Week 1 Picks  

Posted by Walter


Georgia Tech +2.5 over @ Notre Dame

Classic Notre Dame line. Do the Fighting Irish deserve to be favorites in this one? No way, but it's Notre Dame so all the die hard golden domers out there are going to throw there money away driving the spread up all week just so they don't have to face the grim reality that their team sucks this year. As I've stated many times, this Georgia Tech team is one of the most underrated teams in the entire country. Sure they lost Calvin Johnson, but they return the best tailback in the conference (Tashard Choice) and they've replaced Reggie Ball with a QB who can actually throw the ball. More importantly, they return 8 starters from a suffocating defense that held the Brady Quinn led Irish attack in check for the entire game last year. This year, Notre Dame returns only 4 starters on the offensive side of the ball. The Yellow Jacket defense is simply going to be too much for new QB Evan Sharpley to handle. I expect poor production from the Irish offense, a steady dose of Tashard Choice, and a couple of big plays from Taylor Bennett and the Tech passing game (hey, who can't throw on the Irish secondary?). Is this the beginning of the end for Charlie Weiss at Notre Dame? Probably not. But this will be the beginning of a LONG season in South Bend. Call it Tech 27, Notre Dame 10.

Oklahoma State +6 over @ Georgia

This is the first of three very interesting SEC non conference games this week. I like this Oklahoma State team a lot. They've got a ton of firepower on offense, and have an extremely balanced attack. The defense, well that's another story. But the same could be said for Georgia. Matt Stafford showed marked improvement last season, and appears ready to assert himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He returns 7 starters on offense, so the Dawgs should be all set on that front. The problem for Georgia is going to be the other side of the ball. The dismissal of all everything CB Paul Oliver could really hurt this team in this game. Georgia will be breaking in 8 new defensive starters against an experienced Cowboys offense that has a ton of big play potential. The bottom line, this game should turn into a shootout very quickly. This game could play out like a boxing match, with both teams punching and counterpunching. My guess is that this is the Matt Stafford coming out party, and he makes one more play than Adarious Bowman, Bobby Reid and Co., but not before Oklahoma State pushes the Dawgs to the brink of an upset. The over might be a better bet here, but I'll take the points with Georgia pulling out a tight one 34-32.

Kansas State +14 over @ Auburn

This line is very indicative of the deference and respect just heaped on the SEC. Kansas State might not be Texas or Oklahoma, but they are a very solid Big 12 team that won 7 games last season including a spanking of Texas late in the season. In fact, offensively this team really improved as the season progressed, thanks in large part to the solid play of then freshman QB Josh Freeman. Well Freeman has the reigns this year and starts off with an incredibly tough Auburn defense. There is no doubt that the Tigers D is the best KState will face all year. Big 12 defenses are slow, plodding, and very very powerful. SEC defenses are mean, nasty and really really fast. Expect the Kansas State offense to struggle mightily trying to adjust to the speed on an SEC style game. The only chance the Wildcats have is to stick to the running game early, and hope Freeman can make a few big plays. But even still, 14 points is WAY to high a number to lay for an Auburn team that is replacing 6 starters on offense, including 4 offensive lineman and their two biggest playmakers from a year ago (Kenny Irons and Courtney Taylor). In fact, that offensive line could be a major problem in this game. The Kansas State defense is not great, but with Ian Campbell they can rush the passer very effectively. Auburn should get plenty of yards on the ground, but looks like an ugly, mistake laden game waiting to happen. 14 points is just too much. Call it Auburn 17, Kansas State 7, and expect a slew of three and outs.

@ California -6.5 over Tennessee

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a classic revenge game. Let's see, last year Cal visited Knoxville looking to shed its reputation as a soft Pac-10 team by banging heads with the rough and tough SEC. How'd it work out? Well, very poorly. Tennessee absolutely embarrassed the Golden Bears who lived up to every stereotype SECers have about Pac-10 teams. To say that California played soft last year would be an understatement. To say that they looked like a team that had never heard the word "tackle" before would be about accurate. Anyways, this year the game is in Berkely, and wouldn't you know, that performance last season has badly skewed the line. Cal is at home, they have far more talent that Tennessee, and the Vols starting QB (Erik Ainge) is hurt. Yet, the line is still under a touchdown. Look, TN is one of those teams that is overrated every year. This is no exception. California has just too much firepower coming back on offense not to put up monster numbers on their home field. Tennessee is not going to be able to cover DeSean Jackson (who can?) and Robert Jordan, and the Vols lost a lot on that defensive line so consistent pressure on Nate Longshore might be hard to come by. Frankly, I expect Cal to roll up and down the field all night on what will be an overmatched Volunteer defense. Last year the game was in Knoxville and we learned that California cannot play an SEC style game. This year the game is on the Left Coast, and we'll learn that Tennessee cannot play a Pac-10 style game.....especially when their star QB is not 100%. Call it California 35, Tennessee 24 in a game that isn't as close as the score.

@ Clemson +3.5 over Florida State

Does anyone really care that this is the Bowden Bowl anymore? I mean Jeez, how many of these have their been? 100? Eh, maybe it just feels like that many. Anyways, this game should be a great one. I love Clemson as a sleeper this year, mainly because they return key pieces on offense. True they only have a few returning starters, but they have three all american caliber players in RB's James Davis and CJ Spiller, along with LT Barry Richardson. Gotta love a team that can, and will, run the football. The running game should be huge for Clemson in this game. Florida State always has a great defense, but their has been a HUGE talent drain from FSU over the past two seasons and the front 7 has been hit the hardest. In fact, although the Noles return 6 defensive starters only three of them are in the front 7. Davis and Spiller should be able to find some holes early on, and both backs (especially Spiller) are good enough to take it to the house every time. Look for at least one big play early from the Clemson running attack. On the other side of the ball, Clemson returns 7 starters from an underrated defense that should be every bit as good as last year despite the absence of Gaines Adams. FSU still hasn't figured out that Drew Weatherford is terrible, and even though I love Jimbo Fisher as an offensive coordinator, an old proverb about making chicken salad comes to mind. This has the makings of another ugly game. Gotta take Clemson though, because (1) they are at home, and (2) they have the best player in the game (Spiller). That they are home dogs only sweetens the pot. Call it Clemson 17, FSU 13.


Georgia Tech +2.5 over @ Notre Dame

Got to love this line. It's never fun taking a road team when you're getting so few points, but this one is too easy. Brady Quinn and company squeaked one out last season, putting up a paltry 14 points. This year the Irish have lost their quarterback, two best receivers and their best offensive player (Walker, who made an atrocious decision to come out). Their offensive line is no great shakes, their defense is terrible, including the most overrated defensive player in the country (I am looking squarely at you, Zbikowski, and I'm not afraid because I don't think you could catch me in the open field). Also, they don't have Reggie Ball to bail them out if Georgia Tech starts playing well (yes, I know Ball was the Jackets quarterback, he was also a train-wreck). Notre Dame is not going to be very good, and the administration is going to have a lot of explaining to do as to why Weiss got a huge contract extension after one nice bounce-back year, and Willingham did not, especially since their eras are beginning to resemble eachother a little more than any Domer can like. Let's say the Jackets prevail 27-17.

Kansas St. +14 @ Auburn

I like Auburn in this game. I just don't like them by two touchdowns. I know they came out blazing against Washington St. last season, but I don't see it happening again. In Ron Prince's first season he led K-State to seven wins (including one over Texas) and a bowl game. It's definitely fair to assume that Prince will continue to help his troops improve this year. Josh Freeman will keep them in this game, and the probably with such a big spread is that even if Auburn is totally in control, a garbage touchdown can easily prevent them from covering. Auburn will win, but fail to cover, something to the tune of 31-20.

Georgia -6 vs. Oklahoma St.

The Oklahoma St. yo-yos only won 2 road games last season, against Kansas and whipping-boy Arkansas St. That does not bode well for them. This is a team that is famously up and down, and I expect them to be down between the hedges. Georgia is a really overlooked team this year, but Richt is a fine coach, and I expect good things from them. Matt Stafford should make a huge leap forward starting against this suspect defense. Georgia should win fairly easily, possibly 27-14.

Tennessee +6.5 @ Cal

This line makes ZERO sense to me. I understand that this is a road game, so things should be a little different, but where does this come from? The Vols wiped the floor with Cal last year in the opener, and both teams seem to return similar personnel. Frankly, the loss of Marshawn Lynch is the biggest lost either team suffered. This is simply too many points for me to ignore. It's never an easy task to go across the country and score a win, and I know Cal will be up for this game, but the last time these two teams met it was not close. I think the Vols will have a chance to win outright, but Cal should prevail in a close one, 27-23.

Clemson +3.5 vs. Florida St.

This is another line that makes no sense to me. Clemson won AT Florida St. last year, and they have a more reliable quarterback and the incredible CJ Spiller back for more this year. Death Valley is NOT a fun place to play, and Florida St. hasn't given me any reason to buy their hype. They return the same mediocre quarterbacks for about the hundredth year in a row (Drew Weatherford, Xavier Lee, Dan Kendra, Wyatt Sexton, Chris Rix). Hell, even Weinke was horribly overrated. Clemson has the three best offensive players, and their defense should be solid. This isn't 1998, and everyone has to get over it. The Seminoles are no longer unbeatable in the ACC, and they're going to start this season with a loss by a final of 17-13, with FSU's anemic offense getting nothing done.

Conference Preview: The SEC  

Posted by Walter

And then there was one.....Despite my best efforts to argue contrarily this offseason, frankly there is no doubt that the SEC is the best conference in the land. It was in 2006 and despite the NFL talent drain that has become a yearly tradition for SECers, the conference should be even better in 2007. Seriously, what is there to dislike? Does the SEC have top coaching? Well its got Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Tommy Tubberville (when he's not whining about a playoff system), Mark Richt, and newly annointed Tuscaloosa savior Nick Saban, so yeah I think the SEC has a couple of guys who can coach. How about electric players? Darren McFadden do it for you? No, how about Andre Woodson? Early Doucet? Earl Bennett? Percy Harvin? And don't even get me started on SEC defenses. Bottom line, the SEC has the best offensive talent in the land, the best defensive talent in the land, and the most talented coaches to put it all together.

Before we get to the preview, the323 has to recognize the big man for his moving endeavors recently. He's been hauling couches, bookshelves and other crap for Frazier and a slew of other friends all week, not once complaining, and only accepting cold beers as payment. Thanks bro.

Best Team

Walter: LSU

The SEC is much better than the PAC-10, but you could make the same argument that we should be picking the 2nd best team in the SEC this year because LSU is so stacked....on both sides of the ball. Losing Jamarcus Russell and the howitzer that was his right arm will hurt, but every team should be so lucky to have someone like Matt Flynn ready to step in. You may not remember Flynn, but I bet The U does. Yeah, that was Flynn taking over for an injured Jamarcus Russell in the 2005 Peach Bowl and grabbing MVP honors while leading the Tigers to a route of Miami and their vaunted defense. In fact, given Flynn's even handed demeanor, and winning experience, losing Russell might not even be the most glaring omission from last year's offense. Lest we forget that perennially underrated offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher jumped ship for Florida State this offseason. How the Tigers deal with his loss will be just as important as dealing with the loss of Russell and wideouts Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe. However, just like with Flynn, LSU isn't about to rebuild the coaching staff when they can simply reload. Fisher is out but former Oregon and BYU coach Gary Crowton is in. Crowton brings a spread offense that should better take advantage of Flynn's intelligence and the big play capabilities from guys like Keiland Williams and Early Doucet. In a word the offense will be fine. As for the defense, they should be great. The LSU starting 11 might be the best in the country outside of USC and the front 7 might be the best period. Led by Glen Dorsey on the inside, Tyson Jackson on the outside, and human missile Ali Highsmith cleaning everything else up, the Tiger front 7 is downright scary and should make life miserable for the rest of the SEC. There is definitely some concern in the secondary as the Tigers break in two new starters, but Senior corners John Zenon and Chevis Jackson are solid and should make the transition easier. Simply put, LSU is loaded and if ever there was a team that could go undefeated throughout the SEC it's the 2007 Tigers.

Frazier: LSU

This is another one that is simply too easy. LSU is the best team in a very good conference. Don't get me wrong, losing Russell, Bowe and Craig Davis is a blow. But Early Doucet has the talent to step in and finally have the season we've all been expecting. Matt Flynn is not exactly chopped liver, and few people remember that there was a legitimate quarterback controversy for awhile before Russell stepped up and became the first player picked in the NFL draft. Flynn is a steady veteran hand, and they should be fine on that side of the ball. Especially with Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams running behind a big, imposing offensive line led by the monstrous Ciron Black. And yet it's the defense that will shine this season. They might have lost Laron Landry, but they do return eight players from the country's third ranked defense last year. It all starts up front with all-everything tackle Glenn Dorsey. Tyler Jackson at DE would be one of the most talked about lineman in the nation if he didn't line up in Dorsey's shadow. With Ali Highsmith anchoring the linebacking corps and Chevis Jackson causing SEC quarterbacks to break into a cold sweat from the defensive backfield, this group is LOADED. Bo Pelini is an outstanding coordinator, but it shouldn't be too difficult with this collection of NFL starters.

Worst Team

Walter: Mississippi State

Some things never change. The SEC is still strong and Mississippi State is still weak. Sylvester Croom might be a nice guy and a solid coach, but he just hasn't been able to get this program pointed in the right direction. Coming off of a 3-9 2006 season, Mississippi State faces a more difficult schedule this year and will need wins at Tulane and over UAB to match last season's 3 wins. To be fair, Mississippi State has made huge improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Derek Pegues is a keeper, and the entire unit really plays with a lot of heart. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs that can only take you so far. As well as the defense will play at times, the offense is so pathetic that the defense will be on the field way too often. I expect Mississippi State to keep a lot of games close early on but to fade down the stretch. Another 3 win season seems all but locked up.

Frazier: Mississippi St.

This pick was a no-brainer BEFORE Henig tossed SIX passes to the wrong team on opening night. I could say a lot more about him, but it's not really fair to pile on. Needless to say, Henig is the kind of player who is capable of having days like that one. The Miss. St. defense has always been a solid group, and Croom has gotten them to play hard under tough circumstances. It's a unit with as much pride as any in the SEC. Unfortunately, they are generally out-classed, and their offense continually puts them in impossible situations. Croom's goal this year has to be to show enough progress to justify keeping his job. It'd be a shame to fire the first black SEC coach, but at the end of the day football is about wins and losses. Croom is a gentleman, and a good coach, but he desperately needs results. He'll also need lots of luck.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: Andre Woodson, QB Kentucky

It's tough to go against Darren McFadden but I am going with Andre Woodson for two reasons. First, McFadden's numbers will suffer due to the presence of Felix Jones who is a capable 1000 rusher in his own right. Second, Andre Woodson is really really good. Loyal 323 readers will recall that I was one of the first people touting Andre Woodson as a potential top 10 NFL pick. The guy has great size (6'5'' and 230 lbs.), an absolute rocket for an arm, perfect mechanics, and almost never makes a mistake. Woodson will benefit from having a slew of skill position players returning to his Kentucky offense. RB Rafael Little is a threat, and wideout Keenan Burton is a great deep threat. In fact, Woodson returns all 4 of his primary skill players (Little, Burton, WR Dick Lyons, and underrated TE Jacob Tamme) and both lineman that protect his blind side. Add in the fact that the Kentucky defense won't be able to stop anyone this year, and you've got the makings of a shootout every week for the Wildcats. If Woodson can build on last year's success, 4000 yards and 40 touchdowns is not out of the question since he'll be chucking the ball around 30-40 times each game.

Frazier: Darren McFadden

The big man is just trying to be difficult. He doesn't really mean it, and all 323 nation understands that. Darren McFadden is not only the best offensive player in the conference, he's the best offensive player in the country. He doesn't have to worry about splitting carries with Felix Jones, because Casey Dick has to be worried about splitting snaps with McFadden. Darren will be lining up much more frequently behind center in the Wildhog offense (nee' Wildcat) and wreaking havoc using his unique combination of talents. He can run, catch, throw and return kicks. He is an incredible athlete, strong, agile, and fast as hell. I'm 100% positive he could play both ways. He'd be the most lethal safety in the nation if he wanted to be. (Seriously, imagine him coming out of nowhere to decapitate some poor slot receiver, it would be gruesome). I'm not sure if there is anything on the football field that McFadden can't do. Houston Nutt understands that after a tumultuous offseason his job dangles by a thread. That thread is Darren McFadden. So don't worry, McFadden will have the ball in his hands plenty, and when he does, he's a threat to score at any moment.

Darren McFadden in his OTHER uniform.

PS: Not to get all PC-preachy here, but I really struggled with this image for McFadden. I thought it was a little weird having him as a white guy, so I tried to hunt down a black superhero. It was nearly impossible. The only one even close was "Steel" who was immortalized by Shaq in the movie of the same name. Of course most pictures of "Steel" show him in a costume that makes it impossible to see his race, and sometimes he appears to be a white guy. Anyways, it was kind of bullshit.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Ali Highsmith, LB LSU

While everyone else is touting Glenn Dorsey as the best defensive player in the conference, it's the diminutive Highsmith who is actually the Tigers' best defender. At only 6'1'' and about 220 lbs. Highsmith isn't a traditional LSU linebacker in the mold of Bradie James or Eric Alexander, but he does play like them. An intense competitor and team leader, Highsmith is a human missile on the field. His 4.5 speed allows him to make plays sideline to sideline (something Dorsey cannot do), and you simply cannot watch an LSU game without noticing Highsmith. A three year starter, Highsmith is also one of the smartest and most versatile players in the nation, able to start and succeed at all three linebacker spots. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini would rather keep him on the weak side, however, where Highsmith is free to run and make plays. Highsmith actually reminds me a lot of Derrick Brooks with the way he runs, but he is actually a more vicious tackler, although not as sure wrapping up as Brooks (who is?). One of the most underrated aspects of Highsmith's game is that he is one of the best linebackers in pass coverage, a skill that is necessary in the SEC this season. Highsmith is the rare 3 down linebacker who can cover the opposing team's running backs, but is also adept at rushing the passer from the edge. Highsmith is nothing short of a complete linebacker, and is the rare player who can do absolutely anything the coaches ask of him.

Frazier: Glenn Dorsey, DT LSU

The big man is too clever by half. We all like Highsmith. We all like linebackers. But not everyone can be a linebacker. Sometimes the best defensive player around is a safety, or a defensive end. In this case, it's a defensive tackle. Maybe if you were starting a team, you'd value a linebacker more (but probably not). Dorsey is another kind of player. He had 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks from him tackle position last year along with 64 stops. He has the motor to get in the backfield and destroy a quarterback, and the size to eat up a pair of blockers so Highsmith can make his plays. Dorsey is incredibly motivated. This is a kid who passed up being a top 15 pick because a shin injury was hampering his draft workouts on the artificial surface. Being good is not enough, Dorsey needs to be the best. Good thing for him, he already is.

Sleeper Team

Walter: Alabama

This was a tough call since there are about 3 SEC teams that I think could fall into this category. First we have South Carolina. Given the amount I've talked them up in recent months I'll spare you my thoughts in the space, needless to say, however, I still believe the Gamecocks are in for big things this year. Next we have Georgia. I absolutely love the personnel on this team and while they are good enough to make some noise in 2007, the Dawgs are probably another year away from national prominence. I will say this, though, Matt Stafford is for real and is the type of passer who was genetically engineered to play in the NFL. If he matures this year, Georgia will win a LOT of games. Which brings us to Alabama. My beloved Crimson Tide usher in the Nick Saban era with Mike Shula's players. And that is not a bad thing. Saban inherits a team with a ton of talent, way more than Shula was ever given credit for. Nine starters return on offense including the key components from the most underrated passing attack in the conference. QB John Parker Wilson was pretty good in 2006 and should be even better in 2007 with a year of experience under his belt and both wideouts, Keith Brown and DJ Hall, returning. Moreover, super Sophomore Andre Smith anchors one of the best offensive lines in the conference that returns all five starters from last season. Finally, we simply cannot forget the most inspiring move of the offseason by Saban and Co. Of course I talking about the hiring of Major Applewhite as offensive coordinator. With all this talent returning to be coached by a creative and innovative coaching mind like Applewhite's, Alabama may have on the best offenses in the entire nation. The outlook on the other side of the football is not as rosy, but hey, when was the last time you worried about a Nick Saban coached team on defense. Only five starters return on defense, but two of them are all america caliber players right now. DB Simeon Castille is one of the best shutdown corners around, and Sophomore linebacker Prince Hall is a star in the making. If Saban can cobble together some gameplans to hide their other deficiencies, this unit should be a strength by the middle of the season. So the talent is all in the place for the Tide, but what about the schedule? Well it's the SEC so you know it's going to be tough, but to be honest it could be a lot worse. Alabama gets Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU all at home, and they miss Florida. In fact the only real tough road games are at Vanderbilt in week 2 (a trap game when the defense might not be up to speed yet) and the season finale at Auburn. A neutral site non conference game against Florida State could be tough, but it's hard not to like the way the schedule shakes out. Alabama gets Arkansas, Georgia and Florida State all in the first half of the season when the Crimson Tide's veteran offense should be clicking. If they can get through that stretch in decent shape, the late season LSU game could be one of the biggest of the year. Tuscaloosa is never an easy place to play, especially when the Crimson Tide faithful can smell an upset. The schedule is too much for Alabama to go undefeated, but I expect Bama to pull a few upsets along the way and finish something like 10-2.

Frazier: Tennessee

The big man hates this pick. He is absolutely seething. You might say I made it simply to piss him off. And maybe I did, I'm certainly not above that sort of thing. But really I did it because I took a peak at how Tennessee performed last year. They lost to LSU and Florida by a COMBINED five points last year. They beat everybody's baby Kentucky late in the year. They destroyed Cal to start off the season. Also, they took down another sleeper hopeful, South Carolina, on the road last year. Really, the only major disappointment would be the beating at Arkansas. Still, Tennessee returns the corps of a pretty solid team. I'm no Ainge apologist, but David Cutcliffe has an outstanding track record, and I expect him to continue to turn around Ainge's career. As tough as their schedule is (it IS the SEC after all) they avoid LSU and Auburn, which is definitely a bonus. It's rare that a returning 9-win team gets zero pub, but I guess that's what happens when everyone else is trying to make a big splash (Alabama), stealing headlines (Arkansas dysfunction) or running their yaps (Les Miles, Tommy Tubberville). The Vols may be a little overlooked heading into the season, and they'll have some battles at Cal and Florida, but this team has the talent, and experience, to really make some noise.

Disappointing Team

Walter: Auburn

Ugh how silly you are Mr. Tubberville. You had your shot last year and you had to blow it by whining about the lack of a playoff system. This year, it just ain't gonna happen. Despite losing key parts all over the offense (RB Kenny Irons, WR Courtney Taylor) many pundits believe this Auburn team will bounce back in 2007. I just don't see it. Specifically on offense. The defense should be great, no doubt about that. Quentin Groves and Tray Blackmon are bona fide stars, and with 5 other starters returning this should be a very stingy unit. That said, the offense is filled with holes and the schedule is nothing short of murderous. I defended QB Brandon Cox last year when I said he was a solid player who was very capable managing the offense. That assessment is still true today. However, with the departure of Irons and Taylor, Auburn is going to ask Cox to go from game manager to playmaker, a transition I just don't think Cox has the skill to make. Hurting him even more is the fact that Auburn will be replacing 4 starters on the offensive line. Thankfully for them star left tackle King Dunlap is back, but the rest of the line is going to struggle in both pass protection and in run blocking. The SEC has way too many dominant defensive lines for this offense to consistently put numbers on the board. And let's not forget about the schedule. Auburn has the toughest conference schedule I've seen yet. Road games at Florida, and then Arkansas and LSU in consecutive weeks is just way too much for any team to withstand. They do themselves no favors with the non conference schedule either. Auburn opens with a tough Kansas State team in week one (a team that really gets after the QB and could exploit the weak offensive line) and welcomes another tough challenge in a very solid South Florida team the following week. After a week off to play Mississippi State, the Tigers will face a New Mexico State team that loves to bomb away, especially against a team that lost its best cover corner to the NFL as Auburn did. We will learn a lot about Auburn in the first four weeks. I am willing to bet they lose at least one of those non conference games, and enter the first part of their conference schedule on a down note. The middle stretch of four games (@ Florida, Vanderbilt, @ Arkansas, and @ LSU) will seal their fate.

Frazier: South Carolina

I know how much the big man loves the Gamecocks, but I just have a bad feeling about this. I'm not saying that they'll have a terrible year, I just see it difficult for them to really break through. Their road games are at Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas. That's a brutal schedule. They even go to North Carolina, which doesn't sound like much until you remember that Butch Davis will have his team in some ballgames they have no right being in. They also have games against Clemson and Florida to look forward to. If they somehow manage to split that brutal schedule, it's a nice 9-3 season, but I just don't know if that will happen. I could easily see them getting tripped up by a Vanderbilt or Kentucky as well. Add to that the issues that Blake Mitchell has had in his decision making, and I'm just a little bit worried about things. I guess it's how you define "disappoint" here. I think that Spurrier and company would be disappointed in an 8-4 regular season, and I think that's reasonable. This is a program trying to turn the corner. At the same time, I'm probably a fool for going against the old ball coach.

Overrated/Underrated - Preseason Edition  

Posted by Walter

Tim Tebow, Florida - true Sophomore has zero career starts, zero career wins
Riley Skinner, Wake Forest - true Sophomore has 13 career starts, 10 career wins
Running Back
Chris Markey, UCLA - 1107 yards is nice, 2 touchdowns is not
Corey Boyd, South Carolina - top contributor on the ground (800 yards 8 TD) and catching the ball (400 and 2)
Running Back Tandem
LV Whitworth/Andre Callender, BC - numbers are decent (1400 yards with 10 TD) but should be better behind that OL
Tony Baker/Andre Brown, NC State - 1300 yards and 10 TD, imagine what they could do with an OL
Wide Receiver
Derrick Williams, Penn State - 400 yards and ONE TD, wasn't this guy supposed to be JoePa's super-recruit?
Dorien Bryant, Purdue - 2 straight seasons with 80 catches and he still gets no respect
Offensive Line
Arkansas - they are good, but heck me and 4 of my buddies could block for McFadden and Jones
Louisville - the team lost Mike Bush and still had three rushers top 400 yards and 5 TD each
Rey Maualuga, USC - hits like a mack truck but at 6'3'' and 250 lbs. he can't do much else
Ali Highsmith, LSU - small size doesn't make for highlight reel hits, but flys around and makes plays in pass coverage too
Defensive Back
Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame - last time I checked a safety's primary job was to cover people, right?
Anthony Scirotto, Penn State - not quite the hitter big Tom is, but twice the cover man
Defensive Line
Texas - you don't lose two ends like Brian Robison and Tim Crowder and not feel it
TCU - I dare you to find two better ends than Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz
Head Coach
Tommy Tubberville - Tommy has the record, but how much credit should go to outstanding coordinators like Al Borges and Gene Chizik
Jim Leavitt, South Florida - 7 years in Division 1 and the program already has 2 signature wins (Lousiville and West Va.)
Offseason Coaching HireNick Saban, HC Alabama - he is great, no doubt, but does he have a third reclamation project in him......
Major Applewhite, OC Alabama - when old man Nick starts to fade, the Crimson faithful will love having Major's youthful exuberance
WAC - yeah we all love Boise State and Hawaii, but outside of Fresno State no WAC team has the stones to put anyone on their non conference schedule
MWC - the "other" west coast conference is actually much deeper and has marquee teams at the top like TCU, Utah, and BYU who actually play top BCS teams
Offensive Football Team
Texas Tech - 13th nationally in points per game, but they are incredibly 1 dimensional and converted only 37% of their third downs (good for 74th nationally)
Louisville - by far the best O in the nation, doesn't get the credit it deserves despite finishing in the top 12 nationally in passing and rushing
Defensive Football Team
Virginia Tech - they look great if all you do is focus on the stats (9.3 ppg in 2006), but the Hokies D gave up 38 to Georgia Tech, 22 to BC, and 31 to Georgia
Boston College - the Eagles were 31st in total defense but 13th in points allowed thanks to an astonishing 37 turnovers forced in 13 games (good for 2nd nationally)
National Title Contender
Florida - new QB + road games at LSU, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and a potential SEC championship rematch against LSU = at least 4 lossesOhio State - if they can slip past a tough road game against Penn State, all that will stand between the Buckeyes and a 2nd straight undefeated matchup with Michigan is Wisconsin in Columbus
Week 1 MatchupTennessee @ California - Cal is more talented, playing at home, and looking to prove something against a team that knocked them down a peg last year....a route in the making
Kansas St @ Auburn - the Josh Freeman era at KState officially gets underway against the Tigers, but Ian Campbell and the Wildcats defensive line could steal the show against a rebuilt Tiger OL in a potential shocker

Quick Hitch...  

Posted by Frazier

Well, we got a really interesting e-mail from a new reader, Minister Rex from Earlham Iowa. This lifelong Georgia Tech. fan will be selling his allegiance to the Yellow Jackets to raise funds for his youth group. Rex will soon be backing either Iowa or Iowa St. and YOU get to decide. Go here and vote with your wallet!

While we here at the 323 don't normally condone changing allegiances for any reason, this is a pretty good exception to the rule. It's a good cause and a great idea. Best of luck Rex!

(And, as all loyal 323 readers know, we'd definitely be Iowa fans, due to our admiration for Coach Ferentz.)

Conference Preview: The PAC-10  

Posted by Walter

For all of us, it's comforting to know that some things never change. The sky will always be blue. The LA Clippers will always be terrible. And the PAC-10 will always be filled with high octane offenses, and defenses that are only vaguely familiar with the word tackle. Oh yeah....and USC will always be better than everyone else. 2007 will, of course, be no exception. As far as offenses go, the PAC-10 roster reads like a who's who of heisman candidates. John David Booty, Nate Longshore, Jonathan Stewart, Rudy Carpenter, Ryan Torrain, DeSean Jackson, Patrick Turner, Alex Brink, Sammie Stroughter, the list goes on and on. But what about the defensive side? Well, to be honest the list of best defensive players in the conference reads like a who's who of USC's depth chart. Outside of the Trojans there just isn't a whole lot of defensive talent in the PAC-10, which, if nothing else, should make for a whole bunch of really fun conference games.

Best Team

Walter: USC

Does USC have the best offense in the conference? Yes. Does USC have the best defense in the conference? Yes. Is USC the best team in the conference? Yes. Is it even close?....NO. Frankly there isn't a whole lot to say here since there is just no debate about the top team in the PAC-10. Hell, the Trojan's three deep is filled with more former Parade All-Americans than the Houston Texans' roster. Is there concern about losing both Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett? Probably. But is there anyone in America that doesn't believe Pete Carroll and Co. have the depth to replace those special players in an instant? No way. Put it this way, when USC lost Carson Palmer they replaced him with Matt Leinart. When they lost Leinart they replaced him with John David Booty. I don't think the Trojans are too worried about losing a pair of WR, no matter how good they were. Look, USC isn't invincible. There is the very real possibility that they could lose to Nebraska when they have to travel to Lincoln to play in front of a rabid crowd. But looking at the rest of the schedule, there is NO WAY they should lose enough games to finish anything other than first in the conference. Going to Cal (the 2nd best team in the conference) will be tough, and I think USC's date at Oregon has all the marking of a trap game, but still the only way USC loses either of those games is if they beat themselves. The PAC-10 will be fun, but let's be clear.....there is USC and then there is everyone else.

Frazier: USC

We should probably be doing our pick for the second best team in the conference here. This is the definition of a no-brainer. If USC doesn't shit the bed against UCLA last year, they're the returning champs. I saw what they did to Michigan in person, they would have slaughtered Ohio St. So fine, they lose two great wide receivers. Patrick Turner was the most highly touted receiver in the country when he came out of high school. Vidal Hazleton was a top recruit. I mean, they still may have the best receiving corps in the conference. They also have the best quarterback. Also, they have the best running backs. They have TEN top recruits vying for playing time in the backfield. Joe McNight will be making plays by the end of the year. Either that, or one of the other super-talented players at his position will have usurped him. Finally, USC has the best defense in the conference, and it isn't close. This team is absolutely stacked. Frankly, the only team that can beat USC in the conference is USC. Avoid the stupid mistakes that cost them a pair of close games last year, and it'll be another PAC-1o title and a shot at the championship.

Worst Team

Walter: Stanford

Ugh, they just can't get it right in Palo Alto. How do you turn around a once prominent program coming off a 1-11 season? Pump money into the program to improve facilities and lure some of the top in state talent. Hire a big name coach who is known as a recruiting ace (ahem ahem Butch Davis) and would definitely want to come work in beautiful California. Bring in a whole bunch of JUCO kids and get a few wins to put the team back on the national radar. All solid ideas, but none implemented by Stanford. Instead they went out and hired a 40 something year old former midwest QB with limited head coaching experience. Yeah sounds like a plan. Needless to say this will be a long, LONG year in Palo Alto. Jim Harbaugh is a nice guy and may eventually prove he was the right choice, but the returns are at least a few years away. Stanford is clearly the worst team in the PAC-10, and to boot they have loaded up with a pretty damn tough non conference schedule that includes San Jose State, TCU and Notre Dame. I mean what in the hell were they thinking scheduling those three teams? If they don't beat San Jose State or Washington at home, Stanford could be looking at 0-12.

Frazier: Stanford

BOOOOOO Harbaugh! Look, he seems like a friendly enough guy. Maybe some day he'll be a successful coach. But it won't be with Stanford, and it certainly won't be this season. Absolutely one of the most startling hires in recent history. Their non-conference schedule includes TCU and Notre Dame late in the season (when they may be dangerous). Frankly, the season may boil down to an early match-up against an underrated San Jose St. team. That could be their only shot at victory, and it won't come easily. I guess it's time to throw Stanford into the Baylor-Duke battle for worst BCS team. Ugh.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: DeSean Jackson, WR California

John David Booty does have all the numbers and the hype, but frankly Jackson is the most explosive offensive player in the conference......if you define offense as any phase of the game that puts points on the board. Booty is a great QB, but Jackson is a great wideout AND a great kick returner. As a WR, Jackson is the deep threat to end all deep threats. In 2006 Jackson went over the 1000 yard mark despite his small stature (6'0'' 166 lbs) and limited receptions (only 59 catches in 13 games). How'd he do this? By averaging 18 yards per catch and ripping off a slew of highlight reel touchdown plays. More impressive, however, was Jackson's prowess as a kick returner. Not only does he consistently give the Bears outstanding field position, but Jackson returned an absurd 4 punts for touchdowns in 2006, including an absolutely electric 95 yarder!!! The one knock on Jackson is that he needs to play better in big games. He didn't fare well against USC or UCLA, but he did come up big in Cal's bowl game win against Texas A & M. With Marshawn Lynch gone to the NFL, expect Jeff Tedford and Cal to open up the passing game more, and let Jackson loose vertically. More looks from Nathan Longshore mean more yards and more TD's. If Jackson continues to average nearly 20 yards per catch (and there is no reason to think he can't) we could be looking at a 70 catch, 1400 yard season before we even factor in his kick return stats. 15 total TD is not out of the question with Jackson's explosiveness.

Frazier: John David Booty, QB, USC

Sometimes the big man likes to outsmart himself. Jackson is a fine player as far as that goes, but he isn't going to have the kind of year Booty will. Booty was the top passer in the conference last season by a wide margin, and it won't be any closer this year. You KNOW USC is going to put up a ton of points, and you KNOW that Booty is going to be responsible for that. Carroll puts a lot of trust in his quarterbacks, and expects them to be leaders on the field. This USC team will succeed or fail as Booty takes them. Booty's numbers last season were almost as good as Leinert's before him, and so you can expect improvement this year, and a trip to NY for the Heisman ceremony.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Antoine Cason, CB Arizona

No surprise here as any 323 reader knows I harbor a huge man crush on Cason and dream of the day the Patriots make him a first round draft pick (if ever there was a corner born to be a NE Patriot it was Cason). Cason was hands down the best cornerback in the conference last season, and there is no reason to expect him to slow down. No he doesn't have a ton of picks (only 3 in each of the past two seasons) or passes broken up but that is because other teams simply don't bother with his side of the field. Arizona returns 10 starters to a stingy defense so there is no reason to think Cason won't continue his excellent play. The most impressive part of Cason's game, though, is just how physical he covers. At 6'0'' and 190 lbs. Cason is a tough as nails corner who excels in press coverage. His 4.5 speed is solid, but he's one of those guys who plays the game a lot faster than he runs the 40. Cason is the rare defensive back who can completely take away an entire half of the field, and he is the even rarer breed who does that AND helps out in run support. The Arizona Wildcats have been improving steadily these past few years, but the 2007 team will only go as far as Cason and the defense takes them.

Frazier: Antoine Cason, CB Arizona

Let's see, I picked him as an all-American last year. So it would make sense that he's my top defensive player this year. It's hard to go against the big man on this one. We're just in agreement. Let's take a look at what I wrote last December: He had 11 tackles, an interception, two passes defensed, and forced a fumble. That's an incredible stat line. Yep. It's still incredible. Nothing has changed here. Cason is a game-changer. He will make an entire side of the field disappear for a quarterback. There's simply no reason to go messing with Antoine. He's incredibly talented, and should probably be playing on Sundays this year. But since he's not, he's clearly the best defensive player in this conference. In the land of the shoot-outs, the man making the interceptions will be king.

Sleeper Team

Walter: Oregon

Oh the irony of ironies. 323 faithfuls will remember how consistently and furiously I derided Oregon last year as the most overrated team in the nation. And sure enough, after starting the season 7-2 Oregon went into the tank losing its last 4 games including three blowouts (35-10, 37-10, 38-8). Oh how sweet vindication was for me. But this is 2007, not 2006, and nobody is really talking about the Ducks despite the fact that 14 starters (7 on each side of the ball), including three superb offensive skills players and their best offensive lineman. In fact, QB Dennis Dixon, RB Jonathan Stewart, and WR Jaison Williams may be the best troika of skill players in the entire conference (and that includes USC). Particularly Stewart who has shown flashes of brilliance during his time in Eugene, and needs only good health to burst onto the national scene. At 5'11'' and 230 lbs. with blazing speed, Stewart is the complete package who will run behind future NFLer Max Unger and a big and nasty offensive line and might run himself all the way into the Heisman race by season's end. Dixon and Williams also had a monster 2006 campaign, and the passing game should be in good hands. I can't lie, it does worry me a bit that Dixon decided to play minor league baseball this summer instead of practicing with the Ducks football team, but he is just so damn talented that he should still be able to run this team. If he falters you could do worse that strong armed Senior backup Brady Leaf (yes, Ryan's little bro). The offense should put up points, which is good because the defense has a ton of holes. However, the strength of the D is in the secondary where Oregon returns 4 starters (out of 5 since they use a rover) including potential all conference, and human missile, Patrick Chung. While teams may be able to run on the Ducks, if Dennis Dixon, Jonathan Stewart and Co. live up to their potential, the Duck's opponents will have to play catchup. An early season game at Michigan will be tough and could put the Ducks under the gun right off the bat, but with California and USC visiting Eugene the Ducks will have plenty of opportunities to reestablish themselves as a national elite.

Frazier: Oregon

Dammit! Ok, I got talked into this one. First, I refuse to pick UCLA, because I think they're going to blow a couple of games they should win. What's the use of returning so many players if you couldn't get anything out of those players last year? Dorrell is a bum. I was hot on picking Oregon St. until the Sammie Stroughter situation, and a peak at their schedule. That thing does not look promising. Going to Cal, USC and Oregon is a tall task. So I'm going to go with the Ducks. First off, because they actually have a balanced offense. This is a proven group, and Dixon should improve his decision making. Belloti is really an underrated coach, and I love bringing in a UNH guy to guide the offense. They are going to score lots of points, and they'll be a blast to watch. The defense isn't going to be great, but I think a big upgrade in their second year can be expected from a pair of young corners. They get Cal and USC at home (which is a brutal place to visit) with their only tough conference road game against UCLA (more on that in a moment). Overall, the Ducks have a chance to be very good, and with an upset against one of the leagues elite in their formidable home environs (a definite possibility) they could be in the mix for the conference title.

Disappointing Team

Walter: Oregon State

Before the news of Sammie Stroughter's departure from the team Oregon State was still being overrated. Yes Yvenson Bernard is a great back who is vastly underrated, but the Beavers simply have too many holes to be a real contender in the PAC-10. In fact, their dismantling of USC may be their undoing as it has ratcheted up expectations to a level that the team simply cannot reach. Last year's team was outstanding, but a huge part of that was QB Matt Moore who was a warrior and an outstanding performer. He was underrated from the beginning of his career and the Beavers simply cannot replace such a huge part of their team. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Oregon State has the most brutal schedule in the entire conference. Their opening game is a doozy with a very tough Utah team coming into Corvallis to play a team breaking in a new QB without his top WR. It doesn't get any easier after the opening game with road trips to California, USC and Oregon, arguably the top three teams in the conference. Add in tough games at Washington State and at Cincinnati (a huge trap game in week two that Oregon State could need to avoid starting 0-2) and Oregon State has the makings of a very long season.

Frazier: UCLA

Everyone is getting all excited about the Bruins, and I just don't get it. What have Dorrell and company done to get everyone so stoked? If it's the win over USC last year, I'm unclear why that same anticipation hasn't been applied to Oregon St. Also, UCLA got BLASTED by FSU in their bowl game. That Florida St. team was terrible, and couldn't score points to save its' life. They were one of the most offensively inept teams in the country and the vaunted Bruins D gave up a staggering 44 points. Well, fool me once... I am no longer buying this bill of goods. Olson has started 5 games since 2001 (the first five of last year, when he had mediocre stats). That doesn't exactly indicate tremendous success to me. This team has been up and down for a couple of years now, and I don't see 2007 being any different. UCLA is going to choke badly on a couple of games this year despite their favorable schedule. It's the Karl Dorrell way.

Conference Preview: The Big 10  

Posted by Walter

Perhaps no conference in the nation has had more dirt thrown on them in the past 9 months than the Big 10.....and deservedly so. All year the Big 10 was perceived as a 2 horse conference, and, continuing on with that metaphor, both horses were taken to the glue factory when the season was over. Michigan was badly outclassed by USC in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State.....well we all know what happened to Ohio State. The one saving grace for the conference, perhaps, was everyone's darlings Wisconsin, who had a brilliant season mostly because they played the easiest schedule in the entire conference. Either way the Big 10 has appeared to fall behind some of its BCS counterparts during the offseason. Well it's make or break time now. With all the veteran talent returning to the top teams in the Big 10, the conference has no more excuses for another poor postseason performance.

Best Team

Walter: Michigan

This Michigan team is VERY interesting. With so much returning talent on offense Michigan haters want to paint them as the 2007 version of Notre Dame. Michigan lovers can only dream that they are more like Ohio State. I tend to fall with the latter group. The comparison to Ohio State is more apt for 2 main reasons. First, the strength of the Michigan offensive line. Unlike Notre Dame, Michigan returns what should be the biggest and baddest offensive line in the land. Led by all everything Jake Long, the Wolverine O-Line should be nothing short of dominant from the first snap of the 2007 season. Second, and more importantly, is the Michigan defense. Going into last season everybody knew two things: (i) Notre Dame wasn't going to be able to stop anyone, and (ii) Ohio State had more than enough defensive depth (thanks to superb recruiting) to replace all the talent lost to the NFL. Again, Michigan is clearly more similar to Ohio State. In fact, the similarities between the 2007 Wolverines and the 2006 Buckeyes are striking, right down to the star power returning on offense and the mass exodus to the NFL on defense. What remains to be seen is whether someone on Michigan will step up and take command of the team (and games) when the team needs it, a la Troy Smith last year. Chad Henne is good enough. Jake Long is tough enough. But my money is on little Mike Hart, who is the heart, soul, and spirit of Big Blue this year. Despite the fact that he is only 5'9'' the Wolverines will only go as far as Hart will take them.....and any Michigan fan who has seen this guy play for three years should feel very comfortable with that statement.

Frazier: Michigan

Best quarterback in the conference? Check. Best running back in the conference (with apologies to the Wisconsin Winnebago)? Check. Best wide receiver in the conference? Check. Best offensive lineman in the country? Check. So, basically, Michigan should score points. Lots of points. So what about the defensive side of the ball? Well, it's Michigan. Also, the schedule is squarely in the Wolverines favor. They have one significant road game (it's a doosy at Wisconsin) but otherwise they get the toughest tests at home. It's a tough schedule. But it's the Big Ten, and it's Michigan, so it's never easy. But it lines up as well as they could possibly hope. Yeah, Michigan lost a lot on defense. But Ohio St. lost their entire offense (and last year, people were saying their defense was a weakness, but they were very good all year). Big Blue is going to have some athletes, and Ron English really knows what he's doing. Shawn Crable will anchor the team, and lead the newbies until they get going. As overrated as the Michigan defense was last year, they are wholly underrated this season.

Worst Team

Walter: Indiana

Indiana has never been a good football program, let's be clear on that. They were not going to challenge for the Big 10 title this year. They weren't going to challenge for it next year. But they were headed in the right direction under the tutelage of the late Terry Hoeppner, and his loss is a major blow for the football community in Bloomington. Unfortunately for everyone, Hoeppner's death will probably take its toll on the football team as much on the field as it will off it. Aside from wideout James Hardy, the Hoosiers simply don't have enough talent to compete with any of the big boys in the Big 10. However, Hoeppner was loved and respected enough by his players to get them to play hard enough to compete with the lesser Big 10 programs like Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota. With Hoeppner's death still looming over the program, those schools have moved past the Hoosiers in terms of talent and consistency.

Frazier: Indiana

It's just depressing, and I'd rather not dwell on it. Coach Hep really had things going in the right direction. This is one prediction I really hope to be wrong about. Those kids deserve a great year, and I hope they can carry on their coach's proud legacy.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: Mike Hart, RB Michigan

Even with all the explosive talent in the conference, this may very well be the easiest selection of any we will make. No Mike Hart does not blaze all around the field like Steve Slaton. And no, Mike Hart will not plow into, through and around opposing defenders with the force of Darren McFadden. But what Mike Hart will do is get the job done, no matter what is asked of him. Hart is one of the few players in the nation who is truly more interested in helping his team win than getting his name in the newspaper (ironically enough, the Michigan Wolverines should do plenty of both this season). Making him even more special, is the fact that Hart excels at every aspect of the position. He may not have the flash of Steve Slaton, or the raw ability of Darren McFadden, but Mike Hart does all of the little things to make a team great. Don't get me wrong, Mike Hart will have his share of 150 yard, 3 TD performances this season, but perhaps even more important will be his 25 carry, 100 yard, 0 TD days when he grinds out the clock in the fourth quarter and leaves the scoring up to Chad Henne, Mario Manningham and Co. In an age where flash and brilliance grab the national spotlight, it's refreshing to see a player like Hart who is just so rock solid that you ask yourself what more you could ever want. Consider the following about little Mike Hart: Despite being 5'9'' and under 200 lbs. Mike Hart has carried the ball nearly 800 times for the Wolverines. He has scored nearly 30 times, and has never averaged under 4.4 yards per carry for the season. Yet you can count the number of times he has fumbled on one hand. On a team laden with offensive stars, Mike Hart is the one who you might notice least but makes the biggest impact. In a word, Mike Hart is the player who will get you three yards on third and 2.....every......single......time. And that is what makes him the best offensive player in one of the best offensive conferences.

Frazier: Mike Hart, Michigan

Dammit! I really wanted to go against the grain here. It's just, that, well it's not exactly easy to. Hart is a tough running back. He isn't sexy. He isn't flashy. He's a classic Big Ten workhorse. We here at the 323 are clearly enamored with the work ethic. The guy has lost a single fumble in his career. He takes care of the ball, pushes the pile, and consistently gets a yard when you need him to. Also helping are his competitors for this prize. Manningham may be the most talented of the top tier threats, but he will have to share receiving duties with a balanced group, and Michigan isn't going to throw the ball all over the field unless they have to. Henne is marked by his incredible consistency. His numbers are virtually the same for all three years he's been a starter. Which is good, because you know he'll have a good season, but it makes it hard to see a break-out coming. The guy hasn't grown enough as a player, at least statistically, although he's a much more effective leader now. Still, this would give me caution as a Wolverine fan. PJ Hill had a remarkable freshman season, but I have issues with fat, slow running backs. I believe he's a product of incredible offensive line coaching, and he's as likely to get a flat tire as have a huge season. The only other name of note is Anthony Morelli, and while the PSU quarterback has all the talent in the world, he'll need a HUGE leap forward to enter this debate. Frankly, it's Hart, and everybody else in his rearview. Just where he expects to see them on Saturdays.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Jack Ikegwuonu, CB Wisconsin

This was a tough choice. As you all may know, as a former linebacker I am usually partial to that position on the defensive side of the ball. After all, linebackers are responsible for stopping the run......and defending the pass.......and rushing the passer.........and calling the defense.........and making sure the big dumb defensive lineman are aligned properly.......the list goes on. So why a defensive back? Well, simply put, it was just too tough to choose between all the great Big 10 linebackers. How can you pick between all the great LB's? Dan Connor or James Laurinaitis? Mike Klinkenborg or Jeremy Leman? Marcus Freeman or Sean Lee? See, it's impossible. So instead of giving into temptation and simply picking one of many great linebackers, I decided to go with the actual best, and most unique, defensive player in the conference. Though he is still raw, at 6'1'' and nearly 200 lbs. Ikegwuonu has quickly grown up into an elite defensive back. As a true sophomore, Ikeqwuonu displayed lock down corner cover skills in 2006 and exceptional speed for a man his size (yeah, that was Ikegwuonu you might remember running down Darren McFadden from behind in the bowl game). Even more impressive, was how physically Ikegwuonu dominated games. Not only was he the best press cover man in the conference, but he was an absolute missile filling the lane in run support. Normally a coach is thrilled to get a corner who is willing to do two of those three things (man cover, press cover, run support), and is able to do one well. Ikegwuonu is the rare player who can and does do all three things. With solid cover man Allen Langford playing opposite him, teams will not be able to simply avoid Ikegwuonu all season. He will get his chances for big plays, and if his 2 picks and 11 passes broken up (!!) from 2006 are any indication, he will make the most of his opportunities.

Frazier: Dan Connor, LB, Penn St.

Look, I own a turtle named after a Penn St. linebacker. So this should come as no surprise. Frankly, Connor was the best linebacker for the Nittany Lions last season, even better than Puz (a 323 favorite, who is going to have an excellent NFL career). He's going to be the man controlling the middle, making plays, and being Joe Pa's "brain" on the field. Connor was a stud for this team last year, and he'll absolutely anchor what should be an excellent defense. Linebacker U is definitely living up to its' name, with Dan Connor as the newest member of that elite fraternity.

Sleeper Team

Walter: Iowa

Iowa is in an interesting predicament this season. With all eyes on the big three (Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State) as the favorites, and with Illinois and Purdue getting plenty of sleeper love, nobody seems to be talking about the Hawkeyes. And that is just fine with Kirk Ferentz and Co. In fact, no coach enjoys flying under the radar more than Ferentz. If history has taught us anything it's that Ferentz's Hawkeyes always play their best football when nobody expects anything from them. This alone would make them ripe for sleeper status, but wait there's more. How about 8 starters returning from a very physical defense, including three potential all conference performers in MLB Mike Klinkenborg, and DE's Bryan Mattison and Ken Iwebema. How about the return of star tailback Albert Young who finally appears healthy after an injury marred 2006 and should team with last year's fill in Damian Sims to form a very formidable backfield. And how about a schedule that features no Michigan, no Ohio State and a home slate that includes MAC foe Norther Illinois, Big East cellar dweller Syracuse and Western Michigan. True the Hawkeyes have to travel to both Wisconsin and Penn State, but even if they lose both those games, Ferentz's crew should still finish no worse than 9-3. And who's to say Iowa can't win at either location. Their defense should be so good that they'll be in every single game, and they have plenty of skill position talent returning on offense. Yes leader Drew Tate is gone, but redshirt sophomore Jake Christiensen is ready to step in, and while he doesn't yet play with Tate's fire, Christiensen has proven, in limited playing time, that he may have more raw skills throwing the football than the weak armed Tate did. If Iowa can replace three starters on their offensive line, something that shouldn't be a problem with the best offensive line coach in the world leading the program, this team could sneak up on the entire conference.

Frazier: Purdue

Ok, this was difficult for me. I LOVED the big man's selection of Iowa. A brilliant call. They are being completely overlooked, and I love Ferentz. Frankly, I'm jealous he gets to go first for these things. My second choice was going to be predicting Penn St. to have a fabulous year. However, if I jinxed them, I probably would be killed in cold blood. So I turned my attention to Purdue, and I like what I see. The schedule is doable, tough road games at Michigan and Penn St. will be battles, but otherwise things look pretty good. They get Michigan at home, and that game could be an absolute shoot-out. It should be a fun one. Purdue also has Joe Tiller, who has had a lot of success at Purdue, without a lot of publicity. Most interestingly, Purdue is going to score boatloads of points. Curtis Painter is absolutely unconscious (in the best possible way) at quarterback. The nation's sixth best passing team is returning all the key pieces, and Painter can even make plays with his legs. They are going to be filthy. Yes, their defense was abysmal last year, but now they have nowhere to go but up! Purdue may not be a perfect team, but they're always going to have a punchers chance. It's a group nobody is looking forward to playing, and they may end up having a huge year.

Disappointing Team

Walter: Wisconsin

I don't love doing this, because I love what coach Bret Bielema has done in his limited time at Wisconsin. The thing is, I think that people are just starting to expect a little too much from this team. True, they were great last year, but let's take a look at their schedule. Their best win of the regular season was a 13-3 slugfest over Penn State. They lost to the only legitimate top team they played when they got smacked 27-13 at Michigan. And of their 12 wins only the Penn State, Arkansas (bowl) and Iowa wins can be considered truly impressive. The other nine wins came against a division 1AA team (Western Illinois) and 8 1A teams with a combined record of 34-65! Not exactly challenging yourself every week, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would call this Badger team "battle tested." We'll see what will happen when Wisconsin is challenged week in and week out in 2007. It's true they have PJ Hill returning to an offense that loses only 2 starters (although those 2 starters were all everything LT Joe Thomas and veteran, and consistently underrated, QB John Stocco), and a defense that should be outstanding, but Wisconsin does not have the luxury of a cakewalk schedule in 2007. In addition to finding Ohio State back on the schedule (as an away game no less), Wisconsin will have to travel to Penn State, to a much improved Illinois team, and to UNLV in an early season trap game. To make matters worse, Wisconsin has to travel to Ohio State and host Michigan in consecutive weeks. Bret Beilema is a great coach, but it is going to be nearly impossible for this Wisconsin team to make it through the Big 10 unscathed as many pundits believe they will. Even with all the returning starters this is still a very young team, and that is where losing Thomas and Stocco is really going to burn them.

Frazier: Wisconsin

This pick was really pretty easy. Wisconsin may have been a bunch of smoke and mirrors last year. They beat up on light competition, got bruised by Michigan, and then had a nice win against an Arkansas team that seemed to run out of gas, and finally succumb to the fact that they lacked a quarterback. Wisconsin had 200 total yards against Arkansas in that win, while the Hogs shot themselves in the foot numerous times (interceptions, missed field goals, 123 yards of penalties). Basically, I'm not sold. They also have a molasses-slow running back (who is vastly overrated). Hill is going to suffer without Joe Thomas paving the way this year. He's a guy who needs a head of steam to do damage, and relies on excellent line play. Also, the Badgers are breaking in a new quarterback, which could be dangerous. John Stocco was not Dan Marino, but the kid could manage close ballgames, and it's hard to imagine anyone stepping in and doing a similar job. The schedule gets tougher with trips to Penn St. and Ohio St. along with a late season battle against Michigan. I like Bielema, but Wisconsin has long been a team that has gotten close, and failed to deliver. They're a good team, not a great one. The Badgers were overrated last year, and will be exposed when the lights start shining brightly on Madison.

Conference Preview: The Big 12  

Posted by Walter

Is it just me or does it seem like the quality of a college football season is directly related to the quality of play in the Big 12? Maybe, maybe not, but I know one thing for certain, I feel a lot better when the good old southern boys put competitive teams on the field. This should be the most competitive year in the Big 12 in quite some time. Oklahoma and Texas are still the leaders of the pack, but it looks like traditional powers like Nebraska, Texas A & M, and Missouri are finally ready to step back into the big time and assert themselves on a national level. Better yet, for the first time in a long time there is a full slate of marquee non conference games featuring Big 12 elite (Kansas State @ Auburn, USC @ Nebraska, Miami @ Oklahoma, TCU @ Texas, Oklahoma State @ Georgia, Texas A & M @ Miami). Let the games begin.

Best Team

Walter: Oklahoma

Tough call. It's seems like all the smart money is either on Texas (as per usual) or Nebraska (hoping for a huge win over USC early in the year), but I'm going with Oklahoma. Outside of the gaping hole they have at quarterback, the Sooners are absolutely stacked. Offensively, there will be no excuses for whoever is under center. Oklahoma returns the best offensive line in the country, and sport a pair of running backs that should be able to approximate Adrien Peterson's production. Senior Allen Patrick proved last year that he was a capable replacement, and freshman DeMarco Murray should become the next great Sooner back. On the outside, Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias have the potential to become something special. Particularly the 6'4'' 220 lbs. Kelly, who, as a Junior, could be the first wideout taken in next year's NFL draft. As for the other side of the ball......well no surprise that they lost a ton of talent to the NFL. And perhaps even less surprising is the fact that Bob Stoops and Co. have even more NFL ready talent to take over. The Sooner secondary should be by far the best in the nation, which plays to their advantage in the suddenly pass happy Big 12. You'd be hard pressed to find a better paid or corners than Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker, and Nic Harris is a rising superstar at safety. The talent and experience in the secondary should allow the rest of the defense plenty of time to gel while integrating new talent. Once again things should come down to the Red River Shootout with Texas in Dallas, but if Oklahoma can get by the Longhorns they have a legitimate chance to go undefeated and play for the national title since their toughest road game is at Texas Tech. With such a favorable schedule, the Sooners have to be considered a real dark horse candidate to play in the national title game.

Frazier: Texas

This isn't exactly a tough call. Texas was 9-1 (with their only loss coming early in the year to the Buckeyes) until Colt McCoy went down. They lost their next two games by a combined eight points. Frankly, this team was very close to a 11-1 season heading into a major BCS game (would they have lead-frogged Florida? We'll never know). This year they return their quarterback, top running back, and top two receivers. Their offense is STACKED! On the defensive side of the ball it's not a bunch of slouches either. They are going to have an excellent defensive line, and running against this bunch will be near impossible. Mack Brown is going to have athletes all over the field, and you just have to expect this team to have playmakers. Everyone believed last year that this squad would be too young to achieve greatness, but they were almost a year early. Expect this year to be a special one in Austin.

Worst Team

Walter: Baylor

You know what the worst thing to ever happen to Baylor was? Greg Schiano. For years Baylor and Rutgers were the two teams nobody could figure out. In the heart of Texas and New Jersey respectively, both schools had ample recruiting bases but couldn't even begin to turn that into wins. It was maddening for the fans, no doubt, but on a national level at least there were two schools who were wasting talent. Well, thanks to Schiano and Rutgers' magical 2006 season we may be down to one wasteful school. Baylor returns only 11 starters from a woeful 2006 season that saw them win only 4 games. While 7 returning starters on defense, including rising star linebacker Joe Pawelek, should be enough to keep some games close, it looks to be another LONG year in WACO for the offense who have to deal with installing a new quarterback, a new running back, and several starters on the offensive line. The bottom line, Baylor is going to struggle on both sides of the ball simply because the offense is going to be so bad and the defense is bound to get tired. Another thing, the schedule makers didn't do them any favors. Aside from an incredibly tough season opener at TCU, Baylor's final 8 games are all against top Big 12 competition and even there softest game (Kansas) comes on the road. All I know is that the Bears better beat Texas State and Buffalo early in the year because Rice will be no cake walk, and that final leg of the schedule is nothing short of murderous.

Frazier: Baylor

Do I even need to get into it here? The big man laid out the basics of any argument, and frankly, it's hardly a surprise. Baylor has traditionally been the weak sister of this conference, and nothing has changed. Every once in awhile Iowa St. or Colorado, or Texas Tech will suffer a down year, but Baylor is the team that delivers (or fails to deliver) year in and year out. They're just awful. Hell, I'm calling it now, Baylor will be the worst team in the Big 12 in 2014. You heard it here first.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: Sam Keller, QB Nebraska

What about Colt McCoy? Colt this! McCoy has the numbers thank to 6 TD performances against the likes of Sam Houston State and those other cupcakes the Longhorns schedule each year (this year it's Arkansas State and UCF), but frankly I think I could put up 200 yards and two scores on those clowns. After losing his job, shockingly, to Rudy Carpenter at Arizona State, Keller has a real chance for redemption in Bill Callahan's West Coast attach in Lincoln. Keller's been sitting on the bench for a full year now, learning the playbook and itching to get back onto the field. He has a huge chip on his shoulder thanks to Dirk Koetter, and at Nebraska has all the weapons he needs to succeed. Everything is in place for Keller to put up awesome numbers this season and prove all his doubters wrong. With solid running backs, and a potentially devastating offensive line (really when is a Nebraska OL not potentially devastating) the field should open up for Keller in a way it never did at Arizona State. Senior receivers Maurice Purify and Terrance Nunn are both quality pass catchers who can stretch the field and take advantage of Keller's soft touch down the seams. And best of all, with no Oklahoma on the schedule, Keller avoids the one Big 12 secondary that could actually shut down an opposing team's passing attack.

Frazier: Sam Keller, QB Nebraska

I'm actually a little mad at the big man for stealing my thunder on this one. When I was thinking about this preview I got incredibly proud of coming up with Keller, and then it turns out that I'm not the only person who is able to see the potential for a MONSTER season. Look, there hasn't been a Pac-10 caliber passer in the Big 12 in, well, a long time. I mean a REALLY long time. Sure, McCoy may put up some numbers, but he isn't a gun slinger the way Keller is. If Zac Taylor can put up big numbers under Callahan, just imagine what a competent quarterback will do! The Huskers are prohibitive favorites in the Big 12 North, and so Keller is going to have plenty of opportunity to flash his skills in big games. Frankly, the conference hasn't seen a player like him in a long time. While I miss the four yards and a cloud of dust approach (or when it was really firing, twelve yards and a pile of would-be tacklers) I've got to say that Keller certainly has a chance to be a unique quarterback in Nebraska history.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Ian Campbell, OLB Kansas State

Campbell really came out of nowhere in 2006, but he did it in a big way (17.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks). At 6'5'' but only 230 lbs. the Wildcats love Campbell on the outside rushing the passer, but move him to a hybrid DE/OLB position this year to put him in a better position to make plays in the running game. Campbell is a classic tweener who should make his home at OLB in a 3-4 scheme. Wherever he plays, Campbell has way too much speed and way too many pass rush moves to not make his presence known. Unlike most other 230 lbs. ends, Campbell is not afraid to stick his nose in there against the run and relishes being a disruptive force against running backs as much as he does against passers. The big challenge for Kansas State this year will be to move Campbell around enough so that he is the best position to make plays all the time. With opposing offenses keying on him and accounting for him on every play, coach Ron Prince will have to come up with some new schemes to get his best player around the football. With Campbell's ability, he'll find the ball no matter what.

Frazier: Frank Okam, DT Texas

Frank Okam may not win many awards, but it doesn't mean he isn't the best defensive player. He's not flashy. He's not going to get 11.5 sacks. It just won't happen. What will happen is that he will destroy any attempts to gain ground up the middle. He led the nations fourth best rushing defense last year, and they will be better this time around. Okam will take up two blockers at all times, allowing his teammates to make the highlight reel. Okam will push the pile backwards every chance he gets. Okam will put his big paws on a couple of pass attempts. Okam will haunt the nightmares of opposing quarterbacks, and will make even the bravest running back seriously consider trying to break one outside to avoid big Frank. Okam will be the best defensive player in the conference.

Sleeper Team

Walter: Oklahoma State

Not a whole lot to dislike about this Cowboys team....except the schedule. With 8 starters returning on offense and seven on defense, Oklahoma State is one of the most experienced teams in the entire conference. Last year super-recruit Bobby Reid finally lived up to his billing, and the offense exploded. This year he has another year under his belt as a starter, throw in returning star RB Dantrelll Savage, leading WR Adarious Bowman and a strong offensive line, and the Cowboys have the makings of a special offense. Oklahoma State put up points last year, but struggled with consistency. Particularly the passing game had long stretches where they didn't play up to snuff. Consistency comes with experience and will all the key parts returning, the Cowboys passing game has a chance to be special. The defense is nothing special, but they are experienced and should be able to at least slow the opposition down enough to get Reid and Co. the ball back. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, though, the schedule makers decided to make things difficult on them this year. Opening the year with a killer non conference game (@ Georgia) won't help things, especially when they have two killer conference road games later in the year (@ Nebraska and @ Oklahoma). The Cowboys get Texas at home, making them one of the few teams with the misfortune of having all three Big 12 favorites on the schedule. But that's why they are a sleeper team. They simply aren't going to win all four of those games, but if they can steal one or two of them, and hold serve at home, we could be talking about a team that is 10-2 with a real shot to play in the Big 12 championship game.

Frazier: Missouri

Well, I was all ready to anoint Nebraska again this year, and then I took a moment to do some schedule shopping. I have to say, I like what I see. Mizzou has only 4 road games (along with 2 neutral site games, imminently winnable contests against Illinois and Kansas). The real roadies are at Ole Miss (should be a W) K-State (must win) Colorado (even more a should win) and Oklahoma (only really brutal road game). Their biggest game of the year is a home tilt against Nebraska, but they've won the last two meetings in Columbia. They also have Chase Daniels, and eight returning starters on a potent offense. They also have the best tight end combo in the country. Although they have a slew of new defenders, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the defense was a disaster last year. Several are juco talents expected to contribute right away. While you can't say for certain that Mizzou is going to put it all together, you can certainly say they have a chance to win the Big 12 North, with a legit shot at the BCS. They have the talent, and the favorable schedule, to do some serious damage.

Disappointing Team

Walter: Texas A & M

It hurts me to do this because I really love the Aggies' personnel. We all know how much I adore Stephen McGee, the second coming of Kenny Stabler, and who among us doesn't enjoy watching 280 lbs. Jorvorski Lane crash through defenders. Overall this should be a fun and talented team, capable of winning every week. However, the Aggies' problem is twofold. First, they have never, and I mean NEVER, been able to play consistently under Dennis Franchione. I mean one minute they are going toe to toe with Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas, and the next minute they're getting blown out 45-10 by California. The talent is at College Station, clearly, but the consistency still eludes this program. The second problem for the 2007 Aggies the bear that is their schedule. @ Miami, @ Texas Tech, @ Nebraska, @ Oklahoma, @ Missouri , Texas at home.....is there a harder schedule in the nation? Each of those games could be described as devastating, and there are six of them! Hell, they only play 12 games total!!! Even if A & M wins at Miami and enters the second half of their schedule 6-0, you can just about take it to the bank that they're going to lose at least three games on exhaustion alone. Aside from Miami, all of the aforementioned games occur within a 6 week span! Consistency issues notwithstanding, there isn't a team in the nation that could stand up to that kind of late season schedule. This is the best team Franchione has ever had in College Station, and I will be rooting for them, but this schedule is just going to be too much to overcome.

Frazier: Oklahoma

I guess the real question is whether this team is really better than the one that took a diluted Big 12 last year (thanks to the McCoy injury) and then lost to Boise St. in their bowl game. I tend to think that they aren't. Any defensive gains they've seen will be offset by the loss of their quarterback and running back (who was by far their best player). The receivers are nice, but someone has to get them the ball. Paul Thompson was one of the most underrated players in the entire country last year, and people don't realize how badly he will be missed. The quarterback position is in serious flux, and I'm not sure Patrick Allen is going to be able to be THE man this year. Also, the defensive line is going to need to prove something. It's not the most experienced unit, and will need to develop. I just think this is a team that isn't as good as the last year's edition, and that team was fatally flawed. The Big 12 is better overall as a conference, it's just that Oklahoma isn't.

Quick Hitch....  

Posted by Frazier

Ok, I have to mention this article by Pat Forde (a 323 favorite) about Darren McFadden (aka the Swiss Army Running Back, and another 323 favorite). It's pretty incredible for a number of reasons:

1: McFadden's mother had a serious drug addiction, and TWELVE children. Darren has been through a LOT in his young life. Let's hope that his large family is a gift for him, and not a situation where his talents are being relied on to take care of everyone. That's just too much weight for any young man to bear.

2: McFadden's interview is hilarious. He literally says nothing. I'd like to think he was inspired by Bill Belichick.

3: I think the story about how he injured his toe is very telling. He did it kicking the shit out of a guy at a bar (bad) who was trying to steal his brother's car (well, good, he was standing up for his brother, that's admirable) at 4am (bad, why the hell was he at a bar, especially when he's only 19). He was wearing flip-flops at the time (moderately hilarious).

Sometimes even if you're trying to do the right thing, being at the wrong place at the wrong time is trouble enough. Also, he learned quickly that he's not just a football player. He has not only the weight of a large family who needs him, but also all of Razorback nation on his shoulders. As much as I'm incredibly excited about what he will do this year and in the future (he will be a beast at the next level) I'm worried that having to carry so much will be too tough for him to take.
Super utility knife, or Arkansas running back?
McFadden is both. Hell, with him on their side,
Switzerland wouldn't need to be neutral.

Conference Preview: The ACC  

Posted by Walter

Is this the year the ACC finally makes the jump from full time basketball conference to football powerhouse? Most would say no, but we say........maybe. For years the ACC was Florida State and everyone else. Then came the great expansion and it became FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech and a bunch of basketball schools. So how can it be that the ACC is deeper and better than ever this football season, when two of its traditionally premier programs (Miami and FSU) are in the crapper? Well, having Virginia Tech and its smothering defense around helps, but the real answer lies in the projected emergence of several other programs.

Best Team

Walter: Georgia Tech

What???? No Virginia Tech? What about Beamer, and that defense, and the entire community rallying around the Hokie football team? Nope, nope, and nope. The best team in the ACC this year will be the Yellowjackets, a team not even ranked in the initial coaches poll. Last year Wake Forest proved that a team can win the ACC with a smothering defense, solid running game, and a mistake free offense. Let's call this year's Georgia Tech team Wake Lite. With Reggie Ball (finally) gone from behind center, I fully expect the offense to flourish....even without Calvin Johnson. Taylor Bennett is a far superior passer to Ball, and even without CJ the Yellowjackets have several playmakers on the outside including returning starter James Johnson and incoming freshman Demaryius Thomas (who has been all the talk of summer ball). Add in the ACC's best running back in Tashard Choice and 4 returning starters on the offensive line and you've got yourself the makings of a very solid offensive football team. As good as the offense might be, though, Georgia Tech's defense should be even better. That unit returns 8 starters, including all everything linebacker Phillip Wheeler. While there aren't many guys who are household names yet, this unit should be stifling as they swarm the ball, not unlike Wake Forest of a year ago. While this unit may not be as full of NFL talent as the Virginia Tech unit, remember that while VTech has three touch road games, Georgia Tech gets the Hokies at home.

Frazier: Virginia Tech

Um, yeah. While my esteemed colleague seems determined to go off the reservation for this pick, I'm actually just going to anoint the best team in the conference. They DO have a smothering defense. They also have an excellent coach. They have FSU, Miami and BC at home. I don't care if the Florida teams are "down" those are not places anyone can go and expect a win. They are returning Brandon Ore who may be the best running back in the conference. Also, Sean Glennon may not be a superstar, but in a crop of weak ACC quarterbacks, he should be more than adequate. Having a good crop of wide receivers, led by Eddie Royal, certainly won't hurt. And then, of course, there is the defense. This is a unit that gave up a paltry 11 points/game last year, and should be even better this time around. They have depth all over, and are led by Hall and Adibi at the linebacker position. As always, they will be well-disciplined, and can be expected to make some huge plays on special teams. Their defense was better than the Yellow Jackets last year, and it will be this year. They also have more stability on offense, and the best player on that side of the ball in Ore. The biggest problem for Va. Tech is the fact that they seem to play their worst when the most is expected of them. Add the high expectations to the incredible emotion that will be felt every time they take the field in the wake of last year's tragedy, and it may prove to be a little much for this team to carry. Still, they have to be considered THE elite of the ACC.

Worst Team

Walter: Duke

Is it even a question? There was a nice story to come out last year about how, after yet another 0-12 season, the University pledged its support to the team and promised to provide extra funding to help improve the situation. However, that's all this was, a nice story. One year later and Duke is still a joke, only this time with a tougher schedule. Seriously, I think someone at the NCAA has it out for the Blue Devils (maybe a deranged Tarheel fan?), how else can they justify saddling the worst team in the ACC with a late season 5 game stretch that features three of the top ACC teams at home (VTech, Georgia Tech, Clemson) sandwiched around road trips to Florida State and Notre Dame? For a team that hasn't won a game in over a year, that just seems excessive.

Frazier: Duke

Ouch. Their best bet is either to bring back Steve Spurrier (look, if South Carolina's admissions policy gave him fits, I'd hate to imagine how he'd handle Duke these days) or get Coach K. on the sidelines. At least he could film another Am Ex commercial or something. They are going to be terrible. It will be painful to watch, and many people will once again forget that they really do play 1-A football in Durham. I know, it even SOUNDS weird. I think they should be forced to play Baylor every year to really give one of those teams a chance to win something.

Offensive Player of the Year

Walter: Matt Ryan, QB Boston College

Yes I am homer. Yes I recently bought BC season tickets. And yes I believe this is the best returning BC team in quite some time. But no this is not a selection simply to give my boy some props.....well not entirely. The bottom line is that Matt Ryan is clearly the best quarterback in the ACC and he should put up awesome numbers. However, if not for the presence of two studs in the Clemson backfield, one of them would be taking home this award. James Davis and CJ Spiller are both outstanding talents, but they are each going to take away carries, yards and touchdowns from the other. Since I refuse to choose both of them to win this award, it dutifully fell to Ryan. Ryan quietly had an outstanding season as a Junior, playing most of the games on a bum ankle. With his leg finally healthy, and a new coach who has vowed to open up the playbook, everything is lining up for Ryan to steal the show this season. And that's a good thing for the Eagles. Although their top 2 rushers return (Andre Callender and LV Whitworth), BC lost a lot on the outside and really need Ryan to step up and make plays with mostly unproven receivers. Kevin Challenger is a keeper on one side, but either Brandon Robinson or Clarence Megwa need to step up. With three starters returning to form what should be a dominant offensive line, Ryan should be able to spread the ball around enough until someone emerges opposite Challenger.

Frazier: CJ Spiller

What can I say, I have a soft spot for running backs who go for 1,000 yards and 7.3 yards/carry. At least at first they'll have him split carries with Davis, but at some point he's simply going to pull away from the pack (as he does on many of his runs). As a Freshman last year, Spiller was simply untapped potential. But he's got a year of seasoning now, a year of conditioning, and he's going to be bigger, and stronger, and he'll still be able to pull away from defenders and turn on a dime. As much as anything, Tommy Bowden will be desperate. Which means he won't be afraid to use his best player as much as possible in an attempt to save his job. In a league of crummy quarterbacks (Matt Ryan included) it's a running back who's going to be the most important player in the conference. CJ Spiller is definitely the most talented one, it's only a matter of whether Clemson let's him run wild.

Defensive Player of the Year

Walter: Calais Campbell, DE Miami

Simply put Calais Campbell is a man child. He is the rare defensive lineman who can completely take over a game (as Campbell did against Boston College last season, nearly single handedly winning that game for the Canes). Still "learning the ropes" as a Sophomore last season, Campbell was able to register 10.5 sacks and an utterly absurd 20.5 tackles for a loss. At 6'8'' and 280 lbs. Campbell has the size to be productive against the run as well as rushing the passer, and the scariest thing is he still has room to grow. Well perhaps the scariest thing is that teams simply aren't going to be able to double and triple team Campbell all day, thanks to the presence of pass rushing end Eric Moncur. Last year Campbell was flanked by Baraka Atkins, a solid player, but certainly not someone with the explosion and pass rushing potential of Moncur. Thanks to his presence, Campbell should see his fair share of one-on-one matchups, which, frankly, are mismatches no matter who the offensive lineman is.

Frazier: Chris Long

I talked about him last year, and you can be sure you'll be hearing plenty about him this year. A big, 6'4 284 lb. DE who has a great motor, and a high football IQ. Chris isn't some glory end making sacks and forgetting his responsibilities against the run. He is a disruptive pass rusher, with long arms, great size and strength and a nose for the football. He's also a running back's worst nightmare. As a first-team preseason All-American he's been getting plenty of hype, but being the son of Hall of Famer, Howie, probably doesn't hurt either. Last year Virginia had the 20th best defense in the country, and Chris led them there without a ton of help. He's easily the best player on an underrated defense, and instead of going for glory he's the kind of guy willing to get down and dirty to help his team win. If you're looking for him on the highlight reel, he may be difficult to spot, because he'll be covered in mud, at the bottom of the pile.

Sleeper Team

Walter: Clemson

If not now for the Tigers then when? Again, this is one of those teams that seems to do much better when the hype just isn't there. After shattering their faithful's high hopes last year, Clemson returns a team that, while not as star laden, has a better overall chance to make some good things happen in the ACC. Starting QB Will Proctor is gone (I think that's a good thing), and while the Tigers need a successor to step up, the talent is there in Junior Cullen Harper and super recruit Willie Korn. And frankly, the situation couldn't possibly be better for breaking in a new QB. Clemson returns the best left tackle in the ACC in Barry Richardson, and by far the most lethal backfield tandem of James Davis and CJ Spiller. This is just a gut feeling, but I think Spiller is going to be a monster this year. In the past we've seen spurts from him, but his vision and quickness is just so good that despite the presence of Davis, Coach Tommy Bowden is going to have to get him the ball. Regardless of how the carries are split up, Davis and Spiller should be able to carry the load until a new QB settles in. On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson returns 7 starters, and while none of big names, this should be a very tough unit. Linebackers Nick Watkins and Antonio Clay should be all ACC caliber, and the front seven should still be amongst the best in the conference despite losing Gaines Adams to the NFL. Perhaps even more important, though, is the way the schedule breaks for the Tigers. Although they have a tough opener against Florida State, they get them at Death Valley. If the Tigers can get past that game, they should be 4-0 when they travel to Georgia Tech for their only tough road game of the season (Virginia Tech, Wake, BC and South Carolina all have to come to Clemson).

Frazier: Virginia

Yes, I'm a homer too. But I am actually a little excited about this year's team. We DO have the 20th ranked defense returning, and Chris Long will be our anchor. We are returning 19 players, and have a coach who HAS to win now. We also have a schedule as soft as could possibly be expected. With a cushy first few weeks, the offense may be able to get its' sea legs and Jameel Sewell can be expected to show great improvement over a shaky freshman season. With all five linemen returning on the offensive side, Cedric Peerman and the other running backs will have some opportunities. If the offense can grow, the defense has a chance to be very good, and the schedule is definitely in their favor. Oh, what the hell, GO HOOS!

Disappointing Team

Walter: Virginia Tech

I just don't see what the big hype is around this team. Yes they have a great defense. Yes Frank Beamer is a great coach. And yes it would be a great story in light of the tragedy that occurred on campus this past year. But maybe I'm wrong, but don't you have to score some points to win football games. Look, we all love Beamer ball (most of all the media), but I think Virginia Tech has proven that you simply cannot win consistently when you rely on blocking kicks as your primary source of points. In fact, for as many kicks and returns as VTech has scored on over the years, the one time they actually went somewhere was the one season they had what you would call a dynamic playmaker on offense (maybe you remember Mike Vick). The 2007 Hokie edition seems just more of the same. The defense will be great, but the offense is built around a shaky quarterback in Sean Glennon, and a solid but unspectacular back in Brandon Ore. Ore is solid, don't get me wrong, but he is NOT a gamebreaker. He is a grinder, someone who belongs in the Big 10. While Ore will do his job to move the chains, Glennon and his receivers are not good enough to make the big plays this offense will need in their biggest games. Sure the Hokie defense and special teams will steal a few games, but I simply cannot see this team going anywhere without consistent production from its offense, especially given the schedule. Virginia Tech has a nice team, but there is no way, and I mean NO WAY, they are going to go into LSU, Clemson, and Georgia Tech and win all three games with that offense. It just ain't gonna happen. Not to mention the murderous stretch of schedule they have in the second half of the year. If they lost to LSU they will be 4-1 when they head to Clemson to start the second half of the year. After that game they go to Duke before having to deal with Boston College, @ Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and @ Virginia (rivalry game) the next 5 weeks. Are you kidding me?

Frazier: Boston College

I share Walter's concerns that the Hokies may spit the bit. They certainly have a history of doing that. On the other hand, I'm more worried that BC will blow a golden opportunity. They are the proud owners of possibly the only worthwhile quarterback in the entire conference. Matt Ryan is head and shoulders above the rest (not too difficult when surrounded by those other midgets). They also return both of their solid running backs, and nine starters on defense. After a 9-3 campaign, expectations are deservedly high. Things may even start well, if they can get past an early battle with Georgia Tech. However, the back end of the schedule is a killer. They travel to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech in consecutive weeks. Than they face FSU, which may have figured themselves out by that time. Then it's back on the road against Maryland (a team no one in the ACC relishes facing, especially with the Fridge mixing things up) followed by a trip to Death Valley. Then they end the year against Miami (another team who may struggle, but should have enough talent to be dangerous especially at the end of the season). It's a killer stretch, and BC hasn't shown a ton of mental toughness the past several years. I can see them come storming out of the gates, on their way to a great year, and then stumble horrendously down the stretch. Just like last year when they choked against NC State and then again at Miami, I am predicting not only a disappointing season in general, but an actual let-down in the middle of a season that will seem so promising halfway in.

Of course this prediction probably just cost me a couple of games with the big man. Oh well, at least now he knows not to get his hopes up in early October.

The Team

How's the look?