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Put on your glasses and take a good look as the season starts to come into focus

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College football

August 27, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,sun reporter

1. THE UNAVOIDABLE, UNDERSTANDABLE AND YET, AT TIMES, UNBEARABLE, HYPING OF NOTRE DAME

Wake up the echoes, then be prepared to swallow an extra dose of hyperbole. After a decade of mediocrity, Notre Dame is definitely back, led by Heisman Trophy favorite Brady Quinn and its gruff, self-assured coach Charlie Weis, an honors graduate of the Bill Parcells School of Arrogance and Condescension.

Weis is, without question, a brilliant coach (just ask him!), and the Fighting Irish will contend this season. But those already prepared to punch Notre Dame's ticket to the BCS national championship game might need a dose of reality. Quinn should be awesome, but Notre Dame will have to improve on a pass defense that was one of the worst in the country a year ago. Unless safety Tom Zbikowski (a Golden Gloves heavyweight boxer) is allowed to punch opposing wide receivers in the solar plexus, the Fighting Irish might have to win a lot of games 42-38 to stay unbeaten.

2. RETOOLING OR REBUILDING?

Matt Leinart and Vince Young had historic and memorable college football careers, but with both quarterbacks now departed to the NFL, Southern California and Texas have some serious holes to fill on offense.

The Trojans are a bit more familiar with the drill, having been through a similar situation several years ago when Leinart replaced Heisman winner Carson Palmer. John David Booty will try to become the third straight USC quarterback to win the Heisman, and coach Pete Carroll says he?s more comfortable with Booty now than he was with Leinart when Leinart first replaced Palmer.

In Austin, the Longhorns will turn to Colt McCoy, whose name makes it seem like he should be the mysterious, dust-covered, bowlegged protagonist in the newest Cormac McCarthy novel. That fact aside, McCoy is already drawing rave reviews in his attempt to fill Young?s shoes.

3. TICK, TOCK, AND YOU DON?T STOP

For years, people have been trying to find a way to shorten college football games, which, when clocking in at just under four hours, now last longer than most Las Vegas marriages. Oddly enough, theories on how to make the games shorter never seem to involve cutting TV commercials, but that, we?re told, is because a lot of people need to get paid (just as long as they?re not student-athletes). This year, for the first time, the clock will start after a change of possession when the officials deem the ball ready for play, instead of when it's snapped.

The clock will also start on kickoffs when the ball is kicked, instead of when it?s caught. That means between 15 and 20 fewer plays per game, which has some coaches throwing visors and hissy fits.

"I am appalled at the new rules changes," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti told reporters at Pacific-10 Conference media days. "They are major and will change the game as we know it." "I'm extremely disappointed in the rule," Florida coach Urban Meyer told reporters. "Statistics [and] production will suffer."

4. I CAN'T COMMENT, BUT FEEL FREE TO USE YOUR IMAGINATION

The most ambiguous phrase in all of college football was also one of the most popular during the 2006 preseason. Across the country, coaches decided to suspend or cut ties with players for various misdeeds, more often than not chalking it up to a "violation of team rules." This blanket term can be used to describe (or cover up) all kinds of nefarious acts, but whether a player was disciplined for missing class or selling arms to rogue Third World governments, most universities won't say. The list of casualties, however, is long. Oklahoma kicked quarterback Rhett Bomar to the curb, Minnesota expelled 1,000-yard rusher Gary Russell, Florida State booted wide-out Fred Rouse, and Florida dismissed cornerback Avery Atkins. Other schools decided to give out second chances in the name of suspensions. Miami suspended wide-out Tyrone Moss, running back Ryan Moore, wide-out Rashaun Jones and linebacker James Bryant; Auburn suspended linebacker Kevin Sears; Georgia suspended offensive lineman Daniel Inman; Tennessee suspended linebacker Marvin Mitchell; and Oregon State suspended receivers Marcel Love and Anthony Crosby.

5. ACC, YOU?RE BREAKING MY HEART, YOU?RE SHAKING MY CONFIDENCE DAILY

]When the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded to 12 teams, the conference looked like it was in a position to become as strong in football as it already was in basketball. Instead, it's been a bumpy ride for the league?s football programs. Boston College and Clemson showed improvement, but most of the others have taken a step backward.

Florida State went 8-5 last year, the fifth year in a row the program lost at least three games, leading some to wonder whether it might be time for Bobby Bowden to shift his focus to shuffleboard, or at the very least, let someone else call the plays besides his son Jeff.

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