It's kickoff

5 story lines to watch

Season starts with much up in air: Can No. 1 Georgia run table? Can Notre Dame recover? Can top teams find right QBs in time?

August 24, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

No. 1, but for how long?

1

Mark Richt was the quarterbacks coach at Florida State when the Seminoles were the big dogs of college football. Richt might be used to having his team ranked No. 1, but the team he now coaches, Georgia, certainly isn't. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the preseason for the first time in school history.

Given that Georgia hasn't left the Southeastern Conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference or some other league with more pretenders than contenders for this year's Bowl Championship Series championship game, it seems likely that the Dawgs will get bitten somewhere along the way.

"I think it motivates the guys to prepare well, but the big thing is, if you think about a championship way back in January, that can wear you down," Richt said recently. "It's our responsibility as coaches to help these guys break it down one day at a time, one practice at a time. Just prepare to be in position for the challenge."

Going south in South Bend

2

There are mixed signals coming out of Notre Dame these days.

Some say the Fighting Irish have a chance to reverse last season's 3-9 disaster and sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen, once thought to be the second-coming of Brady Quinn or Joe Montana, is going to be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

Others, maybe the not-so-silent majority if things start deteriorating early, believe Charlie Weis is the second coming of Tyrone Willingham rather than Lou Holtz and a repeat performance is still possible considering the schedule. (Notre Dame's matchup with Willingham's Washington Huskies could be billed as the "Battle of the Exes.")

Clausen has not exactly made a name for himself. He has received more attention for his drinking transgressions, most recently after pictures on the Internet showed Clausen and two teammates at an event called "The Beer Olympics." Clausen doesn't turn 21 until Sept. 21, the day after the Irish play at - and lose to - Michigan State.

Lasting impression

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By losing the past two BCS national championship games, Ohio State can claim something that no other program has done in the 10-year history of the event. Will the Buckeyes go for a threepeat this season in the Orange Bowl? Could be.

Here's another question: Is winning the Big Ten and beating hated Michigan for the seventh time in eight years enough to keep the meddling boosters off Jim Tressel's back?

Asked at Big Ten media day about the criticism the Buckeyes and the league have received the past couple of years, Tressel said: "Well, I know from our standpoint where it comes from is, we played the national championship the last two years and haven't been successful, so is that fair? I think that's fair we haven't been successful. Should that paint a picture of our whole conference? I don't think so. But it also makes me feel a little disappointed that our performance in two championship games, I guess, brushes with a wider brush or whatever they say, but I don't think it's fair. But what I think doesn't matter, and what you think doesn't matter either."

Tressel wouldn't mind getting a chance to become the Buffalo Bills of college football.

"Well, if that happened again, that means we were the Big Ten champions, and I would never be disappointed about being the Big Ten champions. I would be very proud of that," Tressel said. "If we got to the game and didn't win it and didn't play as well as we were capable of playing or didn't prepare as well as we were capable, obviously I would be disappointed in that, so I guess that was a bad answer."

Quarterback quandaries

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Many of the nation's top teams have issues at quarterback going into the season.

LSU's chances of repeating as national champion took a major hit when Les Miles suspended expected starter Ryan Perrilloux after losing Matt Flynn to graduation. Perrilloux had shown flashes last season, but Miles tired of his off-field issues and attitude.

Now the Tigers are left with sophomore Andrew Hatch along with freshmen Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.

"You've just got to learn to figure out what each can do best, and it's hard to know exactly in practice," offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said.

The debate about the starting quarterback won't be going on just in Baton Rouge. What's Pete Carroll going to do at Southern California when Mark Sanchez returns after dislocating his knee, especially if Mitch Mustain, who won eight games as a freshman at Arkansas two years ago, does well? And how is Tressel going to quiet Ohio State fans screaming for him to play top recruit Terrelle Pryor over fifth-year senior Todd Boeckman, who struggled toward the end of last season?

Road to Miami

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The BCS title game will be played at 8 p.m. Jan. 8 at Dolphins Stadium in Miami. Fox has the broadcast rights through 2010. Though Georgia is the preseason No. 1 in both polls, not many figure the Bulldogs to get to the championship. There is little consensus as to which teams are going to get there, but given the respective leagues they play in and the schedules they play, don't be surprised to see Oklahoma and West Virginia. If that happens, Fox might want to consider a Family Guy marathon.

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