not sure he even had 150 yards of total offense in any game. His role was hand the ball off, run the clock, throw on 3rd down once a drive, and don't turn it over under any circumstance. Tressel went to what he does best down the stretch. Grind out wins, play great defense, and run the clock.

It all depends on which Terrelle Pryor we see in 2010. He's got the talent. Will he seize it?? And more importantly, will he get the opportunity?? Is Tressel going to loosen the reins and let him make plays??

Should be a fascinating season in Columbus. So much buzz around here, it's not even funny.

Jimmy: Can't argue with any of the names mentioned above, though I think it's a year too early for Gilbert and Brantley to make serious Heisman waves. Pryor and Ingram are probably the co-favorites at this point. A few names not mentioned yet who should be in the discussion:

DeMarco Murray - Honestly, how many gamebreaker RBs take a 5th year? He says he's got unfinished business and is chasing 2,000 yards. With Bradford, Iglesias and Gresham out of the picture, expect Stoops to lean heavily on #7, provided his body is up to the challenge.

Evan Royster will be Penn State's go-to guy for offense as they break in a new QB. Huge numbers at a prestigious school are a good recipe for an invitation to the Downtown Athletic Club.

Big John Clay - I have an affinity for THE man in Madison. Recent history tells us it's happened before. Why not again?

A couple names filling big shoes that should have successful campaigns, but will make more noise in a couple years: Blaine Gabbert stepping in for Chase Daniel at Missouri and LaMichael James now that LaGarrette Blount is gone. He's sure to make a LaRun for the LaHeisman in 2011.

Sleeper: Case Keenum will put up the gaudy Tecmo Bowl numbers that clouded voters' judgment in the past. He'll hang around and may get a token invite if Houston fares well.

Deep-Sleeper: Michael Floyd. I said it. The man-child flashed his prodigious unstoppability for the first 2.5 games last year, sat out 5 games, then returned as if nothing happened and posted 3 100-yard games out of the last 4. Everyone is curious to see what Floyd will do over an entire healthy season. He'll draw plenty of Randy Moss parallels.

Stay tuned for the Roundtable conclusion next week...