Citizen Staff Writer
By ANTHONY GIMINOemail@example.com
It’s not really the Year of the Quarterback.
Which makes it the Year of the Quarterback.
Follow us here, because quarterback play – notably, that from young quarterbacks – should be one the big stories in the race for the national championship.
When USC lost 11 draft picks off last year’s team (including QB Matt Leinart) and Texas’ Vince Young walked away with one season of eligibility remaining, it left several of college football’s elite teams in one of two camps.
Those with star quarterbacks and questionable defense (Ohio State and Notre Dame). And those with star defenses and questionable quarterbacks (USC, Texas and Oklahoma).
Other teams fall somewhere in the middle, and perhaps those more balanced teams (Auburn? West Virginia? Florida?) will end up being the most serious of national championship contenders.
But before it is all over, there is a good chance that this wild ride to the finish – there is no clear-cut No. 1 this season, with all of the top teams having potentially fatal flaws – will rise and fall on the arm of a rookie quarterback.
• At Texas, redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead are battling to be the (less-exciting) heir to the crazy-legged Young.
• At USC, redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez is challenging little-used junior John David Booty.
• At Florida, true freshman Tim Tebow, touted as a better fit for Urban Meyer’s shotgun spread offense, should see some time behind All-SEC-caliber quarterback Chris Leak, a senior.
• At Oklahoma, senior Paul Thompson had to be moved back from receiver in the wake of Rhett Bomar’s dismissal, but if Thompson falters, junior college transfer Joey Halzle or true freshman Sam Bradford will get the call.
• At Georgia, it might be impossible to keep true freshman Matt Stafford on the sidelines because the Bulldogs lack proven talent.
• At Arkansas, true freshman Mitch Mustain gets to work with his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, who was hired as the Hogs’ offensive coordinator. Arkansas isn’t expected to compete for the national title, but Mustain and the Razorbacks could pick off a couple of the SEC hopefuls (as well as visiting USC on Sept. 2).
Perhaps it will turn out that it is the Year of the Rookie Quarterback in college football.
OK, get ready for the latest incarnation of the Bowl Championship Series.
There are now five BCS games, including the traditional four – Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta. The new twist is that the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup now has a stand-alone game, which will be played about a week later than the other major bowls.
The title game will rotate among the four sites, meaning one bowl each year will play host to two games.
This season, the fine folks at the Fiesta Bowl will actually put on three games – the Insight (which moves from Chase Field to Sun Devil Stadium), the Fiesta Bowl (which moves from Sun Devil Stadium to the new Glendale Stadium) and the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, held Jan. 8 in Glendale.
What’s it all mean?
By having 10 teams involved in the BCS extravaganza, it appeases the “mid-majors,” who now have greater access to the postseason gold and aren’t as likely to be involved in some nasty lawsuit.
And, oh yeah . . .
There is still no playoff.
WHAT’S NEW, PART II
Replay system: Coaches get to take matters in their own hands. They’re able to throw a red flag onto the field once a game to challenge a call. If officials in the press box fail to change the call on the field, the team will be charged a timeout. If a team is out of timeouts, the coach cannot made a red-flag challenge.
TV announcers: ABC’s Keith Jackson is retired, for good, this season. Doug Flutie joins ABC for studio work and ESPN for game analysis. Trev Alberts, who walked away from his ESPN studio gig last September and was fired, is back on CSTV, where somebody might be watching. Fox takes over on the telecasts of the BCS game, except the Rose, which stays on ABC.
More games: The powers that be gave a thumbs up to a 12-game schedule, to be played in the same time frame of the old season. That means a bye week was eliminated, creating a longer grind for the college kids.
Still more games: With new bowls in Toronto, Albuquerque, N.M., and Birmingham, Ala., – as well as the expanded BCS – there are now 32 bowls for 64 teams. That means 54 percent of Division I teams, which need to be only 6-6 to qualify, will be bowling.
But fewer plays: Coaches are fuming over a rule change (specifically, Rule 3-2-5-e) that starts the clock when the ball is put into play after a change of possession, not when the ball is snapped.
In a further effort to shorten the length of games, the clock will start on kickoffs when the ball is kicked, not when the opposing team touches it. The effect of all this shaving of seconds is that a game could feature a dozen fewer snaps, perhaps as many as 20. Look for this rule to last only for this season.
FIVE TRUE FRESHMEN TO WATCH
We covered some of the best quarterbacks earlier, here are five non-QBs who are ready to contribute in a big way to big conference races:
USC RBs Stafon Johnson/C.J. Gable/Emmanuel Moody/Allen Bradford. Chauncey Washington, out for two seasons because of academics, has a tenuous hold on No. 1 in the post-Reggie Bush/LenDale era. At least a couple of these mega-recruits will get key carries.
USC WR Vidal Hazelton. More goodness from the Trojans’ latest top-ranked class. USC won an extended recruiting battle with Penn State for Hazelton, who helps put the Trojans way over the top as having the nation’s best group of wideouts.
Ohio State RB Chris Wells. Most often-used comparison regarding Wells: Maurice Clarett . . . without the baggage.
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller. Speedster will be used as a multipurpose threat, and a backfield of Spiller and All-ACC James Davis could be dynamite for a team with serious designs on the league title.
Florida State DB Myron Rolle. Was the buzz of spring ball after graduating high school early, and he’ll quickly earn a starting spot at safety.
FIVE TEAMS ON THE RISE
Arizona – If the math is right, those top-20 recruiting classes pulled in by Mike Stoops should equal a top-20 poll ranking in the next couple of seasons.
Central Florida – Went from winless in 2004 to 8-5 last season, and should keep rolling in Conference USA because of a fertile recruiting base and a new stadium opening in 2007.
Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights still have room to get better after making the Insight Bowl last season – the team’s first postseason appearance in 27 years.
South Carolina – Steve Spurrier’s team will beat somebody good this season . . . and then start doing it regularly in 2007.
UNLV – After hitting bottom, program could improve rapidly behind second-year coach Mike Sanford, a spread offense and a pair of USC transfers (QB Rocky Hinds and CB Eric Wright).
FIVE TEAMS TAKING A STEP BACK
Alabama (10-2 in 2005) – Only four starters return from a defense that was the strength of the team, quarterback Brodie Croyle is gone and wide receiver Tyrone Prothro is not going to make it back from injury this season.
Minnesota (7-5 in 2005) – The streak of four bowl appearances is in jeopardy for a team that lacks it usual firepower in the running game.
North Carolina State (7-5 in 2005) – Significant rebuilding in store for former Arizona assistant Chuck Amato, who couldn’t win big last season with three NFL first-round defensive linemen draft picks.
UCLA (10-2 in 2005) – It’s back to the middle of the Pac and more grumbling about lifeless Karl Dorrell.
Vanderbilt (5-6 in 2005) – Totally squandered the senior talents of quarterback Jay Cutler, as a loss to Middle Tennessee (yuck) kept the Commodores from breaking on through to the other side of .500.
To win the national championship
School – Odds
Notre Dame 9-2
Ohio State 6-1
West Virginia 10-1
Florida State 20-1
Miami (Fla.) 20-1
Virginia Tech 40-1
Penn State 40-1
Arizona State 60-1
There wasn’t much turnover in the coaching ranks, with only one BCS school (Colorado) firing its head man. Northwestern was rocked in June by the death of Randy Walker.
School – New coach – Old coach – ’05 W-L
Boise State Chris Peterson Dan Hawkins 9-4
Buffalo Turner Gill Jim Hofher 1-10
Colorado Dan Hawkins Gary Barnett 7-6
Idaho Dennis Erickson Nick Holt 2-9
Kansas State Ron Prince Bill Snyder 5-6
Middle Tenn. Rick Stockstill Andy McCollum 4-7
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald Randy Walker 7-5
Rice Todd Graham Ken Hatfield 1-10
San Diego St. Chuck Long Tom Craft 5-7
Temple Al Golden Bobby Wallace 0-11
Wisconsin Bret Bielema Barry Alvarez 10-3
Let’s break this into categories, knowing that only sophomores don’t win and just players from elite teams do. Only one of the previous 15 Heisman winners (Ricky Williams in 1998) played on a team that finished outside the final top 10.
Preseason co-favorites: Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (below), Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. They each lead a crazy-good offense for a national championship contender.
Already taken a hit: Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson (left). A shaky offensive line combined with a late change at quarterback will allow defenses to stack against OU’s running game more than expected.
Other worthy running backs: Cal’s Marshawn Lynch, Auburn’s Kenny Irons, Louisville’s Michael Bush.
Other worthy quarterbacks: Iowa’s Drew Tate, Louisville’s Brian Brohm (top left), Florida’s Chris Leak.
Worthy receivers: Pure receivers don’t win this award. Receivers who also are big-time returners do, so put Ohio State’s Ted Ginn Jr. on the list.
Defensive players: Forget it.