2006 Spring Questions ...No. 14 - 20

Posted Feb 17, 2006

The twenty big questions going into 2006 spring ball.

By Pete Fiutak 

Spring ball has already begun with North Texas kicking off its off-season sessions on February 13th and with Texas, Auburn and UCLA starting soon. Here are twenty questions heading into this important time to keep you going during this brutally painful time before March Madness.

Spring Questions 7-13 | Spring Questions 4-6 | Spring Questions 1-3

20. What's the one sure thing going into 2006?
It's going to flat-out stink compared to 2005. I'm college football boy and enjoy watching even the lowliest of Sun Belt games, but even I can't Dick Vitale-promote this upcoming season into anything more than a major downer considering everything that happened last year. If 2005 wasn't the greatest year in college football history, it was a close second to a season that I couldn't find in any research.

We had a great bowl season with four fantastic BCS games topped off by a national title game that not only lived up to the unattainable hype, it blew past it. We had a resurgence of Notre Dame, Alabama and Penn State and saw JoePa and Bobby Bowden square off in a coaching matchup for the ages. We had all-timer players like Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Vince Young playing at a high level all season long. We had Texas-Ohio State and USC-Notre Dame, which each were among the better regular season games of all-time. Come up with any scenario to beat last year. It can't be done because you can't come up with the wire-to-wire momentum started from the moment Leinart said he was coming back for his senior year.

19. Fine, so this year is Blink 182 coming on after Nirvana. Is there anything to get really excited about?
Of course. First of all, the field is wide freakin' open. You name the halfway decent BCS league team and it has a realistic hope of catching lightning in a bottle and finishing up in the BCS Championship Game (more on that later). Texas is probably the nation's top team, but it has a ten-mile-wide hole to fill at quarterback (much more on that later). Ohio State, USC, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia and any other good team you can name has issues, which is a good thing if you're hoping for someone to come up with a 2003 LSU-like out-of-left-field run to a national title. In other words, there doesn't appear to be one absolute killer like there was last year with USC.

Second, the Heisman race should be a blast. If Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn aren't the front-runners, than it might be Ohio State's Troy Smith, but he's not going to win it. Let's just stop that talk right now (he simply won't have the numbers to win, but that doesn't mean he can't be a finalist). That means this could be one of those crazy seasons like 2002 when Carson Palmer, Brad Banks, Larry Johnson and Willis McGahee came from nowhere to battle for the top individual prize.

Third, there are a lot of really, really good non-conference games like ...

18. 25 non-conference games to get really, really excited about are ...
Along with the always great conference rivalry games, there appear to be more good non-conference games than ever. If these don't give you a few special feelings, you're reading the wrong publication.
25. Oregon State at Boise State, Sept. 9
24. Oregon at Fresno State, Sept. 9
23. Minnesota at California, Sept. 9
22. Marshall at West Virginia, Sept. 2
21. Utah at UCLA, Sept. 2
20. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, Sept. 2
19. Washington State at Auburn, Sept. 2
18. Maryland at West Virginia, Sept. 14
17. Louisville at Kansas State, Sept. 23
16. Iowa State at Iowa, Sept. 16
15. Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 25
14. Arizona State at Colorado, Sept. 16
13. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 25
12. Colorado at Georgia, Sept. 23
11. California at Tennessee, Sept. 2
10. USC at Arkansas, Sept. 2
9. UCLA at Notre Dame, Oct. 21
8. Oklahoma at Oregon, Sept. 16
7. Miami at Louisville, Sept. 16
6. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 16
5. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 25
4. Nebraska at USC, Sept. 16
3. Penn State at Notre Dame, Sept. 9
2. Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 25
1. Ohio State at Texas, Sept. 9

17. What BCS changes do we have to deal with this year?
There are three big ones, and they're all positives if you're a fan of the non-BCS league teams and if you're hoping beyond all reasonable hope for a playoff before your time runs out.

1) Fox is taking over all BCS games other than the Rose Bowl, which ABC will hang on to until 2014.
2) Fox also gets the rights to the fifth BCS bowl game which will be the national title game played in Arizona this year. The national title game will rotate among the four traditional sites with a second bowl added. For example, the 2010 Rose Bowl will be played like normal, and then there will be a second game for the national championship played later in Pasadena. This extra game isn't a playoff, but it does potentially make for an easy transition to being a playoff game after the bowls. But that's for way down the line.
3) Like before, the champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC will get an automatic spot in the BCS. Starting this year, one champion from one of the other leagues (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt or WAC) will get an automatic spot if it's ranked among the top 12 teams in the final BCS standings or is ranked among the top 16 teams in the final BCS standings and ranked higher than the champion of one of the BCS conference champions. That means that TCU would've been in the BCS last year.

16. Considering the new changes, which "mid-major" will likely be in the BCS?
Remember, it's not automatic for a non-BCS conference school to get in, but it's more likely to happen on a regular basis. TCU has a very nice team returning and has a great chance to finish in the top 12 of the final BCS rankings if it wins the Mountain West title again and beats Texas Tech early on. BYU and Utah are other strong possibilities from the Mountain West. The Cougars are going to Arizona, play 2005 Conference USA champion Tulsa, and go to Boston College, while the Utes have a chance to make a national splash at UCLA in the season opener. Boise State has a better chance than Fresno State out of the WAC since the Broncos have two tough non-conference games against Oregon State and at Wyoming. The Bulldogs have to play Oregon, at Washington, Colorado State and at LSU. No one from the MAC appears to be BCS worthy, but that can change in a big hurry if RB Garrett Wolfe and Northern Illinois can win at Ohio State and at Iowa. Conference USA doesn't appear to have a BCS-caliber team, and forget about anyone from the Sun Belt.

15. Yeah, a non-automatic BCS conference team might make the big show, but are the "mid-majors" going to be any better than last year?
Not really. Conference USA still hasn't recovered from the loss of Louisville, TCU, Cincinnati and South Florida, but the league should continue to be competitive. East Carolina, Marshall and SMU should be better than last year, and UTEP, UCF, Houston, Tulsa, Southern Miss and Memphis should be at least as good as they were in 2005. However, the league, as a whole, still isn't close to the big six.

The Sun Belt had the best race of any league last year, but it'll be one of the shockers of the season if there's a win against a BCS league team. The MAC doesn't have a killer team, but Northern Illinois, Miami, and Toledo won't roll over and die in the better non-conference games. The WAC might be pushing Conference USA, at least as far as the top teams, for national respect with Hawaii's offense sure to be scary-good again, Nevada as strong as it was last year, and Boise State and Fresno State being like they normally are. The Mountain West is easily the seventh best conference in college football and if there's going to be a BCS team from the non-BCS conferences, it'll likely come from here. However, the league has to make more statements like Utah made against Georgia Tech and TCU made against Oklahoma. Even with the good mid-major teams here and there, the overall division between the top six leagues and the other five appears to be widening.

14. Which conference will be the best in 2006?
11. Sun Belt - It'll once again be one of college football's most interesting races all eight teams having a shot. 2005 newcomers FIU and Florida Atlantic should be better, while North Texas will find its groove again after struggling with its offense last year. The best team should be ... UL Lafayette
10. MAC - The star power isn't there with the loss of Bowling Green QB Omar Jacobs and Toledo QB Bruce Gradkowski, but NIU's Garrett Wolfe will be among the nation's rushing leaders. The division races should be fun with Ball State and Western Michigan sure to challenge NIU and Toledo in the West and Ohio sure to be better in the East.  The best team should be ... Northern Illinois
9. WAC - It's a top-heavy league with Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada good enough to hang around with anyone in America, but the bottom is really bad. Even so, New Mexico State and Utah State can't be worse while San Jose State has the potential to be much better.  The best team should be ... Nevada
8. Conference USA - This is potentially the most even league in the country. Remember that UCF was coming off a winless season and still came this close to winning the title. If that can happen, then SMU and Tulane should have a ray of hope. Fine, so Rice won't pull a UCF, but the other 11 teams should wage a fierce war with a few upsets over BCS teams sure to happen.   The best team should be ... UCF
7. Mountain West - All talk of being better than the Big East should be put to rest after this year, but this is still a solid league with TCU, Utah and BYU as good as any mid-level BCS conference team and New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State and Wyoming sure to be competitive. Air Force and UNLV should be better.  The best team should be ...
6. Big East - All Big East bashing was well warranted last year; the league, as a whole, was awful. While the conference is still on an island ranking far behind the other five BCSers and comfortably ahead of the Mountain West, it should be better. Cincinnati and Syracuse can't be worse, Pitt and UConn will rebound, Rutgers and South Florida should be at least as good as last year, and Louisville and West Virginia should be national title contenders.
The best team should be ... West Virginia
5. Big 12 - Texas should be the preseason number one and Oklahoma is close to being Oklahoma again, but there's still too much mediocrity. Nebraska is coming off a huge bowl win against Michigan and Missouri had a nice victory over South Carolina, but is the North really any better? Oklahoma State and Texas A&M should be more completive and Texas Tech is becoming more of a player, but this should be the fifth best league in the pecking order. The best team should be ... Texas
4. Big Ten - The conference should take a step back this year. Everyone seems to be blowing off the loss of the stars in Ohio State's defensive back seven, Michigan might really be that mediocre, Penn State isn't going to be the same without Michael Robinson, and what you saw out of Iowa last year is what you'll get this year. You know what you'll get out of Minnesota, Wisconsin will overachieve before getting blasted by a good team, and Northwestern will be worse without Brett Basanez. On the plus side, Purdue and Michigan State will be better. The best team should be ... Ohio State
3. ACC - I've been the Grand Marshal of the ACC-is-top-to-bottom strongest parade, but not anymore. Is Miami down, or is it a case of having problems playing in a good conference? I really like Florida State this year, but is this going to be the year the ship completely turns back around? The rest of the league (cough, Virginia Tech, cough) is way too flaky. While Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, NC State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia are all good, are any of them great? Clemson might be and Georgia Tech has potential, but the league is third ... for now. The best team should be ... Florida State
2. Pac 10 - It's far better than you think. USC might not be the juggernaut of the past few years, but it's not going to fall far. Cal should be incredible, Arizona State's offense will be unstoppable, Washington State should be one of the year's surprise teams, and UCLA and Oregon should be bowling. Arizona and Stanford will be much better, and Washington isn't going to get any worse. The best team should be ... USC
1. SEC - Vanderbilt showed last year that it can be competitive and Mississippi State should have a killer defense. Ole Miss will be better in Ed Orgeron's second year, and Kentucky will be decent, even if the record doesn't show it. Everyone else is really, really good. Even though Georgia should take a step back, the league is amazing with Florida, LSU and Auburn national title contenders and Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina good enough to beat anyone in the league. Tennessee should be one of the year's top turnaround teams. The best team should be ... Florida