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Think 2007 was crazy? Just wait 'til 2008

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As certifiable fans, we all remember 2007 as the year college football went screaming into the asylum.

Evidence of unmatched insanity was everywhere.

Kansas and Missouri co-starred in a game that provoked the nation's largest regular-season TV audience. South Florida was listed No. 2 in the first BCS ranking of the season.

Notre Dame became more horrifying to watch than a fat guy on a trampoline. USC lost at home to a team that mustered only three other victories. Nick Saban demonstrated that he's not quite immortal.

West Virginia had to play its way out of a date in the national championship game. Michigan began with a home loss to Appalachian State and finished by kicking Florida's butt.

Illinois played (sort of) in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State, which lost to Illinois, was given another shot at a Southeastern Conference team in the BCS National Championship Game.

It was absolute madness.

So, with rehearsals for the 2008 season just around the corner, now would be a fine time to assure you that college football will return to normal. But I just can't do it.

This doesn't mean USC  with its ridiculous catalog of talent and a schedule that brings the expected toughies to Los Angeles  is incapable of pole-axing all comers and winning another championship. And many of what we refer to as traditional powerhouses certainly seem equipped to smite most of the competition.

However, it should be noted that Kansas, Missouri, South Florida, Illinois and West Virginia are loaded again and return star-caliber quarterbacks. These schools aren't going away or sinking back into mediocrity anytime soon. Other schools are threatening to step forward.

Sports Illustrated has declared that Arizona State is a sleeping giant positioned next to an alarm clock.

A dose of humility has enabled ND coach Charlie Weis to realize player development should be added to vigorous recruiting. UCLA hired an animated head coach and Texas Tech now has its program at the level Bob Knight was supposed to reach. Connecticut has learned the value of elevating its performance in outdoor sports.

All of these variables lead us to the doorstep of the P-word. That's right ... we seem to have (pause for the horror movie music) reached parity.

How did this happen? Well, the sharpies usually remind us the bully schools are limited to hoarding just 85 scholarship players, a fine theory that has been in play for about 15 years.

Oh, it still works as part of the explanation, but there are other reasons why Kansas could line up in a bowl game and knock off Virginia Tech. Right, KU has a lot more good players than it used to have.

So do several schools. But where are these players coming from? Well, at the risk of oversimplifying part of the answer, it should be noted that more players are being developed to a greater degree in high school.

Much of this development is, of course, physical. While off-season weight training, route running and sprinting have been around awhile, the caliber of organization and sophistication that defines this training has been elevated.

More kids are faster and stronger. More kids are pressured into not playing other sports in order to (in football-coaching theory) create a more efficient football-playing athlete.

More parents are eyeballing the value of a full scholarship and forking out cash for private skill coaches and performance trainers. Trainers have advanced in their ability to stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibers needed for the athlete to move from point A to point B in less time. Trainers have embraced "functional" training, a concept that produces bulldozer-sized athletes without sacrificing mobility.

USC can't sign 'em all. The state of California, for example, produces five-star recruits that may be afraid to attend USC and wait their turn, a dynamic that fails to prevent the Trojans from remaining near the top in this national talent grab.

Even if the Trojans, the Sooners and the Buckeyes had more scholarships to lob into this crowd, the escalating importance of television would prevent these powerhouses from cornering the market as they did previously.

With most schools appearing on national TV numerous times each season, recruits now realize that other terrific options exist. And immediate playing time  a feature that less-traditional powers have been able to offer  increases early exposure and makes that NFL dream seem more realistic.

Another variable to consider is coaching.

With the business of presiding over college football rising as the exposure demands increase, coaches are pulling serious checks to draw up Xs and Os. This remuneration attracts smarter candidates, who in turn figure out ways to compete while they work their way toward jobs at traditional powerhouses (or they can stay put and create one).

In what you may consider the good ol' days, the mighty schools would load up on the biggest, strongest linemen and run the ball down the collective throat of teams that couldn't physically match them. During the halcyon days, the forward pass often was little more than a diversion at Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, USC, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Now, any perceived strength mismatch can be mitigated by the aforementioned commitment to speed (although the traditional bullies have been into speed for a while) and tactical finesse.

For years, schools lacking brute force used seemingly sophisticated, quick-passing attacks to offset what they were unable to accomplish in recruiting. But this sleight of hand has evolved.

Quarterbacks who can run as well or better than they can throw have reestablished the popularity of the read-option and other strategic calamities that force the brutes to spread out and make defensive plays in space.

As Miami and Florida State demonstrated decades ago, the defenses can counter by recruiting speed and using the weight room to turn safeties into linebackers or linebackers into defensive linemen.

All of these maneuvers have caught on around the nation, making it at least unpleasant for USC to visit Tucson.

Just imagine how fun it might be to shove this level playing field into a playoff tournament.

Things could get crazy.

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Let's hope they get better crazy in 2008.

BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!! BCS!!!

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