The Top Ten... (Preseason Edition)  

Posted by Frazier

My esteemed co-blogger did his top ten some time ago. However, his was based on the eventual chance to win the title, based on talent, coaching, and, most importantly, schedule. I am basing my top ten not on who I think will run the table, but purely on coaching and talent. The ever-fun hypothetical "if team A and team B met on a neutral field, who would win" list. Of course I will rue the day I compiled this list when I look like a complete fool by mid-October. But the hell with negativity, I am going to do my damndest to put this thing straight. Let's see how she plays.

1) Ohio St. Look, they ran up 600yds of offense against a Notre Dame team that everyone thought was the shit last year. That offense should be even better this year. I know they lost a lot on defense, but since when did Ohio St. really suffer defensively? The O should keep them in games until the inexperienced but talented defense starts dominating people. The big game is against Texas, and since it's in Austin, they might lose. Might. But I wouldn't want to be the Longhorns when this bunch shows up.

2) West Virginia. I know I picked them to have a disappointing year, but I believe that anything less than a perfect regular season should be counted as a disappointment. They have the talent and coaching to be the best team in the country, I just didn't think that they would pull it off. However, they haven't gotten enough credit for their HUGE Sugar Bowl victory last year. They were clearly underestimated going into that game, and they poured it on against a Georgia team with a ton of talent, and a ton of pub. I think the offense is amazingly even more potent with two guys who could someday challenge for a Heisman. The defense should come around, and I sure as hell wouldn't want to play them in a big game for all the marbles.

3) USC. By the end of the year, they could easily be the top team in the country. So if they have an earlier hiccup, just wait awhile before you start piling up on me for this pick. If they can find a running back they could be insane. They have the deepest set of linebackers in the country, and athletes at every position. Jarrett might be the best player at any position in football with his stunning combination of speed and size. They have another stud recruit calling the plays who has had a couple of years learning under some of the best in the history of college football. It would be insane to leave these guys out of the top three.

4) Texas. They were a top five team before Vince Young, and they should be a top five since he has moved on. Like you can't recruit amazing talent to Austin. The state is a hotbed of high school talent, you can't walk down the street without bumping into an all-american. Any team that might find itself favored against Ohio St., no matter where the game is actually played, would get the same respect I'm paying the Longhorns.

5) Auburn. The cream of the SEC should automatically make the top five every year. The conference is too deep and too good to do otherwise. Auburn has talent all over the field, and championship-caliber coaching. Irons may be the third great running back to come out of here in the last three years alone, but this time, an undefeated season should definitely be worth a title.

6) Notre Dame. I can only ignore Brady Quinn and that offense for so long. Although I do think that last year they were something of a paper tiger. No great wins, lost to the only truly good teams they played all year (and Michigan St. because they have zero pass defense). Their pass defense will still be a weak spot, although Quinn and company will outgun most other teams in the country. They will benefit standings-wise from the name and the uniform, but ultimately the title will be decided on the field, and that's where Notre Dame will falter.

7) Florida St. Bowden should finally have an offense capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Weatherford has stabilized the quarterback position, and while the defense lost plenty of players to the NFL, they always reload. Not to mention the fact that Rolle is one of the most stunning physical specimens around, and the rave reviews from his preseason work seem to be justifying his reputation as the top player coming out of high school last year. This was a team who had serious problems heading into the Orange Bowl last year, and still only lost to the consensus #3 (Penn St.) because their field goal kicker missed an extra point, and was less than worthless in OT. The big early test is Miami, of course, but if they can win that one, they might make a real run at the title.

8) California. They are the second best team in the annually disprespected PAC-10. They have been playing excellent ball, with an excellent coach, and flying under the radar for years now. Marshawn Lynch would be a Heisman favorite if he did his work east of the Mississippi. But he doesn't, and those 5:30 starts get ignored over here on the east coast. Well, this might be the year that the college football world learns the Tedford has quietly been creating a monster in Berkeley.

9) Oklahoma. Bob Stoops will not be kept down by one player, no matter how important you might think he is. The Big-12 is not as fearsome as it once was. Peterson is the real deal. Once Thompson gets settled (he's experienced, knows the offense, and is such a great athlete they had to have him switch positions to get his talent on the field) they should be golden. Look, Josh Heupel and Nate Hybl had success without the talents of someone like Peterson (oh, and Jason White also sucked, as his performance in the Sugar Bowl two years ago forever proved). Oklahoma will feed off the doubters, Peterson will show why he's such an amazing talent, and everyone will regret totally overreacting to this Bomar situation (as I did myself when I said he ruined their season, he didn't, but with him they could have been contending for a title).

10) Louisville. They should probably lose what, a single game all year? They have two players who are mentioned as Heisman hopefuls on their offense? They have one of the most sought-after coaches (both college and pro) in the country? Their quarterback will be one of the first chosen whenever he decides to go pro? I don't care what conference they play in. I don't care that this is supposed to be a basketball school. It isn't. It's a football school, and it's one of the best in the country.

Week 1 Picks  

Posted by Walter

While we here at the323 do not encourage gambling on football, we certainly condone it inasmuch as it is incredibly fun (and potentially rewarding) to pick winners. Each week I intend to pick the winners, against the spread (USA Today), for some of the more notable games in America. I won't be picking all games, and I won't waste my time on picking the winner of North Texas +40.4 vs. Texas. If the spread is above 20, forget it. But remember, these picks are intended to be for recreational purposes only.

Boston College -13.5 over @ Central Michigan

Thirteen and a half seemed like an awful lot to lay on the road the first time I took a look at this spread, especially given the fact that BC lost 3 first day draft picks from their 2005 squad. That said, this is a very poor matchup for Central Michigan and while I think they can keep it close early, look for BC to pull away late in the game. Though BC QB Matt Ryan has proven himself more than capable as a starter, and displayed some big play ability against Boise State in last season's finale, BC is going to ultimately win (and dominate) this game with their running game. Look for BC's tremendous offensive line and one-two tailback punch of LV Whitworth and Andre Callender to grind on an overmatched Central Michigan defensive line. Though the Chippewas boast one of the best DE in the college game in Dan Bazuzin (269 lbs.) the interior of their defensive line will be outweighed and outplayed by their BC counterparts. I would not be suprised if this were a 10-7 game at halftime, with BC rolling to something along the lines of a 30-14 win.

South Carolina -6 over @ Miss. State

Another road favorite picked to cover. Well, this is more an idictment of Mississippi State than it is laudatory of South Carolina. Actually, to be more specific, this is an indictment of the Mississippi State offense. Their defense actually registered as one of the top units in America last season, finishing at 29th overall. Though they return star linebacker Quinton Culberson, the unit will be severely tested by the best offensive mind in the game today (Spurrier), a QB who should be much improved with a year in the fun 'n gun under his belt (Blake Mitchell), and one of the top 5 wide recievers in the nation (Sidney Rice). Even with a Herculean effort by the Miss. St. defense, you've got to figure the 'Ol Ball Coach can find some way to put up 20 points with the talented combination of Mitchell and Rice. And while the South Carolina defense isn't one of the conference's best, they should be able to hold perhaps the worst offense in the BCS conferences to under 2 touchdowns. This game looks like a 21-10 stinker, that isn't as close as the score indicates.

Nevada +11 over @ Fresno State

Get used to hearing about the MWC, because I am quite close to annointing it the official conference of the323 (although I am sure Frazier will have something to say about that). And driving the MWC bandwagon....nope, not Fresno State but Nevada (and Boise State of course). While Fresno has played the role of sole MWC pipeline to the NFL over the past few years, they may have to share that title with Nevada in 2006. Nevada returns 7 starters from an offense that really found itself in the 2nd half of 2005 (they averaged 40 points a game over their last 5). Most importantly, Nevada returns QB Jeff Rowe (learn the name) and tailback Robert Hubbard. On the flip side is Fresno, who return a boat load of line talent, but look to replace its QB and top 2 rushers. In the first game of the year it is imperative to have experience. Simply put, Nevada does, Fresno does not. While Fresno has the clear edge on defense (they seem to be the only MWC team that knows the meaning of the word), Jeff Rowe and company looked like men among boys at the end of 2005 and I expect they will pick right up where they left off. This game features two outstanding coaches in Pat Hill of Fresno, and hall of famer Chris Ault of Nevada. We know it will be a well played game so do youself a favor and watch this game this weekend because it should be one of the best of week one. And like I said, learn the name Jeff Rowe now because by Monday morning everyone else will know it. Nevada prevails 35-31.

Northern Illinois +18 over @ Ohio State

For two weeks now I have been telling everyone who will listen (and even some who won't) about Northern Illinois. Evidencetly, the oddsmakers in Vegas don't read the323 (shocking I know). This line is way too high to even think about laying the points, no matter how talented the Buckeyes are, or how difficult it is to play in the Horeshoe. With Northern Illinois being a relatively obscure team from the MAC, and Ohio State opening their season after what has become an annual exodus of NFL talent, both teams present various unknowns. So let's take a look at what we know for sure. (1) We know that Northern Illinois has a veteran offense featuring an all america caliber RB in Garrette Wolfe, an all-MAC caliber QB in Phil Horvath, and a potential NFL first round calibe tackle in Doug Free. (2) We know that Ohio State lost 9 defensive starters from last season, including 5 taken in the first round of the NFL draft. (3) We know that Northern Illinois has a very undersized defensive line. (4) We know that Ohio State has a very big and strong offensive line. (5) We know that Northern Illinois returns most of its secondary from last season when it was the teams biggest defensive strength forcing turnovers. (6) We know that Ohio State traditionally gets off to a slow start offensively, and that the next season Troy Smith and Ted Ginn play up to their potential in every game will be their first. I'm not saying Northern Illinois is going to win, but I am saying that given the youth on the OSU defense, it would not be surprising to see the Huskies put up some points. And if the Buckeye's offense is forced to grind out the game on the ground because the passing game struggles as it traditionally does, this could be a very close game which is decided by one or two plays. Oh what the hell, give it to Northern Illinois in an absolute shocker 21-20.

Stanford +11.5 over @ Oregon

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Stanford is not a good football team. They can't run the ball, they play poor defense, their offensive line has given up 83 sacks in the past two seasons, and their coach has always been knocked for his failure to get his team up for games they should win. But they do have absolutely dynamic players at the passing game skill positions in QB Trent Edwards (another name to learn), and WR Evan Moore and Mark Bradford. Oregon, on the other hand, is a much more balanced team. While I do believe they are incredibly overrated this season (they just lost too much talent), Mike Belloti is a great college coach and has built himself a nice program. So why pick the Cardinal? Well it all comes down to matchups, and Oregon just doens't have them in its favor. The strength of this Ducks team will be its offensive line (the Pac-10's best) and running the football. Its weakness will be the secondary where they have to replace last year's two starting corners. Trent Edwards is a legitimate NFL caliber passer and he should have little problem picking apart a Ducks secondary that simply is not ready to compete with Moore and Bradford. While the O-Line has been terrible the past two seasons, it is extremely experienced in 2006 which at least raises the possibility of improvement. Overall Oregon may win this game on the strength of its aforementioned running game, but 11.5 points is too much to lay. Call it Oregon 31-28.

California +2 over @ Tennessee

Simply put, California is the better team in this game. They have more talent, more gamebreakers, a far better coach, and all of the matchups favor them. All that said, the next easy game at Neyland Stadium will be the first, and home field is worth at least a touchdown for these Volunteers. This hold particularly true against the Cal Bears, who have been a pedestrian 14-8 in road games in the past 4 seasons under Jeff Tedford. Having to fly all the way across the country will not do them any favors in trying to reverse this trend. What will help, though, is the personnel the two teams will field. California can make a legitimate claim to possessing the most game breaking offensive personnel in America. They have the best set of tailbacks in the country in Marshawn Lynch (who is absolutely dynamic) and Justin Forsett. And with Nate Longshore finally healthy, 2004 #1 recruit WR Desean Jackson should finally be able to shine. One the other side, as I have stated several times on this site the Volunteers do not have the kind of talent we are used to seeing from them in 2006. Erik Ainge has been maddeningly inconsistent, and with the departure of Brent Schaeffer to Ole Miss. the Volunteers have absolutely no depth behind him. If Ainge doesn't play well, the Vols have no plan B to turn to. Up front, the Vols have plenty of talent on the O-Line, but are very inexperienced. Look for the vastly underrated Cal defense to play well led by all america tackle Brandon Mebane. As I said, the personnel and matchips favor Cal, the location favors Tennessee. I am banking that the talent disparity is too much for a couple thousand miles to overcome. Cal takes it 24-17.

Utah +3.5 over @ UCLA

Boy did I drop the ball by not including UCLA on my preseason overrated list. UCLA was more lucky than they were good last season. True they finshed with a dandy 10-2 record, but anyone who follows the Pac-10 knows there was more to this story. UCLA played with fire all season, needing four 4th quarter comebacks, and a lot of luck, to save their season. While they beat up on Northwestern in the Sun Bowl (50-38) the enduring images of UCLA's 2005 season were the two games where they were exposed as the frauds they were: (1) a 52-14 pasting by an inexperienced Arizona team, and (2) a 66-19 drubbing against USC. After all of that, the Bruins lost easily their three best offensive players in Drew Olson, Maurice Drew, and Mercedes Lewis. If the team wasn't any good to begin with, how can they even compete in 2006 without such star power. Well, as you can probably tell, I don't think they can compete, especially with a team as good as Utah. This game should be laugher folks. Utah QB Brett Ratliffe became a star when he took over last season, and he runs the spread offense with surgical precision. [on a side note, if Brett Ratliffe were the QB at Florida with Urban Meyer, the Gators would be a unanimous #1] UCLA's defense was a joke last season, even by Pac-10 standards as they gave up at least 35 points a ridiculous 6 times! Gone are all of the starting LB, and much of the beef up front. Honestly, the only thing that will stop the Utes in this game is the clock running down to zero. Let's call it 45-20 Utah.

@Auburn -15 over Washington State

I'm not sure if I even believe that the Tigers can cover such a high spread, but I picked them as my preseason national champions so daggonit I'm picking them to cover in week one. Washington State is a perennially underrated team and this year appears to be no different. Though they lost all america RB Jerome Harrison, the Cougard return what might be the Pac-10's best passing offense outside of USC. QB Alex Brink is as good a bet as anyone to throw for 3000 yards and 30 TD especially since he has WR Jason Hill and Chris Jordan to throw to. Really, this game will come down to the Auburn pass defense against Brink and Co. Auburn cornerback David Irons has the ability to lock down Hill. If he does, this one could be over quickly. While Washington State has a veteran O-Line, they lost their top two backs from last season and have no clear choice to replace them. On the flip side, Auburn has a phenomenal running game with Kenny Irons running behind a mammoth, but inexperienced, O-Line. You want another name to remember? Try King Dunlap, the heir apparent to Marcus McNeil's left tackle throne at Auburn. Auburn almost got burned in their opener last season, it won't happen again. Tommy Tubberville has proven himself a worthy SEC coach and will have his troops ready. Though the spread seems a point or so too high, Auburn should roll 30-14.

@ Georgia Tech +8 over Notre Dame

Adding to Northern Illinois over Ohio State, this would clinch opening weekend 2006 as the most shocking weekend in college football history. Now don't get me wrong, by no means am I done drinking the Charlie Weis Kool-Aid (after all I am a Patriots fan), but this edition of Notre Dame just doesn't see to have enough to meet the wild expectations it faces. Georgia Tech is a nightmare matchup for the Irish, and the Yellow Jackets have all the personnel to exploit the holes in the Irish. First and foremost is one Calvin Johnson. Johnson is the most talented WR in America and this game could really be his coming out party. The Irish pass defense couldn't stop anyone last season, getting repeatedly torched by mediocre offenses like Michigan State and Ohio State. Calvin Johnson will be the biggest test the secondary faces all season, and week one is not a good time to have that. Furthermore, the biggest strength of the Irish defense should be their pass rush. However, in Senior QB Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech has a player who can significantly mitigate the effects of the Irish rush. On the other side of the ball, the Notre Dame talent is undeniable. They will put up points on anyone, but it is worth noting that this Georgia Tech defense could be one of the strongest the Irish face all season. The secondary needs work (which could mean a huge day for Quinn) but the front 7 are experienced and solid, led by Sr. LB KaMichael Hall. If Notre Dame can't run the ball, the pressure will fall on Quinn to win the game himself in a hostile, and more importantly, loud stadium. A Notre Dame win is not out of the question, but for now let's say Tech prevails 33-31.

USC -8 over @ Arkansas

I really like what the Arkansas program has done over the past year, and I think big things are on the horizon for them. In fact, a win against the Trojans would not be out of the question if the Razorbacks had star RB Darren McFadden available for the contest (he has been suspended). USC will be breaking in a new QB, and several new RB's in 2006, so early is when you want to get them. Arkansas does play the type of physical defense (remember the name Sam Olajabatu when you watch this game) and pound the ball offense that could really slow this game down in their favor. That said, I am not certain I see enough playmakers on the Arkansas offense to put points up against the ever improving Trojan defense. The Razorback O-Line is very strong so they will commit to the run even without McFadden, but unless prized Freshman QB Mitch Mustain makes his way into the game, the Arkansas passing offense will be nonexistent. On the USC side, its more of out with the old and in with the new. They lose Leinart, Bush and White and simply replace them with more top recruits in John David Booty and Chauncey Washington. Not to mention the best WR tandem in America in Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Bottom line, Arkansas just can't score enough to win this game. They will play hard and make it close at some point, but eventually USC prevails something like 33-17.

FSU +4 over @ Miami

Frankly, it didn't matter to me who was favored in this game I was taking the points either way. While both offenses should be much improved from last season, this game will once again be dominated by defense. It appears fairly clear to me that Miami has the best defense in America, and frankly, it's not close. The Hurricanes possess the best secondary in the nation, featuring the best safety tandem in recent memory in Kenny Phillips and the323 favorite Brandon Merriweather (who is always at his best against the Seminoles). I don't care how sharpe Drew Weatherford has looked in practice, its a whole new ballgame when you step on the field against Miami. To be honest, the same could be said for FSU. Miami will be without RB Tyrone Moss and WR Ryan Moore for this game, and that hurts them quite a bit. Still, QB Kyle Wright showed flashes of brilliance last season and should be poised for a big second season. I find the comparisons between him and Weatherford interesting because they are so similar. Weatherford is the better QB right now, but Wright has the better skill set. Another thing Wright has going for him is TE Greg Olsen. Olsen torched the 'Noles last season and he represents the most dynamic offensive player for either side (just edging FSU WR Greg Carr). In a game that is always as tight as Miami-FSU, having the best playmaker on the field can be all the difference in the game. But I don't want to lose sight of the defensnes, because defense will dominate this game. I count as many as 15 potential NFL draft picks on these two defenses combined. In case you are wondering, there is one, maybe 2 at most that I count in the UCLA-Utah matchup. In a game that close it's easy to take the points, regardless of who you think is going to win (it should be clear that I think Miami will win at home) so I am going with FSU getting the points but still falling to the Hurricanes 13-10.

Quick Hitch...  

Posted by Frazier

The whole Bomar situation has been a little odd, and normally the 323 likes to focus on the positives of college football, but it's kind of hard when one of the key pieces of a top ten basically sabotages their season. Look, he's a young man, he made a mistake. He didn't kill anyone. It sucks, but it happens. Now he seems intent on compounding that mistake by transferring to Sam Houston St. a move that makes ZERO sense. If his concern is playing football at the next level, he'd do well to do what Keller did, transfer to a program with a senior quarterback and a passing system, sit out a year, get a head start on next years competition, and return with three full years of eligibility. You can't tell me there aren't a couple of excellent programs who wouldn't be willing to take a shot on someone with his credentials.

Or he could try to be like Jordan Palmer, and make a name at a lesser school with an excellent coach. I've got a feeling Mike Price or George O'Leary would be understanding of making a stupid mistake, and offer a second chance.

Finally, if Bomar has decided that this situation may have ruined his professional career, and just wants to play and study, then Sam Houston St. still doesn't make much sense. I am sure there are plenty of excellent universities, at the 1-A and 1-AA level who would have given the kid a shot to play, and get a first-rate education to boot. Now he's behaving like the valedictorian who decides to go to the local community college to be near his girlfriend. Kid, you're going to get a second chance, take it.

Offensive Line University  

Posted by Walter

Some nice analysis by my esteemed co-blogger, and it is very difficult to argue with Penn State as the runner up Offensive Line University (it is IMPOSSIBLE to argue with USC as the number one choice). That said, I will respectfully disagree with the choice of Penn State as the #2 school in lieu of...........

Runner Up - University of Pittsburgh (Bill Fralic, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Mark Spenoski, Jeff Christy, Rob Pettiti)

With no disrespect intended towards Penn State whatsover, as a whole I am more impressed with the core group of players the Panthers have produced than I am with that of the Nittany Lions. Offensive line play, unlike all other positions, cannot be measured in stats or pro bowl appearances. The value of an offensive lineman is his ability to be technically sound if not spectacular. The best offensive lines in football are often not laden with stars, but rather with players who may not be the most physically gifted, but are physical and smart. For example, the New Englan Patriots have won super bowls without pro bowl lineman. Players like Russ Hochstein, Matt Light, and Dan Koppen are not going to be confused for Larry Allen, Orlando Pace, and Dermonti Dawson, but as a group they always got the job done. Now I do not intend to devalue a player like Walter Jones (or Mike Munchak for that matter), but I do intend to illustrate that "greatness" has to be viewed in a different light when considering offensive lineman.

With that in mind we turn to the roster of Pitt Panthers who made their mark on the NFL. First and foremost we have Bill Fralic, perhaps the greatest offensive lineman in the history of the college game and someone who would have had a better opportunity to mentioned as the same in the pro game if not for some unfortunate injuries. Still, Fralic managed to play 9 seasons and in 4 pro bowls. Next on the Pitt roster are two fo the all time greats, though their pro bowl appearances and name recognition don't bear that out (see discussion above). Russ Grimm and Mark May were integral parts of the undoubtedly the greatest offensive line ever........the Hogs. The Hogs themselves, serve as the best example to illustrate my point about "greatness" in an offensive lineman. Joe Jacoby is probably the only player on that line to garner any sort of name recognition. Taken individually, none of the Hogs are household names. But put together and every football fans know about the Hogs. As an offensive line coach I used to tell my players that the greatest compliment an offensive line could recieve was that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. That phrase applies in force to both Grimm and May. Rounding out the Pitt roster are two players who I beleive would have fit in well on the Hogs, and who both played on latter day great offensive lines. Mark Stepnoski centered some of the greatest offensive lines of the 1990's for the Dallas Cowboys, and Jeff Christy was a stallwart for the record setting Minnesota Vikings and Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucs. While neither will be making the trip to Canton (thought hey do have a combined 8 pro bowl appearances between them), both possessed the knack for assimilating themselves and other players into a congruent offensive line that was always greater than the sum of its parts.

My Selection - USC

There is a serious argument to be made that if you were creating an all time offensive line from the past 20 seasons that 60% of it would be comprised on Trojans. In fact, if I were constructing said offensive line it would be 60% Trojans. Anthony Munoz was the greatest tackle who ever lived. Tony Bosselli was the most dominant ever in his prime (which was too short lived). And there is a legitimate argument that Bruce Matthews was the best guard AND the best center of the past 20 seasons. For argument's sake, on my hypothetical all time offensive line I'd play Matthews at guard with Larry Allen, and start Dwight Stephenson at center.

Offensive Line University  

Posted by Frazier

This topic gets slightly harrier. Evaluating players based solely on pro bowls seems a little odd, since several of those spots go to the same guys every single year, unless they actually petrify in their stance. Also, this is a classic situation where some schools have a virtual assembly line to the pro's, and have players starting on the line, warming the bench, or getting coffee on virtually every team in the league. How to evaluate? As always, excellence matters. Getting a huge number to the pro's matters, getting a large number of excellent players matters more. This list is highly subjective (even more so than the other topics) so in the end, it's all about feeling. This is how I feel:

Honorable Mention:

-The Big Ten. This conference just does it right. Tons of players, tons of starters, tons of pro bowlers and the rest. Simply too many to list. The toughness of this conference has never been questioned, nor should it. Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin all have produced some outstanding players. However, none of them have done quite as well as....

The Runner Up:

-Penn State. Known as Linebacker U (which, when we get there, Penn St. probably won't even crack the top five) maybe they should shift that focus to the Offensive Line U. (They should start selling "O-Line U" shirts, and remember to order plenty of XXXL's). The Nittany Lions have produced six pro bowlers in the last twenty years (Mike Munchak, Steve Wisniewski, Jeff Hartings, Keith Dorney, Marco Rivera, Brad Benson) some very solid players (eg. Tom Rafferty an Dallas Texas all-time team member). Munchak was named to the NFL All 80s team and the NFL Hall of Fame, as Wisniewski was an NFL All 90s team member, and should get some serious hall consideration. Oh, he was also one of the dirtiest players of all time. That wins you points around here.

The Winner:

-USC. It's a pretty simple case at the end of the day. They have produced a further six pro bowlers of the past twenty years (Anthony Munoz, Tony Boselli, Bruce Matthews, Marvin Powell, Don Mosebar, Roy Foster) all of whom made multiple trips to Hawaii. Oh, Munoz and Matthews are two of the best of all-time, and while Munoz is already in the Hall of Fame, Matthews is a mortal lock. Furthermore, Munoz was named to the NFL All 80s team and BOTH Matthews and Boselli were named to the NFL All 90s team. Boselli himself would have an excellent chance of joining them in Canton if not for severe shoulder problems. Still, this is an asbolutely fearsome top three, with many more NFL contributors on the roster. USC may be known for its' tailbacks, or more recently its' quarterbacks. Possibly even its' defensive backs, lead by all-everything Ronnie Lott (more on the DB's another time) but it's the O-Line that has proved itself absolutely dominant over the past two decades.


Posted by Frazier

Wide Receiver University  

Posted by Frazier

There are a handful of schools that could easily make the top spot at this position. This is the classic issue of depth vs. talent. Should Florida receive credit for producing ten serviceable WR's, even if Cris Collinsworth is the best of the bunch? How much does it hurt Stanford that they only sent four players, if three of them were pro bowlers? It's a tough decision. I think I leaned slightly towards excellence over sheer numbers. There are plenty of guys who get drafted for pure athleticism, or because of a particular college program, who never do anything special, but end up taking up a roster spot for six years. We are here to award excellence, not mediocrity. Also, becoming a Hall-of-Famer never hurts. Well, let's look at the carnage.

Honorable Mention:

-Miami. They've boasted a slew of talent over the years. Real burners who have had solid NFL careers. They are of course led by Michael Irvin, a Hall-of-Famer, and a key aspect of the best team of the 90s. They managed to produce eight solid receivers (Michael Irvin, Eddie Brown, Brian Blades, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Brett Perriman, Randall Hill) seven of whom had a 1,000 yard season (Hill being the exception). Five of them had pro bowl seasons, and Johnson and Moss have a chance to move this group to the top of the list over the next few years.

The Number Two:

-Ohio St. THE Ohio State University has produced six solid pro's (Cris Carter, Terry Glenn, David Boston, Joey Galloway, Chris Sanders and Jeff Graham), and has two more with potential (Santonio Holmes and Michael Jenkins) plus the entirely enigmatic Ted Ginn at the college level. For me, this essentially came down to Michael Irvin vs. Cris Carter, and Carter is probably the second best receiver of all time (at this point). They lose significant points because despite incredible potential, and flashes of brilliance, Boston, Glenn and Galloway have all been disappointments to some degree.

The Winner:

-Syracuse. Well, it happened again. We researched independently, and came to the same fairly surprising conclusion. The 'Cuse has produced the best pro's over the last twenty years. Once again, having two Hall-of-Famers is a HUGE boost. The crew consists of Marvin Harrison (HOF), Art Monk (HOF), Rob Moore, Kevin Johnson, Qadry Ismail. Moore gets credit for a couple of pro bowls, and a very nice overall career. Johnson has had a 1,000 yard season, and Qadry, despite being labeled a disappointment, managed to have a pair of 1,000 yard seasons with the anemic Ravens offense. It really comes down to the big two. Monk held all sorts of receiving records when he retired after a storied career, and a couple of Super Bowls. He was the last of the old school receivers who came along before the recent passing explosion, and he still has phenomenal careers numbers. Harrison of course will obliterate all those numbers, and is the only man who conceivably has a chance of catching the great Jerry Rice. He very well may end up one of the top two receivers of all time, so in this line-up Art Monk would be the second option. That's enough to take the title in my book.

Wide Reciever University  

Posted by Walter

Wow was this one tough. I think that given the passing revolution that has taken place in the NFL within the past 20 seasons, the fact that we limited ourselves to that period made this decision much much harder. Just the sheer number of quality WR in the NFL since 1986 naturally implicated a large number of schools into the discussion. And while I was able to finally settle on a top 2, there are easily several other schools that would have been a worthy choice as Wide Reciever University.

Honorable Mention
Ohio State - Cris Carter, Terry Glenn, David Boston, Joey Galloway, and Jeff Graham
Miami - Michael Irvine, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Brett Perriman, Eddie Brown

I am listing the honorably mentions because, since the schools are so close, it is necessary to have a point of comparison for each spot.

Runner Up - University of Tennessee (Stanley Morgan, Carl Pickens, Anthony Miller, Peerless Price, Alvin Harper, Tim McGee, Willie Gault)

The trio of Morgan, Pickens, and Miller was just too much to ignore. Although Tennessee does not have a reciever the caliber of either Irvine or Carter, that trio is as good as any in the history of college football. Between them, they had 14 1000 yard seasons and played in 11 pro bowls. Niether Miami nor Ohio State can boast those kind of numbers. Now in Miami's case it is partially a function of most of their recievers being young and in the league now. So in 5 years Miami may be occupying this spot. That said, I am not ready to say that players like Andre Johnson and Santana Moss are going to continue on to have careers the caliber of Pickens and Miller just yet. In addition to their three top WR, Tennesse also boast suprising depth. Peerless Price is loaded with talent and had one solid season in Buffalo. Further, Tennessee boasts two receivers who played vital roles on two of the best teams of the past 20 seasons. Willie Gault was the biggest playmaker on the 1986 Bears, and most everyone remembers Alvin Harper as Mike Irvine's acrobatic running mate on those Cowboys teams of the early 1990's. But when it came down to it, the fact that Tennessee boasted the trio of receiving greats that it did was enough to push it past the younger, brasher, Buckeye and Hurricane corpses.

My Selection - Syracuse (Marvin Harrison, Rob Moore, Art Monk, Kevin Johnson, Qadry Ismail)

Perhaps a suprising selection, but the bottom line is that Syracuse was the only school to boast two hall of fame caliber WR who played in the last 20 seasons. For me, excellence is enough to overcome a relative lack of depth. Marvin Harrison is really quite remarkable. He has posted 7 straight 1000 yard seasons (second only to Cris Carter among players from these schools). Played in 7 consecutive pro bowls. And has topped 1400 yards 4 times (Mike Irvine only did it twice, and Carter never accomplioshed the feat). Art Monk, has also posted mind boggling numbers when you consider that he played in the era before the Bill Walsh led passing revolution really occurred. Monk had 5 1000 yard seasons, played in 3 pro bowls, and was one of the two most important players on 2 super bowl champions. Really, this duo is so awesome that had Syracuse not produced a single other reciever they would have been good enough to get them ito the top 4. Speaking of other WR, while not on the level of Harrison and Monk, Syracuse has produced one other pro bowler (Rob Moore), and two other solid contributors (Kevin Johnson and Qadry Ismail). Moore has posted 3 1000 yard seasons, including one where he topped 1500 yards. Both Johnson and Ismail have had 1000 yard seasons, and they compare favorably to some of the depth recievers from the other contending schools (Price and McGee at TN, Johnson and Perriman at Miami, Boston and Glenn at OSU).

About Position University  

Posted by Frazier

So far we've done QB's, TE's and RB's for our Position University series. Unfortunately, we've also come to the same result pretty much every time. This was definitely not the point. Maybe our criteria was too narrow (professional success over the past 20 years) but it seemed to make the most sense. We wanted to talk about guys who played in our lifetime so as to not rely on stats and histories too often. We also wanted to use professional success since that is the pinnacle of the sport (to play, not to watch, since everyone knows college football is infinitely more interesting, inventive, and exciting than the NFL). Anyways, we are determined to complete the discussion, and we're not changing the guidelines. We will continue to do independent research, and not discuss the topic prior to posting our conclusions. Hopefully we'll begin to generate more discussion and debate as the focus shifts towards the defense.

Running Back University  

Posted by Frazier

Or... How We Once Again Prove That the SEC Gets Love Around Here...

Dammit! Usually we here at The 323 like to do our own research into a topic, come to our own conclusions, and then debate amongst ourselves, or with anyone else who stops by. Well, sometimes it's just a monumental waste of our time. There are plenty of great RB schools, but two are simply better than the rest. First, a couple of mentions:

-Oklahoma St. They only produced three legit pro's, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, and Tatum Bell. However, with Sanders and Thomas, they are the only school to produce two absolute sure-fire Hall-of-Famers. Not to mention the fact that Sanders was not only the most electric runner ever, but he also had a stunning college career capped by one of the most remarkable seasons ever.

-Florida. They are greatly helped by the remarkable Emmitt Smith. But if Fred Taylor could stay healthy, they would have had a chance to crack the top two. Producing seven effective pro's (Emmitt Smith, Neal Anderson, Errict Rhett, Fred Taylor, John L. Williams, James Jones, Lorenzo Hampton) including the completely underrated Anderson. Not bad for the boys from the Fun n' Gun.

The Runner-Up:

-Georgia. They produce solid pro running backs, and as stated, the injuries to Edwards and Davis were devestating to their professional productivity, not to mention the Walker debacle. Still, seven solid pro's (Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Rodney Hampton, Terrell Davis, Tim Worley, Robert Edwards, Olandis Gary) an aptly named fullback (Mack Strong) and great talent and consistency. They beat Florida because they had three guys with great pro careers cut short to some bad luck.

The Winner:

-Auburn. It's been said before. They produced solid pro's for years. Jackson averaged over 5 yds/carry over his tragically short career. They have two of the best young backs in the league (Brown and Williams) and another (Johnson) playing pro-bowl caliber ball. They have a very promising guy in the college ranks just waiting to join the fun (Kenny Irons). They also have produced EIGHT solid running backs (Bo Jackson, James Brooks, Stephen Davis, Joe Cribbs, Brent Fullwood, Carnell Williams, Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown) along with excellent fullbacks (Fred Beasley, Tony Richardson). A note on Fullwood, a disappointing career, but he did make a pro bowl, which not everyone can say. Oh, if you include William Andrews, (who played in 1986 and is technically eligible for the list, but whose career essentially ended in a 1983 knee injury) and his four pro bowl's, that only makes their success the more obvious. The SEC produces running backs, and no team more prodigiously than Auburn.

Running Back University  

Posted by Walter

I thought choosing this one would be the hardest of all......and in a way it was. However, the only hard part I encountered was choosing one of the fairly obvious two finalists for this honor. There have been so many good backs and therefore there are a ton of schools that have produced numerous pro bowl caliber players. Schools like Miami (Edge, Portis, McGahee) and Ohio State (Eddie George, Keith Byars, Robert Smith) predictably had a fair stake to the best ever argument. However, there are two schools that have really outdone the field in terms of producing NFL running backs.

Runner Up - University of Georgia (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Robert Edwards)

Really, the only thing preventing Georgia from being the runaway winner as Running Back University is some crummy luck. Before injuries curtailed what appeared to be a hall of fame career, Terrell Davis was hands down the best back of the 1990's as evidenced by his 2000 yard rushing season. Robert Edwards was another promising Bulldog prospect who rushed for over 1000 yards as a Patriots rookie before tearing up his knee at a stupid Pro Bowl beach football game. Herschel Walker was perhaps the most talented back ever, but fell victim to the money and allure of the USFL and then walked into a no-win situation when Minnesota traded their entire draft for him. Still, virtually every starting back for the University of Georgia since the mid 1980's has gone on to star in the NFL. Overall the Georgia backs listed above have accounted for 9 pro bowl appearances, 16 1000 yard rushing seasons, and 3 super bowl titles. Rodney Hampton, perhaps the most underrated of the bunch, ripped off 5 straight 1000 yard seasons in the 1980's as the primary back for the Giants. But it should be noted, if not for the major injuries to Davis (who I still think is a hall of famer), Edwards, and Olandis Gary, those already impressive numbers would be much higher, and this would be a runaway for the Bulldogs.

My Selection - Auburn (Bo Jackson, James Brooks, Stephen Davis, Rudi Johnson, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Fred Beasley, Tony Richardson)

Like Georgia, Auburn has both the 1980's and 1990's covered. However, unlike Georgia, Auburn has three back in the league right now in Johnson, Williams, and Brown who are ready to play at a pro bowl level. Also like Georgia, Auburn's already impressive numbers would be a lot more impressive had their top player not suffered a debilitating injury. Anyone who has ever seen Bo Jackson play (or played the original Tecmo Bowl) understands just how great he was, and just how much football fans missed out on because of his injury. Still, in 38 career games ( just over two full seasons) Jackson ammassed nearly 2800 yards, averaging an amazing 5.4 yards per carry for his career. James Brooks, a vastly underrated pro, rushed for 1000 yards three times in the 1980's and managed 4 pro bowl invitations. However, it is the 1990's and 2000's where Auburn really takes off. Stephen Davis was one of the best backs in the last 10 years with 4 1000 yard seasons including 3 at over 1400 yards. Rudi Johnson has ripped off two straight 1400 yard 10 td seasons, and both Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams are ready to explode into perrenial all pros. Auburn even gets credit for producing two of the top fullbacks in the NFL in Fred Beasley and Tony Richardson. Beasley was a long time weapon as a blocker, reciever and rusher in the 49er's West Coast offense, and Tony Richardson has paved the way for some of the preeminent rushing seasons of this generation by Priest Holmes and more recently by Larry Johnson.

More of a Fly Pattern  

Posted by Frazier

Not so "quick" a hitch there, pal. A couple of thoughts.

-I love Leach's offensive schemes, but he's a long way from being a Stadium. IF he does bring some real success, then we can discuss him. But so far, there is nothing to say he'll even be there in three years.

-Would Weiss Field be the new name of Willingham Stadium? I think that anyone who brought ND back to the level they are used to, and stayed there for a long time, would have a chance at this. However, it's way to early to see if Weiss is that guy. He had one good year, didn't really beat anybody, and recruited well. He has a chance, but so far he's pretty much had the same success as Willingham. (Ty started 8-0, played a national power, FSU instead of USC, lost a close one, had a nice year, and got tons of hype for recruiting. Only Ty got love a D specialist, instead of the O). Now, I think Weiss will be much better than Ty, and possibly a great coach, but I'm going to need to see a little more before I start naming stadiums.

-Big Ten teams expect longetivity. If Tressel puts in another 15-20 years, he might make it.

-I think Rodriguez has the best shot of the bunch, and I know it's early for him too, but here's my argument. WVU has had one other great coach, Bowden, and it's not like they are naming the stadium for him. They already dislike the "official" stadium name, and call it Mountaineer Field to begin with. Rodriguez is a WV guy, born and bred. He is happy there, and I think will stick around because he wants to make his alma mater a national power for years to come. If he does, the Mountaineers will find themselves inviting teams for some moonshine and an ass-kicking at Rodriguez Stadium.

Quick Hitch  

Posted by Walter

As a high school football coach, my friends would often ask me whether I would prefer to be an NFL head coach or a college head coach. For me the answer was always the same: "Definitely college......If you're a great NFL coach they'll name a trophy or a section of seats after you. In college, you get the whole stadium."

So my mind started wandering. Who are the best of best in college football? Who have the best opportunity to have their school's stadium named after them? Well, first some rules:

1) Great isn't good enough. - To have a stadium named after you, you need to be transcendent. You need to be an innovator. You need to do something that nobody has done before. For example, Mack Brown and Bob Stoops are great coaches. But they coach at traditional southern powerhouses. Oklahoma and Texas aren't naming stadiums after them unless they win a few more championships.

2) Respect those that came before you. - No matter how good you are, if your school has had an all time great coach before you, you are just sh*t out of luck. That means that the Mark Richts (Vince Dooley) and Mike Shulas (Bear Bryant) of the world need to go elsewhere.

3) Go the distance. - Before a school can even begin to contemplate naming a stadium after you, you need to be there for a while. And I'm not talking about Lloyd Carr at Michigan a while, I am talking about Joe Paterno at Penn State a while, and Bobby Bowden at Florida State a while.

OK, so in 50 years what current coaches may have their names on the stadiums in which they coach?

Well, given the rules we can eliminate some very derserving candidates (through no real fault of their own).

Urban Meyer - You're not as good as Spurrier, and you never will be.
Bob Stoops - Possibly the best coach in the country, but he's not touching Bud.
Mack Brown - Same as Stoops, but not touching Darrel Royal.
Tommy Tubberville - Vastly underrated coach, but he's no Shug Jordan.

Now some undeserving candidates who have no chance anyways:

Phil Fullmer - General Neyland would have eaten Fullmer for breakfast.
Mike Shula - Even Shula's dad isn't fit to hold the Bear's jock.
Tommy Bowden - Underachiever will never get his own rock like the legendar Frank Howard.

OK, so who actually could have a stadium named after them? Well here are some coaches who I think have a great shot and why.

Charlie Weis - Notre Dame

While Notre Dame Stadium is, and always will be, affectionately called "The House That Rockne Built", there will almost certainly be a place for Charlie Weis if he restores this traditional power to glory. The past decade has been as tumultuous a time as the Fighting Irish program has ever seen. Frustrated by losing seasons, and disgraced by the hiring and subsequent firing of George O'Leary, this once proud football school was in dire need of a savior. Within a year of arriving, Weis has risen Notre Dame from the ashes and built a national contender. If Weis is able to win a few national titles and resotre the luster to the golden dome, he will have boast one of the greatest, and most important achievments in Irish history.

Jim Tressel

Tressel is in a good spot. He is not the most innovative or exuberant coach but you cannot deny his results. He already has one national title under his belt, and is young enough to rack up a few more before he retires. Most importantly though, is Tressel's lack of competition. Unlike other traditional football powerhouses, Ohio State does not have a former coach worthy of stadium naming recognition. The great Woody Hayes seemed to be on his way until he lost his mind and punched out an opposing player. Oh yeah, did I mention that Tressel is 4-1 in games against Michigan? Yeah that's proabbly the quickest way to get your name up there.

Bobby Petrino

Petrino is also in a good situation since Louisville is not a traditional football power. However, Petrino has brought the program to new heights and is really only competing with himself. If he can bring the Cardinals even a single national title, he might be in line for such an honor. Petrino is bright enough, and enoug of an offensive innovator to get the job done in Kentucky.....assuming he sticks around long enough and resists the allure of the NFL and more prominent college programs (which are sure to beckon for his services).

Rich Rodriguez

Rodriguez is in a very similar situaiton to Petrino. He is young, innovative, and talented enough to bring his program to new heights. Still, he is going to have to win at least one national title, and resist the urge to move on to bigger and better things.

Pat Hill

Hill is probably a long shot, since he is the lone non-BCS conference coach on this list (excluding independent Notre Dame). However, Hill has turned his program into a giant killer and seems to be working under the Bobby Bowden philosophy of program building: play any team, anywhere, anytime until recruits start to take notice. It is unlikely that Hill will stay at Fresno long enough to achieve stadium name status (I mean after all he is in high demand as a Belichick desciple), but he certainly has the coaching chops to get there.

Mike Leach

Another unlikely character, Leach is probably the most creative of the bunch. His offense is so innovative and creative, he may be remembered whether he wins national titles or not. Texas Texh has long been the little brother to the other lonestar powerhouses in Austin and College Station. If Leach can somehow bring his Raiders up to the big time, he may be rewarded with a stadium named after him.

Tight End University  

Posted by Frazier

Time for the tight ends to get some love around here. Although, it's not like we're the kind of guys to deny the big men the respect they deserve. I've already broken downs some fullbacks, so now it is time for the tight ends. However, my list is decidedly different from my colleague's. Most notably, I didn't bend or break the rules. So only players over the last twenty years; Dave Casper doesn't count, and he doesn't get to carry ND to the win. As pointed out, many of the truly great TE's from this era came from small schools, which clearly only produced one pro, so the options are somewhat limited. But these are the rules, and I am going to play by them. Here's what you find out when you follow the parameters:

Special Honorable Mention:

Washington. The Huskies have a lot more going for them then I ever would have expected. In fact, over the past twenty years they have produced a startling seven serviceable tight ends (Mark Bruener, Ernie Conwell, Jerramy Stevens, Cam Cleeland, Aaron Pierce, Rod Jones and Eric Bjornson). None of the names really leap out at you, and they don't have a single pro bowl among them. However, that is an impressive number of pros, and further proof that something interesting has been brewing in the northwest, and I'm not talking coffee or grunge.

The Runners-Up:

Miami. They have produced four solid pros (Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Alfredo Roberts), who have combined for six pro bowls (Shockey, Franks). They have tons of room for improvement since Bubba Franks still has a couple of good years left, Shockey has some time to live up to his hype, and Winslow finally has a chance to try to justify his own over-inflated ego. Also, Greg Olsen has a chance to be a special player. So the U can probably only go up from here.

Maryland. Sort of the opposite of Miami. Tons less hype, but solid production. A more than respectable six solid pros (Frank Wycheck, Vernon Davis, Ferrell Edmunds, Eric Sievers, John Tice and Mike Tice) with the estimable Frank Wycheck leading the way. While none of these guys are awe-inspiring, Vernon Davis has the chance to be a special player, and collectively the Terps have staked out some territory in the in the tight end debate.

The Winner:

It's BYU. The Mormons greatest product is Todd Christensen, who just barely made our time restraints. He went to five straight pro bowls, won a Super Bowl, and had the incredible distinction of leading the NFL in receptions in 1983 AND 1986, as a tight end. Frankly, a remarkable feat. He is joined by Chad Lewis, who has made a pair of pro bowls, and has been the only reliable receiver for a team that made four straight NFC Championship games. Doug Jolley and Itula Mili have both had solid careers and add quality depth to the BYU side. BYU has garnered tons of attention for the college success of their quarterbacks, but it turns out that when you are looking for professional success, it's the tight ends that really deserve the accolades.

Tight End University  

Posted by Walter

This one was tough, and before I name my winner and runner up I have a few observations:

1) Unlike any other position, some of the greatest tight ends of our generation have come from some really obscure schools. For example: Ben Coates (Livingstone), Shannon Sharpe (Savannah), Eric Green (Liberty), Brent Jones (Santa Clara), Steve Jordan (Brown), Antonio Gates (Kent), Pete Metzalaars (Wabash), Jay Novacek (Wyoming).

2) To really decide who was TE University, it was imperative that I open up the years a bit. The previous list is fairly comprehensive of the best TE's of the past 20 years and I don't think anyone would be suprised to discover that schools like Livingstone and Wabash only had one TE in the NFL.

3) Although they didn't make the top 2, the University of Washington once again suprised me with the amount of TE talent they have sent to the NFL. While none of them are great players, Washington has sent the NFL 5 servicable tight ends in the last 10 years: Eric Bjornson, Mark Bruener, Cam Cleeland, Ernie Conwell, and Jerramy Stevens.

4) The obvious urge is to pick the University of Miami based on their amazing run of tight ends recently, but if we are basing this list on pro production Miami is lacking. Bubba Franks has been OK in Green Bay and made a few pro bowls, but he is far from the dominant TE the Packers had hoped for. Jeremy Shockey has been very good in NY, but Kellen Winslow Jr. has yet to take the field. For me, Miami was eliminated rather early.

Runner Up - Brigham Young (Todd Christiensen, Doug Jolley, Chad Lewis, Itula Mili)
The TE has always been a big part of the BYU offense and this list proves that the playes are ready to contribute in the NFL when they leave Provo. Christiensen was one of the best recieving tight ends ever being named to five pro bowls in the 1980's. Three times he topped 1000 yards with the raiders and missed a fourth time by 13 yards. Chad Lewis was a solid TE for an Eagles team that racked up wins in the 2000's. He made two pro-bowls and was a key player in their consecutive runs to the NFC title game. Both Mili and Jolley showed promise as rookies but never really built on that momentum. Still, both are servicable players and give BYU the depth to make the top 2.

My Selection - Notre Dame (Dave Casper, Mark Bavaro, Pete Holohan, Tony Hunter)
Notre Dame gets the nod based on straight up excellence. The Irish boast the greatest tight end of the 1970's in Casper, and one of the greatest tight ends of the 1980's in Bavaro. Holohan was an above average TE for the Chargers and Rams in the late 80's racking up nearly 4000 career receiving yards. Hunter led a rather uninspiring four year career, but like Mili and Jolley had his moments (50 catches for 562 yards in 1985). The bottom line, though, is excellence. I consider Dave Casper and Mark Bavaro to be two of the three best tight ends ever because they were dominant all around football players. Dave Casper racked up over 5000 recieving yards and 52 TD playing in an era where "pas interference" was still a foreign term to officials. Bavaro has similar career numbers with just under 5000 yards and 39 TD. However, the thing that sets both players apart from their peers was their blocking ability. In this era of Shannon Sharpe's and Kellen Winslows we forget that tight ends are supposed to be able to block too. Casper and Bavaro were the best of the best, acting as an asset in the running game (rather than a liability like Sharpe and Winslow). Casper was the best blocking tight end ever. A hulking 6'4'' 250 lbs., Casper played some tackle in college and used that ability to dominate defensive ends in the NFL. New Irish product Anthony Fasano is playing for Bavaro's old coach (Parcells) and could continue the great lineage of Irish tight ends.

Quick Hitch . . .  

Posted by Walter

I have been accused of hating on the SEC on this blog, largely because I feel that Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are all overrated this year. Well my response is twofold:

First, if you would bother to read the entirety of this blog, you will see that I have quite a bit of respect for several SEC teams. In fact, I predicted Auburn to win the national championship. Further, on several occasions I have stated that both Florida and LSU boast some of the best talent in the entire country, and that I think Georgia will be the 2007 preseason #1. I have also listed Arkansas as one of my most underrated teams. Overall, I think the SEC is an incredibly strong conference with a ton of talent.

Second, if you read the posts the reason I think teams like Georgia and Florida are overrated is because of how hard their schedule is (ipso facto - how strong the SEC is as a whole). It's not that I think those teams are bad, but it is that I believe they have too many difficult away games to go undefeated, and thus they are being overrated as legitimate national title contenders. Espcially when viewed in the light of contenders from other conferences who do not have nearly as hard a path to the BCS title game (e.g. Texas, Ohio State). The only reason I like Auburn so much is because they get an incredible schedule break getting Florida, Georgia and LSU at home. The SEC is so strong this year that it will work against the conference because it is going to be so difficult for any single team to emerge undefeated.

All that said, I will admit it.......I just don't like Tennessee. I don't like Phil Fullmer, and I find him drab, unimaginative, and believe that he consistently gets outcoached by the stable of masterminds in the SEC (Spurrier, Meyer, Richt, Tubberville, Miles). I don't think Erik Ainge is the answer at QB. Despite his great freshman season he has never improved and the talent around him has gotten worse. His situation is almost identical to that of former Notre Dame QB Ron Powlus. I think Tennessee would be wise to dump Fullmer and go after some of the other coaching names on the market. Imagine what someone like Butch Davis or Bobby Petrino could do with the talent Fullmer has had.

Quarterback University  

Posted by Walter

My Selection: University of Washington (Warren Moon, Mark Brunell, Chris Chandler, Damon Huard, Brock Huard, Billy Jo Hobert)
Runner Up: University of Michigan (Tom Brady, Jim Harbaugh, Brian Griese, Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Drew Henson)

The Huskies may be a surprising choice (Frazier you know how I love to buck the trends) but they are certainly deserving, winning the number one honors by the slightest of margins over the Wolverines. What is came down to was depth. Both schools have produced one great quarterback, two pro-bowl quarterbacks, and several serviceable quarterbacks. While Brady is the best of the bunch, we shouldn't forget just how great Warren Moon was in his prime. Currently Moon ranks fourth all time in passing yards, fifth in passing TD's, and fourth in completions. Where Washington really takes this comparison, though, is in the second tier of quarterbacks (those previously labeled as pro-bowl caliber). From 1995-2000 Mark Brunell was one of the best quarterbacks in the AFC while being elected to three pro-bowls. Chris Chandler, ever the underrated passer, was also great during that stretch being elected to two pro-bowls and eventually leading the Falcons to a super bowl. On the Wolverine side, Harbaugh, Griese and Grbac were decent starters who had their moments, although they were primarily backups and neither had a 5 year period as strong as either Brunell or Chandler. As for the rest, neither group is incedibly inspiring, although Washington has to get the nod based on the presence of solid career backups Damon Huard (who Dolphins fans, as you will remember, almost ran Dan Marino out of town in favor of) and Bill Jo Hobert, both of whom were capable of winning games for their teams when the starter went down.

Quarterback University  

Posted by Frazier

So, which school produced the best professional quarterbacks over the past twenty years? We're looking at overall quality first, quantity second. We're looking at guys who played in the NFL over the past twenty years. We're focusing on NFL success here, so Ty Detmer and Gino Toretta are barking up the wrong tree. We went in independently, and we both emerged with the same somewhat surprising results. What were they? Find out:

First, some honorable mentions.

-Purdue. Since no one would ever imagine them here. However, Brees, Orton, the entirely underrated Chris Everett are pretty powerful. Open up the period another couple of years, and hall of famer Bob Griese joins the gang.

-Notre Dame. When you are headlined by arguably the best quarterback ever (Joe Montana, of course) you are always going to be in the conversation. Open up our parameters a year, and Joe Theismann becomes available. Not an all-time great, but a nice career and a super bowl. Add Steve Beuerlein who had a solid NFL career to boot.

-Stanford. They are here because they produced Elway and Plunkett, and considering they are like the Ivy League's California cousin, that's definitely worthy of a mention.

Now the list:

3) Miami. Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde. If college success mattered, they'd have a bunch more. Kelly is worthy of the hall, Bernie was better than useless, and Vinny stuck around for a long time, which is pretty much the only nice thing I have to say about him.

2) Michigan. Tom Brady leads the bunch. He has the super bowls, the playoff record, the stats and the demeanor to be one of the all-time greats. He's joined by the always overrated Jim Harbaugh, as well as Elvis Grbac who had a couple of nice years, and Brian Griese who still has time to either redeem himself, or become completely irrelevant. My money is on the latter.

1) Well, it's a stunner. Washington Wins! Even more surprising than their 1991 National Title, it's Huskie time at the 323. How did they get here? Well, having the incomparable Warren Moon (with 9 pro bowls, top five all-time in several major passing categories) is a great start. Oh, he also had an amazing CFL career. One of the underrated players over the past twenty years. Add in Mark Brunell, who has multiple pro bowls, and was always dangerous with his feet, and who has another season or so to leave a real legacy. Finally, Chris Chandler had a solid career, made a couple of pro bowls, and led a totally overmatched team to an improbable super bowl appearance. Washington also managed to produce NFL caliber players in both of the Huard's (Damon and Brock) as well as Billy Joe Hobert. Who knew that the Huskies were such a hotbed of quarterbacks. Maybe Steve Entman should have switched positions once he got drafted.

Quick Hitch...  

Posted by Frazier

"Quick Hitches" is a forum for us to put up some quick ideas that don't necessarily demand in-depth analysis. It's sort of a place to put things we've been thinking about. They might be interesting, they might deserve further discussion, or they might be totally worthless. Here's my first quick hitch:

I've heard people floating this "Rich Rodriguez to FSU as Bowden's successor" theory. I simply don't buy it. I think it is WVU paranoia, since it's the same trip Bowden himself made years ago. Rodriguez was born and raised in West Virginia, graduated from WVU, and even coached small college in the state. This is his dream job, and I think he'd prefer to pull a Bowden, and be the big fish in the Big East (like FSU was in the ACC) and play for national championships that way. I'd be kind of surprised if a Bowden didn't follow Bowden, or at least someone with a direct connection to the big man at FSU.

Who are those guys? - the best players you've never heard of  

Posted by Walter

Garrett Wolfe RB, Northern Illinois

Well, if you've been reading this blog maybe you have heard of Mr. Wolfe as I have been touting his virtues all preseason. Playing in relative obscurity for Northern Illinois, Wolfe put up over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2005. Did I mention tht a knee injury sidelined him for 3 games? I didn't, oh well if he has played a full season we'd be talking about a 2000 yard, 20 TD back.

Wolfe stands only 5'7'' but he posseses the heart and game of a much larger man. Like most small backs, Wolfe has speed to burn. But perhaps more important for him is his agility and quickness. While differentiating between speed and quickness may seem like splitting hairs, Wolfe's ability to quickly accelerate to top speed allows him to hit the hold faster than anyone this side of Reggie Bush. And unlike Bush, Wolfe cannot be denigrated for not being a workhorse. Though he weighs only 170 lbs., Wolfe is one of the strongest players on his team. He is more than capable of withstanding the pounding of 30 carries a game (evidenced by his 107 carries, 700+ yards, and 9 TD over the final three games of the 2005 season), and is a much better between the tackle runner than he is given credit for. Like Warrick Dunn before him, Wolfe is stigmatized as only being an outside runner when in fact he reads blocks and finds inside creases as well as any back in America. Anyone who has ever played linebacker will tell you that short backs are hard to locate on inside runs, and if a small back has the intestinal fortitude to put his body on the line running between the tackles he can be very effective.

Top to bottom, Northern Illinois is a very strong team this season. Wolfe will be running behind a veteran offensive line anchored by future NFL stalwart Doug Free, and will also be aided by one of the best passing game in the MAC (preventing defenses from loading up in the box to stop him). Wolfe's coming out party should be Sept. 2 when his Huskies get a crack at #1 Ohio State. Given the veteran presence on Northern Illinois (especially on offense) and the 9 new starters on the Buckeye defense, Wolfe could have a monster day and anounce his presence as the premier back you've never heard of. And if Northern Illinois can somehow beat Ohio State (don't say it can't happen), Wolfe could find himself in NY for the Heisman trophy ceremony come season's end.

Davone Bess WR, Hawaii

With more NFL ready talent at the WR position than, perhaps, ever before, it is not suprising that more than a few receivers get lost in the shuffle. Fans, reporters, and scouts all get mystified by size at the WR position. And the 2006 college football season if rife with talented, oversized wideouts: Dwayne Jarrett (6'5''), Jeff Samarardzjia (6'5''), Calvin Johnson (6'3''), and Sidney Rice (6'3'') to name a few. And while Bess is not blessed with the same proportions as these higher profile players, he has managed to squeeze just as much productivity into his 5'10'' 180 lbs. frame.

Bess, a former high school QB, burst onto the scene as a freshman last season by catching 89 balls for 1124 yards and 14 TD. Hawaii head coach June Jones calls Bess the best WR he's ever coached. Given that Jones was a longtime NFL head coach and coordinator, that is truly "praise from Ceasar." With another year in Jones' wide open spread offense under his belt, the sky is the limit for the Bess-Brennan connection that is burgeoning as one of the nation's most prolific. And like all great players, Bess has proved that he is at his best against top competition. Against arguably Hawaii's two toughest opponents in 2005, Fresno State and Nevada, Bess combined to put up 26 catches for 329 yards and two scores. Since Bess sat out a year after graduating high school, he could opt to enter the NFL draft following this season. If he were to do so, he'd be a potential first round slot reciever in the mold of another former collegiate star relegated to obscurity because he played out west: Steve Smith (Utah).

Eric Weddle SS, Utah

My three favorite defensive backs in the nation are (in order): Brandon Merriweather of Miami, Antoine Cason of Arizona, and Eric Weddle of Utah (with Memphis' 6'3'' safety Wes Smith finishing fourth). As a coach and fan there are three traits I look for in defensive backs: (1) tackling ability, (2) ability to play zone, and (3) versatility. Weddle would get a check in all three. He starred last year as Utah's best cover corner, but is being moved to safety this season so he can be in position to make more plays sideline to sideline. Weddle's game reminds me a lot of the much more ballyhooed Michael Huff of Texas. He has the coverage ability to play any spot in the secondary and boasts linebacker like tackling prowess.

What sets players like Huff and Weddle apart, though, is their ability to make huge plays in several different phases of a defensive scheme. Last season Weddle put up strong numbers for a defensive back by posting 78 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 12 passes broken up. However, Weddle also registered 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and an amazing 11 tackles for loss. For his career, Weddle's numbers look more like a linebacker's than a cornerback's: 213 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, and 9 sacks. But unlike other players who rack up tackles in the secondary at the expense of giving up big plays in coverage, Weddle is a blanket in the secondary. In Utah's Emerald Bowl destruction of Georgia Tech, Weddle completely shut down Tech wideout Calvin Johnson, a player likely to be taken in the top 5 picks in the 2007 NFL draft.

Brian Leonard FB, Rutgers

On the off chance that you find yourself watching a Rugers football game, it will only take mere moments for Brian Leonard to announce his presence to you as the best football player on the field. Leonard's numbers from last season appear solid if not spectacular: 173 carries for 740 yards (4.3 yard per carry) and 11 TD, 55 catches for 568 yards and 3 TD. Look at his career numbers at Rutgers and you start to get more of the picture: 2352 rushing yards for 27 TD, 1574 recieving yards for 13 TD. Watch him play for a single quarter and there will be no doubt in your mind that the 6'2'' 235 fullback is as good a football players as you will find.

Leonard is so good in all phases of the game that he has never had the role as the featured back in the offense. He looks like a typical power runner and certainly performs his duties as a battering ram between the tackles, but Leonard also has suprising quickness and breakaway speed you would not expect from a man his size. Leonard sounds, looks, and play like a 200+ carry back for any team, but he doesn't get those carries and it's his own fault. In addition to excelling as a runner, Leonard is one of the best receiving backs in the nation. Leonard is very active in the screen pass game, and is as fluid a back catching the football and picking up blocks in the open field as we have seen since Keith Byars. However, unlike Byars, Leonard is a devestating lead blocker, another reason he loses carries. Leonard is a guy who was born to play in the NFL, and whichever team gets his combination of speed, toughness, and character will be getting themselves a hell of a player for the next 10 seasons.

Stephen Nicholas LB, South Florida

If Nicholas were a Wolverine (UM), a Longhorn (UT), or even a Commodore (Vanderbilt) everyone would already know his name. Yet, because he plays in relative obscurity for South Florida, Nicholas has been able to fly under the collective radar of casual fans. But learn the name now, as Nicholas is on the short watch list for the Butkus Award (although he is likely to lose out to Penn State's Paul Posluszny-no shame in that), and should be an early first day pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Due to the presence of fellow standout linebacker Ben Moffit, teams will be unable to focus all offensive attention on Nicholas. Assuming he stays healthy for the entire season, Nicholas' production could be unmatched on the national level.

At 6'3'' and 230 lbs., Nicholas is not huge, though he certainly has the frame to add extra weight (something the NFL absolutely loves). Many thought he would bolt for the NFL after last season, and one look at his staggering career numbers indicate he is ready to play on Sundays. In three seasons at South Florida, Nicholas has ammassed 224 tackles, 12.5 sacks, and an other-worldly 38.5 stops behind the line of scrimmmage. Nicholas is at his best when he can flow from the weak side and track plays down sideline-to-sideline. However, Nicholas has played both the strong side and weak side for South Florida, and has excelled at both positions. Nicholas possesses the rare combination of being a ferocious hitter, while playing under control. He rarely overruns plays or takes a false step. Nicholas is one of the few linebackers in the nation that can beat you single handedly and must be accounted for on every single play.

Jeff Rowe QB, Nevada

Maybe we should call Rowe the anti-Wolfe. Unlike the diminutive Northern Illinois tailback, Rowe is big.......real big. Rowe is a Drew Bledsoe clone standing 6'5'' and weighing in at nearly 230 lbs. Also like Bledsoe, Rowe plays on the West Coast for a team that isn't going to be featured in many preseason polls or nationally televised games (Bledsoe played for Washington State). The lack of media exposure hurt Bledsoe until his senior season when he ultimately became the first overall pick for the NE Patriots. While Rowe doesn't have Bledsoe's upside, he has the tools (size and arm strength) to blossom into a star NFL quarterback.

Unlike Bledsoe, though, Rowe is not a statue in the pocket. He has the ability to avoid the rush, and he also kicked in over 200 yards and 6 TD rushing in 2005. But Rowe is not going to be confused with Vince Young and the majority of plays he makes are through the air. Rowe has a lethally powerful arm, and in 2005 was finally able to improve his accuracy enough (62% completion rate) to cut down on his interceptions (which had been his biggest weakness). In fact, of the 10 picks he threw all of last season, 4 came in one game against Boise State. If Rowe continues to develope, he has the skills to put up all american type numbers this season in Nevada's wide open 3 and 4 WR sets. And with his arm strength and measurables, I would not be suprised to see Rowe shoot way up NFL draft charts into the early first day with a strong combine performance.

David Ball, WR, New Hampshire

As a Division 1AA player, it is not shocking to learn that virtually nobody has heard of this record setting receiver from Durham (NH). Ball, once deemed to slow for the big show, has proven every recruiting director wrong by putting up other-worldy numbers while playing in a UNH offense that is as talented as half the units currently playing in Division 1A. The near psychic connection between UNH quarterback Ricky Santos and Ball has developed into perhaps the best pass catching combination in all of college football.

At 6'3'' and 215 lbs. Ball has the size to be a dominating, physical receiver. Though his 40 time won't blow anyone away, Ball possesses the more important characteristic of "football speed". To draw an analogy, a player like Troy Willimson possesses a fast 40 time. A player like Steve Smith possesses great "football speed". Which would you rather have? Ball makes his living by running precise routes, and catching any football thrown anywhere near him. His profile suggests that he might be a good "Z" receiver going over the middle and catching jump balls in the endzone. While he would not doubt excell in either of those roles, watch one of David Ball's games and you will realize that he is perhaps more effective making plays down the field. Though lacking elite speed, Ball averaged over 15 yards per catch last season, proving that he is an invaluable asset in the vertical passing game. Assuming Ball stays healthy this season, he will no doubt surpass all of the NCAA career receiving records held by one Jerry Rice. That's kind of all you need to know about David Ball.

More Ups...  

Posted by Frazier

Just a quick note about my "Five Up" post. Unlike my co-blogger, I did not "rank" my selections for my underrated/surprise selections. Frankly, it's all an educated guess to begin with, and since it is such an inexact science, I felt that putting them in any kind of order was entirely pointless. I may like some picks better than others, but each one is valid in its' own way, and so they are generally in the order in which they occurred to me, which probably shouldn't tell you anything.

Five Up  

Posted by Frazier

Time to pick some teams that might be down-right surprising. Teams we're all overlooking. Maybe it's because of a down year last year, or the last several. Maybe it's because we have no idea where they play, or what conference they're in. But somebody is going to step-up. Last year Penn St. came out of nowhere to put together a phenomenal season, losing their only game in literally the last second. So who will it be this year? I have no idea, but I can always guess.

5) Nebraska. This might be a nostalgia pick, but you have to have a good feeling about a team that was supposed to experience some serious growing pains, still managed to win 8 games, and is returning 15 starters. Their defense should be downright nasty at times, and Carricker is a stud on the line. He'll provide great push, and will threaten the quarterback on a consistent basis. The schedule isn't terrible with two exceptions. An early game AT USC and a later showdown with Texas coming to Lincoln. However, if you have to play those two, you could do worse than catching USC early, when they still may be recovering from the loss of Leinart and Bush, and they haven't quite gelled, and at least having to force Texas to play well in Lincoln. Those may turn out to be their only losses, and they are probably the favorites in the Big 12 North with, gasp, a potent passing attack, and a running game which will undoubtedly improve. This could be an 11 win team, and that would help the 'Husker faithful get over the loss of their beloved option.

4) Arkansas. I am not going to break this team down like my esteemed co-blogger. It's this simple. They have an excellent coach, the most highly recruited quarterback in the country, and 19 returning starters. Also, they have a relatively light SEC schedule, altho they do start the season with USC. But, once again it's early, also, USC has to travel across the country and with a young lineup, the Hogs may stand a chance. The season will only look brighter from there.

3) UConn. Look, it's the Big East. There are two really good teams, and a bunch of mediocre ones. Which means that if any of the mediocre ones can rise a little bit above, they can stumble into a 9 win season, and a major bowl. I think UConn is that stumbler. The QB position has been solidified, and most of the defense, which was a strength last year, is returning. Caulley is finally healthy at the tailback spot, and this could be an excellent year. UConn has done nothing but improve over the last several years, and this may be the year when they pull it all together, and make a run at a major bowl.

2) Boise St. They may have lost their coach, but they kept the man behind their offensive innovations. They also kept 18 starters and a schedule that has most of their toughest games at home. Will they get last year's Zabransky, or the super-promising one from 2 years ago? I'll bet it the latter, and if it is, they could break into the top 15. The smurf turf used to make Boise St. distinct, but in the future, it just may be excellence on the field, no matter the color, that brings the national attention.

1) UTEP. I am not one to go against a Palmer. Or any coach who can make Washington St. a fearsome team, I don't care how many strippers he brings with him. This team is returning 19 starters from an 8 win team, and that includes an ugly end of season slide. Price has a great track record, and Palmer is easily one of the best QB's in the country. He wants to get over an embarrassing bowl performance, and the early season shoot-out with Texas Tech may provide that opportunity. It's hard to feel down when you put up half a hundred on anybody. This team has traditionally started well, and with their toughest games earlier in the year, that is a good thing. Maybe they'll swoon late, but they'll be out to prove that they have a full season in them for once, and Palmer will be out to prove that Carson isn't the only pro prospect in the family. Is it possible to be underrated when you are getting some national buzz at a place like UTEP? Yeah, I think it is. Any team that can have success in those god-awful uniforms deserve all the attention they can get.

5 Up, 5 Down - 5 most underrated teams  

Posted by Walter

#5 - Tulsa

Head Coach Steve Kragthrope deserves a ton of credit for the amazing job he has done at Tulsa. Not only was Tulsa one of the worst programs in American when Kragthorpe took over, but they were also moving from the WAC to the ultra-competitive Conference USA. All Kragthorpe did was lead the Golden Hurricanes to a 9 win season, win the Conference Title, and take down perennial giant killer Fresno State in the Liberty Bowl. Now Kragthorpe has some rather lofty expectations to live up, but lucky for him he also has his best returning team ever.

In 2006, Tulsa will be led by the best defense in Conference USA. For the past 3 seasons, Sr. LB Nick Bunting had been far and away Tulsa's best player. While Bunting is still the leader of the defense, the honor of best player is no longer a lock. Jr. MLB Nelson Coleman has played his way onto the NFL radar, and fellow seniors Bobby Blackshire and Kedrick Alexander form one of the best safety duos in America. Tulsa struggled to stop the run at times last season because of inconsistent defensive line play and a calvacade of opposing running backs who will someday play on Sundays (Adrian Peterson, Deangelo Williams and Laurence Maroney to name three). The run defense should be much better this season with the emergence of Coleman, and a much easier schedule.

Though Tulsa will have to replace the NCAA all-time receptions leader for TE in Garrett Mills, the offense will be just fine. Though he doesn't maintain the same profile or put up the same numbers as other Conference USA QB's such as Jordan Palmer and Kevin Kolb, Tulsa QB Paul Smith is much steadier than either. Smith directs the Golden Hurrican offense with precision and rarely makes mistakes. Smith is smart enough to play within himself, but also has the natural ability to make plays when his team needs him to. If players like WR Idriss Moss step up for Smith, Tulsa can expect to at least match their 9 wins from last season.

#4 - Hawaii

As a football coach myself, it took me years to accept Hawaii. Football coaches almost universally believe in running the football and playing defense, and this led to my disdain for the wide open aerial attack of teams like Hawaii and Texas Tech. However, times change and the old school philosophies of pounding the football and controlling the clock have been replaced by notions of vertical passing and offensive creativity. Teams like Hawaii cannot recruit the best players in the country, so they are left picking at the scraps and putting together the best team they can often by resorting to less traditional football means. Head Coach June Jones' offense is certainly that.

It is actually staggering what Jones has been able to do at Hawaii. His teams consistently put up over 40 points a game, and his last quarterback (Timmy Change) set the all time NCAA passing mark. However, since none of these numbers have translated into NFL success, nobody seems to pay any attention. Well that could change in 2006. For the first time in his tenure, Jones has legitimate NFL talent on his roster. It is scary to imagine how many points his offense might put up this season. Quarterback Colt Brennan not only has the perfect name for Jones' run and gun offense, but he also has the perfect skill set. Brennan, only a Jr., is big, fast, and has a huge arm. Not only that, but he also has perfect command of Jones' offense, allowing him to always find the open reciever even when he has 4 or 5 options. In Sophomore Davone Bess, Brennan has an NFL caliber WR and one of the true gamebreakers in the WAC. The scariest thing may be that Hawaii could potentially return Brennan, along with their top 3 receivers for 2007.

While nobody is going to confuse Hawaii's defense with that of Texas or Oklahoma, they really shouldn't be that bad this season (and with their offense, that's all they have to be). Since Jerry Glanville took over the defense they have been steadily improving, and this should be his best unit yet. With senior safety Leonard Peters returning from a knee injury, Hawaii has an all-america caliber player right in the middle of their secondary. Peters plays all over the field and is sure to register over 100 tackles and his share of interceptins and pass breakups. The Hawaii defense doesn't even need to play consistently in 2006. If they can make 1 or 2 big plays a game the offense should score enough to win.

There is one caveat with this team though. Hawaii has never been a road team and with trips to Alabama, Boise State and Fresno State, winning a WAC title could be tough. Still, with their offense they will never be out of a game and a 10 win season could be within reach.

#3 - Arizona

Arizona is probably the least likely of my underrated teams to make a bowl game this season, but a lack of wins should not take away from the overall strength of a team. I want to be clear, Arizona is a young team that is probably a year away from seriously competing for a Pac-10 title. But when they finally break through in 2007 I want to be firmly established as the driver of their bandwagon.

This team has a ton of ability, as evidenced by their 52-14 drubbing of UCLA last season. This team is also maddeningly young and inconsistent, as evidenced by their 38-10 loss to a terrible Washington team a week after beating UCLA. But in 2006, the Wildcats are a year older and a year wiser, and I am betting that it translates into more wins. The star of the show in Tuscon is prized Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama. Tuitama suffered through an up and down rookie season, but should be poised for bigger things this year and next. He has a solid corpse of recievers led by fellow Sophomore Mike Thomas, and the two should blossom into quite a duo for the next few seasons.

However, anyone who watched Arizona last season knows that Mike Stoops makes his money coaching defense. This Arizona defense is both young, talented and hungry. Junior defensive back Antoine Cason is the best player you've never heard of. He's a great cover corner who boasts safety like tackling prowess. Watch one Arizona game this year and you will see Cason make plays all over the field. Add Sr. safety Mike Johnson, and Jr. LB's Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogstand and the Wildcats have as formidable a defense as anyone in the Pac-10.

The Wildcats' achilles heel this season, though, could be a brutal schedule. In their first 4 games they have to play a very tough BYU team, at LSU and at home against USC. If they can get through that stretch at 2-2, they could easily find themsevles in a bowl game. While this team may be a year away from competing on a national level, with an easier schedule they might be a top 25 team right now.

#2 - Arkansas

See, I don't think all of the SEC is overrated. Arkansas had been a team on the cusp for quite some time now. It wasn't too long ago that Houston Nutt was the hot young coach who was going to lead the Razorbacks back into national prominence. Well, somewhere along the way this master plan got derailed. For the last 2 seasons, Arkansas has been an incredibly young team who has gone toe to toe with the big boys (Texas, Florida, LSU). Like some of the other teams on this list, Arkansas may be a year away from national prominence. However, they played nearly 20 true freshman last season. That means that although their best players are sophomores and juniors, they may ready to contribute like juniors and seniors.

The Razorbacks boast one of the youngest and most talented backfields in all of American in the form of Sophomore tailback Darren McFadden and true freshman quarterback (and top national recruit) Mitch Mustain. Whether Coach Nutt throws Mustain to the fire this season will determine how many wins this team has at years end. Regardless, with Mustain and McFadden on board, Arkansas should be in the hunt for the SEC title in 2007.

Defensively, the Razorbacks should be good enough to stay in every game. Diminutive LB Sam Olajabutu (5'9'' 229 lbs.) is a tackling machine. He makes plays from sideline to sideline and is one of the most devestating hitters in the country. Junior CB Chris Houston is another playmaker who was forced to play a lot as an underclassmen and should be ready to contribute at a near all conference level in 2006.

Last year, the Razorbacks were victims of a brutally difficult schedule. This season it is somewhat easier. Though they open with USC at home (and without McFadden who will be serving a suspension), Arkansas is good enough to win their next two games against Utah State and Vanderbilt before a home showdown with Alabama. With Alabama being down this year, Arkansas could start the season 3-1 which would allow them to make a bowl game simply by beating teams like SE Missouri State, Ole Miss., UL Monroe, and Miss. State (giving them 7 wins). While the Razorbacks are probably not ready to clash with the SEC elite like Auburn (especially at Auburn) and LSU (although the game is at home) , a win at South Carolina or against Tennessee at home definitely seem possible.

#1 - Northern Illinois

Is this the year that the MAC finally gets the credit it deserves as a football conference every bit as good as the BCS conferences (I mean aside from producing NFL quarterbacks)? If it is, Northern Illinois is the team to it. Not 10 years ago, the Huskies were one of the worst programs in America. In 2006, they will open their season against the number 1 team in the nation in as big a "show me" game as a MAC team has ever faced. In fact, Northern Illinois has two "show me" games against Big 10 teams this season: at Ohio State, and at Iowa. If Northern Illinois can put up a good showing in both they could be a top 25 team. If they can somehow manage to win either game, we could be looking at a BCS caliber team.

Northern Illinois appears to me to be by far the best team in the MAC this season. The Huskies have the two best players in the conference in tailback Garrett Wolfe and tackle Doug Free. Wolfe stands only 5'7'' and 170 lbs. but he is one of the strongest and toughest runners in the nation. The comparisons to Warrick Dunn are accurate based not only on size, but on heart and skill as well. Free, on the other hand, is a protypical NFL blue chip tackle prospect. At 6'7'' and 300 lbs. Free has the frame to be a dominant NFL tackle for the next decade. In addition, Northern Illinois boasts two of the best quarterbacks in the entire MAC in starter Phil Horvath and backup Dan Nicholson. Basically, with the depth of NFL talent on this roster, scoring points will not be a problem.

Defensively, the Huskies adhere to a bend but don't break mentality. The coaching staff opts for smaller, quicker lineman who can penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The flip side of that is that bigger teams can wear on them as the game goes on. NT Zack Holycross is the biggest Northern Illinoiss lineman and he weigs in at under 300 pounds. Holycross will have to play like a man on every down this season to keep the opposition from steamrolling the Huskies. FS Dustin Utschig is a sure tackler and is capable of making big plays in the secondary. The Huskies won't need to be great on defense during conference play, but if they want to have any chance at beating Ohio State or Iowa they will need the defense to step up and make some plays.

Sept. 2 will be gut check time for Northern Illinois. Ohio State will be bigger and stronger than them on offense, and will try to run right over them. If history has shown us anything it is that Troy Smith and Ohio State can be inconsistent on offense early in the season. If the Huskies can come up with a turnover or two, they have a legitimate shot at staying with the Buckeyes into the 4th quarter. Offensively, Horvath and certainly Wolfe are good enough to put some pressure on an Ohio State defense that had a huge talent exodus and will be playing a lot of kids starting their first collegiate game. It really should be an interesting game because Northern Illinois is just the type of team that could give Ohio State some trouble.

Also, I will go out on a limb right now and say the Huskies take out Iowa in Iowa City on October 28, finish the season 10-2, and are ranked in the top 25.

The Team

How's the look?