5 teams that should compete for the national title
1. Washington: The Huskies have two quarterbacks, Billy Joe Hobert and Mark Brunnell, who have each led them to Rose Bowl titles, as well as an easy schedule both in and out of the Pacific-10. Stumbling block: None, because all of the tough games are at home.
2. Miami: The Hurricanes return 15 starters from last year's co-national championship team (shared with the Huskies). But their training camp schedule has been disrupted by Hurricane Andrew, forcing a move to Vero Beach. Stumbling block: A difficult road schedule.
3. Florida: The Gators will be led again by Heisman contender Shawn Matthews, perhaps the best of the quarterbacks turned out by Steve Spurrier. Stumbling block: The last regular-season game at Florida State, followed the next week by the first-ever SEC Championship, probably against Alabama in Birmingham.
4. Syracuse: The Orangemen have two of the most explosive offensive players in quarterback Marvin Graves and do-everything-like-his-brother Qadry Ismail, as well as one of the country's bright young coaches in Paul Pasqualoni. Stumbling block: First three games, beginning today at East Carolina, then Miami at home in November.
5. Notre Dame: In quarterback Rick Mirer and fullback Jerome Bettis, the Irish have two legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders. Once linebacker Demetrius DuBose gets back from a recently imposed two-game NCAA suspension, the defense will be solid. Stumbling block: Playing Michigan on Sept. 12 without DuBose.
5 games that should determine national title
1. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 12: With all but one other of its tough games at home -- the traditional season finale against Ohio State -- the Wolverines could slip into the national championship picture with a win over the Irish.
2. Florida State at Miami, Oct. 3: By then, the Seminoles will be out of the hunt or in the thick of it, with last year's 17-16 heart-breaker in Tallahassee still fresh in their minds. The Hurricanes, if they get past their opener at Iowa tonight, should still be undefeated.
3. Miami at Penn State, Oct. 10: Despite few of the usual extracurricular activities between these teams last year in the Orange Bowl, this still will be a slugfest. The Nittany Lions could become one of the front-runners for a title if they beat the 'Canes in Happy Valley.
4. Penn State at Notre Dame, Nov. 14: The importance of this game will hitch on two others mentioned above. By then, the weather could be nasty in South Bend, and it could turn into a battle of running backs between Richie Anderson and Jerome Bettis.
5. Miami at Syracuse, Nov. 21: The marquee game in the Big East this season. It won't be surprising if both teams enter this game unbeaten. It also won't be a shock if the Orangemen win, considering their past upsets in the Carrier Dome.
5 coaches who could be on the hot seat
1. Don Nehlen, West Virginia: Despite a 6-5 record last year, the fans in Morgantown are wondering if the Mountaineers are on the mend or on the slide. They haven't done much since playing Notre Dame for the national champion at the end of the 1988 season.
2. Larry Smith, Southern Cal: The grumbling started big time when the Trojans fell to 3-8 last season. Smith, a disciple of Bo Schembechler, has never been one to pay attention to unhappy alums. Another losing season and Smith might become another Ted Tollner. There are already "10 Reasons to Fire Larry Smith" T-shirts circulating on the USC campus.
3. Sparky Woods, South Carolina: Is 15-15-2 overall, but a 3-6-2 record last year didn't endear him to the faithful in Columbia. Tonight's opener at home against Georgia could go a long way in determining Woods' fate. If he goes, look for South Carolina alum Dick Sheridan to get the call.
4. Dick Stull, Missouri: Is in the last year of a four-year contract, with a 9-23-1 record in the first three. Seemingly on the right track with a 3-2-1 start last year, the Tigers lost their last five games, including a 63-6 blowout at Nebraska and a 53-29 shellacking by Kansas.
5. Mack Brown, North Carolina: The patience is beginning to wear out in Chapel Hill, and Brown's folksy ways might also get to be tiresome if the Tar Heels don't start winning important games and get to a bowl game. Playing at Florida State and Clemson is not going to help.
5 players who could win the Heisman Trophy
1. Rick Mirer, Notre Dame, quarterback: Though a player on a team with two Heisman hopefuls rarely wins, leave it to Notre Dame's publicity department to find a way. Mirer has certainly lived up to his billing coming out of high school.
2. Shane Matthews, Florida, quarterback: Leading returning vote-getter in last year's Heisman race, Matthews could become the SEC's first three-time player of the year since Herschel Walker and the school's first (and only other) Heisman winner since coach Steve Spurrier won it in 1966.
3. Gino Torretta, Miami, quarterback: After being maligned for most of his career, Torretta is finally getting some respect. But throwing to the best group of receivers in the country, with or without Lamar Thomas, still puts the question in the mind of the voters: is he as good as Kelly, Kosar, Testaverde, et al?
4. Qadry Ismail, Syracuse, kick returner and wide receiver: Can The Missile do what The Rocket couldn't? If he's still in the running by November, a big game against Miami could launch Rabhib's little brother into the Heisman spotlight. The younger Ismail might be closer in talent to last year's winner, Desmond Howard, than he is to the former Notre Dame star.
5. Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, tailback: As a freshman, Faulk was in the process of putting up record numbers until he got hurt. Though a sophomore has never won the award, Faulk could be this year's Barry Sanders. Like Ismail, he too will get his chance against Miami.