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Conf. Outlook: B.C.S. Conferences

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August 23, 2008,  10:42 am

Conference Outlook: B.C.S. Conferences

By Fred Bierman and Paul Myerberg

Tags: Atlantic Coast, B.C.S., Big 12, Big Ten

Atlantic Coast

It will be a conference title or bust for Clemson, which has the most talent in the A.C.C. but has been unable to put it together under Tommy Bowden. The Tigers will be challenged by Wake Forest and the defending Atlantic Division champion, Boston College. But the Eagles’ new starting quarterback, Chris Crane, will face an uphill battle replacing Matt Ryan. Formerly an A.C.C. dynasty, Florida State enters Bobby Bowden’s 33rd season with the Seminoles as an underdog. In the Coastal Division, Virginia Tech hopes a two-quarterback system of Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor can lead the Hokies to their third conference title since joining the conference in 2004. Their rival Virginia finished second a season ago, but the trendy teams to unseat the Hokies are North Carolina and Miami, both of which finished under .500 last fall. The Hurricanes hope that one of their two freshmen at quarterback — Robert Marve or Jacory Harris — will be an improvement over Kyle Wright. At Georgia Tech, the former Navy coach Paul Johnson will attempt to put in a version of his triple-option offense and keep A.C.C. defenses befuddled.


Miami. The last three years have not been kind to the Hurricanes, but Coach Randy Shannon has instilled a sense of confidence into an inexperienced squad.


James Davis and C. J. Spiller give Clemson a top backfield. Virginia Tech’s Orion Martin continues the tradition of standout Hokie defensive ends. Duke’s new coach, David Cutcliffe, will try to work miracles. Having quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and wide receiver Eron Riley will help.


Clemson at Florida State (Nov. 8)

The Bowden Bowl turns 10; don’t forget to send a card.

Big East

West Virginia returns the offensive line from a team that averaged 297.2 yards a game on the ground. With the elusive quarterback Pat White and Noel Devine, a budding star at running back, the Mountaineers again figure to have one of the country’s best rushing offenses. Last September, South Florida defeated West Virginia, then ranked No. 5, to land on the national scene, and there are plenty of reasons why the veteran Bulls should contend for a conference title. Connecticut won a share of the Big East crown last season and returns most of its starters. Dave Wannstedt is entering his fourth season at Pittsburgh; this could be the year the Panthers break through.


South Florida defensive end George Selvie had 14 ½ sacks and led the nation in tackles for loss (31 ½). LeSean McCoy averaged 110.7 yards a game rushing and has drawn comparisons to the former Pittsburgh great Tony Dorsett. West Virginia tackle Ryan Stanchek anchors a top offensive line. Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith combined for 14 interceptions for Cincinnati. Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt each had at least 1,100 yards receiving for Rutgers.


In his first season as coach, Brian Kelly led an unheralded Cincinnati team to its first 10-win season since 1951. Despite losses on offense, Cincinnati returns many of the key players from a ball-hawking defense.


South Florida at West Virginia (Dec. 6)

For the conference title?

Big Ten

Winners of at least a share of three Big Ten titles in a row and 23 of its past 25 conference games, Ohio State has an impressive league résumé. But the Buckeyes have struggled on the biggest stage in back-to-back national title games against Southeastern Conference powers. Still, Ohio State has an experienced and talented offense and a defense led by some of the nation’s top playmakers. The only thing that seems to stand in the way is a schedule featuring trips to Illinois and Wisconsin. The Badgers have a strong running game and a stout line, but they also have questions at quarterback. Penn State could contend, but the Nittany Lions must replace talent on both sides of the ball. A new coach (Rich Rodriguez), a new spread offense and a new quarterback most likely spell a down year for Michigan.


Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum is a converted linebacker who has turned into a big-play threat. Defensive end Maurice Evans racked up 12 ½ sacks for Penn State. At Indiana, Greg Middleton led the nation with 16 sacks. He is joined by the mobile Kellen Lewis at quarterback. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter needs 3,030 yards to become the conference’s career passing leader.


Illinois had a breakout season last year and could be a contender again. Quarterback Juice Williams is emerging as a better passer, and receiver Arrelious Benn is one of the more exciting players around.


Ohio State at Wisconsin (Oct. 4)

The Buckeyes face a test in early October.

Big 12

Oklahoma is the favorite in the South Division, though the Sooners will again need to get past Texas in the Red River Rivalry. O.U.’s Sam Bradford had an outstanding freshman season, and expectations are high that he can continue his development and lead the Sooners into a B.C.S. game. The Longhorns are, yet again, a 10-win team, but a notch below Oklahoma. The potential party-crashers? Texas Tech, which is augmenting its potent Air Raid offense with a much-improved defense. Oklahoma State hopes to take another step forward, while Texas A&M (Mike Sherman) and Baylor (Art Briles) enter their first seasons under new coaches. In the North Division, Missouri is the team to beat. With the Heisman contender Chase Daniel under center, the Tigers’ offense looks to be as explosive as it was a year ago. Missouri will also have to travel to Nebraska to take on Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers; the Tigers have not won in Lincoln since 1978. Kansas aims to duplicate the surprising success of its 12-win 2007 season. Colorado hopes to continue progressing in 2008.


Texas Tech. The always-quotable Mike Leach has his best team since taking over in 2000.


Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree set an N.C.A.A. freshman record with 134 receptions last year. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz threw for 15 touchdowns in only three late-season starts. Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen leads one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman is as talented as any quarterback in the conference.


Kansas vs. Missouri (Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 29)

For the second straight year, the Border War will be for more than just bragging rights.


Life is good in Los Angeles, where the Southern California has won six conference titles in a row and manages to reload every year. A young offensive line is a question mark this season, but a strong defense should give it time to develop. The Trojans will play Oregon, Arizona State and California at home. Arizona State had a breakout season last year, and the team returns quarterback Rudy Carpenter and running back Keegan Herring. Oregon has a great defense and an emerging running game, but the Ducks have a big hole at quarterback and a brutal schedule.


Oregon defensive end Nick Reed led the conference in sacks per game and tackles for loss. Washington quarterback Jake Locker is the conference’s top returning rusher. Oregon State receiver Sammie Stroughter missed most of 2007, but he returns this year as part of a great group. If U.S.C. quarterback Mark Sanchez’s dislocated kneecap forces him to miss time, Mitch Mustain, a former starter at Arkansas, could play an important role.


California climbed to No. 2 in the nation before falling apart. With a strong defense, a favorable home schedule and a coach (Jeff Tedford) with a strong reputation, the Golden Bears could surprise some people.


Oregon at U.S.C., Oct. 4

An early chance to see if the Ducks are contenders.


The early favorite is Georgia, which finished 2007 ranked No. 2. With quarterback Matthew Stafford ready to challenge Florida’s Tim Tebow for the title of best quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the hype surrounding the Bulldogs is justified. Georgia should take the East. But are the Gators ready to take back the SEC? To do so, they will have to overcome a rash of injuries. Rounding out the SEC East, Tennessee looks to the junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton to lead a senior-laden offense. Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks welcome back linebacker Jasper Brinkley from injury and quarterback Stephen Garcia from suspension. In the West, Louisiana State remains talented enough to hold off all challengers but needs to find a quarterback. Auburn breaks in a new offensive philosophy — the spread. Alabama enters the second year of the Nick Saban era ready to make some noise. And don’t sleep on Sylvester Croom’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, coming off their best season this decade.


Despite the change in offensive philosophy, Auburn has all the necessary pieces — including one of the most talented offensive lines in the nation — to sneak into a Bowl Championship Series game.


Though Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno get all the attention, Georgia linebacker Dannell Ellerbe leads a tough and opportunistic defense. Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon had 14 touchdowns last fall. Tennessee safety Eric Berry, just a sophomore, is one of the nation’s best defensive backs. Arkansas quarterback Casey ****, who threw for 18 touchdowns, will lead the new-look Razorbacks for their new coach, Bobby Petrino.


Florida at Georgia (Nov. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.)

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will have implications beyond the SEC East.


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